Sometimes it can be a long road to find and embrace the joy of motherhood. Sometimes those around you don't realise how long and windy the road is that you are travelling.
I bumped into a ‘friend' i hadn't seen in over a year the other day (she seemed to disappear when i had the twins…but probably partly my fault too).
I had the girls with me in the pram and she looked at them, turned to me and said “You must be a bit happier now then that the girls are older?” “You let it get on top of you there for a while”…Excuse me…i let it get on top of me?
Hmmmm….this is why i don't shy away from writing about postnatal depression and my experience with it…..it is often still seen as a taboo subject even among friends and there are so many unhelpful myths still out there. Postnatal depression isn't something a Mum (or Dad) grows out of just because their children get a little older or ‘easier' to manage. It isn't about not being a good Mum either but often society will judge a mother this way and she is therefore reluctant to seek help and support and a downward spiral begins.
Postnatal depression is treatable but to seek that help we need to feel safe to tell our story…and unfortunately i don't think society is there yet even though we have definitely made great strides in awareness and actual treatment! If only we realised how common it actually is and that it isn't something a friend or family member should shy away from asking about…sometimes we just don't have the strength or awareness to seek that support ourselves…we are too busy wondering why we are such a crap Mum (in our own minds)…everyone else can do it, why can't i?
Although i had a greater of awareness of the signs of postnatal depression this time around…..i was still flooded with many overwhelming thoughts and sadness in the toddler twosomes' first year…..
I'm just tired, it will pass. Feeling like this is normal.
I'm useless at breastfeeding but i'm such a bad mother to give a bottle…even though it is making me so sad and emotional to keep trying and failing every single day.
I'm so fat and frumpy, what sort of role model have i become for my girls? I don't even recognise me anymore.
No one seems to come around anymore…they don't seem to know what to say when i just can't be bothered ‘going out for coffee'… That would entail getting dressed, getting babies dressed, getting bottles and nappy bag packed and all of us in and out of the car…why bother?
I'm useless at being a mother….why was i successful at IVF if i can't manage to care for my babies?
How can i manage large programs at work but not manage my own household and children?
Why is it like groundhog day everyday….i hate being a mother.
Every time i went to a service to have the girls checked in their first year professionals asked me if i have any family support here…would do me the world of good to have a bit of time to myself they said …..really…you think? I grew tired of explaining that all our family live interstate and it just wasn't going to happen. Not everyone has extended family support and love close by….feeling isolated as a new Mum can be such a huge factor in postnatal depression in my opinion.
To me postnatal depression feels like i have stepped outside of my body at times…i can see myself crying over the smallest things or shouting at the babies or family members with such anger that is just unexplainable…i see myself behaving in this way but i can't seem to stop myself…and the cycle of guilt continues. Even now small things or a bad day can set me back more than it should. Sometimes it is like drawing a black cloak around my shoulders yet wishing i could fold it away in the back of the cupboard. Most days now i am strong enough to do that…but not always and this serves as a reminder to be kind to myself and ask for help and understanding in my more lucid moments.
These feelings are nothing new. I knew what was happening when i had the twins but when you are living in that bleak and lonely place it is hard to see the bigger picture, hard to drag yourself up and remind yourself that this isn't you, it isn't normal….hard to ask for help and admit your perceived failure as a Mum. I had postnatal depression after the birth of my now teen and it took me a long time to realise what was going on and to seek some help. I had also gone through a marriage breakup at this time so was getting used to being a single parent which didn't help matters of course! I wasn't diagnosed until she was 18 months and i was near breaking point.
When i look back on this time i can see that contributing factors to me developing postnatal depression (PND) was a combination of having 9 months of morning sickness, a breech baby who had to be delivered by cesarean which i wasn't prepared for emotionally and then being what to me seemed a total failure at breastfeeding and not being able to cope with a baby who had severe reflux and screamed day and night. Added pressures of a marriage breakup and no family support close by didn't help of course.I figured how i was feeling was just due to lack of sleep and stress.
When this depression began to draw me in the first time around though….i couldn't see it. I am an organised person…i had planned for this baby…i worked in child care looking after rooms of 16 babies…..why couldn't i cope with one? I lived in a small town and i see now that people did try to reach out but i became a recluse… crying most of the day, berating myself and saying no to invitations to come out and ‘do something'. I went back to work when Miss Teen was 6 months old because i had to…and then i felt even more guilt and sadness. But no one would ever have guessed….to the outside world i was tired but in control and a great mum! This is what many people also don't realise about postnatal depression…often a mum knows something is wrong but can't admit it unless in the safety of their own home and company….you can put on an award winning act when friends drop in or you are out in public….can't let anyone know you *might* not be coping for goodness sake….what would that look like?
Bear in mind that i am speaking from my own perspective and experience….not all Mum's react in this way….some may deny anything is wrong, be perfectly groomed each day and appear to be coping well, others will spend their days in tears berating their mothering skills and become recluses, others will shout in anger at loved ones and appear to hate everything about motherhood….others will become overprotective of their baby and fear what ‘may' happen. It is hard to define exactly what a Mum suffering from postnatal depression will present as but this is why loved ones can't be afraid to ask ‘Are you ok?' ‘Can i give you a Hug?' ‘You're doing a great job as a Mum….but how are you really feeling?'
Postnatal Depression (PND) has the same signs and symptoms of depression in men and women who haven't just had a baby….you might like to read this list of Signs and Symptoms of Depression from BeyondBlue and there is also a simple survey…the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale that you might like to work through which is commonly used to check for PND indicators.What i would like to strongly suggest though is if you are feeling any of these signs of depression or you are seeing these behaviours in a loved one…it is important to see (or get them to) your local GP. The scale can give you an idea of whether you are in fact experiencing the symptoms of postnatal depression but it is not a diagnosis and you may need further treatment and support.
Postnatal depression isn't a life sentence, it is treatable and it is nothing to be ashamed of. I know it is hard to put your hand up when you feel this way (i really do…but i learnt my lesson after the first time…this time i didn't wait…and my recovery has been much quicker….the depression less severe). Please just do it so you don't lose that first year of your bub's life like i feel i did….i wish i could remember more happy moments of Miss Teen's first year…but i don't, there is just so much darkness even though i know with all my heart that i loved her so…but i didn't enjoy her and that's my reality.
This post isn't to say that i learnt everything i needed to know about pnd so when i had the twins it was a breeze…that would be far from the truth. But what i would like to tell you is that this time around i began preparing myself from the moment i was pregnant for the possibility of pnd reoccurring. I was terribly sick again for the whole 9 months and did not enjoy one moment of pregnancy…i know many would shake their heads at that comment but i am being honest, pregnancy just doesn't agree with me and i spent a lot of time feeling sorry for myself! But this time i knew i would get through it and there was an end in sight.
I ended up having to have a ceaser again with the twins and this was done quickly as one of the girls (the biggest now ironically!) had stopped growing. But they were healthy…and i was prepared…i thought…but my goodness the work of 2 newborns in special care and pumping breast milk around the clock while everyone walked in and out of your room inspecting another angle or part of your body began to take its toll…..but did i ask for help? No…i was the perfect patient who rarely rang the bell for help…i could do this myself…i had only months before been working with many of the hospital staff regarding a Bonding with Baby and Postnatal Depression program i was Coordinating…how could i turn and be the one who needed help now?
Well, it all came crashing down on about day 3 or 4 as i recall….i had been awake for over 48 hrs trying to establish breastfeeding with these girls, refusing to let anyone feed them formula as that is what i had been told i needed to say to hospital midwives who might ‘pressure me' to be a good mum and firmly establish breastfeeding….the hiccup in that plan is that they were both starving and therefore didn't sleep…just screamed…..but i kept trying. I worked with a lactation consultant at every feed…I had my special twin breastfeeding pillow for goodness sake! I was not going to be a failure again this time around…if i wasn't trying to feed them i was pumping….what was wrong with me? I'm not going to go on because i don't want to spark that debate about breastfeeding versus bottlefeeding…what i will say is that it took a few people to remind me of what was important really (i had asked them to speak to me if i got my self into this state again over breastfeeding)….i'm not going to elaborate on why i have such trouble breastfeeding (because i have learnt the hard way that everyone has an opinion on how i could have fixed it and it makes me feel worse).
I had to step out of the fog and realise that i needed to do what was best for my sanity as well as the health of the girls. So i began to use formula as well as continuing to pump and try to breastfeed….but it allowed me some breathing space and i realised i wasn't a bad Mum for not succeeding (even though i continually got told by certain ‘professionals' that ‘artificially feeding' was not a solution. Don't get me started on that phrase…it so saddens me that we make fellow mothers feel this way about feeding their baby and trying their best.
Anyway…this post is too long now i am sorry…what i am trying to say is that postnatal depression still hit me this time around but because i was aware of the signs and symptoms and had made my family aware i was able to recognise what was happening a lot quicker and seek support and counselling early on. This time i haven't needed medication…last time i did and there is nothing wrong with that…sometimes medication in conjunction with a good support group and /or some professional counselling can be what it takes to get well again…and that is what your bubba needs and wants for you so you can enjoy and love them the way you want to.
I continue to have some tough days, the twin thing has certainly been a readjustment to my parenting style but i know that staying quiet about how i feel does not help me or my family. This blog began as a treatment of sorts as i wanted to write about the positive moments i was experiencing each day along with the sad…. it helped to see them written in black and white to draw me away from the negative thoughts that were perhaps threatening to consume me that day. Although there have been many, many tears shed and such exhaustion….the likes of which i have never known…at least this time i can remember some special and beautiful moments of the twins first year with us…it is not all darkness and large gaps in memory…there are smiles and giggles and cuddles to remember too….and i can't tell you how truly grateful i am to have all 3 girls in my life now and that i am well enough to cherish them.
One day i will be totally healed….but until that day comes i shall keep taking baby steps to get there and try to remember to hold tight to those happy moments and sloppy kisses. I won't be afraid to ask for help or acknowledge that i am doing the best that i can and for today…that is good enough.
The reason for this post (and again i'm sorry it is so long) is because i know how much reading about others experiences helped me when i was feeling isolated and overwhelmed and my only contact with other adults in a day was via computer. I want to encourage anyone reading this who is feeling that there is something wrong but not sure what to do about it…to turn to your partner, friend or loved one and say ‘I think i need some help'. If you can't take that step just yet (i know it is scary) then please visit your local GP or medical/health centre or if in Australia you can call….
Beyond Blue Information Line on 1300 22 4636. Their Beyond BabyBlues page on the web has a wealth of information to help support you too.
The PANDA website is also a wonderfully supportive resource to visit and their factsheets are free and well worth a read. I cannot recommend them enough. PANDA has a dedicated HELPLINE manned by volunteers who know what you are going through…i urge you to give them a call if you live within Australia
For any overseas readers i would encourage you to speak to your GP or a counsellor or visit the Beyond Blue and PANDA websites as they have information relevant to you as a parent no matter what country you are in. I'm not in any way medically trained so please do not treat this post as any sort of medical advice…just some friendly support from one Mum to another!
Did you know Dad's and partners can suffer from postnatal depression too? They sure can and it is actually on the rise here in Australia so i encourage you to watch out for all the same symptoms in your bub's Dad too!
Currently in Australia 1 in 7 women and 1 in 10 men suffer from postnatal depression.
If anyone would like someone to talk to and you aren't sure what to do next please feel comfortable to email me. Please don't suffer alone. You are not a bad parent…what you are feeling isn't just going to go away as the kids get older or you get some sleep. You can find my details on the ‘About Us' tab at the top of this page.
Thanks for reading this far! Don't forget to give a new Mum a hug today and ask if they are really ok if you have one in your life at the moment….it may just be lifesaving.
Thanks to all who have helped me on my own journey so far…we have many more adventures to explore and share! xx