[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from a Warrior Mom in Australia. She said that this site helped her understand more about postnatal depression and anxiety (PND), which is how they refer to postpartum depression and anxiety Down Under. She wanted to share her story to help other moms. We’ll note that if treated, postpartum mood and anxiety disorders don’t have to last as long as this mom’s experience. Postpartum depression is temporary and treatable. This mom got help. You can too. Note: Mild trigger warning for suicidal ideation. -Jenna]
Looking back, the anxiety began the day my son was born. I hadn’t slept in three days by the time he arrived at 4:45am on Sunday morning, July 7, 2013. He was ten days late and I’d had a fairly long labor: 52 hours including the very early stages. But he arrived safe and was feeding and sleeping. I wasn’t. We spent two more sleepless nights in hospital then my husband took us home to my mum, a nice warm apartment, and home cooked meal.
Everything was a blur after that. The first few weeks flew by. Mum had to fly back to Sydney after a week to get back to work. My sister visited when Flynn was around four weeks old. That was around the time I got mastitis. It wasn’t the worst kind, but it happened and it took me a week to get over, whilst still trying to care for and breastfeed my baby.
Which we struggled with.
I still vividly remember crying to my husband when Flynn was around three months old asking why he wouldn’t feed from me, why was it taking so long to get the hang of, why was it so hard? I think we finally got into a rhythm when he was about four months old, and I’m glad we persevered, as I was able to feed him till he was 13 months old.
I was tired, severely sleep deprived, and still living off adrenaline and nervous energy. My husband worked long hours, and we’d just opened a gym when Flynn was nine weeks old, so I had no help during the week and limited over the weekends as I was breastfeeding and was the only one who could settle our baby at this stage. I didn’t ask for help from anybody. Most of my family lived in Sydney and I didn’t want to burden anyone. Plus society puts this pressure on us as mothers; it tells us that we’re supposed to know what’s best and should be capable of doing it alone. I didn’t want to be seen as a failure.
Flynn wasn’t the best sleeper. Maybe it was me, maybe it was him, could have been the mounting anxiety I started to feel over my baby every waking hour. The books all told me that he should sleep but he didn’t. I guess that’s when the cracks started to appear. I remember crying to my husband on the phone one day because Flynn wouldn’t stop crying. I was so upset and would cry all the time. I thought it was normal, but it should have been the first sign I wasn’t coping.
The months passed and we were finally booked into a sleep school when Flynn was seven months old. Relief at last, or so I thought. He did well but the baby next to us cried all night, so I didn’t sleep and it would often wake Flynn up. This is when I was finally forced to seek help. The following week, I saw my GP, he did the test, told me I had postnatal depression, gave me a prescription for an antidepressant, and off I went.
Back up, what? I don’t have postpartum depression and anxiety. I’m just severely sleep deprived with a newborn, well seven month old, that doesn’t sleep. Why would I get postnatal depression? I was never going to have it. Everyone had told me I was born to be a mum, and besides, PND only happened to others. Clearly I didn’t believe it, so of course, life went on. I didn’t tell anyone and continued to live in denial of the unforgiving illness that was slowing creeping into and taking over my life.
Flynn eventually turned one and it was lovely to celebrate. We’d made it through his first year. Life went on and as a couple more months passed by, I decided I was better and it was time to wean myself off the meds. That didn’t go so well, so my GP upped the dose.
Flynn and I took a lot of trips to Sydney to be with family. Christmas came and went and then in early January, the day Flynn turned 18 months, we found out we were pregnant. I felt elated! Then the severe morning sickness hit and I began to find it hard to cope with an 18 month old and the stress of being pregnant again. We were in the middle of planning a move, trying to find a new place and packing, which is stressful enough without adding a toddler and pregnancy into the mix. My GP didn’t write me a referral for any ultrasounds; they were too expensive apparently and I was told I couldn’t have one till I was 20 weeks pregnant as we had opted not to have the Nuchal Scan. He was not supportive of my pregnancy to say the least. Obviously my PND hadn’t been resolved.
On Monday March 2, 2015, we lost our baby at 13 weeks. I still can’t write these words or think about them without crying or feeling utter despair at the loss I still feel for that little soul. Through my own healing and trying to seek out some kind of closure for this unexplainable loss, I found out that we were having a little boy. He would like to be called Ben and that he was cheeky, happy, and understood that it was just not his time. Sometimes when Flynn would be playing by himself in his room, I could hear him chatting away and could picture Ben there playing with him and that gave me great comfort. Understandably, my depression and anxiety spiraled down further from here. I still remember weeks and months after losing Ben that I just couldn’t bare to let Flynn out of my sight, constantly fearing that something would happen to him too. [Read Also: 13 Things You Should Know About Grief After a Miscarriage or Baby Loss]
Life went on as it does and another few months passed when I had a pretty bad, “bad day.” We decided to go Bunnings one Saturday afternoon as you do, and Flynn was just being a normal testing toddler. I told Rob I’d had enough and retreated to the car. They came back five minutes later. I’d had a good cry and said to him, “Now I know why people kill themselves.”
Wow. But I was still in denial.
We went back to our GP that week and Rob told him what I’d said, so the doctor decided to change my meds. I wasn’t weaned between the two properly or even told the side effects of this new medication. As I was still in denial of my illness, I didn’t do the proper research either. To say this new medication did not agree with me is an understatement.
One morning I forgot to take it and by the afternoon I was in a severe drug withdrawal. I was told to stick with it, so I did. By this time, I thought it might be best for me to talk to someone who could help me sort through my thoughts and help me. My GP told me that talking to someone was a waste of time, it never helped anyone, and was an extreme waste of money. Seriously? Time to change GPs.
We’d moved not long after losing Ben, so I eventually found a new female GP in our area from a recommendation. She immediately referred me to a psychiatrist, who referred me to a psychologist. Flynn turned two and we celebrated with our big boy. I couldn’t believe two years had passed and everything seemed to move along just fine. Things were starting to look up with the right help and care. Christmas arrived and I couldn’t be happier. It is my favorite time of year after all.
January came and my mental state started to decline again. I still can’t pinpoint why. Christmas was over, maybe the medication had plateaued; I’m still unsure. The end of February was dreadful and the bad days never ended.
Looking back now I can see more clearly. It was coming up to the anniversary of Ben’s birth and so on his birthday, March 2nd I was admitted to the psychiatric emergency department at the Royal Brisbane Hospital. I had been having intrusive suicidal thoughts for days, couldn’t see the positive in anything, I didn’t want to keep going anymore, and started to plan my exit.
That day and experience was a real eye opener for me. Rob and I sat there for over 12 hours in a tiny locked room with just about any and every kind of public mental health patient there is roaming around outside. The doctors gave me hope though. They just had to find the right medication combination for me and I would get better. We were able to leave later that night and the following week my doctor added a new mood stabilizing medication to the mix. Within a week, things started to improve. We had finally found a winning combination, and the old me was starting to shine through again.
A few weeks later, on the eve of Easter Friday I found out we were pregnant for the third time. Surprise, shock, and elation: I couldn’t have been more excited! We were all very happy and couldn’t wait. It didn’t take long for the severe morning sickness to kick in again, and within weeks I had stopped all my meds cold turkey as I could barely swallow water. Not a good move, but I was so miserable with nausea that I wasn’t thinking straight.
However, as luck would have it I was about to see a new psychiatrist, one of the leading doctors in Brisbane who specializes in Pregnancy and Postnatal Disorders. She immediately changed me to a new medication to help with my severe nausea. Unfortunately, this one also didn’t agree with me. Typical weight gaining medication, I put on 10kg in my first trimester, not to mention it didn’t help with the nausea at all. Then some poor luck struck again, she went away on holidays, my previous psychiatrist was away ill, and I was left to deal with the morning sickness and mind games alone. I eventually stopped that medication and changed back to the previous mood stabilizer that had worked but not soon enough.
By the end of May, I wasn’t coping again. I let it go on for days and by Thursday June 2, I was having another bad, bad day. I kept trying to push through it but I’d let it go on for too long; my thoughts were too far gone, too intrusive, and I was resorting to suicide as my only option again. I eventually rang for an ambulance when I realized I wasn’t going to make it on my own.
They took me to the Royal again and it was like déjà vu. Luckily I only had to spend one night there and was transferred to Belmont Private Hospital into their BCPND (Brisbane Centre for Post Natal Disorders) ward. It’s a shared mum and bubs unit and the only one of its kind in Queensland. I’ve been here for the past three weeks and am going home tomorrow in a much better state of mind. They’ve given me the right tools, coping mechanisms, and taught me so much through my time here. I know my journey through PND isn’t over yet, even after a long three-year battle. I’ve still got at least five months before this baby arrives, and I hope to stay well and in control so that I can love and care for our new babe as much as I do for Flynn.
I want to thank everyone who has stood by me through this journey. My husband Rob; I don’t think he knew what he was getting himself into when he promised me five years ago to stick by me “in sickness and in health.” My family who has been so supportive no matter what I’m going through and who are always there for me. I know I’m not the easiest person to know and love! My amazing friends, you know who you are! You’ve texted me constantly, come to visit, and understood if you hadn’t seen or heard from me in days, weeks, or even months.
And to the stranger reading this, thank you for continuing to the end. The more people who are aware of the signs and symptoms of PND, the sooner they can get help and recover.
And to my son, thank you for loving me unconditionally no matter what I do. Your smile, your laughter, your boisterous manner and infectious energy make me want to be a better person and mummy to you everyday. I love you much!