This post has been sitting in my drafts folder for over a year as I’ve been struggling to say exactly what I want to say without it being just like every other article on post-natal depression. Then I realised that the reason why so many of these articles are the same, is because so many women (and some men) have this experience in common. I wasn’t going to share it at all but I think its important to
I knew very quickly after coming home from the hospital that the way I was feeling wasn’t right. I’d read many articles on all stages of pregnancy and postpartum so I was on the lookout for everything including the baby blues. However, it wasn’t just baby blues for me. From early on I felt an overwhelming sense of dread at my new role as a mother.
I was lucky that I always felt a connection to Baby B. Many women who struggle with PND can also struggle with bonding. I loved B from the beginning. Not, as I have previously written, in a joyful happy lala way but all the same I loved him from the word go. The problem was that I hated being a mother. HATED it. I couldn’t bear the thought of what my life had become to the point where I couldn’t sleep. I would be awake for almost all of the night struggling to breathe with anxiety and a racing heart. I spent half the day crying and I just wanted to escape.
There wasn’t anything I could do to make myself feel better. My mum and Husband encouraged me to go for walks when it wasn’t too cold and although I went, I would just be wandering around the block feeling miserable and anxious. I was torn, on one hand I wanted to go home and be with my baby, on the other I couldn’t bear the thought of having to go back and care for him. They tried to help me by giving me opportunities to sleep but I would just lie there choked with despair. Sometimes I would have nightmares or terrible thoughts about bad things happening to myself and B. I would imagine us in car accidents or being attacked. I contemplated leaving my family. I couldn’t see how I could continue on the path I was on as a wife and mother.
I told myself I was being silly. I had so much help. If I could just relax and get some sleep, surely I could feel better. I kept hoping that this was just the baby blues, that one day I would wake up and be totally fine. The Husband was off work for 6 weeks and my mum was right there with me the whole time. Surely I had everything I needed to get through this. I wasn’t willing to leave things to chance though. The way I was feeling was too awful for me to allow myself to continue and struggle through if it wasn’t going to just get better. I knew I had to get help before things got out of control.
I had been assured by many that if I did feel this way it didn’t mean I was a bad mother. I’d been told how many other women experience the same feeling. The problem wasn’t that I felt guilty for being depressed. It was that I was questioning my own self. I wondered whether I was depressed at all. Was I just having the same tough time that every new mum has? Was I weaker than everyone else? These were some of the worst thoughts.
A very dear friend of mine who knew of my struggles invited us to visit her and her family at their farm for the weekend. I was terrified but had always enjoyed my visits out there so I thought this might cheer me up and make me feel a little bit more normal. The visit went well logistically but the big takeaway was something that my friend said to me. I was pouring out all my sorrow to her and said something along the lines of, ‘but what if I’m not depressed, what if I’ve just realised I’m not meant to be a mother and now I’m stuck in this situation and I’ll never be happy again’. She looked at me and said ‘I don’t think that’s true. This doesn’t sound like you at all. You have always wanted to be a mum since I’ve known you, no there is something wrong and you are doing the right thing getting help.’That made all the difference to me.
I read through all of the pamphlets I’d been given and called all the helplines. I engaged with the counsellor I’d been seeing when I was pregnant and enrolled in the program at PANDSI, the Canberra post-natal depression support organisation. I mentioned in my breastfeeding story that we went to the QEII hospital in Canberra for my feeding problems when B was about 7 weeks old. I think the issues we were having were very strongly linked to the way I was feeling. Things definitely came to a head for me during our stay there and my GP and psychologist advised me that they thought I’d benefit from medication.
I’d always had a fear of ever needing to go on anti-depressants and couldn’t imagine a pill being able to help. My family felt that the decision was up to me but they wanted me to try more non-medical means first. The problem with that was that I had no motivation to try exercise or group support. I was struggling just to get through the day without melting down. I didn’t want to ‘tough it out’ or martyr myself. I didn’t want to just try – B and I aren’t an experiment to ‘see how it goes’.
With those sentiments in mind I started taking the medication. I have to say the concept scared me. There isn’t much understanding out there and there should be more but really it was the right decision for me and I’m very glad I did it.
Slowly I saw an improvement. Around this time I went to stay with my parents in Melbourne and spent a lot of time with my sister and her baby who is about 4 weeks younger than B. To my surprise I found that I felt like I was able to give her some support. We went for walks together and ventured out to cafes with the babies in their prams. I couldn’t believe that I, who hated being a mother, had the ability to support and advise another mother. It was a really comforting feeling.
By the time I got back to Canberra I was finally at a stage where I could take care of B by myself during the day while the Husband was at work. This was a huge milestone for me.
The week I got home, I started attending a support group at PANDSI. This was really good too. I was able to just be totally honest about how I felt and know that I wasn’t alone. I didn’t have to sugar coat anything or leave out details so I’d sound like things were going better than they were.
I went for long walks in the afternoon and listened to music while B napped in the pram. I went for long drives and organised coffee catch-ups with other new mums. I went to the shops and bought some new ‘active wear’ to make me feel better on my walks. I discovered I could watch movies while B napped on the boob and that way I started to enjoy the marathon feeding sessions.
Succeeding with breastfeeding was also a big win for me. One of the reasons I persisted so hard with it was that I didn’t want to add the rigmarole of formula feeding (bottles, sterilisers, formula etc) to the pressure I was already under. My logic was that if I just put the pressure on now to get the breastfeeding right, it’d be one less thing to worry about later.
Somehow over the months I reached a point where I felt pretty normal. As close to normal as you can possibly feel when your life has completely changed. Now I feel like I might even be good at this mothering thing. Being a mama to my baby is just about the most wonderful thing in the world and B is the happiest sweetest little boy I could imagine. He’s crazy full-on but we get each other – I know his language and we rub along quite well. He’s wondrously healthy and he’s always smiling – I must be doing something right.
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