I have been avoiding writing this post. Talking about what I went through (and am still going through although not as severe) is something I still find incredibly painful. The first nine weeks of Isaac's life were the best and worst of mine. I feel like I need to take the time here to briefly talk about the Mother Baby Unit and the incredibly supportive, wonderful, beautiful nurses and midwives who work there. These women saw me at my absolute lowest. They were perfect strangers who came to feel like family. They talked me through so many panic attacks, cared for my son when I was unable to, made me laugh, talked me through everything I was feeling, never judged me, never made me feel like a bad mother - quite the opposite. I quite literally couldn't have gotten through those weeks without them. I will owe them for the rest of my life and Isaac has the privilege of having a lot of extra "Aunties" who doted on him and helped his Mum through a relentless, horrendous illness. I could never, ever thank them enough <3 xo.
I was admitted to the Mother Baby Unit when Isaac was three and a half weeks old. I was terrified and had no idea what to expect, only that I knew I was desperate for any kind of help. While anxiety has always been a part of my life, depression was new to me - I had never felt so low. Staring at my newborn with no positive feelings at all for three weeks was more than I could bear.
My sister took some time off work to take me to the hospital, as Reid was unable to, although thankfully he was able to stay with me each night while I was a patient. We walked in to a homely looking section that was the Mother Baby Unit, greeted by a lovely midwife and were directed to a large room that I was expecting to stay in for a few days, not having a clue I would be there for six weeks. I sat on the couch and cried. I cried while another midwife came in and asked me routine questions and I filled in some paperwork. I cried as I breastfed Isaac. Uncomfortable and aching. I cried as I met my wonderful psychiatrist for the first time. Talking to him for over an hour about my history and questioning how on earth I had arrived at this point in my life in this emotional state. I cried as my sister had to leave me. I cried when Reid arrived from work. I spent at least a week having meltdown after meltdown. I would sit in that room, curled up on the couch or curled up on the bed, crying. I would never press the call button for a midwife, although I was desperate for them to come in and tell me I would be OK. They always came in to check on me thankfully, at least every hour or two and I confided in them as they helped me through the darkest of moments. I saw my psychiatrist most days - I found him to be truly incredible in the way he could pinpoint issues I hadn't even thought of myself. A simple question would turn into a personal revelation, every day I seemed to be learning about different facets of myself - some old, some brand new. I went through so much, so quickly - whirlwind almost doesn't cover it.
This next topic is one that I still struggle with every day. The guilt I feel still grabs me on an almost daily basis when it comes to... breastfeeding. I went into pregnancy expecting to breastfeed my baby for at least the first six months. I expected it to be hard. I expected there to be issues. I heard hardly any positive stories. At every obstetrician appointment I attended, breastfeeding was talked about in an almost reverent way. A magical experience. The best possible thing you can do for your baby. I thought I was prepared. I "knew it was going to be hard" but I would push through.
I had no idea.
Isaac and I established breastfeeding quite well in his first few days. I had some trouble getting him to latch properly at the start, Reid was the best help at this time - he was able to position Isaac's head just right and then he would feed well. The tirade of conflicting advice we received in hospital definitely didn't help matters, but in the end, we found a position that worked, although it was still quite uncomfortable. I won't go into too much detail, but basically, I had to get myself into quite an awkward position for Isaac to latch and then for him to not suffocate! I am absolutely not a person who would mind seeing a woman breastfeeding in public. I think it's a beautiful thing. Having said that, I found it incredibly uncomfortable to breastfeed in front of people. Even though I knew nobody would mind, I just felt so much pressure and my anxiety got out of control. If people were visiting and Isaac needed to be fed (which was a LOT), I would go to my bedroom or ask them to leave the room when we were in hospital. I think a lot of people found this baffling, but I just couldn't handle it. I don't really know why, it just made me SO anxious. Our first night at home, Isaac fed every half an hour. Nothing else would settle him. I was so exhausted. A lot of the time he just wanted to feed for comfort. I had a really good supply. Isaac was getting plenty of milk and I didn't have any major physical issues.
But... I hated it. I hated every minute of it. I dreaded every feed. I was sore, I was so tired, I was so uncomfortable in the way I had to hold Isaac to make sure he was comfortable. I kept telling myself it would get easier, and I'm sure it probably would have, but by the time I got to the Mother Baby Unit I had had enough. I told my psychiatrist and the midwives many things I thought I would never say out loud. The fact that I hated breastfeeding and wanted to stop, was one of them. At the end of the day, weaning from breastfeeding was the best possible outcome, as I was able to be put on whatever medications I needed to, without the worry of them being transferred to Isaac, as he had already been exposed to my anti-anxiety medication both during pregnancy and through breastfeeding. I expected to be judged by the midwives and pushed into continuing, but that wasn't the case at all. They talked me through weaning and what I would need to do while my psychiatrist discussed medication options with me. I was able to express quite a lot of milk during that weaning period (a "fast" wean was done over around four days) so all in all, I breastfed Isaac for four weeks, and was able to give him an occasional bottle of breastmilk that I had expressed during the time I was weaning for a few weeks after that and I still have some frozen reserves to use up. I did the best I could, and I am still coming to terms with something I thought I would do no matter what. However, Isaac is thriving on formula just as he would be on breast milk. The relief I felt when Reid was able to do a feed, or my Mum, or my sister - it was such a big deal to me. I bonded more with Isaac when I started bottle feeding him than I ever did while breast feeding and while I still struggle with the guilt of not being able to breastfeed, I know it was the best decision. Although, the first few weeks of Isaac being on formula were hell for me. He was a very "windy" baby, and would just scream in pain usually from around 5pm until 9 or 10pm. I know compared to some babies, this is mild, but it was so hard for me, not being able to settle him no matter what I did. The midwives offered us some excellent tips, and assured us that it wasn't necessarily the formula doing this - breastfed babies can be just as unsettled and suffer with wind pain. Of course I found this hard to take in, and just assumed it was my fault for not being able to breastfeed anymore.
Over the next few weeks, not only was I weaning from breastfeeding which was painful both physically and emotionally, but I was weaning off the medication I had been taking for over four years which had some incredibly awful side effects, mostly in the form of an even more intense depression. I was started on a new antidepressant, as well as something to try to help with my crippling anxiety. I had to get out of the hospital for half an hour a day at least, and this became almost impossible for me. I spent a lot of time in a local park, just walking around and around, staring at the time until the 30 minutes was up. I would almost run back to the hospital and then have a panic attack on arrival. After a lot of discussion about this with my psychiatrist a diagnosis of agoraphobia was discussed. I came to realise that I was terrified to see people I knew in the state I was in. Sure, I am open about my mental health and postnatal depression is no different, but it was just so clear that I wasn't coping. I wasn't wearing makeup, I was wearing the most daggy clothes I owned, I was always as white as a ghost, I could barely keep a conversation going and I was just so tired. I would go outside and see people living their normal lives. Talking on their phones, dressed in work attire - and then there was me. Lost. I literally had no idea who I was anymore. This new identity had crept up so suddenly and I couldn't adjust. I was used to being in the workforce, chatting with my colleagues all day, getting work done, coming home and relaxing with Reid - and now I was a dishevelled, depressed, anxious wreck, responsible for keeping a tiny human alive. And quite honestly, I just wanted to go back. As much as I loved Isaac, I just couldn't imagine ever feeling "normal" again, and that terrified me beyond belief. The only people I was comfortable to see on a regular basis was Reid, my Mum, my sister and my brother-in-law (he popped in almost daily to make me a coffee and have a chat - it seriously meant so much to me and helped me feel semi-myself).
The Mother Baby Unit became my home. I was supported, Isaac was supported, I had professionals with me on a daily basis who didn't judge me. I was free to cry and free to share everything I was going through with people who weren't emotionally involved, although were so sympathetic and helpful with their advice. After a week, I was started on not one but two antidepressants and it was then I began to notice a lightening of my mood. I was slowly starting to enjoy Isaac, instead of just going through the motions of looking after him. A lot of medication tweaking happened over the next few weeks. I am currently taking four different medications. I am not ashamed to admit that. I will not be on all four forever - the idea is to eventually only need the one. I find it so frustrating when people act like taking medication for mental health issues is a weak option, the "easy" option. It is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. But you can be sure if I was diagnosed with diabetes or an infection requiring antibiotics - I would take the required medication for that too and I wouldn't be ashamed. Once again, the stigma placed on mental health issues is just not OK. Rest was really important as far as my recovery was concerned, and some of the medication I take is to help me sleep. This meant that most nights, the midwives looked after Isaac. This was both a blessing and a curse. I needed the sleep in order to get better, but I hated not looking after Isaac at night. I felt guilty and useless and like a failure of a mother. The fact my medication was tweaked so much meant that I was pretty dopey at night time and was generally completely out of it by 9pm and slept so solidly I didn't think I would wake up to Isaac and be able to look after him properly. After a couple of weeks of solid sleep and as the medication began to work, I slowly took on some night time duties where Isaac was concerned. To start with, midwives would bring Isaac in every time he needed a feed - I would then feed him and change him and put him back to bed, the midwives would then take over any settling that was required. Gradually I started looking after him full time the more used to the medication I became, as not looking after him caused me so much anxiety. It was a really crappy situation where I didn't know what was best. Once again, the midwives support through this time was invaluable.
As the weeks passed, it became clear that steps needed to be taken to prepare me for going home. This thought made me sick to my stomach. Normally, I love my home. Reid and I built our own home nearly a year and a half ago - we worked so hard and I am a home body. I would much rather be at home relaxing than go out. The thought of being in our house during this time however, just made my anxiety peak, due to the fact I was so beyond miserable there for those first three weeks of Isaac's life. I was set the challenge of just going home for a few hours one weekend, with Reid and Isaac. This seemed simple enough. We packed up some things, popped Isaac in his car seat and headed home without incident. We arrived home at around 9am and we were just going to watch a movie and then head back to hospital. I was sooo anxious the entire time. I couldn't sit still. I just kept wandering around, tidying things even though the house was immaculate. Wiping down the bench over and over again. Looking into Isaac's room, wandering around aimlessly and counting down the seconds until we could go back to the Mother Baby Unit. This became the next big challenge. Getting home. For two weeks I headed home every few days, just for a few hours at a time, until it gradually became easier and bearable to be there. Six weeks after my admission date, I still knew I wasn't 100%, but I knew it was time for me to go home and try to live my new life as well as I could. Saying goodbye to the midwives was incredibly hard for me. I still miss them all every day. I really can't put into words how much they helped me, all in their different ways. Often just sitting with me while I cried. Holding Isaac for me as I sobbed. They saw me through it all.
I have now been at home for just over three weeks. Isaac is so much more settled (as most babies are as they get older) and I am finally settling into my role as a Mum with the depression kept at bay and the anxiety under control most of the time. We are in a lovely little routine for the most part. Every day Isaac is learning more, becoming more interactive, smiling and chatting away, snuggling and using his different cries to communicate that I have now mastered decoding. I am finally feeling happier. I still get overwhelmed really easily and have had to limit visitors as much as possible which is yet another thing I have felt guilty about, but I have had to put my health first over the last three months for the sake of my beautiful boy.
I am a much healthier, happier person than I was 12 weeks ago, and it honestly feels more like 12 years with everything I've been through but I'm proud to say I'm getting better every day. There are still a whole lot of ups and downs but that is the same for all parents, whether or not there are mental health issues present. I never imagined postnatal depression would happen to me, it truly hit me so hard and so fast I still can't quite come to grips with it.
I'd like to take this opportunity to thank mine and Reid's wonderful families and friends for being so understanding and supportive during this time.
I really hope that by sharing this story, the story of my struggle and the story of my eventual triumph, I might help someone else seek help and know they are not alone. There are lots of ways to be a good Mum, and making sure you are as happy and healthy as possible is just so important. I love my baby more than I ever thought possible. It has not been anything like I expected and my journey is far from over, but I am heading in the right direction and I truly want to be the best Mum I can possibly be. I won't let postnatal depression define me, it something I have, not something I am. My baby boy is loved, cherished and well cared for - and that is the most important thing <3