A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing

Yesterday I was asked a question that I hadn’t actually considered before –

“Do I think that my work knowledge led towards having antenatal depression in any way?

I’ve thought about it and I actually think my knowledge and experience as a neonatal nurse caused more problems after Squidge arrived then when I was pregnant, in particular around breast feeding.

All the nurses on my unit are trained to support women who want to breast feed and to help them with any problems they’re having, such as a poor latch or positioning issues. I didn’t think I would find breast feeding easy but I thought I would find it a lot less difficult than I did but because the midwives knew I was breast feeding trained I didn’t get a lot of supervision or support.

I thought I was doing it right, Squidge seemed reasonably content but after two hospital admissions for dehydration, jaundice and excessive weight loss it was obvious that there were problems. By this point I was stressed out of my mind, convinced that I’d made Squidge unwell and so even though I really wanted to breast feed I started bottle feeding him just to make surd we didn’t end up back in hospital. This was followed by several weeks of beating myself up for

  1. Not being able to breast feed properly in the first place
  2. Putting baby Squidge in hospital not once but twice before he was three weeks old
  3. Giving up with breast feeding because I was scared of him being ill again.

Had this happened to anyone I knew or any of the Mums at work my attitude would have been all support and I wouldn’t have even considered finding them at fault. But because it was me I had to be to blame.

However, with regards to antenatal depression my work knowledge made for a more stressful pregnancy even if I hadn’t had existing mental health issues. I didn’t look at my first scan because I didn’t want to see the irrefutable evidence that I was actually pregnant. However, with the second scan I couldn’t look until the sonographer convinced me that Squidge was alive and looked to be developing completely normally.

I had a gestation that I needed to get to before I could properly relax. Every Saturday signalled a new week in Squidge’s development and I would announce to my husband that Squidge could no longer be a 23/24/25 etc weeker. We knew what could happen if he arrived early, how long he might have to be in hospital and the decisions we might end up having to make.

When I went into early labour at 26 weeks we thought our fears were realised.

With delivery I was booked for an elective c-section, partly for mental health reasons and partly due to my having gestational diabetes but even before I was pregnant I was adament that I would not go a day over 40 weeks gestation without being induced or having a c-section. I’ve seen too many babies admitted to NICU as a result of complications from being delivered after 40 weeks gestation, including shoulder dystocia, becoming stuck because they’ve got too big, suffering from birth asphyxia or placental insufficiency.

I knew what could happen as did my husband and I would have done anything in my power to prevent it from happening to us.

I think all neonatal nurses worry at one time or another about having a sick or premature baby but I don’t think this worry particularly contributed to my depression although my Mum disagreed. Maybe she was right and it had more of an effect on my unconscious thoughts.

From my mental health history I knew I was at higher risk of developing postnatal depression although antenatal depression wasn’t something I’d considered for myself. I think the biggest issue was that Squidge wasn’t planned and that I felt very much as though my life as an adult would end to make way for being a Mummy, something that I wasn’t ready for. I was in a stable place mentally, I was confident at work and had applied for my first senior nurse post, I was making really good progress with my counsellor and I was starting to feel more socially confident and accepted.

I genuinely felt as though my life as I had planned it was over and that I would lose myself and my identity in nappies, bottles and sleepless nights. Combine this with a predisposition to depression and I think you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

Thanks Juliette for your question

One thought on “A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing

  1. Juliette O'Donnell says:

    Thanks for the reply- its interesting that like you I also waited for the viability date. They I was constantly working on the is a x% of survival if born now etc- I am sure looking back it was related to a previous first trimester loss and a little knowledge having worked in a major maternity hospital that also has a 40 bed NNU


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