At 18 I became a wife, 20 a mother, and at 24 I was a mother of three! I’m about to turn 26. To say things have changed a bit in the last 8 yrs feels like an understatement. Also add to that that 5 of those years (the 5yrs I had my children in) I lived away from family. I moved away when I was 19 and pregnant with my first and returned 5 years later with 3 children. I’ve been busy. Life is pretty much exactly how I planned it to be in the family sense. But life is not exactly how I thought it would feel. I don’t want to say I’m a depressed person or I’ve got post natal depression, I mean all my kids are no longer babies so it doesn’t feel right. And sometimes I think, is it really just the having a baby that gets people depressed? In my experience its not, it stems from stuff much more complex than that, responses we have trained ourselves to have, years before we became a mum.
I flipped out when my family went through a big challenge when I was a teen, got my first cold sore ever! Was massive, covered my whole chin! I flipped out at the end of grade 12, it was all to much and I pulled out of a dance concert I’d been training for to ease the pressure on myself, got a massive lecture from my dance teacher! If I’d broken a leg it would of been acceptable but having a mental breakdown wasn’t a good enough reason apparently. I cried many times after I got married at 18 and left home for the first time, it was a big deal for me. I was happy but I recognised I’d said goodbye to a special time in my life. Then we moved away, and I cried every time my mum left after visiting me. I was pregnant, in a new town, and basically was on my own everyday through the week, waiting for 4pm to come so I could pick my husband up. I got gestational diabetes, so it added another level of stress and confusion to that time. I’ve since had it with all my pregnancies and I can manage it like a BOSS and its no stress at all. So I had 4 needles I gave myself a day and double the antenatal appointments after 26wks. I’m telling you all this because you can see the kind of responses I have to big change and the build up to being labelled “depressed”. I don’t believe it just comes out of no where, its a build up, its a process.
I had never dealt with a baby before, I was the eldest out of all the cousins/grandkids so I was the first to have a baby. I didn’t have any close friends with babies either, I had no idea what was about to happen to my life. After 8hrs I went from having so much time to myself, so much freedom, and then I had none (well that’s what is felt like). I had a great labour, a healthy boy, no dramas. For me labour is the easy part, its the taking them home and looking after them that really challenges me. Within days of coming home I got mastitis, my boobs had been sore but I thought that was normal, and I was scared to express extra out after feeds cause I thought it would make more milk and I did NOT want more milk. I’ve learnt many things since then and always express sore boobs! Anyway I left it and it got REALLY bad, and I needed antibiotics to clear it. Man being a new mum was hard.
Sleep? What sleep? Just when I got used to a sleep pattern at night it changed, in fact it got worse, till at 4mths he woke up more than he did at 4wks. I was tired, stressed, feeling alone, every time I answered the phone to my mum it was always a sad “hello”. It wasn’t fun or enjoyable, it was just work, work, work, work. The anxiety I’d have as the evening approached, how long will it take me to get him down? How many times will he wake tonight? I had insomnia bad, even when he was asleep I was awake, trying so hard to wind down and nod off. There was about a month or so when I didn’t fold one item of clothing, it just got washed and thrown into a pile of clothes on my bedroom floor. I think all our clothes were on the floor. I felt mostly overwhelmed, like I’d never regain my life again, it was changed permanently and there was no going back for a refund. I couldn’t handle ANYTHING other than feed my baby and try and get some sleep. Actually I’ve been like that for years! Only now that my youngest is nearly two am I seeing I can handle some other things. Some.
I took my mums advice and went to the doctor, and yes I obviously had Postnatal depression, I was put on medication. I just didn’t have the tools or energy to try and fix it any other way. And I just wanted feel better again. I also went up to Cairns and lived with my mum and dad for a month with Jacob. Adrian called after two weeks and said “Are you coming home?”
I didn’t want to go back at that point, didn’t want to be alone through the days. At least in Cairns I had people to distract me from feeling down. It was a good band aid. It took weeks for the medication to fully work, but little by little I felt less of the bad and more of the good. And I came home. It wasn’t all roses and sunshine from then on but it was bearable. I bit the bullet and prioritized my sleep, we only had two bad nights of crying before we got Jacob sleeping from 7pm-6am. It was a God send. And now he knew to self settle day sleeps gave me hours through the day to have time to myself. Yes I need time to myself! The insomnia improved and life was far more enjoyable.
I remained on the medication for a couple of years only and will talk about how I found the strength and ability to do that another time as that is really the most important. Anti depressants didn’t fix my problems it only masked them and I knew that. They did however give me some head space to think about why I felt that way and what I should do to help myself. Once you find out what the real problem is, what the real lie your believing is that’s when you can start to take effective steps to renew your mind and transform your life! But I wasn’t at that point yet, I just wanted to feel better and enjoy my baby. I likened this time to coping with a big black pit right next to you and your only ever an inch away from falling into it. When people asked me “how is motherhood?” I usually said “Its really hard!” and I’m amazed when I hear first time mums say “it’s really great, its going good!” because it was definitely not like that for me. I could of said “Its great” but that wouldn’t of been the truth, so I’m here to tell you, it’s ok if its not going great, its ok if its really hard for you, your not some bad mum or evil person. I still have to tell myself this! Just be honest with yourself and to those who care about you. We need all the support we can get as mums, especially if your feeling anxious and depressed. And prioritize yourself! Yes I’m talking to you. We often speed up when we are in a bad place often to make ourselves feel better, but what we need to do is cut out any unnecessary stress while we focus on our most important role, being a mum. If your like me and can’t handle much else than feed kids and sleep for 5 yrs than you have to be ok with that! Here is an extract from my journal during the first year being a mum…
October 17 2010
“I want to feel like I did before I was a mummy. Is that even possible? I want to wake up with a sense of freedom and happiness. I think that’s is, the feeling of freedom. Its gone now, I don’t even get a weekend, a Friday or Saturday night to dress up for. Everyday may as well be the same day, the same night. I sound like the most ungrateful, horrible mother in the world. But don’t ever question my love for Jacob, its unending. I always make sure his life is wonderful and he is happy. I thought the majority of the time was supposed to be fun, I know its not always perfect but shouldn’t it be enjoyable? It just feels like work, ongoing, never ending, work!”
So there you have a piece of my raw self as a first time mum.. and that’s one of my better days! When it was really bad I couldn’t even write about it!
I’m a completely different person to when I was 18, kids changed me, they brought out the worst in me! How horrible is that! But they are also moulding me into the strong woman I want to become. How can I help other women and families if I haven’t had to go through it all myself? Every time you get another mountain in front of you, every time you hurt, or feel broken and just a big mess remember how good its going to be when you get to the top and stick your flag into your conquered mountain and make your way back down to help the others who are still on the trek! That’s what we are here for sister! To go back and help the others while others are helping us up the next thing coming our way. Yep, more coming your way!
I haven’t summited my mountain yet in regards to depression but I feel I have reached some peaks. And what I’ve learnt so far I will share openly with you. This here is just the beginning…
Please share this to help put an end to the shame that often comes with having postnatal depression, sharing stories is really the most powerful way to reach people.