More Than Just a Mood Swing

Postnatal depression is a medically recognised disorder that can be treated
By Lynne Gidish

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Mairéad Edwards, 35, of Joburg, started feeling anxious and weepy about six weeks after her son’s birth, but she thought these were normal “new mommy” feelings. The attorney, and mother of David, 3, and Ciara, 1, shares her experience: “My mother had returned home after being with me and I was feeling increasingly isolated and overwhelmed about not being able to do the motherhood thing perfectly when I was doing everything else in my life so well. Control is a big issue for me and I found being at a baby’s mercy very hard. The day that I had a complete meltdown and couldn’t stop crying, quite unlike the usually calm and collected me, my husband took it seriously and contacted my gynae. We’d been told during our antenatal classes that people with A-type, perfectionist personalities like mine are susceptible to postnatal depression (PND).”
 
Mairéad was referred to a psychiatrist who put her onto medication and she also went for counselling. “Employing a nanny and another visit from my mom made a huge difference as I managed to get a lot more sleep (sleep deprivation played a huge part in my postnatal depression) and gave the medication a chance to start working. Realising that it was my body’s reaction to a massive drop in hormones, and not a weakness or fault of mine, made me feel a lot better and I stopped beating myself up and feeling ashamed and inadequate.”
 
Maybe it’s just the blues?
 
Mandy Rodrigues, a Joburg-based clinical psychologist, says, “There’s a vast difference between having the baby blues and PND. Baby blues affects between 50 and 70 percent of new moms between days three and 10, with bouts of weepiness and feelings of insecurity in being able to cope. But unlike PND, these symptoms are temporary.
 
PND develops slowly at any stage of your baby’s first year, and may progress into a chronic low-grade depression if it’s not treated. There are many misconceptions about PND, which is why there’s so much guilt and shame involved. There’s also a great deal of stigma attached to the condition as many people think having it implies that you are a bad mother, that you’ll harm your child and that you are weak because you’re unable to cope with something that should be completely natural. But this is not true. PND is a medically recognised mood disorder that affects women indiscriminately. It’s important to understand that motherhood is not easy no matter how capable you may be in every other aspect of your life.
 
Bonding with your baby may take time. You may have difficulty breast-feeding, and be sleep deprived, which is often used as a form of torture because it causes depression, confusion and even psychosis after 48 hours, and plays havoc with your emotions and hormones. This sets you up for developing PND, especially if you are an “of-course-I-can-cope” A-Type perfectionist. The good news is that there is help out there. It’s important to see a professional for medication and therapy and to ensure you get support at home. Don’t beat yourself up – you are not a failure as a mother; you may just need a little time to adjust.
 
Caught off guard
 
Shelley Ball, 38, Joburg-based mother of Bianca, 15, Joshua, four, and Catherine, 14 months, never suspected that she would develop PND with her second pregnancy. “Bianca’s pregnancy and birth were problem-free and I coped perfectly well as a new young mother, so the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that engulfed me when I had Joshua took me completely by surprise. I was older, had done it before, and should have known it all, especially as a successful juggler of a high-flying career and motherhood, who had handled the stressful emotions of a divorce and was happily remarried.”
 
But things were different this time. Shelley was bedridden for three months with an “incompetent cervix”, a diagnosis that constantly played on her mind. “I felt completely inadequate, unable to naturally carry my own child, go to work or be a wife or mother. Things got worse after the birth. I was an absolute mess, crying all the time as I battled to cope with the children. I thought that going back to work when my son was four months old would help, but it only made things worse. Since I’ve always been a high achiever I felt like a failure. I was referred to a psychologist who diagnosed PND and prescribed antidepressants. That, together with therapy, allowed me to slowly reclaim my life.”
 
That was until she fell pregnant with Catherine, and the same thing happened again. “This time I spent four months in bed, but as soon as I started spiralling down I went onto medication, which helped. I now understand that PND can happen to anyone, regardless of how capable you may be.”
 
Lynne Gidish holds the Pfizer Mental Health Journalism Award for 2012/2013. This is the second year that Pfizer SA has sponsored the award in partnership with Sadag.
 
 
What to do if you think you have PND
 
Elizabeth Matare, chief executive officer of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag), offers the following advice:
 
  • Remember that PND is a very common illness that can be successfully treated and you are not suffering from it because you are weak or hopeless.
  • Seek professional help at the first sign of any symptoms.
  • Grab as much sleep as you can at every possible opportunity.
  • Make sure that you eat regularly and healthily to keep your energy levels up.
  • Get some exercise – even a walk outside will do wonders.
  • Communicate with your partner; you need his support. Having a young baby will be difficult for him and he’ll be concerned about you too.
  • Don’t suffer in silence. There’s no embarrassment or shame when it comes to PND. Talk to other new mothers – you’ll find that many of them also feel the same things you do.
 
Watch out for these symptoms
 
  • Anxiety
  • Weepiness
  • Feelings of guilt and insecurity
  • Irritability
  • Exhaustion
  • Loss of interest in usual activities
  • Loss of confidence and self-esteem
  • Living from feed to feed
 
Where to go to for assistance
 
Contact the toll-free helpline: 0800 753 379; the sms line: 31393.
 
Sms “help” to 082 882 0072 and they will contact you.

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