A kiwi mum shares her experience of PND.
I’ve got three children, Girl1, Boy1 and Boy2. Girl1 was a healthy pregnancy and delivery. I loved her on sight and slipped blissfully into motherhood. I’m not kidding. I loved her so much – she opened my eyes to a new kind of world – our shared love for her made my relationship with my husband stronger – it was hard work, but it was wonderful work. I felt like SuperMum.
She was ten months old when we decided to try for our next baby. A year of desperate and increasingly hopeless attempts later we finally fell pregnant. I was rapt and bought a bassinet and some baby clothes to celebrate – then miscarried the following week. It was the most shattering experience of my life. I’m not going to talk about that. Three weeks later I was pregnant again.
I was unable to sleep because my fear of not getting enough rest and miscarrying the baby. I was barely able to eat because my anxiety about urgently NEEDING to keep food down exacerbated my morning sickness. This time I kept everything about my uncomfortable pregnancy to myself, because to voice it might be cosmically interpreted as a desire to miscarry. I wanted to cry most of the time but held back because I had read that negative feelings were bad for the baby – instead I would sing something cheery to stimulate an endorphin boost for the baby. I would worry for days after walking my daughter to music group that I’d ‘overdone it’ and the following morning would bring death.
He was born healthy, because other than increasing anxiety and obsessive behaviour, there was nothing wrong with me.
We brought him home a day early, because I remembered the days after Girl1 was born and felt rock-solid in my support system. However, I spent the next two weeks (postnatal, and stitched!) doing all the normal round of chores, while feeding Boy1 hourly and nursing him through lengthy colic and reflux attacks, while feeding and involving my then 2-year-old Girl1, who decided that was a good time to toilet-train, and while entertaining the deluge of visitors who all seemed to visit during nap-time. My husband spent his two weeks of paternity leave staying up until 5am or so playing computer games and sleeping all day. I felt let down, disappointed, overwhelmed and upset. All the time. Every day. How did I feel about the baby? I didn’t know. I didn’t have time to know a d*mned thing about the baby. I performed the required actions to keep him clean, dry and fed. I did the very best I could, but there was so much else to do and no one else to do it.
In the next month my husband landed a new job and we moved house. I packed us up, organized the children, and moved us to the new house. I was becoming fond of the new baby, and knew things about him by now. He was an early roller, loved to clutch and unclutch, and had a laugh that sounded like a drain coming unblocked. I was of course especially fond of him because he was alive (being conceived so soon after the miscarriage) – and was careful to preserve the facade of happiness in order to keep him so.
But it was safe to cry now that I was no longer pregnant, and I would cry silently in bed as soon as I woke up each morning, knowing that there was an entire day ahead of me to get through. I wanted my husband to help with the chores and childcare but it was much too hard to try and get any work out of him – and it always wound up with me feeling more hurt and let down. I had a streaming To Do list that never seemed to get any shorter.
And when Boy1 was just a few months old, I fell pregnant again.
Discomfort, nausea, insomnia, and a cheery face that wasn’t allowed to cry any more because I didn’t want my baby to die. As desperately unhappy and overwhelmed as I was, knowing in my heart that I couldn’t cope with another child, I still didn’t want my baby to die. My husband lost his new job due to illness, and we had to survive on food bank parcels. And this pregnancy was different – it was characterized by extended periods of bleeding and cramping. On the days I bled I lay with my legs up against the wall until the bleeding stopped. If I hadn’t been able to contact someone to babysit them, I let my living children miss meals and cry – so long as the bleeding stopped. I allowed myself to cry on those days… On the days I didn’t bleed I showered the town with CVs and finally landed a job as a clerk, which fortunately didn’t start until the second “safer” trimester. I was certain the baby would die and I knew it was because I was an inadequate mother. But he lived.
I took two weeks off work to give birth. I came back to work with insufficient sleep each day, and a breastpump to attempt to operate while running the shop alone. I had a postnatal bleeding problem that wouldn’t abate, and caused me chronic pain. I still had to run the household, manage the laundry, cook every meal, tend to the night feedings, clean up the copious reflux spills (the new baby also had reflux, but he was happier about it) and do all the normal nappy/cuddle/milk routine for both babies.
I managed the budget, badly. I kept up with the laundry, badly. I cooked, but no recipe was longer than ten minutes and the dishes stood on the bench for days, sometimes a week. I told my highly critical mother-in-law that I didn’t care about the mess. Of course I did. There was just no time.
Where was all the time? How did other mothers manage all this pressure?
There was no one close enough in my life to notice anything wrong with me.
I honestly believe my husband pretended everything was fine even at times when I clearly wasn’t coping, so that he didn’t have to help out more. I mean, I know he wanted to help, but I needed so much more than he felt able to contribute. My mother-in-law was always unkind about my housekeeping practices, but I liked to see her every now and again because she was the only visitor who would sometimes help out around the house. My own parents paid fleeting visits and always left in a hurry. I’d already lost touch with all my friends during Boy1’s pregnancy.
My husband started rejecting most of my sexual advances – although intimacy between us had become less and less frequent since we first planned our poor miscarried baby. He spent unexplained time away from the house and long periods secretly on the computer after I was asleep. I found pornographic images in a folder I tried to save a file in – but when confronted with them, he successfully convinced me that the computer was on the fritz and I had imagined the situation. I began to fear I was losing my mind. My insomnia returned.
Time’s a blur over this period – I think it was when Boy2 was four months old that his Plunket nurse asked me, “And how are you?”. It was a good question. I sank my head in my arms and cried for an hour. I couldn’t even speak. The shame of it was indescribable – I should have been so happy! I had this nice husband and these three amazing kids – what was wrong with me? I had been living so long with the fear of failing to appear happy that it was painful and humiliating to cry. It seemed to cast a shadow over these wonderful kids of mine too.
But when she said, “This sounds like Post-natal Depression” it was such a relief. Because it’s an illness. It’s not a character flaw.
She convinced me to visit my GP as soon as possible. He prescribed me
Citalopram and referred me to Maternal Mental Health. Yes, I cried all
over him too. The Citalopram brought on terrible nausea and mild hallucinations in my case, but it prevented me from worrying and worrying at the same problem like I had been doing. It also stopped me from pulling out handfuls of my own hair, a habit I’d forgotten I had. I’ve now had eighteen months of counselling and was recently discharged as ‘normal’.
Words cannot express how happy I was to start enjoying my children again. I began to have good days as soon as I knew what the problem was. At first there was just one, then the next month there was two, and then more and more. When I was certain I was under control, I enrolled in a business qualification with the Open Polytech, my grades from which been a massive boost to my self esteem.
I make half an hour for myself during the kids’ naptime in the middle of every day – I don’t care what chores get neglected to make that happen. I make another half an hour of reading time available before bed every night so that I can drop calmly off to sleep. Nowadays I kick my husband in the leg if the babies wake during the night, because I work and study all day but he’s able to catch up on his sleep the next day at naptime. I love taking all of my children to the playground and seeing them have fun together. They are widely admired in our little neighborhood for their kind natures and good manners. They don’t know there was anything different about their earliest years. They are happy and affectionate – and if I do worry that Boy1 in particular has a more sensitive nature than is normal, it’s comforting to reflect that I sought treatment as soon as I could, and I stuck with it even though it was sometimes hard.
Good mothers are a myth perpetrated by the same corporate spin doctors that moulded society’s impression of attractive women. I myself am ‘good enough’ mother even on my bad days. Well, being a mum is hard, and there are other parts of a woman’s identity that need attention too. It sounds terrible, but I recommend doing the minimum that needs doing – feed them, change them, cuddle them if they’re sad. Those three things alone can take up a whole day anyway. Then anything else is a bonus. You could spend the time on chores, or you could get everyone in their swimsuits and chase each other around the sprinkler. You could even leave the house and visit somebody. The day has possibilities again. Well, that’s what I try to do these days, now that I’m “normal”!
Footnote: I switched Boy2 to formula feeding after my meeting with the doctor, after learning that babies whose mothers take citalopram often exhibit its side effects. His reflux improved markedly as a result of the new diet, and so did my break-times at work. I’ll never crucify myself over breastfeeding again!