Warning: This post deals with topics of post natal depression and post natal anxiety and may be triggering for some readers.
Coming up to the final days of my pregnancy with my second child, I often thought to myself, “Surely I won’t go through that terrible phase where I feel like ‘that’ again, besides, she’s my second child I have no reason to feel like ‘that’ this time around.”
Boy, was I wrong.
Let’s start from the beginning. I’ve always had anxiety, ever since I can remember. Most of the women in my family have anxiety so I never felt like I was entirely different to anyone else. The teenage years were of course… rough; all those bloody hormones. Time passed, I met my husband, got married, and we decided to have babies. We were so fortunate to fall pregnant fast with our first-born; Harper.
I knew I would be technically ‘predisposed’ to post natal depression and anxiety considering my family history. However, I thought surely I could beat the odds. I was SO excited to be having a baby… who could really be depressed when they have a new little bundle of joy?
I soon learnt it doesn’t work like that.
The first few weeks of my first born, Harper’s life, I found myself with the worst anxiety I have ever experienced. I was constantly terrified. Terrified of what?
That Harper would choke. That Harper wouldn’t sleep. That I wasn’t a good mother. That I would accidentally kill her. That I wasn’t giving her enough tummy time. That I was giving her too much tummy time. That I was no longer a good wife. That I wouldn’t feel like me again. That I would never feel comfortable enough to leave her with anyone else. And that was just a quarter of the anxieties and thoughts running through my head.
I was so very, very depressed at times and I simply didn’t know why. Now I’ve gone through a bit of depression before as a teenager, but it wasn’t for long. I was very familiar with anxiety, but this sense of deep depression I felt was like nothing else.
The fact I even felt like this made me feel like the worst mother on the planet. I would think back to when I was pregnant and so excited to finally meet my baby girl. Now she was here and I was just an anxious, depressed wreck most the time.
Why??? I would get so mad at myself. I would think to myself, there are so many women out there who would give almost anything to be in my position, who can’t have children and I’m here crying on my baby’s bedroom floor for no reason.
A couple of months passed and I found the depression went away and my anxiety went back to a more “normal” level for me. I was finally happy again and so very content.
Nearly a year went by and it was coming up to Harper’s first birthday. This was the time we always planned to try for our next baby. We were lucky enough to fall right away this time around also.
I was much more relaxed this pregnancy in comparison to Harper’s. With my first pregnancy, I had a lot of anxieties about the baby’s health which all stemmed from my severely disabled brother. Growing up around disabled and sick kids it was just something I couldn’t help but fear having a baby that was unwell.
But once I knew I birthed one healthy baby girl those anxieties mostly disappeared. As this pregnancy drew closer to nine months I was positive I wouldn’t go through that “dark period” like I did with Harper. I trusted myself as a mother and knew that I wouldn’t let it “get the better of me this time”. So very naïve looking back again.
The time came unexpectedly early and abruptly. Willow’s birth was far from “perfect”. She came early and it ended up being a very traumatic event for both my husband and I. I had a placenta abruption and bled a lot which all started in Kmart, of all places.
However, after what ended up being an emergency c-section I was of course very shaken up, but I was just so insanely grateful that Willow arrived safely.
I ended up staying in hospital for around a week post-birth to recover. The first few days I felt fine. I didn’t get the “Day Three Blues”, I just focused on recovering and getting to know little Willow. That week I really missed Harper and Ryan, but of course a toddler doesn’t like to be stuck in a hospital room for too long.
It was a very different than my postpartum experience the first time around, I didn’t get to have Ryan with me every step of the way, and because it was my second time I was fine with that, but also felt a lot of guilt for not being with Harper.
Harper has always been a mummy’s girl, she is my little sidekick. The fact I wasn’t home with her I just felt like a crappy mum (even though those thoughts were completely irrational). This is where I began to start feeling sad and overly anxious again.
I finally got home and just felt so happy to be back and now to be a family of four. I knew the next few weeks would be an adjustment for all of us; Harper becoming an older sister, Willow adjusting to her new surroundings, Ryan becoming a dad of two, and me learning how to juggle both girls.
Luckily because Willow was born in December, Ryan had a few weeks off this time (with Harper he only had two days off). Especially recovering from a c-section this time around, I wasn’t allowed to pick up Harper and it took a few days to walk up and down the stairs alone.
It didn’t help that 10 days after Willow’s birth, Harper was scheduled to have surgery - I was a complete mess. I didn’t want to take Willow to the hospital because she was so tiny (she was only 2.4kg at birth) but my baby girl was getting her first surgery.
The day of Harper’s operation she went in with Ryan, and I was a complete mess. I just cried my eyes out the entire day. Once she got home, she of course just wanted her mum. I remember just holding her and sobbing continually saying “I’m sorry baby, I’m so sorry”. I blamed absolutely everything on myself. I felt like there wasn’t enough of me for everyone.
Watch: Jessica Rowe speaks about her experience with postnatal depression. Post continues below...
I would say to myself “Snap of out if woman, you don’t have PND again, you’ve done all this before." I was pretty damn hard on myself for feeling this way. I came to accept I did have PND again and my anxiety was debilitating. I decided this time around I was going to deal with it instead of being in denial. I am a huge advocate for anxiety and mental illness and knew many resources I could use to help me through this period.
I found I would get very depressed in the afternoon (maybe because the night was ahead of me) so I would feed Willow and then while Ryan would watch the girls, and I would simply sit outside and call the PANDA hotline. For me personally, I know it helps to talk it out with someone, all the thoughts I was having, all the guilt I felt. Talking it out was a huge release for me. There were days I was fine and happy, but when the lows hit they were very low.
I wanted to go see a therapist but because it was the Christmas period they were closed. One night I woke up to Willow screaming, she had a very high temperature. After I did the usual strip down and Panadol, it wouldn’t come down. At 2am I took her to hospital. Little did it know Willow was going to be in there for a week.
I just couldn’t handle it all, I was terrified my baby was sick and they thought it could be meningitis, so of course I blamed myself. By this point I felt like I couldn’t catch a break, between Willow’s placenta abruption, Harper’s surgery and now this - I just didn’t know how much longer I could hold out for.
Whilst I was in the children’s ward I met some families who had been there for months. Seeing toddlers and babies who have spent most of their little lives in that ward just broke my heart, but it really put things into perspective for me.
Willow ended up having a viral infection so by the end of the week we were released. I swore even though I was depressed, anxious and sad I was not going to sit around blaming myself for everything that was obviously out of my control. Once I got home I rang the PND hotlines again and booked in with my doctor.
I looked up some support groups online and read of others experiences with PND and anxiety. The more I read the more I felt a sense of calm within myself, just knowing I wasn’t alone. I always knew it was relatively common but so many women don’t talk about PND, scared that people would think they aren’t “grateful” or that they are a “bad mother” for feeling such ways.
The thing is, PND and PNA is something YOU CAN’T CONTROL. All you can do is seek help and the resources to help you get through. A couple of months passed and the deep depression started to only last for shorter periods of time, then it would only be a day here or there and then finally I felt like me again. I remember thinking I was going to feel this way forever, but having been through it before comforted me because I could remind myself that I can get through it again.
To the mamas who keep telling themselves they aren’t good enough.
To the mamas who are sobbing on the floor.
To the mamas who feel like they haven’t slept in years.
To the mamas with cracked nipples and a screaming baby.
To the mamas who think that everything is their fault.
YOU ARE WORTHY, YOU ARE WORTHY.
I urge you that the best thing you can ever do for yourself and your baby at this time, is to get help. Talk it out like I did and decide with your healthcare professional the best plan to getting you back to yourself again.
LISTEN: According to Australia's Medical Association, other mothers cause postnatal depression. Post continues below...
Want to hear to more? Subscribe to Mamamia Out Loud.
Signs of PND/ PNA:
• Having a very low mood
• Feeling inadequate and a failure as a mother
• Having a sense of hopelessness about the future
• Feeling exhausted, empty, sad and teary
• Feeling guilty, ashamed or worthless
• Feeling anxious or panicky
• Having trouble sleeping, sleep for too long or have nightmares
• Worrying excessively about their baby
• Feeling scared of being alone or going out.
If you feel you or a friend might be suffering from PND or PNA please check out the following resources:
Please remember in case of emergency please call 000 (Australia).