I revealed a few months ago that I had been diagnosed with post natal depression (PND) and anxiety. My doctor (who knows me and my history very well) and I made a plan that, while I didn't want to go on medication, I'd try it for 6 months and hopefully by then things would have settled down and I could go off it. I'd been on the particular medication I'm on before so we knew it should work. And it definitely does - within the first few days I felt better! My husband and friends noticed it too (even though technically it doesn't fully start working for a few weeks).
I felt so good in February that I was considering asking at my next doctor's appointment in March whether I could start to go off them. Then we got the call about Brendan's new job in another town, and I became anxious and stressed all over again about packing up the house - this wasn't in my plan for 2017 - the year I assumed would be pretty uneventful and I could get used to having two kids.
Fast forward to one night in March...
"I completely lost it tonight. I can see that now. I forgot to take my medication this morning and only remembered at 5:30pm when I started to feel nauseous and quite unwell. I promptly took it and laid down but unfortunately with the particular medication I'm on, it has to be taken at the same time each day. I looked around at the house, which wasn't unusually messy for this time of day, but all of a sudden I couldn't handle it. Then I got fixated on something someone hadn't said (my anxiety makes me think the worst) and of course by now it's getting close to bedtime so I give Miss M some dinner (which she doesn't eat anyway), changed her nappy and put her in her pyjamas and we began her bedtime routine, all while I was still feeling sick and anxious. She didn't want to stay in her bed but that hasn't been unusual lately with all the changes going on. I began Miss O's routine, feed, nappy change, pyjamas etc. and finally got her to sleep when, of course as I'm putting her down, she wakes up, and Miss M walks out of her room again - an hour after I put her to bed, and I don't think she'd even been asleep yet. I started to get worked up again, the kitchen and lounge room and pretty well the whole house is an absolute mess, both girls probably sense my stress and are both crying. It's a lot to handle at the best of times but when you feel sick and anxious already, it seems to boil to a head, and I just walked out to our sunroom, sat on the floor and cried. Miss M wandered out and gave me the biggest, most beautiful hug, and I cried harder, thinking about how this must be affecting her. I don't want my kids to see me like this. I wander back to my bedroom but I still can't do it, and just lay on my bed with the two girls and cried. Thoughts creep into my head and I know I have to call my mum to come and help. All I had to say between tears was 'can you come and help?' And she came as soon as she could. I explained a bit to her but the problem with anxiety and depression is that you can be telling someone about it and what you are saying may not seem like the end of the world, but when you are in that moment, it's like being in a big, black hole and there's no way out, no ladder, no light at the end of the tunnel. Previously in my life I would never have called someone to come and help - I didn't want people to see me like this. But when my kids are there, it's different - I have to be strong and brave for them, even when I can't be those things for me."
I wrote that while my Mum was here putting the girls to bed and cleaning up my house, while I laid on my bed feeling physically and mentally exhausted. I wanted to write it in the moment, because sometimes when I'm feeling fine, I can't fully explain what it's like.
When I take the medication correctly (which is 99% of the time), I feel really good and I feel like I can function well. Prior to being diagnosed with PND and beginning medication, I wrote down a few things I felt pretty much 7 days out of 10... (writing has really helped me express my feelings over the last couple of years...)
"I feel lonely... upset... like it's all too hard... like no one understands... like I want my old life back. I can't connect with Miss O... Why wasn't she a boy? How do I stop her crying? Why aren't my cuddles enough? Why couldn't she breastfeed from me? Did I do something wrong? I can't do this on my own. Why can't I do it? I'm sick of crying; It's too hard. When does it get better?"
I mentioned we struggled breastfeeding... I've been hesitant to ever mention that Miss O is fully formula fed because to be honest I'm still a little embarrassed and ashamed. Here's that story...
After a shaky start, I was able to feed Miss M for 14 months. I assumed I would be able to breastfeed any more children I had but it wasn't the case with Miss O who wouldn't latch (but was checked by a few people including a lactation consultant for tongue ties), then wouldn't stay on, and had bronchiolitis, oral thrush, conjunctivitis and colic all within her first few weeks of life, the thrush and colic beginning from her first week of life after we'd left hospital (where my amazing midwives and lactation consultant had tried EVERYTHING - pumping, feed lines, syringes etc.). Miss O was almost 10 pound and always hungry and I didn't really have a choice but to supplement with formula. I had to do this with Miss M too at first so I wasn't worried. I persevered as long as I could, crying at every single feed until I had to make a decision for both mine and my baby's mental and physical health. My community nurse visited me 3 times after we left hospital, so I certainly had lots of care during and after her birth. I had to learn how to bottle/formula feed, and wash & sterilise bottles etc. as Miss M would never take a bottle; it was all new. There are definitely lots of benefits to bottle feeding, but I still feel immense guilt and feel like a failure that it didn't work and I believe that is partly why I have post natal depression. I might have used to judge others without realising but I definitely don't now, as you never know the full story behind someone's decision. I hope no one judges me or thinks I should have "tried harder" because when you are in the pit, there needs to be a way out, and in this case and in my situation, bottle feeding was the way out. The immense pressure put on mums to breastfeed can definitely be counter-productive, causing stress and affecting their milk anyway - both times I've had delayed lactation and the stress of birth and trying to feed and do everything 'right' could have caused this. Once I made the decision, within a couple of days Miss O was happier, I was happier and both Brendan and Miss M were happier. I do think breastmilk is best - it even says this on the formula tin - but this time, it didn't work for us.
I've mentioned before about my gender disappointment. I expected to have a boy only because my pregnancy with Miss O was 100% different to Miss M's and lots of people guessed I was having a boy. I am happy to say that I absolutely do not have a single ounce of that feeling left, and I cannot imagine Miss O as anyone else but herself - she is a gorgeous, happy, cuddly, beautiful little girl and I love her so so much. I am stoked that Miss M has a sister and watching them together just warms my heart. My gender disappointment also contributed to my PND but with time, I don't believe I feel that way at all anymore. This might even come as a surprise to some close friends - but I actually thought the other day 'when we have our next girl...' and then stopped myself and smiled - I'd actually love more girls! It came as a shock but I would actually be perfectly ok with it now!
I also felt quite guilty at first that Miss M's whole world had changed and that I wasn't able to spend as much time with her anymore, but she absolutely loves her baby sister and we have lots of opportunities for just the two of us anyway when Miss O is asleep. Miss O has absolutely enriched Miss M's life, as she has ours.
So where to now?
I know in time things will get better. I will eventually come off the medication, but right now isn't the right time. I'll reassess once we've moved house and once things settle down again. I'm thankful for all my wonderful, caring friends, family, and church family, and as I'm a Christian, I'm holding firm to God's promises that He will never leave or forsake me, even in the hardest of times.
It feels good to have written all that down and gotten it off my chest - hopefully it can resonate with someone else too - there is always hope!
Please, if you feel similar to what I've described above, don't be afraid to seek help. Mention to someone - anyone - how you feel and vent or have a chat about it - preferably to a doctor or psychologist / counsellor (even a helpline), but at least let someone know how you feel. Look after yourself, and be safe. And don't be ashamed if you've had to make choices for the mental health and wellbeing of yourself or your family.
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[All images from Google]