Postnatal Depression: Things You Should and Shouldn’t Say…

Waking in the recovery room, after my baby was born via emergency C section, was the loneliest experience of my life. Within seconds, a friendly-faced nurse said “Welcome back. The surgery went well, you’re daughter is doing great! She’s just in intensive care getting checked over, you’ll see her soon!”

I “should have” felt a flood of happiness, relief, excitement. Instead, there was only emptiness… When the nurse asked if I was OK, I said: “Why do I feel so empty?” She looked taken aback, and replied: “You should be happy, your baby is here safe!”

And so it began…

The nothingness. The first time I ever saw her on my husband’s phone in the recovery room. Nothing. The first video he showed me of her in the incubator. Nothing. The first time she was wheeled into me. Nothing. The first time I held her in my arms… Nothing… It’s just the morphine making me feel nothing. I’ll feel better tomorrow… and tomorrow… maybe tomorrow? Then endless nights morph into months. A year goes by and you wonder why you’re still bawling uncontrollably at the kitchen sink.

While it hurts to admit I didn’t enjoy my daughter’s first years, it’s something that needs saying. Not enough people are honest about it and that’s where the isolation begins – particularly in today’s society where we’re all effectively islands projecting “an ideal.”

So, with that in mind, here is a guide of sorts to hopefully help a loved one navigate an extremely trying time.

• “You should be happy, your baby is here safe and sound, that’s the main thing”
Yes, I know I “SHOULD” be happy, but I’m not and I can’t explain why. It’s important to ask questions and, more importantly, listen to your loved one’s answers. Family members kept repeating that particular platitude; it was just their way of trying to snap me out of things. Unfortunately, it’s never that easy, and repeatedly saying it invalidates those feelings of emptiness – which need addressing sooner rather than later.

• “You’re probably just tired, it’s only something to worry about if you consider harming your baby”
Nope. Not true. Your feelings matter. Thoughts of harming your baby should not be a benchmark.

• “Women have been having babies since the beginning of time!”
Indeed they have, but one could argue they were “simpler times” when the womenfolk were at home and therefore there was usually someone you could pass the baby to.

• “Yeah, I had a few bad days after my baby was born. I know how you feel”
No, you don’t, you’re not me. While the infamous “Day Three Baby Blues” is taxing – what with the hormonal shifts, the milk coming in, and the increasing realisation that this lack of sleep is the norm – but the ‘Baby Blues’ shouldn’t last for weeks/months.

• “I would never take antidepressants. It’s only masking the real problem…”
Correct, but I needed antidepressants to help ease the hormonal shift, therefore providing more of a level playing field to address the symptoms and deal with the “real problem”, whatever that may be.

• “Are you still on the *whispers* medicaaaaation??”
None of your buuusssiiineeeeessss. Seriously, I have been asked this. Why would anyone need to know? That’s between you, your doctor, and possibly a significant other. Also, medication isn’t something that needs whispering about, it’s 2019.

• “You still seem down, I thought the happy pills were meant to work?!”
Anti-depressants don’t work like that. You won’t catch me twirling in a field of poppies squealing in delight. I can, however, get out of bed in the morning and enjoy my children.

• “You should be enjoying this time, it passes so fast!”
Thank you for pointing out the obvious, I had no idea…

It is hard to pinpoint exactly the right thing to say, and that is because every person is unique. Below are merely some things I was asked that let me see and then focus on the glimmer of light.

• “I’m coming over”…
It’s important to make a plan and stick to it. Yes, it’s easier to say “you know where I am” or “if there’s anything I can do, let me know”, but chances are your friend won’t contact you. Chances are, they may feel like they’re failing, like they’re a burden, so reaching out to ask for help can seem petrifying. If you say, “I’m coming over at 4pm so you can sleep/shower/go for a walk/cry/laugh with me/eat/all of the aforementioned” it will lighten the load. If they refuse, say you’ll swing by anyway and leave dinner at the door.

• “Tell me what it feels like”…
I’ve been lucky enough to have two people ask me that. Everyone else started with “How are you feeling?” before flapping about in a bid to impart pearls of wisdom – anything to fill the silence. Asking someone with PND that question not only provides relief, it also shows you genuinely care and want to know what it feels like for them.

• “These are symptoms, not you”…
Breaking it down to brass tacks can be beneficial; for me it was hormones. The crippling panic that would rush within was “just” adrenaline. I learned that fluorescent/artificial light, tiredness, and lack of decent food would bring on that adrenal surge. However, it’s all too easy for rationalities to flee when in the grips of depression. Reminding the person that they’re navigating everything that comes with new motherhood while juggling hormonal shifts can help remind them.

• “If you could do ONE thing right now, what would it be.”
Some friends asked, “What would make you happy?” Instead of focussing on the help they were trying to give, I instead got caught in the whirlpooling dismay that I couldn’t think of one thing that sparked joy. That created more panic. Instead, ask them what’s the one thing they could do today to help ease them in any way.

There is no one size fits all. There is no wrong or right way, just the right way at the time – for you. And you are important.

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