Postnatal depression. It happened quickly and unexpectedly.
- Thank you Beth for sharing your journey so far. x
"My pregnancy had been relatively uneventful and I considered myself lucky to have gone into natural labour - albeit a week overdue (which feels like 74 years when you are 41 weeks pregnant). But the labour was quick, too quick. It’s difficult to express to people how frightening a fast labour is because people assume that that is the ultimate goal and somehow avoiding a long, arduous labour is an achievement. A fast labour, or precipitate labour, is a labour that lasts less than three hours. Mine was 2 hours and 15 minutes. The contractions came on thick and fast, and my beautiful daughter was born en-caul at 5:43pm on the 31st of July 2018 in the Family Birth Centre with my husband and amazing midwives who had cared for me for the last six months. After a brief medical intervention she was placed on my chest; I wasn’t filled with overwhelming love, I wasn’t in awe of my body or my little baby. I felt relief and fear. I felt relief that the pregnancy was over but fear that this journey was only just beginning.
I vividly remember my first night in hospital. I had experienced a post-partum haemorrhage and my daughter had ingested meconium, so it was suggested we stay overnight. As I sat there, in the middle of the night, very much alone (as we had been admitted to the main ward of the hospital) I stared at my baby and was filled with terror. I instantly had the thought of ‘I’ve made the biggest mistake of my life’. I had always wanted to be a Mum, for as long as I could remember. My whole pregnancy had been filled with excited anticipation and preparation, I just couldn’t wait for the day to hold her in my arms. But in that moment, and in the days, weeks and months proceeding this, I did not want to be a mother.
The days following Tilly’s birth are a blur. An anxiety riddled and sleep deprived blur. I cried. A lot. I googled. A lot. I sat there thinking that women must be insane to want to do this AND to go back for more children. I never switched off, I couldn’t sleep. I became hypervigilant to any noise and any need of my new baby. My amazing husband was by my side the entire time, and I survived the first ten days because of him. We left the house after a few days and I was crippled with nerves. I had constant thoughts of wanting to run away and end my life which were quickly overridden with waves of guilt and shame. So much guilt, because I had wanted this baby so badly, and shame because I was meant to be coping. Everyone else did.
I remember describing to my midwife during a phone call about 5 days post-partum that I was experiencing relentless flashbacks to my labour. Not memories that I looked backed on fondly, but flashbacks of a very traumatic event. I also briefly mentioned that I was only sleeping 30-60 minutes in a 24 hour period, something I didn’t realise was so abnormal (although, I did wonder how on earth any mother EVER survived this phase). Thank goodness these two statements rang warning bells for my midwife and she put in a referral to the hospital’s psychology department.
In the days following that referral, I went to an outpatient appointment to see a psychologist and then found myself as an inpatient at the Mother Baby Unit under the care of a Perinatal Psychiatrist at only ten days post partum. I remember being filled with fear when I arrived; as an intensive care nurse, being on the other side of the healthcare system as a patient was terrifying. I felt so out of control and vulnerable. But I also felt a sense of relief that somebody else was going to help me.
That admission was two weeks and I remember very little. I was medicated to help me sleep, I was commenced on antidepressants and I went through the motions of caring for my baby. Getting 6-8 hours of sleep in a night after surviving on that same number of hours over ten days was life changing. I felt like the darkness was lifting and there were a few moments of joy and happiness between the clouds. After discharge I was optimistic that things would improve and I’d embrace the new role I found myself in. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case.
Tilly was equal parts pure delight and demanding. Nothing came easily, though; sleep, feeding, settling, weight gain. But she smiled so often and loved being out and about so my husband and I charged on. As time progressed I didn’t find it getting easier. Lots of people would say to me ‘this too shall pass’ but I felt like I was barely surviving a day. I felt like screaming at them ‘WHEN WILL IT PASS?’. When would it get easier? When would I start to enjoy my baby?
My second admission to the MBU came when Tilly was four months old. I wasn’t coping with her hourly wake-ups overnight and relentless catnapping during the day. A phase a lot of mums can relate to, I’m sure. One specific night when my mental health took a dramatic turn for the worst was when my husband was out with a friend visiting from Sydney. I had been so happy for him to go out and enjoy some time with his mates, we’d both been living in the trenches and embracing a sense of normalcy felt like the right thing to do. That evening I had struggled to settle Tilly and after what felt like an eternity of rocking, feeding and sh-ing she finally feel asleep. For 20 minutes. In that moment I broke. Whatever had been holding me together for the past three months no longer did. In that moment I made specific and detailed plans to end my life. I don’t know what stopped me but I called my sister and she was knocking at my door and by my side within minutes. I was readmitted that week.
That admission saved my life. My medications were changed, I accepted my diagnosis of postnatal depression and I embarked on the journey of rediscovering what it meant for ME to be a mother. I remember a nurse telling me on the day of discharge, after I fearfully declared that I still didn’t love my baby after four months, that love is not always instantaneous, it can grow over time and there would come a time when imagining my world without Tilly would be impossible.
I don’t believe in the sentiment that things get easier when parenting. Every stage has its challenges, but I do believe that when you are mentally struggling everything is a lot harder. Every day can feel like your wading through mud just to get to the end of the day. You lose hope that challenges will pass and you are robbed of your ability to feel joy.
What I learnt from Tilly was that I needed to be adaptable. You can control very little with a baby and things change so quickly. ‘Going with the flow’ was a skill I needed to develop - something I’d never embraced in my life, except for the time when I went travelling in a van across the US when I was young and child-free. Not quite the same thing as raising a tiny human. Babies, toddlers, children are constantly evolving and as mothers we are too. Embracing and adapting to change is part of the journey.
I also learnt how important it is to surround yourself with people who love and support you. During my pregnancy and postpartum journey with my second child, I built a safety net and the most supportive network. An obstetrician, psychiatrist, a psychologist, health professionals, a family and a beautiful group of friends. I certainly had my struggles with my mental health during that perinatal period but I had people to help pick me back up. I also had the wisdom of experience and could embrace the sentiment that ‘this too shall pass’.
My advice to new mums, or any mum that is struggling, (without sounding too preachy) is to afford yourself the same amount of kindness you would give a friend in the same situation. Self compassion is such an important skill to develop, and something I struggle with still go this day (as my psychologist would agree!) but showing ourselves understanding, warmth, forgiveness and love makes the challenging journey of motherhood a little brighter. "