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Last Updated: Sunday, 23 May, 2004, 23:01 GMT 00:01 UK
My post natal depression battle
By Melissa Jackson
BBC News Online health staff

Mother and baby
New mums should not be ashamed of their feelings
Having a baby should be a time for celebration, but often behind the smiles there lurks a feeling of desperation and anxiety, better known as post natal depression.

Women often deal with it by pretending it is not happening because they believe it suggests they have failed as a mother.

One woman who experienced post natal depression in each of her two pregnancies only realised after treatment that it was nothing to be ashamed of and that asking for help is the most sensible and natural step to take.

But it took a lot of courage for her to admit to having the condition and she believes women should not be afraid to own up to their feelings and seek professional help.

Her advice coincides with new research which shows that 50% of women experience symptoms of post natal depression after having a baby.

Before she became pregnant with her first child, Helen - a 40-year-old mother of two from north London - was enjoying a very successful career as a senior bank manager, working long hours and meeting the demands of a very challenging and rewarding job.

But, like many working women, she took the decision to put her career on hold to start a family.

I reached the point where I couldn't make decisions, even simple ones- it seemed like a mountain to climb
Helen, Mother
Her first pregnancy, eight years ago, was difficult and the birth was unexpectedly complicated and she spent the first two weeks after the delivery in and out of hospital after contracting a serious infection.

She said: "I assumed that perhaps coming to terms with a new life was difficult."

It was an understatement.

Her mother, who lives about 100 miles away, had stayed to help out at the beginning, but after a month, she was on her own and soon began to feel isolated.

She said: "It was difficult for me. My job had been about problem solving and decision making and yet the isolation I was experiencing led to me starting to lose confidence in the decisions I was making.

"I reached the point where I couldn't make decisions, even simple ones. It seemed like a mountain to climb.

"I used to go for long walks to get out of the house, but that seemed to emphasise how isolated I was.

"I knew a few other people from my ante-natal class, but it was very small. I tried out some mother and baby groups, but felt a bit left out.

"They all looked to be coping and seemed to know each other and I felt I was just gate crashing the party.

"I would look at my daughter and feel so guilty and started to think I was doing something wrong.

"I adored her, but felt there was something not quite right with life."

Turning point

Helen felt too embarrassed to tell anyone about her overwhelming feelings and emotions.

It was during a routine doctor's appointment for her daughter that the problem was uncovered when the doctor turned her attention on Helen and asked her how she was feeling.

"We talked for three-quarters of an hour. It was a turning point," she said.

About a month after their meeting she agreed to try some anti-depressants. They made a huge difference.

GP and patient consultation
It is important to talk to your GP
She said: "Within two to three months I gradually found my confidence growing. I got out more and braved new places and started to make friends.

"My doctors reassured me that it was ok to have post natal depression and after this I was able to talk about it with my family."

The doctor warned her that research showed anyone who had experienced post natal depression after a first pregnancy was at increased risk of developing it again in the future.

Helen was undeterred, but she waited a few years before trying for a second child.

"If it hadn't been managed in the way it was, it might have been a different matter, she said."

When Helen became pregnant again about four years ago, the doctor took a pro-active role and monitored Helen's emotional progress.

She said: "The second time around, I felt more in control."

The depression returned but she had a lot more support and recognised the warning signs before they got the better of her.

She said: "After about three months I started to recognise feelings of anxiety again and went back to my GP.

"After about a month I asked for another course of anti-depressants, but I felt I was making an informed choice. Nothing was as bleak as before."

Taking control

The second time around, Helen was on anti depressants for just six months.

She does not think she could have avoided depression the second time around, but at least she was able to manage it and take some control over it.

Her view is that anyone who experiences feelings of anxiety, guilt, uncertainty, loss of control or other emotions that refuse to go away, should talk about it with their health professional at an early stage so that it can be treated swiftly.

"You should not be ashamed of these feelings," she said.

It is not surprising that 50% of women say they have had some forms of negative feelings about being a mother
Heather Welford, NCT spokeswoman
"I now know there are hundreds of women who put on this brave face," she added.

It is believed about 10-15% of women will suffer postnatal depression after the birth of a baby.

However, a recent poll for the website netmums.com in which 2,000 women answered questions about how they felt after having a baby, suggests the condition is far more widespread and affects about 52% of women.

The National Childbirth Trust's (NCT) post natal depression spokeswoman Heather Welford said she is not surprised by the findings of the survey and believes even these statistics may be a conservative estimate.

She said: "It's perfectly normal to feel exhausted if you've had broken nights' sleep and to feel isolated and lonely if all your friends are working.

"It is not surprising that 50% of women say they have had some forms of negative feelings about being a mother.

"We should be offering far more routine support - which is where the NCT comes in.

"It should be every mother's right to access support."

Such advice may encourage more new mothers to admit their feelings and stop them suffering in silence.

Baby blues link to bad behaviour
04 Nov 03  |  Health
Test for post natal depression
09 Jul 04  |  Health

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