Tuesday, 23 October 2018

How BBC1's The Cry Provides a Brilliant Examination of Post Natal Depression

Hi Everyone

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Sooooo, in the UK we were recently gripped by Bodyguard, a fab thriller on BBC1.  That ended 4 weeks ago and a new series started - The Cry.   From the trailers, it looked mesmerising - a child goes missing - with haunting echoes of Madeleine McCann, the dingo baby and a thousand other awful stories.

What I wasn't prepared for, was that the series would start with the nightmare of new motherhood, and specifically post-natal depression (and don't worry, there are no spoilers in this post.)   It's one of the very first times I can remember PND being portrayed so accurately in a drama, and for me, as a survivor, most of that accuracy comes from how it is *under*played.

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Post natal depression isn't some big blasting melodrama; it's the very opposite - silence, absence of self, a desire for everything to just fade away.   We can be functional or semi-functional on the surface, but inside we're shitting ourselves, waiting to be found out, feeling useless and just wanting that baby to stop crying.

Jenna Coleman's portrayal is spot on.  It's in the little moments.  It's when she's so sick of the baby crying, she locks him in the bedroom and turns up the TV so that she doesn't have to keep hearing that DAMN noise.   It's the filthy look she shoots her husband as he slumbers blissfully and she absorbs all the stress.  It's the way she lies to a friend about loving motherhood, when every fibre of her being screams otherwise.

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I hated new motherhood.  Not going to lie.  Hated it.  I felt out of control (not a control freak's favourite modus operandi), hopelessly unprepared, thrown in, and worst, alone.  I had no nearby family, no nearby friends.  I am an only child so babies weren't something I'd ever been around.  And the day after I got home from hospital, my husband went back to work.

I was terrified.  I used to the count the minutes down, to prove that I was getting through.   I had no clue what to do with the baby between meal times. I didn't want to leave the house, but I didn't want to be stuck inside either.   And oh, I so badly wanted to run away.

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The isolation of early motherhood is extreme.  You are thrown completely out of yourself and into an existence you are completely unprepared for.   You live only to serve the baby-tyrant, and if you're not naturally maternal, there's not a lot of joy to be had in this phase.   I am so thrilled for all the mums out there who enjoy motherhood, but for some of us, it's a struggle, as alien as trying to juggle knives without stabbing ourselves.

I see myself in the moments where the husband, as hero, and after he is glutted with sleep, takes the baby and tells Jo to get some sleep.  What a joke.  In a state of stress and fever-pitch anxiety, we can't just go "oh ok" and switch off - although men, maddeningly, can.   Even when we are given help, it's hard to take the time back for yourself, to repair yourself, because PND has taken you so far away from yourself that it takes a long long time to travel back.

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When the baby is taken in The Cry, Jo barely reacts.   She stands, not quite comprehending what is happening, as the husband-hero goes into rescue mode.   Her disconnection from the world is profound and this is the kicker - the mother terrorised by PND doesn't know what's just come true, her worst nightmare, or her dream.

For a split second, for Jo, the trauma is over.   The crying has stopped.  The tyranny is over.   It's as if a tumour has been removed.   She's still too stunned to speak and react, and her lack of emotion scares others, and implies her guilt.  But how do you convey that although you would do anything to get your baby back, you're secretly relieved to have this breather?   That secretly, a version of this is what you've wanted since you came home from the hospital?

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One final point.   At some point in the future, Jo is asked how she got through it.  She tells us she remembered she used to be strong.  Motherhood can slay anybody.  It is all-consuming and never-ending.  In the process, most of us lose ourselves (some willingly, some not).  We step out of our own lives and into the life of our baby, and each day it gets harder to step back.   We become absent from our own lives, and our own selves.  We forget who we were.  But when we remember, the strength comes back to save us.

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Post natal depression is akin to suffering a trauma.   Those of you who have never felt this way may feel this is an exaggeration, but I promise you it's not.  It's a profound place of shock, sadly with very little awe.   If you have any of these symptoms, please see a doctor - 

* struggling to get out of bed
* lack of personal hygiene - not showering, getting dressed
* not eating
* resentful of your partner
* wanting to escape

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And if you can, these are the best ways to get through it - 

* see a doctor.  I know not everyone likes medication, but it can help and it helped me

* accept absolutely every offer of help and support - don't say no!

* if you're on your own, invite people round.  Being less alone will ease the struggle for a little while

* time-keeping.  I was a control freak.   Counting down to when I next had to feed Beth / take her to the doctors / bathe her, helped me get through the minutes LITERALLY 1 AT A TIME

* don't be ashamed to tell people how you feel.  The myth of motherhood as something that completes us and gives us nothing but joy is just that - a myth. Tell people how you feel and you'll not only feel less alone, you'll find out some of them felt that way too.


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