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I felt so bad I didn't want to see my baby..it changed me forever; Helen loves her girl to bits but she had to beat post-natal depression.

Byline: By Lisa Adams

A NEW helpline is being set up to stop a hidden epidemic which now affects one in three Scots mums.

Latest research reveals the number of women with post-natal depression could be two to three times higher than was previously thought.

It is estimated that 10 per cent of new mums suffer the baby blues, but in a study by the Royal College of Midwives, 20 per cent of women said they needed treatment after giving birth.

Experts believe many more mums are never diagnosed because they hide how desperate they really feel after having a baby, especially when the world seems to be telling them it should be the happiest time of their life.

"Everybody expects new mums to be happy," said Viv Dickenson, of the Edinburgh based Post-Natal Depression project. "That's why we call it the smiling depression because the feelings are so difficult to share.

"But the effects of post-natal depression can be devastating, not only for women, but for their entire family.

Unfortunately, many suffer in silence."

Now a fundraising ball, held at Edinburgh's Prestonfield House tomorrow night and hosted by Hardeep Singh Kohli, will pay for the free helpline when it launches in June.

It will also fund part of the pounds 350,000 needed every year to pay for existing post-natal depression counselling services in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Lothian and the Borders.

Thought to be linked with a dip in hormones after a woman gives birth, post-natal depression can kick in up to six months afterwards.

Today's pressures to "have it all", combined with a lack of support as women live further away from family and have busier lives and careers, are thought to contribute to the increase.

Symptoms include irritability, tiredness, sleeplessness, anxiety, appetite loss and inability to cope with everyday situations. Some women struggle to bond with their child and in extreme cases, the depression can lead to thoughts about hurting the baby, self-harm and even suicide.

It almost killed TV presenter Gail Porter and wrecked Sadie Frost's marriage. Elle Macpherson and Melinda Messenger also suffered from post-natal depression.

Here, Helen McLachlan, who suffered from post-natal depression, explains how she fought her way back from the baby blues.

HELEN'S STORY

HELEN, 29, lives in East Lothian with her husband Andrew, 30, and their daughter Freya, three.

Helen said: "By the time I had Freya I was thinking 'great, time to meet my little peach'.

"That's what we'd always called her and we actually chose it as her middle name. She's an active three-year-old now and I love her to bits.

"I've even been thinking of having another baby which shows how far I've come from the dark days when I'd sit in the kitchen sobbing my eyes out.

"We'd only been married a few months when I got pregnant. We bought abook to read up on everything we'd need to know and there were so many things I'd never really thought about.

"Freya's birth was so horrendous that all the nice thoughts I'd had about her disappeared into feeling that this little baby had completely ruined my world.

"She had caused so much agony that after she was born, I was terrified of her."

On paper it sounded like a perfect, fast delivery. Freya was four days overdue when she arrived on January 29, 2005.

She was born at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh at 1.21am in the water in a birthing pool.

"I only had gas and air but it was such agony," Heather said. "I was stuck in the water and kept thinking I was going to drown. It was really painful and I never got a chance to manage any of the contractions. They kept getting worse. It was complete torture.

"I felt completely panicked and hopeless. The birth coloured my perception of things forever.

"I can practically draw a line in my life at this point. Before I was very self confident and outgoing. I was brave, tough and never phased by much.

"Afterwards, the core of me was broken. It felt like nothing could be guaranteed to be okay ever again. I couldn't rely on myself to cope with things. I really could have crawled out of the room, gone home and left Freya behind.

"I felt so bad I really didn't want to see Freya at all. I was already hiding my feelings.

"Everyone was turning up with cards and flowers. But I wanted them all to go home.

"Freya weighed 4lb 15oz. She was so tiny because in the last six weeks of my pregnancy, I had been closely monitored for high blood pressure. That can be life-threatening for mum and baby, so they had to keep a really close eye on me.

"This refused to go away after Freya was born. It meant we only had one night at home with her before I was rushed back to hospital and put on an IV drip because my blood pressure went even higher. They were worried I was going to have a fit.

"That first night back home was tough. She had such a tiny little mouth she wasn't feeding at all. Breastfeeding was such a hard skill to learn.

"She spent ages crying and I was so paranoid she'd just stop breathing and die. We had that new parent fear.

"Neither of us could sleep and by 4am, we were so tired we were both sitting up in bed with our heads balanced against each other as we were too tired to hold them up any more. I didn't know what to do.

"The weather was so bad I hardly left the house for the whole of February. My birthday on February 18 was the worst birthday I'd ever had.

"I recalled previous birthdays when I'd have breakfast in bed and lots of nice presents, then maybe go out for dinner after work. That contrasted sharply with being up at 4am, freezing and trying to sort out a baby who was always crying.

"I felt like throwing the baby cards in the bin. I thought 'what are they congratulating me for?' "I have a picture of me smiling sitting with Freya in front of cards and flowers. I'm thinking 'why?' "I couldn't find anyone who would admit to not enjoying having a baby apart from me.

"On mornings when the health visitor came round, I'd be sitting on the step in the kitchen in my dressing gown crying my eyes out.

"But I knew she was coming so I'd be dabbing my face with a wet flannel, getting dressed and tidying the kitchen so she would think everything was normal.

"I saved up all these problems to talk to the doctor about for the six week post-birth check. It was all about Freya. They never asked a question about me. At that point I really should have said something but I didn't like to mention anything.

"I went home and cried instead.

I'd go out and push my pram for hours because I just didn't want to go home. I felt trapped and completely exhausted.

"I went back to work as a molecular biologist when Freya was three months old. The alternative was being at home with her the whole time which felt so much worse.

"I hit an all-time low when Freya was nine-months-old and I was away on my own for the first time on a weekend with friends.

"All the feelings I had been burying came bubbling up to the surface.

"I remember trying to explain how I felt. When it was time to pack up all the bags in the morning, I considered just hiking off in to the Highlands and not coming back.

"If I'd been driving myself, I'm not sure I'd have even gone home. But my friends talked me into going home.

"I spent that whole journey saying I didn't want to go home. Andrew was so hurt that I didn't want to come back. When I talked about leaving home it wasn't a case of leaving Andrew. It was leaving Freya. I couldn't get one without the other.

"Home was not a safe place to be any more. He worshipped her so I felt she'd even stolen my husband away.

"Support from Andrew, counselling and anti-depressants saved us. Anti-depressants made a big difference.

But the biggest thing to help was one-to-one counselling run by the Post Natal Depression project. That helped solve the underlying problems which anti-depressants couldn't.

"They helped me see the birth wasn't Freya's fault. I realised I'd missed a chunk of time with her but I didn't have to miss any more. I credit them with giving me back my wonderful family.

"They've helped me to enjoy life again and plan for the future. Now I can't wait to see Freya every day.

We've come back together again."

For more details or if you think you need help contact www.bluebellday.org.uk or call the Postnatal Depression Project run by Crossreach on 0131 538 7288. For 24 hour help call the Samaritans on 0845 790 9090

'All the nice thoughts I'd had about Freya just disappeared into feeling like this little baby had completely ruined my life'

CAPTION(S):

FALSE IMAGE: Helen might be smiling, but the young mum was suffering from post-natal depression; HAPPY TOGETHER: Helen and Freya; JUST PEACHY: Little Freya
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 17, 2008
Words:1565
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