Tradition dictates that on Mother’s Day millions of women across the UK ought to bask in the glory of their loving offspring – though in reality, the best many can hope for is a bunch of daffodils fresh from the petrol station. They’re the lucky ones. For a lot of people Mother’s Day is a painful occasion.
A largely silent group of new and expectant mothers will wake up on 6 March overwhelmed by a sense of dread and despair. It’s difficult to reconcile this with the traditional narrative of the delighted new mum who must be “over the moon!”, but a sizeable proportion of women experience depression during or following a pregnancy – sometimes both.
Mind, the mental health charity, estimates that 10 to 15 per cent of new mothers develop post-natal depression; many will experience antenatal (also known as prenatal) depression which, as the name suggests, affects women during pregnancy.
AND and PND can affect individuals in different ways but some symptoms can include persistent feelings of sadness; anxiety; feelings of guilt or shame; and an inability to cope. It is common for women to experience thoughts about hurting their baby – these thoughts can be extremely frightening but are rarely acted upon. Women often report having difficulty bonding with their baby, a feeling of indifference, which can reinforce the sense of guilt.
Ana Firth, 31, from Oxford, has a one year-old daughter and is six months pregnant with her second child. “I started feeling down after my daughter was born. Since becoming pregnant my depression has spiralled,” she said. “I feel guilty that I am not happy when I have everything I could ever want. My little girl is beautiful.”
Before her 20-week scan Ana found herself fantasising something would be wrong with her baby so she could abort it. She was plagued by guilt: “Deep down I knew that wasn’t what I wanted but you are not in control of what enters your mind.”
Sharing these distressing thoughts with her family, husband and midwife has helped her cope, she said. They didn’t respond with disgust or anger as she had feared but understanding and patience.
Connecting with other mothers in her situation through a private Facebook group has helped her understand she is “not alone, or a terrible person”, she added.
Olivia Shields (not her real name), 35, agreed that talking to others can make a huge difference – but she advised being selective when deciding who to open up to. Olivia, who suffered from AND throughout her pregnancy, was devastated when a friend she confided in accused of her of being “melodramatic and ungrateful”.
Jennifer Stokes, 33, has a daughter, eight, and a son, two. She suffered PND after giving birth to her first child but battled to hide it. “I knew how a good mum should behave so I did just that. I played the part and quite well,” she said.
“One day I saw my health visitor and I just broke down. She suggested visiting me once a week and I started seeing a counsellor to talk about the birth.”
At the start of the year David Cameron announced the Government would invest £290m into creating new community perinatal mental-health teams and more beds in mother-and-baby units. And Stephen Buckley of Mind says such improvements are “vital”.
“There are mothers out there who urgently need better services and support,” Mr Buckley said.
Women who think they might be affected by AND or PND should visit their doctor, midwife or health visitor about getting the help they need, Mr Buckley added.
Case Study: Antenatal depression sufferer
Deborah Mitchell (not her real name), 34, lives in Surrey. She has two children under 4
I have a history of depression and anxiety and experienced AND during both pregnancies. The first time, in London, my GP wasn’t helpful but a friend told me about the perinatal mental health service at my hospital. The support I received from the specialist consultant and psychiatric nurse was fantastic. I also had Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT).
The second time around, in Surrey, within weeks of finding out I was pregnant I could barely function and was signed off work. The depression, anxiety and morning sickness were so bad I was feeling suicidal, despite having a job and a pre-schooler to look after. I told my midwife how I felt but support locally is very patchy. I didn’t receive any treatment until quite late in my pregnancy.
When people asked after me I just said I was really sick – I didn’t want them to think I was unsafe to be around. I felt isolated and ashamed for having AND. My GP finally referred me to group CBT. As a result of my experiences I set up an online support group for mums. Being part of a virtual community reminded me that people cared and that was something to live for.
Each time I was pregnant, almost straight after I gave birth, I felt better. I love my children more than anything – they were both really wanted babies despite my experience of AND.
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