“WE are still going strong after 30 years,” says Glanmire woman, Madge Fogarty, who set up a support group for women with Post Natal Depression (PND), having suffered it herself.
“Covid was difficult,” adds Madge. “There were no face-to-face meetings, or no coffee mornings. We relied on Zoom and WhatsApp. I worried the group might fall apart, but thankfully, it didn’t.”
Post Natal Depression Ireland was founded in the early 1990s by Madge.
“It has gone from strength to strength. There was no support back then for women and their families going through PND.
“We are a Peer Support Group, all of us having gone through PND. I founded the group after suffering severe PND.”
All mums know the biological, psychological and social changes that occur after the birth of a baby. We all know about the pressures of new motherhood and the silent struggles that people can endure.
Madge knew all this too. Even though she wasn’t a first-time mother, she succumbed to postnatal depression after the birth of her second son, Shane, now aged 32. Shane’s brother, Thomás, is 34.
“I suffered from very bad postnatal depression, (PND), after the birth of Shane,” says Madge, the Founder and Chairperson of Postnatal Depression Ireland (Cork).
“It was over 30 years ago, and this was an illness that wasn’t talked about except in hushed tones,” adds Madge, speaking about the condition that affects an estimated one in six Irish mothers.
Madge had nowhere to turn.
“I felt so alone and isolated,” she recalls.
“I felt that nobody understood, and I would have given a fortune to be able to talk to someone that had been there.”
Information was scarce.
“There was no information, no internet, or no source of support back then,” says Madge.
PND is scary.
“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 a week. But six to nine weeks after Shane was born, I still wasn’t eating or sleeping. I found it hard to face the day.”
What kind of symptoms did she experience?
“The black anxiety was the main problem,” says Madge.
“Believe me, it is a very scary place to be.”
What was her first port of call?
“I went to my GP who prescribed anti-depressants,” says Madge.
“The side effects of the tablets made me feel even worse. It was really a terrible time. I wondered if I was ever going to get better. I tried homeopathy; I thought there must be a miracle cure somewhere.”
“I had up and down days,” says Madge. “When I had one good day I said; ‘this is it, I’m going to get better’. Less than an hour later I’d be down a black hole again. It was like a rollercoaster.”
Madge always hoped she could find somebody to speak to, to share her experience.
“It was like people were ignoring you. I always hoped I’d find somebody to talk to, another mum, another person who had been there. Tablets were not the answer.”
Madge decided that if she ever got better, she would start a group that would help people ike her.
“In those dark days, I vowed that if ever I recovered, I would start a support group,” says Madge.
“I felt back then, and I still feel strongly now, that it’s just not right women are treated so badly.
“They are often made to feel ashamed and a failure simply because they develop PND. There is so much pressure to be super-mum or super-dad.”
Madge was ready for action.
“In 1992, I held my first public meeting in the Imperial Hotel,” she says.
“I was terrified nobody would turn up but the biggest ballroom in Cork was packed.”
The meeting was a great success and the PND group was launched.
“My dining room was my first office and after four years I moved to the Erinville Maternity Hospital where I started the group with a physiotherapist. Two years later, we moved to St. Finbarr’s Hospital for 11 years and we are now based in the CUMH administration building.
“We were a voluntary organisation running on a shoestring, depending on donations and our own fundraising. When we received our first grant of £300, we were over the moon.”
Mums came to the meetings in their droves for advice and tips on how to tackle PND.
“Dads were welcome to attend too,” says Madge.
“Now we have funding which is grant-aided. And we were grateful to be given a slot in the ante-natal classes in CUMH where we inform parents about PND.”
For more than three decades, Madge has been making others feel safe.
“I get great satisfaction from helping women and their families,” she says.
“PND can be very serious. Sadly, women have lost their lives due to this illness.”
ONE WOMAN’S STORY
Joining the PND group changed Jessie Shea’s life. Originally from Canada, she now lives in Carrigaline.
“Ailbhe is a year old,” says Jessie. “I joined the PND group before I gave birth, which is unusual. I was already struggling with depression.
“I picked up a brochure about the PND group at the maternity hospital when I was attending for an appointment. I had my first PND meeting on Zoom two days before Ailbhe was born. That was a co-incidence and was really great,” says Jessie.
“There were a few people on the Zoom meeting that were new like me.
“It was good to connect with other people who felt like I did. And one of the big benefits was when we could meet in person, I met other people suffering from PND. Listening to others, I thought, ‘that sounds exactly like me’.
“You find that you are not alone, that others are experiencing the same things.”
Jessie found that PND was all-encompassing, and it zapped her energy.
“I didn’t feel like doing anything,” she recalls. “I had no interest in anything.”
But there is light at the end of the tunnel.
“PND doesn’t last forever, you can get better if you get help,” says Jessie.
“I go to coffee mornings once a month which are very social, and the official meetings are two weeks apart. I’m also on a WhatsApp chat group which is really nice. I like the fact that now I can help and support other people who suffer from PND.”
Madge wishes every county in Ireland had a PND support group.
“After 30 years, we are still the main support group in Ireland,” she says.
“Some see the meetings as a night out to talk and let it all out.”
Over 30 years, Madge has helped thousands of women beat PND.
“All mums that have been through PND can come out the other side with peer support,” says Madge.
“It is vitally important that women talk to each other in confidence.”
Madge is proud of her achievements.
“We pride ourselves on being there,” she says.
“You can’t beat the interaction and the questions and answers. It is good for partners to attend the meetings too. Often men can zone out.”
Madge says PND Ireland has been like her third child.
“My husband and sons have supported me over the years,” she says.
“PND Ireland has been my (very demanding) third child.
“I’d like also to thank the majority of people in the HSE, and our many volunteers who have been supportive over the years.”