Disclaimer; I was medicated early on for my PND and have seen psychologists and have received professional support. I think it is important to recognise when your thoughts aren’t normal or that you’re really not coping and seek support, for the wellbeing of yourself and your family. There are many amazing organisations out there such as PANDA and Ngala (details at the end of this blog) that can offer support and counselling but I definitely recommend speaking with your GP first and compiling a Mental Health Plan together. If my story were to help just one person realise they need to speak to someone about their thoughts then the fear of publishing this will all be worth it.
I follow a lot of mum bloggers and I love it when they share something that just resonates with me so deeply, it’s like a moment of relief that I’m not the only one going through a particular situation that is making me feel helpless and alone. I have been pretty honest about my new mum struggles on my blog and on my Instagram but something I haven’t shared from paralysing fear of judgement is some of the effects post natal depression had on me. Although I am in a much better place now I am still haunted by some of the things that went through my mind back in the early days when I hadn’t got a grip on my thoughts or reality yet.
I don’t think there was a defining moment I realised I needed to go and see someone about my mental health, it was a series of moments over a number of months. Looking back now I know I should have sought help sooner but I was afraid and I was in denial. A bit of quick back story, Chloe had Infant Silent Reflux from 5 weeks old, my husband was working away FIFO at the time and my parents had left the state for work so I didn’t have a lot of support at my fingertips. My sister was a god send but with 3 children of her own and a FIFO partner I didn’t want to call her every time I was about to crack, I would have been calling her a few times a day at the very least.
Chloe cried a lot back in her infant days, her whole wake time was battling to get her to feed and trying to calm her down from crying and screaming in pain. She was on medication for ISR from about 6 weeks of age and wasn’t weaned off till she was just over 10 months old so it was a long and exhausting 9ish months. The silver lining is that she slept, I think if she hadn’t been such a good sleeper we wouldn’t be were we are now and this may well have been a much more terrifying and heartbreaking story. I know what you’re probably thinking “Come on Sami, all babies cry a lot – surely it wasn’t that bad?!”. Well it may not have been as bad as I perceived or as bad as some other babies but this was my first experience with a baby and with little and at times no support around me I struggled to cope. I would cry just as much if not more than Chloe and I would say out loud as if there were a higher power listening that I didn’t want to be a mother anymore and that I just couldn’t do it anymore. I would sit by Chloe as she screamed for hours on end and just shake in a ball of rage as I couldn’t handle the sound of her cries and I was so terrified to pick her up in fear of what I might do. I felt like the worst human being and not worthy of being a mother.
One day when Chloe had cried all morning and then was in so much pain that she wouldn’t settle for a nap I snapped. I had screamed at her so much that my throat was sore, I dumped her in her cot, punched my fists on the mattress in a rage and ran out of the room slamming the door behind me. I collapsed to the floor and screamed banging my hands on the floor until they were red and sore. I went into my bedroom and laid on my wardrobe floor and cried hysterically for about 15 minutes, to the point where I almost passed out. I was defeated. I was scared. I was broken. I could hear Chloe crying but no longer in pain but in terror. Something in me clicked, I needed to go to her but this weight just held me down. Like a force keeping me there for just a few minutes longer so I could clear my thoughts before I went to her. Finally I got myself together, went in and scooped her up and sat on the floor with her in my arms and bawled my eyes out. All I remember saying was “I’m sorry” over and over again while rocking her and kissing her. This should have been that defining moment to realise I needed help but it wasn’t, sadly there were many screaming sessions and “I’m sorry’s” to follow.
During the months where I tried so hard to “fix” Chloe’s Silent Reflux I turned into this shell of a woman. I didn’t leave the house much, I lost contact with a lot of my dearest friends and I cried – more than I have ever cried in my lifetime. I told myself several times a day everyday that I didn’t deserve to be a mother, that I was a horrible human and that it was no wonder Chloe was so unhappy being around someone like me. I pushed my husband away out of resentment that his life was still normal and he didn’t understand what I was going through and when he was home I took control of looking after Chloe as I felt like I was the only one that knew how to care for her. I became a woman possessed with trying everything I could to get rid of the ISR thinking that as soon as it was fixed Chloe would be happy and I could start enjoying motherhood. I wished away Chloe’s infancy, I just wished she was older and would grow out of it. I saw doctors, pediatricians, health nurses, Ngala, just anyone that would listen to me just trying to find a magic cure. I wasted so much time looking for answers instead of bonding and connecting with my daughter, time that I will never get back.
There was another dark day that I will never forget and it could well be the moment I knew I needed help but I was still afraid so I think it was another few days before I actually went and seen my doctor. Chloe had been screaming for about an hour solid and was wriggling and arching her back so much that I couldn’t even hold her to feed or sooth her. I put her on the couch next to me and cried with my head in my hands and the most terrifying thought faded into my mind. I saw that there was a burp cloth beside me and I pictured for a second myself holding it over her face to stop her crying, so she would just be silent. I sat there staring at that cloth for what felt like a lifetime, battling my mind and body whether or not I was going to pick it up. My whole body was in a cold sweat, I picked up the cloth and held it in my hand tight, I couldn’t move my hand further even if I had wanted to. Again, it was like there was a force holding me back from moving. I strapped Chloe in her bouncer and I went into my bedroom and cried in pure terror. What would have happened if I’d moved? Could I really have hurt Chloe? What kind of person was I, to think about something like that? I called Ngala later that day and spoke to their help line, they asked me like they had so many times before – “Are you having thoughts about hurting the baby?”, I replied “No”. I don’t know why I didn’t say yes, maybe fear that they would come take her away from me, maybe fear that someone other than myself would see that I was a horrible mother. I don’t know, but whenever I was asked that question by doctors or nurses I would always say no.
A few days later with the encouragement and support of my husband I went and seen my doctor. The appointment was actually for Chloe but as soon as he asked how I was coping I burst into tears and he immediately made an extended appointment for me within a few days. He gave me some questionnaires to fill out and bring back and a few days later he assessed me and diagnosed me with Post Natal Depression and prescribed me a low dose of Citalopram which I am still taking today but plan to start weaning off it after my next review with my doctor. We also made a plan for me to connect with a Mental Health Nurse and we talked about coping strategies I could incorporate into my days such as walking and relaxation methods. I am lucky to have found such an amazing GP in my area, he will definitely be our family GP until we move out of our area (then I will probably still travel to him if it isn’t too far).
Chloe is now 20 months old and is still quite the handful but I am well into my recovery journey and no longer let those thoughts of being an undeserving mother enter my mind. There are still hard days that knock me on my ass and drive me to tears but I know I am right where I am meant to be and I’m proud to be my little cheeky monkeys mama. I know she doesn’t remember all of those early days when I screamed a lot and left her crying more times than I can count to take 5 minutes to try to calm myself down, but if she does I will try with every ounce of my being to replace those memories with ones of cuddles and laughter and unconditional love.
It doesn’t make you weak to ask for help and you shouldn’t be ashamed to admit you’re not coping. More mums are going through similar feelings than you think, you don’t have to live with PNA or PND and it doesn’t define you as a parent or a person. If you feel like your thoughts are not quite right and you aren’t coping please speak with your GP or seek support from one of the amazing resources below.
PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia) provides a vital service across Australia by offering the only specialist national perinatal mental health telephone counselling service, as well as reducing stigma around perinatal anxiety and depression, and providing education services to health professionals and the wider community. Their help line is available from 10am – 5pm Monday to Friday on 1300 726 306 or you can visit their website http://www.panda.org.au for more information.
Ngala is a provider of Early Parenting and Early Childhood services with a passion for supporting and guiding families and young children through the journey of parenting. They have a help line that is available from 8am – 8pm 7 days a week on 1800 111 546 or you can visit their website http://www.ngala.com.au for more information.