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My Journey Through Postnatal Depression

It is PND awareness week in Australia and I thought I would take the time to share my journey to give my readers who may be in the dark place hope that they too will recover from PND.

My Journey Through PND and Depression

To make sure this section gives my reader a true and honest account of my journey, I am going to add to it slowly in order to make sure it is as accurate as possible.  There maybe some things you might not like to read or hear as it is not pretty.  However, if you are going to judge me for what is written here………………………………….then please click on the close button at the top of the right screen and don’t read anymore.  If you feel you can “put yourself in my shoes” for just a little while and remember that depression is not what makes up who I am, then please share in a success story.  The depression is my overall diagnosis and the PND is a small part of the illness but for those who see me on a regular basis has seen for themselves the transformation that has occurred over time.  The main message that I want to share with my readers is the we can and do recover.

A Brief Background

I am going to keep this section as brief as possible as a lot went into the major depression but I don’t feel it is totally necessary to go into detail about the past.

There are two major events in my life which “created” the depression which was my Dad’s death in 2000 from cancer when I was 24 and being sexually assaulted just before this event. Sadly with these two events, I felt that I couldn’t tell anyone especially with the sexual assault as most of my friends and family have only recently found out.  Was this a good idea? No it wasn’t but at the time I thought it was the best thing to do.  I did not seek help with the grief of my dad’s death and hid my emotions and hid them through my work.

For the majority of my growing up, I was a shy person who did not know what to do with the 8 basic emotions that we all have. I learnt to hide them and put on a “fake front”.  Through my schooling years, I had a few wonderful friends who I am still close to now but most of the time I did not fit in with the “private school girl” mould.

Career wise I was always dedicated to everything that I did.  The worst experience would have been being in a kindergarten for a year where there was so much bullying amongst staff that I left at the end of the year.

I definitely made my own mistakes especially with boyfriends and lost who I was and what my core values in life were. However with my fantastic and supportive family I managed to get out of the destructive relationships and start on a new path.

However the one love I had through it all was the love I had for children.  I completed a Bachelor of Early Childhood degree with further qualification in disability studies and became an applied behaviour analysis therapists with autistic children, I was always dreamt of having my own children and how fulfilling this would be.

Although my life was a mess at the time, Steve walked into my life and I met my soul mate who of course I wanted to have children with.  i wont go too much into life with Steve here as there is another section solely for my bicycle addicted husband from the good, the bad and the ugly.

Pregnancy With Grace

One of my worst fears was that I was going to have lots of problems falling initially, but someone forgot to tell me that Steve had some good little swimmers :)  and so it didn’t take long.  I also couldn’t believe, as friends made bets on our wedding day that we would have a bubs by the end of our first year.  When I heard that I thought “yeah right I wish” .

With my fears we decided to start trying and goodness I didn’t fully realise that people track ovulation dates etc etc etc.  I assume that readers here don’t need a description of how to make a baby but if you need one I will find the sex tape (only kidding ;) .

The pregnancy itself wasn’t too eventful but I do remember feeling depressed throughout it.  I had no idea about antenatal depression and just simply put it down to being anxious with all the milestones that occurred and the extra pressure of counting how many movements bub made.

During the time, my obs was 100% certain that my pelvis would not let a bubs down it, even if it was tiny so he informed us that a C-section was the only option.  Steve and I were both certain that we would do whatever it took to keep everyone safe so we agreed to the C-section.  It is definitely a tough decision as I wanted to feel contractions but we knew that this was not the best option as we knew through the tests that we would end up having a C-section.

I know through my experiences and training through PANDA, that women need to have appropriate help if their birth was not to plan.  Mums need to speak about how they feel and be listened to.  Mothers do go through a “grief cycle” if they dont have the birth that they wanted and they need to be helped accordingly.

After Grace Was Born

Every mother remembers the moment of when they get to hold their little baby for the first time and having the instant bond at that very second.  But for me, I did not have it.  I did not have the “huggies” moment of instant love and I thought that I was a failure already.  It was not until Grace was approximately 4 months old, that I was told that it is normal not to have the instant bond.

During the hospital stay things were going well except breastfeeding.  There is simply too much conflicting opinions that it was doing my head in.  It was bad enough that Grace was not attaching and it was killing me but not to have the same advice given was just so hard to deal with.  When we left the hospital we still did not have the breastfeeding going well but I thought it would get better once my milk came in.

Grace loved having skin to skin time with Steve.

We all looked forward to the day when we could finally put Grace in her little capsaul and bring her home.  We dreamt of this day for so long and it was fantastic to bring her home.

Then the nightmare began.  Although I had fantastic families on both sides who came to visit and help in anyway they could, things were going down hill quickly.  Breastfeeding was still a nightmare to the point where Grace was screaming because there was no milk and not latching problem.  I was also crying because it was killing me and hearing her screaming was like razor blades.  So we stopped the breastfeeding and went onto bottle feeding which Grace took to easily.

I wont give you all the details but the main areas which lead to my depression are

  • Grace screamed all the time which like razor blades to hear. Sent my stress levels through the roof.
  • She would only sleep 40 minutes during the day
  • The maternal health nurse called Grace scary.
  • Steve left one morning and came home and his words were “when he left she was crying and when he came home she was still crying.  Well derrrrrrrrr that is how we spend our days.

It was simply a horrible time that I never thought I would never have.  My dark cloud became darker and darker, bigger and bigger by the day. Although I had such fantastic support fro my family, friends and from the wonderful new group of mums that I met through mothers group, I just saw no enjoyment.

I threw myself back into work in any hope it would let me escape from my darkness and bring some normality back into my life.  Although I looked forward to maternity leave, I never imagined what it was really like to have my career changed by having baby.  I was lucky that I had a wonderful and supportive workplace which enabled me to work from home most days. I never imagined how it was going to feel having a child change a career.

Another factor that women have to acknowledge is their feelings towards the change in their careers (big or small).  Women also should write down all the aspects of themselves when they become a mum.  Your life is not all about being a mum.  You are still a person who may enjoy sport, reading etc.  Enjoys being social etc.

Then one day I spoke honestly with Steve about what was happening. It is important that if a woman finding themselves in the same or similar problems, you need to find someone to openly talk to. Someone who will truly listen to how your feeling.  These feelings should be going on for more than a couple of weeks.  I knew deep down that something was not right.

Steve is my rock.  Although he knew what was going on, he listened to how I was feeling.  Even though I had spoken to a health professional and was told to make an appointment in a couple of weeks. I knew that in two weeks goodness knows what the situation would be.  It took a lot of guts to go to someone and say this is not normal and I need help.  But that first step is the hardest and the best step.

The First Step

We knew that we had to do something if there was any hope that things would get better.  I didn’t know about PANDA at the time but we thought the best point of call was to see our GP.  I was lucky with the GP because Steve was friends with him outside the Drs surgery and he had found medical solutions already and so we felt confident in going to him.

It was really hard to sit there and open up to someone and admitting that I was in trouble.  It took a lot of guts and support from Steve, immediate families and friends to do it and when it came out of my mouth it was a relief.  It was fantastic that Steve was there but the other important aspect was that our Dr LISTENED. He didn’t dismiss us……………..he got us to fill out a test/survey which Drs must fill out in order to diagnose PND/depression.  He also started to fill out a mental health plan which all Drs need to fill out.

However the most important thing that you need to be is TRANSPARENT.  You need to be honest because glossing over the issues will not help you in the end.  You have taken the first step so you need to be honest.

There are plenty of stories of Drs not listening and dismissing patients.  If you find this is your situation DON’T GIVE UP, seek another DR.

After seeing my GP, he referred my to a psychiatrist and psychologist who (touch wood) am very lucky worked in the same clinic.  This gave me some confidence as all the Drs would be on the same page.  Even if they didn’t work in the same clinic, I would have still felt confident in my GPs referral as I was confident in him.  All my Drs were fantastic although at times I thought that they were wasting my time.

It was scary to tell a stranger what was happening.  I know in the back of my mind I was always wondering what they were thinking about me.  But through time and hard work they got me to open up.  The biggest step was when I opened up about my sexual assault.  Although it was such a hard thing to deal with, finally telling the truth to someone was like a massive weight had been lifted off my shoulders.  To choose not to tell anyone for years, I will never know if it was the right decision or not.  The guy got away with it but at the time I could not tell as my Dad was dying and I just couldn’t go to the Police. But I did it. I told someone.

I spent a lot of time with my Drs and my psychologist challenged my thoughts.  The most helpful aspect of seeing my psychologist is that he gave me tasks to do at home in between our sessions.  They were hard and many I didn’t do as it was too challenging but all psychologists should provide tasks to do in between appointments.  Listening is simply not enough.  If you want to recover you need to make the changes necessary to recover.

WHAT HAVE I DONE?

Although Steve and I always wanted a second child, we both agreed it would be better after becoming well.  But that was not going to happen in this case.  One day I had became unwell but didn’t really think about it until I realised that I didn’t have my period.  But I recounted the month and thought that Steve and I had only been intimate once.  (I know poor Steve :) ). I talked myself out of it and thought there was no chance I was pregnant.

I remember calling a close friend who convinced me to get a pregnancy test and see her.  Thank god she as there for me as when the two lines came up, I burst into tears devastated that I was pregnant again.  I didn’t want to be pregnant and just thought how could it be possible? All I could say and think is ‘what the hell had I done?’  Thank god my friend was there to help me get through the initial shock (and there for me through the entire pregnancy).  Although I didn’t want to be pregnant, I also did not think about terminating the pregnancy either.  I was terrified of what people were going to say because already I had the clear message from my Drs not to get pregnant due to be on a high dose of medication.

So much was running through my head at this stage. I knew I was on a high dose of anti depressants and I just thought what the hell was it going to do to the unborn child.  I wish I had the information that I had now that the anti depressants don’t cause miscarriages but I also didn’t have the information what it would do to the foetus.

Then came the dreaded day of telling my psychiatrist.  Although he was professional at the time but the look on his face was enough for words.  He wanted to take me off the medication for the first and third trimester due to the dangers.  My god what a decision to make.  Here he was telling me to come off them and not really thinking about little Grace at home.  It absolutely tore Steve and I apart with such a huge decision.  We spent endless hours discussing what we thought was best.  We made the decision that Grace’s wellbeing was too important and that we would not risk me coming off the medication.  I needed to be well (except for the daily vomiting) for Grace’s sake.  I knew that we would get through whatever the outcome was with our unborn child.

We had a massive range of opinions but we had the support of family and friends and that was what was important.  We tried to block out, the opinions that we were harming our unborn child because they were not with us when we made the decision to remain on the medication.  They did not witness the tears and anguish that went on when making this decision.  People should try and walk in another person’s shoes before they make a comment.  We had Grace to think of through all of this and we did what was best for our family unit.  I do not regret our decision at all.

The Pregnancy

This pregnancy was definitely different from Grace. I definitely had a great relationship with the porcelain bowl as I was vomiting everyday even on the day I gave birth.  But as they say better out than in.  I had blood pressure issues especially in the last trimester and I was constantly getting monitored in the last few weeks with the blood pressure and the fact that Emma wasn’t being overly active.  I also could not walk and of course there was no sleeping due to being in so much pain.  So I was definitely looking forward to the due date.

During this time, I kept my obs up to speed on how I was feeling.  We had a good relationship and I felt it was important that he should also be aware just in case.

Em was also a caesarean birth. I probably enjoyed her birth more because it was good to hear the laughs from the drs as they pulled Em out.  Although I felt that Em was going to be a boy, we had to ask a few times what we had because they had their arm on her private parts.

The downward spiral

Like Grace I had no bond to Emma.  But it was definitely different to Grace.  Em breastfed wonderfully but sadly that was stopped due to the anti depressants.  But I hated Emma early on. I wanted to drown her and didn’t want to take her home.  It was such a stressful situation especially with discharge coming up.

But with everyone aware of my situation, the nurses contacted my Obs straight away for advice.  He immediately contacted my psychiatrist for days and very sadly my psychiatrist didn’t return his calls.  My GP even tried to call him with no success.  Things were getting challenging as I becoming more unwell so my Obs contacted a friend who was a psychiatrist and he came and assessed the situation.  He immediately said that I couldn’t go home and he referred me into a mother baby unit.

My Stay at the Mother Baby Unit

Instead of strapping little Emma into her baby capsule and feeling the excitement, anxiety, overwhelmed feelings which parents feel when they are taking their child home, all I felt was the dread that I was heading to another hospital and that I had to take Emma with me.  I knew that this was the best option for us but there was a part of me that simply wanted to die.

The thought of being in a mother baby unit was quite scary simply because I had no idea what was going to happen.  Each mum had their own room (at the one that I attended) whilst the baby slept in rooms allocated for infants.  It felt so lonely there as the majority of mums were there for sleep school.  I felt just so isolated as already I felt like a monster with the way that I was feeling.  At first I spent the majority of the time in my room as I was given time to continue to recover from my caesarean.

The nurses were wonderful and there were a few a relied on to get me through the hard stages and kept me grounded.  I definitely would have been lost without them.

The other challenge I was to face was starting all over again with another psychiatrist.  However I was extremely lucky to have a doctor who I owe so much of my life to.  It was hard to build a new relationship with someone else but I think it helped that I had already overcome being honest about so many issues that I had been hiding for so long.

I was a high risk patient to have in a mother baby unit as there was some concern about how I would feel with other babies screaming all the time and how it would affect my behaviour.  I was also told to stop breastfeeding which was disappointing this time because Emma was attaching better than Grace.  But I was on such a high dose it was better for Emma.  Emma struggled to feed.  It took hours to feed her 10mls.  It was wonderful for Emma to be under a paediatrician as they worked really hard to get Em to start feeding.  Emma was labelled as failing to thrive and had to be tube fed for a while which was heart breaking to see.  Em was also sent to the Children’s Hospital to see if there was any other problem and was diagnosed with silent reflux.

During my time in the mother baby unit I also had ECT (electroconvulsive treatment).  All I could envisage is them putting a cap on my head and frying my brain.  The nerves before it happened was horrible.  Although I was provided with heaps of information, reassurance and people answered any questions, I was terrified about the process.

When the first day came I was taken early to the theatre and the staff there were extremely encouraging.  The doctors showed me exactly what was going to happen and then I was given a mild anaesthetic. By the time I had all of the procedures for a person who would hyperventilate just seeing a needle I was able to get over my fears of needles.  Although they said that the first one was the hardest as they had to test the various levels to see what worked best.  I felt like I had run a mile and my muscles were sore but when I woke up I had no idea that I had a child.  I couldn’t remember where I lived and I felt so blank.  Sometimes I feel that my memory is affected by the ECT treatments but having them was the best option.

All up in the mother baby unit I spent four months there trying to get better.  They provided programs in the day and I was provided so much support with my bonding and looking after Em.  Grace visited all the time as it was important that she saw her new sister and we had so much help from family and friends in looking after Grace.  Steve was simply fantastic.  He immediately changed roles of caring for Grace full time and we were extremely lucky his boss is family orientated and told Steve to do whatever he had to do.

I met some wonderful mums in the mother baby unit who were fantastic to chat to as we were there for so long.  I still keep in touch with a few of these mums.

Going Home

We did finally go home.  Was it the right time……………..in hind sight it probably wasn’t the right time.  It was hectic going home and settling Em into home life as well as spending time with Grace.  Grace became clingy and got upset often if I went out without her. She was so worried that I wasn’t going to come back.

Over the next four months I spent a lot of time in-between appointments, doing part time work as well as participating in some day programs in the mother baby unit.  The main program I did during the next four months was called Baby Love.  This was a confronting program as we had to video tape our interactions with our baby.  Then during the program these video recordings were analysed and we discussed where we had trouble with interacting.  I learnt amazing things from this program that I still use suggestions with my girls.  But the main aspect I learnt was how much I loved Emma.

However throughout the four months, things were steadily getting worse. My self harm was increasing and the girls were at risk of harm.  I went and saw my psychiatrist and I knew I had to admit what was going on.  So after much discussion I agreed to head back into the mother baby unit again.

My Second Admission

Going back there for a second time was heartbreaking. I felt like such a failure to my family.  I was devastated that I had to separate our two girls again.  But i knew I was in such a mess and this was the best place for me to be.  However I was told that I couldn’t stay in the mother baby unit as I was to high risk to the other children and so they sent Em home and I had to go over to another section of the hospital.

Believe me what I saw there was eye opening but it was the best place for me.  I didn’t want the girls to come visit as I couldn’t face them at present and my psychiatrist knew that this was going to be a tough but important stay as it was focused on me. I met so many people there and the first few days all I felt that it was like being back at school with the various clicks.  There was a wide variety of problems there but in a way it helped that people understood.  They ran programs during the day to provide strategies.  I also did a lot of journal writing.  It was with the journal writing that my psychiatrist knew exactly what I was thinking.

With that knowledge my psychiatrist knew I had to have a medication change but that was a massive risk with my ability to handle the withdrawal symptoms.  Therefore the decision was made to do more ECT to help break that time.  Instead of doing unilateral they did bilateral and at least I was not as nervous.  We wrote down the important things so I could have them as a constant reminder as Steve was not able to be there as he had to look after the girls.  But I found it wasn’t as bad as the first time.

I spent three months in this section and believe me it was the best thing I did.  The most major milestone that occurred whilst I was there was that I told my mum about the rape.  That was a massive moment but I knew I had to do it and the world lifted off my shoulders.  I asked for the girls to start to visit and I spent a lot of time discovering more tools in keeping well with mindfulness and meditation. When I was transferred to the mother baby unit I felt just so well and it was the right time.

Em came back into the hospital and we spent a month re-bonding.  When I finally went home I knew that it was the right time.

The rest of my journey

I have spent the last 9 months regularly seeing my doctors but they are not as frequent now which is a great step.  I have done a few programs in depression management and acceptance and commitment therapy.  The best moment of my time at home was that one day that I turned around and saw Grace and Emma and thought I truly love my true girls.  Finally I had that moment that mums have for the first time. Although at times I hate that it came so late but I thank everyone who has helped me on this journey to actually reach this moment.

I do have times when I struggle but I don’t go back to the bad days.  I never thought I would ever say that although I wouldn’t wish this journey on anyone, I also wouldn’t change it for the world because I am now the mum that I truly want to be and I finally accept my past, my story and am finally back in touch with the person who I always wanted to be.

I now only see my psychiatrist every 6 weeks or more and I said good bye to my psychologist a few months ago.  My aim is to keep well for 12 months and start coming off my anti depressants.

 

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