Motherhood was something I was determined to do well. I always saw myself as capable, a quick learner and very independent. I didn't know it then, but there was no way I could be prepared for what was going to happen to our little family.
Giving birth to my daughter Violet, now 3 and a half, was unexpectedly traumatic.
In the days and weeks afterwards, I played the events over and over in my mind. I didn't sleep for more than an hour and a half at a time for the next two weeks. What I later learned was 'hyper-vigilance' kept my brain awake when my body and mind desperately needed sleep. I was attuned to every tiny sound and movement, and simply couldn't rest, even if Violet was being looked after by my husband or close family members. These feelings got worse, and grew into severe anxiety coupled with panic attacks. Anytime I eventually nodded off, I would awake with a start, and with an awful sensation that I couldn't breath and that my chest was being crushed. I had never experienced panic attacks before, and during the first weeks of motherhood they kicked off what was the beginning of a struggle with severe post-natal depression and anxiety.
At two weeks post-partum, my husband took me to see my GP, who referred me to the Mother Baby Unit, and arranged for me to be visited daily by the CAT team while I waited for an empty bed. When I was diagnosed with PND/anxiety, it was partly a relief to understand what was happening to me. Unfortunately, I also felt like a failure, that my baby and my husband would do better if I was gone, and that there was no point in me being around. I felt alone, and I felt ashamed. Pre-baby, I believed the common misconception that PND meant that you hated your baby. For me, I loved her but I felt I wasn't good enough and that she deserved better. I felt that just by being near her, I was harming her. There were many times where I came close to ending my life.
My first two years of motherhood were extraordinarily hard, and completely different to what I imagined they would be like. All up, I had three hospital stays due to PND/anxiety. I tried numerous medications and therapies, saw a psychologist and some wonderful mental health nurses. I was lucky to find a fantastic perinatal psychiatrist, who never gave up on me and who I still see every few months to make sure I'm keeping well.
In the time since Violet was born, I've met other mums who have gone through PND/anxiety, and have seen just how strong we can be. I've realised that motherhood, especially when combined with mental illness, is not something that you should go through alone. Being part of a community, and feeling able to ask for help or to accept help when you need it is vital. Looking after yourself, even when you feel like you're not worth it, is so important. I'm sharing my story because I want mums (and dads) to know that there is always help available, and that there is hope for getting through PND/anxiety and enjoying parenthood.
"I would awake with a start with an awful sensation that I couldn't breath and that my chest was being crushed. I had never experienced panic attacks before. During the first weeks of motherhood they kicked off what was the beginning of a struggle with severe post-natal depression and anxiety."
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