By Anna Cave-Bigley
Normalising PPD, which affects at least 15% of new mothers
This is not an easy blog post to write. Even knowing what I now know, sharing my story still feels ungrateful towards one of the most important people in my life. Yet, Postpartum Depression (PPD) is a truth that many mothers experience. Some have fleeting moments of these struggles with the sweet sounding “postpartum baby blues”; some struggle for months; and others for years - often undiagnosed.
We encourage the expecting mother to focus on the type of birth she wants and the style of nursery she’s creating, but no one talks about the mother’s self care or prepares her for the postpartum mental health challenges she might be about to face. Don’t get me wrong - postpartum CAN be blissful and everything one has ever wished for: my second postpartum has been a beautiful tribute to this. But, there is another narrative that is often not discussed and that studies suggest affects at least 15% of new mothers.
I struggled with Postpartum Depression for a long 8 months - possibly 12 - after the birth of my first son. I was in total denial at the time, calling my symptoms ‘postpartum blues’ and putting them down to motherhood ‘being hard’. But looking back now, 5 months postpartum with my second son, I can clearly say I was unwell. The experience shook me to the core and forced me to take a good look both inwards and around me: How did I let myself get that low and not seek help? And how in this day and age are women often still so unsupported and unprepared?
The journey gave me a newfound respect as a woman for the power of our hormones, and a keen awareness of the ongoing shame and stigma surrounding PPD. It also led me to believe that there must be a better way to support and prepare women embarking upon the journey of motherhood. I have created The SABI to do just this: to better support expecting and new mothers (and those around them) for the highs and lows a woman might face. I want to make sure that in addition to focusing on the birth, we also prepare for what can be a wonderful, yet life altering time where so much is in flux, from one's identity, to relationships, body and approach to life. It’s a time where one can be blissfully in love whilst also struggling.
If you are going through this, or know someone who is, please know you are not alone. Help is out there. Postpartum depression is a real and serious condition. It is one that is often shrouded in shame, guilt and silence. But as women - and mothers - it’s time to start talking so that we can better support those who are about to embark upon this crazy beautiful journey of motherhood; or those who may still be suffering in silence, for some many years later.
THE BLINDSIDE OF PPD…
PPD was a sharp, disorienting and lonely blow. It led me to question my core, those I loved, and whether I was good enough for them and my insanely beautiful (yes I am biassed) new baby.
The early days of euphoria
One moment I was madly in love; the next filled with emptiness and worthlessness.
In the early days after my first son was born, I declared to all those who would listen that I wanted at least 5 children. Luckily for me (this isn’t the case for every new mother), it felt like the best thing that had ever happened. I finally realised I had been born to have babies. The love was real. Little did I know this initial endorphin high wouldn’t last long….
The sudden crash: signs of PPD
Within a week this sunny disposition quickly fell away. I became manic. One moment I was madly in love; the next filled with emptiness and worthlessness. I felt ‘useless’ – an exhausted mess who didn’t recognise the woman staring back at me in the mirror. I couldn’t control the tears or the outbursts at those around me. Not understanding what was happening physically and mentally, I felt a huge gulf develop between me and those I loved.
The shiny outside world suggested that everyone else knew exactly what they were doing; and that I alone was struggling. I felt ungrateful; that I was unable to really enjoy this special moment, and believed I was failing at being a good wife, mother, friend and employee…. There were moments where intrusive thoughts led me to question whether the world would function better without me.
The days were long and blurry. I suffered from serious memory loss, couldn't focus or concentrate; and was constantly anxious for the long sleepless nights ahead. I was desperately searching for happiness, trying to make sense of it all, trying to find the romantic vision I had been sold.
Then there were the hallucinogenic dreams where I would wake each night in total panic that my baby was suffocating either within the bed or (horrifically) inside of me. These went on for weeks. I desperately needed to sleep but I feared the dreams…
The identity crisis
I wasn’t good enough as a mother, a wife, a friend, or colleague
This was probably one of the hardest challenges. Trying to understand who I was now as a mother, a wife, an employee and a friend. I judged myself. I judged my battered body and my exhausted and confused mind. I could not recognise the woman I had become. One moment, euphoric and feeling like the luckiest person alive; the next feelings of dread, desperation, emptiness and loss. Desperate to work but unable to think with pangs of guilt surrounding every moment away from my baby. To be 100% mummy but grappling with how; paranoid about my child's safety and wracked with guilt for wanting my career back. Missing the intensity and depths of my relationship; we were under-slept parents in survival mode.
WHAT I DID DIFFERENTLY THIS TIME…
Could I have avoided PPD? Who knows…perhaps the depths of it? Maybe if I had been better prepared I would have been able to ask for help, identified daily coping mechanisms, and been able to redefine my identity and experience - both mentally and physically. Instead, I kept going. Putting one foot in front of another. In denial. Surviving. Suffering.
This time around, with the birth of my second son, I was determined to do things differently. I created my team (both virtual and physical); focused on looking after myself better physically, with the right nutrition and mentally, with the right rituals. I learnt the early warning signs of when to scale back; identified what was important (and feasible) for me as a mother, wife, friend and colleague. Each day, I carved out a moment for me - even if late at night in the early hours - where I gave myself 5 minutes of pampering and taking a breath, congratulating myself for what I had achieved, letting go of what I hadn't. I used our natural remedies to support my body when I felt a hormonal dip oncoming or when my breastmilk supplies were low. These became essential self-care rituals and a life raft. With my second postpartum, I have been kinder to myself and made sure that I am ok first - so that I can ensure my family and those I love are ok.
PPD pushed me to end my comfortable life and career at the British Embassy and to start a business dedicated to helping other women understand, find natural ways to treat and navigate hormonal crises like Postpartum Depression. The SABI is about strength in vulnerability: real and honest conversation on the taboos surrounding hormonal crisis. There is power in understanding what happens to our bodies, identity and relationships during these moments and what tools are needed to navigate a crisis. Essential self-care and daily rituals are foundational in recovery and going beyond survival. We humbly hope to prepare and support women during the myriad of challenges they face passing from one life stage to the next.
This is just the beginning of this journey. I look forward to being on it with you.
HORMONAL & PROUD
Created as a brand to help women navigate the toughest moments in pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum — and practically every stage of life, the SABI aims to change the narrative around our hormones from one of taboo, embarrassment and loneliness, to awareness and even pride. Much more than a wellness brand, SABI offers a carefully crafted line of products to carry you through your hormonal journey; a set of rituals, supportive tools, and ancient herbal remedies that have been tested time and again by women and now, backed by medicine. SABI is a blend of science and nature conceived by women who have experienced the joys and deep implications of bringing a child into the world, the pains of a heavy and difficult period, miscarriage and difficulty conceiving
Here is an invitation to get to know your body and its cycles better and to really understand what is going on inside. Learn to use your hormonal cycle to your advantage no matter your stage of life, and know that you can always support and balance your hormone levels. Look for the right sources of information, know that there is help, and know that you’re supported.
The SABI blog and articles are not meant to instruct or advise on medical or health conditions, but to inform. The information and opinions presented here do not substitute professional medical advice or consultations with healthcare professionals for your unique situation.
Anna is a Co-founder of The SABI and has spent the past 13 years working in or for governments, senior businessmen and politicians around the world. Living in Bogota, Colombia, she recently renovated one of Colombia’s oldest and most iconic coffee estates, developing a unique taste and travel experience. She lives with her husband and two boys Lorenzo and baby Alfie who are responsible for the beautiful journey that inspired her to pursue The Sabi.
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