PND: my experience

Lesley Rands, from Runcorn, Cheshire, UK, is registered blind. Here she describes her experience of postnatal depression, and the steps she had to take to regain her confidence in her parenting abilities after the birth of her third child.

My daughter Eleanor’s birth in 2001 was supposed to be the beginning of a wonderful, happy period in my life, but the reality was very different.

Support network

I already had two children, Robert and Rachel, then aged 10 and five respectively, and when they were babies I had plenty of family support to call on. But by the time Eleanor was due, it had all dried up. My mum was caring full time for my brother, and my mother-in-law was waiting for a pace-maker. My husband worked full time, the children were both in school, and our siblings were working, so I just didn’t have anybody to call on for support.

I knew from experience that I’d need some practical assistance, but my initial enquiries to social services were fruitless – nothing could be arranged until the baby was born. After Eleanor’s birth, I phoned social services and my local voluntary Society for the Blind. The former were unable to help, but the latter provided a support worker to take us out for an hour every week.

Feeling isolated

We also went to a mums and tots group, but I didn’t really enjoy going. Without the non-verbal cues that others use, I could never tell whether it was an appropriate time for me to join in the conversation or not, and by the time that I’d realised that it was, someone else had already started. I found it very difficult to socialise in a crowd, and a couple of times I sat there for the full hour and a quarter without speaking to anyone at all. Although my twice-weekly trips out helped a little, the other 30-odd hours of isolation took their toll, and I soon started to feel depressed.

I felt so confused: after losing my previous pregnancy at five months’ gestation, I had desperately wanted Eleanor. Now I had her, and she was healthy, I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t overjoyed. I wasn’t happy or even content with my life. I felt guilty, frustrated and angry, and hated myself for feeling the way I did.

My general practitioner was very understanding. She soon picked up on my mood, and when I explained how difficult I was finding everyday life, she prescribed anti-depressants and arranged a course of counselling for me, and continued making monthly home visits.

When Eleanor was three months old, the manager of the Society for the Blind referred me to social services in search of direct payments to buy in the support we needed. I was assessed, told that I was ‘coping too well’, and was referred to the children’s team who were still unable to help. I wasn’t happy with the assessment, or its outcome, and made a complaint. As a result, I was re-assessed by a different social worker, who offered gems of wisdom such as “If you didn’t have the baby you’d be independent!” This was totally irrelevant. I did have Eleanor, and I couldn’t leave her behind while I went out. I wanted to push her in her pram as any normal mother would. All I needed was someone to steer.

I had several bad experiences with this social worker and, not surprisingly, we failed to reach any kind of rapport. She seemed unable to comprehend that while I was competent at doing everyday tasks, I found them difficult or impossible with Eleanor in tow. I decided to make another complaint.

Effects on family life

Throughout this lengthy process, our family life continued to deteriorate. Besides working full time, my husband was in the final year of a degree course. This was stressful enough without him coming home from work to face cooking the tea, cleaning up and running the children around. At one stage, he said he dreaded coming home at night, and I had visions of us being separated and the children having to go into care.

My depression worsened and my anti-depressants were stepped up. I seemed to haul myself through each day in a kind of limbo. There were no good points – just bad and not quite so bad. On a typical day, I’d sit in the locked bathroom, trying to block out the sound of Robert and Rachel arguing and fighting in the living room. I became very critical of them too.

Needless to say, life was very stressful. I was anxious, frustrated and very, very angry. I felt really desperate, and could see no end to the situation. I considered walking out and leaving them to it, and on one occasion I harnessed my guide dog up and got as far as the other side of the road before the children’s cries called me back. I couldn’t do it – I couldn’t leave them, but I couldn’t give them what they needed either. None of us had any quality of life, and I was the guilty party. I felt a failure as a wife and mother – a totally useless person. I felt that Tim would be better off with a sighted wife who could share the running around and keep a nice house for him, and the children deserved a less critical mother who was capable of looking after them properly. I knew things weren’t right, but I didn’t know how to effect a change, and I felt so scared and out of control.

Renewed confidence

When Eleanor was two-and-a-half, I started receiving direct payments to buy in six hours of support each week. This included help to wash and iron clothes, particularly checking for stains, keeping the bungalow as uncluttered as possible to prevent Eleanor gaining access to what she shouldn’t, and generally acting as a pair of eyes to locate areas which needed tidying and/or cleaning.

Although my assistance didn’t include getting out, I had six hours’ extra company a week, and therefore wasn’t as isolated, which made me feel better in myself. Receiving the assistance focused my direction, and gave me purpose and hope, which helped to alleviate the postnatal depression.

I started to have more good days than bad, but my recovery wasn’t instantaneous, and I was surprised how quickly my mood could change. For example, one fairly good day I was plunged into the depths of despair when I received a phone call from my local Society for the Blind to tell me that it was withdrawing its weekly service. Over the next few weeks, I felt calmer and more able to deal with upsets of this kind, and regained some of my previous positivity and confidence in my parenting abilities. My medication was reduced, and was eventually stopped around six months later. Although I still have the occasional ‘down’ day (who doesn’t?), they’re a joke in comparison to how I felt with postnatal depression.

Editor’s note: Although Lesley and other disabled parents have experienced difficulties in obtaining a parenting needs assessment while pregnant, social services should be able to carry out an assessment at this time since many of the postnatal needs can be predicted on the basis of what a parent can do before the birth.

First published in Disability, Pregnancy & Parenthood international, Issue 52, Winter 2005/2006.

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