Birth Recovery and Postnatal Depression
Having a baby can be one of the greatest joys on earth, but the birth of a new mother is one of the most significant physical and psychological transitions most women will ever experience.
The physical act of nurturing a baby inside your body requires a huge amount of resources, at the mothers expense, and then there's the physical act of delivery - there's a reason why it's called labour! Chances are you also started your motherhood journey on very limited sleep and the birth did not go as expected or planned, maybe it was even traumatic.
Then there's feeding - which is bloody hard - both physically and mentally! Whether that's breastfeeding, another drain on your nutrients and resources and a battering of your body, or bottle feeding, often involving a lot of emotional turmoil and maybe days or even weeks of pumping.
Then there's the hormonal changes, the expectations and pressures from society and this huge psychological shift, and we haven't even talked about the night wakings and sleep deprivation yet!
All of this can mean we start our journey into motherhood completely depleted. That moment that promised to be filled with so much joy, can instead feel empty, confusing, just too exhausting. Postnatal depletion is a real thing, and it can last for years.
What was your experience? What was your real deal? How did you recover from your birth? Did you start motherhood depleted? How did you cope? Let's get the conversation going and #LetsTalkAbout #MotherhoodTheRealDeal
Below we've shared our personal stories and coping tools on this topic.
Click on an image below to find out more.
I had a really tough time around the birth of my first child. My father was critically unwell and I was in a state of grief and shock. It's no surprise that my experience of birth was traumatic with that maelstrom of emotion. But it was also labouring in a hospital that was overstretched, pressuring mums to get on with it and I felt rocked to my core. Energetically I felt completely bereft, emotionally I was trying to split myself between the joy of celebrating new life while grieving for my poor father, and physically I experienced a serious tear and it literally felt like the bottom of the boat had fallen out.
I held my precious angel in my arms and wondered how I was going to look after her when I wasn’t sure I had enough in me to look after myself. I felt afraid, alone, exhausted and deeply sad and it was tough getting through each day. The words ‘enjoy every moment’ still pierce me because it was a time shrouded by grief and stress, punctuated with the most enormous love and desire to give every cell and fibre of my being to my baby. There was just nothing in the tank.
How did you cope?
I reached out to numerous practitioners but it took a long time to find the right fit. I eventually found an amazing postnatal depression counsellor (I don’t know if it was PND, grief or complete exhaustion and to me it doesn’t really matter, any human would’ve felt like I did) who in partnership with me created a new self-care toolkit. All the things that I used to do to nourish myself became inaccessible when I became a parent – I didn’t have the time, the space, the finances, the energy and I felt guilty as hell.
The deepest lesson I learnt at that time is that if I didn’t nourish me, I was rubbish at nurturing those in my care and if I couldn’t do it for me, I had to do it for my little girl. My daughter deserved a mother who was healthy and whole, with the energy to cope with the demands of parenthood… and it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon! So we set about carving new healthy habits that were do-able during the chaos of those early days and this is how one ‘micro moment’ at a time, self-care (and the love of my husband and family, and damn good therapy) put me back together.
Suzy's top tips
Go gently on you. What you have just been through is enormous and being born a mother is one of the most significant transitions we go through in our lives. Take time to heal and replenish and know that it won’t be this hard forever. Make soothing practices a feature of daily life, just a moment dotted here and there, and soon there will be a resurgence of energy!
Yoga was my tonic in reclaiming my energy, helping me express and process my emotions and physically healing after birth. I have shared my favourite soothing and strengthening poses in the Nourish App – just one pose can be enough to make a difference – and I hope they can be a real tonic to you too.
After my first baby – although we were both safe and well, I felt as if I had been run over physically and mentally. I had not prepared myself in any way for the physical impact it would have on me and in turn the psychological impact. Recovering from an EMCS was a strange time for me – I allowed no one to help me physically – I could not have contemplated asking for help getting in and out of the bath- instead I insisted on trying to do everything myself while those that loved me so desperately wanted to help.
Outwardly I looked like I was smashing it out the park, inwardly I was anxious, snappy with my husband, obsessive over small things. Wondering how would I cough, sneeze, laugh with a scar I thought might burst open. Thinking “it will pass, or get better” when my scar became infected. I would find little joy in things due to sheer exhaustion. If we had had a rough night I would wear a jumper saying “hello” on it to remind myself to smile at people and say hello. After about 6 months, although the exhaustion was really kicking in by then, I began to see a little clearer and feel a little stronger.
How did you cope?
Unfortunately – I don’t believe I coped very well at the time, I certainly didn’t share how I felt with any healthcare professionals, and all I could bring myself to say to my husband was “I’m so tired”. I was, and am incredibly well supported by him and my immediate family, but I have a personality trait in me which finds it difficult to reach out and ask for help.
I trawled forums and Facebook groups for the first 6 weeks and did take comfort in those, but I realised (quickly, thank goodness) that I was becoming reliant on them and not developing my own instinct for either myself or my baby. My tools to cope at this stage were “thousands of women have faced this before you and so you can and will do this” I now realise that perhaps I expected too much from myself physically so quickly after giving birth – I thought I loved the fact I had taken the dog out with the baby in the carrier 4 weeks post EMCS – but actually I pushed myself too far too soon and left little physical reserves for other areas of my life that need it.
Ellen's top tips
This isn’t actually a tip I would have followed myself (sorry!) – certainly with my first child, as I didn’t have the confidence I don’t think, but I believe the tide is turning for women and mothers. There are ways to avoid a lonely existence – if you have felt it or thought it – I would guarantee someone else will have too. I would encourage women to reach out to a community they feel able to connect with. That might be a local stay and play group, an Instagram hashtag, a like minded Facebook group.
We are all different humans, women, mothers, and so not one size fits all, it might take a few run ups to really get going in seeking support. If you are worried about the impact your birth has had on you physically there are ways to seek support other than approaching your GP, which I know can feel daunting and like the issue may not be taken seriously or with the appropriate expertise. Care for woman postnatally is becoming a talked about issue – lets help women before and after welcoming their baby into our world.
Currently – and how I wish this was available to me when I had my son Buddy 4 years ago – I feel so drawn to the women providing support for women in short and concise bursts of reading or listening. I used to try to do my own mindful thought processes to get back to sleep after a night feed, but I was scrabbling around in the dark hoping that what I was doing was right. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. The ‘whole self' approach appeals to me, some days we have the strength to be mindful, take part in a 10 minute yoga flow and eat well for yourself and the family and other days – it might only be a 5 minute meditation we have time and space to access. The Nourish App supports all these days, periods of time and feelings.
I have three little ones, 5 and under. When I became a mum for the first time, in those early days of post birth recovery I just felt traumatised – I had a lot of post birth pain, breastfeeding was tricky, hormones were all over the place, sleep was non-existent. Those first 5-6 weeks were some of the toughest physically and mentally I have ever endured. For me what made it even tougher was everyone saying ‘this is the most magical time of your life’, enjoy this ‘precious time’, these early weeks are so ‘special’ – I felt massively guilty and that something must have been wrong with me or that I wasn’t doing something right as I didn’t feel like those early weeks were magical and precious at all – I felt like they were brutal, overwhelming and at times I wasn’t even sure I would get out the other side.
After the birth of my second and then third babies, the post birth trauma then morphed into a new challenge – postnatal depletion. I guess for me it was almost inevitable that this would take hold as I am a chronic people pleaser which leaves me prone to over-scheduling, trying to me all things to all people, never saying ‘no’, never asking for help, always putting on a happy front – it left me feeling overwhelmed, run down, generally frazzled and burnt out. I was absolutely exhausted and my energy reserves were depleted physically and emotionally. I was running completely on empty.
How did you cope?
In terms of how I coped, the main challenge for me was accepting that not everything about motherhood is great and it’s not meant to be, and that’s OK. It’s not meant to be all great all of the time. Once you accept that, the guilt fades and is replaced by acceptance and then you can deal with everything so much better.
I think it is also key to breakdown that outer shell of ‘perfection’ and ‘the joys of motherhood’ and to get real about motherhood, be vulnerable with others and they too will open up and share their truths of motherhood. You will realise that you are not alone with your feelings.
The most important thing though is to be patient with yourself and to slow down and learn to say ‘no’ and the absolute hardest for me; ask for help! It was only when I did this and gave myself space to look after myself properly with a little self-care physically, emotionally and nutritionally that I was able to stop running on empty and start feeling stronger again.
Lou's top tips
You can do anything but you can’t do everything – there are no limits to what you can achieve but maintaining balance and pace is vital.
You aren’t a failure if you ask for help.
Learn to say no – don’t stretch yourself.
You are not weak for needing time to rest – do a little less and create space in your life for rest.
Make time for yourself to rest and re-charge – don’t feel guilty about ‘me time’ – even if it’s just 10 minutes a day or one hour a week – allocate yourself some me-time and do something just for you.
Be bad! Laundry basket overflowing, grass overgrown, smeary chocolate still on the window…leave that – put yourself first – recharge your batteries. You will be much more able to tackle the chores if you feel re-charged and positive from doing something just for you – read a book, yoga, meditate, coffee with a friend….
My favourite tool from the nourish app to help with postnatal depletion is the ‘how are you feeling today’ section because the thing about postnatal depletion is that you aren’t just feeling one thing – it affects every part of you and you need full 360 help. Then the other fab thing is that there are plenty of tools which only take a few minutes but make ALL the difference to your emotional wellbeing – so you really can give yourself a tiny pocket of space for a little self care every day. Or even several times a day to help top yourself up with a little love and nurture and prevent yourself from running completely on empty.
When my son was born I recorded a video. In terms of the video, this is real. No filters. No posing with a new born with my hair done and make up on. I couldn't even stand up straight and I was terrified of even sterilising a bottle. My breast feeding latch was amazing but he mostly cried for that first week, he needed more, and this video was the day I went to formula. No one tells you how hard it is and that you are no less of a mother if you can't carry on. I have no doubt we both would have been very ill if I had tried to continue. I hardly left the house for the first 3 months. The video shows my very real experience which I think is glossed over now days - because it does get better. But at that moment it feels like it never will.
How did you cope?
I coped by having my mum with me, asking for help, talking openly about it, crying. I also recognised I needed some professional help and I had RTT (Rapid Transformational Therapy), but that wasn't until after 3 months or so had passed. I guess I didn't really "cope" I just did the best I could and was very honest about it. I took one day at a time and tried to rest when I had the chance. Asking for support was key to coming out the other end.
Amy's top tips
My top tip is to give it time and go easy on yourself. Talk to people who have your best interests at heart. Do not scroll social media as this can make you feel worse. If I had seen a woman with a one week old baby out and about looking lovely and seemingly care free it would have made me feel like a failure. In fact, we are all just human and having a baby is hormonally, mentally and physically challenging and we need to go slower and take care of ourselves more. No expectations.
Being a mother is a blessing. Nothing prepares you more into your new role as motherhood until you have your newborn baby in your arms. Reading books, attending classes and knowing more about the journey really does help, but always trust your instincts. Nothing can replace a mother’s love to her child. As a mother, you need to be ok in order for you to take care of your baby. Never forget that.
Postnatal depression is something I have personally been through with my first born. I am sure I am not alone when I say I had no idea what I was doing. I was on call 24/7 with no sleep, until a kind of routine kicked in. I wish I had family around me to support me for a longer duration. They say it takes a village to raise a child, you can definitely count on that.
What advice would I give mums dealing with this? Speak out, be heard and seek the right advice. Meet with other like minded mothers who are going through or been through similar journey, they can really help you out as they have been there themselves. In a country with no family, your friends become family. I truly believe in this.
Making time for yourself is not selfish, but a necessity. The Nourish app is a great resource for this. Attending events and “mumthly” coffee morning either alone or with baby which we organize is also another way to support your motherhood journey. Remember that you are not alone.