I’ve really been putting this blog post off for ages. I’ve made lots of random notes in my phone but just haven’t felt like writing it up – not sure why. I think it’s because I really can’t find the words and I don’t feel like I have the energy. It’s such a draining topic for me and one that I don’t quite feel “ready” to face. My other posts relating to my journey are always written when I have a moment of strength. Right now, I feel quite tired. But as today marks #WorldMentalHealthDay, I decided to put my brave face on and share my experience of mental health and how my pregnancy has been since suffering with post natal depression (PND) with my first pregnancy.
Today is about raising awareness of mental health – something that affects so many of us in different ways either personally or through loved ones. It’s a sad thought that by 2030, depression will be a leading global illness and one that still has such stigma attached to it, one that we don’t always openly talk about, one that’s considered a “it’s in your head” type illness. It’s real. It’s very real and it affects so many of us and those around us.
If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know it’s been quite a bumpy rollercoaster ride dealing with motherhood. It’s been the most gratifying experience of my life, but also one of the most challenging – being responsible for another human being is no easy task especially when there’s a constant cloud of self doubt in your mind.
PND for everyone is so different, for me it manifested in a way in which I struggled, and still do struggle, to have the confidence to go out with Arjun alone. My anxiety also manifests itself by my inability to accept change.
Although I’m still really reluctant to take Arjun out alone in fear of not being able to deal with certain situations while out, I’ve come a very long way. I still feel like a failure on several counts – reading it out makes me feel pretty pathetic. How difficult is it to take a tiny human out? I admire other mothers – those that have a “what’s the worst that can happen? You end up having to leave early!” – it’s true. So why do I still find it so difficult?
Anytime I have a moment of confidence and even contemplate taking Arjun out alone, I still create a mammoth argument in my head and that little self doubt devil wins 99% of the time. It makes me feel so unsettled and upset – that my child misses out on so many “normal” things because I’m too scared to take him out. I’m talking about things that are pretty normal for most – things like taking him to a supermarket, going to the park, visiting the local farm, going for a walk – most of which I’ve hesitantly done once at least to be fair to myself. Once though? Once in his whole 27 months of existence? If I can’t do it with one, how on earth will I do it with two?
We always knew we would love for Arjun to have a sibling (God willing), and we were ecstatic when we found out we were pregnant but unfortunately, the bubble I was in, popped quite quickly after. I’m not sure if it was the bumpy start to the pregnancy we had – I had a very early bleed where I was told I may have an ectopic pregnancy and to come back in a week to confirm as only a sac was visible. That week was the longest of my life and unfortunately Preetam and I have a very different way of dealing with stress and they didn’t quite work in sync resulting in me feeling quite lonely. He switches off when stressed, I become very emotional – the two don’t quite go hand in hand. It wasn’t the happy and beautiful start to the journey I’d hoped for.
That week was absolute torture and I felt so alone. I struggled to function, I had no energy, I shut off from the world. That one week of torture, felt like a lifetime. That snippet of the whole nine months became so significant from the get go.
I found myself in a dark space quite quickly. Something I almost resented myself for. I’m so mindful and aware of how lucky I am to even be pregnant again and feeling melancholy makes me frustrated and feel irritated with myself – it doesn’t help as it results in a vicious cycle. I have to constantly remind myself to not compare my situation to others and beat myself up for feeling rubbish some days as everyones situation is very relevant and real to them.
Some days I don’t even have the energy to speak
Some days I wake up feeling fine
Some days all I need is to be left alone
Some days I wake up forgetting I’m even pregnant
Some days I wake up feeling excited at the prospect
Some days I spend the day dwelling on things so much so that I get confused between reality and those things that are a figment of my imagination
Some days I can’t get out of bed
Some days all I need is a hug
Some days I work myself up so much so that I end up having a panic attack – something that’s new to me
Some days Paw Patrol is on for a lot longer than it should be
Some days I feel anxious and nothing or no one can help
Some days I could sleep the whole day
Other days I struggle to even fall asleep
All of the above is very real to me and unfortunately something that my loved ones have to deal with. None of my feelings are directly related to my feelings towards my unborn baby, I don’t really understand what they’re related to. It’s like a little gloomy devil that resides in my head and every so often makes an appearance. And when he does, boy does he come with a vengeance. How can I feel so sad at one of the happiest times of our lives?
My pregnancy is flying by and I don’t feel like I’ve had the chance to enjoy it at all. I often sit back and reflect on our journey – I can’t even believe that we’re pregnant, let alone 2/3s of the way there. That makes me really happy, it fills me with joy. Unfortunately, that feeling of ecstasy isn’t always the overriding one.
I’m often consumed by a cloud of sadness and I have no real understanding of why. Despite what social media may display, I have really low days. This isn’t how I imagined my second pregnancy to be. I was so excited at the prospect of being pregnant and don’t get me wrong I can’t wait to grow our family and for Arjun to be a big brother, I just don’t feel how I expected to feel. I want to be bouncy and constantly happy, I want to be talking to my baby and bonding with him or her, I want to be busy coming up with a plan of baby groups I intend on attending, I want to be eagerly shopping, writing to my baby – all the things I did with my first pregnancy, but I can’t seem to be able to.
The only thing I’ve bought is a new towel. My shopping list is minimal this time and perhaps that’s why I’m not able to get “in to it” as it still doesn’t feel as real as the first time where I was frantically trying to get things organised. I’m physically unable to get baby bits ready at the moment due to the current state of the house.
Admittedly we have a hell of a lot of change happening in our lives at the moment – a new baby on the way, an extension that is in full swing, Arjun and I have had to move to my parents while the crux of the work is done, I’m unable to prepare the baby’s clothes as our house is full of dust and isn’t anywhere near in order yet. I have no idea if all the change is what’s caused so much disruption for me mentally or if that this was always going to be the case.
As I was diagnosed with PND early on post birth with Arjun, this time around it was picked up on my first midwife appointment. If you’ve had it before, you’re at a higher risk of having it again and apparently it can come back a lot worse. I’m really grateful to the NHS for intervening early this time and holding my hand through a really strange journey.
My last pregnancy was so different. I felt happy, excited and elated. I’m not sure if knowing how I felt post birth last time has scarred me and tainted my view somewhat and is what is making this pregnancy much harder. Or perhaps I’m not giving myself enough credit for all the change I’m also experiencing, the guilt surrounding Arjun, the lack of stability.
After my initial midwife appointment, I was referred to the antenatal psychiatrist to be assessed. Where before the word “psychiatrist” would have freaked me out, I knew it didn’t have the stigma attached to it that some people may associate with it, especially in my culture – it didn’t mean that I’ve totally lost it, it just meant I needed a little bit of help and support and she’d be the best placed person to decide what that support should be.
I met with her and we had a chat, I cried, I laughed, she rode my emotions with me and then we agreed a plan of action going forward. I’ve had counseling previously, both after my car accident and when I had Arjun and I knew that over cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), talking therapy works best for me. Sometimes I just need to air out my emotions and feelings to an independent impartial party to rationalise my thoughts. I was referred to a company called “Talking Therapies” who work with the NHS with those that may be in a similar situation to me.
I was contacted very quickly by Talking Therapies and began weekly over the phone counseling sessions – something I was so grateful they offered. The thought of having to drive anywhere or arrange childcare for Arjun would have put me off. I found the sessions so therapeutic and relieving. I was able to cry and talk about my weekly worries and stresses, and speaking about them alone helped. My counselor was lovely and so supportive.
After a few sessions, I was invited to a “Well Being” group at the hospital. I was really apprehensive about going. I didn’t really feel like facing anyone. I managed to force myself to go. The class consisted of about 8 other people, many women had bought their partners along. Something I wish I’d done with Preetam for him to understand my psyche a little more. We went through the different types of stress and worry, the reaction to stress and anxiety and relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, mindfulness and imagery therapy. We were also given a mindfulness CD to take away – which I’m yet to find time to listen to!
After the Well Being Class, I was contacted by Talking Therapies again who recommended face to face counseling. Luckily, my GP surgery is on the same street as my house so it didn’t mean I had to go far. I had my first session and unfortunately left feeling a lot worse than I did when I went in. I didn’t feel like I had a great rapport with the counselor and I felt he led my thoughts a little too much down a very negative path, he almost validated my negative thoughts. Usually, I’d just continue and suck it up and suffer in silence. However, I decided to contact Talking Therapies and request a new therapist as I really didn’t want to make myself worse – for the sake of my family and my children. I have been contacted by a new therapist who I’ll be seeing in a few weeks and hopefully I’ll have a better experience! I’m so grateful to the NHS for providing such extensive support.
I’ve also started 121 pregnancy yoga – a lot of the session we focus on meditation and relaxation to calm my mind. I’ve found it’s really helped investing time in myself.
Coming to stay at my parents’ house has definitely made a difference. Perhaps I needed a change of scenery and to focus on myself for a little while. Almost to recharge my batteries, clear my mind and be fed my favourite foods! Lol. I’m really looking forward to our house being done and to be reunited as a family.
I’m so grateful to have Arjun by my side holding my hand through a rocky journey. He is my knight in shining armour. I feel guilty when he witnesses me cry – that he has to carry the burden of that, but his sweet words of “mummy no crying, cuddles” and the warmth of his embrace is enough to restore me with the faith and energy that I WILL be ok.
I try and focus on the beautiful picture that lays ahead (God willing):
a new baby
our new humble castle
my family reunited
… a bright future.
I’m so thankful to my husband for his patience even when it’s difficult to understand and I’m an emotional wreck, my dearest friends Amrit and Sav for always being my pillars of support that prop me up anytime I’m down, and to my family for always being there and riding every single emotion with me.
If you’re having feelings of sadness, doubt, loneliness and you can’t seem to shake it off, please reach out for help – if you don’t want to go through your GP, you can always self refer. I’ve had so much support and I was so pleasantly surprised with what a long way the NHS has come in the last two years with recognising PND and mental health in pregnant women and new mums. I have no idea what state I’d be in right now if I hadn’t utilised the resources that are available to me.
I’m feeling a lot better recently compared to a few months ago, but I still have my off days. At least I know I’m doing whatever I can to reduce the risk of slipping in to a dangerous space post birth.
Don’t suffer in silence, don’t suffer alone, speak out. I’m no expert, and I’m definitely still on a long journey, but as so many of you have already, I’m always here to listen too. Thank you for sharing your journey with me too. Together, we are stronger!