I first became aware that something wasn’t quite right when I was about eight months pregnant.
I was a student and still working part time and madly trying to get all my assignments in before the baby came. At the same time my husband was struggling with his own issues and wasn’t capable of supporting me as well.
I started feeling very sad – lonely and anxious too. Nothing like I had been expecting to feel just before the arrival of our baby. I normally feel pretty competent and capable, and I was desperately trying to hang onto that view of myself. At the same time I was avoiding thinking too much about the birth because it just made me feel more anxious. And I did my best to avoid admitting to myself that things were far, far worse than I’d expected them to be.
During the birth I was again overcome by the sense that nothing was the way I thought it should be. After a couple of hours of pushing, it became clear that my daughter was stuck. The emergency buzzer was pushed, and the medical team got my daughter out as quickly as possible. But something strange occurred: during this extremely intense and dangerous experience I just felt completely disconnected from my body. When I look back now it’s like I was watching it from outside rather than experiencing it.
My daughter’s traumatic arrival into the world caused internal bleeding in her head and she had to be taken to the special care nursery. The first few days of her life were very scary, but I felt a weird disconnection the whole time. Nothing felt real. I was really struggling to breastfeed, as well as struggling physically from the birth. I think I was still in shock. We stayed at the hospital for five days but I didn’t want to leave. I was petrified of going home and wondered why no one could see that I was not able to take care of my baby.
WATCH: Perinatal Depression & Anxiety Awareness Week. Post continues after the video.
Not long after coming home I had a home visit from a midwife. I told her I was very anxious and I didn’t think I was coping, so she referred me to see a psychologist. But I put it off: I was struggling so much at that point that I couldn’t fathom getting to an appointment. I was so disconnected from everything, and felt increasingly overwhelmed by a growing sense of fear and hopelessness.
Several weeks later my daughter was still very unsettled and wasn’t feeding or sleeping properly, and I now know how much my distressed mental state was affecting her. I went to a maternal health nurse run day program at my public hospital to address feeding and settling issues. This was the first time I answered the Edinburgh Depression Questionnaire honestly and admitted that I felt suicidal.
I started seeing the community psychologist and was referred to my GP, but I still felt confused by what was happening to me. Although postnatal depression was discussed, I wasn’t specifically diagnosed or treated, and my mental state continued to deteriorate. I couldn’t think clearly, nothing made sense, and I was becoming increasingly depressed and increasingly distressed because I felt like I wasn’t getting better. In fact, I was getting worse. My suicidal thoughts increased.