real life

On post-natal depression: One woman's story from her first Mother's Day and beyond.

This mothers day, we will remember that motherhood is a journey filled with highs and lows. Here, Nami Clark shares her experience of post-natal depression.

To the outsider, my first mother’s day looked as normal as any other; a trip into the city for morning tea with my husband and our baby, who was just eight weeks old. Breaking the daily grind of wake, feed, sleep, repeat, it gave me a reason to put on something other than my tracksuit pants. Furthermore, the outing presented the challenge of me not breaking into a sweat before I reached the front door. Did I have everything? What would my baby do? What if I couldn’t get him to feed? What if everyone was staring? What if they could all see I had no idea what I was doing? What if it all unravelled and I was totally unable to cope?

At this point in time anxiety had started to creep in without me realising it. In my mind I’d have a plan for an outing, get dressed, and not long before I was ready to leave the house – usually around the time I was checking the nappy bag for the fourth time and looking at my watch to calculate when the next feed was going to be screamed for- my stomach would flip-flop and I’d need to sit myself down on the couch, catch my breath and centre myself. The first time I felt like this I thought I was coming down with some kind of tummy bug – I felt physically ill. Now I understand it as my symptoms of anxiety.

This Mother’s day, let’s acknowledge that motherhood comes with highs and lows

On this particular morning, our outing ran without a hitch. But once back home, I sat myself down on the lounge room floor and stared vacantly out the window, looking down into that deep, deep rabbit hole. Was this it? Was this motherhood? I felt as though I’d started a slow, lonely walk down a long, joyless tunnel and that life would always look and feel like this. I knew that having children would change me physically and emotionally. I expected changes in my relationship with my husband and certainly huge adjustments to my lifestyle. I hadn’t prepared for a baby to change me mentally.

The birth of my son was incredibly traumatic. I was unable to think about the birth without crying and I told my husband I felt like I’d been in a car crash. On day three, when I should have been excited at the prospect of going home and starting my journey as a mother, I lay in my hospital bed not wanting to move. My son was brought to my bedside and I rolled away from him – I couldn’t fathom how he’d done this to me. I left the hospital in a wheelchair – still only able to shuffle for a few metres before needing to prop myself up against a wall.

In the weeks to follow I struggled to connect with him. I felt like I should feel ‘more’ , but I just didn’t feel for him like I expected to; like I wanted to.   I vividly remember one particular morning as we lay on our bed together, him tucked in the crook of my arm screaming, me staring at the ceiling, wondering what I could possibly provide him. There were many days when I felt very distant and disconnected from him, my husband, and other people or things in my life. I was struggling to piece together this puzzle – one that I’d wanted to create for myself for such a long time. My husband encouraged me to talk about how I was feeling but it was impossible. There were no feelings to describe… I felt nothing. I felt empty. I’d even started dreading going to social outings simply because I didn’t want to have to answer the question of “Oh, wow, do you just love being a mum?” I once retorted “It’s boring. They feed, they sleep. Then you wait for them to wake up so you can do it all over again”. I still remember the look on my friends face. No one expects a mother not to love motherhood. If you’re hoping to fit the bill of a ‘good mother’ there has been no allowance made for this dialogue, expect perhaps in the safe confines of your counsellors consulting rooms.

Nami Clark suffered from postnatal depression

I hung on for six long months before I sought professional help for postnatal depression .Ironically, I felt I was struggling enough with a new baby that I just couldn’t bear the thought I may need to tackle postnatal depression head-on as well. My husband had shown unwavering support but when he started having days off work just to “keep an eye on me” I knew things needed to change. I had just thought I could change them on my own, or that it would simply be a matter of time that I’d get back to feeling like ‘myself’.

The fog started to lift as subtly as it had descended. Too little to notice from day to day, but weeks later I noticed that life felt brighter, weighted with more meaning and with fewer stresses that before had sent me spiralling into a rage or into a sad, dark & lonely space. Counselling had been a good starting point, but medication proved to be what I needed to stop feeling like life was slipping through my fingers.

I started falling in love with my baby boy and began to recognise him as my child; someone I could bring joy to; a boy who I knew loved me and wanted me as his mother. This boy I once turned away from is now someone I feel so remarkably connected to that it’s impossible to identify myself without him as a core part of me.   I’ve come to understand that motherhood – and my son for that matter – is separate from postnatal depression. The feelings of shame and guilt that once circled me in my early days of motherhood have given way and it’s here, within this space, that I’ve allowed for my own dialogue to sit.

This Mother’s day, let’s acknowledge that motherhood comes with highs and lows, and for many reasons, the journey for some will be harder than it is for others. You can show your support to keeping motherhood real. Join us on Facebook and raise awareness by connecting and sharing your real experiences of motherhood each day.

Find out more about COPE and how you can support them here.

Nami Clarke is an ambassador for COPE, a mother of two, a writer and business woman. Her blog Little Tsunami explores the truths, joys and fears of motherhood through interviews with Australian women. She loves hot chips.

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