Post Natal Depression. Did it happen to me?
Exhaustion! Self doubt! Fears! Tears! A feeling of complete failure!
Fears something may happen to my babies. Fears that the action I take will scar them for life and they will be broken for their future ever more. Picking them up too much. Letting them cry. At all! Every little decision! Because I got it wrong! Anger! Frustration! Exhaustion!
I JUST NEED HELP!! But I will not ask for it. How can I ask for it? Everyone else is coping. I am a stay at home mum. My ONE job is to look after my children. It is as natural as life itself. How can I be failing at this? I cannot let on. I can do this. I will do this…..
CRYING!!! Oh my God there is SO MUCH CRYING! I am holding my baby. I am feeding her. I love her. I know that I love her. I hold her every day and afternoon and night. I am neglecting my toddler. I am feeling SO GUILTY about this. My baby carrier is my lifesaver. NOTHING would be achieved otherwise. She is well and fed and clean and warm and cuddled. WHY WON’T SHE STOP CRYING??
I love her, but she won’t stop crying. I am numb. If I am not numb, I am sad, or mad or frustrated. So numb is a good place to be, right? What am I doing wrong? Why can’t I help her? Or me?
My brother-in-law is home. Thank God! “How can you help?” Just take the baby. Or cook dinner. There is no way it’ll be ready before nine tonight if you don’t take her. She has been crying for hours. I can’t cook dinner holding her. Pleeease.
He took the baby. Thank God! Relief. I can move freely and do something. I cannot believe that I cannot even handle cooking dinner. Or handle my own baby. Everyone else manages… Look at that. She is calming down. She is crying less. He still must walk her, but she isn’t crying. Terrific! My 18yro brother-in-law with zero experience can settle my baby. I, a second-time mum, HER mum, cannot manage this small task. I fucking SUCK! But yay. She is calming. He is playing with my toddler. He is coping for me. Now I feel like crying. I need help. I cannot admit it. I am grateful. I am frustrated. I am resentful. I am exhausted. I am sad.
The first months of my second daughters’ life was HARD! It was so hard. She cried. A LOT! I cried. A LOT! My toddler was required to grow up so much to support me. Her rare gift of empathy and natural need to mother and help were a blessing to us both.
From the very beginning, the differences between my two pregnancies, and that first year were profound. I did not admit to anything at the time, but in hindsight I look back and shake my head at my own blind ignorance. My stubborn determination to juggle more than my capability and 'prove'...what exactly? It had a massive impact on my head space. The clarity of hindsight is a fabulous thing, isn't it!
My first pregnancy, I was surrounded by a team of amazing, supportive women in my fabulous workplace. My body was a temple to nurture life. I did not ache.
Second time around, I was working part time. TWO jobs. Studying part time. Caring for my toddler. My family. I ached. From four months in I ached. In my groin. My hips. The backs of both legs. All the way down to my ankles. I was exhausted. I had no real connection with anyone in my new job. I was just a breeze in and out casual. I felt alone. I felt dizzy in the whirlwind of dropping my bub off to family day-care, racing to work or college, and racing home to pick her up and be her mum again. And genuinely feeling guilty that I was not managing to keep up with life. WTF?! Who puts that kind of pressure on themselves?
My first labour was almost textbook. So lucky. My second, my daughter came early. Almost 6 weeks early! She was not breathing when she was born. I vaguely remember watching the scene as if I was outside of it. Breath held, but disconnected. I don’t really remember any specific feeling. I’m not sure that I comprehended completely. I struggle to remember much, and it was only a conversation with my partner about a year ago (she is four now) that we both became aware of how little I did remember. Or comprehend. I think my mind was protecting me.
She was an amazing little bundle of strength. They got her breathing and took her straight to NICU. I only got to glance at her from a distance. And then I did not see her until the morning. They assured us she was ok. At least I think that’s what happened. In the morning, she was tangled in tubes, but breathing on her own. She was so tiny and fragile, yet powerfully strong. And so began the ultimate challenge. Get her feeding and gaining weight so we could bring her home. She was just too little and too tired to feed every day. We were up and down for 5 days. Day on, day off with her having enough energy to feed from me. In between, I expressed, and she was tube fed.
“Tiny finger, tiny toes,
Tiny tummy, tiny nose
Sleep now so you can feed and grow
Then we get to take you home”
I was sent home at night, and came back first thing every morning. I barely saw my 2yro. Poor thing had to come in and sit quietly. She followed around with Dad as he juggled- drop offs, visits, work (his own business was not yet ready for him to have time off. We hadn’t planned for this for a few weeks). She had no name for 6 days. By the 6th, she was named, had established feeding, gained weight, and convinced the Dr’s she was strong enough to come home. What a little champion.
We came home to a wave of visitors and house guests. Guests who were supposed to have come and gone before she was born. I am grateful they were there to help. She was so fragile, and my toddler had oodles of people around her to give her the attention and play she deserved. All seemed to be going well considering our crazy start. I simply felt grateful after witnessing how difficult and heart wrenching it can be for some families. Their bubs so premmie, so tiny. Some are in that ward for months! My eyes had been opened. I felt lucky and capable. I did not feel like I had any reason to say I felt under pressure in my life. Simply lucky we were all home together.
All the house guests left, and we were left to settle into the new dynamics of our family. The next big chapter! We settled into our own little routine of sorts. Life was calming down. She was almost 3 weeks old, and the same brother in law was walking up the drive to visit. He was not yet living with us. I remember having a crazy freak out because the house was messy, and I was dishevelled. It was incredibly important to me to not be seen as not coping. I felt a wave of anger at being caught out. I needed to be seen as coping. I shook it off and swallowed my feelings and put on a smile to say hello. He walked in the door. My eyes welled, and I began to stream tears down my face. What a complete failure. (Because I’m sure that’s what an 18 year old boy was thinking). That was the first time I remember feeling a complete and utter overwhelming loss. A heavy shadow over something so simple. Feeling caught out as if he were going to announce it to the world.
“Hear ye, hear ye; Let it be known that Sharon is a complete failure as a mother, a ‘housewife, a person in general!”
I knew deep down that of course he was not going to announce to the world, or anyone of my failings. (He probably did not even see any failings) Because in fact, I was not failing. I was struggling as every mum struggles. With a new born. A toddler. A week of separation of nights from her baby. A week of separation of days from her toddler. Return trips to the hospital. Exhaustion and bottled up fear and establishing feeding and expressing milk and hosting and smiling and gratitude and hand washing in hospital soap that literally BURNS your skin off when you apply it 100 times a day to keep your baby ‘sterile’....breeeeathe…...
We moved house, too, when she was 7 weeks old. My brother in law moved in then too. She cried. Relentlessly. I felt like a protective mamma bear, always having to defend her ‘behaviour’ to others. ALL others. Whether they made comment or not. I could FEEL them judging. I don’t know if I was defending her, or my failing abilities as a mum, or both of us?
In hindsight, I realise she probably suffered colic. Un-diagnosed.
“a frustrating condition marked by predictable periods of significant distress in an otherwise well-fed, healthy baby. Babies with colic often cry more than three hours a day, three days a week for three weeks or longer. Nothing you do to try to help your baby during these episodes seems to bring any relief.” – the Mayo Clinic
In hindsight, I possibly suffered postnatal depression. Un-diagnosed. Not the never leave your house kind. Fortunately, not so extreme that I had harmful thoughts about myself or my children. I cannot imagine what it is like for those poor brave mamma’s. But I lived too often in a place of self-doubt, failure, loathing, frustration and anger. A heavy dark cloud for such a long time. Months?! I really couldn't tell you how long. Most of it is a foggy memory.
There was a constant lump in my throat questioning my own capabilities, fearful of others thoughts of me. Anxiety. ALL the time. Fearful each mistake now would scar my kids emotionally for life. I am no expert and I never spoke to anyone, so I do not know if I really suffered PND. But I know I was in a dark place and should have asked for help.
But I was too 'strong' (stubborn) to admit anything was wrong with me. Instead, I stayed upstairs, parenting, whilst my partner worked his butt off in his business, keeping us afloat on a single income. He worked out and about long, physically and mentally demanding hours. And then got home and spent more hours downstairs in the office. Afternoons and nights, trying to juggle his massive work load, his role as dad, and support to his partner who greeted him with a flat hello. No excitement, or interest or passion. And then he went back to work downstairs. I wanted to understand. My logical brain understood. Beneath the logic I secretly seethed. Resented. Felt lost and alone. Bottled it in. I lay on the couch after the bubs were in bed and stared at crap on t.v. Became addicted to crappy shows that took me out of my reality. I became addicted to Facebook.
A couple of days a week I bundled up my girls and drove, bubba screaming all the way (FOR FIVE MONTHS) to my ‘Village Mamma’ catch ups. I attempted to bubble out full of effervescent energy and excitement about plans for the future and life in the present. No, I think in those catch ups, I really did feel all those positive things. I was surrounded by love and support. They 'got me'. Those girls will be some of my most important peeps for life. They saved me. I felt better in their presence. I fed off their positive energy. And then I went home and fell flat and exhausted. I led two lives. Normal happy mum around my village tribe, and a complete struggle all the rest of the time. But I don’t even know that I realised it at the time. It was just my norm.
When she was 15 months, I trained to teach Infant Massage. The first thing our trainer said was “whether you choose to teach this program or not in the future, these next four days will change your understanding and how you relate to babies forever” (or something close to those words). I will add, it changes how you relate to mammas and their needs too. She was so right. I cried more than once over those four days. I was not alone. I just kept thinking “If only I had known that this had existed for us when she was little. Maybe it could have all been different?” Here is a program that helps parents really understand their baby’s language. Their cues and cries. That explains colic, and gives you tools to help both your baby and yourself. Tools to calm, to ease aches, to release wind, to improve sleep, to simply settle! A program that connects on a deeper level. Connects you with your baby, and with other parents who are there in their own raw honesty. No judgements. It welcomes questions and doubt, and supports and encourages the basic concept of just being in that moment with your baby. No excuses. No defending. No faults. No failings. Just moments in life to be embraced. "If only I had known". And so I made it my promise to bring this knowledge to other parents. This was an incredibly healing turning point for me.
Did it happen to me? Did I suffer PND? Or was I just exhausted? I am uncertain. I know I lived in an on/off state of overwhelm and self-doubt, exhaustion, frustration and anger. More on than off. A tornado of negative emotions and thoughts. Don’t even ask me at what. It made me a shitty partner at times. I always knew without doubt that I loved my babies. And simultaneously I felt numb at times. Simply getting through the day one step at a time. I was ashamed and embarrassed to admit any of it. I believe that I was a good mum, most of the time. My only goal was to be a good mum, and I functioned every day to do that.
We had a lot of beautiful days. More than not, I think. I know. I also know I have always and will always feel blessed and love my time with my girls. Grateful my partner worked so damn hard to make it possible for me to stay home with them. I look back at photos to add to this blog, and realise there were few with me in them, because I was always behind the camera. I obsessively took photos to 'capture memories'. Thousands, like I clawed desperately to remember every precious moment. I am so grateful that I did, so that I know that our reality was so much better for my girls than my memory alone would allow me to believe. My head space was not consistent with our reality. There were so many smiles and cuddles and memories. So much love.
Every bit of energy I had went into my girls, and I had so little energy. I guess that is why I was a shitty partner at times. I had nothing positive left to even think of wanting to give anything to my partner. And there were times he made me furious. Lucky for me he’s a good egg, and stood by doing the best he could to support me, loving me, despite my resistance against, well, everything. We have both made our mistakes. We have had our share of arguing. Because we are a couple and human and have faced challenges as all parents and all couples do. But in the end, we are here, together, and more open and honest and stronger than we have ever been before. We are lucky.
Over these last two years as I have confronted my feelings and memories and head space, for me, I seem to have lived a dual life. There were so many happy memories. Thousands of moments, snapped in time. But through it all, there was clearly this underlying heaviness that dominated my heart. I have found myself saying to people over the last two years "I think I may have suffered PND?" As if I needed an answer to ease the guilt of how I have felt. Perhaps this is why I am openly sharing my story to anyone who stumble over it now. Confession in hope of releasing all those residual negative feelings. I feel them sitting on my chest all heavy and nauseous even now as I openly try to unscramble my thoughts.
It is a scary thing to put it all in writing. Share it with...whoever. To admit my darkest feelings about what should be my happiest times. Terrified if my daughter ever read this she might think I loved her less. This is not true in any way of course. My love for both my girls is so powerful. It is both separate and simultaneously tangled around my basket case of emotions. There is no less love. There were just more challenges thrown up along the way from an internal storm of which I had no more control over than the storm brewing outside as I write this all out.
Perinatal Depression (PND) & Anxiety Awareness Week, 2017 is about sharing stories. “It Happened To Me” is the theme. I don’t know that I suffered PND, yet I felt compelled to share my story with you. Something of a confession. A confession of doing nothing wrong, but still feeling guilty about it. Shitty about me. So wrong deep inside, but so unwilling to let on to ANYONE that I was anything but peachy. This week is about raising awareness. Reducing the stigma. Supporting those in need. The obvious, and the silent sufferers, so brilliant at hiding their struggles. Encouraging them to know IT IS OKAY if your reality is not as perfect as everybody elses’ perfect front. Because beneath that, most of us struggle. Some more than others. But unless you are willing to trust, and ask for help, it is so hard for anyone to help you. Collectively we are here to support each other and ourselves. Because we all deserve that and more. We all deserve happiness.
If you, or someone you know is finding their parenting journey overwhelming, too hard, too much, please, talk to someone. Talk to your friends, your partner, your mum. Ask for help. Take time to fill your cup. If you don't feel comfortable, or you feel afraid or ashamed to admit your thoughts or feelings to someone you know and love, (who are always there support you), there are people out there for you to talk to.
Peach Tree Perinatal Wellness, is a fabulous non-profit organisation based in North Brisbane that are there specifically to support mums in need. And they will get you, because they have been there, recovered, bounced back stronger and are there to share their strength. "We know how hard it is for mothers to admit they are struggling"
PANDA is the non-profit organisation responsible for establishing Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Awareness Week. They have a national Helpline, so you can speak with someone, loads and loads of support information on their website, and can help you find someone near you to help you (if they are not near you).
I am not an expert in Mental Health, but I am here to support mums (and dads) in their parenting journey in my own small way. I offer massage, including pregnancy and post-partum to help you through each trimester, including your precious fourth, to support you physically. Regular massage has also been shown to help ease feelings of anxiety and depression in some people. Please don't forget that Dad's can suffer too, and I am here to support your whole family. It is important to fill your cup.
I also teach Infant Massage to parents to help you develop better understanding and connection with your baby, but hopefully also with yourself in this new chapter of life, and with other parents sharing this special time. Because I truly believe that we are all stronger when we find and connect with our tribe.
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