Postnatal Anxiety: Vicky's Story
Vicky Orsmond is a passionate teacher, Christian pastor's wife and a keen globetrotter with their two gorgeous little ones. She is also a local Abergavenny mama who suffered from postnatal anxiety and here she shares her story as a reminder that if you are suffering from postnatal anxiety or depression you are not alone. Support resources are included at the bottom of the page for anyone who may need them.
It’s been just over a year since Hannah arrived and it has been fantastic. And tough. Thankfully, I’m now looking back on the seriously tough bit (other than needing to raise my two kids, obvs..!), but only because of some amazing support along the way.
We were blessed to have our first child with ease, and I struggled after our first daughter, with amenorrhea; unexplained infertility. By the time we had gone through the rigmarole of getting tested, and then getting support to get pregnant, I really felt blessed to be pregnant for the second time. Pregnancy was fine, albeit knackering with work and another child, and because of complications from my first birth, I had to have a c section. (If you wanna know about failed healing of episiotomy and revision surgery, feel free to ask!) So from about 6 weeks we knew there was a tiny heart beat, and I had the same, excellent local care I’d had the first time round.
At full term, Hannah was born at the amazing Nevill Hall Hospital, in Abergavenny. I knew the day, and spent a couple of hours relaxing beforehand in some very attractive white compression stockings. The c section was beautiful. An odd word perhaps, but my husband and I chatted while an epidural was put in, and there was gentle joking between us and the doctors, and communication throughout. I felt beautiful, and peaceful, and dignified. (My first labour was a 3 day, induction nightmare where at one point I shouted at my exhausted, wonderful husband “GOD HAS ABAONDONED US!”; traumatic). Hannah was born at 12 midday, and she cried as she came out. She was checked over, and immediately placed on my chest. She fed. It was perfect. She was beautiful. I was cared for so well at hospital, and, some serious pain aside, it was wonderful.
I came home, and things continued to go well. Hannah fed really well, and was gaining weight. She was a contented little soul, and our older daughter LOVED her baby sister. She had always been an easy first child, and everything seemed great, our new addition settling in easily..
Yet from about 3 weeks post birth, I began to feel the most extraordinary sense of unease. I felt like an utter fraud. I fed Hannah, was healing well and had an amazing support network through our church. My husband went back to work, and I found valid reasons I couldn’t get out of the house. I was still sore, I said. I wasn’t sure about getting about. Then, after a couple more weeks, I had been ‘ok’d’ to drive, but didn’t want to if it meant leaving the house. I suppose I need to mention here that I have had chronic insomnia since being at uni. It is like a third figure in my marriage at times. I can go through patches where I sleep, but, for much of the time it is a familiar in our evening routine, and I can go for many weeks on 4 or 5 hours per night. I knew this, though. After my first daughter I struggled with lack of sleep, and I had tried and tested mechanisms to support me, and some very carefully administered drugs.
This time, it wasn’t that. I felt that I was awful. That I was hateful, somehow. And I started to feel abject panic. Having always been a very pragmatic person (and very open to mental health struggles), I had a strange sensation that in my conscious mind, I knew I was being totally irrational. Yet on another level, I was totally unable to control my sensations of being totally out of control, and everything tumbling horrifically out of place. I told my husband I couldn’t leave the house. That I hadn’t for two weeks. And he made me get into the car to go to a baby group. I got there and wept. I came home. And probably wept some more.
One night, when I wasn’t sleeping once again, I got up (this is a bit hazy), and announced to my husband that I was leaving our life. In my pyjamas, and with the newborn in the basket beside the bed, I put on a rain coat and trainers and got the keys to leave my life. My husband was terrified. I could see the fear in his eyes. It wasn’t quite psychosis, but it wasn’t far off. I was losing it, and fast.
The next day, I called my Mum and told her how I actually felt. That I felt things were coming apart. That I wasn’t coping, and I couldn’t love my children, that I hated myself, and would never get ME back.
She came over, and we got an emergency appointment with my GP. He was amazing. He listened. Oh, he listened, and he was kind. He explained about hormones in pregnancy and post pregnancy; he knew that I am a natural academic and want to ‘make sense’ of things. He talked through statistics of progesterone- drop post partum. And he talked through lots of different options. But, in the first instance, he would see me every week until I felt less ‘compartmentalised’. He gave me a very low dose of sleeping pills; he said that if wanted to introduce a bottle for one feed at night, Hannah would still be ok. He said that I could start running again, and listen to my body (exercise has always been a go- to, in order to survive and control my insomnia). He said that whatever worked for the whole family.
And that was amazing. To be heard. To be told I was normal. That this was quite, quite normal. And he would still see me every week. We told my community at church, so there was no embarrassment if I simply wasn’t able to speak to anyone. If I simply had to leave. We told all my family, and friends, so I could phone them if I was panicking.
I started running, very carefully. I introduced mixed feeding (I beat myself up about this, horribly; and my health visitor didn’t help a huge amount in my guilt.) But, I continued to mixed feed up until 6 months, and it worked for us as a family. There is nothing more than that. I realised that acknowledging my feelings of brokenness helped. That phoning friends and telling them that I was at the door of the house, finding reasons not to leave, helped. I made myself leave the house every day. Leaving the house with one or both girls felt impossible, so I made myself do it every day. I was more than my anxiety. I was weak, and I could be honest. That made me strong. Stronger in my weakness.
And I kept on going. I kept on seeing my kind GP, once a week, at the beginning of surgery opening hours. I took very carefully judged sleeping pills to get a few hours sleep a night. I ran, and got the adrenaline out. And I had a wonderful supportive husband, and friends and family. But I talked. And I have carried on talking.
I feel like a really strong woman, but even stronger since my anxiety. Before, I was a product of the things I had achieved, but that was what I had relied upon. Now, I enjoy my family, but in even more heightened awareness that they are precious, but so am I. I also know that honesty is the best way. That anxiety, and mental health struggles, can affect us all. Now, I’m finding my mental health is on an even keel, but I am never going to assume. I’m not afraid to talk. Doesn’t it make us stronger if we are honest; if we’re kind; if we don’t judge. Whatever is best for your family.
Some last hints and tips:
- Go to your GP- if they're not great, see another one!
- If you have a good Health visitor, they are trained in PND and can get access to other support networks. (I looked at Mind, and used online support networks of 'mumsnet' also)
- Talk. Be honest. I discovered so many people who had struggled silently, and thought they were the odd one out.
- On the feeding front...breastfeed/bottle/mixed... if the baby is fed, then do what works for you. That is all. All that matters.
- What is best for your family is best for your baby.
- And sometimes, when someone is smiling, you can just tell them that if some days are really tough; that is o.k too. Behind that smile might be the person telling themself 'I must pretend I'm ok. I must pretend I'm ok.'
- Parenthood is tough. You're doing an amazing job.
If you feel you may be suffering from postnatal anxiety or postnatal depression please contact your GP. The following links may also be helpful:
- Monmouthshire Family Information Service: Understanding Postnatal Depression
- Aneurin Bevan University Health Board: Family & Therapy Services
- Home Start Monmouthshire
- Wales Crisis Helpline
- PANDAS Foundation | Pre & Postnatal Support
- Postnatal depression and perinatal mental health (PDF download from mind.org.uk)