Returning to work following maternity leave can be a complicated process. Trying to balance childcare, travel, finances, working days, leave and all the other ‘little joys’ can be very stressful. When you add post-natal depression into that complicated mix, returning to work is a very dark and difficult time.
There are many reasons for somebody to be diagnosed with post-natal depression, for some it happens within the first few weeks, for others it can be over a year later. As with all forms of mental health conditions, the symptoms will vary from feelings of lethargy and being very low, to psychoses and suicidal thoughts.
In my case, it was 18 months before I was diagnosed. I returned to work after 10 months off and felt an emptiness that I assumed was because of leaving my child behind. These feelings became darker and heavier. I became lethargic and very distant, removing myself from social situations and not wanting to participate in anything. I would cry at the smallest things and be completely irrational and unpredictable. After three months in work and having spoken to close family members, I became aware that what I was feeling was not a mere symptom of returning to work but was in fact an illness.
Upon closer investigation I realised that I had been experiencing these feelings since my daughter was born. I was able to admit that I had periods of time when I didn’t want my child. I wanted her to be taken away or had dreams where she hadn’t been born and I would feel relieved. I realised that I hadn’t bonded with her in the way that I felt a mother should and she would be better off without me. I didn’t feel the joy and elation that most women describe upon meeting their child, for me this just didn’t happen. I wasn’t the perfect mother.
My first step towards recovery was an appointment with my GP. Sitting in the waiting room was one of the worst things I had ever experienced. It felt like I was waiting to be told I was ‘making it up’ or being ‘too sensitive’ and that I was wasting their time. Following what seemed like a very long and draining conversation I was prescribed anti-depressants and referred to a counsellor and group therapy.
At that point in time the feelings of guilt and anxiety were overwhelming. I wasn’t able to leave the house and was unable to sleep or eat properly. This led to sickness triggers being hit at work. My absence record was reviewed and I was placed under informal monitoring. But with the help and support of my manager I was referred to occupational health and spoke to a very supportive doctor. He was able to adjust my trigger points to provide me with support while I transitioned through the first few months and suggested I be given a laptop to work from home to ease my anxiety.
Throughout this process I felt the full weight of support from my union representative, who attended all my meetings with my managers and HR. I became more comfortable attending work and felt relieved that I had an excellent support structure in place.
Through the support of family, work, my GP and counsellor I am on the slow road to recovery but there have inevitably been bumps in the road. I found being able to work flexibly was by far the best way for me to phase in my return to work and it provided a much-needed ‘comfort blanket’.
Mental health charity Mind states that: “around one in five women will experience a mental health problem during pregnancy or in the year after giving birth”. If 100 women return to work in a year then 20 could be experiencing symptoms of post-natal depression. It’s important that they feel supported when returning to work.
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