The happiest time of your life?

Public Mental Health Lead Sue Neely on the post-natal depression that left her feeling like a bad mum — and how to deal with the demands of bringing up baby during a pandemic…

“Becoming a mother — particularly for the first time — is one of those life events which many women recall with fondness and nostalgia. The hours of labour are forgotten the moment your infant is handed to you to cradle.

But for me I was left feeling deflated, commonly known as the ‘baby blues’. Because of my experience I am now thinking how hard this may be for people with the added issue of Covid.

Even as trained health professional and knowing that this can happen to anyone it still knocked me off my feet.

This is a common experience and is understandable given the nine months of anticipation, the huge amount of adrenaline and other hormones released during and after birth. It can last for days after birth.

I found myself alone with a baby who wouldn’t sleep, required feeding at all hours and cried so loudly, concerned neighbours knocked on my door to ask if they could help.

My health visitor made me feel incompetent and unworthy of being a ‘proper mum’ by telling me to leave my baby to cry at night until she went to sleep and to recognise that this should be the “happiest time of your life”.

My depression continued for months. I lost interest in the people around me. I felt alone, isolated and guilty for feeling a bad mother — letting down my daughter by not feeling how I should feel. While on the outside I did what I was supposed to do, on the inside I felt increasingly desperate like an actor in my own life.

The moment which started me on the road to recovery was when my nosy (social worker) neighbour knocked on the door and asked if she could help with the baby (who was bawling) while we shared a cup of coffee.

During the hour she was with me we established my depression was partially due to feeling I had lost my identity as an individual, rather than a mother and breast-bearer for my infant. This chat enabled me to start thinking about what I could do to help myself feel better.

During Covid, we have additional rules which can make people feel isolated and even more alone.

Please be assured you are not alone and help is out there.

My five tips for women who find themselves in my position:

  1. Keep your friends in touch and as involved in planning for the birth and afterwards. Remember you do not have to be super mum. Accept and be thankful for all the support you can get from family and friends. Even in lockdown there are ways of keeping in contact with those that matter to you — texts, Facebook, Instagram, Skype, Zoom, phone calls.
  2. If you have a partner, involve them by talking about your fears, feelings and thoughts.
  3. Talk about your feelings with trusted friends or professionals such as your midwife/health visitor/doctor. They can refer you to talking therapies if you feel this would help — such as those offered by Talk Liverpool. Some voluntary organisations also offer support to women with post natal depression, dependent on where you live in the country.
  4. The Samaritans offer a listening service to anyone in distress.
  5. Keep to a routine every day (including exercise for you) to ensure you and your child have some structure and certainty to every day. For advice and inspiration on keeping fit and healthy, please go to the Fit for Me website.

For further information and support, please visit the Live Your Life Well website.

Sue Neely works for Liverpool City Council in our Public Health team, delivering public mental health and suicide prevention. Her baby is now a PHD in Psychology and an accredited therapist.

Sue keeps her own mental health in shape by talking to family and friends and enjoying good food — in her words: “Probably too much!”.