Postpartum depression (PPD), also called postnatal depression, is a form of clinical depression which can affect women, and less frequently men, after childbirth. Postpartum depression occurs in women after they have carried a child, usually in the first few months. Symptoms include sadness, fatigue, insomnia, appetite changes, reduced libido, crying episodes, anxiety, and irritability. Current data suggests that 5 to 9 percent of women will develop postpartum depression, but less than one in five of these women will seek professional help.
That was how far I got writing this entry before I snapped the laptop lid down, grabbed a book and my pone and went to run a bath. Then I went downstairs and grabbed a jar of peanut butter and a spoon. Then I started re-hanging all the clothes my husband hung out to dry early tonight. Then I tidied an already tidy area of the living room. Then I went upstairs again and got into the now very full, very hot bath. And that's where I stayed for an our and a half until the water was cold and A.B started crying for a feed. I fed her, then checked my e-mail. Then my Twitter. Then the forum I belong to. Then I browsed a couple more blogs. Then I checked my e-mail again. Finally, I opened this window back up. And now I want to do nothing more than to close it again.
I'm not exactly a novice when it comes to depression. I've had it for at least 8 years. In the last three years I've had two nervous breakdowns. I've been suicidal, I've self harmed, I've tried to starve myself into non-existence, I've used drugs and alcohol to alternatively attempt to numb the pain, and when that didn't work, to obliterate any trace of the memory of the pain. But none of this really prepared me for PND. PND was another animal altogether.
Thoughout pregnancy I was told to expect it, with 'my history'. So I was very pleased with myself when my baby came along and I took to motherhood very well. I instinctively seemed to know what I was doing and everything came so easily to me. To myself and everyone around me, I was doing really really well. But then when A.B. was about 4 months old, I woke up one morning and realised that I could see in colour again. I had no idea when I had stopped seeing in colour, just that now I could. I realised that for most of the last 4 months I had been on auto-pilot. I hadn't really gotten out of bed. There was always a very good excuse, of course...I was sick, I was tired, giving up dairy made me weak...there was always a very very good reason why it was ok for me to not get up for weeks at a time. And after all, Bug was fine! She was happy and thriving and advanced for her age. I couldn't possibly be doing anything wrong.. There couldn't be anything wrong.
But there was.
There really, really was.
The thing about PND is it makes you feel like a terrible person. No matter what the literature and your friends say, the voice in your head says 'How the fuck can you be unhappy when you have a beautiful baby? Do you know how many people would kill to be in your shoes?' and you feel guilty. You've spent your whole life conditioned to believe this is the Happiest Moment Of Your Life and then it comes and you feel nothing. You feel empty. I love my daughter, she's my everything and I would die for her, but that love doesn't change the fact that there is a serious hormone imbalance in my brain that saps away my ability to fully engage in life.
After I woke up that day I vowed never to spend a day in bed again. I thought I was out of it. I though I was All Better Now. But I wasn't. Apart from the odd very very very rare day (like today when I have flu and my husband has ordered me to rest) I get up every day and I go downstairs. But really, it's just a change of scenery. For a few months I did nothing more downstairs than I was doing upstairs, I was just doing it on the sofa instead of in bed. This year I've been trying to leave the house more often, something I haven't done alone since A.B was born. In the last couple of weeks I've been trying to get back on top of the housework that's been piling up for months, but every now and again the PND-wave will swamp me again and I'll retreat back to where it's safe, I'll go into survival mode and anything more than that can fuck off.
Looking back, I recognise that I started showing signs of PND pretty early on. I remember her being about 5 days old and I already looked like I'd never been pregnant at all. I looked around at my in-laws fussing over my baby and I felt no connection. Or rather, I felt like I had no right to feel a connection. I felt like a nanny. This feeling intensified over the weeks, not helped by comments that people made about the fact that I didn't look like I'd just given birth, and I wasn't behaving like most new-mums*. All this made me feel so disconnected. My own body showed almost no sign of having recently given birth, apart from the bleeding, which seemed to go on forever. I lay in bed sometimes expecting a knock on the door from A.B's real parents, asking for her back.
Right now, I just live my life day to day. I make plans when I feel up to it so that I have motivation to keep moving forward, and when there's a break in the clouds, I enjoy the sun and make the most of it. I don't know when this will lift, I only hope for the day that it does. And I only hope that that day comes before A.B is old enough to see in my eyes that mommy isn't always 'here'.
*They meant it as a compliment, really, but in the fog, it just made me feel more and more like an experienced childminder than a new mother.