Let’s face it – having a baby is stressful, no matter how excited you are or how many classes you have attended or books you’ve read.
Post-natal depression (PND) can affect mothers (and fathers) in different ways and at different stages after childbirth. It is a common diagnosis that affects most parents and may develop suddenly, gradually or not at all. But there’s nothing wrong or shameful about PND and Shannon McLaughlin, founder of Ubuntu Baba tells us a bit more about her post-partum experience.
Q: What is post-natal depression?
A: There’s a lot of confusion around the topic, because it can affect different mothers in different ways. It can start immediately after birth or at any point during the first year after having a baby. It can come on really quickly without any warning, or you may start to notice it gradually creeping in as the weeks and months go by.
Must read: This local mom’s real experience of PPD is a scary eye-opener
Q: Did you experience post-natal depression (PND) after the birth of your son?
A: Yes, I did. I’ve come to learn that it was a combination of PND and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) – as I had an extremely traumatic birth experience and that definitely contributed to the onset of my PND. I’d never felt more alone in my whole life. It was a scary experience.
Q: When did you realise you were experiencing it?
A: I knew I was having a tough time from the moment I had my baby, but I don’t think I realised that I actually had PND until about 6-months-in. I remember being on the bathroom floor, crying uncontrollably and wondering what was the point of me even being alive.
I felt so useless and alone and I thought that my baby would actually be better off without me; that’s how bad a mother I thought I was. Looking back I know how irrational those thoughts were, but in the moment they were as real as anything.
I think that was my turning point - when I heard those thoughts in my head. They were so shocking that I somehow separated myself from them and another voice said ‘No, this is not okay, you need help.’ That’s when I knew I had to seek help.
Q: What were some of your symptoms?
A: All moms experience some form of guilt at some stage in motherhood, and I think that’s totally normal. But the guilt I felt was deep and it got worse day after day. I had completely irrational thoughts all the time. For example, I thought my baby was going to die whenever I left him alone with anyone - I would have proper panic attacks where I couldn’t breathe and thought I would die from lack of air.
A friend who had been through something similar told me that her therapist told her to count backwards from 100 whenever that started to happen, and funnily enough that really helped me to control these attacks.
I also could not sleep at night; all moms worry about their babies when they sleep, but mine was really severe. So I was extremely sleep deprived and just living in flight or fight mode constantly. The intense sleep deprivation created a brain fog that I lived with for about 9 months, and I honestly don’t recall much of that first year of my baby’s life.
I’m grateful I took so many photos, because when I look at the photos I genuinely can’t remember taking most of them. I lived somewhat of a double life during those months, because not many people realised how depressed I really was.
Also read: Cardi B on her postnatal depression: “Out of nowhere, the world was heavy on my shoulders”
Q: How long did your PND last for?
A: The first 6 months were intense, but then I started to seek help and find ways to get my life back and so it started to slowly subside. There are still days, 5 years later, that I hear that ‘PND voice’ in my head, but I can very easily recognize it now and I have ‘tools’ that I use to get back to me. Kundalini meditation being the main one – this combined with my therapy was my saving grace.
Q: What was your perception of PND before you gave birth?
A: I didn’t really give it much thought at all. I had heard of it, but I was happy and looking forward to becoming a mother so I didn’t think it would happen to me. I didn’t realise it was something that you could ‘get’ – I thought it would just happen to people who were depressed in general, and that wasn’t me.
Q: How can new moms ensure early detection of PND?
A: You need to be as open as possible with how you are feeling. It can be very hard sometimes, especially because it is seen as such a taboo topic. You may feel ashamed to talk about it, and also shocked and embarrassed that you feel the way you do.
It’s really tough. I think reading articles about the topic helps, and all the different mom support groups out there too.
Q: What kind of help did you seek from others?
A: I went to a therapist; I wanted to talk it out and understand WHY this was happening to me and deal with it. I’ve been through therapy before for different reasons and it worked really well for me so I was familiar with the process. I’m a deep thinker and like to investigate myself, haha, so I knew that therapy would help me.
I was very against taking any anti-depressants – I wanted to know when I was feeling better and not cover it up at all.
Q: What methods did you use to help with the symptoms?
A: I did a lot of journaling and wrote down how I was feeling. It helped me identify what situations were triggering for me – all under the guidance of my therapist. And then I did a Kundalini meditation course, which honestly changed my life. It’s something I still do today and it has elevated my life in so many ways.
I highly recommend it to everyone; I think it has so many benefits, living in the fast paced and stressful world we live in.
Also see: We’ve all heard about postnatal depression, but what about antenatal depression?
Q: What do you recommend new moms do/use to help combat PND?
A: I really believe in therapy. I know that certain medical aids will cover a therapist for post-natal depression too which is very useful as it can be expensive. I only discovered this after I had been through my therapy, and I think that’s a shame that not many moms know about this benefit.
Q: Can it affect the whole family?
A: It affects the rest of the family if the mother is not feeling/acting entirely herself. If you cannot look after yourself properly it’s extremely difficult (not impossible) to look after others. It’s a dangerous situation and should always be treated in some form.
Q: What/where are the top three places to seek help for PND?
A: Again, I strongly recommend finding a therapist that you are comfortable speaking with. Consider involving your partner in some of the sessions, because it’s very difficult for others to comprehend the intensity of what you’re going through.
Also see: QUIZ: Do you have postnatal (or antenatal) depression?
Q: Any tips to lift a moms mood and help her bond with her baby?
A: My number 1 tip is babywearing, because of course I own a babywearing business, Ubuntu Baba – and for good reason. When I discovered babywearing, it really changed my days and helped me to get back on my feet again.
If it wasn’t for babywearing, I don’t know how things would have turned out – because it was probably the only thing that was a constant for me. I knew that if I put my baby in that wrap, he would be okay and go to sleep, and I could have some time to myself.
And number 2, before my baby arrived I would make a long list of things to do for the day, so I naturally thought I could continue to do this. But once he arrived, that list just seemed to grow every day, and I never managed to cross anything off. It was really frustrating and I would stare at it and just not know where to begin.
Then a friend gave me a tip. I would create a new list every day, name it ‘Monday’ and then write 2 tasks below.
For example: On a Monday my goal would be to water the plants and drink a healthy smoothie. If I managed to cross those 2 things off my list, then that meant it was a successful day. It’s all about the small victories.
What I do remember about that first very difficult year, is that there were flickers of light in the dark. When your baby flashes you a hint of a smile, or when they giggle for the very first time. My advice is to accept your dark days and acknowledge them for what they are, dark days – and that’s okay.
And know that your ‘now’ will change with every day that passes and things will get easier. And that your baby does love you, more than you could ever imagine.
Share your story with us, and we could publish your letter. Anonymous contributions are welcome.