Talking to your doctor
Tips for finding a doctor, sharing your concerns and what to expect from a consultation.
For about a month after having my second baby, Samuel, I felt like I knew what I was doing. I was happy and felt that I could do it all. I had my older daughter Jess in day care a few days a week, Samuel was feeding well, the house was clean, I had almost limitless energy like I could do anything – everything was perfect.
And then suddenly his reflux started, he was really unwell until we received help from the pediatrician. After he was medicated he started feeling better, but he still wasn’t sleeping very well.
He’d sleep one sleep cycle and then he’d wake and he’d cry, and I became obsessed with his sleeping. So my own sleep started to suffer.
I had my mother and my mother in law here every day, they were helping out because they could see that I was exhausted. They would say go and lie down and I would do that, but I just couldn’t sleep. I would close my eyes but I would be wide awake. And that was when I started to realise that something wasn’t right. I just felt off.
So I saw the GP and he said all you need is a good night’s sleep, and he gave me some sleeping tablets. So I had three or four days of taking those. I would sleep for maybe five hours, but after that I would be wide awake again and on edge straight away. I became quite obsessive about germs and keeping things clean. When Jess came home from day care I would put her straight in a Dettol bath – looking back I think, poor kid! I just didn’t want her to infect anyone else in the house, especially Samuel.
So after three or four days I went back to the GP and said I’m getting a bit more sleep but I’m not feeling any better. So he said maybe you need to go onto some antidepressants. I said yes because I just wanted to feel better, to feel like myself and not to feel on edge all the time. So I started taking the antidepressants, but not really knowing how they worked, and not realising they could have side effects. And a few days after starting to take the antidepressants, I just fell in a hole.
I just felt so wired, but at the same time completely exhausted from it. Pacing around anxiously one minute, lying in the fetal position on the couch the next. It was horrible. I was in such a state. I had stopped breastfeeding Samuel because of the antidepressants, and I couldn’t even make the feeding bottles up. It was like my brain had literally shut down. I just couldn’t think clearly at all. I distinctly remember one time when Jessica asked me for a peanut butter sandwich, and I could not work out how to do it. I literally could not get my brain to work out the steps to do it.
I just felt so wired, but at the same time completely exhausted from it. Pacing around anxiously one minute, lying in the fetal position on the couch the next. It was horrible.
It was Mother’s Day that I said to my husband I just have to go to hospital. I said I feel like I’m out of control and things are not going to end well. If you don’t take me, I don’t know what I’m going to do. So we went to the hospital and they were lovely. They had an acute care mental health care team there, and they diagnosed me with postnatal depression and anxiety. They offered to admit me but said I couldn’t have Samuel stay with me. I didn’t want to be separated from Samuel, I didn’t even like other people holding him, even though I was struggling to care for him. In my head I was the only one who could do it.
They tried St John of God which has a Mother and Baby Unit but they didn’t have a bed. So they sent me home, and sent out a mental health care team every day to check on me. But I could barely get off the couch. It got so bad that I just said to my family, I can’t do this anymore, take me to hospital, I’ll leave Samuel here at home because I’m no use to him anyway.
Luckily they found me a bed at St John of God. By that stage I didn’t want a bar of Samuel. I didn’t want to take him with me. They were very kind but very firm: they said you still have a job to do and you need to look after Samuel. And you need to build that connection with him, so you need to bring him with you.
At the start it was quite lovely there, because they would take Sam so I was able to sleep. And even after a couple of nights of having a full night’s rest, I felt so much better. And then it was all about building that relationship with Samuel, just spending some time with him without the pressures of daily life – no cooking to do, no washing to do, no other child to deal with.
They continued to adjust my medication, and after I’d been there about four weeks they increased the dosage of my antidepressant medication and it just hit me for six. It made me really anxious again, like how I felt before – just anxious about the smallest, most irrational things. And I felt so guilty, I couldn’t stop crying. I felt useless and that I was causing all this trouble for my family. I felt this horrible black cloud hanging over me and I remember thinking oh no, I’m going backwards. It’s all going to happen again.
Then it got even worse. After I’d been in the Unit for about week five Samuel got really sick with bronchiolitis. He had to go to Sydney Children’s Hospital, and when that happened I just went downhill. I thought Samuel was going to die. I thought, I haven’t cared for him properly, I’m a terrible mum. I became suicidal. I remember ringing my husband Paul late at night and I saying I’m so sorry, just move on, find someone better so you and Jess can be happy, and she can have a better mother.
So they sent me to a locked psychiatric ward in another hospital. I spent a week there, gradually stabilising. And Samuel was fine, he recovered and went home. Paul took some time off work to look after him and Jess, and my mother and father in law stayed with them to help.
After a week in the psychiatric ward they released me to go back to St John of God, but then Jessica got really sick. That was when I said to myself: OK, Dixie, you’ve got to pull yourself together. You’ve had six weeks away from home, it’s been really hard, but you’ve got to pull yourself together and go home. I was still really unwell. I didn’t want to go home – the way I was feeling it was like I never want to go home. But I did.
A month later I was still really struggling, so I had to go back to hospital. I met this lovely nurse there, she looked at all my medications and said let’s work on weaning you off these things. And it wasn’t until I was off them that I actually started to feel a lot better. I was actually really heavily medicated. Once I had that side of thigs sorted out, things started getting better.
It wasn’t all plain sailing. I had my good days and my bad days. It took me a long time to feel comfortable at home, and to have the ability to do all those normal things that parents do, as an independent individual. Just simple things like cooking dinner, just getting my brain to work properly. Forget about driving a car!
I think it wasn’t until Samuel was three that I really felt like I was a fully functioning adult. And I couldn’t really go back to work until he was about five. It just took time, and I was so lucky to have such a supportive network around me.
Looking back, I feel like I could have received some better support. Even my GP, he’s a lovely man but just saying take these sleeping tablets wasn’t helpful. I wish I had had the mental clarity at the time to say no, that’s not the answer. I think so many health professionals are overworked that they have empathy fatigue and they don’t really have the time to delve into people’s stories properly to really get to the heart of the problem. And people need to not be afraid to say what they’re really feeling and thinking, to help health professionals to do their job. To lower that front and reveal yourself.
If I could have one message to other expecting and new mums this PANDA Week, that’s what it would be. Try to tell the truth about what you’re feeling and if the person you’re telling it to can’t help, find someone who can.
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