It started with a birth that went very wrong.
My baby girl had arrived safely but I was bleeding – a lot – and no amount of the midwives forcing my uterus to contract would stem the flow. I kept haemorrhaging, blood pressure plummeting, until a part of the placenta that had remained attached to the uterus wall was discovered and removed in surgery.
In the days after the birth I was a mess. I was weakened from the haemorrhage. I was extremely sore, with wounds from the birth and the surgery. My breastmilk was delayed. I wanted to enjoy my precious baby but kept bursting into tears. The hospital staff extended my stay until the perinatal counsellor visited me.
There were many more tears in the weeks that followed, my newborn daughter’s and my own. There was the sleep deprivation, the frustrations of feeding, the general bumbling-around of new parents, the isolation, but there was something else – disturbing dreams. Many nights I would wake convinced my newborn daughter was trapped under the doona. I would rummage around, searching for her in the bed, before spotting her safe in her bassinet. I couldn’t get the image out of my head.
I had suffered from depression and anxiety previously; I knew I was at risk of postnatal depression. However, I was determined I would not go down that path again. I saw the perinatal counsellor once more then moved on. Eventually we found our groove as a family of three.
Shortly after my daughter turned one, I became pregnant again. This time it would be a caesarean birth. My second daughter’s C-section delivery was an incredible experience – everything I’d never wanted first time around, but it felt so right. Yet even though my husband and I now had two beautiful girls, and at last a positive birth experience, my mind still wandered often to the night I bled and bled.
Our first year as a family of four was difficult, of course. This time our baby was much more unsettled than our older daughter had been. But I was Supermum – settling bub throughout the night well into her second year, synchronising bub’s and toddler’s routines for a precious break during the day and squeezing in freelance work whenever I could.
We were also managing a gastrointestinal issue in our older daughter, and by our younger daughter’s first birthday it was evident that she suffers from the same chronic condition. It affects the girls’ appetite, behaviour and sleep. They both require medication and monitoring. As the children’s primary caregiver, I have taken most of the responsibility for this, but it is worrying, exhausting, relentless.
People around me comment that I have so much on my plate but handle it so well. I rarely let on that it’s hard, really bloody hard.
Soon after my second daughter turned one, I cracked. I struggled to sleep, even when my younger daughter had a rare peaceful night. I struggled to breathe. The heart palpitations and panic attacks of the past returned. I was snappy with my husband. Hypersensitive. Intolerant of the girls’ tears and tantrums. Mostly I just wanted to spend all day in bed, wrapped in my doona.
It was clear I couldn’t continue like this. I went to my GP, began medication – an antidepressant and melatonin to assist with sleep – and started seeing a psychologist.
I have been in treatment now for six months. I still have bad moments, bad days, but I can recognise an improvement. I’ve accepted I’m not Supermum – my mistake was trying to pretend I was. And I’ve learned that perhaps the best thing I can do as a mother and partner is to care for myself as well as I care for my family. I’d say that goes for us all.
14 November 2016 – Twelve months on …
A year has passed since I told my story of postnatal depression.
I continue to see my GP and psychologist regularly. I’ve made much progress in my therapy, and I have started discussions with my doctor about weaning off the antidepressants in the New Year. It will be a slow and carefully managed process. I no longer need any medication to help me sleep at night.
There are still bad moments, when anxious or depressive thoughts threaten to overwhelm, but rarely bad days. I am stable. Much happier, more energetic, more outward in my focus. While my girls’ needs remain high, I am confident that my husband and I are providing the best possible support for each of them. I have greater capacity as a friend too.
I am proud of my achievements of the past year. I’m proud I’ve made it through PND.