Having the fear of being over 30 and not knowing what my fertility state was, my husband and I were very fortunate to fall pregnant with ease both times.
My pregnancy with my daughter, now 2 and ½ years old was unremarkable. I didn’t enjoy being pregnant but it was generally cruisy aside from my terrible insomnia. During this time I was active at the gym and very productive around the house. When she arrived, she was generally a good sleeper and feeder and I felt like we were onto a winner. I had my shit together, my life wasn’t too disrupted in regards to remaining the social butterfly I had always been and everyone regarded me as a bit of a “supermum”.
We decided to try for number 2 and fell pregnant when my daughter was 9 months old. We knew it wouldn’t be as easy second time round. I had returned to work but morning sickness kicked in harder and earlier this time and by 18 weeks my mobility started to decline as I started to show signs of pelvic instability. As a very active person, this really took its toll on me both physically and mentally. The whole pregnancy was painful at varying degrees and my insomnia kicked off again as a result. I was much more weepy and emotional. I had continuing guilt of needing to share my love and attention with a sibling, google reassured me that my thoughts were “normal” for second pregnancies. Then I had my first of many panic attacks. They would come on mainly at night the gripping feeling of almost not being able to breathe, that tightness in your chest and in your stomach. The screams and tears that my husband had to console me through. I knew this was out of the ordinary for me but I put it down to exhaustion and hormones and that when I had my son this would all go back to normal.
But it didn’t. And I still made excuses.
After a quick labour, my son, now just over 1 year old, joined our family of 3. He was a perfect and healthy little being, but to me that’s all he was. I didn’t get the happy butterflies that I did when I had my daughter. But “google” said this was also quite common, so I figured it would just take some time. With feeding and settling issues over the first few months, it made it more difficult to love this baby that was keeping us up all night and causing stress throughout the day. Not to mention juggling the attention of an 18 month old who was going through her own transitioning and acceptance of change in the house. I felt all I could do was focus on her and do the bare minimum for him. That’s all a newborn needs right? To be fed, changed and sleep. Even those basic needs consumed all of my time and energy. My mobility hadn’t bounced back so getting on with daily tasks was a struggle. In the beginning I organised many catch ups with friends and family members, but this slowly stopped. It was easier to stay indoors, this way I could avoid the anxiety I would feel. I withdrew myself from friendships to the point that asking anyone over would be too anxiety provoking. It made me feel sick to my stomach having to put on a front or admit that I was not coping. I was the “supermum” right? Once again I put all these feelings down to fatigue and exhaustion and that if I just got a “few decent night’s sleep” or time away from the children, I’d be able to recharge and get back to normal.
I got a referral and booked in to stay at the Mother Baby Unit at Mitcham Private to help me with sleep, settling and feeding with my son at 4 months old and to try and get myself some much needed rest. The 5 day stay was great. It gave me the one on one time I needed to finally work on our bond together and we got ourselves into an almost clockwork routine over the day and night. I was getting the rest I needed during the day and I finally thought that I could do this.
The routine was great but the fear of disrupting it took over. For it to continue, we could not leave the house. And I had to try and keep a toddler entertained indoors all day, every day, and quietly. HAH! So whilst I felt I had one child under control, I was losing it with the other.
I started resenting both kids. I was snappy. And every single cry was like fingernails down a chalkboard. I felt sick. I felt tense. I felt angry. And I was starting to feel so out of control I did not know where my anger would lead. Some days I just didn’t want to wake up to it all.
My husband told me to organise a day out with a girlfriend and get pampered one weekend. Surely this would help. We went out for lunch and then went to a day spa for some pampering. These were activities I loved before having children. But… I had a panic attack during my massage and a panic attack during my facial. I could feel my pulse escalated but I tried to keep a calm exterior and let the therapist continue on with the treatments. Rather than feeling relaxed and rejuvenated, I walked out of there tenser and even more exhausted than I was that morning. This was my lightbulb moment that things were really not right. My son was around 6 months by now.
I called PANDA that Monday and had to leave a message. I felt gut wrenchingly sick till the moment I got a call back. The counsellor that called made me feel like she had all the time in the world for me and understood everything that I had explained had been going on. I was very clinical with my introduction and explanations, the nurse in me coming out, and was able to keep it together in the beginning, but it was not long till I felt the rawness of letting go and the tears started flowing. But talking about it, made me feel a bit better. This is where my journey of acceptance and belief that I may have PND began.
I accessed my GP clinic, had relevant referrals made. I thought another Mother Baby Unit admission may have been useful to get my son back on track again and get the “rest” I felt I needed again. The Nurse Unit Manager called me back once the referral to Mitcham was received and suggested that I be admitted to the Perinatal Mental Health Unit. Excuse me? I didn’t need an admission like this. I wasn’t “that bad”. I didn’t want to put anyone else out. There were much more deserving people than me who needed to use these kinds of services. After a lengthy conversation and more tears, I had agreed to “give it a go”.
I met my psychiatrist a day later and told him that I didn’t want medication. I just thought all I really needed was some time out and some counselling. He was great and allowed me to spend a few days thinking about my options. I was then officially diagnosed with postnatal depression and anxiety.
Fast forward 3 weeks later after accepting medication, getting a good routine with my son and being looked after and counselled by some wonderful nurses, I was ready to give this all a go at home.
It was by no means easy, the transition had its ups and downs. I did have to be readmitted a couple of months later for a couple of weeks to change over my medications because they were not being as effective as they should have been. After this I continued with weekly outpatient therapy through the unit. Medications took a long while to stabilise, and this was the most frustrating part. I just wanted to get where I needed to be and as quickly as possible. Don’t we all?
Despite the anxiety of returning back to work after a turbulent 12 months of maternity leave, this was actually the missing piece of my puzzle to recovery. I really enjoy the work I do and the people I work with. The adult time, the adult conversations, the use of parts of my brain that had been in hibernation for over 2 years. Getting tasks done. Getting lunch breaks. The feelings of accomplishment and the return of my identity. And most of all, the feelings of missing my children when I’m away and the greater appreciation of my time with them when I am home. This feels like my “normal” again. I’m still on medication and still keep in contact with my therapists but my day to day life feels the way it should. The hardest part now is normalising feelings. Yes it’s ok to feel tired and grumpy when your alarm goes off at 5.30am for work. Yes you can feel a bit stressed organising a dinner out or coordinating 2 children to head out for the day.
I’ve now spoken about my year openly amongst friends, families, colleagues, hairdressers, gym mates. And you know what? Everyone has a story! Whether it be themselves or someone close to them, there is always a conversation to be shared or understood. That feeling of shared understanding is why I want my story heard and shared amongst the greater community. We need to keep the conversations going to continue raising awareness.
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"...then I had my first of many panic attacks. They would come on mainly at night the gripping feeling of almost not being able to breathe, that tightness in your chest and in your stomach...I put it down to exhaustion and hormones and that when I had my son this would all go back to normal."