With Father’s day coming up, I want to point out to the subject of fathers and postnatal depression as I feel it is despite its significance often overlooked or even ignored.
Postpartum depression has typically been perceived as a problem limited to women with newborn babies and has not included men.
However, we cannot forget that fathers also experience significant changes with the arrival of their child. Fathers also have to adjust to an array of new and demanding roles and tasks during the early stages of parenthood.
I often talk about postnatal depression, but I have realised I have never written about what postnatal depression actually is.
Personally, I am familiar with everything that relates to postnatal depression, but I am aware that this is not the case for everyone. There are plenty of people who still have no clue what it actually is, or even perceive it as some kind of a whim on the part of the sufferer.
So let me do something about it…
What is Postnatal Depression (PND)?
I believe there are two different ways of defining PND, a professional and a personal definition.
According to NHS, “postnatal depression is a type of depression that many parents experience after having a baby. It’s a common problem that affects more than 1 in every 10 women within a year of giving birth.” (please note that this goes for the cases that have been reported but there still are many of them who weren’t).
PND can also affect fathers and partners.
Symptoms of postnatal depression
Many women feel a bit down, tearful or anxious in the first week after giving birth. This is often called the “baby blues” and is very common. The “baby blues” don’t last for more than 2 weeks after giving birth.
If your symptoms last longer or start later, you could have postnatal depression. Postnatal depression can start anytime in the first year after giving birth.
NHS also mentions signs that you or someone you know might be depressed include:
a persistent feeling of sadness and low mood
lack of enjoyment and loss of interest in the wider world
lack of energy and feeling tired all the time
trouble sleeping at night and feeling sleepy during the day
difficulty bonding with your baby
withdrawing from contact with other people
problems concentrating and making decisions
frightening thoughts – for example, about hurting your baby
This definition pretty much sums up what happens with a person who suffers from postnatal depression.
In regards to my own definition based on personal experience, I would say that postnatal depression is an illness that can totally take over your brain and often over your life.
It is the darkest place your soul can get to and the hardest place to come back from.
You cannot control your thoughts or deeds. As though your thoughts belong to someone else. You don’t see any point in anything. You don’t understand people who laugh and enjoy life. All you feel is an intense emptiness. As if someone sucked all the life out of you. You are just a body without a soul. All you want to do is cry. You see no point in living.
You are not yourself anymore…
The worst thing, you have no control over these feelings and thoughts. However hard you want them to stop, you are not able to.
This is what makes postnatal depression an illness.
Trying to dismiss depressive feelings is like trying to dismiss the natural urge to breathe.
When depressed, you simply can’t voluntarily change the way you feel.
That’s why it’s crucial to seek professional help.
Causes of postnatal depression
The cause of postnatal depression isn’t completely clear. Some of the factors it has been associated with include:
previous experience of mental health problems
lack of support
difficult childhood experiences
experience of abuse
stressful living conditions
major life events
However, even if you don’t have any of these symptoms, having a baby is a life-changing event that can sometimes trigger depression.
Your life drastically changes from one day to another and it takes time to adapt to this new situation. Not to mention how stressful and exhausting looking after a small baby can be and the outside pressure new mothers are exposed to.
All this in a combination of sleep deprivation can easily cause for the parents to feel down, or depressed.
It’s also very important to know that postnatal depression can start anytime during the first year after having a baby.
Treatments for postnatal depression
First and foremost, you need to TALK.
It can be challenging to talk to a professional as a first choice, so you can start with someone you trust. Whether it’s your partner, friend, parent, sister, brother, grandparent… Talk to them about how you feel.
It might seem like a minor thing to do, but as a new mother, you need to give yourself time to adapt to the new situation. Your life changes from one day to another but you cannot also process all these changes from one day to another.
It takes time during which you need to make your life as easy as possible.
And you need to talk!
Talking will help you to process your emotions and open a space for new emotions to come in.
Not to mention that it can also give you the confidence to seek professional help. And this is crucial, especially when suffering from severe depression when you even have to force yourself to get out of bed.
Professional support and effective treatments include:
Psychological treatments (also known as talking therapies) can help you change your thinking patterns and improve your coping skills so you’re better equipped to deal with life’s stresses and conflicts. As well as supporting your recovery, psychological therapies can also help you stay well by identifying and changing unhelpful thoughts and behaviour.
There are many different talking treatments that can be effective in treating depression:
cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
interpersonal therapy (IPT)
behavioural couples therapy – if you have a long-term partner, and your doctor agrees that it would be useful to involve them in your treatment.
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)
These may be recommended if your depression is more severe or other treatments haven’t helped; your doctor can prescribe medicine, often along with psychological treatments.
There’s a lot of misinformation about antidepressant medication. It can be very useful in the treatment of moderate to severe depression.
Other sources of support
Exercise has been shown to help boost mood in people with mild depression. Even a 10 minute walk every day can make wonders in the way you feel.
Eating well when experiencing postnatal depression can be a tough call but it is one of the best things that you can do for yourself and your recovery.
Make time for yourself
Try to do activities that you find relaxing and enjoyable. Ideally, the things you enjoyed doing before you became a parent.
There are several Facebook groups for postnatal depression and anxiety. These groups are closed so their content is confidential and is visible to the members of the group only.
Of course, you can find other online forums outside Facebook too.
I had an entry into the 2006 London marathon but unfortunately suffered an injury so had to defer. I then realised that if I moved quickly there was a chance I could become pregnant with my second child and still be able to run in the 2007 marathon and not lose my deferred place.
I was incredibly fortunate that with both pregnancies I didn’t suffer with morning sickness or any pains. I managed to keep running through both pregnancies. With the second one, I managed a gentle 5 mile run in some light snow in the morning and then went into labour that evening.
Unfortunately, my daughter (like my son) has to be extracted immediately due to the monitors showing they were in distress so I had to have emergency sections for both.
Do you feel overwhelmed by your thoughts and/or feelings?
I believe it won’t be anything new for you when I advise you to talk about it. Especially when these thoughts/feelings can significantly impact your mental health. Especially when you are a new mum dealing with feelings of sadness, failure, overwhelm, loneliness, isolation… Talking is undoubtedly the best thing you can do.
The reason is simple. Talking can literally save you.
I know you feel overwhelmed with everything that is going on now. You could not wait to have your babies and now that they are here, you are not sure that it is what you wanted. I know you are astonished by your own feelings and emotions. I know you don’t feel the love you expected to be feeling. I know you doubt your decision about having children. I know you desperately want your life back. I know you feel stuck. And I know that you feel incredibly guilty for feeling this way.
The term ‘postnatal depression’ can be confusing. New mums go through a variety of feelings and often are in that emotional tangle not sure whether they suffer from depression or not. The Internet is full of professional definitions, but many times these would not help identify when it really is depression.
Perhaps every mother who has been through depression at least for a certain period of time has a feeling that they have had to hide it from others. I was not an exception. I often ask myself why and still come to the conclusion that it was simply a subconscious reflex of my mind. I had the impression that something was wrong with me and that people would judge me for my feelings.
Somewhere deep inside I even feared that they could take my children away from me. Which, by the way, is an interesting paradox. On the one hand, I was depressed by the existence of my children, but the idea of taking them from me made me feel even worse … Maternal instinct is (fortunately) an extremely powerful and perhaps affects us more than we can imagine.
I’ll never forget the moment when I was looking at my few days old children and tears were falling down my face. However, it wasn’t the tears of joy, it was the tears of regret. Regret that we’d wanted to have them and regret about my future.
It was a couple of days after Yaw and I had moved into the hospital. Nurses recommended this step as I’d wanted to breastfeed. During one week all four of us lived in a hospital room the size of a shoe box. I am always grateful that we had this option but it wasn’t easy to live like that. In a real-time it wasn’t a long period of time, but for me, it was the longest week of my life. And one of the hardest ones.