Fashion girls don’t get depression… do we?
Laying bare my emotions is not part of my job description. I write about new launches, must-have accessories and buy-now beauty products. But last week, I took to my laptop and spilled out my heart to the readers of parenting blog site Mumfidential.com.
It was the hardest piece I will ever write. Not because I was offloading the weight on my shoulders that is postnatal depression but because, well, I’m a Vogue girl.
Vogue girls sell – and live – a sparkling lifestyle. Vogue girls don’t get PND. Except this one did – and judging by the messages of support I’ve received since the blog went live (from Jools Oliver to my editor, Alexandra Shulman), so too do many other women you might not expect.
“You should get this printed in a newspaper – people need to read it,” wrote Isabel Spearman, previously assistant to Samantha Cameron. Even some of my more assertive colleagues, who work for some of the most powerful brands in the world, have taken the time to share with me their own private experiences of what is still a taboo subject.
They said I was brave. But brave was the last thing I was feeling this summer, when I started to cry for no reason and began to doubt my abilities as a mother; my abilities, full stop.
I’ve worked at British Vogue for 11 years. I’m fortunate enough to call my colleagues friends. As retail editor, I have a job, my boss constantly reminds me, that “people are queuing up for”.
I consider myself a grounded, stable individual, fortunate enough to have parents who are happily married, in-laws I genuinely love and the most wonderful set of friends.
Then there’s my husband, Ollie. We are days away from celebrating our fourth wedding anniversary. Arguably a greater parent to our girls than I could ever be, he is kind, funny, fair. My rock. And there we were, both 33, with two healthy children, moving out of London to a lovely house in the Home Counties.
God, I am one of those sickening people aren’t I? Need you read on?
Sadly, all that good fortune didn’t prevent the beast that is PND heading my way after my second baby, Maggie, was born in April.
Looking back, the timing for our move from South Kensington to a sleepy village in Berkshire – two months after I’d given birth – was never going to be easy. Gone were the meetings with Chanel and coffees with fellow mothers, meandering through the London parks with our buggies and babies.
Instead, I was living in a building site, juggling Nescaf?? – “white with two sugars” – while potty-training a toddler who wouldn’t leave my side.
Then there was little Maggie, with her gut-wrenching scream, explosive nappies and sleepless nights. She hated being put down, polar opposite to our easy-going first daughter, Nancy, who was two in September.
Days, weeks passed. There were a few blissful moments, but essentially, I missed my old life. I felt lonely, the baby weight wasn’t shifting, my confidence was dissipating. I didn’t know how or when I would make new friends.
Of course, people wanted to know all about the village newcomers. Most likely they’d checked our house price on Zoopla, Googled me and wanted to know what my husband does. I put on a front. Maternity leave from Vogue became my shield. The answer to all the “so what do you do?”s. My internal battle locked away, everyone assumed the new girl was tough as nails.
Sleep deprivation was how it started; the irrational thoughts, the racing heartbeat, the anxiety. Normal, I thought – I’ve got a new baby. All normal. The punch in the face that social media dealt me every time I checked. All, sadly, normal.
But then I began to doubt my abilities as a mother. Appalling at cooking, impatient with my eldest, feeling thwarted by my children, having cruel thoughts about little Maggie that I cannot put into writing.
My interest in food vanished, my tearful moments grew. I wondered how people did this whole “two under two” business. I was scornful of myself: if my friend could do this with a husband who travels, then why can’t I, with a husband who is usually home for bath time?
The breaking point was returning from a visit to London, in October. Stepping off the train, I should have wanted to rush home to see my gorgeous family. Instead, the anxiety of a new week took over. Ollie told me of his plans and I disintegrated there and then. Collapsing in his arms, I cried in a way I hope I will never cry again and told him the very worst I had been feeling. He put me to bed that evening.
So much of this had been a private battle, crying at night or when Ollie left for work. This was a turning point. It was time to seek help.
The next morning, I arranged an appointment with a doctor. Sadly, she couldn’t have been less helpful. While she told me that everything I had relayed pointed to PND, she also had a habit of watching the clock, and planted a prescription for Sertraline (an SSRI antidepressant) in my hand without asking about a history of depression, or checking if I was on other medication. She told me to return in two weeks. I never did. And she never checked up on me.
I didn’t take the antidepressants – I know so many others are thankful for them but, to me, they felt like a last rather than first resort. Instead, I visited Gek Bee Prout, a kinesiologist based in Gloucestershire, whom I have known for many years. She suggested I start taking a supplement called 5HTP. “It’s an amino acid that is a precursor to serotonin,” she told me, “which encourages the body to make correct quantities of its own.”
I began immediately. I also increased my intake of magnesium, a key supplement sapped by childbirth and breastfeeding. Essential for muscle relaxation and energy production, during stressful situations and high levels of sleep deprivation it is flushed from the body. And what do new mothers suffer from? Exactly.
I started doing proper exercise – spinning classes, not just running around after the two-year-old. I cut back on coffee. Most poignantly of all, I offloaded everything to my daughter’s new headmistress. One look at me in the nursery car park and she knew. She asked me if I was OK and I crumbled. She told me I was overwhelmed, that I was by no means the first mother she’d seen like this.
Her support and direct approach made me realise that it is OK to be finding this motherhood thing very, very hard. (Isn’t it wonderfully apt
that since my two-year-old cannot pronounce “Mrs Hathaway”, she has named her “Mrs Happy” instead?)
Are all new mums secretly teetering on the edge? It seems so. Some who read my blog told me it made them cry on their commutes home or as they waited to collect children from nursery. Many said it made them realise that they, too, had experienced some degree of PND. A couple of expectant fathers got in touch to thank me for shining a light on something they are also nervous of seeing their own wives go through.
Am I through the worst? I hope so. I do, now, genuinely love our new life. Will I return to Vogue? I’ll give it a shot.
I don’t want to make PND my “thing”. But if what was merely a spur-of-the-moment blog entry has resonated with so many people, we surely need to talk about this more.
Look out for the new mothers – the strong ones, the quiet ones, the bold ones, the gentle ones. And to all you new grandmothers, look out for your daughters and daughters-in-law. Keep talking, don’t hide behind texts and emails. Pick up the phone.
Behind all the seemingly perfect Farrow & Ball front doors, everyone is having their own private battles.
But postnatal depression is one we can’t fight alone.
The Telegraph, London
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