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Post Natal Depression

My baby is beautiful so why do I feel so awful?

Having a baby is a profound, life-changing experience, including for mothers who already have children and have “done it all before”. The experience of birth – even one that the doctors describe as “normal” - can be violent, shocking, painful and full of fear for mother and partner. It is outside anything previously experienced, as every birth is unique. If there are any complications for you or baby – serious or not - it can be a truly traumatic event. You bring your beloved baby home but your body feels raw and unnatural, you may be in pain, you are not sleeping, you are overwhelmed by the intensive needs of a new-born and you may feel vulnerable and guilty for not being the perfect Mum you promised yourself you would be. 
Most new mothers are going to feel like this some of the time. However, for some these feelings persist and cannot be shifted even when good things happen. Feelings descend into prolonged sadness or depression that begins to impact on the way you care for yourself and/or the baby. Post-natal depression commonly (but not always) sets in during the first two months after birth.

Symptoms include:

Feeling low day after day; feeling anxious or that you are a bad mother; feeling isolated and alone with no energy to seek company; lack of energy and extreme tiredness; crying for no reason; unable to concentrate or to accomplish the simplest tasks; over eating or neglecting yourself as regards hygiene, dressing and eating properly; blaming yourself and feeling guilty and useless; resenting your baby; inability to relate to your baby or your partner; thinking that your baby would be better off without you; and even contemplating self harm or even suicide.

Some mothers who have had very difficult birth experiences may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is estimated that 4% of new mums suffer PTSD. Although typically associated with the experience of military personnel on the front line or people caught up in terrorist attacks, birth experiences can be severely traumatic and leave lasting scars unless dealt with by professional help. PTSD can result in flashbacks, feelings of terror and lack of control as well as shutting down and feeling completely numb. If suppressed after birth, these feelings can re-emerge with intensity if triggered by other difficult experiences or a subsequent pregnancy.
It is estimated that as many as 1 in 4 mothers suffer post-natal depression or other mental health issues but this is not often spoken about. Mothers feel guilty that they are not happy and joyful; health professionals tend to focus on the baby; and women who are feeling awful, tearful and unable to cope slip through the net. Partners can also suffer post-natal depression and, for male partners, this may manifest as anger, irritability, working too much and drinking.

So what can you do? Most important is to share honestly how you are feeling and to seek help. Share with your partner and check out how they are feeling and coping. If friends or family offer help – accept! Get some time away from the demands of the baby and grab extra sleep. Specialised physical care such as yoga, physiotherapy or massage can be invaluable, not only in tackling typical post-birth physical issues before they became entrenched but also in making you feel cared for, even if the experience releases floods of healing tears.

You could also consider post-natal counselling. This can be a great help, providing a safe, confidential space where you can share your deepest, darkest feelings without judgment and learn ways of tackling the depression at an early stage. Your depression may be a result of the huge life change of parenthood but it can also tap into earlier difficult feelings from other times in your life that it can be healing to address. If you think you may be suffering from PTSD you would be very well advised to seek professional therapy for this condition.
I have a special interest and expertise in ante-natal and post-natal anxiety, depression, PTSD and other issues raised by birth and parenting. I can see you for as long as you find helpful. You can bring your baby, although some mums prefer to have this time exclusively for themselves. You can come with a partner if you wish. Please do not stay silent. You are not alone. It is not your fault. You owe it to yourself and your baby to get help and support and to turn these early months and years of parenting into a positive and rewarding experience.         

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