10 Celebrities offer their experience of Postnatal Depression
Fame offers no protection from the baby blues. But seriously, if any of these stories ring true to you, help is out there
‘It’s a different type of overwhelming with the second. Where do I need to be the most? Fifty-fifty would be ideal but life doesn’t work like that’
While mums are at a greater risk of suffering with postnatal depression (PND) if they’ve experienced it previously, it’s important to remember that it can affect any woman at any time after childbirth. Juggling older siblings with a newborn can be hard, especially in the first few months, and Drew’s experience of trying and failing to split herself equally between her two isn’t uncommon.
For a truly enlightening, searingly honest and poignant account of adjusting to parenthood second time around, invest in a copy of Rebecca Abram’s Three Shoes, One Sock and No Hairbrush. Its legion of followers cite it as being a real lifeline in those first few months of mothering multiples.
‘I spent a long time in silence… Why was I so unhappy inside when on the outside it looked like I had a dream life?’
Like Natasha, many mums who are affected by PND struggle to reconcile the outside-in image of their lives with the inside-out emotions they’re wrestling with. Unfortunately PND can be very hard to rationalise, and feelings of shame and embarrassment about being unable to cope – or to enjoy being a mum – mean many women try to soldier on without asking for help.
According to a US study, young mothers are actually at greater risk of suffering with PND than older mums, possibly due to anxiety about finances, and concerns about how to cope with the responsibility. Other factors that increase any woman’s chance of PND include struggling to conceive, carrying twins or triplets, a previous miscarriage, premature labour and delivery, and having a child born with complications or in need of hospitalisation after birth.
‘I went through a really hard time… when she turned six months I couldn’t sleep, my heart was racing, and I got really depressed’
It’s a common misconception that full-blown PND follows hot on the heels of the baby blues – the natural drop in hormones that happens three or four days after birth – but increasing numbers of women, like Courteney, experience a far later onset. According to one recent study, a staggering 17,250 women in the UK every year are believed to suffer with delayed, and as a result often undetected, PND.
Many support groups are calling for better antenatal education for expectant parents, to help sufferers and their partners recognise the physical and emotional signs sooner – symptoms such as inability to stop crying, memory loss, feelings of hopelessness, problems concentrating, excessive anxiety, sleeplessness, panic attacks, and loss of appetite.
‘I felt sad and depressed, and thought the babies didn’t love me’
J-Lo isn’t alone in feeling rejected by her newborns, with as many as one in five UK women admitting they find it hard to bond with their baby. Expectations and social pressure to experience an overwhelming sense of love and connection to your baby from the get-go starts pretty early on in pregnancy, and new mums can often feel disappointed with the postnatal reality of caring for a demanding newborn.
‘There’s an automatic assumption in our culture that mothers will bond with their babies,’ says child psychologist Dr Pat Spungin. ‘Mothers who don’t immediately feel this tremendous engagement think there must be something wrong with them and ask, “Am I normal?”’
Just because maternal love doesn’t deliver a lightning-bolt moment, don’t assume a slow-burning kind of bond is any less intense. Don’t forget, too, that bonding is two-way, and it can be difficult for babies to connect to a stressed, anxious mummy.
‘My doctor put me on medication, and after about four weeks it was as if a switch had been flicked and I was coming back to myself’
Feeling as though you’ve lost all sense of yourself is one of the hallmarks of PND, and many women worry that they’ll never get back on track. At Mothers for Mothers, a postnatal support group that does exactly what it says on the tin, its mantra of ‘Remember you are not alone and you will get better’ has helped thousands of women to turn the corner. As one new mum put it, ‘Just to hear someone say “You can get better” gives you a little light in a dark, dark tunnel.’
For some women this means counselling or talking therapies such as CBT, which looks at breaking negative thought patterns – like striving and then inevitably failing to be the ‘perfect’ wife and mother. For others, such as Andrea, medication can hold the key to recovery.
Many women will worry about the idea of combining antidepressants with breastfeeding but, because of its well-documented benefits for mother and child, GPs always try to prescribe new mums with breastfeeding-compatible medication. For more detailed information about the effects of specific drugs on breastfed babies, visit breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk and search for ‘antidepressant use in breastfeeding’.
Bryce Dallas Howard
‘My husband would ask what he could do to help, but knowing there was nothing he could do, I screamed expletives at him’
Postnatal depression can put a real strain on even the strongest of PB (pre-baby) relationships, and isn’t something only the mothers suffer with. While Bryce’s husband wasn’t a sufferer, paternal postnatal depression (PPD) affects up to 25 per cent of men – a figure that can double if their partner is also postnatally depressed.
Clinical psychologist, expert on pregnancy and postpartum wellness, and mum of six Dr Christina Hibbert believes men’s and women’s responses to pregnancy and life after birth are interlinked, and that PND treatment needs to include both partners to heal individuals as well as their relationship.
‘Remember, you are both going through this, even if your experiences are different,’ she says. ‘Choose to turn toward each other instead of away. When you need space, take time out, but come back together again.’
Visit drchristinahibbert.com, where you can buy her Postpartum Couples DVD which provides an insight into couples coping with postnatal mood disorders.
‘It took me a year to get out of the hole – I couldn’t connect to anyone. I felt like a zombie and very detached’
Speak to experts in the field of postnatal depression and the majority will tell you the question most frequently asked by PND sufferers is, ‘How long will it last?’ Gwynnie talks about it taking ‘a year to get out of the hole’ but truth is, recovery times differ from mum to mum. Factors such as how long PND took to be diagnosed and how quickly treatment was received, not to mention lifestyle and environment, play a huge part.
In her bestselling book Life after Birth, author Kate Figes dispels unrealistic expectations of motherhood and life post-partum. The ultimate antidote to the ‘perfect’ (that is, wholly unachievable) motherhood movement, this is a must-read for any mum emerging from PND who worries she’s the only one who’s not measuring up.
‘I was sitting at my dressing table... numb. I watched my hand slowly pick up a pair of scissors... they seemed to be drawn to my arm...’
Disconnection and profound emptiness as experienced by mum-of-four Sadie are two of the key feelings reported by PND sufferers. For the ten to 15 per cent of new mums struck down by the more debilitating and longer-lasting forms of the illness, these feelings can become so overwhelming that self-harming and suicidal thoughts are hard to shake off. And women are 23 per cent more likely to be admitted to a psychiatric unit during the 18 months after giving birth than at any other time in their life.
However the most severe form of PND, postpartum psychosis, is rare (one in every 1,000 mothers), and is believed to be genetic.
If you have a family history of mental illness, tell your healthcare provider as soon as you discover you are pregnant, as they can provide close monitoring to help safeguard you
and your baby’s health. For help and advice, visit the Action on Postpartum Psychosis (APP) website.
‘For me, it meant a terrible, angry feeling that’s hard to explain. It was like an awful knot in my stomach’
Postnatal depression can take many forms, some of which are generally expected (extreme sadness, crying, anxiety, loss of appetite); others less so. Many women – just like Katie – are shocked to find themselves displaying intense aggression as a result of their PND. Irritability, even full-blown rage, particularly when aimed at your partner and/or baby, can be frightening for everyone, and is typically accompanied by feeling trapped, resentful and guilty.
Fortunately, anger and associated emotions are some of the easier symptoms to treat and sufferers tend to respond well and relatively quickly to therapy. Alongside sessions with a qualified postnatal depression counsellor, practical tips to help control a raging temper include physically removing yourself from a heated situation. You can also try splashing your face with cold water to help calm a fury.
‘I spoke to groups and specialists, and they made me realise that thousands of women out there are the same’
Several recent studies have pointed to a lack of support as a major contributing factor to PND. According to Psychology Today, scientists in this field have identified inadequate social support in pregnancy as a trigger for a stress hormone that intensifies a new mum’s exhaustion and increases the likelihood of her feeling unable to cope.
While Stacey was able to share her feelings, many new mums (between 25 and 75 per cent, depending on which survey you read) say they felt isolated in their baby’s first year. If this is you, ask your GP or health visitor for help as soon as possible. And the Association for Postnatal Illness has a helpline manned by volunteers with first-hand experience of postnatal illness.
Rebecca Howard Dennis