This article deals with mental health and may be triggering for some readers.
It’s taken me a long time to accept that I’ve suffered from postnatal PTSD. As a clinical psychologist who’s worked with hundreds of mums who’ve struggled with the early stages of motherhood, I’m well familiar with postnatal depression and anxiety, and knew I was high-risk for that myself, but postnatal PTSD? Nope. I didn’t know to keep an eye out for that one, and it blindsided me.
When I think of PTSD, I think of people who’ve lived through traumas like war, sexual assault, domestic violence. It’s not something I associate with newborns in onesies. And to be honest, I still feel a bit ridiculous admitting it now, but it is what it is – becoming a mum gave me PTSD.
No Filter host Mia Freedman speaks to journalist and author Melanie Dimmitt about how her expectations of motherhood changed when her son was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Post continues after audio.
A lot of women develop PTSD following a traumatic and complicated birth, but for me, the months that followed were probably the most traumatising. The birth wasn’t great either though. My son, Harrison, arrived early – and quickly – at 33½ weeks. My partner was in rural Queensland at the time – his last work trip before bub arrived – and couldn’t get to me in time. Two close friends jumped at the chance to be with me, and while they were both amazing, the person I really wanted there wasn’t, and I don’t think I realised until much later just how much that affected me.
That being said, I’m forever grateful my girlfriend was with me, because mid-labour she asked the midwives to explain to me what would happen after bub arrived. Everything up until that point had happened so quickly, it hadn’t even occurred to me – stupidly – that bub would be whisked away, and I’m not sure it would have been flagged for me had my girlfriend not brought it up. But he was on my chest for two minutes, and then he was gone. I didn’t feel joy. I didn’t feel love. I just felt numb – I was in shock.
Harrison spent the first three weeks in the special care nursery. Going home without him felt wrong and surreal in equal measure, but he did brilliantly and was discharged slightly ahead of schedule. Everything seemed fine, I was slowly finding my feet, but about a week after he came home, things unraveled.
Out of nowhere, he started screaming. Relentlessly. He would scream all day, every day, and sleep only in bursts of 45-60 minutes, never for more than 7-8 hours in a 24-hour period. I felt completely inadequate and powerless. I wasn’t sleeping, I couldn’t eat, and my nerves were so on edge, any time he made even the slightest whimper or gurgle, my heart would race, I’d break out in a cold sweat, and my chest would constrict so tightly, it felt like I couldn’t breathe.