By BRIGETTE RENEE-SPICER
I stumble down the corridor that leads to the Mother Baby Unit (MBU), I glance up at the sign hanging above me, ‘Psychiatric Medicine’.
I want to laugh because I never pictured myself standing where I am. But the 2 hours sleep I’ve been averaging has pressed all emotions down to a place where I can no longer register them…. with the only exception being the tears that fall onto my daughter as I hold her close to my chest. I am questioning why such a wonderful child was cursed with me as her mother.
I am greeted by a nurse who leads me to my room, I spot a bouncer on the floor and gently place my daughter into it, and sit next to her on the floor. The nurse is surprised, but sits on the bed and looks at me kindly. ‘My dear, you haven’t been well, have you?‘ she says, still looking at me kindly.
I want to speak but words haven’t come to me properly in the six months since I gave birth to Audrey – so I cry. The nurse gently coaxes sentences out me, as I start to see that for the first time, I really am safe. ‘Are you religious?’ she asks. ‘I have my jumbled beliefs,’ I reply. ‘Well, I can tell you that nobody up there needs you back yet, but your husband and daughter need you here’.
The tears start to fall again.
My first few days are a blur of medical tests and assessments. I can’t sleep but I’m so tired. Every night I toss and turn until I’m finally given tablets and fall into a coma-like sleep. I bond with the other women quickly; I see myself in them. We want our lives back, we want to smile, and gush over our children. No mother wants to feel worthless.
I begin to feel like a trapped animal, and detest having to be assessed by a psychologist before being allowed outside. I cry so much, I wonder where the tears are even coming from, and how they manage to keep falling.
A week passes and I get a small amount of leave and use it to walk 30 minutes from the hospital to the local supermarket. I rug up against the Melbourne winter but my hospital band still pokes put from under my jacket. A woman sees and presses repeatedly for information on why I’m in hospital. I tell her I’m in the MBU, and she tells me, ‘You haven’t tried hard enough to be happy’. I abandon my trip and run back to the hospital, tears streaming again. I want to beg the world for acceptance, but instead I beg myself to be better.
Two weeks pass, and I add another failure to my list: My milk dries up.
I cry for my parenting failures and I cry for the only bond I could feel with my child now being lost. I openly weep through the entire ward: I cry in the kitchen, in the lounge, the nursery and in the hallway. I am prescribed anti-depressants and cry again at my failure to fix myself. My husband can’t take any more time off work, and he flies back to the mines in rural Queensland.
I withdraw, I can’t face the world, with the crowds and the judgment. I try to buy a coffee at the hospital cafe but the crowd is too big, and I sink to the floor in a panic, before once again running, with tears streaming down my face, back to the MBU.
Four weeks pass, and I see women leave and I see new ones come in. I cry more, wondering when it will be my turn and why my genetics were so against me when it came to mental illnesses. My mum flies from Perth to surprise me, and as I look at her beaming face, I see a woman who made it out the other side of depression herself, and I cry some more.
For the first time in what feels like an eternity, I cry with hope. My medication is increased and my need for sleeping tablets ceases. I play with my daughter, and I go home for the night. My husband and I roll around on our lounge room floor, giggling as we try to tickle each other. Audrey watches on, clapping for her happy parents.
5 weeks pass and I smile – something that doesn’t go unnoticed by the nurses as they scurry to take my phone off me and take a photo. My daughter plays on the floor, and lurches forward into a crawl. ‘She is who she is, because of you,’ the nurses assure me, as I look at my daughter, who I love so much, thriving despite the hell I have put her through.
6 weeks pass, and I can leave. I hug the women who became my family through my darkest days. I place Audrey on the floor in the play area as I say goodbye to the nurse who greeted me when I first arrived, and I smile. I look over at my child, playing happily. She looks at me, raises her hand, and says ‘Mum!’, and I cry for the first time, with happiness.
Brigette is a coffee guzzling, former photographer, turned stay-at-home mama to a dinosaur obsessed 19 month old daughter, named Audrey. She has struggled with depression since the age of 13, and passes the down days by rearranging furniture and attempting to grow a garden despite a lacking green thumb.