First thing’s first – whether it’s PND or the Baby Blues, it is all normal. Repeat – it is all normal. What isn’t “normal” are new/exacerbated behavioural issues that arise post delivery that last more than two weeks.
When the public health nurse called around three days after we got home from the hospital with child number one, she handed me a leaflet regarding the importance of contraception (managed to have a bit of a laugh at that one), followed by another one about postnatal depression.
“Are you feeling anxious? Not sleeping? Crying all the time? Not enjoying activities you once did? Changes in appetite? No motivation or little energy? Overwhelming guilt/worry that you’re not doing it right?” EH, YEAH – just had a baby.
She continued; “OK, how about the more prevalent telltale signs – have you little or no interest in the baby? Or suicidal thoughts?” No more than usual… If only I’d said that out loud. “No more than usual.” Instead, I just said, “No, I’m OK.” It’s usually easier to say that. That one just slides right off the tongue.
Unbeknownst to me, I’d been battling depression since pretty much day dot (the anxiety was more in your face and obviously harder to ignore). I thought that was just how people felt when they’d had similar levels of life trauma. Nope. So, really, getting diagnosed with PND changed my life – for the better.
Right, enough guff, to the checklist. Of course, it’s all relative. Obviously, it varies from person to person. It’s a rough gauge.
1) Crying a lot…
• Normal: Regularly bawling/roaring your head off in the first few weeks post childbirth.
• Not Normal: Bawling your head off every day for weeks/months on end. Everyone has a trigger. Mine was washing the bottles.
• Normal: Not interacting with people for a few days on the trot as you’re in a world of nappies/feeding and it just seems easier to stay put.
• Not Normal: Feeling too inept/worthless/petrified to bring yourself to leave the house, too numb to phone someone and ignoring incoming calls because you have nothing worth saying, you’re boring. Oh, and if your partner (assuming you have one) is even five minutes late home you start screaming internally before sobbing over the sink, repeatedly slamming the bottle washer off the draining board.
3) Loss of Libido…
• Normal: Letting it go for a couple of months (yes, I said months)
• Not Normal: Letting it go for a couple of years.
• Normal: “OH MY GOD WILL THAT BABY STOP CRYING ALREADY?!”
• Not Normal: *Baby cries… hops the remote off the floor with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns*
5) Not Finding Joy in Things you Used to…
• Normal: “Eh, of course I don’t find joy in things I used to; there’s a baby now and we can’t DO the things we used to. Why didn’t anybody tell me this was going to be so all-consuming?!”
• Not Normal: “I feel nothing. I feel nothing… I feel nothing for anything.”
6) Sleeping Too Much/Not Sleeping At All…
• Normal: “Baby’s crying. Can’t sleep… Baby might cry. Can’t sleep… Someone else is looking after the baby. Please let me sleep for days.”
• Not Normal: “What if I can’t sleep… What if *insert anxious thought here*… What if… What if… What if… What if… What if I could go to sleep and never wake up…. Wouldn’t that be amazing….”
7) Eating Too Much/Not Eating Enough…
• Normal: “I’ve been awake half the night, of course I’m going to pound an entire bar of chocolate for breakfast, followed by this packet of biscuits…” / “I’ve been awake half the night, the last thing I can face is food right now.”
• Not Normal: When that pattern is consistent for more than two weeks.
8) Drinking Too Much…
• Normal: Welcome to the club. If you’ve not got a ready supply of doting/able-bodied grandparents willing to look after your baby so you can escape the monotony, one of the few downtime pursuits for the housebound is a nighttime tipple. Or sex. But who has the inclination to groom themselves (yours truly hasn’t gotten the necessary extremities waxed since July. JULY. But I digress)
• Not Normal: Starting the morning with “never again”. Come lunchtime, you find yourself staring at the open bottle of wine, with “just enough for a glass” left. Come 7pm, you’re making excuses for having to go to the shop for milk but really you just want another bottle of wine because “just a glass” may not be enough.
9) Not Bonding With The Baby
• Normal: “I’d NO idea it would be as sore as it was, or intense as it is or the sheer relentlessness. I feel a duty of care right now, but hopefully, that’ll grow into something more.”
• Not Normal: “I feel nothing. I feel nothing… Someone else take it. I feel nothing…”
Put it this way, if you’d rather furiously scrub a skirting board or sit motionless on your bed for an extended period than pick up your child which is screaming in the next room, then you have to address the issue.
10) Suicidal Thoughts…
This is never “normal”. No matter how slight those thoughts might be. For example, all my life I’ve thought “Wouldn’t it be great to fall asleep and not wake up. Wouldn’t it be nice just to have the daily struggle of existing just disappear?” And then I’d go about my day, clawing my way through by my teeth. Then baby number one came along, and those thoughts became more prevalent. I thought it was just tiredness, or just adapting to motherhood, but it doesn’t have to be like that. Going to my GP about it turned my life around. CBT gave me the tools to feel like I’m living.
In short, if you’re listening to the news (don’t listen to the news) and you hear of a celebrity who’s been found dead in a hotel room, and you hear yourself utter the words “lucky bollocks” (true story), you need to address your mental health.
What You Can Do Right Now…
• Try to eat well. True, it’s the last thing you want to be doing. Given half the chance you’d rather be face down in pizza. Or you could be the other end of the spectrum and “forget” to eat, which is easily done given everything is about the baby, especially to start. As you may not have time to cook from scratch, ask someone to leave a stew on your doorstep, or someone else to knock in with a cottage pie. You’ll get them back sometime.
• Make that appointment with the GP. Sure, you’ll have to pay for a private therapist (that ole rant), or you may get lucky like me and find a trainee who needs a case study.
• Look at your options. Have a gander at our Help page.
• Try and exercise. Much like the eating well, it’s the last thing you want to be doing. But by “exercise” I mean go for a walk. Then take it from there.
• Write it off. “Who has f*cking time for writing?!” We’re talking two lines to sum up your day. The kids nowadays call it “journaling” but it’s just keeping a diary. Leave it beside your bed, jot down a few lines. It’s a good way to exorcise feelings.
• What’s the alternative? Meditation. Mindfulness. Reiki. Acupuncture. Reflexology. It works. We’re not all “Mirdhiam” off Fair City.
As you can see, the above checklist is personal – it’s not a one size fits all scenario – just remember, you don’t have to feel this way.