I am not writing this for sympathy, but more to talk about an issue that affects so many mothers around the world. Mothers who feel like they should be ashamed, not talk about it, or don’t know what’s going on. Mothers who have their own postnatal depression experience.
Why We Should Share Our Postnatal Depression Experience
While pregnant with my daughter I was terrified. I had struggled (or so I thought), so much with my son just 3 years earlier. He wasn’t at all an easy baby. He didn’t feed or sleep well, and naively thinking that I would be bored at home with a baby, I had decided to start a business early on in my pregnancy (I know right! What the hell was I thinking?!?).
While I was pregnant with my daughter all these fears of how much I struggled came flooding back. I remembered how hard I found it with him, who was still a handful by the way, and now I would have a new baby to deal with on top of that. I think the thing that made me most uncomfortable, was the way that people treated me, as this was my second baby. Both the doctors, midwives, and seemingly everyone else, just assumed I knew what I was doing because I had done it all before. As my pregnancy progressed, my anxiety became worse and worse. Typically, my way of dealing with stress was to clean and aim for perfection, so that’s what I did. I buried my head in the sand and just ignored all those feelings that were bubbling up inside.
Then came the time to have my daughter.
Labour was worse than I had remembered. I think that was because I had always told everyone I had a great labour with my son. I fully believed that, and it really probably was, but when labour started for my daughter, my confidence came crashing down to earth hard. My labour progressed very quickly, and it wasn’t long before I was thinking there was no way I could do this… which then led to panic. You see it was very easy to panic when I already had all that anxiety sitting just under the surface. Luckily, I had an amazing midwife who helped me to breathe, and remain focussed on the task at hand. Luckily for me, my labour was fast, and it was all over relatively quickly. Then came the afterbirth high.
I was a warrior! A goddess! I could do anything and achieve anything!
Unfortunately, though, that high didn’t last long, with reality setting back in almost as quickly as the high had. I had only been asleep for about 40 minutes when my daughter woke. I honestly had no idea what to do. She was fed, she was wrapped and her nappy was clean. I was all out of ideas and called the midwife in such a panic as I had no idea what I was doing.
All of that anxiety and stress that I had buried deep, was starting to rise back up.
That was pretty much how things progressed for us in her first few weeks. I was drowning and I didn’t stop to let myself think about it. If anyone asked how I was doing I would tell them it was a breeze. In honesty, she was actually a very easy baby. Compared to all the struggles I had gone through with my son, I should have been taking it all in my stride, but I wasn’t. I constantly felt overwhelmed. I constantly felt like I wasn’t good enough. I had cut myself off from my hubby because I couldn’t let him know how much I was failing. In my mind, I was failing miserably at being a mother and I was ashamed. As the months went by I kept telling myself I would feel better once we hit particular milestones, or I would feel better once I accomplished specific tasks… but it never worked. I just sank further and further into my depression.
I didn’t know I was depressed at the time, I just thought I was a useless mother.
Then one day I had a fight with my husband. A stupid fight. It wasn’t at all over anything important but resulted in a panic attack. I had never had a panic attack before. I couldn’t breathe. I felt a tremendous weight on my chest as if someone were laying there. Everything began going dark. I was more terrified at that moment then I think I have ever been in my life. I thought I was going to die. Eventually, my symptoms eased. I calmed down and managed to go to sleep, again refusing to talk to my hubby about it, even though he had just witnessed the whole thing. Then, in my typical way of dealing with things, the next day I got up and pretended that nothing had happened.
I refused to consider that there could be anything wrong with me.
Hubby suggested I see a doctor and I was horrified at the idea. I didn’t need to see a doctor just because I was a lousy mum! It was only when I went out while hubby had the kids that I realised there was something really wrong. I was driving in my car, and found myself thinking at that moment, that if I had a car accident my family would all be better off without me. They could move on with their lives. Hubby could find someone new, who would do a better job at raising our children than I could, as they deserved so much better than me. It got to the point where I was nearly wishing on the cars that approached me on intersections to keep driving through.
Luckily I was able to see that these thoughts weren’t right and I needed to do something about it.
So I took hubby’s advice and went to see a doctor. He told me I had postnatal depression, which just made me feel more ashamed. In my head, I knew it shouldn’t, but In my heart, I still felt like a terrible failure. He suggested I go to see a counsellor. The last thing I wanted was to go and talk to a complete stranger about my feelings. I was so sceptical. How on earth was this going to help? I didn’t want to talk to her. The strange thing though, was that when I sat down with her, I began describing my experiences so defensively, but after a few minutes, the floodgates opened.
All of my hidden thoughts, fears and insecurities came pouring out.
All the things I had kept bottled up inside for so long were finally free. I was in shock because I just felt like this tremendous weight had been lifted. I continued to see the counsellor weekly for a few weeks. My thoughts and feelings didn’t change immediately but now at least I could see that they weren’t real. Just because I felt worthless, didn’t mean I was. Just because I believed my family were better off without me, didn’t mean they actually were. I was important and I needed to look at myself that way. I had two beautiful children that loved me more than anything in the world and they didn’t really care if the house was a mess or if we hadn’t gotten dressed that day.
They just loved me for me, and when I started to love myself in the same way, well that’s when things started to change.
If you feel any of these things that I have written about, please know that you too can feel better, but you will need help. It’s hard to climb out of the depths of darkness if you don’t have a hand to hold. And look, I’m not saying every day is now a walk in the park for me. I am not completely past my postnatal depression experience. I still have those days where I feel like I’m failing and like I’m not good enough. At least now I can have those days but know tomorrow can be different. Tomorrow will be different. Bad days are ok but we can’t let those thoughts rule our lives.
They are not real. They are just thoughts and that’s it.
Everyone’s postnatal depression experience is different, and everyone’s road to recovery will be different, but the most important thing is to just start on that road. Get help if you need it. There is no shame in admitting you need help. Everyone needs a little help sometimes. We as parents need to look after ourselves so we can give our all to those precious little people we have brought into this world.
Motherhood Unplugged is a hub for mums seeking Connection, Conversation & Community.
At Motherhood Unplugged we understand just how difficult this motherhood gig can be and that’s why we have created a safe supportive space for all mums.