PNDAW18 Blog Series - Nikki Whittaker - PANDAS Foundation UK


“I could hear a voice telling me that not breastfeeding meant I was a failure” 
“Breastfeeding is a small percentage of being a mother; there’s love, security, cleanliness the list is endless, and it is the whole package that counts”
Nikki our superstar training manager for PANDAS gives a graphic, honest and open account from hiding inside to walking out in the sunshine.

Ten weeks after giving birth to my second child, in 2013, I was diagnosed with Post Natal Depression (PND). 

‘‘The happiest time of your life!” Everyone kept saying to me. But how could I feel happy with feelings of isolation and loneliness?
Happy with my beautiful bundle, I secretly hoped I would feel like ‘me again.’ But it didn’t happen. I tried to breastfeed, but it didn’t work for us. My baby’s weight continued to plummet and we were eventually admitted into hospital for monitoring for my daughter’s weight loss.
Everyone around me painted a picture of success being measured through breast feeding.
I attended a breast feeding group and felt ignored; their happy pictures they portrayed of breast feeding and weight gain just contributed to my low mood. I couldn’t turn to anyone. My GP advice of ‘if you don’t want to go out stay in, you don’t have to go out’ made me feel worse.
3 months in and I couldn’t face the school run. I felt hopeless. The thought of leaving the house filled me with panic and I hid when the doorbell rang. I became fearful of answering the telephone and couldn’t open mail because everything evoked an overwhelming anxiety that controlled me. 

My Health Visitor appointment crept up and I was too frightened to go to the door. With my daughter crying in the background the Health Visitor wouldn’t leave until I had opened the door.
This visit teamed with my husband’s support proved to be the most important visit I received. She referred me to the community perinatal team who visited and registered me as a patient.
I was very unwell, looking after a 4-year-old and a new baby whom I thought I was failing. I was prescribed medication and referred to a perinatal psychiatrist to assess me. I was diagnosed with PND and social anxiety disorder. In turn, it helped having this diagnosis as I could read about my conditions and realise that it was real. Although I refused to accept this illness I wanted to know more.
As months went on I rejected Christmas, friends and going out and my health deteriorated. Luckily, my husband’s support got me through and with his help I was then admitted to a Mother and Baby Unit (MBU).
I was devastated when I was told I would be going. I had never heard of a MBU let alone been admitted to one. I had to go in voluntarily yet really there was no option for the sake of my health. Leaving my familiar surroundings was my worst nightmare. Panicking with anxiety I packed a bag and left. 

3 months in and things became clearer: I found me again. I found HOPE. Gradually I started to feel safe in my surroundings and staff. Baby steps worked well for me, from leaving my bedroom door to strolling down the road with my pram smiling. It all contributed to my happiness and hope. I was delighted when I read my medical notes. Real evidence that I could, and was a ‘good’ mother, I was meeting my baby’s needs which was all I needed to boost my self-esteem.
A couple of months later I was discharged from MBU with a support network around me. Nevertheless, after the initial euphoria my mood plummeted again and that is when I found PANDAS Foundation.
I joined the online closed group and received immense support from volunteers and peers and when I was at my darkest points they virtually saved me. I learned that I was ‘good enough’ and that my illness caused intrusive thoughts which could be managed. The PANDAS Foundation were a real life-line and through the group I then started to work for PANDAS within training. This focus and their belief in me helped in my recovery enormously. I honestly believe without PANDAS I would not have recovered to the stage I am at.

My experience of PND was very closely tied in to feelings of failure as a mother. I felt that admitting I had it was like admitting failure and inadequacy. I now know that breastfeeding is a small percentage of being a mother; there’s love, security and warmth. The list is endless, but it is the whole package that counts.
Despite outward appearances, lots of people are going through struggles that we know nothing about. I do my best everyday to look out for those parents. 

Many mums struggle and a kind word or a helping hand can do wonders when someone is desperate. Good Enough is fine.



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