Let me start by saying I was one of those annoying women that absolutely loved every aspect of being pregnant. Yes I was heavily pregnant over Summer, yes it was hot. Yes my body was changing & I was carrying extra weight, but I had never been more comfortable in my own skin. Despite the effort it took to get pregnant, my pregnancy was quite straight forward & the weeks seemed to be flying by.
I was 6 months when I found out my sister was also expecting her first. I cried tears of joy. We got to share this experience together. Our children could grow up best friends, just like we were. By the time she gave birth, my baby would be 5 months & I would be able to support her in the same way she has always been there for me.
I finished work less than 2 weeks before my schedule C-section. I filled my days with appointments – hair, waxing, a relaxing facial, a visit to the dentist, catch ups with friends, personal training & gym sessions. The day before I cleaned the house like Id never cleaned before. Id packed & repacked my bag about 5 times. When I had nothing left to do, I decided to take my car through the car wash & vacumn the inside. There was nothing left to do. I was super prepared & I was ready to meet my child. The precious little bundle that had been tucked away inside me for 9 months.
But I was NOT prepared for the emotional journey the next 6 months would bring. Our little girl was delivered. I noticed her full head of hair & how tiny she was. She was perfectly healthy, yet they put her on my chest & I felt nothing. They took me into recovery & tried to get her to latch. She felt foreign & I just wished they would take her away. They wheeled me back to my room & whilst we passed the maternity ward reception all the ladies cheered with excitement. On the inside, I was screaming “calm your shit people, Im the one who had the baby & Im not thrilled”. I blamed it on the drugs & the fact that I hadn’t had my morning cup of tea.
The next 5 days in hospital were a blur. People came & went, all very excited to spend time with this new little baby. But then, people left & it was just me & my baby & I would cry. The midwives would walk in & ask what was wrong but I didn’t know what to say. Breastfeeding was uncomfortable & this child felt foreign. I blamed it on the “baby blues”.
We took our baby home to the perfect little nursery we had prepared for her. My husband had taken the month off work & we just fumbled through each day as best as we could. I tried to get out walking. I hated being in the house. The fresh air would do me good. There remained to be a steady flow of visitors bearing gifts in exchange for cuddles with our girl. I answered their questions, perhaps not truthfully. I was exhausted. At night, when it was just me & her I was petrified to put her onto the breast. So I expressed her feed. Something didn’t feel right. I blamed it on sleep deprivation.
From a couple of months our baby was sleeping through the night. Yes Im one of those annoying mums whose babies sleep at night. “Wow, your so lucky!” Yet, I didn’t feel lucky. My baby was unsettled & needy during the day, I still struggled with feeding & now the doctors were concerned about her slow growth. I was now expressing more than half of her feeds because breastfeeding felt awkward, besides she didn’t latch well (that’s what I was telling myself). My days were now fully consumed with this little being. I was loosing my own sense of self. I was angry that my husband could walk out the door at 8.15am & return after 6pm, & then go to the gym for a couple of hours, whilst I struggled to grab 5mins to myself to have a shower. I was referred to Raphael House who specialise in treating mental health pre & post pregnancy. I was told about “adjustment disorder”. Ok. Great. It had a name. I was mourning for my past life as an independent woman & struggling to adjust to my new role as a mother.
My life had become somewhat chaotic. Days were a blur. My husband suggested I look for a nanny & return to work for a couple of days a week. Yes! This is what I needed. I hired a fantastic “Nanny” & off I went to work 10hrs a week. It was fantastic to leave the house alone & pick up a coffee on the way to work. For the next 5hrs, my child was not my problem. On my return to work however, I noticed that (despite being on 6 motilliums a day) my milk supply was deminishing. So within a couple of weeks, I decided to give up. She was already on 50% formula as I always struggled with my supply so it was easy to switch to full formula feeds. For 24hrs I felt a sense of relief. My struggle with breastfeeding was finally over. I had given it my all for 5 long months. Good effort, right? So why, after 24hrs did I start to feel anger, disappointment, frustration that what is regarded as being the most natural thing for mother & baby just didn’t work for me. My child was perfect (so everyone kept telling me). She was happy & healthy. I just had to look at her to know I had done a great job, right?
If it was that easy, why was I falling into a big dark hole where the light was getting smaller & smaller. I couldn’t think clearly. I couldn’t make decisions.
My sisters baby was born, another little girl. After her husband returned to work, I packed my bags to head down to Melbourne to spend some time with her, just like she had for me. Yet all I could think of was that she seemed so in control whist on the inside I was falling apart. I felt I couldn’t do anything to help her, so I bought her meals (not home cooked meals though, I couldn’t do that!). After having dinner & indulging in an episode of The Bachelor, I put my baby in her capsule & set about the 40min drive to mum’s house where we would stay the night. Little did I know this was going to be the darkest 40mins of my life. As I was driving, I had tears running down my face. Id had enough. This was not the life I had envisioned, nor was it the happy story everyone around me thought I was living. I was exhausted & I didn’t want to be a mother anymore. In fact Im not sure I wanted to be anything – a wife, a sister, a daughter, a friend, a business owner. I don’t know how it had come to this but I just wanted to end it all. As I drove, I thought about driving off the road. But I didn’t want to hurt my baby. So I thought if Id driven past a police station or a hospital, a safe haven, Id take her in & drive away. But there was nowhere along the way. So I made it to mums, dumped my baby on her & went to have a shower as I hadn’t showered for 48hrs.
The next day I didn’t drop in on my sister as planned, I returned to Ballarat as my therapist must of known something was up & had squeezed me in with the Psychiatrist at Raphael House. Again as I drove, I couldn’t shake the thoughts in my head & by the time I walked into the consulting room with my baby, I was an absolute mess. I don’t remember much about the next couple of hours, except clutching at my baby petrified someone was going to come & take her away because I was a bad mother. My husband had been called in & it was decided that I needed to be admitted to North Park hospital in Melbourne for severe post natal depression.
I was next in line for a bed & it was 7 long days before I was admitted (with my baby). I knew my husband didn’t want me to go – partly because it was inconveniencing our family & partly because he didn’t think I was that bad. Was I that bad? Heaps of women have had babies & survived. Why was it so hard for me? I worried about having to tell people. Our fantastic Nanny who had only just started with us, what would she think? My sister who had a 3 week old. Surely she needed me more than anything right now. Id just returned to work, yet now I was disappearing again.
The first 48hrs were scary. What was I doing here? It was like a prison. There were 4 of us admitted within 48hrs of each other & no one talked. But then I found a sense of calm. The days were full on. Lots of group therapy sessions & one on one sessions with my psychiatrist. My medication was changed & as time went by the other ladies opened up. I was not alone. I was not a bad mum. I wasn’t going crazy. I had post natal depression & I was not ashamed. I was getting help & determined to kick this horrible disease.
2 week later I felt ready to return home. To start a new chapter with my little family, a slower pace, less chaotic. My husband commented one night that he couldn’t believe the change in me & he admitted that whilst he didn’t think it at the time, hospital really was the best step for me. I will never forget the day I fell in love with my girl. It was the 12th of September. We went down to Geelong & were having lunch along the esplanade. Here was my girl, eating her sandwich, covered in Vegemite & my heart melted. I was so in love & couldn’t imagine my life without her.
As each day goes by, I’m able to let go of the pain & sadness that surrounded me for the first 6mths of my daughters life & instead embrace my new role as a mother. Yes I still have bad moments, don’t we all. I still head along to my appointments at Raphael House. I still take my medication. I have post natal depression & whilst society is becoming more aware about mental health, so many people still suffer behind closed doors. For me, writing my story helps me to heal & move on. But I also want people to know that they are not alone, there is help out there & there is light at the end of the tunnel.
PANDA CEO Terri Smith said ““Up to 1 in 7 women and 1 in 10 men will experience postnatal depression, but perinatal depression isn’t as black and white as this. Depression is also often experienced during pregnancy and anxiety is equally common both during pregnancy and after birth. In short, there are many shades of grey experienced during this volatile period as there are as many different presentations as there are people, with symptoms of anxiety being just one of them.”
“There’s a range of challenges on the pathway to parenthood and it can often be hard to make sense of what’s happening and how you feel about it. Many parents feel overwhelmed, isolated and ashamed for feeling this way and need to know that these thoughts are common and that help is available.”
This PNDA Awareness Week, PANDA encourages all Australians to become aware of the signs and symptoms of perinatal anxiety and depression, and encourages new parents to reach out for support if they are struggling. PANDA’s free National Helpline offers counseling, information and referral services with ongoing telephone support for families throughout Australia.
This year, PANDA are also encouraging parents to speak openly and honestly with each other during PNDA Awareness Week through our Lunch Out Loud initiative, which encourages friends and workmates to get together for a positive and honest conversation about parenthood over lunch – wherever that may be!
Other ways to support PNDA Awareness Week:
- Join the Conversation at #bePNDAaware
- Post a black and white picture to Instagram or facebook to spread the word that perinatal mental illness isn’t all black and white #bePNDAaware #itsnotallBandW
- Make a donation www.panda.org.au
- Follow PANDA facebook page to be kept up to date.