[STANDFIRST] Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine answers another set of reader dilemmas.


Five months ago, in the middle of Covid, I had a baby boy and since then I've felt completely miserable and drained. This should have been a wonderful time in my life, sharing my new son with friends and family and watching him grow.

Instead, I can't summon the energy to do anything around the house and I look a mess most of the time. This is my first baby and before he was born, I had a demanding job and loved every minute of it. I would never have slopped around the house all day in a dressing gown.

My husband (who is working normally) is getting pretty fed up with my behaviour too and doesn't seem to understand me at all - not surprising, as I don't really understand myself. He doesn't mind the fact I don't cook for him any more (he's a better cook than me anyway). But it's my 'pathetic moping', as he calls it, that he can't cope with.

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For no apparent reason, I just burst into tears last week and started to shout at my son for doing this to me. Now I feel so guilty about this, that I'm wondering if I am safe to be left alone with him.

If this was all over and I could get out and about and meet people, I'm sure I'd be doing better, but it's the isolation and loneliness that's really getting to me.



I'm so sorry to hear you are feeling so down following the birth of your baby. The pandemic has triggered mental health problems for many people, partly because of isolation, partly because of money worries and job insecurities, and many, many other reasons.

However, it may well be that what you are experiencing is post-natal depression. This is a genuine illness and is a lot more common than most people think - even before the pandemic.

A lot of people have heard the term 'baby blues' used to describe a mild, short, period of depression which many women experience after childbirth. This is not the same though, and as many as 10% of all new mothers develop postnatal depression - so you are far from alone.

Looking after a first baby demands huge changes in lifestyle; it's exhausting work and the lack of sleep doesn't help. It's also mentally draining, as you've been used to adult company, and now find that your days are devoid of conversation.

I find it sad that your husband is reacting the way he is - you could do with a little more understanding and care right now. I realise you are probably unable to see the people who could help you face-to-face, but I do hope you're in touch with caring relatives or friends - ideally through video or phone calls.

Make sure your husband realises (and soon) that this isn't just something you can control and snap out of - any more than you could control any other kind of health issue. We all now know - I hope - that saying (or even just implying) 'pull yourself together' just doesn't work and isn't helpful.

Having a baby can also cause hormonal changes that play havoc with your emotions, so please do contact your doctor and explain what you're going through. You may also like to contact the Association for Post-Natal Illness (apni.org), which could be a helpful source of support, as well as providing you with information that could help.

You could also contact Pandas - PND Awareness & Support (pandasfoundation.org.uk), which aims to ensure no parent, family or carer feels alone with post-natal depression.


Six months ago, I left home to live with my boyfriend. My parents were really angry about it - my father in particular, who said I shouldn't expect to just come home when it all fell down around my ears.

At the time, I didn't care - I thought I was in love - but soon realised I'd moved in with an aggressive, selfish person. He spends most of his time and money online and expects me to do all the cleaning and cooking. On top of that, he's furloughed and I'm still working. He's got a reasonable income, but still expects me to pay for all the flat's housekeeping bills with my own money.

He expects me to be available for sex on demand and when I refused last week, we had a furious fight and he threatened me. He didn't actually hit me, but he was so angry that he came close, and it left me frightened of what might happen next.

I want to move out but looking for a new home during lockdown really isn't easy - believe me, I've tried. Most people who might normally offer house-shares don't want anyone they don't know into their homes right now. I don't blame them - and to be honest, I'm really uncomfortable even looking.

I feel so hurt and let down by my boyfriend that I just want to get out now, but I have nowhere to go. If only I hadn't upset my parents so much, I'd love to move back in with them. But I'm sure my father won't even speak to me, let alone let me come home.

T. H.


You have acknowledged that you need to get away from this situation - and that is a really positive step. I know it's tricky right now, but you are living with a man you're frightened of and who has threatened you - please do get out now.

Once threats like this have been made, as far as I'm concerned, there is no going back. Aggression and violence have no place in a relationship - and it doesn't sound as if that's what you have anyway. You're more of an unloved, unpaid skivvy to this man, so it's definitely time to leave.

Where you go next is, of course, more tricky right now - but if there's nowhere else, put your things in storage and sleep on a friend's floor if you have to. Temporarily, you could move to a hostel, residential hotel, a holiday rental - anywhere to get you out and give you space to think, and safety. You might have to do some research in order to find a place, but there are some open. You are allowed to stay overnight away from your home if you a vulnerable person seeking refuge, or if escaping harm (including domestic abuse).

You say your father won't speak to you - but you're his daughter and I'm sure he cares about you. He was probably angry because he saw this man wasn't right for you, and couldn't stop you from what he thought was a mistake.

Have you tried talking to your parents? If you don't want to see them yet, phone them up and tell them they were right, and that you need support right now. It might be uncomfortable, and you might have to cope with some 'I told you so' attitude - but your safety and wellbeing really is the priority right now.

Remember there are organisations you can always contact for help, support and advice - such as Refuge (refuge.org.uk) and Women's Aid (womensaid.org.uk). It does not matter if you have experienced threats and verbal aggression and not physical violence - they will still be there for you, so please know you are not alone.

Finally, could this be your chance to make a completely new start? Your letter indicates that you have a job and a decent income, so what's stopping you? You could give yourself some time, away from the demands of parents and boyfriend, to find out exactly what you want out of life.


I am worried that our 13-year-old daughter is being turned, by her father, into the son we never had. All through this last year when she's been homeschooled, he's encouraged her to take part in all sorts of 'male' activities, like cricket, fishing, car repairs and even model-making.

That's fine, up to a point - but if I ask her for help in the house or try and interest her in things like cooking or sewing, she doesn't want to know.

I've asked her father to encourage her to do more feminine things, but he just laughed and said that if she's happy, it doesn't matter what she does.

I am worried that between them they are creating long-term problems.

M. H.


I'm sorry, but I'm with your partner here. He's obviously enjoyed involving her in things he enjoys himself and that's great - she's had an opportunity to bond with her dad in a way that would never normally have happened, without all of us having more time together at home due to lockdown.

Actually, she sounds a bit like me at the same age - my mother was a domestic science teacher - but I'm afraid I've always hated all things domestic, in spite of her encouragement.

Rather than just trying to get your daughter to sew and cook, why not encourage your husband to do give these a go too? He should be able to put a meal on the table, sew on his own buttons, replace a zip or mend a hole in his socks - so if he can't, maybe now is the time to teach him.

Please don't be so worried, people are a lot less concerned these days by stereotypical roles for males and females - happiness is far more important.

What concerns me more though is the underlying message I'm getting - that you might feel excluded. Are there no interests and activities all three of you could share together? You are a family, but at present you seem to be seeing everything in terms of 'them' and 'me'. You have the potential to get involved and create a very happy family unit, so please don't spoil it - talk to your partner.


For some time now, I've suffered from bad breath. My girlfriend, whom I only saw for face-to-face for a short while before we went into lockdown, doesn't realise how bad it is.

We will soon be able to travel to meet one another and I'm worried she's going to be horrified and unable to get close to me.

I have tried chewing mints and gum, but nothing helps. I've been aware for a while of excessive phlegm in my nose and throat; could this be the problem?

P. M.


Although occasional bad breath can be caused by eating something malodorous, this should soon pass. Long-term bad breath can be caused by other thins, such as infection or bacteria around the teeth, gums and throat, or issues with the stomach.

From what you've said, it does sound as though your problem may be a medical/dental one rather than a dietary one, so I suggest that see you doctor and/or dentist as soon as you can.

In the meantime, there are certainly stronger remedies than chewing gum and mints for disguising bad breath. You could try regular use of mouth wash and dental floss to remove bits of food from between your teeth.

I must stress though that these will not be able to deal with any infection you may have, so please do still go and see your doctor/dentist and find out the cause of the issue. They'll also be able to give you the appropriate advice on dealing with it.

If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to help@askfiona.net for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.