Previously Undiagnosed Post- Natal Depression
A Personal Journey
Note from the author: If there is only one thing that I may communicate to readers by writing this article is that every woman’s experience of post-natal depression is important and unique and must be treated as such. My attempt at light-heartedness is my own way of dealing with my journey and is not meant to minimize the significance of women’s own experiences.
My journey with post natal depression began when those two bright pink eyes of the pregnancy test were staring up at me for the first time……POSITIVE. My immediate reaction was to burst into tears and shrink away from my partner into another room. These were not “The Waltons – we’ve always wanted a tenth child” tears of joy. This was my first child and these were tears of pure fear.
Now, the average rocket scientist may be thinking, “Mmmn, that reaction MAY be a primary indicator of a pre-disposition to post-natal depression.” I had in fact, always worried that if or when I had a child, I would experience a negative reaction. I’m the type of person who reads symptomatic checklists in magazines & journals and answers yes to almost all of the questions and then comes to fundamental conclusions that I’m not having sex enough, that I’m in a bad relationship, that my bum could very well be too big and I may be experiencing some kind of exotic virus for which there is no cure. But I’m also a person who has a genetic predisposition to depression, who has experienced bouts of depression in the past, who has deep-seated unresolved issues with my mother and not a very strong support system in my family of origin.
Was the beginning of my journey with post-natal depression a self-fulfilling prophecy or was I just accepting my reality? Whatever the case, my condition was later given the title of previously undiagnosed post-natal depression. For me, the diagnosis was a double-edged sword, or more fittingly, a disposable nappy with a little pooey inside. The convenience of the disposable diagnosis meant that people may be able to understand what I was going through a little more. But nonetheless, it was pooey all the same. Like the “Artist Formerly Known As Prince”, I felt like I had become “The Incompetent Mother Formerly Known As Competent.”
In the beginning, I felt like I had kept up quite a good façade of being confident & competent. For the first four months of my child’s life, I looked like I was doing all the right things. I was breastfeeding, I was maintaining relationships with all of my friends who were either pregnant or parenting, I was attending family functions, I was keeping the house spotless, I was doing all the washing and ironing, (I even ironed nappies, washers & pillowcases…..who really could find time for that? People would have to think I was good?!!) I was losing weight; I’d even gone back to work part-time whilst maintaining all of these things. But on the inside, I was crying.
I felt like my son didn’t like me, and I resented him for that. I felt like I had gone through all of the pregnancy and difficult childbirth to give him away to everybody else. I felt like a vessel….an empty vessel.
I felt like all of my friends who were pregnant or parenting were more excited and more competent at being a mother than I was, and I was jealous of them for that. I felt like my partner was a better parent than I was and I resented him for that. I felt like I was unlovable and I didn’t love myself for that. I felt unsupported by my own parents and I resented them for that. I felt all of these negative feelings so intensely and so exclusively (sharing none of them) and I felt GUILTY for that.
All of these negative feelings do not equate to me not loving or wanting my son. I have always loved him and wanted him, but these emotions became clouded by the heavy haze of resentment and uselessness I felt inside. Gloria Steinem once said, “Women have felt the need to pretend to be happy in order to be feminine.” (Larsen & Hegarty, 1991, Believing In Myself, July 24, Prentice Hall/Parkside Publications) I was pretending because I wanted everyone both inside and outside of my circle to believe I was a competent mother, and I personally think that there exists a societal pressure on women to be everything to everybody. Otherwise, childcare would be free, maternity leave would be paid and mandatory, and the ratio of women and men staying at home to look after their children would be more equal, but hey, that’s a different story.
I began to isolate myself, going only out of the house to go to work or to do the grocery shopping, or the occasional get-together in the park. I tried to go to the gym, but felt guilty for leaving him in the inadequate childcare provided. I withdrew from my partner and my friends, and I began to drink alcohol. That was when I could not keep up the façade any longer. The only trouble was, my son was now over 12 months old. How could the time have passed so quickly without any acknowledgement from myself and others that there could be a problem?
It was only when I ended up in hospital and then linked into a psychiatrist that it appeared that I had, “previously undiagnosed post-natal depression”. This, however, didn’t cut it with a few people, because now my son was too old for ME to have POST-NATAL depression. Comments from my psychiatrist that didn’t help were, “So what DO you do all day?” and comments from my significant others that didn’t help were, “So how long is post-natal depression supposed to last anyway?”
Things that did help was a conviction in me to not stand alone any longer and to tell people who counted that I was not well. Unconditional love, support and acceptance from my partner, his family and my best friends are the backbones from which I live and care for myself and my child.
I am now on anti-depressants and have felt like a human guinea pig trying to find that special, dynamic relationship between them and me. I’m still not sure if they are the way to go, but I owe it to myself and my family to give anything a go. Through it all, my son has grown into a beautiful little boy and has reached his milestones and then some! (Okay, so I have my mummy goggles on!) He is safe and happy, he loves both his mummy and daddy, has great relationships with his grandparents, aunts and uncles and has quite a few best friends too!
The most important thing for me has been support. We are social creatures, we are not hermits. We need people for survival. For me to continue on this journey safely, I have needed those closest to me for support, love, guidance and HELP!!! As they say, it takes a village to raise a child, so if you have ever experienced anything like me, or have been diagnosed with post-natal depression, remember you are not incompetent. You are not “An Incompetent Mother Formally Known As Competent”……..you are an Artist and you are a Princess!
*The author of this article wishes to remain anonymous.