Depression and babies.
It’s not what you think. I didn’t have PPD. Nope. I had the complete opposite. Pure unadulterated bliss. Why is that so extraordinary? Because I have had depression for years. I have been on medicine since I was first diagnosed about seven years ago. A variety of types and various strengths – complemented with alternative ‘natural’ remedies as the years went on and I learned more about myself and depression. My husband and I were married for several years when we decided to try for a child. Under the guidance of my GP we lowered my dosage while we were trying to conceive. After much research and discussion it was decided it was better for my mental health to stay on anti-depressants but the lowest possible dosage for me than to try and come off them completely. It was a scary decision, I’ll be honest. The thought of going off them was scary, the thought of staying on them and the side effects on my unborn child even scarier. I read widely, as widely as possible in an understudied area of medicine – anecdotal, research, forums, blogs and articles. It’s understandable though, as it is an area fraught with medical, social, ethical and emotional baggage.
Besides having morning (all day) sickness and the stereotypical hormonal rollercoaster that is pregnancy I think I fared pretty well. I read a lot about pregnancy but also about HAVING A BABY. You know, the afterwards that no-one really prepares you for?? I didn’t want that unprepared feeling of ‘why did no-one warn me about this??!!’ So I did what most people would never dream of… I prepared for the worst case scenario. I imagined not loving my baby straight away – not have that ‘connection’. I envisaged a long c-section recovery (I was hoping for a natural birth, but preparing for the worst case). I read about all the worst side effects of the weeks after birth; the cramping and pain, the bleeding, tiredness etc. I listened to mums who said ‘when someone offers help, TAKE IT!’ To people who said ‘fill your freezer’, ‘let people hold your baby and you take a shower’ or ‘you’ll spend whole days in your pyjamas and that’s all right’.
Odd? Yup. Useful – you bet! When Henry was born, by emergency c section, a week after the February 22 earthquakes while the hospital was still rocking and we had no water… I fell instantly in love. The obstetrician held up a grey crying baby not breathing properly and my heart nearly leapt out of my chest with love. ‘Oh’ I sighed ‘I have THAT feeling, yes!’ He needed to go to NICU. (Side effect of my medicine) ‘That’s alright’ I told myself, ‘he’s in the best hands and I am here by his side’. NICU asked if I wanted to express or be called up at any hour to breastfeed. I chose the call up at any hour option so I could hold that big bundle of love whenever I could. We went home and I prepared myself to be very sore. I wasn’t, I just got constipated (you can’t have it all your own way). I got a post op infection and needed emergency care and four months of follow up. That was all right, we dealt with it. I ASKED family to stop by every day, do dishes, bring meals, take Henry for a walk or sit and talk. I had my down moments where I cried and thought ‘I can’t do this! What am I doing? Will this get better?’ but I just put them down to normal hormonal changes.
When I tell my story people are flabbergasted. My obstetricians’ house was ruined in the earthquake and he didn’t make it to my labour. The back up was great. The hospital was supposed to be prepared for my cord blood collection kit – they weren’t. It still got done. NICU didn’t ask to give Henry formula and they did. We were angry but made a point of being in their face from then on in. The hospital was on limited water supplies; Army helicopters were landing outside my window; big earthquakes were still happening; nurses from across the country came to help at the hospital so you always had someone different… the list honestly just goes on! We laugh now. We laughed then. If you didn’t laugh you would have cried and got nowhere anyway.
What is the point of rehashing all this melodrama? My expectations were low. So when things went well, it was great! I think modern society – movies, magazines, books etc have a lot to answer for with our expectations of birth and our baby’s newborn days. We associate pain with birth and then a babymoon bliss. When this doesn’t eventuate there is a disconnect. Women are left stranded, feeling angry, alienated and short-changed. Which leads me to my big kahuna question – is all PPD, PPD? Or is some of it just our unrealistic expectations? We aren’t surrounded by breastfeeding mums; a community bringing up a baby; babywearing; bedsharing and mums telling us about newborn cluster feeding won’t go to sleep ways! I suspect many of us have baby shock. Holy smoke how do I deal with this- this isn’t what I expected- no one told me about this shock.
I KNOW woman are out there with genuine PPD. I know woman who are afraid of going to their GP to say they think they have PPD. Yet, I still hear stories of mums going to the Dr to say ‘gosh this is a handful and I’m not sleeping so well’ and leaving with anti-depressants when really they need some support not drugs. I would be fascinated to know the rate of PPD in cultures where the mother is supported totally such as in India. I could be completely wrong, it’s just a hunch after all! I don’t want to scare new mums and mums to be, by preparing them for every worst possible case scenario. I just think we can do a better job by offering tangible support and helping her recreate that community that brings up a child. So if you know a new mama, think back to what would have helped you and pay if forward – fold her Mount Washmore, wash some week old dishes or ladies bring a plate. Let’s change that culture of expectations. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.