It’s been two and a half years since I took that photo above. In that two and a half years, I lost myself and I found myself.
There are things that we don’t talk about much as mothers. On the internet, I’ve found that people tend to be more honest – there are plenty of “mummyblogs” who talk about the nitty gritty of parenting, but in real life, I’ve found that many of the mothers I’ve encountered are all too willing to plaster on a smile and say that everything is fantastic, no matter what. They’ll share their kid’s latest exploits and worst nappy story, but if you ask about them, then everything is just fine, just wonderful and they don’t mind at all giving up their lives for their children.
And for some people this is absolutely true. I do know some mothers who sail through parenting, for whom it does come easily. They can cope without sleep, they can ride out tantrums. Hell, my mother is one of them – she raised three kids while barely batting an eyelid. Her personality and patience just worked for mothering, when it came down to it (and it still does, even though we’re all adults).
For me, it didn’t come easily. Looking back, there are a whole host of factors which fed into me developing PND (which I will talk about in a later post). I always wanted to be a mother, and I was ecstatic when I fell pregnant. The pregnancy was easy medically speaking, the birth not so much (but neither was it horribly traumatic).
I should have known in hospital that there was something wrong, really. I gave birth, and I couldn’t eat. Massive nausea whenever I tried to force something down, and my appetite had completely fled (which is a very, very rare thing for me). It was eventually bad enough that I needed anti-nausea drugs just to be able to force anything down. Breastfeeding was extremely difficult, since Liam wouldn’t latch and I had a massive oversupply and was in severe pain from engorgement. My body reacted really weirdly to the hormonal changes, and I was having massive sweats, cramps and cold shivers constantly.
One thing that I am eternally grateful for is that I persevered with breastfeeding. Every feed in hospital I had to get a midwife in to help get Liam latched, which often took up to 30 minutes. One absolute angel of a midwife on my last night there spent half the night with me (alternating with the woman in the next room, who was having just as many issues), and eventually got me to use a nipple shield, after which I could at least latch Liam without a hassle. After that, even if I felt look I could barely do anything for my son, at least I could feed him. I am so, so grateful to that midwife and to the Australian Breastfeeding Association, who helped me out later at home.
And so we came home, and I thought everything would be fine. Liam was feeding, and everything else would just fall into place, wouldn’t it?
It turned out that Liam was not one with the sleeping thing. I was waking, it seemed, every hour to feed him, after which it took what felt like hours to settle him again. He had reflux, and he spat up and he just didn’t sleep. For the first two weeks we tried – the husband was a champion, even taking Liam out for a drive in the middle of the night to try to get him to sleep. I was exhausted, but most of the time even when Liam was sleeping, I couldn’t. I ended up hallucinating several times.
I was coping okay in hospital, apart from the nausea (which was chalked up to hormonal changes) and the feeding difficulties. I don’t blame them for missing the developing PND – after all, I was only there for a handful of days, and I was cheerful and optimistic. I do blame our community nurse who did a home visit and focused only on the fact that Liam had reflux and barely noticed that I was a mess.
My parents are the ones who noticed and who saved my life (and I mean that literally – if I had gone on the way I had been, I know that I couldn’t have coped). The husband was doing everything he could, in case anyone decides to point any fingers there. In spectacular timing from the universe, he’d just started an amazing new job, and was being pulled in every direction possible himself. In better timing, my mother had a doctor’s appointment booked for other reasons, and made me take it instead.
I can only imagine how I looked to my doctor. I have huge gaps in my memories from the first six months or so of Liam’s life (something that makes me angry and sad now), but I do know that I cried through most of that appointment. My doctor was and is amazing, and spent a very long time with me, and diagnosed me with PND. I went home with anti-depressants and sleeping tablets, and started on both that day. I was very wary of the sleeping tablets, but I found that a light dose meant that I actually got to sleep when I went to bed, and was still able to wake up to Liam, rather than lying there awake waiting for him to wake.
And it got better. Very slowly, it got better. There is a lot of stuff packed in that sentence, stuff that I’ll get to in later posts, but for me, the medication was absolutely key. I needed to get chemically stable before I could do anything else – before I could eat properly, before I could sleep, before I could exercise, before I could go into therapy.
And it wasn’t magic, not by any means. I suspect I was still clinically depressed for much of Liam’s first year. I don’t remember a lot of that time still. I do know that I didn’t feel really bonded to him until he was about eighteen months old. That makes me so sad to type, but it’s the truth. Now, at two and a half years of age, I am constantly amazed that this little boy is my son.
Exactly. We don’t culturally have a container for things like postpartum depression. Even when we attempt to talk about it, no one wants to hear. The implied message is that you should be so thrilled with your new bundle of joy that any darkness is transcended. There is no framework for how to proceed if it isn’t transcended. And if you lay out that you are experiencing PPD, your ability to mother is judged. The only thing worse than depression is feeling guilty for being depressed. I very much felt trapped in that polarity when I had our twins.
I work with others in a shamanic capacity, and the wisdom from that work helped me tremendously. I also have written about that work quite a lot. i hope that as I continue to gain distance and perspective on that era of my life that I can engage with others about it more.
Childbirth is indeed a rebirthing of the mother. Our culture needs to remember that, and allow it.
Cheers to you for sharing!