lifestyle

"My post natal depression and a kind of resurrection".

This time of year is important to me.

I don’t celebrate Easter outside of gorging myself on chocolate, but nonetheless, this time of year is important to me. Not because of any religious significance, and not because of any traditions I follow. Rather, it is special because this time of year means I get to enjoy four days off work, which is time I can spend uninterrupted with my delicious little boy.

I get to watch him giggle and learn as he plays. I get to fall asleep with him when he has his lunchtime nap, holding him in my arms as he gently purrs next to my face.  I get to play trains with him for hours on the lounge room floor. And although my gratitude for these moments is always there, it is more palpable at Easter.

This time of year is when many celebrate religious beliefs and/or the visit of a fictitious chocolate-laden bunny. But for me, Easter is a time to remember that two years ago, I came dangerously close to missing out on all the blissful moments of being a mum to my son. Because while friends and family were happily feasting on beer and seafood, and gleefully inhaling handfuls of chocolate eggs, in Easter 2012, I fell victim to post-natal depression, and convinced myself that it was time to die.

Sarah Tucker with her husband.

Two years ago my son had spent the first eleven days of his life not in my arms, but in a humidicrib attached to drips and tubes. After contracting a bacterial infection at birth, he was whisked away from us in the delivery room and taken to the special care nursery. I spent every day sitting by his side, wondering what I had done wrong; how I had caused his illness. My husband, always a pillar of strength, never left my side. He was as traumatised as I was.

My labour was not a straightforward one, and ended up being over 40 hours in duration and unnecessarily traumatic. I went into shock almost immediately after I pushed my son from my body. This provided the perfect moment for my mind to escape to a place I had avoided for years.

It was the little corner of my brain where the sensible was irrational, and where logic was replaced with guilt. It was also the place where the negative voice that had whispered to me for most of my adolescence inevitably started to shout, louder and louder.

Sarah’s son was born premature two years ago.

The messages of that voice didn’t make me cry for hours, and they didn’t make me unable to get out of bed. I fed, bathed and held my son every single day. I ate dinner and I made jokes with friends. I still painted my nails, blow-dried my hair and kissed my husband goodnight. And all the while, the words of that little voice in the back of my mind that I had tried so hard to ignore, were gaining volume.

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END IT.

I had decided at my son’s birth that I had already failed him. I felt no rush of love towards him for weeks; months even. I felt like someone who was taking care of someone else’s baby, not the mother of a newborn, besotted and consumed with adoration. I felt nothing, except guilt, because I knew what I should be feeling, and I also knew it was the complete opposite of how I actually felt. I felt trapped; stuck; bound to a life I didn’t want anymore. What I wanted was to be free – and I wanted my son and husband to be free from me.

The online mother’s group of which I was a member was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because I made friendships with honest, brave women who were open enough to say that they were struggling, and who offered help and advice. But communicating with new mothers was also soul crushing, because at every hour of the day, my screen would be flooded with outpourings of love and awe at the little bundles of joy that had been created. These mothers were blissfully happy; they were head over heels in love. It made me feel physically ill. I felt nothing like that.

How one mother described post-natal depression to her child.

Even though I was in turmoil, I decided not to tell anyone. I couldn’t handle the bullshit pep talks of everything will be fine! when I knew with certainty that it would not. Also, what was I supposed to say? Oh, you know how millions of women become mothers every years and love it? Well I am not one of them. Do you have any tips on how I can un-fuck my life?

What sort of person gets depressed after wanting a child so much, then watching that child suffer through sickness? My baby was finally healthy enough to be home with me, and all I could think of was that I was in a living hell. I needed to fix my situation immediately, lest my son suffer the worst consequence imaginable – having someone like me as his mother.

I disgusted myself.

As the days ticked by, I tried to figure out how the hell I was going to get out of this motherhood gig. I knew my husband – a catch who would be snapped up by a normal girl without my mental baggage – would be better off without me. Sure, he would mourn my loss, but he would be okay. He had friends and family who would support him. And within minutes of holding his son, I could see the phenomenal bond they had. I may have made the mistake of giving my son me as his mother, but I had almost cancelled out this error by giving him my husband as his father.

And my son – my innocent, gorgeous little boy, who cried all the time and who barely slept – deserved much better than I could ever give him. He wouldn’t remember me anyway, and he would be free from the burden of having to deal with my unrelenting issues. I knew with certainty that I would ruin his life, and I refused to be a bad mother to him. I would rather be no mother at all, than a bad one.

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Then a peculiar thing happened.

One evening, bathing my son in the bath with me as I did every night, I felt something.  It wasn’t love, but it was something pure, and positive. Looking down at my little boy’s shiny little pink body, his pudgy little rolls glistening in the water, I felt the faintest glimmer of joy. He was simply beautiful.  I was struck with awe at this little life my husband and I had created.

But as soon as I felt this emotion, I fell apart. I cried for hours into my husband’s arms. I confessed almost everything – that I knew I wasn’t well; that I wasn’t bonding with our child and that he and our son would both be so much happier with someone else in their lives. I wanted to tell my husband, the man who knows me as a bubbly, happy, vibrant young woman that I wanted out. But I couldn’t. I didn’t want to burden him any more than I already had.

The next day was the day before Good Friday. My husband took the day off work, and found the details of the Post and Antenatal Depression Association (PANDA) and called them on my behalf. He told the counsellor I wasn’t well, which worried me because I feared the call would be traced and the police would end up on my doorstep for a welfare check (which I would lie through and convince them I was fine). I didn’t want to talk to anyone about how I was feeling, but my husband was asking me to help myself, and I couldn’t say no to him. As I took the phone from him, I asked him to leave the room, and he shut the door behind him.

Unexpectedly, when I put the phone to my ear, I finally gave myself permission to tell the truth. I unburdened myself to a complete stranger. For hours, I spoke to someone with whom I was at last, brutally honest.

Yes, I have thought about self-harm.

Yes, I have a history of self-harm.

Yes, I have a history of depression.

Yes, I have a family history of mental illness.

Yes, my labour was traumatic. And yes, my baby was sick.

Yes, I am basically on my own, other than my husband. I have no immediate family or support network around me; my loved ones are in Queensland. They think I am fine.

Oh, and I have no mother in my life. My grandmother who raised me has dementia and my mother abandoned me at birth. That’s relevant isn’t it?

Confessing to a stranger that you want to end your life is not an easy thing to do. I told the PANDA counsellor that I was convinced my son was cursed by having me as his mother, and that I had no idea what I was doing. I told her he cried all the time and barely slept, and that I had a short temper and was so fearful I would hurt him out of anger. I told her if I ever hurt him, I would not be able to live with myself.  I told her that my husband was amazing; far too good for me, and far too kind to admit it. I told her that I should never have signed up to being a mother – it was the one job I couldn’t quit; the one decision I couldn’t undo. I told her I knew the only way out was for me to take matters into my own hands. I told her it was basically a done deal.

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But this stranger on the phone convinced me otherwise. I don’t know how she did it, but she gave me hope.

Over the course of that one conversation, the PANDA counsellor obliterated every piece of logic I’d used in what I considered a watertight argument in favour of my own death. There was no judgment; no false hope. Just facts. She told me that answering yes to any of the questions she asked initially about my situation would increase someone’s likelihood of developing post-natal depression. To have so many risk factors meant it was almost inevitable.  She told me that the guilt that was consuming me was symptomatic of depression; that no one chooses to feel the way I felt, just like no one chooses to suffer any other illness.

I was not a bad mother. I was not ruining my baby’s life. I was just unwell, and I needed some help.

What are the signs of post-natal depression, click here.

When I got off the phone I decided I wouldn’t tell my husband anything about the conversation I’d just had, apart from the coping techniques that had been suggested. I didn’t want to burden him with knowing he was married to a suicidal lunatic. Much better that he just suspect it without ever having it confirmed.

But I couldn’t hide it from him. He’d been sitting outside the closed door, and had listened in to the entire conversation. He’d heard the truth. Every single word. I was exposed. And terrified.

When I opened the door, my husband turned his back to me, and walked away. I thought he was going to our bedroom to get his car keys so that he could take our son somewhere safe, away from his unstable mother. But when he came back to the spare room where I was now curled up sobbing on the bed and apologising profusely, he had a small box in his hand. He asked me to sit up. I complied.

Opening the box in front of me, my husband presented me with my eternity ring. He’d had it made months ago, by the jeweller in Brisbane who made my beautiful engagement ring and wedding band. He said he had been trying to find the perfect time to give it to me over the past few weeks. He said this was the time.

The “eternity” ring.

He also said –

“I am not going anywhere. I am not giving up on you. We will get through this together.”

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For the first time in weeks, I wasn’t crying tears of despair. Rolling down my face were tears of relief. My husband knew the truth; what was really happening in my head. And he still loved me.

Over the next few months, I became well again. I went to counselling, and I started medication that made me me again. I got into a routine with my little man that involved regular visits to the gym where I ran kilometers on a treadmill while he played in the gym crèche for a couple of hours. I started to look like me again. And bit by bit, I started to feel like me again.

But the best part was that in time, I fell completely head over heels in love with my little man. I held him close, and smelled his hair, and kissed his little face. I wanted to be near him; to play with him and watch him learn. And over time, I gained confidence in my parenting, gradually picking up cues my son was giving when he tried to communicate. It may not have happened instantly, but in time, we bonded in a way I never thought possible.

Sarah with her son.

Today the two of us went to the pool, and laughed constantly as we splashed in the water. We came home for a nap, and he fell asleep in my arms, after kissing me on the face and wrapping his little arms around my neck for a cuddle. This afternoon, we caught up with some dear friends for drinks, and he was the life of the party; winning everyone over with his cheeky antics. I am absolutely smitten with this gorgeous little boy who I am so blessed is my son.

Read about Em Rusciano’s battle with post-natal depression: “I felt like I’d been given was someone else’s child.”

So today, on Easter Sunday, I think back to the mindset I was in this time two years ago. And  I take the time to remember that my experience of being a mum, as I know it today, was not always this way. Days like the one I had with my son today were never even considered possible in my depression-ravaged mind.

So at Easter, I am grateful. Grateful that I am no longer unwell. Grateful that I was honest, and that I asked for help. And grateful that I got the chance to become the best mother to my little man that I can be.

But I didn’t do any of this on my own. I had the support of a truly remarkable man by my side, every step of the way.

I am not Christian, so I don’t believe in the resurrection of Christ. But on Easter Sunday, I am grateful for the gift of my husband; my saviour, and the miraculous way he brought me back to life.

Happy Easter.

An edited version of this pose originally appeared on All My Dirty Laundry and has been republished here with full permission.

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