Matthew, my eldest, was born in London. Part of the many pamphlets and flyers and discussions that happened in the NCT group I belonged to during my pregnancy, was a fairly comprehensive warning about the prevalence of Postnatal Depression.
At that stage, I was not on any medication for depression. In fact, I was rather proud of how well I was coping mentally while living in the UK.
So many aspects could have triggered depression- what with the dark, cold, long winters (in comparison to a South African winter, at least!), being so far from family (aside from Pete!), a tough work environment and a lengthy commute. Admittedly, I can’t say I was completely relaxed and loving my time there- I was in survival mode and pleased to be coping, but life was hard.
I found comfort in being one of the “worker ants”, who travelled along with all the other “ants” to our places of work and then home again each day. Lining up to swipe our Oyster cards one by one, ride the escalators choosing to either keep left and stay on a step, or step down the escalator on the right side. The social conformity was comforting. I enjoyed the fact that the vast majority of the population were middle class, like me. Being middle class in South Africa comes with guilt I felt free of while in the UK. I found it reassuring to be living in a country with first-world problems- which seemed so much more interesting than the more fundamental problems we were facing (and still face) in South Africa.
I felt very aware that having my baby, might well trigger postnatal depression in me. I had already been treated for depression previously, which made my chances of getting PND very high.
Certainly, the nightmare birth, complications afterwards with severe mastitis, a very hungry baby boy who was almost colicky could have pushed me over that precipice into depression, but- oddly enough- they didn’t.
I was on the lookout for the signs, but they simply didn’t come.
What I suspect may have been the main reason depression was kept at bay during this time, was that amazing hormone released while breastfeeding called oxytocin. Oxytocin-also known as the love hormone- is responsible for that incredibly strong feeling of connection and love a mom feels for her baby, but most importantly for this article, is that it is a powerful antidepressant.
I was also lucky enough to be one of those people whose body “bounces” back into shape right after the birth. My body just became a milk-producing machine, at the cost of all the fat I had accumulated during pregnancy. ALL my baby-weight was simply sucked out of me. It is as simple as that and very quick. I know that is not the case for everyone, but that was my experience. And I am sure snapping back into shape also helped with my mood!
The years when I had one- and then quite quickly two- babies to look after, were very happy ones for me. I felt fulfilled; I had such an obvious and important purpose to look after and nurture these vulnerable and innocent babies; I felt lucky to be able to be at home with them and I was able to see just getting through each day as an achievement.
My experience does not take away from the fact that PND is very common (up to 30% of mothers suffer with it) and simply terrifying to deal with in what is already an incredibly challenging time. If you suspect you have PND, know you are not alone and please get help. Here is a link to find out more about the condition and navigating from there will get you in touch with people who can assist. Here is another link to a very powerful article about one woman’s experience of this condition.