Postpartum depression is a sneaky customer

Postpartum depression came sneaking up on Cat after she gave birth to her first child. Read her honest story about how it affected the bond with her daughter, how she took control of her mental health and flourished as a mama.

BABYBJÖRN Magazine – Mum with postpartum depression sitting on the floor with her baby
"It was a sadness that would eventually turn into postpartum depression even though I wouldn’t recognise that for a long time."
Photo: Johnér

I recently gave birth to my second daughter. There was no postpartum depression. The experience was euphoric. Everything everyone ever said to me about becoming a mother was true. Unconditional, overwhelming love, joy and contentment but I was plagued by one thought that I couldn’t shake: if only I’d felt this the first time around.

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It was like a punch in the face. And the fanny.

When I first gave birth, it was like a punch in the face. And the fanny. Emotionally, I felt bereft, lost, scared. Physically I felt like I’d cycled the Tour de France in one day on a saddle of rusty nails. I was unprepared for the transformation of motherhood and I didn’t know who or what I was supposed to be. I didn’t recognise myself in the new version of my reality and it made me sad. It was a sadness that would eventually turn into postpartum depression even though I wouldn’t recognise that for a long time.

When ‘baby blues’ turn into postpartum depression

Postpartum depression is like that. It’s a sneaky customer. Every woman will spend the first few days a tear-soaked mess as the hormones run rampant but what’s harder to establish is when those normal ‘baby blues’ turn into postpartum depression. After giving birth to my eldest, it was a whole year before I began to acknowledge that there was something wrong and even longer before I sought help for postpartum depression.

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I thought the darkness was normal.

I’d had depression before. When I was 27 I was diagnosed and since then I’ve suffered occasional episodes that require medication and therapy to help me recover. Despite this experience, postpartum depression blindsided me.

I thought the darkness was normal – I’d had a baby, my whole life had changed, I had a husband that was away with work, I had given up my job, I was floating around not quite knowing what I wanted to do. I wasn’t sleeping. I was living on cereal and half-eaten fish fingers and, as a control-freak perfectionist, I was struggling with a messy house and a messy life. I couldn’t seem to keep doing what I’d always done…achieve. Who wouldn’t be sad?

My hugs were empty, my smiles were shallow.

But more indicative of postpartum depression was the lack of bond with my daughter. I wouldn’t have harmed her, but I was numb. My rational brain knew I needed to look after her and to care for her. It knew I wanted her to smile and laugh as much as possible, but my heart didn’t feel it. I felt like I couldn’t connect, that my hugs were empty, that my smiles were shallow.

I sought no help. I struggled on through postpartum depression thinking it was normal and, eventually, when I was pregnant with my second child went back on medication and started therapy again.

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I took control of my mental health

The anxiety I felt at the impending arrival of my second daughter and my fear that postpartum depression would strike again, that I would hate the first year, that I would count down the days until she was older, was too much for me to bear. I had to weigh up the pros and cons of being on anti-depressants when I was pregnant against those of being miserable and depressed while I was pregnant (and looking after a toddler). I chose the pills, and I got better.

I chose the pills, and I got better.

So, back to the beginning. My second birth was joyous. I took control of my mental health, I acknowledged postpartum depression as a worthy adversary but one that wasn’t going to beat me and I flourished as a mama. I wish I’d been able to do the same the first time around and there’ll always be guilt that I wasn’t able to give my first daughter what I gave my second but you know what? My eldest made me strong and because of that, we will always share an unbreakable bond.

BABYBJÖRN Magazine – Portrait of Cat from Not So Smug Now and her daughter
Photo: Not So Smug Now

Cat Sims

Ex-fashion buyer, ex-high school English teacher, ex-tour manager for ageing rockstars.

Cat fancier and lover of red wine. Married to music and regular tour-widow. Founder of blog Not So Smug Now. Passionate about the sisterhood, parents trying to make parenting work and family.

Often inappropriate, always ignoring boundaries. Been on the planet for about 36 years.