by EMMA HEALEY
I recently celebrated my daughter’s third birthday, with a back yard birthday party, cake, balloons and an old fashioned pass the parcel.
I spent the day in awe of just how amazing she really is, what a great little person she was growing into.
I spent the evening crying, that this was in spite of me.
My daughter’s birthday also marked the anniversary of my battle with PND. A condition affecting as many as 1 in 6 Australian mothers. That is a lot of us.
My battle with PND is hard to recall, and harder to articulate.
If I had to try, I would say that I spent the best part of two years with my head in my hands. If I try to picture myself at the time, I can see myself with my head in my hands.
Have you ever seen a program or heard a story of a woman whom up and left her children, and perhaps shaken your head in disbelief at just how someone could do that?
I know exactly what it is like to want be that woman that left, and I would have given almost anything to be the person that would tut tut in disbelief again.
My time spent with my head in my hands is over, with support and medical treatment, PND is a battle I am very fortunate to say that I have won, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally stop and think of that battle, and weep at the fight, the destruction and the loss.
Sometimes it can swallow me whole.
Moments like my daughter’s birthday.
The third birthday meant the arrival of many “babies” (read: dolls) to our house – her favorite toy. My daughter mothers them so well, changing nappies, gently cooing and rocking, clumsily shoving dummies into small plastic mouths.
I had tears of joy at the excitement on her little face when she unwrapped each plastic baby, its accompanying dummy, bottle and nappy and finally a pink dolls pram to push them around in.
Then it will come, the tears sting the back of my eyes, my face burns hot and I can’t help but think that her obsession with these babies is because she missed that from me, that I may have damaged her in that way. My little girl will make a great mum one day. In spite of me.
I watch her play with the dolls from the door way to her room, as quietly as I can to observe her playing as though no one is watching. I feel so proud that she will play so well by herself, that she is content in her own company and so imaginative.
Then it will come, a pang in the pit of my stomach when I remember it is because she had to be. She is strong and independent because she had to be, imaginative and happy in her own company in spite of me.
Bed time nears and it is spent flicking through photographs of the last three years, such is the birthday tradition.
I sure did take a lot of photos when I was ill. I am grateful for that now, not that it was a conscious choice to take so many snaps, it was a bit of an accidental blessing. It is easier to hang about behind the scenes when you have a camera in your hand, and no one would ever know that I wanted every one to leave me alone, so that I could put my head in my hands again.
My daughter chirps happily next to me, poking tiny little fingers at various snaps and says “that’s me!”
I gaze at the chubby little cheeks in the photos, and something huge wells in my throat, and I nod because I am to scared to speak in case the dam bursts.
I don’t remember her ever looking like that, so chubby and happy.
Then it comes, conformation that she knows, proof that I may have damaged her, she turned to me and asked “Are you sad mummy?”
Her face is so sorrowful and it’s mine, she mirrored my mannerisms, my tone, a face she had seen far too often for her three years. My little girl doesn’t know that there was a time that I didn’t look like that.
I kiss her, swallow hard and reply “Mummy’s not sad, it’s your birthday!!” and I say it in a sing song voice, just in case I didn’t push the tears far enough back down my chest. I tickle her to distract her from the moment.
I lay next to her and I pat her to sleep, a habit I am reluctant to break, for when it is gone it will remind me of all I missed.
To distract myself, I breathe in the sweet and sour sweaty child smell and write her 21st Birthday speech in my head, and it is filled with all of the great things we will do and see, when enough time has passed and enough memories are made that these last few years won’t seem so significant.
I tell myself that it is the now that matters, and just because it still hurts sometimes, it doesn’t mean I am ever going back there.
I will be me again. In spite of me.
If you or someone you know is struggling after having a baby, please call PANDA on 1300 726 306 or contact your local GP. For more information and a list of signs of PND