It’s no secret that I suffered from Post Partum Depression (PPD) after the birth of my first baby. It was a dark, regretful time of my life and one that I find difficult to write about – but I know that I must, sometimes. A twitter follower recently requested a post about PPD with second and subsequent children, so I wanted to oblige quickly. This is a tough subject, but nevertheless a subject that needs to be written about.
When I look back at that bleak time in our family history, I wish I could leap back in time to give my former self a big hug and promise her that it would all be ok. Oh, how I worried that the black hole I had found myself in would become my permanent home. It didn’t, of course, but those worries continued to simmer away in the back of my mind long after I had journeyed back into the light.
I was worried because I wanted more children.
My womb ached to carry more babies; my breasts longed to nurse another newborn. I wanted, needed to add to our family but the fear of plunging back into that hole was paralysing.
It took many months of soul searching and lengthy discussions with the husband to finally come to the decision to try to conceive again. My friends reassured me that it would be different this time. After all, I knew what to expect. I was already in the role of a mother so, although it would be tough to adjust to a new baby, it wouldn’t be the massive culture shock that it was when I went from a carefree teenager to a responsible mother. I had a better support network waiting in the wings, ready to swoop in should I start to flounder.
And most importantly, I was aware of the illness and would recognise the signs, hopefully catching the PPD whilst it attempted to sneak up on me, before it had a chance to grab me in the familiar chokehold. I even spoke to my doctor about my worries, and she assured me that I could start back on my (breastfeeding and pregnancy-friendly) antidepressants as soon as I felt I needed them.
I needn’t have worried. As soon as my pregnancy began, it felt different. Despite the pregnancy being pre-empted by two consecutive early miscarriages, I was full of joy from the very beginning. Despite the debilitating morning sickness, which gave way to even more debilitating SPD by 13 weeks along (which rendered me unable to walk for more than 50 yards without agonising pain by 30 weeks), I loved being pregnant. I loved seeing my belly grow every week, and I couldn’t wait to meet the little person within. I spent weeks planning and preparing myself and my family for an all-natural home birth. I was so excited. I was feeling pretty positive that it really would be different this time, despite the normal worries of how my new baby would fit into the family, and how my son would cope.
When Squishy arrived after the most fantastic, perfect home birth, I held him and looked at his little face. And once again, I did not feel the Amazing Rush of Love that everybody talks about. My heart sank, weighed down with a heavy feeling of dread. Oh God, I thought. It’s happening again.
I kept it to myself. Convinced myself that it would be ok. And you know what? I was right.
12 hours later, I gazed at the face of my gorgeous sleeping newborn and it hit me. My heavy heart was lifted and filled with the sweet voices of a hundred angels. All-consuming love coursed through my veins. With every single breath I took I felt myself filling up with love for this tiny little creature. It was *the* most amazing, clichéd moment of my entire life. I remember thinking to myself, This is what it’s supposed to be like. This is motherhood.
The baby blues kicked in a few days later, but they were mild and went away after a week or so. Although I felt emotionally wobbly, there was a strange solidity in my soul. I knew things would be okay. Everything was so different this time. I actually enjoyed being up with my little baby all night long. I treasured the quiet moments in the dark that we shared, despite the tiredness. Instead of longing for him to grow up and not need me so much, I longed for him to stay tiny forever and ever. I wanted him with me all of the time.
Of course, I’ve had some wobbly moments. As somebody who has struggled with depression on and off for almost all of my adult life, those moments are inevitable. Some days I feel overwhelmed by my responsibilities, and I pine for simple days gone by when my biggest responsibility was my mediocre job, and making sure I had enough money for my fortnightly night out in town. I still have days when I would much rather lie on the sofa and stare at the ceiling than undertake the various and seemingly endless list of motherly tasks I must complete. But that’s life. The difference now is that I am able to take some deep breaths, acknowledge those feelings and get on with the day.
The causes of PPD are many and varied. For me, my experiences of pregnancy, birth and early motherhood were so vastly different that I couldn’t possibly pinpoint just one thing that caused my PPD, or prevented it the second time around. I am well aware that many women unfortunately have a different experience than I did, and that a positive experience of pregnancy and the perinatal period does not in any way guarantee freedom from PPD. In the same way, previous PPD does not in any way guarantee that you will once again be a sufferer.
I wrote this post because I hope that it may give someone, somewhere, the hope and courage that they need to believe that it doesn’t have to be the same way again. Even if the dreaded PPD strikes again, the current ‘you’ has got something on the ‘you’ from the past – she’s got experience. She knows that a rock solid support network is vital. She knows that the worst possible thing she could do is to keep her feelings to herself out of fear that her child will be taken away, or that her family will abandon her. She knows how important it is to advocate for herself to the doctor that can get her the help she needs.
And, most importantly, she knows that she can get through whatever life throws at her. She’s a survivor, and as such she is far stronger than she thinks she is.
What advice would you give a mama who is worrying about getting PPD?