It was a dream come true to fall pregnant after five years of trying. We were fortunate to have a straight-forward pregnancy and I joked with friends that the labour might follow in the same way. Sadly, this was not to be and at 41 weeks I was induced due to signs of pre-eclampsia . Hard as it was, we got through the labour with the safe delivery of our baby girl E. With the first embrace I had expected to be in floods of tears, but instead I just felt numb. She was a stranger to me and I felt totally unqualified to look after her. Our first few days were spent at the John Radcliffe recovering from anaemia and for Baby E a bit of jaundice. There we had all the support we needed for breast feeding from the team of midwives and care assistants.
It was such a relief to get home and settle into our new understanding of normal. The first few weeks were a blur but the Health Visitor reassured me that this was quite normal. Four weeks on, I was still struggling, feeling very anxious and doubting my abilities to be a Mum. One of the main issues was breast feeding, it took so long and Baby E never seemed satisfied. I sought advice from the professionals but was left feeling more confused by their conflicting information.
Feeling rock bottom I called IPPS (Infant-Parent Perinatal Service) for help. Their team came along side me at that time to listen and encourage me as a new Mum. Plenty of tears were shed in our fortnightly meet ups but it was good to know that someone was there. Despite the talking therapy and anti depressants my mood was still very low. Panic attacks would strike whilst I was out at a baby group or shopping in town. But my lowest point came when I thought taking my own life was the best option for everyone.
After a frustrating and unhelpful visit to the GP I set about looking for other avenues of support. I found my answer by taking part in the OPT Study (Oxford Postnatal Treatment). Not only was I receiving treatment myself but the results would in turn help other Mum’s suffering just like me. My journey became easier once I started a course of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). This treatment helped curb my negative thinking and focus on changing what I could. Another important part of my recovery was learning how to take better care of myself. Sounds pretty straight forward but can so easily be forgotten with the time constraints as a new parent.
As well as the counsellors, friends and family have been a constant support and without them today I’m not sure where I would be. Depression can be so isolating and it’s so important to know that you are not on your own. My husband (who deserves a medal) recognised that having an opportunity to chat with other Mums in the same situation would also act as an encouragement. This led us to start the PANDAS Support Group (PANDAS Foundation), a place where families affected by pre and post natal depression (Mums and Dads) can meet to talk through their problems and get some moral support.
My life has been transformed in this past year. When I thought that all hope was gone I finally found the light at the end of the tunnel.
Being a dad whose wife gets PND
Amazingly, many people still seem to believe depression only happens to the weak or at least to a certain type of person. Not true.
My lovely wife Li is one of the most resilient and generous individuals I've ever known. And yet, after the difficult birth of our daughter she developed Post-Natal depression which nearly robbed us of those precious early months and years of joy as a family.
Depression is an illness which affects our emotions and our thinking. It can happen to literally anyone and you don't have to do anything in particular to get it. And like a physical illness, it reduces (sometimes eliminates entirely) our capacity to do the things which should come naturally. Like being a mum.
After labour and emergency surgery, Li was exhausted and emotionally drained. She felt guilty for not feeling the warmth and love for our daughter she'd expected and criticised herself mercilessly. Even after her physical recovery Li's sense of not coping - in spite of the amazing job she was actually doing - continued to grow.
It quickly became clear there was no way I could make things right for Li. That was probably the toughest thing for me; that sense of powerlessness. All I could do was try to help more in practical ways (preparing bottles etc) and encourage her to be kinder to herself. The other effect of the depression was that Li found it hard to talk about her feelings. Instead she would lose control and angrily vent her frustration at the nearest person: me.
We were fortunate to find help for Li from a number of sources*. But one thing she said she still missed was the chance to talk to other mums who shared similar experiences. Having looked into groups in our area and found none, I decided to start one for her. Witney PANDAS Support Group exists for anyone who finds themselves with a reduced capacity to cope with the enormous demands of parenthood and in need of reassurance that they're not alone.
* e.g. IPPS, OPT study
For more information about PANDA's please see the links below-