I seem to have babies on my mind at the moment. I blame my sister for this, as she’s currently growing my little niece that I can’t wait to cuddle! It didn’t help that Emily was watching Fizz Fam’s latest video on YouTube this afternoon either. Which just so happened to be the birth of their fourth baby. So, I’m sure you can see why I’ve been thinking a lot about my own pregnancies, and my experience with antenatal depression.
Sunshine & Rainbows
I have had 4 children, and each pregnancy, labour, delivery and recovery was completely different. They were, I would say, within the realms of ‘normal’, but also a struggle. My wise little sister suggested that I do a blog post about them, to show how different labour, delivery and recovery can be, even for the same person. I think her actual words were “So people see it isn’t always sunshine & rainbows.”
Because every experience was so different, I am writing one blog post per pregnancy. All 4 of my pregnancies had a different challenge, so that will be the focus.
So why antenatal depression?
I’ve chosen to write my first post about my experience with antenatal depression. I know it’s not a happy subject to start off a pregnancy series with. But I only experienced antenatal depression in one pregnancy.
When I was 17, I got pregnant accidentally by my (then) boyfriend. The morning sickness was horrible, but then abruptly stopped. I didn’t think much of it at the time. But at 17 weeks pregnant, I found out that the baby’s heart had stopped, but I hadn’t miscarried. I went through the awful experience of having to have a “D&C” the same afternoon, which absolutely broke my heart. I was kept in for a night afterwards, on the maternity ward, where I listened to other people’s babies crying whilst I joined in with them.
It was a lonely, heartbreaking, horrible experience that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
I wasn’t offered any support or counselling afterwards. Maybe people just assumed that as I was so young, and it was an accidental pregnancy, that I’d get over it.
But I didn’t. I really struggled to come to terms with it. In fact, I don’t think I ever did, but 3 months later I missed a period, and saw a little cross appear on a pregnancy test.
Second pregnancy, first baby.
Although the second pregnancy wasn’t ‘planned’ we hadn’t done anything to prevent it. And I was really happy. Albeit, very nervous about miscarrying again.
The morning sickness was worse the second time around and went on for much longer. But I took comfort in that. I had read an article in a pregnancy magazine similar to this one that said morning sickness is associated with a lower miscarriage risk.
Antenatal depression or hormones?
Physically, my pregnancy went well.
However, I also experienced antenatal depression (also called perinatal or prenatal depression) during months 4-8 of my pregnancy. It didn’t have a name back then, or if it did, my midwife just put it all down to hormones, but it wasn’t.
I went through some very dark times during those months, and used to write letters to my unborn baby pouring my feelings out. Usually with tears streaming down my face.
I never wanted anybody else to read them, so I used to take them into work with me and stick them through the shredder.
It was a very difficult time. On one hand I knew I should be happy because I was pregnant with the healthy baby that I wanted. But on the other hand I was just so extremely sad and tearful. Which then made me feel guilty for feeling sad, when I was getting exactly what I wanted. And then I’d feel even more bleak, and cry for hours on end.
After bringing up how I was feeling with the midwife, and it being put down to hormones, I kept my feelings to myself and never told anybody else how I really felt.
Things are very different now, there has been a lot of wonderful research into antenatal depression. People and health professionals are much more aware of it, and can offer advice and support.
Did you know 1 in 10 pregnant women suffer from antenatal depression?
I didn’t. And to be honest, that figure might not be accurate, it could be a lot higher. Either way, it’s a reassuringly common pregnancy condition. Please, if you think you could be suffering, talk to someone. There is always someone out there to listen to you. Always.
Signs & symptoms of antenatal depression
- Unusual amount of worry about giving birth and parenthood.
- Lack of energy and disturbed sleep.
- Losing interest in yourself or your pregnancy.
- Feeling emotionally detached, teary, angry or irritable.
- Chronic anxiety.
- No interest in sex.
- Poor concentration.
- Sense of hopelessness about the future.
Taken from the National Childbirth Trust (NCT)
This isn’t an exhaustive list, it’s just to give you an idea of things that might be considered as pointing towards antenatal depression.
You don’t have to suffer from all of these listed things at once, and you may well have other symptoms that you’re not sure about. It’s always better to seek real medical advice.
You can read more about antenatal depression on the Tommy’s website here : What is antenatal depression?
Or you could read about antenatal depression signs, symptoms and support on the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) website too.
The most important thing you can do for yourself if you think you might be suffering from antenatal depression, is to seek help. Preferably as early as you can.
This could be from a friend or family member for emotional support. Or from your midwife or GP for practical support and/or referrals to counselling or possibly medication.
Don’t EVER be ashamed to seek help. Don’t be afraid to talk about your feelings. Or feel bad or guilty for feeling anything less than stupendously happy.
I personally found it really helpful to try and get some control back into my life.
I watched a lot of labour & delivery programs so I understood all the Doctor/midwife language, and what to expect from each stage of labour.
And I wrote a very specific birth plan, possibly a little over the top. But it really helped me feel more secure and in control.
My first birth plan was very specific. I’d written that I wanted to use only a TENS machine, entonox and pethidine for pain relief. I absolutely didn’t want an epidural no matter what I said during labour. No episiotomy, I’d take my chances with a tear. A caesarean was only to be done it was a life or death matter. And my birth partners were to be my Husband and Mum.
The day before my due date, I woke up really early, and absolutely cleaned our flat from top to bottom. Then spent a few hours snoozing in front of the TV. I walked to my 40 week antenatal appointment in the afternoon. When the midwife suggested she give me a ‘sweep’ to encourage labour, I was willing. But I was really shocked when she said that she couldn’t do it because I was already 3cm dilated, and that she thought the baby would be born that day.
I walked home again, and pottered around for a few hours, without a niggle in sight. My husband and I had dinner, then I started getting a few twinges. Nothing major. Just period pain style cramps.
An hour or so later, and I was having stronger pains, almost every 10 minutes.
At 9pm, my Mum came and picked us up and we went down to the delivery suite.
Then everything stopped. No pains, no tightenings, nothing. The midwife suggested Mum and I go for a walk around the hospital for a bit to see if it would start things up again. So we did. We walked for ages, and around midnight, the contractions really started.
We went back to the delivery suite, and I tried out the TENS machine. That was a big mistake. I found the little bursts of electricity really annoying, and hated the feel of them. That was discarded pretty quickly! I literally ripped it off my back and threw it on to the bed.
My midwife had read my birth plan and suggested that I have a shot of pethidine and an anti sickness, and try to have a little sleep. I thought that was a great idea.
Right up until the minute it hit me, and I was so spaced out it was ridiculous. It was a little bit like being trapped inside a kaleidoscope, but still in pain. But the pain wasn’t connecting with any words in my brain, and the pethidine had a major affect on my proprioception.
I was also kind of hallucinating. Apparently I was convinced my mother in law was in the room, and I thought the midwife giving me an internal was my husband trying it on with me!!
Labour and delivery.
I actually felt better once it had worn off. By 5am, I was 10cm dilated, and given the entonox whilst my waters were broken and I started pushing. I pushed and I pushed and I pushed until I was physically and mentally exhausted.
I remember begging them to get the baby out of me, and my Mum turning to me and saying very sternly, that I did not want a forceps delivery. That I had to do everything I could to prevent that from happening. (She’d had a terrible experience of forceps when she had me, so she knew what she was talking about.)
Eventually, after about 2 hours of pushing, I had started to make some headway. But it turned out that the baby had his hand in front of his face, and his shoulder was at an awkward angle. I eventually pushed my little superman out, with strength that I didn’t know I had at 7.21am.
The feeling of him being put onto my chest, and seeing his little face for the first time was indescribable. The insanely huge wave of love that hit me the second I saw him, was incredible. I was absolutely elated that I had done something so hard and had survived it.
Unfortunately, because I had said no to an episiotomy, combined with the way he had tried to come out, meant that I had torn quite badly. Believe me when I say this, but I would gladly go through the last 2 hours of pushing again than have to sit through the half hour of stitching. It was fucking awful.
In hindsight, I should have said no to pethidine and yes to an episiotomy.
I had chosen to breastfeed, not that I had any idea what I was doing. Back then, there wasn’t the same level of support for breastfeeding Mums. I was offered bottles of formula every couple of hours, rather than support and guidance. But I’m stubborn, and stuck it out.
Joseph and I stayed in hospital for 3 days because he was jaundiced. He had to go in this little light box, with a teeny eye mask on for a few hours at a time, a few times a day. He hated it, and I wasn’t able to pick him up to comfort him. Which made me feel so helpless.
I remember kneeling on the edge of the hospital bed, and trying to hang over his light box crib at just the right angle to get my boob in his mouth, during one of his little crying fits. I didn’t know what else to do to try and comfort him. It didn’t work. And I fell off the bed, landing very awkwardly on the floor with one boob hanging out.
Thankfully it wasn’t visiting time. But I never tried that again.
Hot off the heels of that little failure, came my first nappy changing disaster. All the programs that I had watched only covered the delivery. There was nothing about changing nappies. It was some time in the middle of the night, and he wasn’t settling. So I decided to check his nappy. The second I undid it, he started peeing, all over me, all over himself and all over the bed. It was like a tiny high pressured hose, waving about all over the place spraying everything in sight.
And that was when I learned to always hold a piece of cotton wool over the willy when changing a nappy.
Obviously, that little tip only applies to boy babies. If you’re expecting a boy baby yourself, take heed from my baptism of piss. And always cover the willy up!
My recovery wasn’t too bad really. But the stitches made it very difficult to sit comfortably for any length of time. It was also absolutely horrendous trying to go for a pee. It really, really hurt. For the first few days the only way I could pee was in the shower, with the hose pointed at my (butchered) lady garden. Lukewarm water only, I quickly discovered! It was such a pain having to strip off, get in the shower and then clean it afterwards every time I needed to go. But the upside was, without a full term baby pressing against my bladder, I could hold a lot more before needing to go.
I did suffer with mastitis a couple of weeks into breastfeeding. But honestly, chilled Savoy cabbage leaves in my bra really helped! There’s a lot of great information about mastitis on the La Leche website.
Fortunately, Spring had sprung shortly after having him, and we were able to go for lots of lovely walks with him in his pram. I really think that helped keep me in a healthy frame of mind. And I would highly recommend getting out every single day, no matter how awful you feel.
I didn’t suffer with postnatal depression after having Joseph, but I did after having my second baby, Jessica. But that’s the subject for the next post. (I will link it here once I’ve written it.)