This is Anna’s story …
I loved being pregnant! No morning sickness, the thickest hair I’ve ever had. I also loved giving birth; I felt in control and not scared.
As I held my precious Natalia in my arms for the first time I remember thinking, ‘things will never be the same’.
I’d researched my pregnancy week-by-week but did not really think much about the reality of being a new parent. ‘She’ll just adapt to our lifestyle’ I kept reassuring my mum.
I struggled for three weeks trying to breastfeed, feeling increasingly frustrated with my failure at this ‘natural’, motherly function; isolated I was usually left alone out of respect for my privacy; terrified that Natalia would die from malnutrition and confused by all of the well-meaning but conflicting advice I was being barraged with.
EVERYONE was telling me what a perfect baby Natalia was. But I didn’t feel that way, in fact, I wasn’t feeling anything – no happiness, no love. I wasn’t getting any sleep. When she was awake I was counting down the seconds until she’d be asleep again so that I could rest. I was constantly anxious that she could wake any minute. When I did fall asleep out of sheer exhaustion, I would wake up in a panic.
My family was being so supportive, offering to help in any way I wanted, but I would always say no. I had to prove myself as a mother, I was used to being successful at everything I did and now this was my job. After all, I wasn’t earning any money anymore; I was just a mum in the same puked-on dressing gown, day in and day out.
The signs of postnatal depression and anxiety were subtle initially – loss of appetite, constant thirst, uncontrollable sweating, negativity and lethargy. It’s just the baby blues I was assured by family. Try to relax and speak to other mothers said the GP.
After two days I told my husband that I did not love Natalia, wanted my old life back and the best thing for her was to be adopted. In tears he first begged me to stop thinking that way and then in exasperation yelled ‘absolutely not’.
I began searching for alternative solutions – if I can’t make her go away, I need to go away. Thoughts of suicide consumed me. Even more distressing were thoughts of taking my daughter with me, something I still struggle to speak about.
One morning my mother-in-law found me in the kitchen running a knife down my wrist. I was taken to the Emergency Department and they found me a place in a Mother and Baby unit where new mothers are treated while still being able to care for their baby.
I was admitted that night. All I remember is welcoming arms and someone saying ‘It will be OK, promise’. My anxiety had become so debilitating that I had to be convinced to get out of bed, I didn’t shower for days. I thought about suicide constantly. I tried to cry but couldn’t. I did not eat. I could not make decisions, concentrate – even watching TV or reading was impossible.
Caring for my daughter felt like a burden and I was furious with anyone encouraging me to. I couldn’t bear to even call Natalia by her name.
One evening a nurse asked me ‘ if you had a broken leg and had to concentrate on yourself to get better while others cared for your baby would you feel guilty?’. ‘No’ I replied. ‘So why is it that because you have a medical condition affecting your brain rather than your leg that you feel differently?’. I didn’t answer but I knew why – because of the stigma associated with mental illness, something I was guilty of myself.
It took several weeks of antidepressants to feel the fog starting to lift. Progress was slow but I got there with the unwavering support of my husband and mum.
For the next nine months I was back to my old self. I cherished every moment with Natalia and her exciting achievements. We joined a fantastic mothers’ group and I started working from home, bringing an important part of my life back.
I no longer had postnatal depressioin and started to wean off the antidepressants. And that’s when the relapse happened. This time it was different – recovery took much longer because I was angry that I failed.
This time it wasn’t about my daughter. I loved her and she didn’t deserve such a weak, disturbed mum. I couldn’t bear to even make eye contact with her because of the guilt, shame and hopelessness I was feeling. It took all I had but the medication kicked in the fog started to lift once again.
It’s been 12 months and this time I’m doing things differently. I’m staying on the anti-depressants as long as I have to and I have an excellent support team – a psychiatrist, psychologist and GP who understands postnatal depression and anxiety.
I am at peace with the reality that I am still recovering from postnatal depression and anxiety. I’m setting realistic goals – to be the best mum I can be, not the perfect mum. To ensure that I don’t lose myself, that it’s OK to have ‘me time’.
Most of all, there is nothing more precious to me than Natalia, Steve and my family. For them, and myself, I will do everything I can to avoid a relapse. And if I do, to fight it with all I have, believing I have it in me.
The Bub Hub is proud to support PANDA
If you – or anyone you know – is struggling with perinatal anxiety or depression, you can call PANDA’s free National Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Helpline (1300 726 306). The service offers counselling, information and referral services with ongoing telephone support for families throughout Australia. The helpline operates Monday to Friday from 9am to 7:30pm EST.