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‘I was absolutely terrified of my daughter. I couldn’t pick her up’

Kristal shares her story about perinatal anxiety and awarenessTo help spread awareness of perinatal depression and anxiety we have been publishing stories bravely written by women and men who have experienced PNDA. This is Kristal’s story …

My name is Kristal. I’m married with two beautiful children and two little dogs. About five years ago I gave birth to Chelsea via emergency inverted T-incision. It was the most terrifying moment of my life, and the complications that came with it were even worse.

I was discharged from hospital way before I felt ready. I was crying morning till night but I was given no information about postnatal anxiety or depression and had no conversations with anyone about my mental health. All the medical practitioners were saying, “You just had a baby! You’re just hormonal. This will pass.” But it didn’t, and 12 weeks later I was still crying AM to PM.

I was driving around in my car for hours on end. I wanted to have some sense of normality back into my life. I was also locking myself in my room, in my bathroom. I just needed to be on my own and I couldn’t cope. I had these fears in my head that if people ever found out I wasn’t coping then my baby would be taken away from me.

Along with the crying and everything else that that was happening I also needed mother baby therapy. I was absolutely terrified of my daughter. I couldn’t pick her up. I couldn’t look at her. It was just the most horrible time.

Before the birth, people were telling me, “Oh when your baby is born it will come to you naturally”. But it totally didn’t. My daughter and I did not have that early attachment and we had to work on it for 18 months. I wish I knew that if you don’t have that instant connection with your baby it doesn’t mean you’re a bad mum.

Fast forward four years and we are so close. I’ve had to put a lot of work in to being a mum and it hasn’t come naturally to me. So I would say to any new mum, if you’re not feeling a connection with your baby, especially in the first few weeks, don’t put pressure on yourself because not everybody has that love at first sight with their baby.

I had people saying to me, “You shower, you put on makeup, you wear nice clothes. You couldn’t possibly be depressed. You couldn’t possibly be having suicidal thoughts.” But I kept it hidden – I did that for four years.

Fast forward to today; I now live with bipolar and borderline personality disorder, anxiety complex trauma and depression. People still look at me and say, “But you present yourself so nicely all the time”. What they don’t understand is that by wearing makeup, by doing my hair, I regain some control over my life when my moods are going up and down.

I wish I knew that I could stand up for myself even if that meant disagreeing with people, including health professionals, who thought I wasn’t showing enough distress to be really sick. If you need help, you put your foot down. You are worthy of help. You are worthy of receiving treatment. Whether this is the first time that you’ve had an illness like perinatal anxiety or depression, or whether you’ve had other mental health issues like I have.

I want you to know that you’re not alone, there are women across Australia, across the world who know what it feels like.

Even though you might be sitting at home feeling really isolated I want you to know that there is help available – help from organisations just like PANDA, which is a fantastic organisation. I honestly don’t know where I would be without them and their resources.

Everybody on this earth goes through hard times and for some of us that’s just after we’ve had a baby. Life won’t be like this forever. If you’re struggling and you get help, you can start feeling better quickly.

Let me finish on a happy note: Chelsea is almost five, and I also now have a seven month old son Oliver. With my son I didn’t have a repeat of postnatal depression and had a perfectly healthy recovery from the birth. Even though I have had issues with bipolar I didn’t experience postnatal anxiety or depression second time around.

I know many mums (and myself in the past) who have experienced perinatal anxiety or depression are absolutely terrified of having another baby because of the fear of going back to that place again. While I can’t say to anyone that it won’t happen again, for me it didn’t and I’d like to share that fact today to perhaps give hope to other mums and dads.

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The Bub Hub is proud to support PANDA

For support, please call PANDA’s National Helpline on 1300 726 306 Mon-Fri 9am-7:30pm. For more information or to support PANDA Week activities visit www.panda.org.au/awareness/panda-week

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