The labour and delivery had been relatively easy and I fell in love with her instantly, something I hadn’t been expecting.
My next order of business was to throw up in a kidney bowl and pass out from exhaustion. But I was happy. Deliriously happy.
The next day in the family birth centre, I had trouble feeding her. She wouldn’t latch on properly and the midwives were militant – they would thrust her onto me chanting, “You must breastfeed. You must breastfeed.” in an onerous tone and become frustrated with me when I couldn’t do it. I wanted to breastfeed her so badly and the midwives weren’t telling me anything I didn’t already know. Years later, I discovered Scout had an undiagnosed tongue-tie. Snipping that tiny bit of flesh may have made all the difference.
At home, I was determined not to give up on breastfeeding. For two long months until her mouth grew bigger and we finally got the hang of it, I was in excruciating pain. I had several blocked ducts and one bout of mastitis. I loved my little girl, but I was exhausted.
She didn’t sleep well in her first year and I had so much (often unwanted) advice about how to get her to sleep, and how to not “give in” to her so-called manipulation at bedtime. I was putting a tremendous amount of pressure on myself to create the idyllic “good baby” and as a first-time mum, I had no idea how to manage the practicalities and emotions of raising a child. Well-intentioned people had me doubting my maternal instincts.
The disconnect between these instincts (of which I’d convinced myself I hadn’t any) and what people were “suggesting” I should be doing with Scout, made me feel isolated, desperate and like I was failing my daughter. Badly. I didn’t sleep. Even when things with Scout were going smoothly, I lay awake wondering when it was all going to go to Hell again.
I was terrified when Husband went to work. In the afternoon, after hours of trying to get Scout to sleep, I would ring him and plead with him to come home so I could get a break and he always said “No”. It wasn’t his fault. He had a job and logically I knew that, but there was nothing logical in the way I was feeling. I would yell. Cry. Hysterical sometimes. I looked in the mirror and saw a desperate shell with some flesh attached. I didn’t recognise myself in there.
I was seriously sleep-deprived. I went to a GP who diagnosed Post Natal Depression, but she was so prescriptive about it, there was a “fill out this questionnaire and we’ll tally your score and see if you’re depressed” approach to her diagnosis that made me feel anxious, too. I had no idea whether I was genuinely depressed or whether I just needed a decent sleep. I was confused. Exhausted. A failure. I didn’t take the anti-depressants that the GP prescribed as I had no faith that she even understood how I was feeling (I’ve since found another GP).
There is nothing black and white about PND. Everyone experiences it differently. For some it lasts a month or two, for others it takes years to feel like a normal person again. Women (and men) with PND need support, not judgement.
For me, it wasn’t until Scout’s third month that it really hit – even though I was exhausted and in pain, the panic didn’t come scratching at me until then. It didn’t present as a typical depression in that I was able to get out of bed in the morning and I didn’t feel down as much as anxious and panicky. The insomnia, as well as the anxiety and powerlessness I felt when I looked at my screaming child who desperately needed me took a long time to heal.
I am back to my “old self” now. The shadow of an unrecognisable but loving mum who needed help as much as my daughter did is a distant memory. I have a second child now who is no easier, but I’m easier. I listen to my instincts. I let her sleep in my bed if she needs to. I don’t go crazy with panic if she wakes at night like I used to.
I am going with the flow and that is freedom.