A happy, smiling mother looks down at a perfectly content, sleeping baby. This is the image we are sold in the glossy pages of magazines which we pour over as we prepare for the arrival of our babies. But what happens when this is not your reality? My name is Jessica. I am 26 years old, a part-time lawyer, part-time fitness instructor and mother to a beautiful, vivacious and chatty 7 month old. I also suffered from postnatal depression.
My daughter was born in a hurry, hungry after only a four hour labour. The crying started almost immediately and did not stop for months. Motherhood started quite rough for me. I did not sleep for days, I stopped eating and I cried all of the time. Not in a single-tear-running-down-your-face crying. I am talking about hysterical and uncontrollable sobbing. My heart hurt like it was going to break in half and I felt like I was never going to be happy again. I also began to feel sudden urges to harm my daughter and myself – urges I thankfully never acted upon.
I thought all of this was just baby blues and a normal process of becoming a new mother. I thought I was ready for an emotional roller coaster and even some sleepless nights but I was not ready for a baby who would cry for hours and could never be put down. My earliest memory from the first few weeks of her life was taking off my Apple Fitbit after I walked 30,000 steps around my small house trying to put her to sleep one night. It became too depressing to see the actual proof of how little I was sleeping and how much I was pacing. I also suffered significant breastfeeding issues and fed through a substantial amount of nipple damage and pain. I also had an oversupply of breastmilk which exacerbated my daughter’s stomach issues and resulted in her being in pain every day.
I felt like my only role as her mother was to feed her and keep her alive and I was failing at it. I doubted everything I did and spent hours googling and scrolling through mothering forums. My husband, who was working through his own issues post-birth (that is his story to tell, not mine), became furious at me and my inability to just be a mother without doubting every single decision I was making. My marriage was falling apart and my home became my prison.
I remember counting down to the magical six week mark as if suddenly my life was going to drastically change and become a sitcom-worthy dream. But instead old my daughter became more unsettled and our feeding issues continued. My doctor told me she was a colic baby and there was nothing I could do but hold out until she grew out of it and do whatever I needed to get through it.
Soon after this the suicidal thoughts became frequent. Some days, it was all I could think about and I found myself committed to my plan to end my own life. I thought she deserved a mother who was better than I was and it was the only way to make it all stop.
I do not know how or why but at some point I remember putting her down in her cot and messaging my husband that he could find her there, she was safe but I would not be there when he returned. I stopped and looked down at her and thought about what she would think of herself if her mother had taken her own life. It was then I realised what I was feeling was not normal and it was not ‘baby blues’.
I started to tell people what was happening and that I, the strong one who could handle anything, was not coping. I am thankful every single day that I wake up to my daughter’s smiling face that I had the ability to look through my haze and had the foresight to stop. Many, many women could not and they are no longer with us.
Through my struggle and recovery I discovered baby wearing and exercise and these two things saved my sanity and in many ways, my life. My sister in law introduced me to my buckle baby carrier early on and once I began to use it I regained the use of my hands. My daughter was next to me where she needed to be and I started to feel my self-worth slowly returning.
After my six week appointment I attended my first Kangatraining class, a special workout for new mums who wear their babies in baby carriers on their body while they exercise. I was comforted by the knowledge that I did not need to put my baby in a crèche and hopeful she would go to sleep in her carrier (which she did). I remember dancing to some 80’s era hit and smiling. It was the first time I smiled in weeks.
I was never a physical person before pregnancy. I smoked cigarettes like a chimney and intermediately used my gym membership every few months before once again getting bored and sinking back into my bad habits. So I was surprised that exercise and fitness became my solace. I started to make myself a priority and eating healthy became a non-negotiable. I started to become stronger and my moods levelled out. I engaged with my community and reached out to other mums. I unfollowed all the mothering forums and stopped using Google and started to trust my mothering instincts.
My daughter is nearly seven months old now. I cannot remember the last time she cried for more than a minute or the last time I had a day where I felt like my world was crashing down around me and there is no way out. I am now a Kangatrainer conducting my own classes at the Sunshine Coast and an avid advocate for mothers getting back into exercise in a way which is safe and appropriate for their postnatal body. My goal is to create a community of like-minded women and a place where someone can say “actually, I am not alright and I need help”.
The only thing I can say from my experience is ‘it’s okay to not be okay’. Seek help and speak out about what you are feeling or going through even if you think what is happening is normal. There is no reason to struggle alone when there are professionals to help you in every aspect of motherhood like lactation consultants, a community health nurse or drop-in centre for everyday questions or concerns, organisations like PANDA, baby wearing consultants or even the local doctor. There is no such thing as a stupid question except for the one not asked.
Make time for yourself and look after your health and well-being. As the saying goes, you cannot pour from an empty cup. Always remember you are an amazing parent, you are doing a wonderful job and you have got this.
PANDA National Helpline 1300 726 306 Monday–Friday 9am–7.30pm AEST/AEDT
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