The recent news of how a depressed mother smothered her babies has made me incredibly sad and a bit raw and rather despondent. Following the birth of The Princess, I had a difficult time with post-natal depression. The feelings of exhaustion, utter hopelessness, uselessness, worthlessness, and the inability to think lucidly, were with me to one degree or another for the best part of twelve months. I don’t remember ever thinking about harming The Princess, I definitely remember thinking about harming myself, but there are lots of things that went through my mind that I now don’t recall. There may have been one fleeting moment that I thought about harming my baby; if it was there it was gone as quickly as it came. But what if it hadn’t gone? What if that thought had banged on and on in my head? Reality was distorted anyway, I was having thoughts that I knew weren’t logical, yet at the same time they were my reality. It is a difficult thing to explain. But without the logic and reasoning of a clear and “normal” (sorry) mind, how do you stop those thoughts from taking over and becoming the only answer to the hurt and pain?
Felicia Boots had been on medication for post-natal depression. She came off the tablets as she believed that they were harming her baby, whom she was breastfeeding. This makes me want to cry. It is so wrong, yet it’s one of those accepted wrongs within the NHS, that the care and treatment patients receive depends entirely on the medical staff they are referred to.
After The Princess was born, I eventually saw my GP. She was kind and understanding and referred me to the Parent and Baby Unit for cognitive behavioural therapy, but once I told her I was breastfeeding she told me that anti-depressants were not suitable.
When my little girl turned thirteen months, she decided she no longer wanted my milk. I was still feeling very low and struggling with anxiety, and I went back to my GP surgery. A different doctor prescribed Citalapram, and I saw her every two weeks for the first two months, and then she left.
And then I found out I was pregnant. I panicked. I feared for my baby’s health. I feared for my mental health. I saw a different doctor and he reassured me that by switching to Sertraline, another SSRI, me and my baby would be as safe as anyone could ethically say (given that drug trials are not carried out on pregnant ladies or newborn babies, for fairly obvious reasons). He also told me that this was the drug of choice for breastfeeding mothers.
I spoke to my midwife and she pointed me in the direction of the Breastfeeding Network and their literature on anti-depressants and breastmilk. I had never realised that breastfeeding while taking anti-depressants was possible. The thought of having to make the choice – give my baby the best possible start or keep my mental health in balance – was emotional and difficult and frightening, and suddenly I didn’t have to make it. I could be the mum I wanted to be.
Where were the health professionals who should have been reassuring Felicia Boots? Where was her GP or health visitor? Why did no-one take the time to talk to her, to explain to her about different types of medication and all the implications they have? Where was the professional support?
Without more awareness of post-natal depression, the severity of the illness, the implications it has, not only on the mother, but the whole family, treatment will continue to be as hit and miss as it is now.
My thoughts are very much with the Boots family at the moment.