When I read “We need to talk about Kevin,” I didn’t read it thinking that it was about a mother with PND. But the movie reviews are describing it as such. And I wonder, as someone who was diagnosed with PND in week 2 of her baby’s life, is that a fair assumption?
If you haven’t read “We need to talk about Kevin” by Lionel Shriver, and you have not been recently diagnosed with PND, then I would definitely recommend it. It is a truly remarkable book and stays with your for years. I read it, gosh, probably six years ago now, and still sometimes think about it and wonder about the questions the book poses. In brief (and I won’t do a spoiler so you can read on), it is about a woman who is married and gets pregnant with her first child. Throughout the pregnancy she is ambivalent about the baby, and once she has her baby boy, this doesn’t change. She never really likes the baby but does what mothers are “supposed” to do in terms of taking care of it. She is not like this with her second child – there she is like the books say mothers are supposed to react. Anyhow, the book looks at the role of the mother in her son’s subsequent actions. The old, familiar nightmare of how much can you blame the mother for?
Looking back, I can see why the lead character is described by the movie reviewers as a PND-sufferer. After all, she is not happy about having a child, the way you are “supposed” to be. And she doesn’t fall in love with the child after it is born, the way you are “supposed” to do. She is that Freudian archetype of the unloving mother, and surely she can therefore be held to account for her child’s personality flaws.
I would just want to question whether this is necessarily a portrait of someone with PND, or if it is someone who simply does not have to usual reactions to her child? And not being able to admit to that, things only get worse. Does a mother’s reaction to her child have to be medicalised, or can it simply be another state of being which that mother will need to work out as she is, ultimately, now responsible for another human?
I can speak from my own experience only. I have PND. I have a mood disorder which has required treatment in the wake of giving birth. The root causes of PND are largely believed to be sleep deprivation and reaction to the hormonal swings and roundabouts of motherhood. There are also risk factors, such as having a C-section – major surgery can trigger depression, as depression, in evolutionary terms is a state where the human is encouraged to lie low, the conditions outside the cave not being conducive to hunting, gathering or any other activity. Other risk factors include: social isolation; life stresses such as financial stress or moving house; a history of past episodes of depression or anxiety; a perfectionist personality; and a difficult relationship with one’s own mother, which comes up when becoming one. So: tick, tick, tick, tick and tick for me ;-).
I have received absolutely stellar support from my husband, Yen, and my friends, both near and far, and I want to thank them for that. I have also received the best treatment I have ever had for depression or anxiety from Marg Booker at the Tresillian Family Centre. I have been part of a PND therapy group, whose other members are naturally anonymous, but who have been an incredible support in normalising our current journey, and sharing it.
As Marg said, “You have PND. It’s like travelling in India – some parts of it are really, really yucky. But it’s part of the journey, and that’s not even a bad thing. It just is what it is.” And having spent three months in India, about 10 % of that with some form or other of gastro, I knew what she meant.
The rate of PND is high – something like 1 in 8 women will experience it, and 2 out of 5 of their partners. The rate is much higher if you narrow it down to the highly educated band of women.
There is no shame in being treated for PND. But similarly, there should have been no shame in the mother character’s response to her child in “We need to talk about Kevin.” Whether she had PND is moot. But if she did not, it was shame – shame of her lack of feeling towards her son – that stopped her from reaching out and working through it, and developing, by sheer intelligence and will if necessary, the ability to love and connect with her son. And if she did have PND, it was also shame that prevented her from seeking treatment. No mother should ever be ashamed of who they are.
If you are interested in finding out more about PND or want some help, you can visit PANDA or call 1300 726 306 as a starting point, or Beyond Blue. I went to my GP. Also, the early childhood centre midwife who visited my in the second week (first week home) referred me to the Tresillian, which is an incredible resource if you are in NSW. There is also the mental health hotline on 13 11 14, and if you are concerned for yours or your baby’s safety then go to the local hospital and get yourself admitted pronto. You can be helped – right now, you need to know, even if you can’t feel it right now, hope is possible.