Alack, poor me...

>> Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Take a look at this news story. What, you don't have the time to read it? And why is that? Probably because, if you are anything like me and based mainly at home you are too busy fitting in a quick blog-tastic five minutes between unstacking the dishwasher, doing the school run, getting tomorrow's school uniform ready, setting out the breakfast things, hanging out the laundry, writing down and buying the contents of a shopping list, cooking dinner, tidying up your home, and, if you're lucky, having the odd cup of tea or coffee.

Once upon a time of course, it might have been different. Once upon a time pre-kids, that is...

But back to the article. The link will take you to a BBC piece discussing a radio programme called 'Am I Normal?' which this week is about the possible misdiagnosis of some - not all - women as having post-natal depression. It raised something that resonated with me, as it asks the question: 'Could it be that the medical profession is turning the normal - if difficult - psychological transition to motherhood into an illness?'

Now, I know something about depression. Various members of my family have suffered from it, and after Boy #2 was born the walls seemed to close in on me too. All I wanted was to go into the kitchen cupboard, shut the door, and turn off the light. There was too much static, too much white noise, just... too much. Thankfully, I wasn't so far gone that I wasn't able to pull myself as far as the doctor's surgery and mutter that I thought I might need a bit of help, and luckily that was exactly what I got. Not chemical help - which in any case I really didn't want - but counselling and support.

Now, 3 years on, I can look back at what happened a little more objectively. And I wonder if the suggestion above - of misdiagnosis - is right, when applied to me. I'm beginning to wonder if what I called 'post-natal depression' was not mislabelled. I have actually started to think of what I went through as less of a depression in the clinical sense, and more of a grieving process.

That's not to say that wasn't also depressed. But I think that the depression was less of the post-natal kind, and more of the 'I'm feeling sad because I have to say goodbye to a big part of who I am and how I identify myself, and yet I'm not supposed to show it' kind.

So before you throw up your hands in horror, I wasn't grieving at the fact of having given birth, no, not at all. I am eternally grateful that I have my two sons, that I did so easily and that they are happy and healthy. So 3 years ago, what on earth would I have been grieving at what was ostensibly such a joyful time? When I was in love with my new son and celebrating his birth?

Myself. I was grieving the loss of part of who I had been.

Let me explain. When I had Boy #1, I knew in advance that his arrival would change everything. I thought I was prepared for how much, but of course I wasn't, no-one really is. Nevertheless, some things carried on as before. When he was 7 months old I went back to work. It made me cry, but I did it. And there, despite the enormous guilt I felt at leaving my darling Boy in another's care, I rediscovered independance, and feeling a valued and respected individual. My job wasn't perfect, there were things about it that made my blood boil, but on the whole I enjoyed it.

When Boy #2 arrived, however, it very quickly became apparant - to me at least - that things were going to have to change. I firmly believe that for many people having one child doesn't need to slow you down too much. Your life won't be the same as it was before, but there will be some things that are pretty similar. Yes, you need to be more organised, and you need to be comfortable with the childcare you are using, but your career can probably carry on pretty much as before.

Child #2 arrives, though, and the wheels fall off, at least in my experience. There's not only a baby to deal with, but a demanding toddler as well. And in our case, the baby was sick, and the toddler was coming up with scary allergies. Plus, Husband was travelling, a lot. And if he wasn't travelling, he was working late.

Sure, I could have gone back to work, but it would have meant finding a different job since my role too entailed a limited amount of international flights; the nightmare scenario that kept playing through my head was of Husband being somewhere far-flung and my being stuck at some European airport with a cancelled flight as the hours ticked by towards the (shared) nanny's home time.

Before Boy #2 was many months old I had already started to consider the prospect of stopping my interesting and stimulating job and being at home with the children for an indefinite period. And what do you know; those thoughts co-incided with the advent of my 'post-natal depression'. So I'm wondering if the thrust of this article - in so far as it applies to me - is right. My life was changing, irrevocably. And whilst some parts of my new role were wonderful and marvellous, so too were some parts of what I was leaving behind.

I needed a period of readjustment, to take in my changed life and expectations.

It's ironic, I think, that whilst we are growing up, girls (or at least, I) were told 'You can do anything, be anything that you want to be.' And it's true, up to a point. But that freedom comes at a price. Whether you work full, part time, or not at all, your priorities alter once you become a mother; they have to. And it doesn't matter how much people warn you about this; you won't listen. Or not much. 'That won't be me' I remember thinking. 'Nothing will change...'

But suddenly staying late in the office to finish a presentation is no longer the easy call it once was. Putting yourself forward for a more responsible and demanding position that's going to be a drain on the time you spend with your family isn't the no-brainer it used to be. Popping out for a few drinks after work for a bit of team bonding rarely happens. Spending quality time with your partner or your girlfriends, just having fun, tends to get relegated to the 'once in a blue moon' pile.

I harp on about this, I know, in fact no doubt it's a recurrent theme through my blog. But I've come to realise that - whilst I don't want to go back to my pre-Boys life - it's perfectly acceptable to feel sad that parts of who I was, both good and bad, have gone. It's just that now I don't think of it as post-natal depression; it was 'a psychological transition'.

What was depressing was that nobody seemed to want to understand I was just bloody miserable that my days of going to the loo with the door shut were - for the forseeable future - at an end...

By the way? Totally over that now. Who needs privacy, a waistline, and a house without two small boys and a plethora of trains and dinosaurs, in any case?


Anonymous,  4 March 2009 at 12:27  

Oh yes. (Sensible comment might follow)

Adventure Mother 4 March 2009 at 13:26  

I agree. I can remember leaving work to start maternity leave on my first child, thinking that this was going to be a career change.

I never realised how easy my previous career was!

nappy valley girl 4 March 2009 at 15:48  

Stand by for long post, PM. A very interesting topic. Real postnatal depression is clearly a terrible condition, but I totally agree with the argument that there are many misdiagnoses, and that some 'cases' are simply people adjusting to the enormous change of motherhood.

Take me for example. My health visitor was convinced I was suffering from PND after the birth of my first boy. The reason was that I developed terrible insomnia when he was about six weeks old and just starting to sleep through better. My sleep pattern had been so disrupted by getting up in the night, and there is no doubt that I was worried and anxious about motherhood at the same time. Yet I was convinced I was not depressed and kept telling both the GP and health visitor so.

I was sent off to see a counsellor, but after one session she wrote back to the GP and said that she didn't think I was suffering from PND, rather some form of anxiety. At the same time I was prescribed antidepressants. I really didn't want to take them but the GP rather bullied me into it, as by this point I had hardly slept for about five weeks. So I took the pills for a few weeks. Meanwhile we went on holiday and my insomnia instantly cleared up. My husband is convinced that it was the holiday, not the pills, because it was still too early for them to have worked. I chucked the pills away.

The insomnia has not recurred and I was fine after Littleboy 2 was born. What I believe is that I clearly did have some kind of postnatal condition, probably related to the traumatic birth and a very stressful stay in hospital after my C-section. But I was NOT depressed and should not really have been given antidepressants. I do think there is a tendency by GPs just to hand them out as a cure all. And there is a tendency by health visitors do diagnose PND because they don't want to be accused of missing it.

Rosie Scribble 4 March 2009 at 16:34  

Very interesting post PM. Post-natal depression is a label that can be used to cover everything these days and all too often antidepressants are prescribed when actually all a new mum needs to do is talk to someone. You were lucky to get counselling, few places offer it and there are long waiting lists, but I think it is talking that helps, and not always chemicals although they do have their place.

Expat mum 4 March 2009 at 17:10  

I always think that a lot of what's called post natal depression is actually severe fatigue. (Not wanting to take anything away from real PND by the way.) You just get so tired that you get weepy and depressed.
After the birth of my 2nd I went back to work for a while and realised that I was doing nothing very well. It coincided with the Ball & Chain "going for partner", being away a lot and working all the hours God sent.
It was very traumatic for me, partly because I didn't feel like I had any choice. Similarly, no one really understood what I felt and I was told on more than one occasion that I was "lucky" to have that choice at all. I think I was definitely depressed for a while but it wasn't your typical PND.

Nicola 4 March 2009 at 18:43  

I agree with Expat mum on the fatigue front - but totally identify with you on the 'psychological transition'. I had exactly the same experience and still get a little overwhelmed at how limited my actual options are these days, with the boys being so young. I want to be around for them but this has a price and sometimes it feels a really big price to pay. Having identified with my professional self for 18 years, it was a huge and unexpected shake up to no longer be that person but just be expected to easily transition into a whole new person that I didn't recognise. I still struggle with it and know I am not fulfilling my intellectual potential right now - but I am fulfilling most of my mothering potential I guess and I realise now that I can always claw back some semblence of a professional life, but I will never be able to turn back time where the boys are concerned.

Sass E-mum 4 March 2009 at 19:46  

Very interesting post. This'll be a long comment...

I recognise all that you say about how your attitude to work changes/has to change after a child.

I think I heard the same radio programme about PND. There's a considerable range of symptoms - and labelling doesn't necessarily help. But of course, any NHS counselling or referral to support services requires a diagnosis. You were fortunate to have a sympathetic doctor who helped you get through whatever it was with counselling.

I also had a post-birth weep and wail about the loss of my former life. I felt a very powerful wave of responsibility for my new baby wash over me - and I new the feeling would NEVER fade. For me - it lasted 5 minutes - but the memories there for ever. It surprises me even now.

Potty Mummy 4 March 2009 at 20:52  

GPM - who needs sensible?

AM, you said it!

NVG, oh, those emergency c-sections. Mine was a bit of a nightmare too (and I suppose might also have contributed).

RS, I hate to say it but I think being able to pay for the counselling was what made the difference. Who knows how it would have worked out if I had had to wait?

EPM, that sounds SO familiar.

Nicola - though the odd business trip to Vancouver can help!

Sass E-Mum, I didn't actually hear it; was it any good? It read like it should be, but I'm not good at listening to the radio (away from the car).

Tattie Weasle 5 March 2009 at 11:57  

It is SO much easier to say PND and dole out the pills than it is to listen to a new mother. It is also cheaper too for the NHS.
But fair's fair there are many out there who go through hell and don't realsie it IS PND.
I have clincial depression and so my Health Visitor was HOT on my case for both boys. I did not get it first time round but BOY did I get it second time round and it was one hell of a scary ride because it was so very different from clinical depression.
Heck it looks like I'm writing a whole blog here...anyway I think the problem is that know one knows how to accurately diagnose it because it will be different for each person and it seems like the idea is do a blanket cover rather than let one slip through the net.

Milla 5 March 2009 at 13:55  

Have had to do a massive catch up, Potty as being a bit of a Pig and a bit crap at blogging these days. I'm possibly alone in having enjoyed my work days but see them as something totally separate and not a world I ever want to enter again! I love my life now but, my boys being a few years on from yours (12 nad 10 - SOMEHOW) am in vague mourning for the loss of it all. Wish I'd had more!!!!

Expat mum 5 March 2009 at 14:40  

Milla's comment made me realise that if someone offered me any of my old jobs back I'd run a mile. However, I am now sitting looking at a bomb site where the kitchen used to be, so maybe one day a week would suit!

Iota 5 March 2009 at 16:34  

I'm not an old harridan who thinks "Depression? Huh. Just go for a good long walk and have an early night and snap out of it". I do know that PND is a genuine condition, and deserves respect.

I do wonder, though, if there are some bandwagons rolling along. When I had my babies, it seemed like there was almost an expectation that I would get post-natal depression. I think a lot of new mothers feel depressed for lack of sleep, dramatic lifechange, loneliness, panic - lack of sleep in particular. As a doctor, I don't know how on earth to draw the line between "post-natal depression" and "feeling depressed".

I suppose it's better that too many women are diagnosed, than too few.

Iota 5 March 2009 at 16:37  

Oops, that comment makes it sound as if I'm a doctor (and not a very goood one!) I'm not. I meant to say "If I were a doctor, I wouldn't know...:


Potty Mummy 5 March 2009 at 20:08  

TW, I know, it's a tricky one, and am not for a moment suggesting it isn't as dreadful as it is. I'm just thinking that I possibly didn't have it, when I - and a few medical bods - thought that I did.

Milla, you are not alone. It's just that it took me a while to get to the point you're at. In fact, I'm still 'in recovery' now I come to think of it!

Iota, you know, I did wonder whether all this time you had been hiding your (medical) light under a bushel...

Samurai Beetle 6 March 2009 at 14:08  

Brilliant post Potty! I too never realized how easy my career was until I tried to balance a work schedule with baby time. Some days I get it right, other days I come home and she's already in bed.

Frog in the Field 7 March 2009 at 05:58  

Here, here!
If I shut the bathroom door they all march in to see what I'm up to!
If tdesided they're old enough now to bugger off and have taken to saying 'for goodness sake, can I please, just for once, wee in private??'

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