Nothing was more exciting than seeing two lines on the pregnancy test, and I anticipated the birth of my little girl with so much eagerness. Everything seemed to be going well, I had no morning sickness and all of the scans were perfect. It was a shock to learn I had gestational diabetes, and I started to blame myself and feel ashamed that I had somehow caused it. I’m not sure if this is when I started to doubt my ‘right’ or ‘ability’ to be a good mother, but the guilt I felt was certainly always at the back of my mind.
We gave birth by emergency c-section to a gorgeous and small baby girl in May of 2014, and I felt some relief that I hadn’t caused macrosomia (very large baby) and we went home happy and healthy. My FIFO (fly in-fly out) husband spent the first 6 weeks of our daughter’s life at home, and it was towards the end of his parental leave that things started unraveling. I couldn’t cope when my daughter cried, and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t able to make her stop. My husband would just pick her up smiling and say, “she’s just singing for us”. I used to feel like screaming at him when he tried to jokingly shrug off her crying, as I struggled to deal with it as easily as he did.
When my husband flew back to work, I put on a brave face and pretended I was going to cope like some kind of super-mum, but nobody really knew how much I doubted myself as a mother, doubted my right to be a mother and honestly believed that I made a mistake thinking that parenthood was for me. I had my first panic attack when I decided to nap as per my ‘schedule’ that I had created for myself. My daughter’s crying woke me up and I had no idea where I was, what the noise was or how to deal with it. I immediately fell into a full-blown panic attack. I knew at this point I needed help, and family came to support me by staying with me. Even having someone in my house at night didn’t help, and I found myself unable to sleep. I remember vividly how my daughter was fast asleep, and yet there I was walking up and down the hallway crying and unable to breathe through the panic.
The next morning I knew I needed more help than family alone could provide, and I went to see my GP. She was marvelous. Opening up about my anxiety was scary, and felt like admitting defeat, but I never felt judged by her. I was put onto medication and referred to the a perinatal mental health and placed into a group program with 6 other women just like me, with a range of reasons for being there, but still alike in so many ways. We came to open up to each other and love our weekly sessions, and we caught up for coffees and play-dates outside of the group therapy sessions. My time spent with those women was such a big step towards my recovery, and I am forever grateful that I took that step out of my comfort zone and attended the Raphael Centre. I also spent the weeks that my husband was at work at my parent’s house, and they helped me in the first few months of my daughter’s life.
Fast forward to 2016 and my husband and I were excited about another pregnancy. I went to my first scan, and was stunned to be told that I was pregnant with twins. If I’m going to be honest with myself, I was devastated, because I knew that I barely coped with one baby, and knew I wouldn’t cope with two. Sadly, the second twin was lost (vanishing twin) quite early in the pregnancy, and once again I felt extreme guilt, that I had somehow wished it away. It also left me feeling anxious that something else would go wrong with the pregnancy and I would lose my baby. I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes again, but I was much more open about it this time.
At 38 weeks, I gave birth by elective c-section (cue more guilt) to another well-sized 3.1kg baby. This birth I was so much more relaxed and I was determined to be ‘in the moment’ and I looked upon my new son and fell in love immediately. Within 24 hours, I was heavily medicated and in the bathroom when I collapsed on the floor. I have vague memories of telling the midwife that I was unable to feed my son, and she needed to give him formula because I was reacting badly to the medication and struggling to think straight, certainly in no position to be trying to breastfeed. Very soon after being given a bottle of formula, my son turned blue and had a ‘dusky episode’. Following two of these within quick succession, and being rushed off for oxygen and suction, he was admitted to the neo-natal unit. I was told that the reason for his ‘dusky episodes’ was a combination of being born via c-section and being given formula (which other midwives later told me was definitely not the reason). I felt huge guilt for not breastfeeding him and causing his ‘duskies’. I didn’t want him back in my room, as I felt that I wasn’t doing the right thing by him. When I was told that he was being released from neo-natal, I was tempted to ask them if they would keep him one more night because I was too scared to have him back with me.
We were eventually discharged with a breathing monitor, which he wore at all times, because the doctors knew of my history with anxiety and felt that it might help me to relax a bit knowing that an alarm would sound if he stopped breathing. I wouldn’t let him out of my sight, and started wearing myself down with mental and physical exhaustion. When my son was 5 weeks old, my husband flew back to work and I was on my own again. It was probably only 24-48 hours later that the panic attacks started again, and I booked into a GP immediately and went back onto medication. I have also reached out to family members and friends for support, and I know that I have a support structure in place for when I feel overwhelmed and like I can’t cope. My friends all understand that sometimes leaving the house is too much of a struggle for me, and I have some days that are better than others.
Opening up about my anxiety has allowed me to realize just how important friends and family are, and how vital it is to seek medical help when things get too tough. It’s not admitting defeat, but rather acknowledging that sometimes we need a little support in our journey. My journey is still ongoing, but I know that reaching out and asking for help is the single most important step on the journey, and I am thankful everyday that I found the courage to ask.
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"When my husband flew back to work, I put on a brave face and pretended I was going to cope like some kind of super-mum but nobody knew how much I doubted myself as a mother, doubted my right to be a mother…"
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