When Sally Bunkham’s second daughter was born, just a year after her first, she started to struggle. With a constantly crying baby, Sally was exhausted and began self-harming – until a doctor diagnosed postnatal depression, which brought surprising relief…
I am still not sure if what I had was postnatal depression. It’s such a hard thing to try and measure and define. What I do know is that once a label had been put on my condition, it made me feel much better. Like it somehow validated my feelings. Which is bizarre, because previously I never would have thought that someone diagnosing me with PND [postnatal depression] would be a positive thing, but actually it was.
My postnatal depression did not come in a “textbook” kind of way. Which is why I failed to do anything about it for far too many months. It happened the second time I became a mother, which in itself put me off the scent. “Surely if I was the type of person to get an illness like PND I would have got it by now?” I thought to myself.
My second daughter, Ruby, was born just a year and 12 days after my first. It was an incredibly close age gap, and not a planned one. My body hadn’t had much time to recover from the last pregnancy, and I was worried from the off about having two babies under two (nearly two under one).
I had a rough time with Daisy, my eldest, with breastfeeding. For whatever reason, my body just couldn’t produce the milk. That hit me hard, but after a while I got over that, and on we plodded. Life back then was in complete flux and I did struggle with my new identity as a mum, but I don’t think I was depressed. Even after my second daughter was born, things were initially ok. Life was incredibly tough, yes, but I was coping.
Trouble hit when Ruby was around four months old. She suddenly became incredibly unsettled. She was crying with what everyone labelled “colic” ALL the time, day and night. We tried everything to relieve it, and labelled it as many things in our quest to find comfort. Was it reflux? An allergy? An intolerance? We changed milks, had cranial osteopathy, cut out certain foods, tried probiotics, tested for this and that, saw doctor after paediatrician after specialist. We tried drugs, drops, you name it, we tried it. Nothing seemed to bring relief.
The crying mainly manifested at night. She would sleep in horribly broken fits and starts, sandwiched between screaming. We barely slept. Trying to function under that level of sleep deprivation and stress was really starting to get to me. I developed really unhealthy coping mechanisms. It began by screaming into pillows, or punching cushions – and developed into hitting walls and scraping my nails down my arms and making them bleed. It was a kind of punishment to myself for not being (what I thought was) a good mum, and part a release of huge tension building up inside of me.
To anyone else going through it, please do reach out, and know that it can and will end
My overwhelming emotion during all this was anger. Not something I associated with PND. Thankfully my husband was hugely supportive and when the self-harm became apparent, he sat me down and said enough was enough. I had to seek help. I went to the doctor and sobbed. I just felt empty. It was like an out of body experience. When the doctor said I had “postnatal depression brought on by exhaustion”, and referred me for counselling – I was shocked. I just thought I wasn’t coping and was a terrible mother. It now dawns on me that PND isn’t just something that you either get or you don’t. It can be brought on by external factors, and for me it was stress and huge sleep deprivation.
Thankfully for me, that trip to the doctors really helped me. It made me realise I wasn’t going mad, I was ill. Once I had that label from the doctors it also allowed me to tell my close friends and family, which galvanised them to support me more. Gradually, Ruby’s (still undiagnosed) condition gradually went away. Oh so slowly the crying seemed to stop and the sleeping improved. As her condition improved, so did mine.
I cannot recommend reaching out for support more, if you think you might be suffering; I found this really useful graphic recently, which helps identify symptoms. I wish I’d seen it a year or so ago…
My experience with postnatal depression was awful, but it has given me such empathy for anyone going through anything similar. So much so that I now run a business that raises money for PANDAS Foundation, a charity that supports families going through perinatal mental health issues.
My business – Mum’s Back – provides gift hampers for new mums, including all the yummy things they’ve not been allowed in pregnancy (wine, pate, cheese etc). I realised there was a bit of a gap in the market for gifts solely for mum after they’ve had a baby. All the ones I received were very baby focussed, which was lovely, but as mums I think we deserve something too. After all, we’re the ones that have just grown little human beings and gone through childbirth.
I am so pleased that I am now turning my experience of having postnatal depression into something positive, and it’s really empowering that I now own the experience I have had with it, it doesn’t own me. To anyone else going through it, please do reach out, and know that it can and will end.