Jill Edwards had to cope on her own with post natal depression in the 1960’s.
Jill had a poor experience of childbirth with her first child, Gareth being a heavy baby at 10lbs which was delivered naturally – Jill feels in hindsight a caesarean would have been desirable.
Jill didn’t initially ask a GP, or a health professional for any support, in hindsight she might well have asked for help. Having relocated to the midlands for her husband’s work prior to her first child’s birth in 1963 she then felt isolated from her London friends. Jack, her husband is now a retired civil engineer, and back then he was building major motorways.
When talking about her struggle, she said.
“I was quite a long way from my friends in London who might have been able to help, but of course that meant they couldn’t.”
“I felt isolated, I just needed somebody to tell how I felt and not judge me”. Jill’s parents weren’t in a position to help, except financially, her mother and father then had their own lives to lead and left it to her to bring up her own children.
"I didn't see it as depression, I saw it as a fearful failure on may part. I felt different from the other mums, they all seemed to be having agreat time."
Jill felt that at the time, this form of depression wasn’t acknowledged, which meant she felt she couldn’t talk about it, and couldn’t ask for help.
The people around her, thought she should just put up with it, and she was lucky to have a healthy child – they said; “He’s fine, two arms and legs and healthy so if he cries, so what”.
She felt she just wasn’t allowed, or able to have negative feelings about him.
“I didn’t feel I was justified in feeling anything else but very happy with my baby, even though I was desperately depressed as a new mother. I felt very isolated”.
People around Jill told her she’d be an excellent mother, she was a successful speech tutor and coped with everything else that life threw at her in post war Britain. “I felt a social pressure to be a great mother, many people had said I would be a great mother because I was a successful speech tutor”.
Gareth was such a struggle for Jill, that at her lowest mood she really felt that she wanted to be free of his continuous crying, and felt he was the root cause of all her stress, and anxiety. He just couldn’t be calmed, and settled.
“Gareth just seemed to scream, whether you picked him up, put him down or anything” Socially, it was hard to join in to anything happening locally, as she didn’t know anyone and got the impression everyone else was having such a great time with their babies, so there must be something wrong with her, if she was struggling herself.
“I couldn’t share how I felt, I just couldn’t cope. I couldn’t share other people’s delight in their children, why did it have to be me that was feeling this way? Being around other people’s children, with my own just seemed to magnify the problem so it felt hard to join in”.
She remembers having an operation about 3-4 months after Gareth’s birth, and the nurse said “I bet you’re missing him” – but she was happy to have the break from Gareth.
”I was relieved I was there, and someone was looking after me”.
Jill felt that it was a struggle to bond with Gareth, he cried often, and for long periods adding to her own depression. At her lowest point, she even didn’t want to be alone with him, in case she did anything to harm his health.
When he was screaming and the rest of it, she felt; “I’m actually going to harm this child” When Jill could get any free time, and listen to the radio she was relieved to be able to take a break from looking after him. At this point, everyone was focusing on the baby, and she felt no one was looking out for her welfare, and her mental health.
“I just wanted to speak to someone to help, who would listen and not judge.”
One of her friends, who was an only child and had recently experienced both her parents die of cancer within a year of each other, encouraged her to consider trying for another child. Her friend said: “Don’t leave him an only child, I was that to my parents and felt that terrible burden on me. Give him a brother or sister.”
Jill became pregnant with her second child, Sian in 1967 and instantly panicked; “Oh my goodness, I can’t go through all that again, I cannot cope with this” she said. When she contemplated terminating the pregnancy, she was referred to a psychiatrist. Jill recalls in those days you needed two signatures to have an abortion.
The experience of bringing up Gareth, led Jill to question whether or not to continue with the pregnancy of her daughter, Sian. Jill said: “I just can’t cope with this”, which added to her sense of failure, which was a struggle for Jill, as she was well regarded in her professional life, as a speech tutor.
“I’m useless with babies, I just can’t cope with them.”
Her psychiatrist was very honest with her, and said that a termination couldn’t guarantee her good mental wellbeing, and no one could know how she’d then feel, and how she might deal with any regret after taking that decision. He said to her: “If you’re worried about this, don’t kid yourself that you’ll avoid depression after this”.
“I went ahead, had her and of course she was one of those babies that smiled all the time, no trouble at all” Fortunately, Sian was all smiles. Jill was worried Gareth would be jealous of his sister, he only began to feel jealous when Sian was about two and he grew out of this fairly soon. Jill feels the climate in the 1960’s was that of hiding the truth around mental health problems, and not admitting to people that there was a problem.
It was only when Gareth developed his speech, and personality, that Jill felt she could truly relate to him. One of her friends said that even if she didn’t seem to relate to him, that she defended him like a tiger when there was a small tussle on the beach whilst he was playing with some other youngsters.
“Gradually it all came right”.
The advice Jill would pass on to anyone going through what she had to cope with is that there are people who you can talk to, they will listen to you, and then not judge. “Recognising the way that you feel, and that negative feelings can be helpful is important”.
Coping with PND is the only mental health issue Jill has needed to cope with. She used a lot of her experience to help others when volunteering for Relate. Some couples she met benefitted from having some time just to themselves, once a month when they had a child minder to call on.
“There is very likely, a solution – there is a light at the end of the tunnel and things will improve”. I think Mind is going a great job, but there is always more to be done, and more people to reach”.
“The gift in my will, is going to help Mind provide any type of programme that helps people and reduces the stigma labelled to people with a mental health problem”.
Jill thinks even today, in wider society, and perhaps through employers it is still hard to talk openly about a mental health problem. Being open, could be seen as a risk, and she’s worried people won’t always open up and talk about this.
If all the discrimination and stigma goes, Jill would “feel like magic” – “I think there’s still a streak of - I didn’t have it easy, and why should anyone else do”. But, Jill’s gift will help us change attitudes, and reach out to anyone coping with a mental health problem.
“If my gift provides some services for a person that otherwise wouldn’t have this chance, that will be great – widening access for all will be marvellous”.
Jill had two nephews, who both experienced some mental health problems, one tried to take his own life. Jill recalls no one talked openly about mental health problems in in the 1960’s. She feels people worried about seeking help, because they were in fear of where they might be sent.
Jill very kindly has been part of our DVD.
Find out more on post natal depression.