Why I think I got PND; By the Founder of PNI ORG UK, Veritee Reed Hall

By Veritee Reed Hall (Founder of PNI ORG UK) in Sept. 1994 and edited in January 2000. 

I think having a baby is potentially a very traumatic and stressful time for us all. It is essential to minimize the stress factors because too many and anyone can be triggered into depression. Unfortunately, I had so many stress factors, which I could do nothing about. I experienced the things, which are common to all mothers, which I see to be the factors listed below:

  • The discomforts of pregnancy
  • The massive hormone changes involved in pregnancy, birth and breast-feeding
  • Adjusting to caring for a new person
  • Sleeplessness
  • Adjusting to life changes work patterns etc.

These can be enough to throw some women into depression on their own. However in addition I also experienced the following extra factors:

  • Illness in pregnancy
  • High blood pressure and pre eclampsia
  • An induced traumatic labour
  • A caesarean birth
  • A traumatic stress reaction to what is a major operation- a caesarean
  • Infection after the birth a hospital virus and uterine infection
  • The stress of my partner being away when I went into hospital
  • No close family to support me
  • Partner working at sea most of the time
  • Isolation living in a farmhouse off the beaten track
  • A very small baby for dates baby
  • A baby that failed to thrive
  • A baby that because of the above did not develop good sleeping and eating patterns
  • Lack of sympathetic professional support
  • Heavy work to do to looking after farm animals
  • A damaging relationship with my own parents as a child
  • A lowered immune system due to the stress I was under.

Considering the above it is not surprising that I eventually became very ill. However it did not happen overnight. It was a gradual process and I feel as stress heaped upon stress. I feel that the right kind of help and intervention at any point in the first 10 months could of reversed this process, but I did not get it and was incapable of seeking it out myself.

The Child Within

I would like to say something about the last factor, my relationship with my own parents. I do not believe this is why I was depressed. Without the other factors I might of got through but my relationship with my parents pre- disposed me to depression when I had my own child. My mother is a lovely woman who has always had sight problems and is now totally blind. But without going into details my father was an eccentric and very strong man much liked by friends and colleagues but an emotional tyrant at home. He used his children to try satisfy his own emotional needs which in fact no one could satisfy due to his own upbringing. He made me feel unsafe and because my mother was also emotionally scared of him she was unable to make me feel safe either as she could not protect me from him.

I believe that when I had my own child, the child in me became scared again. How could I protect and care for my own child properly when I felt so unprotected and scared myself?

When things started to go wrong this scared child surfaced again and led to doubts about my own ability as a parent. It also caused me to react as a child and not an adult mother of a new baby. When people started to intervene in my life, I was unable to assert what was right for my child and myself. I think this did not cause my depression. The usual factors, especially the change of hormones is enough to tip a new mother over the edge. However, when your whole life if founded on such a shaky base it is impossible to keep you balance when your life is rocked.

Physical Symptoms

As I did not mention this elsewhere I would like to mention some of the physical illnesses I suffered from after the birth of Caja, for several years. I have no idea whether they related to my PND but their presence certainly added to my misery. None of them were serious and whenever I tried to explain my various illnesses and how miserable they were making my life, I just felt the listener regarded me as a hypochondriac.

The first thing that happened was that I started to lose all of my back teeth through abscesses and infection. I put this down to my lowered immune system due to stress. I have always looked after my teeth and have spent a lot of money on expensive dentistry, but after I had Caja I lost many of them in a few months. I now have no back teeth at all. The first 24 months were spent in many visits to the dentist and at first I did not feel up to shopping let alone going to the dentist! But I had to go because of the toothache. Many people unfortunately lose their teeth, but this was just all too much so soon after the birth of my child and with no support at home.

During that time I was in constant pain due to trying to save my teeth by taking antibiotics to settle the infection so the dentist could root fill and cap the bad teeth. I had about 6 back teeth extracted two root fillings/canal work and eventually four operations by a specialist which involved cutting the gums and drilling the teeth from above, one operation took place in hospital which brought back unwanted memories of the birth. After these operations my whole face would be blue, swollen and I suffered much pain. I suppose I could have just had them out. I did have the infected back ones out and I only had operations on those, which would show.

My self-image was so low at the time I could not bear the thought of having gaps in the front. I had much treatment and could only have it done when I had childcare for me to work. Therefore it was not unusual for me to go to the dentist at lunchtime and go back to work with a swollen and bloody mouth from extraction’s and other procedures. Most of this was in vain as I have since lost more teeth even the ones that were capped are now gone. I now have a front tooth which was operated on which is shortly to come out. This also cost a lot of money, probably about £600 altogether after the free year ran out.

In addition to this I got constant bugs, D & V, colds flu, despite flu jabs. There was a time when Caja was about 18 months when I had one thing or another for about 7 months with only a couple of days break in between. Everyone catches viruses but before I had Caja I was unlucky to catch a bug more than twice a year and I worked with children who often had them.

I started to get sinus infections after each episode of a virus and I am now awaiting an operation on my sinuses because apparently they no longer work at all.

I began to suffer from irritable bowel syndrome all the time. I had experienced this before during times of stress but now I would have episodes of pain and diarrhea which would last several days and leave me weak, tired and like a soggy jelly. I often could not sleep as I would spend the night on the toilet. I still get these attacks about once a week but of shorter duration, I am told there is nothing anyone can do. ( I do not get any of this now in 2000)/

I also began to have an arrhythmic heart beat which has been investigated and is not my imagination. I am told that a virus weakening the heart often brings it on and made worse by stress and illness. It can repair itself and in my case is not that bad. However, along with all the other problems it was very frightening to suddenly become aware that my heart would miss a beats or beat very fast especially during exertion.

I still get regular migraines, have carpal tunnel syndrome, and have problems with my knee joints to the extent I can no longer run.

None of the above are life threatening or even very serious.  In this small community there are two mothers, younger than me who have breast cancer that has spread to their lungs. I feel very lucky to have the health I have. But I am not a hypochondriac. I really did feel very ill and still do from time to time.

I mentioned them because I had none of these things, before I had Caja and they all started within weeks of her birth.  (and I have none of them now in January 2000).

I think this is an example of how stress and trauma can completely devastate ones immune system. It also added to my distress yet no one took any of it seriously. By this I mean I was never treated by anyone, often not even my partner, as suffering some real discomfort due to real pain and real illness. The cause of my getting all these infections and health problems might have been my mental state but the actual illnesses were and still are real. I think in my case it was caused by the operative trauma of her birth and the stress of PND.