What It's Like To Have A Friend With Post Natal Depression

Ok, so I've never suffered with post natal depression and some people might be sat wondering what gives me the right to blog about it, when it's a condition which is genuinely wrecking the every day lives of Mothers around the world. But whilst I haven't suffered from PND, I have been a friend to Mothers who have, and that, in itself, is an experience of this horrible, all-consuming illness.
 
Oh boo hoo, poor old me, having to deal with a mentally unwell friend, right? That's not the angle I'm coming at - but I think the many women that I know who have suffered and recovered from PND, or are still fighting it now, will agree with me when I say, if you have a friend who has been diagnosed with post natal depression, it's absolutely, 100% Ok to say "I really don't know what to do to make this better for you."
 
 
 
As a friend of someone with post natal depression, or any kind of mental illness, you don't have to have the answers - if you had them, you'd probably be proper rich and popular. No new Mum, struggling to cope with her own emotions, has turned to her friends looking for a miracle cure.
 
You want know how it often feels to have a good friend with PND? Frustrating. It really is OK to be frustrated. Grumble in to your cup of tea because you went out and bought special biscuits, or even baked, and she cancelled on you. Again. It's totally OK to pout a bit (in privacy) and feel like you've been altogether mugged off. It doesn't make you an awful friend, or person. You're totally human too and having a friend or loved one who struggles with their mental health can be tough, and it can make even the best of us feel like we're fighting a losing battle at times.
 
But here's the thing. Posh biscuits and baking prowess aren't exactly the cornerstones of lasting friendship. Buy a pack of Hobnobs, chuck them to the back of the cupboard, and let your friend know that they're there whenever she's ready. Don't stop inviting, even if your invitations are repeatedly rejected, or accepted only to be cancelled ten minutes prior to their ETA. Keep inviting, and keep telling them it's OK when they can't make it (even if you do a big huff to yourself and wonder why you bothered cleaning the bathroom).
 
It's really hard to keep on understanding PND. I kind of get it - I've spoken to enough women who've been there and wear the battle scars to prove it, to be able to recognise symptoms, to be able to recount how it made the women that I know feel, how it made them behave - but I haven't been there. I've had my own private struggles with my mental health in the past which probably makes it easier for me to empathise with PND sufferers but, for me personally, the year or so after having both of my children have been positive times, so my understanding can only go so far.
 
I've wanted to snap my fingers and make my friends feel better. I've also wanted them to stop letting me down all of the time. In the past I've eventually stopped asking them to join me and other Mums for groups or lunch meets or play dates because "they'll only make an excuse not to come" - and now that I'm a little older and a little wiser, I realise that that wasn't the point, and that I should have kept on asking, or at least left the invitation open.
 
I do know that it isn't uncommon, when you have a friend with PND, to feel as though you're being rejected. Like you're going to effort, and having it thrown back in your face. I also know from speaking to women who've suffered from PND that they feel bloody awful knowing that they've made you feel that way. The best thing that you can do, in my experience, to minimise the awkwardness for all concerned, is to let it go gracefully - an "Ok not to worry, I'll let you know next time we're going" is all that's needed.
 
However, I think it's really important as well not to just pretend that your friend's PND isn't "a thing". Temptation can be, especially for the very British among us, to ignore a situation when we don't know how to handle it. Once you've accepted that you don't have to have a solution to the problem in order to be a good friend, it's then difficult to know how to proceed. Acknowledging PND can be so comforting for everyone concerned though, both the Mum who's suffering, and the friend who doesn't know what to say. A simple "I know you've got a lot on your plate at the moment but if you ever just need a chat and a cup of tea, you know where I am" could mean a lot to a depressed Mum, and you only need to remind them every now and again that the offer still stands to ensure that they don't feel you've forgotten them entirely.
 
I think it's also vital to regularly ask anyone how they are, but especially a new Mum, and especially a new Mum that you already know is struggling with depression. Just a text or a phone call to say "How are you feeling today?" can open up the way for a conversation that might really take the burden off of a friends shoulders, or at least let them know you care. The temptation for the depressed Mum of course is to simply reply with a "Great thanks" - but whether or not you suspect it isn't true - replying with a "Glad to hear it, if you're ever having a tough day you know I'm hear to talk." would be my go to. This is solid advice for the friends of anyone with a new baby, whether they've been formally diagnosed with depression, seem a little blue, or appear totally chipper and thriving.
 
Latest studies (conducted by charity 4Children) suggest that around 3 in 10 women experience PND, which means it's very unlikely that any of us will make it through our adult lives without having a friend with the illness, if it doesn't effect us directly. Around 25% of PND Mothers still have PND symptoms at their child's first birthday, and a staggering 58% do not seek help with their illness.
 
If you have a friend who you suspect may be suffering from PND it's always worth gently encouraging them to discuss their feelings with their health visitor or GP. PANDAS operate a fantastic antenatal and postnatal mental health helpline too on 0843 28 98 401. If you're ever worried that a friend is about to harm themselves, or their baby, always call 999.
 

Quinn's Birth Story; Revisited

Quinn's birth story was the first post that I wrote after she was born, and it's still available for you to read here. Looking back at it now, it's one of the worst things I've written in recent years - it is absolutely over-flowing with mistakes, and huge chunks of it make absolutely no sense what so ever!
 
I did toy with editing it, but have chosen to leave it as it is (with a disclaimer) because actually, I think that its faults rather add to its charm - it was written at a time when my hormones were all over the place, I was on an oxytocin high and madly in love with my new baby, and with a renewed adoration for her Daddy, but also really really struggling to get breastfeeding established. It was a wonderful and really difficult time and the crappiness of my writing reflects that.
 
I have decided, now that Quinn is nine months old, to rewrite it though with a clearer mind. So I'll leave the raw version where it is, and for those who particularly like typos, it'll stay there for eternity!
 
****
 
I'd already given birth once before, so on the one hand, I think in the lead up to Quinn's birth I felt as though I roughly knew what I was going to be up against. I felt a lot calmer and more in control as a result; I didn't feel like I was waiting to experience the complete unknown, and thanks to practicing lots of pregnancy relaxation techniques, hypnobirthing, meditation and yoga throughout my pregnancy, I was actually really looking forward to labour, and not just because I'd get to meet my baby at the end.
 
However, I remember my midwife asking me in one of our later appointments, whether I was confident that I would recognise the early signs of labour. I sat there in silence staring in to the middle distance.
 
When Seb was born I'd been going about my normal business with no sense that his birth was imminent. As I swung my leg into the car to go and buy curtain poles for the nursery, my "waters broke" all over the car park area in front of my flat, and by the time I'd waddled indoors and peeled off my wet leggings, my contractions had begun, steady and strong.
 
For me, the initiation of labour was sudden, unexpected and relatively full on. I hadn't experienced that "am I/aren't I?" stage with my first birth and I wasn't entirely sure I'd recognise "early labour" if I experienced it with my second baby.
 
Predictably of course, this was exactly what happened.
 
My ambitiously detailed birth plan!
 
 At 5.00am on the 23rd July 2016, a few days shy of my due date, I woke with a dull ache in my baby bump. It wasn't enough to be classed as pain, but I struggled to get back to sleep and couldn't find a position that I was comfortable laying in. Baring in mind I was 39 weeks pregnant, struggling to find a comfortable sleeping position wasn't exactly an alien predicament, and I decided that I might as well just get up. It was day light after all and Seb would be getting up around 6.00am to get ready for school anyway.
 
I made a cup of tea, bounced on my birth ball, and scrolled through Twitter. The aching in my bump seemed to come and go. It would build until I was wincing slightly with the discomfort, and then it would ease off. I'd been having Braxton Hicks contractions for weeks, months even, and I knew it wasn't that which I was feeling, but equally, it certainly didn't feel like labour - and wasn't comparable to my previous experience. More than anything, I suspected trapped wind. I did mention to a few friends on Facebook that something might be happening - not full blown labour by any means but perhaps my body getting ready for something just around the corner.
 
I went into the bedroom and unintentionally woke Boyfriend, who I'd left sleeping in bed, and briefly moaned to him about my discomfort. He'd already had two children over a decade ago - and was probably pretty confident that he could recognise a woman in labour too, but other than giving me a cuddle and a bit of a back rub, he was just as unconcerned as I was.
 
I plodded upstairs to go to the toilet, and text my doula to let her know that I was definitely feeling something, but that I wasn't entirely sure what. When I went to the toilet I noticed what I thought might have been some of my mucus plug (mmm, nice words, mucus... plug) but seeing as I'd not "lost" this when I went into labour with Seb, I didn't really know what I was looking for.
 
As expected, Seb got up around 6.00am and I busied myself helping him and getting him on the toilet and out of his pyjamas; when suddenly I had an overwhelming urge to sit down on the loo immediately. I always knew that in this labour I'd take a very intuitive - my body knows what it's doing - approach, but impressively, my instinctive jump towards the toilet meant that when my "waters broke" with that familiar gush, the whole thing was neatly contained in the sewerage system. Hurrah.
 
I sent Seb off to fetch Boyfriend, finally realising that this was actually it, I had been in labour for at least the last 90 minutes, and our baby was on the way. Boyfriend and I had a lovely cuddle, and it'll always be one of my favourite moments, the calm excitement on his face which was instantly reassuring and comforting, and our last proper hug before we became parents (together).
 
I decided to run a bath, my contractions (and now I knew that they were contractions!) were a little stronger now that the amniotic fluid was no longer cushioning things, and I felt as though I needed a good wash, even though I hadn't covered myself in goo this time!
 
In the warm water my contractions intensified more, but at the same time, the water was soothing and kept me relaxed. All the time that I was in the water I was able to use my hypnobirthing techniques to manage any discomfort and whilst I knew that the contractions were strong and working to move my baby down into the birth canal - I felt totally in control and happy. Seb brought me bath toys, and kept me company, and it was surprisingly nice to have him around. Once Boyfriend had suggested he might be more helpful if he were able to gently pour water over my bump - he was actually a really useful little extra birth partner! From the bath I called Marika, my doula, and my best friend Sushi who I realised would need to take Seb to school for me, and continued to lay on my side in the water letting the contractions do their thing.
 
When I got out of the bath, I felt very suddenly overwhelmed. Seb and Boyfriend were both in the room and they just felt too close and I felt suffocated. I also think part of me thought I really needed to poo and whilst I was more than prepared to push a baby out of my lady pouch, I was soooo not up for pooing infront of my boyfriend. Having asked everyone to leave me alone in the bathroom, I instantly relaxed (and didn't need a poo after all).
 
I never envisaged wanting to be on my own in labour. In fact, I'd carefully planned a home water birth and booked a doula pretty much especially so that Boyfriend never once had to leave my side, but actually, I just took a few minutes in the bathroom alone, refocused and got back into my birthing brain and I was buzzing.
 
I felt a very strong urge to be in/on/near to my bed though, and so off I pottered back downstairs and chucked myself at my king sized mattress. This was another off-plan move on my part. Believe me, if you'd seen my birth plan, you'd have choked. I'd detailed the points in my labour when I wanted the music changing (and by whom), what candles I wanted to burn, and where - I'd even specified whether or not I wanted the curtains opened or closed dependent on a variety of potential weather conditions...
 
The bedroom however, did not feature, at all, on my birth plan. My bedroom is the smallest, darkest room in my flat. I wanted to give birth in a birthing pool. With two doulas in the room. I wanted birthing music, and essential oils. I had plans, don't you know?
 
So there I was, in the bedroom which I shouldn't have been in, and alone. Poor old Boyfriend popped up to the bathroom to check on me, only to find it empty, and did have a momentary panic that he'd somehow managed to misplace his labouring girlfriend. So swift and sneaky had I been in my relocation! Once reunited in the bedroom though we went through the brief but most intense phase of my labour.
 
This was the toughest bit on me, mentally and physically, as my body decided to work incredibly hard to get my baby out. I wasn't in any pain at all but the contractions were very intense and felt a bit "out of body experience" like, which wasn't especially distressing, but I did need to bring myself back into the moment a few times - thankfully I had Boyfriend on hand who's ridiculously calm in any sort of situation and also noticed when I'd suddenly held my breath (which I do if I'm really heavily involved in something or other).
 
I don't really remember that much about that whole section of my labour, other than it being very animal like and powerful, but I remember two very clear thoughts; 1) These contractions are insane - there is supposed to be a gap/rest in between but they are just running one into the next - what's that about? and 2) This doesn't hurt..... I always said labour didn't have to hurt and it mother fucking isn't hurting. Yesssssss.
 
I also went through what's commonly referred to as the "self doubt" stage of labour and I wrote about that in more detail when I blogged about how hypnobirthing specifically helped me during my labour and birth (which you can read here) - but like many women, I did have that moment where I just felt as though I was "done" and couldn't possibly go on...
 
The one thing I should address because it will be glaringly worrying to some readers, is that we hadn't called midwives. My very very thorough birth plan had specified that midwives were to play a really minimal role in my labour and birth, but I did plan to have some present. I'd asked for no blood pressure monitoring, no fetal heartbeat monitoring, no internal examinations, no unnecessary questions from midwives, no physical touch, no mention of the word "pain" or other associated language, and I'd made a point of requesting that either myself or Boyfriend would "catch" baby, but that a midwife was by no means to be the first person to touch our child. Obviously I was prepared for all of these preferences to be overturned by medical emergency, but this was my best case scenario and they were really bystanders in my idea of the ideal birth.
 
However, when the time came, and we were busy actually having a baby, neither Boyfriend nor I thought it necessary to call midwives. We were an awesome little team and we just didn't feel we needed anyone else - so, we didn't call a midwife, we just got on with what needed to be done.
 
After about 15 minutes of this crazy, intense contracting in the bedroom, during which I did bite poor Boyfriend's arm at one point, I suddenly felt a real shift in what my body was doing. I also felt a head. A head in my actual vagina.
 
I looked at Boyfriend and said "The baby is coming!" which must have seemed like the understatement of the year to him, as he just replied with "Yes, I know, it's OK" so I had to reiterate, "No! I mean actually coming."
 
I don't know what exactly he expected but Boyfriend hung off the bed to see what I was talking about and was met with the sight of Quinn's head crowning! I just remember him saying "Oh Shit!" and immediately running out of the room.
 
I'd packed a lovely basket in the living room of everything that I needed for during and immediately after labour. Candles, oils, CDs, towels, sheets. Boyfriend grabbed a black sheet which I'd bought to cover the sofa, and a shower curtain, still in it's packaging, and ran back to the bedroom, ripping the shower curtain out of the packet and hurriedly trying to get it, and the black sheet, underneath me. At this point I'd moved to kneel on the floor with my elbows on the edge of the bed.
 
Poor Seb, who'd been in the lounge eating Weetabix and listening to a Dirty Bertie audio book, was thoroughly confused by Boyfriends dramatic racing around, and suddenly appeared at the bedroom door.
 
Thankfully, this coincided with a moment of total peace and tranquillity for me. Where I'd been busy being some sort of warrior woman through the powerful contractions, I was now totally blissed out, and able to reassure him that baby was on their way and everything was fine. So much so that he waltzed off, back to his story and cereal, quite satisfied.
 
At this point, Boyfriend's phone rang. It was Marika, our doula, calling to let him know she'd arrived. I had put on my incredibly detailed birth plan that nobody was to ring my doorbell because it makes a horrible noise which I didn't want to hear whilst I was in labour (seriously, the detail I went to!) - so everyone was under strict instructions to call Boyfriend to gain entry to the flat!
 
I live on the second floor of an old hotel though, and because she hadn't rung the doorbell, Boyfriend didn't naturally think to buzz her into the building using the intercom system... and instead decided, oddly, to run down the entire flight of stairs to let her in.
 
In the meantime I was alone in the bedroom, feeling very peaceful and calm. Whilst he was out of the room I felt my body do this huge spasm type thing which I'll never be able to articulately describe to anyone ever, so you'll have to make do with "huge spasm type thing", during which the head which was wedged in my vagina, became no longer wedged in my vagina. I should probably have looked, or at least put a hand down there and felt it, but who actually wants to touch a human head hanging out of their fanny? Not me. I actually felt a bit drunk. A second or two later I felt another "huge spasm type thing" which literally propelled the rest of my baby out of my body with moderate force, so that she just pooled on the floor between my knees. Just like that - she was kind of fired from my body like a human cannonball.
 
I never pushed. Not once, not even a little one. I birthed like the African women I'd read about during pregnancy, who stepped out of the line on the road with the rest of their tribe, plopped out a baby, got up, and carried on walking. OK, not quite. But they definitely stuck in my mind and maybe influenced my birth experience a little bit.
 
The reflex that catapults babies into the world with zero effort on the part of their Mother, is called the Fetal Ejection Reflex (FER) and is pretty rare. It almost never ever happens in a hospital environment, so very few doctors have witnessed it, which is why it doesn't really get written about much, in fact, the only conditions under which FER is generally experienced is when a labouring Mother is entirely undisturbed, so I was just lucky really that Marika arrived when she did and that we made the last minute unconscious decision to go midwife-free.
 
The good thing about Marika having rang Boyfriend's phone rather than the doorbell, was that we had a record of Quinn's time of birth - 7.27am - about two and half hours after I'd first got out of bed, and about an hour after my waters broke on the toilet.
 
I scooped up my tiny, blue, slippery baby, all long limbs and umbilical cord, and held her close to my chest, both of us naked and totally awesome. She didn't let out a cry until her Daddy had run back into the room, ready to catch her - only to realise he'd missed her entrance into the world all together. As he crashed on to the bed infront of us though and wrapped his arms around the both of us, she finally let out a loud, single cry to let us know that she was OK, and together we turned her over, away from my body to find out that she was, well, a "she".
 
I'm going to write a separate post about my experience of The Golden Hour (the first hour after birth) - so keep a look out for that if you're interested.

As always I have to take this opportunity to thank Seb and Boyfriend for being an awesome birthing team! Together we did the work of many midwives and obstetricians and I think we totally aced it personally!