My first son Owen could only be described as easy. He slept easily, fed well and was always happy. I left my corporate job in the city following his birth as my husband and I decided we didn’t want to put him into day care just so I could commute 3 hours a day to a job I didn’t love. I returned to working at a local pub which was good for the social aspect and a little extra cash to help out.
We decided shortly after his 1st birthday that we were ready to try again and the day before my 30th birthday we learnt I was pregnant. Owen was 14 months old and learnt how to walk alone the day of my birthday. So in 2 short days life changed very quickly! My early pregnancy was smooth, baby and I were healthy and I didn’t experience any morning sickness. In my 5th month, I began to experience extreme hip & sciatic pain due to my baby being posterior. (Which I wasn’t told until he was born posterior. The pain intensified so much I was forced to stop working at the pub as I became less physically able to finish a waitressing shift. It kept worsening to the point where I couldn’t cook dinner, do the washing, bath or even pick up Owen (18 months old). At the worst stage, I’d struggle through the day, crying periodically, get to bedtime and breakdown crying in pain as I struggled to even make the walk to bed.
I didn’t know that perinatal depression and anxiety could begin during pregnancy and that was what I was experiencing. I hated the second half of this pregnancy. I felt I was useless. I felt like a burden on my husband, my family and I felt like a terrible mother for relying on the Wiggles to get us through more days than I can remember. As soon as Ethan was born the hip pain disappeared. We went home the same day he was born, 6 hours in hospital and we were home for the evening news. I’m happy with that decision, it wasn’t forced on us, but I think to an extent I was in shock still.
The day after I gave birth I felt like I’d been hit by a bus. All my muscles hurt and I don’t remember feeling that with my first birth. Shock I guess from the speed of it! Because I’d been so restricted and had sat down for the last 4 months, my first thought was, right now I can make up for all this lost time and I can make my own coffee, and carry the basket of washing, so I’m going to, sleep deprivation and newborn be damned. This only brought the anxiety on stronger. I had this huge list of things I wanted to do but Ethan wasn’t the easiest baby to settle or feed and I began to become intolerant of when he wouldn’t settle and give me time to do it all! I lost my confidence and struggled to make even the simplest decisions like tea or coffee! When people came to visit and Ethan started to get fussy they would look to me and ask ‘What is he due for?’ I hated this. It made me feel incompetent because I never knew. I would try and feed him in front of people only for him to scream the whole time, or fight sleeping. I felt people would judge me for not knowing what my baby wanted. I knew something was wrong when we were on a family holiday and I felt like I was missing all the fun.
When we got home and things didn’t improve, I talked to my maternal health nurse, who sent me to my GP for some help. I got a referral to a perinatal mental health service, but had an 8 week wait to see the psychiatrist who would determine if I needed medication or not. Knowing I had an appointment to look forward to helped, but it was such a long wait, I felt like I was getting worse each week. One of my hardest days was when a mother’s group friend came to visit. Ethan refused to sleep. My friend took him and with angelic patience, walked around the house humming a Dutch song to him until he fell asleep. In that moment I felt like a failure as a mother. I knew she was only there to help me, but I so hated that he slept for her and not me. I thought he hated me and had no idea what I was going to do the next time he woke up. I began counselling which definitely helped.
At my worst I remember days of feeling totally isolated. I talked myself out of calling PANDA about 5 times, mainly because I was crying too much and thought I’d sound like an idiot on the phone. I talked myself out of calling family or friends. Even my Mum. I told myself everyone else had their own things going on and didn’t need me adding to their problems. But any time I actually got the courage, people would surprise me and were so supportive. It always felt better after I did talk about what I was going through. Losing my professional identity when I had kids impacted me stronger than I ever expected. I never had a huge career drive, I worked because I had to. I didn’t have a passion at that stage, I always wanted kids, 4 to be exact, so I never expected loosing that part of my life would have an impact, but it did, more so than I expected. I am still on my recovery journey, and still have some bad days, but they are much less frequent than they used to be.
I feel myself getting stronger against that doubting voice, that judging voice and that unconfident ghost I became in the early days. The rational side of me is much stronger and can talk me through the anxiety most of the time. I want to tell other Mums and Dads to talk about it. It’s the hardest feeling to put into words, but once you start to, the healing can start. Talk to each other every day, it is so easy to burrow down and just survive in the trenches of early newborn days. Take time to check in with each other and see how you are both feeling and coping. Share the load. It takes a village to raise kids, so find your village. Talk to your family, your friends, and most importantly talk to PANDA and your doctor.
There is help there waiting for you, it’s not something you just have to bear as a parent. All you have to do is put yourself and your wellbeing first and just talk about it.
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"I lost my confidence and struggled to make even the simplest decisions like tea or coffee! When people came to visit and Ethan started to get fussy they would look at me and ask 'What is he due for?' I hated this. It made me feel incompetent because I never knew."