My painful journey to motherhood
Almost 12 years ago, after the birth of my first child, I was not coping with motherhood, and I didn’t understand what was happening to me.
Everyone’s journey to parenthood is unique and different and I support PERINATAL DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY AWARENESS (PANDA) to encourage parents, both old and new, to speak out and begin honest conversations about parenthood in the hope of encouraging others who may be suffering to reach out and ask for help.
Here’s my story……
After a difficult pregnancy due to pubic symphisitis (read: very painful!), a low lying placenta, and significant weight gain, here I am out to dinner with my husband and friends, on the night I went into labour. Little did I know how my life was going to change beyond what I could ever imagine.
Labour came on fast and furious, intense contractions straight away and without much warning. Almost a metaphor for how motherhood ensued.
Nothing to worry about though, I was ready, wasn’t I? All those natural birthing classes I had attended, and “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” was my bible. I had this in the bag.
But what I got was 26 hours of excruciatingly painful, drug-free (except a bit of gas) labour, a cervix that wouldn’t dilate, a baby who was completely stuck and what followed with an emergency C-section. Six hours after his birth, my baby developed pneumonia (because they left me dilated too long before conducting the caesarian) and was whisked away into intensive care.
I did not get to feed him, hold him, soothe him until a week after his birth. This wasn’t in the plan.
I will never forget the night, maybe three nights later, when I received a call from the nurse in intensive care asking my permission to allow her to give my baby the dummy. He was crying inconsolably, she said, and she needed to try to soothe him. I could hear his wailing in the background.
This was the moment I broke, the memory is still so raw I’ve got tears streaming now. I had lost control of everything I had dreamed of, the easy conception, the natural birth, the bonding, the breastfeeding. These seemed nothing more than idealised fantasies when now, it was down to a piece of plastic to do the job of soothing my baby who was in distress, and I could do nothing about it.
Wasn’t it enough already that it took me 4 painful years to be able to hold this miracle child in my arms?
So there I was in hospital hand pumping milk from my breasts in the hope of getting that life-giving colostrum into my child. All the while well- meaning visitors were stopping by mid-pump, to offer their congratulations. It wasn’t long before I started to fall apart.
Let’s just say from woe to go, breastfeeding was a complete disaster. The fact that my son wasn’t able to go on the breast straight after birth made breastfeeding that more challenging. Think cracked, bloody, painful nipples for want of trying, and add to that an over-supply of milk which caused my let downs to force milk down his throat like a fire hydrant going off. And I would have at least 5 let downs each side. I ended up pumping milk 5 times a day for that first year, pumping, washing, sterilising, repeat…
Once home my baby just didn’t sleep, he had reflux and was irritable most of the time (who could blame him), in fact he was the opposite of everything those evil textbooks told me he would be. Soon I found I was completely dreading getting out of bed and I didn’t want to see my baby. I felt completely lost and alone, confused and deeply depressed. I had also developed acute insomnia and extreme anxiety.
Perinatal anxiety and depression does not discriminate – it affects people across all communities regardless of age, income or geography, and the way people are affected is not black and white. And it got me bad.
Within a few weeks I realised I wasn’t going to survive this dark place I had descended into. Gathering up all of my courage, I set forth to find the answers to end my pain and suffering and make me feel myself again and turn up each day to be the mother of my child.
I thank God for the psychiatrist who treated me from the Anxiety Clinic at St Vincents Hospital in Sydney. She was my saviour, somebody who instantly understood who I was and what I was experiencing. She took me in and taught me tools, insights and techniques which led to my healing. It was hard work, but I got there, and till this day I use the tools she taught me to lessen the hold that anxiety threatens to have over me.
After my first meeting with my psychiatrist, she told me it was her goal to get me wanting to have another baby, to which I instantly replied, ” Never and not on your life”. Yet much later on, on our final session, I recall taking her in a bunch of roses, thanking her for everything she had done for me and sharing the news that I was indeed, pregnant!
Here I am 15 weeks pregnant, this time I did not have to wait to be able to conceive….
….. the birth went smoothly and it was natural and I got to hold my little girl in my arms straight away. Breastfeeding was still a challenge due to my over-supply, so by three months I was doing the pump routine again, but I didn’t spiral into depression and severe anxiety this time around.
I was ok. I am more than ok and my kids and I are doing great.
If anyone out there is reading this and can relate, please know you don’t have to suffer in silence. Reach out to a friend, family member, doctor, if they don’t understand then find someone else to talk to. Please consider calling PANDA, what they have to offer is truly wonderful.