Emily Tredget, one of the co-founders of Happity, suffered with severe PND and anxiety following the birth of her son. It made her feel ‘like a failure’ but once she started to recover she wanted to help other mums overcome the illness. Here, she shares her story of recovery from PND. In the hope that no other mum has to feel like she did. And – if they do- they know how and where to get help and that they will get better.
Masking the truth
When you look at the photo above, what do you see?
A happy mum holding her gorgeous baby boy?
Sometimes a picture can tell a thousand lies.
I look so happy in this photo but inside I was suffering. Behind the smile I was in the midst of severe postnatal depression and anxiety.
This photo was taken just before going to my friend’s wedding.The build up to going had been tough. I had been hiding myself at home and had not felt able to face the world without having a panic attack. Before going to this wedding I had spent weeks over-analysing everything and meticulously planning ways to ‘escape’ if my PND overwhelmed me.
From a confident woman to an anxious wreck
Before I gave birth I was a confident, go-getter, yes-type person. An extrovert who loved working as part of a busy team. You could throw anything at me and I’d find a way to make it happen. With enthusiasm and drive.
When PND took hold even the thought of meeting my best friend for coffee flooded me with anxiety.
I was also exhausted. Not just the usual sleep deprivation that all new mums face but a fatigue that completely floored me. When my baby son slept at night I lay awake with crazy adrenalin and intrusive thoughts. I was surviving on about one hour’s sleep a night.
I couldn’t be left alone with my baby boy
It got to the stage where I was feeling so shaky and weak that I couldn’t be left alone with my baby. I was terrified that I would faint or have a panic attack when I was alone with him. It really affected how I bonded with him. I didn’t feel that rush of love that other mums talk about and that made me feel like a failure. And like I had to hide it from the rest of the world.
The first steps to recovery
I suffered for months before finding professional help. I did go to my GP very early on and talked about how I was feeling but because I was so ‘articulate’ (their words not mine!) about how I was feeling and what I was doing to help myself I don’t think they picked up on how bad things really were. I was given sleeping tablets to help with the insomnia but it was a little while before I was able to access specialised help to treat postnatal depression and anxiety.
Recovery from PND – it’s good to talk
When I talked to my GP I was offered medication. I know that this helps for many but I chose to try talking therapy first. I found that relational dynamic therapy was the key to my recovery. It was not a quick ‘fix’ by any means, but slowly I started to feel more like myself and more able to process how PND, anxiety and post traumatic stress had affected me. And to work towards my recovery.
The turning point
One of the big turning points in my recovery was accepting how I was at the time. I was so desperate to try and get better. My husband too wanted to try lots of things to fix everything. And when both he and I started to accept who I was in the moment it helped a lot. My husband told me ‘I love you. I will be with you. If this is what you are like for the rest of your life, that’s fine. I’m with you.’ And that took the pressure off. Instead of constantly trying and willing myself to get better I took things day by day. And it worked.
If you suffer from PND, you’re NOT alone
Having suffered from PND I wanted to help others. And so I set up an app called MummyLinks, which helped mums beat loneliness through meet-ups. A couple of years later MummyLinks and Happity joined forces which has been an amazing journey. Our mission is to combat loneliness by connecting parents through baby and toddler classes. Loneliness can be a real trigger for postnatal depression — it was certainly a big part of it for me. That’s why connecting parents is at the heart of all we do. Because it makes a real difference.
You can and will get better
If you are suffering with PND it is important to know that you will get better. You do have to put in the work and get help through counselling, medication or therapy. It’s a journey. Made better by surrounding yourself with people who understand. But you will get there in the end.
We have loads of information and advice about how and where to get support. Start by checking our PND page.
The first step – admitting and asking for help – is often the hardest. But it’s also your first step towards recovery from PND and so the best step to take.
Nicola, from Team Happity, shares her story of PND recovery. In the hope that it will make any mum going through it feel less alone and believe that they will get better too.
If PND made any sense
If PND made any sense I would have had it after the birth of my first baby. A 39 hour labour, 12 weeks of colic and about two hours of sleep for months on end would surely impact my mental health – right? Apparently not!
And then I had my second baby…
My second birth was a totally different. I had the water birth I’d planned (and hoped) for my first. Labour was quick. After giving birth I felt euphoric, empowered and powerful. My new baby was an ‘easy baby’ right from the get go. I kind of hate that term but you know what I mean! She was content and easily settled. She slept well – meaning I got enough sleep to function even with a by-now- energetic toddler to look after too. It should have been an easy ride.
But PND makes no sense sometimes. And can sneak up on you when you don’t expect it.
It can happen to anyone. And it happened to me.
Starting to feel not like me
I started to feel anxious and disconnected. I found myself feeling lost and alone. I cried easily and a lot. Often I didn’t even know what I was crying about. I started to dread leaving the house and felt strange when I did.
The sticker on the kitchen clock
One of the strangest things I did (that looking back should have raised massive alarm bells if I was in any state of mind to realise) was that I told myself I could get through each day and cope but only until 5.45pm. That was the usual time my husband came home from work. I stuck a little flower sticker on the kitchen clock and would look at it so many times throughout the day, watching the minutes tick by. If, for any reason (a late meeting, a late bus, just life!) my husband hadn’t arrived home by the time the second hand hit that sticker I felt my anxiety rising and would begin to panic.
On the days when my husband came home, even just a few minutes past the sticker, I was a mess. I practically thrust both my baby and toddler at him and crumpled. Often in a sobbing mess on the bedroom floor.
Denying I needed help
I knew that something was wrong. But I couldn’t admit it.
Once I told someone that I was struggling they’d think I was a rubbish mum or was failing. Wouldn’t they?
I didn’t understand why I was feeling like I was feeling. So why would anyone else?
I was also ashamed. Surely it was easier just to try and cope than admit I had a mental health problem?
But I knew I couldn’t carry on, day after day, feeling and acting the way I was. I did my utmost to hide it from the outside world but even that was getting harder to do.
PND recovery: taking the hardest step
At my next appointment with my health visitor (I can’t remember what it was for but it was for my baby really – not me) I burst into tears and opened up about what had been going on.
I was really lucky. My health visitor referred me to Bluebelland I only had to wait until the following week to start counselling.
PND recovery: time to talk
In my first counselling session I mostly just wept.
After holding my feelings in for so long it was like the dam burst and I couldn’t stop crying. But, as the weeks went on, I started to open up and to talk. I can’t explain how good it was to have that space to talk (and cry) freely and honestly, without the fear of upsetting or burdening anyone.
My counsellor helped me really understand my feelings and challenge any thoughts that this was somehow my fault and that I would never get better. The other way it helped was that whenever I struggled on a particular day I could kind of ‘shelve’ my panic, knowing that I only had to wait a few days before I was able to talk and get support to help me through.
The long journey back
Starting talking therapy for PND was not magic or a quick fix. It took a lot of time and a lot of strength. Recovery was definitely not linear. Whenever I felt myself going backwards and starting to struggle again I would panic and think that I’d never get better. But I had to learn to believe that each time I took a step back I knew I had made progress before and so getting back up and fighting again was a little bit easier.
Tambourines for my baby: tea and company for me
As I began to make progress I joined a baby music group. And that was another important step for my recovery. Which sounds a bit odd. In essence it was a group, where we sang songs together and our babies played little percussion instruments and joined in actions and dances. So far, so lovely. But it was like an oasis for me in my week.
For a start it was a reason to make myself get out of the house each week- however much I wanted to hide. The other mums there were lovely. It took a bit of time but, over the weeks we began to get to know each other better. And shared (warts and all) stories of our births! It’s funny how strong that need was to share those stories. We went from finding out each other’s names to swapping tales of episiotomies and epidurals almost in one breath!
And we soon became able to share the more honest bits about parenting too. Including all the tough bits. And, for the first time since I had my baby, I felt like I was not alone. And that really helped a lot.
Back to being me
Slowly, slowly I began to feel better. And more like me. And when I started to slip and feel wobbly then I found I had the skills to reframe my thoughts and work through them. A year after starting counselling I proudly announced that I was all fixed and ready to leave.
My very lovely and very wise counsellor recognised the fact that I was trying to put a neat timeline on my PND. As if it was something that I could file neatly in a box and tick off. She encouraged me to keep going and only stop talking therapy when I was really ready. That turned out to be a few months later.
Looking after my mental health
Today I am much more aware of my mental health and try to look after it in the same way as I look after my physical health. Probably more, in truth. If I ever notice myself starting to struggle – for me that’s when I start hiding and avoiding people and start to get snappy and tearful over little things – I seek help. Sometimes that’s just talking to a friend. Or making more of an effort to find time for me. It has included having more counselling in tougher times. And I’m no longer ashamed to admit it.
Oh, and those lovely women I met at baby music? They’re still friends to this day. Even though those tiny babies that used to shake their tambourines are now 20 and striding out into the big wide world. We’re meeting next week for one of our infamous ‘pot luck suppers’.
We used to talk about important issues like how to keep a toddler in bed so you can get just five more minutes sleep and why does Miss Rabbit in Peppa Pig have so many jobs. Now we swap tales of how to get your teenagers up so they don’t fritter away their days and how we feel about the latest drama between Liv and Dom in Married At First Sight Australia! You know, the important stuff!
I’m being glib. We do talk about those things but we also talk about the big stuff too. And help each other through.
Turns out that after finding help that helps what makes a massive difference is also finding friends who you can talk about that stuff with as you go through this mum malarkey really is one of the most important things after all.
Getting help for PND
If you are struggling with PND then head over to our PND page to find loads of ways to get help and support.
Lisa shares with us her experiences with a traumatic birth and dealing with PND, PTSD and Postnatal Anxiety. She has discussed sensitive subjects in this submission, all in the hope that it will help anyone who is currently going through a similar situation. If you yourself are currently dealing with PND, PTSD and/or Postnatal Anxiety, please do not suffer alone. Seek help if you can.
We want to give a trigger warning beforehand: Lisa has warned that the following submission discusses a traumatic birth and maternal mental health. Thank you for sharing with our community, Lisa. 💜
It’s fair to say that my labour story was not the one that I had planned. It’s a twisting tale full of complications that meant the actual event was nothing like the natural birth that I had hoped for.
From the second my labour started, I knew that things were not quite right, and I wasn’t wrong; I had previously undetected pre-eclampsia, maternal sepsis, hyponatremia, blood loss and a postpartum haemorrhage that left me fighting for my life. My son also had sepsis and hyponatremia. It was a difficult and scary time for all of us. But I will forever be grateful to the NHS workers who saved our lives and looked after us for the week we were under their care. Although things were tough, that first night together my son slept holding my finger all night and the love and protection that I felt for him overwhelmed me. Whatever happened, with my husband, we were an invincible team of 3.
Dealing with trauma and guilt
Following my son’s birth, I was broken. The recovery was long, and I was wracked with frustration and guilt. I felt that the birth going wrong was somehow my fault and I was resentful that the movie scene moment that I had pictured hadn’t happened.
It’s no surprise that my mental health suffered following all of this and over the next couple of years I experienced PND, PTSD and postnatal anxiety. Although I have the most incredible husband, family & friends, I kept most of what I was experiencing to myself. And I kept being selective with what I shared with people about how I was feeling. I was having intrusive thoughts and I was so worried that if I told people the full extent of everything, they would take my son away . There was a (un)healthy dose of paranoia involved too! I was so determined that how I was feeling would not affect my ability to be an amazing Mum and so just carried on pretending that everything was ok.
Seeking help for PND, PTSD and postnatal anxiety
As with all emotional health issues the more you try and suppress them, the more insistent they get to be noticed. For a while, I was in a cycle of being OK through to panic attacks and back to being OK again. So earlier this year after three years of riding this emotional rollercoaster I decided enough was enough. I reached out and was referred to a psychotherapist. Almost immediately after the first session I felt lighter, safer, and understood. My worst fears at sharing those hidden thoughts did not come true. She was understanding and helped me to realise that what I was experiencing was (sadly) common and not insurmountable. She has given me hope that I will fully recover, and my PND, PTSD & anxiety will be a thing of the past very soon.
I am now almost at the end of my sessions with my therapist and it’s like the clouds have parted and I no longer feel guilty for the complications during my labour. I have solid strategies to manage my anxiety and I am feeling ready to live life to the full again.
To those out there who are struggling with PND, PTSD and postnatal anxiety:
For anyone out there reading this and going through the same thing I have these messages:
You are not alone
It’s not your fault
It’s ok to let people know what’s going on
It can get better with some help
You are a wonderful parent and are doing the best you can
My son is now three and a half he is quite simply, miraculous. He went through so much, but you’d never know. He is my little lion and I love seeing the world through his eyes; his excitement and wonder at everyday things, and how quick he is to laugh uncontrollably at the smallest joke. When he holds my hand, I am reminded of that first night together in the hospital. And of the unbreakable love that we have. I am so glad that I found the support I needed. We feel rest assured that we can now carrying on exploring the world together happily. And I hope that anyone reading this feels supported & encouraged to do the same.
Where can you seek help?
Thank you Lisa so much for sharing such a sensitive and vulnerable perspective. It can be incredibly difficult to reach out for help, and you are incredibly inspiring for doing so yourself.
If you yourself feel that you need to reach out for help, then we recommend that you contact your GP to tell them how you are feeling. Or, get in touch with charities specifically created to talk to you when you are struggling, such as PANDAS.
We’d love to hear from you. This Is Family is all about sharing family stories – especially from families who feel like their voices are not often heard. Every family has a unique story to tell. We’d love to hear yours. Find out how you can feature on our blog and get involved. So that other parents can feel less alone.
It can be upsetting (and frustrating) to see someone you love suffering from a mental health condition. Here are some ways that you can support them though PND.
We’ve written this for partners. From our own experiences of both having PND and supporting loved ones through a mental health condition. All the ways to provide support apply just as well if you’re a family member or friend.
It’s hard to see someone you love struggle
First of all let’s acknowledge that it’s really tough to see someone you love going through a hard time. It’s harder still if it’s your partner or spouse suffering with postnatal depression. You both were looking forward to welcoming your new baby into the world and had a vision of what it would be like. If your partner struggles it flips your vision of new parenthood on it’s head. And can be really hard to deal with. Add in your own overwhelm, learning to deal with all the challenges of caring for your newborn as well as a whole new level of sleep deprivation – then it’s harder still. So what can you do to support someone through PND?
1. Encourage them to seek help
It can be difficult for anyone to admit that they need help. Gently encourage your partner to seek the help and support they need. Make it as easy as you can. By giving them clear ways to reach out and ask for help. That might mean going with them to speak to their G.P or health visitor. Or showing them ways to get help in other ways, for example, by giving them details of the Pandas helpline. There are plenty of charities and options for them to reach out and start to talk.
2. Find out all you can about PND
It’s important when supporting someone through PND to understand it. Do your research. Find out all you can about what it feels like; the signs and symptoms. Get a better understanding of what the one you love is going thorough. Check out our PND page as a first port of call.
It’s important to remember that this is not their fault and they can’t just snap out of it.
3. Assure them that they are a good mum
One of the biggest things anyone going through PND may feel is a misplaced sense of failure. That they are not a good enough mum. Assure them that they are. Outline all the ways they are. And keep reassuring them that they are a good mum despite their struggles.
4. Reassure them that you’re there (no matter what)
One of the most important things you can do to support your partner through PND is to let them know that you are there for them. No matter what. To let them know you’re here. You love them. And you’re not going anywhere. Be there consistently. To listen. And hold them. To understand. Their world might feel like it’s falling apart. Be their safe space and their rock.
5. Mobilise an army of help
Be hands-on when it comes to caring for your baby. Do all you can to take off the load when it comes to doing all the things that need to be done to look after and care for your little one. You might be juggling work commitments and other things, so also seek out others who can all pitch in and help too. That might mean reaching out to your family and friends to mobilise an army of help. They can help with so many things, little or large tasks. But they all ease the pressure. Whether it’s delivering meals or looking after your baby so your partner can get some space. Any help or support you can arrange can make a big difference.
Check though that any help you organise will not overwhelm your partner. She might not feel up to having people in the house to look after your baby, but might be able to deal with her mum/sister/friend taking your baby out for a walk so that she can rest.
6. Ask what you can do to help
If you’re suffering with PND it can be hard to make decisions. Ask what you can do to help. Drill it down into two or three suggestions. Perhaps that could be, ‘Could I make a meal for you?’, ‘Could I look after the baby while you get some sleep?’, ‘Do you need a hug?’.
7. Encourage her to escape the four walls
When you have depression you often want to hide away from the world. We know, here at Happity, that loneliness and lack of connection can make PND worse. Encourage your partner to get out and about into the big wide world. Go with them if they are nervous. Start small. That might mean walking to the end of the street at first. You can build up to urging them to join a class. We have some amazingly supportive classes on Happity, designed specifically for mums suffering with PND. But any class can provide company and support.
8. Recovery from PND is a marathon, not a sprint
It’s often hard to know that you cannot easily and quickly fix things if someone you love has PND. The truth is there’s no quick fix. So have patience and be aware that it will take time. It does help to remind your partner that they will get better. And that you will stay by their side, however long it takes.
9. Supporting someone through PND: Look after yourself too
Supporting someone through PND (or any mental health condition) is hard. It can really be draining on your own resources. Look after yourself too. That might mean taking time to get a break. Talk to friends, find ways to go to a group or spend time doing something that lets you have a breather. You might need to make sure the one you’re supporting has someone else there to step into your breach.
Taking time out for yourself will mean you are better able to provide support. So make sure you get it.
Disclaimer: We have researched and included robust sources to provide information in this article. However, we are not health or medical professionals and you should always seek medical or professional advice if you are worried about you, your partner’s or your baby’s health.
There’s lots of information and advice out there about post natal depression. One of the things that’s harder to find is the honest and brutal truth about what it feels like when you suffer from PND. It’s a difficult thing to talk about. But doing so can make other mums feel less alone. And help us all understand it more.
We have pulled together some candid and honest words from mums about what it’s like to have PND. Many are from interviews and blogs that Emily, our co-founder and a mental health campaigner, put together for Mummy links, which was the app she ran before joining Happity.
Opening up about the hard stuff
Many of the words from mums are confronting and challenging. They tell the honest and brutal truth about how mums feel. The more we open up and really talk about PND, the more we can learn. And the more we can demand better support for new mums.
It’s important to know that, however hard it feels, you CAN and WILL recover.
It’s OK to not be OK
PND can happen to anyone and it is NOT your fault. But there’s still a lot of stigma attached to it Here’s what mums had to say:
“This is not how it was supposed to be or how I thought it would be and I felt like such a failure because of that”
“I wish more people understood that it can so come out in anger or anxiety. I’m not trying to be mean or annoying. I am actually just not feeling okay”
“I thought ‘Were social services going to take him away?'”
“The overwhelming fear for a mum may be “If someone thinks I can’t cope they’ll take my baby away” which can be more crippling than the shame”
“It is something that can happen to any parent – and can often be the one who looks like they’re coping and has it all together”
“When I was struggling the most, I made the biggest effort to look like I had it together”
“Masking is a very common way that women /mothers manage symptoms….so sad as it means feeling even lonelier and isolated”
“I felt like a failure for having it and that there was something wrong with me. Why wasn’t I over the moon at having my little rainbow baby and relishing in every moment spent with her? Instead I was feeling down and miserable all the time. I wish I would’ve known that it’s okay to feel like that, my suppressing it and ignoring it made it 100x times worse”
“Let’s normalise not being OK. And let’s normalise getting help. It’s time to stop making mums feel guilty for not coping”.
“We definitely need to talk about this more, as too many mothers blame themselves when it isn’t their fault”
The brutal truth about PND
The honest truth is that having PND can be very frightening. As a result, you can be taken to some dark places. You can feel desperate and broken. These most confronting brutal truths are the things we talk about least as they’re the very hardest things to say out loud.
In an interview with The Guardian, Emma Jane Unsworth, opened up about the brutal truth of PND, saying:
I am jumpy and twitchy, like a person on high alert. I want to shout and scream and lie down and curl into a ball and have someone – anyone – just take the baby for a few hours and give me time to regroup. I’m feeling like I am on the edge of a psychic fit; some uncontrollable outburst….I feel, for the first time in my life, like it would sometimes be easier to just be dead. (At least then I could sleep.)
The Guardian, Emma Jane Unsworth
Incredibly tough feelings to admit. And incredibly tough feelings to feel too.
It’s important to remember, when you have intrusive thoughts, that it’s the PND talking, not you.
Finding a safe and supportive space to talk about them is one of the most vital things for any new mum suffering. When you get help you will be able to stop feeling this way and start to feel more like you again.
The brutal truth: Saying the unsayable
Here are some of the things mums want to say about how they felt, which feel ‘unsayable’:
“I can’t do this. I don’t want to do this”
“I’ve just wanted someone to take him away because I couldn’t do this”
“I’ve not felt how everyone said I would feel. I didn’t love him”
“I hate being a mum”
“At times, I regretted having him”
They say them so that anyone else feeling this way will feel less alone. And less ashamed. To recognise these feelings as symptoms of PND. And to know that they can get help so that they stop feeling like this and start recovering.
Voices of recovery
One of the bravest and most important steps anyone suffering with PND can take is to reach out for help. Once you’ve taken that first step you can begin your road to recovery. It might not be a quick journey but you WILL get there in the end. And that’s really important to remember.
Here are what mums want you to know about recovery from PND:
“Support is paramount, it’s not a weakness to ask for help. It’s the bravest step”
“Having suffered so bad, I wish no one else ever would or is! The worst two years of my life.It’s so important for individuals to speak out and seek help. There is light at the end of the tunnel”
“It takes time. And lots of strength. You can also take one step forward and then two steps back. But keep going because you can do it”
“(In recovery) every day/week you begin to feel a bit more like you and more able to enjoy being a mum”
“The journey out of it was long and hard but I’m so glad I kept going. YOU can do it too”