‘IT turned my life upside down and shook it’, is how one mother describes her experience of postnatal depression, a condition which affects around one in seven women.
Reporter HELEN KREFT spoke to Helen Broome who has battled the debilitating condition, come out the other end and is now urging others in the same position to seek help.
HELEN cannot remember her son’s first Christmas and believes she attended his Christening — but not in mind.
Missing out on these milestones is a horrible thought for any mother, but for Helen it was just another way of postnatal depression taking over and controlling her life.
To meet Helen you would have never thought that just months before she would have been phoning her husband, John, in tears shouting that she couldn’t cope and that she didn’t deserve to be a mother.
“He said he never knew what he was coming home to,” Helen says, still in disbelief at how the crippling condition also affected her whole family.
Helen and John, of Rosedene View, Overseal, had been trying for a baby for 15 months, before, on February 8, 2010, a pregnancy test revealed the news they had been waiting for.
After the obvious joy, Helen was soon consumed with worry. “I was like ‘oh my God, I’m pregnant’ and I was in floods of tears, saying I didn’t know how to look after a baby. I was scared.” After her doctor later confirmed the little bundle of joy wasgrowing inside her, she expected a ‘raft of leaflets’ but instead ‘I was told to eat green leafy vegetables and think happy thoughts’.
This started a harrowing chain of events which would eventually lead to Helen unable to leave the house, mentally and physically exhausted, tearful and believing she didn’t deserve to be a mother.
From receiving ‘conflicting’ advice on whether she was allowed to fly on a prearranged holiday to Turkey, to horrendous sickness throughout her pregnancy, the now 37-year-old felt miserable — not quite the glowing mother-to-be most of us look forward to being.
“My mood was plummeting. In hospital I was given the impression they thought I was too old and overweight.” Helen’s first breath of fresh air came when she met midwife, Karen McKilwrath.
“I spoke to her about my anxiety issues, about having a baby and she did everything she could to allay my fears.”
It was Karen who referred the worried mum-to-be to The Beeches — a specialist mother and baby unit at The Radbourne Unit, at the Royal Derby Hospital. For more than 15 years it has been a national forerunner in the care of mothers with perinatal illness, and their babies.
“I was referred because my anxiety was not improving and every time I saw her I was getting worse and in tears about the whole process. I couldn’t talk about having George and couldn’t go to antenatal classes.”
Even visits around the maternity ward at Burton’s Queen’s Hospital and a discussion about her birthing plan with the matron couldn’t shake her worry.
Her anxiety stemmed from the thought of being unclean when having her baby.
The Beeches outpatient service offered Helen medication as she, like many others who suffered from PND, had a history of depression. But they couldn’t guarantee that the medication wouldn’t affect the baby.
Voluntarily unmedicated, Helen’s anxiety got worse and her due date of October 8 came and went and she was later induced.
The baby still wasn’t making progress and an epidural was administered but she was unable to feel any contractions when asked to push.
An emergency Caesarean finally bought George into the world on October 21, 2010, weighing 9lb 12oz.
“I held him and it was unbelievable to have this thing there. After all the stress this little baby had been born so perfect. It was just all worth it.” However, the nightmare was not over as she struggled to feed him.
She said: “I didn’t sleep well in hospital and all he wanted to do was feed but I just couldn’t seem to fill him up.
“He was crying, but I had morphine in one arm and a catheter on the other side of me. I was just a horrendous mess. The emotion of what I had been through just freaked me out.” After another night without sleep the midwife could see Helen was exhausted so gave George some formula.
Towards the end of her stay, Helen believed she was deliberately left until last to be discharged so nurses could keep an eye on her, deepening her feelings of worthlessness.
She later developed mastitis leaving her in agony, and often delirious. Following the infection, Helen decided not to breastfeed anymore — ‘that made me feel like I’d failed. I hadn’t given birth to him myself because I had a Caesarean.
He was overdue. I couldn’t feed him properly. I just thought what had I done wrong?” Her midwife continued to visit Helen for six weeks after George was born, and three weeks after she had him, she was visited by Theresa Tullis, senior occupational therapist of the perinatal community mental health team of Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.
Helen immediately put on the ‘everything was great and wonderful’ face but deep down her depression was bringing her to a halt, with added worries that George would be taken away from her.
She said: “I had no confidence and couldn’t get myself motivated and I was still in pain from the Caesarean. The whole thing about how will I feed him and cleanliness just manifested.
“It was a combination of anxiety before labour, the shock of the labour and now I had this baby.
Even just making a bottle was too much for me.
“I just thought I didn’t deserve to have this baby, when there are other people in the world desperate to have one.
“John had to go back to work after two weeks’ paternity leave and I would phone him in tears.
“I became frustrated with my mother. I used to ask why she was coming to see me, believing she didn’t trust me with him.”
Helen’s mental health deteriorated with ‘bizarre’ arguments, when she accused people of deliberately hiding things from her and trying to drive her mad.
George’s first Christmas came and went and Helen still cannot remember any of it. And it was in January she made the courageous decision to phone Theresa, who said: “We looked at ways to restructure these thoughts, looking at what made her anxious.
“We made a list of priorities, including time management. Just managing getting up in the morning and getting George dressed first. Later it would be making a meal and we banned the word ‘should’.
Helen added: “We set very strict goals that we would revisit and make progress on, but sometimes I’d take two steps forward and another time I’d take five steps back.
“I was just mentally and physically exhausted. I put on about two-and-a-half stone after I had George. Because of my lack of energy I thought I’d fill myself up on sugar.”
George’s christening also passed in a blur before her medication was swapped and something clicked.
“It became easier to do all the things we were working on. I had to get the confidence of being a mum first before doing other things.
“I am lucky that I have a really supportive family.
PND turned my life upside down and shook it.
I couldn’t go to things like SureStart because I just wouldn’t go out. I didn’t want to get out of bed. I was just clock watching and counting down the hours when I could go back to bed.
“It has been really hard, and if I hadn’t had the support of my family and The Beeches I wouldn’t be at the other end of this.”
PND also affected Helen’s family, with John saying he never knew what he would be coming home to after tears and countless arguments.
“I can understand that PND can tear families apart. I am just glad John and I are as strong as we are.”
Bit by bit Helen managed to regain her confidence giving herself priorities to achieve during the day and eventually managing them.
Today, the Broomes are a normal, loving family.
George, who turns two on Sunday, is a very happy, friendly little boy.
Tearfully, Helen adds: “When he is older, I hope he understands that I wanted to do my best for him.”
“The condition of PND is horrible, but it is beatable with the right help, and it is people’s right to receive the right help.
“Yes, I think there is a stigma attached to it, but like other mental illnesses it will not be removed unless people talk about it.”