What’s the worst part about having a baby? The sleepless nights? Difficulties breastfeeding? The tedious days of being stuck in the house repeating the same things over and over again without much variety? The lack of sex drive? The thought of being chained to the house and never again being able to spend 5 minutes alone with your friends, or worse, with yourself? All of these scenarios are a nightmare, and you’ve experienced at least one of these, a combination of these, or at worst all of these. But I feel the worst part about it is suffering with the seemingly never ending darkness of post natal depression. Now it’s no secret that I suffered from post natal depression. This blog is after all a coping strategy that I created in order to maintain my sanity. Over the last 10 months I’ve found writing to be very cathartic, and it helps that I’ve been able to share my stories with others who have felt the same as me at one time or another.
I’ve spoken in the past about guilt, and I believe that guilt was one of the main drivers in my PND journey. Let me give you the perspective of someone who has gone through IVF.
During those 30 months of trying to conceive I saw the world through the eyes of desired pregnancy. It was the be all and end all of existence. I would see pregnant women EVERYWHERE. One particular day I was at the shops and counted 17 pregnant women in the space of two hours. It was just a reminder over and over again of what I was yet to achieve. And then there were the families with their children. Large families, small families, happy families and angry families. Particular the angry families. I live on a train line that, let’s just say, is populated with “Bogans”. Don’t know what a Bogan is? A Bogan is usually defined as a person who will stereotypically live on welfare, have no prospects in life, have little education, doesn’t tend to maintain good hygiene, have a dress sense that has an op shop feel about it, 1980’s hair styles, maintains a vocabulary that consists solely of the F word and C word, and treats their mannerless children with an air of “You ruined my life you little shits” and a clip around the ear. Needless to say, Bogans to the innocent observer, tend to not be the best parents in the world. And yet, they breed so well. And often. Sitting on the train heading to work, it was not unusual to see a family of 6, probably on their way to the local Centrelink, children in various states of undress, no shoes and filthy faces, while their parents had a loud domestic dispute in front of everyone. They would scream profanities at their children merely because the child dared to open their mouth in public, or curiously look out the window, or announce they were hungry. The adults would then get into yet another argument about drinking habits, out of control partying, or various affairs. Leaving the train would generally involve much shoving and the possibility of one child being left behind. Displays of affection such as these would leave me with a bad taste in my mouth and the poisonous thoughts of “Why would God give those arseholes 4 children, but I’m not even allowed one!?”
My desperation at wanting a child had started to turn into a reaction against the universe. I almost became a child myself. If I couldn’t have something, then it only made me want it all the more. I would make bargains with the universe, “If I had a child I would love it more than anything else in the world”. Some were reasonable agreements, “If you give me a child, I promise to care for it, and give it love, and teach it right from wrong, and never abuse it, and make it feel like it can always come to me for help and guidance…” Some were unreasonable, “I promise I’ll never yell at it, or argue, or lose my temper, or send it to it’s room, and give it all the freedom it wants.”
Then the tantrums would start, “I WANT A CHILD AND I WANT IT NOW, AND IF YOU DON’T GIVE IT TO ME I’LL HATE YOU FOREVER!”
I’m not even sure exactly who I was supposed to hate.
Eventually, as you know, the universe finally gave into my demands. So when I finally had this baby that I yearned so long for, it was no wonder that I felt immense guilt at the thought that maybe I had made a big mistake.
In the beginning I remember feeling overwhelmed. I couldn’t simply do the things I wanted to do anymore. Watch TV, just head out to the shops, visit my grandmother (without the expectation of bringing the baby), have spontaneous morning sex (yeah, I went there), sleep. I remember times getting harder, when it felt like I couldn’t settle my own baby. He cried all the time. I never knew how to interpret his cries. It used to panic me into thinking I was a terrible mother because I didn’t instinctively know what was wrong. People kept telling me, “Don’t worry, you’ll soon figure out what the cries mean.” Nope, never happened. Was he hungry, was he cold, was he tired, did he need a change? To this day I can honestly say that I never knew what his cries meant. I remember the seemingly endless colic. I remember dreading leaving the hospital because they had ready warmed muslin wraps that they wrapped around his tummy which always settled him. Unfortunately we didn’t have that service at home. I remember feeling like I couldn’t ever hold my baby. I felt like every time he was near me he wanted to feed. I would feed him 15 times a day, I didn’t need to do it unnecessarily. Here people would say “Oh well, just let him feed if it calms him”, coming from the people who’s nipples WOULDN’T be the ones being sucked raw.
And this is what is boiled down to. In attempting to fall pregnant I had this vision in my head of this perfect, calm, cuddly baby that I could hold to my chest and feel utterly at peace. That feeding would be a wonderful, gentle, bonding experience, and I would just sit in this perfect glow of happiness and contentment. Instead I got a screaming child that I was convinced hated me and didn’t want me to hold him, and feeding time was a tedious, mind numbing, difficult nightmare filled with frustration and resentment.
Okay, so I’ve painted a very bleak picture here. I’ll admit that this is what it was like at it’s worst. I won’t deny there were a lot of moments like this. But it wasn’t all bad. Maybe I’m looking back with rose tinted glasses, considering my time with my toddler has so far been mostly wonderful. I get all the soft adorable cuddles I craved for when he was just a little baby. And the fact that he can actually say to me “I love you Mummy” makes me realise that he didn’t know or understand what hatred was, or is. But at the time I didn’t know this. At the time I was too sleep deprived to care. And at the time I would question myself everyday as to whether we, my husband and I, had made the right choice in having a child. All this time and effort and emotion, and suddenly I was wishing it all away. And that’s what pushed me into the deep end of depression. Where had all my promises gone? How could I have wanted this child for so long, only to wish to take it all back. No wonder I couldn’t fall pregnant. No wonder I didn’t deserve to be a mother. I wasn’t a good mother. The dark thoughts went on and on. I remember one moment when I went into work for a visit and someone asked a question about how I was coping. I answered somewhere along the lines of “It’s a never ending nightmare.” Everyone laughed, like I was making a joke. I wasn’t, and I wasn’t laughing. I was trying to express what I was going through, but everyone just wanted to brush it off as a silly remark that I didn’t really mean. Of course I didn’t, but I didn’t feel any less strongly about it at the time.
And after all of that I sometimes think that maybe women who’ve gone through IVF can suffer from PND the wors. Obviously anyone is vulnerable to suffering from it, it doesn’t discriminate. Yet, after going through such a prolonged effort to get pregnant, it was like I wasn’t appreciating what I was finally gifted. That’s when the thoughts became worse. I could hear my own voice sneering at me in my head, “You should be grateful. You should be happy. You should be appreciative. What is wrong with you!? No wonder he hates you!” It was at moments like these that I would just want to scream out loud, “STOP IT STOP IT STOP IT!”
So how did I end up here? How did I end up with the loving care free independent toddler, with days filled with laughter, love and cuddles? Well first, I’ll say not everyday is a ray of sunshine. There are still some quite trying days when meals won’t get eaten, when clothes are being refused to be worn, when sitting on the potty is a nightmare, and when the slightest thing going wrong pre-empts a tantrum. Secondly, I didn’t get here without a lot of mental health help. I saw a councillor for about 3 months who helped me to develop a number of coping strategies. I created a number of ways to deal with issues at home. I finally created this blog. I felt that pouring out my emotions have been extremely cathartic, but not only that, I’ve had so many people tell me how my blog has helped them, or how they’ve experienced the exact same situations or feelings. It’s helped me immensely knowing that I’ve been able to give advice or comfort to others out there. And no, I’m not going to be like Constance and give my followers a name. I don’t care if you want to be a Queen or a King, or a fairy princess or a leprechaun or a Truther or garden gnome for all I care. You are who you are. You are you and you are magnificent.
So for now I’d like to give some pointers on getting over those baby blues. I may have stated some of these in previous posts, but I think now is a prefect moment for a timely reminder.
- Get yourself some mental health assistance. It can be in the form of a councillor, or psychologist, your local GP, or the health nurse, or one of the call help lines like Beyond Blue or Lifeline. You are not wasting anyone’s time. Other people may have it worse than you but that doesn’t devalue the fact that you are struggling and going through your own emotional journey. It’s never too late, or too much of an inconvenience, to talk to someone.
- Clean as you go. This seriously helped my sanity. Okay, so I’m not a neat freak, but I also know that mess makes me stressed. I don’t like the idea of clutter, or dirty dishes in the sink, or massive amounts of laundry yet to be washed or put away. So I would always make sure that if I used a plate it went in the dishwasher straight away, that the bed was made in the morning, that the clothes got put away when my husband came home from work (he could watch the baby while I did this), or the toys got packed away before Stormy went to bed (and yes, we make him do it with us, so he knows about responsibility and cleanliness).
- Remember that it’s okay to let the baby cry. Remember when I said that I couldn’t tell the difference between Stormy’s cries? Well I will tell you that you can tell the difference between regular baby crying and something is seriously wrong and you need to seek immediate assistance crying. So if you’re baby is crying and you know that it’s just everyday baby crying and nothing you’ve done will settle them, it’s okay to just take 5 minutes away from the baby and re-collect yourself. Put them in a safe place like their cot, and go and sit in your car. For 5 minutes. Just breath, cry if you need to, meditate, count to 50, grab your phone and watch cats being hilarious on Youtube. Just take 5 minutes. Your baby might still be crying when you get back, but at least you will be less frazzled.
- Make sure you get “Me” time. There are so many ways you can have “Me” time. I found that leaving the baby with the hubby and going out to do the grocery shopping by myself was a great way to have some me time. And if I decided to go to a cafe and have a cup of tea and piece of cake before I did the shopping then that was a bonus. Try other things like getting out of the house for two hours just to hang out with your girlfriends (big note to all the ladies out there who are good friends with someone who has just had a baby, if they unexpectedly call or message you asking to hang out, PLEASE move heaven and earth to be with that woman when she calls on you. You might not realise because she might not tell you, but she might just desperately need to hang out to save her sanity). Spend 15 minutes just sitting outside and soak up the sunshine. Go have a bubble bath. Get a massage or manicure (or pedicure considering your manicure will be ruined within days with all the dirty nappies you have to change and the constant hand washing). Think of your favourite things you used to do before the baby came, and go out and still do them. Or at least smaller versions of them. If you used to be an avid skydiver for example, you might need to change that to indoor rock climbing for a while. Or knitting.
- Have sex. If you’re in a relationship (and hey, even if you’re not in a relationship!), you need to make sure you’re still having sex. And I say this with the assumption that you’re in a loving relationship where both you and your partner have consensual and willing sex, so let’s not jump to grey areas about deliberate abstinence, past abuse, or trust issues. If you were having sex before and you want to continue having sex, then do it. It’s a very important part of your relationship and should remain an important (and fun) part. I know it can be a bit daunting getting back into it. But once you’re emotionally and physically ready, then make sure you make the time to do it. And this might seem a bit unromantic but if you are having a bad time just trying to do it spontaneously, then you should think about scheduling it. I’m serious, pick a day of the week (or two days, or three) that you’re both happy with, and stick to that time. Look forward to it, like Christmas or your birthday or something. That way it’ll make it exciting, and not just another thing that you have to tick off your “To Do” list.
- Finally be mindful. Okay, this is a psychological term. It means having good mental health. It means doing things that calm you mind. It mostly contains creative stuff. Things like meditation, exercising (pilates or yoga are not only super healthy for you, but the beginners exercises are not too difficult, and you’ll develop a good core strength which is good for fitness and help you run around after that little one without becoming too exhausted), creative artwork like an adult colouring-in book, or just go out with sketch pencils and paper and draw what you see. Sing, dance, write a journal, or remark about something that made you happy that day or things you are grateful for. Put these thoughts in a jar and read them all at the end of the year as a happiness booster.
Post natal depression like any other type of depression is hard. It’s hard to cope with, it takes over your life, and sometimes it can be fatal. It’s important that we not only be more mindful to reach out for help, but we are being more vigilant in seeing the signs and symptoms in others, and volunteering our support, love, friendship, and wherever possible all the help we can give. Remember to be there for each other people.
And don’t forget to have a little laugh once in a while.