I thought my soul was dying a very slow painful death but then I realised that my soul will live on long after my body dies. It was my spirit dying, my sense of self, my individuality, the essence of me. I didn’t even need to be a person anymore, or at least a person with a personality, individuality, likes/dislikes etc. I just needed to be a mother and look after my children, tend to all of their physical & emotional needs. Sterilise and make the bottles (how dare I not breast feed??!!), change their nappies, make sure they are burped, bathed, have clean clothes etc. I just wish someone could have given me some advance warning that I would feel like this. As if those stupid classes at the hospital are not bad enough. You spend two sessions talking about pain relief during childbirth, who cares??!!. Childbirth will last anywhere between 4 hours (if you’re lucky) and maybe 24 (if you’re really unlucky) and then you just have this baby, or in my case, babies thrown at you (and a midwife on either side milking you whilst you are still in recovery. Thank god for morphine and the feel good hormone rush I had after birth). Do they not think at the hospital antenatal classes that they should speak to you about how to put nappies on, what to do if you have a colicky baby, what is silent reflux, how to make up a bottle of formula and how about warning your partners that regardless of the type of birth you have, they are not going to be allowed down there for a very very long time. Society doesn’t prepare new mothers for motherhood. Pick up any magazine with a spread of a celebrity who has just had a baby and in the place of one very sleep deprived and stressed out mother and maybe even a father, a messy house, feeding paraphernalia, dirty washing, dummies strewn across the house, what you actually find in its place is a beautiful woman who has been professionally styled, hair and makeup professionally done, beautifully tidy house and two adults who just absolutely love being parents and telling you how magical each day has been and they are just more in love than ever. No mention of sleepless nights, cracked and bleeding nipples, the screaming fights you and your husband seem to keep having, the pressure that families can put on you to visit, the very heavy period you are having and many other gory things that can and do happen after childbirth. I’m calling great big fat bullshit. That is not what it is like at all, but how would you know this until you find yourself in this situation and feel like a complete and utter failure because you are not overcome with joy with your new role in life.
It was when I became a mother I discovered I am a neurotic control freak and my anxiety levels shared a very close negative correlation with sleep. The less sleep I got, the higher the anxiety levels. It was like being so frightened and stressed whilst being so focused that I had to be scoring 100% in my mothering skills all the time. Anything less would be letting my children down. How would they turn out in later life if I didn’t tend to them the minute they cried. How could they learn to trust me?. What about if I paid more attention to one twin than the other, would the other have issues with this in later life and feel inadequate? The thoughts that go through the post natal mind, they might not seem silly to some but to me these were very real fears and I worried about them constantly. I then started worrying that they would know I was having these abnormal thoughts and it was not their burden to carry and I would never want it to be, ever. It is my responsibility as the adult to act accordingly in the situation This is why I internalise the struggle. I felt so ripped off for my kids that they had landed such a crap mum.
Given all of the above I still wasn’t prepared for the death of myself though, I don’t think anything can prepare you for that. Not long after bringing the babies home I was in bed and in quite a bit of pain from my surgical birth and bleeding quite heavily, very emotionally distressed, but it didn’t matter, I could have a broken leg and that wouldn’t matter either. I am now a mother and have people dependant on me and the emotional ties and guilt would see me always putting them first, that’s just the way it is regardless of how unwell you are, how tired etc you don’t matter anymore and nobody cares!
Looking back I think my Post Natal Depression started quite early in the piece. Once day 5 post birth arrived I was never the same, I had been warned about the ‘baby blues’ but this was so much more than that. The baby blues is pretty terrible. I remember I would just sit and sob for absolutely no reason other than the heaviest sadness weighing me down. I’m sure that was the hormonal surges, milk coming in, hormonal drops etc. but it was more than that for me. It lasted longer than two weeks and my own thoughts would torment me constantly. I learned so much about myself when I became a mother, firstly I had a pretty big problem with anxiety. Prior to having children, I just thought it was a personality trait and I was one of those very wound up people, my father is very similar so we all just assumed that I had inherited this from him. It was usual for me to be in a heightened state of arousal and I jnever really thought too much about it. Luckily I had Private Health Insurance and I booked myself and the babies into a ‘sleep school’ which also doubled as a very ‘soft’ Psych ward for middle class women. I was diagnosed with PND within hours of arriving at the facility and I think everyone just felt so sorry for me because I was so scared and I was so tired. They took the babies the first night and let me sleep all night and I felt horrid the next day. I felt worse than I had felt over the last 6 weeks. I was still recovering from the birth and it would take more than one night of sleep to make me feel better. I was so incredibly blessed to have my mum staying at home with me and getting up to do every feed with me, she had no idea what was going on in my head because I was too ashamed to tell anyone. Especially my mum, who I thought was the best mum in the world, I didn’t want her thinking that I was the horrible mother that I had convinced myself I was. I wanted her to be proud of me. It was during this visit that I started taking anti depressants but at a very low level. I can’t remember feeling any better for a very long time. During the first year of Emily and Xavier’s life, we did four stays in that Mother Baby Unit. I felt so secure there, surrounded by lovely nurses who knew all the answers to everything that I seemed to have no idea about. I got along really well with everyone on each visit because I always did exactly as I was told to do, that was the level of trust I had in these nurses.
I think what got me through my first year of motherhood was the network of imperfect mums I had met. The perfect mums with only one baby who wanted to breastfeed until their kids were 16 didn’t appeal to me at all. Also the vegetarian/vegan mums who would never under any circumstances give their babies dairy based formula or god forbid chicken nuggets when they were older (not that there is anything wrong with this however I quite often find these people very smug!) were also not candidates for friendship. I was all over the other ‘normal’ mums who had experiences similar to mine and had struggled with motherhood. We could understand and empathise with each other and build a real camaraderie. These women got me through my first year of the babies lives, along with my mum and my family, they made me believe that I was a good mum, an excellent one in fact because I could admit my faults and see my own shortcomings & I was very eager to seek help and do anything I could to make sure my kids had great lives. With the support of my extremely supportive family, some imperfect mummies who in my eyes couldn’t be any more perfect (especially 3 very special ladies) we made it though the first year of Emily and Xavier’s life with no (obvious) damage!
*If you are feeling similar to how I was in the story above, please don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Visit your GP or contact PANDA on 1300 726 306 From Monday to Friday 9am-7.30pm (AEST).
After hours you can contact Lifeline on 131 114. I used to contact the 24 hour MCHN line on a daily basis with my multitude of questions, the women who answer the phone are so lovely & supportive. Their number is 13 22 29 & they have a call back service if you have called during a peak time & they also have interpreters available.
Please don’t suffer alone, there is a lot of support out there & a lot of people who want to help you.