I was so excited to be pregnant, but at eight weeks I was struck down by hyperemesis gravidarum (extreme nausea and vomiting) and I spent a lot of the first trimester getting intravenous hydration in hospital.
Eleni was born by caesarean section at 40 weeks. She was very unsettled on day three and my milk still had not come in. By the time I left hospital, breastfeeding was still not established and I felt quite nervous taking this delicate bundle home.
Feeding and settling issues continued. Newborns feed every 3-4 hours and so as things weren’t going smoothly, this meant I wasn’t getting much sleep. I was determined to give her my breastmilk but as she was not latching I was expressing milk when I should have been resting.
My Maternal and Child Health nurse had sent a counsellor around to check on me, but I was in complete denial. I just thought I was exhausted. I went to see the GP to seek help for Eleni’s feeding problems, but all she wanted to do was talk about me. This upset me and I left. A few days later I went to see another GP about a lump in my breast. This GP mentioned that she had gone to ‘sleep school’ and perhaps I should think about it. Sure, I thought. The idea of sleep sounded great!
The next day, I rocked up to the ‘sleep school’ which was called a mother baby unit. After some meetings and paperwork, the psychiatric team mentioned the words post natal depression. I was still in denial and told them I just needed sleep.
Of course, as the days at the unit unfolded, I slowly came to realise that I was indeed having extra challenges – more than just your average new mum. I was struggling – to bond with Eleni because she was crying so much, with feeling like a failure because I was not fulfilling my role as a nurturer and a comfort to her, and because I was taking her feeding problems personally. She was eventually diagnosed with silent reflux, and I was diagnosed with PND, which in my case was manifesting itself as anxiety.
We left the unit after four weeks. We had both been put on medication (Losec for her, Zoloft for me) and I had a support and self-care plan in place. Things were good, and I was loving being a mum.
When Eleni was 6 months old I got pregnant again. The hyperemesis was worse this time. It was also more challenging because I had a baby to look after. PANDA (Post and Antenatal Depression Association) was an amazing support. I was struggling again. This time, I was feeling blessed to be pregnant again and have a beautiful baby girl already, but I could not find any joy, as I was in discomfort for many months. The compassionate counsellors helped me deal with this stage, as I found myself offloading and then feeling so much better for it. These kind people knew what to say and I felt supported. In talking with them, I found the perspective to help me keep going through the moments and days.
When Stephanie was born, she too presented with feeding difficulties. This lasted until she was 8 months old. Every feed was a screamfest and despite tests nothing conclusive was found. Once again PANDA helped me navigate the frustration and many tears were shed when speaking with the kindly counselors.
On one occasion, I was asked if I would like to be involved in a home start program.
This would mean I would get some hands-on assistance once a week by a trained volunteer. I was not in denial this time. I welcomed any help offered with open arms.
My volunteer called Rena was an angel incarnate.
My baby and toddler loved her. She sang them songs, helped me take them to the park, listened to my concerns and provided gentle guidance and perspective. She was also a huge part of my recovery and over the course of almost a year, bore witness to my emergence from isolated new mum to involved community member.
I am now working part time again as a lawyer/mediator. Eleni and Stephanie are spirited little pre-schoolers. I am running a busy household, and of course every now and then I still have my days. But I know they too shall pass.
You can contact PANDA’s national helpline from 10am-5pm Monday-Friday.
Phone 1300 726 306.
Image credit: ferli / 123RF Stock Photo