We all know we should wear the badge of honour, getting on with things, coping well, being blissfully happy with this bundle of joy.
We all know we should embrace motherhood and fall in love with your new baby, keeping up the myth of the ‘perfect parent’.
We all know about the pressures of new motherhood and the silent struggles that people can endure.
Madge Fogarty, from Glanmire, knew all this too. Even thought she wasn’t a first-time mother, she succumbed to postnatal depression after the birth of her second son, Shane, now aged 30. Shane’s brother, Thomás, is 32.
“I suffered from very bad postnatal depression (PND), after the birth of Shane,” says Madge, who is the Founder and Chairperson of Postnatal Depression Ireland, (Cork).
The condition affects an estimated one in six Irish mothers,
“It was 30 years ago now and this was an illness that wasn’t talked about, except in hushed tones!” adds Madge.
“I felt so alone and isolated.
“I felt that nobody understood and I would have given a fortune to be able to talk to someone that had been there and recovered.”
Madge thought that she’d never recover.
“You see, I thought I was never going to get well.”
What did she think?
“In fact, I felt like I was losing my mind and going mad,” says Madge.
“I knew that a bout of the ‘baby blues’ was normal and would go away in a few days, or in a week. But six to nine weeks after Shane was born, I still wasn’t sleeping or eating. I found it hard to face the day.”
What were the main symptoms of PND that Madge experienced?
“The black anxiety was the main problem,” says Madge.
“Believe me, it is a very scary place to be.”
“I didn’t have PND with my first baby,” adds Madge.
“So I couldn’t relate to it.”
There was no-one else to relate to who understood the mum’s dilemma either.
“There was no information, no internet, or no source of support back then,” says Madge.
“I went to my GP who prescribed anti-depressants.
“He said; I’ll give you some tablets; you’ll be fine. The side effects of the medication made me feel 100 times worse. It was a really terrible time. I wondered if I was ever going to get better.
“I had up and down days. When I had one good day I said; ‘This is it. I’m getting better’. Less than an hour later, I’d be back down the black hole again. It was like a rollercoaster.”
Madge tried homeopathy.
“I thought, I’ll give it a go. There must be a miracle cure somewhere.”
She also tried talking to her husband, Joe, and to her friends too.
“They had no clue. I had a healthy baby, a loving toddler, a nice home. Whatever could be wrong with me?”
Her own mother had a theory.
“It didn’t come from our side!” Madge says, laughing.
Nobody asked Madge how she was doing.
“No-one seemed to ask how I felt,” says Madge.
“It was like people were ignoring you. You’d always hope you’d find somebody you could talk to, another mum, another person who had been there. Tablets were not the answer.”
Madge, who had so many questions, had to find the answers herself as to why she felt so low when everything from the outside seemed rosy in the garden.
“I decided to go public,” says Madge.
“In those dark days, I vowed that if I ever recovered I would start a support group. I felt back then, and still feel strongly now, that it’s just not right that women are treated so badly. They are often made to feel ashamed and a failure simply because they develop PND.”
Why do so many mums and some dads experience PND?
“There is so much pressure to be Super-mum or Super-dad,” says Madge.
“Nobody came forward admitting PND. It was like shame, especially if you had a healthy happy baby.”
Madge found Bernie Kealey, from Dublin, accidentally through an article in a women’s magazine.
“Bernie experienced severe postnatal depression in 1986 after her first child, Anna, was born.”
The two women started an amazing journey together to support other mums who experienced PND.
“In 1992, I held my first public meeting in the Imperial Hotel,” says Madge.
The women found fellow travellers on their journey to debunk the myths and stigma surrounding PND.
“I was terrified no one would turn up,” says Madge.
“The biggest ballroom in Cork was packed. The meeting was a great success and so the PND Support Group was launched.
“For the first few years my dining room was my office and my home phone was the helpline. I held support meetings once a month in a church parish hall. It wasn’t easy but I got great satisfaction from helping others.”
Others helped her too. Madge was no longer isolated.
“We eventually formed a committee, which was a big step forward, and at last, I was not on my own,” says Madge.
“I was offered a corner of an office from the Cork Mental Health Association and we were off. From those humble beginnings we moved to the Erinville Maternity Hospital, thanks to the Matron, Mary O’Brien.”
Madge experienced good days and bad days getting the PND support group up and running.
“We were a voluntary organisation running on a shoestring, depending on donations and our own fundraising,” says Madge.
“When we received our first grant of £300, we were over the moon!”
Then they were homeless again.
“A year later we were turned out of that building and we were faced with no office again.”
Madge, stronger in resilience and with vital back-up, campaigned tirelessly for a new home. A small office was created on the top of a very old geriatric Hospital in St Finbarr’s Hospital.
“That was a temporary arrangement, but we lasted there longer than a decade!”
Mums flocked to the meetings for advice and tips on how to tackle PND.
“Dads came too,” says Madge, adding: “For 10 years, I worked for nothing. Now we have funding. It is grant aided and has to be applied for yearly.
“We were grateful to be given a slot in the ante-natal classes in CUMH, where we inform new parents-to-be about PND.”
Attendees are grateful.
“I often hear; ‘Do you realise you saved my life?’,” says Madge.
“And I think; imagine! That’s because of me.”
“People suffering PND see no way out. Relationships suffer. When the expectation to be Super-mum doesn’t materialise, mothers can feel a sense of failure.
“For me, the loneliness was the worst part,” says Madge.
“Making the night feed in the middle of the night; I felt it was only me in the world while everybody was all safe, tucked up.”
For more than three decades, Madge has been making others feel safe.
“The satisfaction I get from helping women and their families is immeasurable,” she says.
How does she keep going?
“The answer is I believe in what I do,” says Madge without hesitation.
“When you have been to hell and back yourself, you are just so grateful to be out the other side so if I can do anything to help others, I will.
“PND can be very serious. Sadly, women have lost their lives due to this illness.
“My husband and sons have supported me over the years. Postnatal Depression Ireland has been my (very demanding), third child. I’d like also to thank the majority of people in the HSE, and to our many volunteers who have been supportive to us over the years.
“My greatest wish is that each city in Ireland should have a support group. Nobody should have to suffer in silence.”
Here in Cork, nobody has to suffer in silence. Because of her.
Madge said new mothers and new single mothers can be especially vulnerable now that many supports are no longer in place for them, at this time — there are no ante-natal classes and the public health nurse isn’t making regular house calls, unless absolutely necessary. New mothers can feel isolated.
“They are on their own for most of the labour and that could cause problems done the line,” says Madge.
“Being isolated with little human contact after giving birth can make mothers feel afraid and depression, PND can set in. Becoming a new mum can be a lonely experience, especially if extended family are not allowed to visit the newborn during Coronavirus. Family support is absent.”
Zoom meetings are being hosted by the PND support group every two weeks to offer support and advice to new mothers and an extra helpline has been added — 083 4850689.
“We are experiencing a higher number of calls at weekends. It seems to be the time mothers and fathers feel more cut off and isolated. It is very important to talk,” says Madge.
“And new mothers who feel they re not coping or feel under pressure having nowhere to turn, should call their GP.”
More details available from 021-4922083.