I’ve recently posted about my experience of my sister, Lauren’s, struggle with postnatal depression. Lauren is a huge advocate of parents speaking more openly and honestly about the challenges of parenting and the need to support parents’ mental health. After all, parenting is tough and perinatal depression can affect anyone. This is Lauren’s postnatal depression story.
The baby arrives
On Monday 21st March 2011at 5:20am my first child, a girl, was born at 36 weeks and 3 days via an emergency caesarean. My waters had spontaneously broken just a few hours earlier. She was Frank breech, coming out bottom first, and very small so a natural birth was not an option. Romilly Autumn was a tiny 2360g (5lb 3oz) but perfectly healthy and incredibly beautiful. After a dream pregnancy, to say the birth of my daughter was disappointing would be a huge understatement. I didn’t experience a single contraction. And I don’t consider (and have never said) that I ‘gave birth’ to her. Being a control freak and someone who likes to be organised, having her arrive early and not in the way I envisaged was completely devastating. We had hoped and planned for a natural, drug-free birth, but got the opposite. I was hurt and confused by the inevitable “you have a healthy baby, you should be happy” comment that almost everyone who came to visit would at some point say. But why should I be happy when I only got to experience half of what most people do?! Most people get to give birth naturally AND have a healthy baby. It just didn’t seem fair.
The early months
Despite us both thriving physically in the weeks and months following her birth, cracks in my mental health soon began to show. Initially my husband, Josh, and I put it down to the ‘baby blues’ and then blamed severe sleep deprivation, but eventually we both realised something just wasn’t right. I had undiagnosed post natal depression. We battled through the days and nights, most of it a horrible blur. On the surface I’m sure I looked like I had it all together because that’s what I wanted people to believe, but that was not reality. I was living under a black cloud. I loved my child with all my heart, but I didn’t love being a mum. It was nothing like I thought it would or should be. Every time I’d hear of someone giving birth naturally I would be sent on a path of self-destruction that could last days, weeks or months. I was tormented by my own thoughts. I couldn’t escape from the constant stream of ‘what ifs’ that hounded my mind. On my good days, life was bearable. On my bad days, I didn’t want to be alive. When Romilly was around 4 months of age, I joined a mother’s group and I finally had an outlet to discuss my thoughts and share experiences. Things were looking up.
Then in a cruel twist of fate, it was discovered that due to her awkward position inside my womb, Romilly’s right hip hadn’t developed properly. Romilly had to be fitted with a Pavlik Harness at 5 months of age, 2 days before my 29th birthday. She had to wear it 23 hours a day. It upset her sleep and made her completely miserable. If she wasn’t been sung or read to or carried, she cried. It was tough. And my mental health subsequently took a turn for the worse. We struggled on. I have no idea why, but I made the decision to return to teaching when Romilly was 10 and a half months old. She wasn’t ready and neither was I. I was stressed, exhausted and desperately unhappy.
Things reached breaking point when one morning I got into the shower and started to cry. And then I couldn’t stop. I sat on the bottom of the shower and sobbed. I’m not sure how long I was there, but eventually Josh came in and realised I was beyond repair. He said he would need to call someone to “take me away”. This was the wakeup call I needed. I went to the GP who quickly diagnosed me with PND. He suggested medication, but I was determined to avoid this so instead I accepted a referral to a psychologist.
The cloud lifts
As Romilly neared her first birthday and started to sleep better, I began to feel myself returning. I was having more and more ‘good’ days. When she was 14 months old, no longer breastfeeding and sleeping through the night I felt the black cloud lift. Life became enjoyable again and I started to relish my role as mum to a gorgeous, clever, spirited little girl who I was blessed to call my daughter.
She’s brave, that little sister of mine! Thank you, dearest Lauren, for letting me share your postnatal depression story.
Lunch Out Loud is an initiative of Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia to raise awareness and funds for the ongoing support and education of the community regarding perinatal anxiety and depression. PANDA are asking supporters and individuals to organize a lunch or get together where people can talk Out Loud and have honest conversations about the joys and challenges of parenthood. Everyone’s journey to parenthood is unique and different. More information can be found on their website.
PANDA’s free helpline offers counseling, information and referral services with ongoing telephone support for families throughout Australia. The PANDA website contains a range of helpful material for parents. PANDA’s Helpline: 1300 726 306 (operates Mon-Fri 10am to 5pm EST).