Nowadays most of us have heard of postnatal depression – thankfully we live in a society where it is recognised and treated. But how many of us have heard of PSS (postpartum stress syndrome), PTSD (postpartum post traumatic stress disorder) or PPD ? (Postpartum depletion). I certainly hadn’t before having my son….It was a few days after my son’s birth that a friend gently enquired about my mental health; she wondered why I hadn’t sent a photos to our friends’ Whatsapp group or posted a photo on social media (I’d been sharing a lot up to that point). I replied letting her know that it was simply that my phone hadn’t been working and that I was busy bonding with my newborn, helping him latch on and just generally staring into his eyes. I was happy, really happy, and like most mums who had just given birth, I simply needed rest and recovery.
Once home I remained in my ‘bubble’. I did not complete the full postpartum ‘babymoon’ (a elongated period of time where a mother stays at home recovering with minimal guests) but I took my time. I knew I would never get this time back so I wanted to savour it. I barely left the bed, spent my days nursing, cuddling and sleeping with my baby whilst close family and friends visited in small numbers bearing food and helping me clean, for which I’ll be eternally grateful. I was also taking my Placenta pills for the first few months and I truly believed this helped with my mood and gave me some calm. But generally, I kept things very chilled and put no pressure on myself. We were adapting; it was beautiful having this new little life. This soul that had chosen me as its mother.
We had challenges: my son had silent reflux/ colic or something of that sort that caused him be to in pain and unsettled a lot with gas (I had no idea then how common it is). It was very upsetting for us, but I’d prepared myself to make him my priority and take things real easy with no expectations of bouncing back. I was in no rush to get back to me pre baby and socialising – not yet anyway. Gradually I introduced more things; the baby sling, short visits to the park just behind the house, the pram, car seat, buses, trains. I was content learning each stage and felt proud at how we far we had come and that my baby seemed happy getting to know me and his new world. I was doing this! I saw friends when they visited, or occasionally we’d meet up in a coffee shop though I did find those times could be slightly stressful.
Things started to change though at around the four to six months mark. I remember one day looking at myself in the mirror thinking, “wow, you’re still fat, you dress terribly and you haven’t worn make up in months.” I saw photos of my friends without children having fun, going on holidays abroad, and it was then that the FOMO struck. I started also looking around at friends that did have babies and how they seemed to have ‘bounced back’; their babies seemed to slot into their old lives like an accessory, they looked amazing, were socialising and going up and down the country. I meanwhile was having difficulty going on a train!
I realised everything took forever these days, and I started to wonder if it would always be like this. Was it just me that could not handle it? I was so eager to take things slow and go easy on myself but things had to go back to normal now, right? I was expected to be the person I was before, keep up with my life, my friends, my previous interests etc. I couldn’t keep getting help with cooking and the housework and the ‘to do’ list started mounting up again. Though I didn’t know it at the time, this was when the stress and anxiety started to rear its’ ugly head.
They say you can exercise safely after six weeks or if a doctor says you’re well enough. I was at six months once I started exercising again so I leapt into thinking I had to do it every day. I’d missed my yoga practice very much and began putting pressure on myself to do yoga and work out daily. As a stay at home mum, I felt I had to fit into this new role and yet I had no experience and no idea what was expected of me. I love and loved my role but I wanted to be doing it ‘right’: staying conscious, allowing no screen time for my baby, ensuring the family was well fed with nutritious food, trying new baby friendly dishes, keeping my home tidy. Although I follow my intuition and parent from the heart, I still sought out advice but this too took time. I am lucky and grateful that both grandmas see my boy once a week usually, though with me breastfeeding solely on demand this became a lot for me to cope with.
I slowly started becoming obsessed with my to do list: if one thing went wrong or didn’t get done, everything fell apart like a domino effect. I became obsessed with the house and things being tidy and I freaked out if people were visiting. (Anyone that knows me knows I’m not particularly house proud, so this was a tell tell sign of stress for me). I would have a full on meltdown if anything went wrong in the plan for the day and small meet ups with friends or going somewhere became a big deal. I was anxious and wanted to be home and in control of everything.
Any parent knows you cannot stick to rigid timing with children. For this reason, I preferred going out just Panda and me so I didn’t have to explain being late, make people wait or be exhausted with no chat when we did meet. I lacked the ability to make a simple decision. As a Pisces, this a life battle anyway but as a mother, it became impossible. It sounds trivial but how many layers of clothes to put on myself and on Panda, to use the sling or buggy, bus or train became daily nightmares. Do I leave him to nap or wake him up and risk no sleep tonight? The list was endless. I felt useless and a failure, riddled with self doubt and constantly on edge.
I was not depressed, or sad at all, no. I loved my baby and was so happy with him. It was the outside world that scared me.
Anxiety is the biggest liar. It can tell you the most unreasonable things and you believe it! I would be out with friends enjoying myself and then BAM, like a slap in the face the fear would kick in and I would come over all exhausted, my mind would go completely blank, I’d lose the ability to speak and be hit by negative thought after negative thought. I was on an emotional rollercoaster of mood swings from bliss to panic: one minute knowing myself and being in control, the next being overcome by huge bouts of self doubt. These are stressed triggered thoughts, and totally non serving. Living in a state of fear cannot in any way be beneficial to us or our families. It’s like we are living in fight or flight mode stemming from the stress or worry about the new task of looking after a tiny human. Always having things to do and to remember everything; a constantly busy mind .
Since recognising what happened to me, I have noticed this topic popping up increasingly amongst friends and mums I’ve met on social media platforms. It’s very real and common and needs more acknowledgement. I literally had no idea! It’s like so much of motherhood: it’s a club you join which you don’t know the faintest thing about. Then there’s the ‘mum guilt’ …. am I not doing enough or being present enough? These are essentially expectations we put on ourselves. Our roles as mothers/ women have evolved, and rightly so, but now we see ‘supermamas’ in various guises. We want to be all of this and think its all achievable, and the expectation of that shit puts pressure on our brain. There are too many tabs open constantly in our brains – and we are trying to constantly multitask, care for a baby, ourselves, our home, work, careers, or whatever our responsibilities are and all the life admin that goes with them, while having little time and sleep. We are constantly pouring from this cup, but are we filling it !?
Which brings me to postpartum depletion. Thankfully Dr Oscar Serrallach shed some light on this and invented the term Postpartum Depletion. His book ‘ The Postnatal Depletion Cure ‘explains his finding that this is a real issue and untreated can last up to seven years after having a baby! He also fully backs the ‘brain fog’, or ‘baby brain’ (yes, I did a little dance when I learnt this).
You may have heard of PTSD in relation to soldiers coming back from war who suffer huge trauma following events they’ve witnessed, and their body remembers and the stress and anxiety of that experience can be triggered at any point. The same applies to any trauma including child birth – and it’s finally being recognised. Even if a woman’s labour was not necessarily difficult or traumatic on paper, it does not mean she did not feel and think traumatic emotions. This kind of stress and worry on the brain and body leaves a big impact. Those emotions are imprinted and she may be left in fight or flight mode ready for defiance. Her feelings can be triggered from anything as small as a smell or a person’s name (maybe the same as her midwife, doctor etc ) or even a colour that was on the wall at the time of her giving birth. These things can be so subtle yet so real in causing a domino effect of emotions of fear, anxiety, stress that take her right back.
An interesting theory that I listened to on ‘ The Mother Loving Future podcast is that these emotions are passed down generations in our DNA from our mothers, grandmothers and their mothers: the things they were not able to deal with. Genetically, we carry their stress /anxiety and we must break the cycle by evolving and doing our inner work. Also past life trauma is another belief: that our souls are here to continue from our previous life and learn the lessons.
So what can I do to cope with them, and live the happy centred life I deserve?
There are several things we can do on a daily basis to aid this condition, besides therapy and pharmaceutical drugs (personally, I would only ever consider these as a last result). First and foremost, I recognise what’s happening and accept it for what it is – a moment of emotional overload. Next, I strip it back and centre myself. I take the time to stop and really breathe – this helps to quiet my mind. Taking some quick time out of any situation puts things in perspective, even something as simple as having a quiet cup of tea. I have learnt to sit with my thoughts, accept them, then let them go. I do yoga when the opportunity arises or even a few small stretches a day with deep breaths. Mediation, giving thanks and positive affirmations are also brilliant tools (Louise Hayes is the queen of positive thought and affirmations). I love mantra chanting too which I play in the background at home, and CBD oil and essential oils are a game changer – I use them around my home in a diffuser, in my bath, on my skin or bedding at night. Sometimes the only time I can mediate or say my list of things to be thankful for is while breastfeeding, on the toilet, in the bath or just before sleep but these moments help my general well-being hugely. I have also recently been having treatment called ‘Birth Trauma Resolution Therapy ‘ which resembles hypnosis and is widely used for PTSD. It finds the triggers and replaces them, much like when you have hypnosis in order to quit smoking.
Self care doesn’t have to cost, and certainty is not selfish.
It is mostly about being loving and having faith that that you are good enough. Being present not perfect is far better for me and also remembering that I’m a mirror reflection so a happy mother equals a happy baby. I also ensure I’m eating healthy nourishing food, stay hydrated, get as much sleep as I can, and surround myself with positive people. Music can be also great healer. Essentially, find whatever tools you need to take yourself out of that stressful mindset and back onto a frequency of a higher vibration. As that’s all it is; a shift in energy.
I hope this (extremely long!) article resonates with any other mothers suffering and offer some light and knowledge that they are not alone. And bring awareness to others that this is common issue, affecting mothers every day all over the world.
Love this! Well done for putting it out there.
I think this is a beautifully written article, and thank you Kelly for sharing your experience.
However, (there’s always one;)) I wanted to stress that therapy and medication shouldn’t be seen as ‘a last resort’. For somet hey can mean the difference between life and death. They can be the line between functioning in society and being institutionalised.
While I am not saying that everyone should be popping pills, therapy can be brilliant for any situation and even ‘well’ people can hugely benefit from accessing support at any stage of their life. Medication is a hugely important part of maintaining mental health for a large number of people and I feel that this throwaway comment by Kelly, which I am sure meant no harm and was simply presenting her own opinion, could be detrimental to people accessing the relevant support, particularly during the postpartum period.
Thanks again for this wonderful piece.
Hi Verity ,
Yes you are right! My comment could come across anti medication, Im sorry . I am not intending at all to be little, judge or take away from anyone taking medication. I agree that it helps many deal with daily life and in some cases as you state can be the difference in life and death. I do personally as stated believe I would try other holistic things before and feel that some times people are unaware of these tools and going to the doctor and being subscribed pills is the first port of call. I have seen this first hand when it comes to mental health. But my words are just my thoughts and opinions and as good as the next persons. Therapy is amazing, I recommend highly for most people at some stage in life ! Appreciate you reading & feedback Kelly x
I can see how it’s worded makes it sound like therapy would be my last resort , I did not mean that Kelly x
It is never too late to seek treatment. It is so much more common than people realise and awareness has improved greatly in recent years. I gave birth 4 years ago and have recently started seeing a therapist for birth trauma/ PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder. I realised that I needed help after my anxiety around hospital appointments impacted everyday life including my sleep, my dreams and my relationships – and I decided no more! My therapist is using a combination of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprogramming therapy) to help me process the memories and identify the triggers and beliefs that made me vulnerable during the birth. It is helping so much. You don’t have to just “get on with it” and survive. You can thrive. I send love to anyone going through this. Thank you for raising awareness.
I love you are working through & healing ❤️ Thank you for your message Kelly xx