When I was pregnant with my second baby back in 2008, antenatal depression was a condition that very few people had heard about or knew how to treat. This pregnancy was a stressful one, I had previously lost a baby (Charlotte, who sadly had anencephaly) and my marriage was falling apart. When I found out that my husband was having an affair, I was devastated. I felt I should have been primarily worrying about this baby, would they get the all clear at the anomaly scan, would they be born healthy? As my mood dropped I was also grieving the baby I had lost previously and grieving the loss of my dream 'little family'.
My low mood stayed low, I was told it was all due to my circumstances, I was only 'sad'. I began to worry when urges to self-harm grew, I struggled to sleep and was walking around with a constant knot of anxiety in my belly. I asked the midwife if it was possible that depression had returned but they assured me again it was just my situation.
(I had previously struggled on and off since I was 17 with bouts of depression).
My second daughter was, I am very relieved to say born healthy. It was a terrible delivery but that is another story for another time!
Fast forward to 2013 and my life had changed entirely, after raising my daughter as a single parent for the past few years, I met my partner and we moved in together. Completely by surprise I found I was broody and wanted to make babies with this wonderful man. I became pregnant with my third baby but suffered immensely with HG, I was hospitalised 4 or 5 times and hooked up to IV fluids. My mood dropped too, I worried insanely before scans incase they detected any life limiting abnormalities and I was generally a total bitch to my partner. Through a friend I heard about the charity PANDAS. I joined a couple of their online groups and discovered I was not the only one who was generally feeling pretty darn miserable whilst being pregnant. I have always been relatively aware of my mental health, I knew this wasnt just being tired of being sick and that it was something more!! I contacted the community mental health team to explain that I was worried I was depressed. I wanted them to be aware of my fragile mental state so they could intervene if it looked like I was heading down the scary road of postpartum psychosis. Their response really surprised me, whilst they were sympathetic to my physical woes, they went on to tell me 'you are having a baby, you cant feel depressed', 'Its just your hormones'. I moaned and grumbled and pestered the mental health team, my midwife and the GP. I was certain I was depressed! To keep me quiet they eventually agreed they would give me an appointment with a psychiatrist just after baby was born and have a prescription for anti-depressants on standby. I will always be grateful for the support I received from PANDAS during this time, the other mummies I spoke to helped me feel less alone and gave me the reassurance I needed to keep plodding on.
We decided to expand our little family further and 2017 I fell pregnant with our son. I had very similar worries and feelings of grief resurfacing but I also was armed with knowledge and awareness! I also had a bipolar diagnosis too which meant I felt more confident in asking for the care I deserved. I saw the community psychiatrist and nothing could have prepared me for what I was told. Firstly she explained that while my midwife had referred me to the perinatal mental health team, their waiting lists were very long and not to expect to be seen for a few months!! She told me I would need to stop my medication (despite the GP telling me I could take anti-depressants right through this pregnancy), as I started to get upset and fearful about having another unhappy pregnancy, the psychiatrist very helpfully logged onto their system and read out to me all the withdrawal symptoms my baby would face if I didn't stop my medication immediately. She also said 'I pray to God you haven't harmed your baby with the medicine you've already taken!!!!' I left that appointment feeling absolutely distraught.
I stopped my meds, I lasted 13 days before I decided I could not carry on my pregnancy feeling like this. I phoned every number, I messaged everyone I knew in the maternal mental alliance and they got in touch with their contact at perinatal team. They found my referral and due my deteriorating mental state they arranged for one of their nurses to visit me. She spoke with the specialist psychiatrist and they arranged for me to restart my meds, albeit a lower 'safer' dose. This made a massive improvement to my head and my ability to parent my 2 other children while growing our son. It was nice to be able to enjoy kicks and laugh at baby boy wriggling in my belly, my poor partner was relieved too. Our son is now a little over 18 months now and an absolute ray of sunshine. When he was born he was jittery, I had huge mummy guilt and asked the midwives to check for withdrawals. They explained that they would not need to as sertraline was not a drug they worried about. They quizzed my eating and drinking during pregnancy. As I'd been struggling with HG again I lived off irn bru (yes I know, its terrible stuff but unless you've had HG then please dont judge!) and my baby was jittery due to caffeine withdrawals!!!!
Looking back I dread to think what could have happened had I not realised that the way I was feeling was NOT 'just hormones'. Even though I’ve been living with mental illness for over 20 years, I worried about what people would think, particularly at a time where society says we should be happy. Please please reach out and ask for help if you feel you are struggling! Please do not struggle on alone. If you find you need to carry on with medication then please do not feel guilty. I was told that an unstable mother poses more risk to her unborn child than a calmer mummy on a reduced antidepressant dose. You can find help and support in a number of places.
Here are some useful numbers:
Helpline: 10am – 2pm – 0207 386 0868
Peer support available, email email@example.com
Helpline open from 9am-8pm every day – 0843 2898 401
Email support available – firstname.lastname@example.org
Tel: 116 123 (this is a free telephone number and will not appear on the phone bill)
Twinline is Tamba’s listening service for parents of twins, triplets and more. All the calls are answered by volunteers who have multiples themselves.
0800 138 0509, every day 10am to 1pm and from 7pm to 10pm
Tommy’s offers support to women who have suffered the loss of a baby as well as support for those who have had a difficult or traumatic pregnancy, birth or postnatal period
0800 0147 800 Mon – Fri 9am – 5pm