I was so excited to find out I was pregnant but it wasn’t until we shared the news with friends and family that I felt my first real pangs of anxiety. I started to feel the pressure of everyone else’s expectations. And I couldn’t shake it.
I was very fit and healthy and apart from 4 or 5 months of morning sickness everything went smoothly. Once the sickness went away I loved being pregnant and celebrating my body. I birthed my son after a long labour and I felt powerful and proud.
The anxiety started in the hospital car park. I was terrified of taking the baby in the car because it felt too dangerous. My partner tried to calm me as I argued with him. Eventually when we drove home I sat in the back with my arms around the baby capsule crying and telling my partner to slow down, even though he was driving way under the speed limit and very carefully.
Once home the cycle of sleep deprivation began. I floated about in a groggy haze, feeling like an alien in my own body. This would come to be my new normal.
Every time I closed my eyes, my mind would play endless loops of scenarios involving my child being harmed and me not being able to protect him. This would jolt me awake. My body would flood with adrenaline and I was consumed with white hot rushes of fear. My heart would race. I was panicked. I felt exhausted, but couldn’t sleep. In the very early days after giving birth, both my partner and I experienced this and I put it down to our brains making new neural connections and our protective instincts coming in to play. But my anxiety persisted and I felt as though it preyed on me.
The only way I can describe the next few months was that I couldn’t work out where I stopped and everything else began. Visitors overstayed their welcome but in my haze I blamed myself for feeling agitated with this. I couldn’t assert myself and didn’t know how to tell them I needed them to leave. I constantly questioned myself. I felt myself withdraw from my usual support networks. My relationship was crumbling (my partner was also unknowingly experiencing perinatal anxiety and depression) and neither of us could support or protect each other.
I was angry. I was scared. My creativity, vibrancy and energy were gone. I had lost ME.
Prior to having a baby I worked as a health professional. I helped everyone else with their problems so I wondered why I couldn’t seem to help myself. I felt ashamed and embarrassed at my lack of control. I dreaded catching up with people because I would inevitably be asked when I was going back to work – a question I simply didn’t have an answer for. My self-esteem was at an all time low and I was in full identity crisis. I was too ashamed to share what I was going through and felt like a total failure. I now know that it would have been so beneficial for me to talk to a counseling professional in those early weeks and months. Someone who could bear witness to my experience and give me the validation and support I so needed.
In a fog, I visited a GP who said I was eligible for a mental health care plan but because it was the end of the year there were issues with funding and I would have to wait until sometime in the new year to be able to claim this. I was confused and didn’t even have the strength to go to another GP. I shuffled home, feeling so much like I didn’t ‘fit’ anywhere anymore. Not even in a mental health care plan…
One night, desperate and in tears, I looked up the PANDA website. There was a list of signs and symptoms of perinatal anxiety and depression and I found myself identifying with most of them. I was so shocked that there could actually be a name for what I was going through. For so long I had felt like I just wasn’t coping because I was too sensitive and that this was just what motherhood was going to be like for me. Finally, I picked up the phone and called PANDA. I didn’t know what to expect, but as I spoke with the counsellor I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders. It was the first step on my road to recovery and I’ll always remember how kind and comforting the voice on the other end of the phone was and how soon I started to feel better.
Talking honestly about the losses and gains that come with parenthood in a safe, non-judgmental space has been vital to my recovery. The transition to parenthood is a total life-changer and naturally, we need lots of support during this time. I have found solace and healing in the stories of others. I have learnt to be truly kind to myself and fiercely protect my “me time.” I have come out the other end stronger, wiser and more passionate than I ever thought possible.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Ask your GP, your friends, call the help lines, check out the PANDA website, ask your maternal health nurse or playgroup facilitator.
- Info & Support
- After Birth
- Postnatal Anxiety & Depression Recovery Stories
- Postnatal Anxiety Recovery Stories
- Prue VIC Story
"Every time I closed my eyes, my mind would play endless loops of scenarios involving my child being harmed and me not being able to protect him. This would jolt me awake."