I was a secondary drama teacher before I became a mother. My life was ruled by bells, time and control. Things were ordered, familiar and predictable. The complete opposite of becoming a mother!
I gave birth to my beautiful son Alexander in November 2011. I was 31. His birth was wonderful, uneventful and I recovered really well. We were discharged in a few days and on the first night at home I could not get him to settle. I had to rush to the bathroom to be sick. That was the first indicator that all wasn't well with me, but it was another 4 months until I became really unwell.
I had suffered with anxiety and depression before my son was born. But it was never diagnosed or treated. I had been having panic attacks since I was 17, but managed to complete high school, a degree, start a career, maintain relationships and get married. But I never felt peaceful. There was always an empty feeling. When my son arrived, my world was turned upside down. I felt lost, incompetent, and exhausted. My son was not a great sleeper and I just kept hoping that "when he sleeps better, I will feel better". When he was about 4 months old, his sleeping pattern changed, and our settling techniques no longer worked. I became increasingly anxious. I couldn't sleep, I lost my appetite. I shut off from the world. I took my son to a day stay sleep centre, and cried the whole time I was there. I saw a social worker who suggested I had postnatal depression and anxiety. She referred me to a counsellor and I went to see my GP, who prescribed antidepressants. But by then, it was too late. Panic attacks happened every morning. I started to resent my son. I wished I hadn't had him. I thought about hurting him. That was the last straw for me. I ate nothing, couldn't breastfeed anymore. My husband had to take time off work to care for our son while I couldn't get out of bed. I was paralysed, racked with guilt, fear and anxiety. I thought about committing suicide. My mother and sister had to get me out of bed to shower. They tried to tempt me with my favourite foods, favourite movies. Anything to help me. It wasn't enough. Even with all the support I had, a loving and supportive husband and family, the illness was too powerful. Eventually, under the advice of PANDA and my GP, my husband convinced me to go with him to emergency. I couldn't stop crying. I saw a psychiatrist who had me admitted to a Mother Baby Unit.
I felt relieved when I was admitted to the unit. I couldn't go home and continue as I was. It was very hard to admit I was so unwell. I felt like a failure. I felt trapped, like I would never be happy or carefree again. I stayed at the unit with my son for 3 weeks, where I was medicated, and received counselling. After the three weeks I was ready to go home, and start again. It was a long road, but with support from my clinical psych, medication, husband, family and friends, I slowly felt better, more confident and relaxed. The time between bad days was longer and longer. I felt well enough to consider another child. We fell pregnant immediately. I panicked. I regretted the choice. I was fearful of struggling again. Antenatal depression is awful. Guilt is awful. Then at 27 weeks my unborn babe was diagnosed with Congenital Heart Block. She would require a pacemaker, and perhaps an early delivery, at 32 weeks, if she made it. There was a chance her heart may have failed in utero. All of this was terrifying, while caring for my 2.5 year old, and working casually. I continued to see my clinical psych and a psychiatrist to get me through two very difficult months. My baby girl was born at 38 weeks and had a pacemaker inserted 5 days later. Despite the sleep deprivation and added work of a toddler, I found it all a little bit easier the second time around. I knew what to expect. I asked for help. I accepted help. I made an effort to get out and about and stay connected to the world. Around 4 months in, I began to struggle again, but I caught it early this time. I increased my visits to my psychologist and psychiatrist, and increased my medication. I asked my family to just be with me. Knowing people will help if you ask them was very comforting to me. I am very well now. I am still medicated, and continue to see my psychologist. My baby girl is now a thriving todler and my son is a clever, funny, headstrong little boy.
For to other mums who might be struggling, ask for help the minute you feel unhappy. Do NOT feel guilty. Guilt is a symptom of the illness. Be honest with yourself. You have an illness. You are unwell. Like any medical condition, PND requires medical treatment. You can and will recover. Some days will still be hard. But they will be fewer and far between. Remove negative people from your life. Learn to say no. Care for yourself. Be kind to yourself. Find joy in small things. You are stronger than you think. Your children love you. After my first child, I was adamant that I wouldn't have another child. But as I became well, I realised another was what I wanted. But you do what is right for you. Not anyone else. You are a warrior. You are a survivor.
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- Cat WA Story
"For the other mums who might be struggling, ask for help the minute you feel unhappy. Do NOT feel guilty. Guilt is a symptom of the illness. Be honest with yourself. You have an illness. You are unwell. Like any medical condition perinatal anxiety and/or depression requires medical treatment. You can and will recover."