You can read about the first part of Teagan’s journey with post natal depression and anxiety here.
So there I was, on Thursday the 13th of October 2016 at 2pm, walking through the doors of a Mother and Baby psychiatric unit to begin the slow journey of dealing with my post natal depression and anxiety.
My preparation for my stay at the unit eerily said a lot about how I was coping at the time. After receiving the call that there was a bed available for me, I broke down and cried, hiding in the bathroom from the kids. But then only minutes later, I picked myself up and I wrote a list. A list of ‘things to do’ to prepare for me being away for an unknown period of time.
I couldn’t fathom how things would run smoothly without me being around, as my daughter Charlie couldn’t stay at the unit with me so would be at home under care of my partner Nick, family and friends. I downloaded a scheduling app and organised care for Charlie between seven people, prepared meals for the freezer, did all of the washing and cleaned the house top to toe so that no one would have to worry about a thing.
That is how life was for me at the time, always taking on more than I could handle and crumbling under the self-imposed pressure.
When I was leaving home for the MBU, I felt nothing but numbness. The process seemed far too similar to leaving for a holiday as I packed my suitcase into the boot of the car, yet there was no excitement at all. Nick and I tried to chat during the 10-minute drive, but I couldn’t concentrate on a thing he was saying. As we parked on the street in front of the unit, I spotted a few mothers out the front having a cigarette (a habit I had zero tolerance for after falling pregnant) and my stomach dropped as I glanced over at Nick’s grim face and knew he had seen the same thing. “This isn’t the place for me,” I remember thinking to myself.
The short walk in to the unit was long and tedious. I kept stopping to break down in tears, afraid of what was going to happen once I got inside. A well-meaning mum (another patient) approached us and offered a friendly hello, but I ignored her by turning my head to the wall to cry. I felt like a total and utter bitch, yet I couldn't even get the words out to muster a hello in return. Nick and I were lead to my room by a nurse and given some time to fill out my paperwork and unpack.
At this point, to say that I wasn't feeling very good about myself at all would be a massive understatement. The few people that I had told about my stay at the unit, had been telling me how proud they were, but I was heartbroken that I had gotten to this place in my life. Once I was settled in, it was time for Nick to leave my youngest son Cooper and I, and head in to work to carry on with his every day life. He put on a brave face, assured me that if I wanted to leave he would pick me up straight away, repeated again how proud he was and how much he loved me, and then he left.
A nurse came back to show me around the unit and the first thing I noticed was how relaxed and casual everyone seemed in the homely environment. All of the nurses and doctors wore casual clothes, making the interactions less "nurse to patient" and more "friend to friend". There are eight private rooms in the unit, and a shared common area that includes a kitchen, dining area, laundry, lounge, play room and outdoor area. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were to be ordered at the start of the day and delivered periodically, and snacks and hot drinks were readily available. There were stations to prepare and wash formula bottles and everything was catered perfectly to mothers and babies.
(You can find out more about the specifics of the Mother and Baby Unit and the way that the program works here.)
Once I had been shown around, I was called in for a meeting with two doctors and a nurse. It was an extremely hard meeting for me, a lot of it was spent crying as I repeated again how I had been feeling and what I had been dealing with over the past few months. We discussed my medical history, my family dynamic growing up, how things had been in the last few years for me as a new mother, and spoke briefly about what we were going to set in place moving forward. Medication was suggested, however for my own reasons I was hesitant to take a prescription (please remember that this is my own journey, and these are my own personal preferences). The rest of the evening was spent familiarising myself with my new surroundings, tending to Cooper and engaging in small chit-chat with the other women on the ward.
It took Kim Tucci 16 months to bond with her quintuplets. (Post continues below.)
The next day was a Friday, and after a quick group meditation in the morning, we had a session on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Morning group sessions are for the mothers only, and the babies are looked after by staff on the ward. The session was run by a psychologist and was informative, however it was unfortunately cut short for me by a hungry Cooper. After lunch, I attended a smaller session on dealing with attachment issues that some mothers may deal with as a result of PND. There was a lot of spare time in the day, so I managed to read (and finish!) a book, drink lots of hot cups of tea, and do nothing but relax and spend time with my thoughts.
Over the weekend Nick was allowed to stay overnight with Cooper and I, so we organised care for Charlie and jumped at the chance. This was the biggest turning point of the whole experience. Before this, Nick had been struggling to understand my postnatal depression and anxiety as a mental illness, rather than my personality. He would try to do the right thing and help me out, but then would quickly become frustrated when he didn't see a change in my attitude. I believe that when he stayed with us in the unit, it finally clicked for him that I was actually sick and dealing with a mental illness.
A few times over the weekend, Nick and I left the unit to grab something to eat or visit the local shops. These were very confronting experiences for me, as I had quickly become very comfortable and felt safe at the MBU. Being out in public I felt as if everyone knew I was failing as a mother and knew that I was a patient at the unit. It felt like everyone I caught eyes with was judging me, or talking about me behind my back. It was a horrible feeling and a very difficult one to shake. Something inside of me felt different, and I was still learning to accept that I was sick, I was suffering with a medical illness and was seeking help from medical professionals, much like someone who has a cold or diabetes.
Back at the unit we spent a lot of time speaking with one of the nurses, talking about issues that we were facing as individuals and in the relationship, and coming up with strategies for dealing with them. It felt like a couples counselling session, but in the best way possible! It was exactly what our relationship was needing at the time, some mutual understanding and open communication. Having a third party there to buffer between us made the conversations we were having constructive rather than spiteful. I also had a session learning about mindfulness and putting it in to practice. Nick sat in on the session which was great, as he was able to learn some of my triggers and some coping mechanisms to remind me later down the track when I was feeling too overwhelmed to remember.
By Monday, I was ready to go home. So after another meeting with the doctors, I was discharged that evening. The four nights that I spent at the MBU were exactly what I needed for my own journey. Not because I wanted a holiday, but because I needed a safe and supportive space to focus on my mental health and prioritise myself. The decision to leave was a hard one to make, as I wasn't necessarily feeling "better", but instead thought that I would be able to make more progress at home in our usual environment. I was terrified that I was going to slip back into a dark place, or that I wouldn't be able to cope without the support of nurses and the unit. It is important to remember that no patient staying at the MBU has the same experience, some people stay for weeks and others even months! I was able to get what I required out of my short stay, and then continue to practice the tools I had learnt when I was back at home.
My stay in the MBU gave me the space and time that I needed to clear my head and escape from the overwhelm that I was feeling. Before those four days, I was dealing with so many of the mundane tasks that would arise day-to-day, so I wasn't able to find the time or energy to concentrate on more pressing issues and the bigger picture. At home I couldn't relax knowing that there was washing to be done or floors to mop. Everything felt like it was getting on top of me. To have the time to solely concentrate on my mental health was a breath of fresh air. Between looking after Cooper, attending the unit's sessions and speaking with doctors and nurses, I took the time to really relax. I finished a book for the first time in years, I drank hot cups of tea, I went for walks in the sunshine, and I sat and watched Cooper play with no distractions. It was bliss, and it taught me the importance of slowing down.