PND - Why Aren't We Talking About It?
How come we still aren’t talking about it? Why is it still so hush-hush? At Christmas, when charity buckets rattle collecting spare change for mental health charities, why am I still reading that new mums feel guilt and fear around the blues that follow the birth of a baby.
If I broke my leg, I’d tell people. Hell, I’d probably put a witty post on Facebook and filter a snap of my cast on Instagram. And I’d sit back and wait for the sympathy. When I have a cold I ask my husband to pick up some Lemsip, a copy of Grazia and a KitKat and I demand full control of the remote. But when I was diagnosed with PND, I kept it really quiet. I took the pills, being sure to put them at the back of the cupboard, behind the vitamins. Not just to keep them away from the kids, but so my cleaner didn’t see them. (First world problems, right?!)
And when I told a friend in a similar situation and realised that she was on the same pills, and had also sobbed into her pillow, and on her doctor’s shoulder, I felt both surprised and comforted. Adele’s Vanity Fair piece where she admits just how bloody hard it is, and the feelings motherhood can provoke, created headlines around the world. Fearne Cotton admitted to a depression diagnosis recently. I’m in excellent company.
The NHS suggests that one in ten new mums suffer from PND. My group of mums defies those odds. Three of the nine mums I met through NCT, baby massage or latte drinking have been on the happy pills. That’s a third. And we are the lucky few. We own our homes. We have well-paying jobs (not necessarily flexible, but that’s another article). We have supportive partners who share the load – and the nappies, and the washing. They pour us a gin at 7pm and let have a lie in at the weekend. Sure, we have to put up with Aunty Edna asking if we are going back to work – a question that has never, ever been asked of my husband. And we have to explain that actually, before babies, we led meetings, and ran marathons, and managed budgets. But these are minor gripes compared to mums struggling to heat the flat, or get the maintenance payment off the ex, or put food on the table. Money and fame doesn’t protect you from this. It’s blind to how supportive your partner is, whether you’ve had kids before, your social media following. Being a size 10 doesn’t help (and I always thought being a size 10 would solve everything).
The lesson I learned through being honest with my boss, my mum, my mum-friends, is this. Put your hand up. Higher, higher than that. Reach out and ask for help. My hairdresser has cuddled the baby whilst I’ve run errands. My mum has rushed to the rescue when Norovirus has hit (c’mon people, that’s brave.) My child-free friend babysits, as long as Netflix is available and there is pizza.
I’ve always been so independent, living alone, paying my own bills, buying my own treats. Sometimes it feels hard to accept these generous offerings. But here’s the thing. Child-free people often enjoy hanging out with kids. Spoiling them, playing with them, and then leaving as the sugar high hits. Before I had kids, I adored hanging out with toddlers. They love you for your enthusiasm, your readiness to play. And it’s a short-term commitment. Your friends and family want to help you, so stop being so independent and allow them to put the kettle on/ run the hoover around / babysit whilst you get blotto on the first cocktail in 8 months. The thing is, if you say “no” too often you might just find that the offers dry up. And the older the kids get, the more you need that time. So say yes, and pay it forward. Babysit for your neighbour. Drop round a lasagne to the NCT mum who has had her second baby. But most importantly say yes.
And when someone tells you they have had a terribly low period, and have seen their doctor, give them a hug. Pour them a gin (NB I don’t think this is medically supported, but from my perspective it worked). Take their kids for an hour so they can wash their hair. Drop round some posh ready meals. And let them know they aren’t alone. Statistically, they aren’t alone, but the shame surrounding anti-depressants and PND won’t let them believe that. Be a friend. Put the kettle on. Listen.