There’s nothing that can quite prepare you for how incredibly daunting and emotional it is, to become a new parent. On top of welcoming our new little person (or people!) to the world, our hormones get a right shake-up.
Feeling a bit wobbly and having some “baby blues” is entirely normal, but some of us experience post-natal depression, which can be very scary and really hard to talk about. Over 1 in 10 women are thought to experience it within a year of giving birth, and 8% of Dads and partners. But unfortunately, it’s relatively common occurrence doesn’t make talking about it any easier.
Many symptoms of post-natal depression can be hard to disclose, particularly if we begin to worry about the repercussions of our symptoms. We might worry that people will see us as a risk to our child, or as a ‘bad’ parent. But we are not alone in feeling this way and we are certainly not alone in living with symptoms of post-natal depression. Talking about these symptoms can help us to get the support that we deserve.
1. Feeling Unable To Look After Our Baby
We all make mistakes, especially when we’re doing something new and when we’re tired (as all new parents are). Because we make mistakes, because we’re exhausted, and because we’re a new parent to a very small baby, every single one of us will have moments when we question our ability to look after our baby.
When we have depression, these moments of questioning our abilities can become a near-constant state of mind. Each time our baby cries, it can feel like a personal attack on our looking-after abilities. We might find that we keep breaking down in tears thinking ‘I can’t do this, I don’t know what to do’.
This can be difficult to talk about. Other parents might seem to have it all together, while we feel woefully inadequate. We often worry that others will judge us for being a ‘bad parent’. Perhaps we’re scared that by talking about our inadequacies, others will see us for who we really are, and someone will take our child away from us.
Feeling unable to look after our baby can be a symptom of post-natal depression or post-natal anxiety. These feelings are not facts; feeling this way does not mean that we’re unable to look after our baby. We deserve help and support to help us overcome these thoughts and feelings.
2. Difficulty Bonding With Our Baby
Some of us struggle to bond with our baby. This can make it hard for us to hold, care for, and to respond to our baby. We might even feel resentful towards them. There can be a huge disconnect between how we feel and how we think we should feel. We are parents to this child, and yet we just feel ambivalent towards it. It can leave us feeling an incredible amount of guilt because we feel as though our baby deserves better.
Talking about these difficulties can be hard because we worry that those around us will judge us and think of us as bad people. We might be scared that our child will be taken from us. Sometimes the thought of our child being looked after by someone else can feel like a relief – and that can be scary in itself.
The difficulties we experience in bonding with our baby do not mean that we will never bond with them. They do not mean that we are bad people or bad parents. We just need some help and support.
3. Feeling Suicidal
Depression can come with suicidal feelings and the urge to self-harm. When these feelings enter our lives as part of post-natal depression, the guilt around them can be amplified. We’re likely to feel guilty for wanting to hurt ourselves at what should be such a joyous time in our lives, or for wanting to complete suicide when we know that we would be leaving our baby behind. Sometimes we can feel as though our child would be better off without us.
These thoughts and feelings do not mean that we don’t love our baby. We can’t control our suicidal feelings but we can control our actions and our response to them. Talking about these thoughts and feelings can be hard because we often worry about what others will think or say. But talking about them is often an important step in getting the help and support that we deserve.
4. Frightening And Intrusive Thoughts
Post-natal depression can lead to us having extremely frightening and intrusive thoughts. These thoughts might tell us to do things such as hurting or abandoning our baby or partner. They could tell us to hurt ourselves or end our life. Thoughts like these can pop into our head with no warning. They can be terrifying because we don’t expect them, they might not feel like our own thoughts and it can be hard to get rid of them.
Talking about these thoughts can be almost as scary as experiencing them. We don’t want people to think that we are violent or dangerous. Often we will worry that if others know that we’re thinking these things then they won’t trust us to be around our baby. But we’re not the first people to experience thoughts like these, and talking about them can be the first step in getting the help and support that we deserve. With the right help, we can learn to manage these thoughts, and the very act of telling someone else about them can take some of the fear out of them. We don’t have to cope with them alone.
Lots of parents feel guilty about all sorts of things. There’s no such thing as a perfect parent, so there will always be mistakes we’ve made that can be used as ammunition when our brain wants to give us a hard time.
When we have post-natal depression, guilt can become a permanent state of being. We can feel guilty about most things. Guilt over letting our baby cry for too long, for the house not being showroom levels of clean and tidy, for not being back at work within 3 days of giving birth. We might feel guilty for going out to work, not feeling able to help enough, or for missing milestone-moments like our baby’s first smile. It can overwhelm us.
Sharing these guilty feelings with people can be hard because we might worry that we’ll be highlighting our flaws. We might feel like a fundamentally bad person and not want to tell anyone in case they realise how awful we are and don’t want to associate with us anymore.
Sharing how we feel can help us to identify times when our brain is playing tricks on us and depression is lying to us. It can show us that there are things we don’t need to feel guilty about. Some of our guilt will be based on specific things that have happened, so if there are things we’re doing that could be improved then talking about them can help us to problem-solve and think of ways to address them.
Some of us have incredibly traumatic birthing experiences. Some us write out a birth plan and then end up with an emergency c-section, some of us might have no plan at all, some of us might have a really straight-forward birth but still find that it gives us nightmares afterwards. Different experiences affect all of us in different ways. It’s not only the person giving birth who can find it difficult; sometimes partners experience nightmares and flashbacks of the birth, too.
Talking about these things can be hard. We might not realise that our experiences are any different from other people’s. Perhaps we feel as though we should ‘get over it’, ‘snap out of it’ or ‘just stop it’.
A trauma-response to birth isn’t something that everyone experiences and it isn’t usually something that we can just ‘snap out of’. It’s real, valid and if we’re living with it, we deserve help and support.
Being a new parent can be a lonely place. At 3 am when we’re feeding our baby, it can feel like we’re the only person on the entire planet who’s awake. Being on leave from work can leave our days without any structure. As much as a newborn can be classed as company, they don’t offer stimulating conversation or a compassionate ear in the same way as adult company does.
We might find that the only people we see during the day are health workers and the occasional supermarket cashier. Sometimes we’ll see our friends, but we might feel separate or different from them – it can be hard to keep up conversations about their latest job or dating mishaps when we have a hungry newborn in tow and we only had four hours sleep the night before. Going to baby groups can be a good way to meet other parents, but that doesn’t always help our feelings of loneliness, particularly when we’re new and don’t really know anyone there yet.
It’s totally understandable that we might feel lonely, and these feelings don’t mean that we’re ungrateful for the people in our lives, or for our baby. Talking about our loneliness can help us to address the problem. People might be able to come round more often or might have ideas of things we can do or other people we can meet.
Having a child can feel like a change to our identity. This can be particularly common if our identity was heavily tied in with work and we’re taking time off, or if our identity was tied in with an activity that we’re not able to do at the moment. We might find that we develop a new identity. Instead of being known by our own name, we might begin to be known as [child’s name]’s parent. Rather than looking at our face when speaking to us, people might talk to us whilst looking at our baby.
It’s not silly or odd to find a change to our identity difficult to cope with. Having a baby is a huge life change. Talking about it can help us to cope with this change.
9. Irritability and Anger
Being sleep-deprived and having hormones all over the place can leave us feeling irritable or angry. Post-natal depression can often exacerbate this feeling. We might find that we’re snapping at those around us, are irritated by quite literally everything, and frequently feel bursts of anger. Often we will know that our feelings of irritability and anger are irrational, but that doesn’t help them to go away.
There’s no shame in feeling irritated or angry. We all get that way from time to time, and it’s totally understandable given how difficult it can be to care for a newborn, and even more understandable when post-natal depression is thrown into the mix.
These feelings don’t mean that we are undeserving of help and support (even if we get irritated or angry with those who are trying to help and support us!). It’s absolutely okay to talk through these feelings, they don’t make us a bad person.
10. Low Libido
Postnatal depression can reduce our sex drive. If we’ve given birth, sometimes we’re advised not to have sex for a period of time to let our body heal, but even after that point, we might have absolutely no interest in sex at all.
Sex is often a difficult topic. It can make us squirm because it’s not always something we’re used to speaking about. There is absolutely nothing wrong with talking about it, though. Whether we were the one to give birth or not, having a low sex drive can be a symptom of post-natal depression and it’s absolutely okay to ask for help and support with that.
11. Eating Too Much Or Not Enough
Post-natal depression can affect our appetite – making us either never hungry or always starving. Sometimes we don’t have any problems with our appetite but controlling our food intake or comforting ourselves with cake is just how we cope with our feelings. Unfortunately, in our society, people often comment on our weight and what we eat. Not eating enough can result in comments about how we need to eat enough to look after our child. Eating too much can lead to weight gain which can bring its own set of less-than-helpful comments.
All of these comments, or fear about receiving comments like these, can stop us from feeling able to talk about our difficulties with food. But often those who are close to us will understand and want to help us.
Self-neglect is a really common symptom of post-natal depression. When we feel rubbish, have no energy, don’t care about ourselves, have a little one whose needs we’re hopping about to meet, and are short of time, one of the last things on our mind is dragging a hairbrush through our hair. Personal hygiene, grooming, diet, exercise, and other self-care can all quickly become a thing of the past.
Telling someone that we haven’t managed to hop in the shower in 10 days can be really hard because we might feel embarrassed. Personal self-care can be difficult when we have a new baby, even if we don’t have post-natal depression. We are absolutely not alone in finding self-care hard, and it’s okay to talk about it and to ask for help with it.
13. Excessive Worry
Everyone who has a new baby is likely to experience a certain level of worry. Being responsible for a tiny human is not a small task, and though we can read all of the parenting books ever published, we’re still going to make mistakes and have situations that we don’t expect.
However, sometimes post-natal depression can be accompanied by a whole new level of anxiety. It can reach the point where we are absolutely terrified that something is going to happen to our child, or that there’s something wrong with them. We might struggle to sleep for fear of something happening while we’re asleep. Some of us might not be able to bear the thought of anyone else holding, or even touching, our child. We can become fearful of leaving the house, feeding our child, bathing them, and absolutely anything else associated with caring for our new-born. This can be exhausting and can cause friction between us and those who are trying to support us.
It can be difficult to talk about because it can be hard to find the words to express how anxious we are. We might worry about offending our friends or family by telling them that we’re worried about them touching our child. Sometimes we might worry that we’re being irrational or that people will see us as ‘crazy‘. We deserve the help and support that we need to help us manage this level of anxiety.
Although the symptoms of post-natal depression can be hard to talk about, we are not the first, and unfortunately won’t be the last, people to feel the way we do. Our loved ones, and health professionals, are there to help us at what can be an incredibly difficult and stressful time – the more we feel able the tell them, the better placed they’ll be to offer us the right support.
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