Wednesday, 17 November 2010

My life with 3 children under 5 and post-natal depression

Hello dear PB friends (and a warm welcome to the newbies). This post has been rattling around in my brain for weeks, if not months. Some of you may recall this post when I mentioned my diagnosis with post-natal depression (PND), just over a year ago. Recently I mentioned here about how my PND has become worse recently. I think it’s time I filled in the gaps for you about how I’ve coped during the past year. I’ve been prompted to write this post today both to acknowledge a dear friend’s bravery right now and to mark Postnatal Depression Awareness Week in Australia.
Thanks for the inspiration for this image, Kerry 
What is PND?

The helpful Australian organisation, PANDA, notes that ‘PND can be a devastating and debilitating illness that can persist and affect not just a new mother but everyone around her. PND is not a modern condition. Each generation calls it something different. What we call PND today may have been called a 'nervous breakdown' 50 years ago’. Another excellent Australian organisation, beyondblue, observes that PND ‘affects almost one in six women giving birth in Australia’. PANDA’s website notes that PND:

• can happen after miscarriage or stillbirth, normal or traumatic delivery, or caesarean delivery; 

• happens not only after a first baby. It can occur after a third or fifth baby. Sometimes it happens after a first baby only. Sometimes it happens with a third baby, but not with the first two. Sometimes it happens after each pregnancy; and

• can be mild, moderate or severe and symptoms can begin suddenly after birth or appear gradually in the weeks or months during the first year after birth.
Lovely little toes
What are the symptoms?

According to beyondbluePND has the same signs and symptoms as [ordinary] depression’. The situation is, however, made much more complex by also having a baby to care for in the midst of the mother’s distress. Common symptoms include:

• a loss of interest in food, sex, exercise or other pleasurable activities;

• increased physical health complaints like fatigue, pain, headaches, chest pain or difficulty breathing;

• changes in the mother’s diet, sleep and activity levels which result in her being less well nourished, exhausted and overly or less active than usual; and

• high levels of anxiety which reduce the mother's immunity and ability to fight infection.

What is the treatment?

An essential help with your medication

The sooner a mother is treated for her PND, the faster she can recover. The type of treatment will depend on the mother’s degree of PND. However, commonly a combination of medication and psychological treatment is used. See here and here for more information.

What does living with depression feel like?

Before the pixies were born, I had depression twice, caused by work and health problems. I managed to function at a very high level as a lawyer without anyone knowing. I’d then return home and curl up into a ball, crying. I developed agoraphobia. However, with medication and professional help, I made it out to the other side of that blackness. After many years of heartache, we experienced the joy of the pixies’ arrivals. My doctors warned me of the possibility of developing PND. However, until Sam was born, I managed to dodge it. Then we moved to Hobart with 3 children under 4 including 6 week old Sam. As I mentioned here, my diagnosis with PND came from left field.

What does living with PND feel like?
Remember what this feels like?

I find PND so much worse as there are the very real and practical implications of having the pixies to care for as well as myself. It feels like I am viewing life through a filter of detachment, like when you go to the optometrist's and they place the different types of lenses in front of your eyes. I feel disconnected from people and situations. I know I’m present and alive, here in the moment, but I just can’t feel anything. I feel numb.

How does PND affect my life?

The PND informs everything I say and do. It’s ever-present. I’ve stopped wasting energy getting annoyed about having it. Now I accept it and try to work around it. Mr PB is extraordinarily supportive and understanding. He is a beautiful person. I couldn’t get by without his endless love and support. Here are some of the impacts on my life:

• I have to really concentrate on remembering to take my medication on time. That can be hard in the hurly-burly and noise of PB.

• I need medication to get to sleep. My sleep is of paramount importance in order to have just enough energy to get through the next day. That means Mr PB tends to the pixies at night. The past year has been hard for him as we’ve had Joshua’s night terrors every night for about 9 months and Sam waking several times a night. Then the poor fellow has to turn around and go to work every day.

• Thanks to my medication, I rarely wake before 7 am. As the pixies rise as early as 6 am, Mr PB has to look after them every morning from that time.

• Normally, I am very organised, neat and focussed. Now I’m forgetful and struggle to even remember to write a to-do list, let alone actually follow one. I don’t have the energy to worry about things like dusting and cleaning to my usual standard. Mr PB does most of the ironing and cooking. 
My life as a list
• I normally value keeping in close contact with friends and remembering their birthdays. Now I struggle to remember that I haven’t spoken to friends for ages, let alone remember to contact them.

• I usually make a special effort to write in the pixies’ babies’ books, take photos to mark milestones and just generally do very thoughtful things for them. I’ve hardly been able to do that for the past year. I feel terribly guilty that Sam is missing out. I hope Mr PB will be able to help me ‘catch up’ on all those things soon.
The pixies each have one of these
• I use any extra scrap of energy I can muster into focusing on Sam, my last baby, to make sure I don’t ‘sleep-walk’ through his early years.

• Until I feel better, I can’t contemplate returning to work so our life on a single income will continue for a while yet.

What treatment am I having?

After over a year of trial and error, my doctors have finally worked out the best combination of medication for me. I have regular appointments with them. As long as I get my sleeping back on track (which means less hours in Blogland), I should continue to improve. It’s a long road. I don’t know how much further I have to walk. But all I can do is keep putting one foot ahead of the other.

By writing this post and making my situation public, I’m taking a leap of faith. However, I think the more people talk openly about PND, the easier it will become for its sufferers to cope. It’s hard enough living with PND, let alone also having to battle with the attached stigma. So, has that answered some of your questions about PND, my PB friends? Do you want to know anything else? Maybe you’ve had or have PND yourself or know someone who has. I welcome your comments – let’s help each other out.


  1. Jane, thank you for sharing. It must be so huge to put this out publically as you say. You have shown so well that PND can happen to anyone, it is so random. Your husband sounds amazing, and you are both very lucky to have each other and your wonderful children. A dear friend of mine has recently had PND, and like you by seeking help and support, she is feeling like she is coming out the other side and moving forward.

  2. You poor, poor thing. Motherhood is a tough road; tenfold when depression is involved. Speaking about your experiences will help others. Keep strong. x

  3. Brave, sweet friend, I am
    just amazed that you have
    been able to keep a blog
    with all of this swirling
    around you. You must be
    a very strong woman and your
    husband, uber supportive.
    It IS important to be open
    about PND as you don't know
    who could read this and the
    impact that it could have,
    even if it is on just one
    life. I do have a dear, dear
    friend who has battled depression
    and PND, as well. She will
    be on meds for the rest of her
    life, as going off was tried
    but didn't work. She reminds me
    a lot of you, in the way you
    write and in your positive way
    of thinking. Big bloggy hugs to
    you, tonight!!!
    xx Suzanne

  4. You are very brave posting this post and it will benefit other women reading it now. I am sure I went through some PND after both my babies were born. Both were horrible colicky babies who were hard to breastfeed, hard to get to sleep and I look back on photos and don't always remember the good times, but the pain that I felt in my heart even though I was smiling in the photo. I'm glad that my son, who is my youngest is now five, and I will be having no further babies. I think once upon a time people lived with support around them. Constantly. Their mother or their mother-in-law, their sister or their sister-in-law were living next door and were helpful with difficult times when baby was unhappy and mother was sleep deprived. My mother grew up in a home where she had both grandmothers living with them, both of her parents having been single children. Imagine that.

  5. The fog will lift, not instantly, but gradually and your experience of parenthood will improve as they get older.

  6. To be able to acknowledge PND and then write so powerfully, you truly amaze me over and over Jane.

    My sister-in-law suffered badly from PND after the birth of their first and only daughter. The problem was that she wasn't able to admit that there was anything wrong. I think at the time she was so busy fulfilling the image of being the 'perfect' mum & saw admitting that she was struggling or might have depression to be a weakness and that she would therefore be seen to be lesser somehow.

    I was with her on the day that she 'crashed' and was able to drive her and the baby to a hospital specialising in PND support. It was a truly eye-opening experience and I tip my hat to the wonderful people who work in these facilities, they truly save lives. What struck me is that there were several women who had been admitted for Pre-Natal Depression, I had never known that this existed before then.

    So thank you for sharing your story. This is a most personal insight into your life and I'm sure you will touch a chord with many readers.

    Huge hugs to you dear one,

    Felicity x

  7. Jane, I admire you so much and I'm so happy to know you. Keep walking your road, you WILL get there.

    Putting the pieces together, I'm convinced that my mum had PND after her third baby, my younger brother. My parents ended up divorcing when he was about three, which must have only made things so much harder for her. She's fine now, but how much heartache could have been saved with a little more knowledge and understanding, and a little less stigma!

    You are blessed to have Mr PB, and he is to have you. Between the two of you, all that intelligence, generosity and heart, life will get it's shine back.

  8. A strong woman with an extremely supportive husband and precious children. You are inspiring. Cathy

  9. such an honest post - I admire you so much :-) xxx

  10. Jane, I think you are so brave to share your journey... I have a friend who is suffering from PND at the moment and I've seen how difficult it can be. You seem to be so strong and I admire your honesty tremendously. I hope you know how much you are adored dear Jane - even by people who have never had the pleasure of meeting you in person xx

  11. Thank you for sharing. Very brave of you. I remember the feeling of exhaustion with a young baby but nothing like what you have described. My thoughts are with you. Do you have family or friends or support in Tasmania that help you out? Charmaine

  12. Wow! You are really quite remarkable, and so very brave. Good for you & thankyou for sharing this with us. I had PND after my 3rd child & it rocked my world. As someone fortunate enough to be surounded by wonderful friends & family, I couldn't bare the thought of telling them I suspected I may have it. My husband was at a loss, in despair , not knowing what was wrong or how to handle it. I didn't want to admit that I had it, thinking it was somehow a failure as a mother, a wife, a person. I did eventually admit it to our health centre nurse during a baby visit & she was wonderful. Acknowledging it was a massive step to helping me through it, & by the sound of so many stories, I had it fairly mildly, but I'm always concious of it, it's like it sits there dormant in the background. But generally I am great, and so grateful for my beautiful life. Thankyou Jane, you are fabulous and you are blessed xx

  13. Thanks so much for sharing Jane!Im sure this info will help some others suffering with the same condition~*~Hugs my friend, Rachel ;)

  14. Oh you poor thing! This sounds really rough and especially since you have 3 young to take care of...
    Hope that you will one day look back at PND instead of living with it!


  15. Jane, thank you for letting people know the reality of the day-to-day with PND. I may have had it briefly after my 2nd child but it was certainly never diagnosed. And I had no idea of the severity of this condition. I feel for you. But the fact that you're aware, are getting help, have an amazingly supportive husband and look to the future all speak volumes of the success you will no doubt have in kicking it. Your honesty and authenticity is truly wonderful. Bless x

  16. A wonderfully honest and informative post Jane, thanks for choosing to share about this. Your husband sounds like a truly wonderful man to be able to support you so well through this.
    I am currently struggling with PND and have been since the birth of number two a year ago. It totally rocked me to my core, such a terribly dark time when it SHOULD have been glowing with newborn wonder. I hate it that PND robbed me of this but I was able to recognise it early on which I am thankful for. Now I'm pregnant with number three (due end of May) which I am extremely happy about but there's the horrible fear of PND returning...
    I hope the darkness lifts for you soon and the medication helps you feel like your old self. Thanks again for sharing, it's always nice to hear there are others out there who understand! X

  17. Good for you for sharing! You have blessed many lives with your bravery. As a mother of biological, adopted and foster children I must say that it can also affect women adjusting to a new child in the home even if they did not birth the child. So thankful that you have such a supportive hubby! Julia

  18. Jane, I think it is fantastic you are sharing about your experience.
    I love that your blog is so open and real.
    I think you are a very strong and brave woman, who is going to help many other women by sharing.
    I met some other Mum's in the MBU who had/have pnd and they too are amazing women who inspire and encourage me in my journey as a Mum.
    I have not had pnd, although have suffered with mild depression a couple of times in my life.
    Your Husband sounds like a very supportive guy and you sound like a wonderful Mum.
    I am so pleased to read that you have been taking time out for yourself on the weekend to nurture you. Very important as a busy Mum of three under four.
    Keep sharing and be kind to yourself. You are doing a great job! :)

  19. I truly feel for you. It must be a challenge with three little 'pixies' when you're feeling strong and energetic, let alone with pnd?
    You and Mr PB sound like a great team and fabulous parents. Don't be too hard on seem to be doing a great job. x

  20. thanks for linking up today and sharing this very important topic - thanks for your information, your open heart and honesty. It is something close to my heart and was such a struggle for me. It is a difficult time already with children and when you are dealing with those feelings that come from post natal depression it is so much harder. I hope you have been able to help many others today. Thanks Jane xx

  21. Oh, my! Your gorgeous words of support are so very touching. After a seemingly never-ending day on PB, it's the loveliest feeling to read your comments just now. I've also had a number of private emails sharing your experiences - thanks so much for sharing and confiding.

    It's funny - I didn't feel brave writing this post. I didn't feel a sense of dread when I hit 'Publish post'. I felt empty. That's what the PND does to me. I was relieved when Mr PB read it and agreed that I hadn't 'over-shared' about my medication and treatment - it's a fine line to share with you all but also protect my privacy.

    The thing about PND is that it has to be public as there are the very real consequences of children to care for while you're unwell. The other times I had depression pre-PB, we could keep it secret. Not so this time around with the pixies to care for. Now, just a few quick comments.

    Yes, Felicity, ante-natal depression isn't spoken much about. And neither is postnatal psychosis. There's still a lot of stigma out there.

    Thanks, Sarah, sweet friend. At least we've met each other out of all this!

    Oh, Brigitte, I really feel for you. I know what you mean about having those feelings for your newborn sullied by your distress. When I posted about my time in the Mother Baby Unit, a lot of my grief came flooding back. I have all my fingers and toes crossed for you with number 3 (congrats!) - the important thing is that you have the insight now and will know how and when to get help if you need it. Best of luck with it, sweet one!

    An interesting insight, Julia - thanks for adding that.

    Thanks, Kat - I'm pleased you also found the MBU a great support.

  22. good on you for sharing Jane. I hope you get some relief sooner than later. I have suffered severe depression for a long long time but seem to be doing ok with the meds nowadays. Sleep deprivation is the enemy though

  23. Jane, what a beautiful post. Beautiful in the sense that it is honest and brave and will doubtless comfort other women experiencing the same thing and inspire them to get help. I think PND is extra-difficult because it can be such a challenge to care for yourself adequately when you are also caring for young children. I'm glad your husband is such a strong support.

    I'm experiencing some depression now as well as a result of some big and unexpected events in my life (domestic violence, divorce, etc) and have found writing about my experience to be very cathartic. There are a lot of wonderfully supportive people in blogland. Wishing you all the best.

  24. Your honesty is clear in everything you write, Jane. I am positive that this post is going to help someone very much. x

  25. What a beautiful raw and honest post. I had post-natal depression after the birth of my first child. I didn't know what was wrong with me at the time and suffered for 6 months before I got help.

  26. MOTH's mother suffered from this insidious disease in the early 1950's, but it went undiagnosed. It culminated with a pyschotic episode 4 weeks after the birth of her 3rd child. She spent 6 mths. in a pysch. hospital, received 26 doses of ECT & then spent a lifetime trying to rebuild her life. His entire family was affected & still is. Your post is brave & in many ways triumphant Jane. You will not let this issue define you, that's very clear.
    Millie ^_^

  27. good on you Jane! you are brave and strong and a good mum for being so open. Raising children is hard work and having them all close together is really tough, it has its rewards and benefits but man it's hard work so you're doing a great job!!!!


  28. It is so very very hard being a Mum particularly when they are close together in age and particularly when they are small. You really sound like such a wonderful caring mother and your honesty is refreshing. A wonderful post Jane. Thank you.

  29. Jane this was a wonderful post. I don't know that the term "brave" is the right word. I would say it's "necessary" to come out and reveal your true self like that. I have lived with Cyclothymia for a lot of years now and I felt I needed to be an open book about it in order to get through it. I think we all need to have a little more faith in people - you'd be surprised at the amount of support you receive. You sound like an awesome person Jane and I'm glad you and your husband have worked out what you need to do to ride it through. A lot of people can get lost in it and aren't aware that there are is so much support out there. I look forward to more posts!
    Megs :) x

  30. Why, thanks for your kindness, ladies. Not to mention your empathy for those who've 'been there' and/or are 'still there'. And to those fellow sufferers, thanks for sharing and caring enough to comment.

    And Millie, thank goodness we live in more enlightened times now. What terrible fallout for your MIL and MOTH.

    Megs, I've sent you a message but thanks so much for your openness. I hope you have good support as well. And I tend to agree with you - I do feel it's important for me to get the fact 'out there' because as much as I'd like, the PND doesn't seem to be going quietly - it really affects everything I do. Once people realise that, they have some important context into who I am. J x

  31. Thanks for sharing Jane, to see it written down is quite therapeutic for me. To see that you are still going through it, even though it is sad to read, has given me the strength to get through my own demons.
    You were a massive support to me when we met last year and I have thought about you guys quite a bit.
    Very happy to hear that medication has been sorted and although things are not how you would ideally like them, that you are all managing to get through life.
    You are a very, brave strong woman who is truly blessed with a beautiful husband and gorgeous children.
    Love Helen xx

  32. Why, Helen, it's so lovely to see you here. Thanks - I'm so pleased it's provided some solace. I'm really touched you even remember me - you had so much going on at the time. I was just astounded at how well you two were keeping it together in the face of some difficult circumstances.

    What a lovely thing to say - thankyou. And you're an amazing trooper with your four sweet littlies and lovely husband. J x

  33. After reading this I am sure that I suffered from a mild version of this when my kiddos were 18 months and 32 months old. I was worn out and exhausted. I made it thru by changing my lifestyle a bit. I started yoga and my husband was so supportive & made sure I got to my class every week. I encourage women to find 1 thing to do outside the home while their children are little. The very good news is that it does get a lot easier as your children get older. It is very important to have help in raising little ones. I do think that would have made a big difference for me. I did join a mothers group and that helped as well! hugs to you Jane for covering this important facet of motherhood! cathy

  34. Hi Cathy Thanks for commenting and hopping aboard. I'm so pleased you worked your way through it and had such great support. It makes the world of difference. Yes, I think part of my problem was that by returning to Hobart, I left my mothers' group behind in Sydney. J x

  35. I hear you sweet lady, i hear you :)

  36. Hi Jane, I pop into Planet Baby every now and then for a little wander. We seem to comment on a lot of the same blogs, so when I see you've commented I often stop by to see what you've been up to. But I'm not sure I've ever actually commented and said hi. Forgive me for that. Now that I've come across this post, I wanted to write my hellos and say I hear you too. It is a long hard road. You WILL get there though. Big hugs to you for your courage to write about PND, thank you for sharing your story. I have my own black dog too and my blog is one of the ways I stay focussed on the positive, as I'm sure your blog is for you. And there are so many positives in our lives to focus on, aren't there. Hugs, Alison xx

  37. Ah, Luisa - I missed this. We must catch up and talk about this one day.

    And Alison, thanks so much for your kind comments - I'm delighted you've introduced yourself. Thanks for the encouragement - we mums need to stick together! You're right about the attitude.

    I'm so pleased you've become a Planetarian - I'm now following you, too. J x

  38. Jane, you may not feel brave hun, but what you have done in putting a face on the isolating sickness that is PND is so, so brave. I know from experience how difficult it is to admit it to yourself when you are such an able career woman (as you are!) let alone anyone else! I also had this experience as I wrote on the blog, and although that was 16 years ago now (with my second baby) I have remained on medication and have worked out a regime that suits me and my family. At times things are not easy, but at least I know that they are survivable and that I will be able to see the sunshine again. Big hugs to you and to your loving man, you've done so well to get this far. Vxx

  39. Jane, thank you so much for linking to this on SITS. I know how tough it is to share this, but you're so not alone. I had a very similar experience for a long time (and I only have one - it must be tough with more!). My husband did a lot of the care (well, all of it for a while, actually) and really backed me up. It means so much to have that support, and I'm so glad you had (have?) it too.


Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, you gorgeous soul. You've just made my day! J x

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