Overcoming Post-natal Depression- Chantelle's Story
CONTENT WARNING. This blog post shares experiences with depression, anxiety and thoughts of self-harm and suicide. Please do not read this if you feel this may be triggering for you. Please also note the following services if you feel you need to talk to someone about these topics covered or you are having experiences that are similar: Lifeline Phone 13 11 14 Beyond blue Phone: 1300 22 4636
PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia) Phone: 1300 726 306 There was this day about 4 weeks after having my twins where I was sitting on my couch with them, the sunlight coming through behind me. I had a giant breastfeeding pillow that I had propped them on to breastfeed, and had just finished feeding them and shifted them up on to my chest where they both promptly fell asleep. Their sweet little newborn faces were turned in towards each other. Their little snuffling breathing noises filled my ears and I felt the most intense gratitude and joy to have these sweet little babies together in my arms. I ignored all of the housework, cooking, whatever else I had to do and decided I would just sit there on the couch doing nothing but listening to my babies sleep and enjoying the weight and warmth of them on me while my heart soared for the happiness of having been given two little babies to enjoy.
That moment cuddling my babies was powerful and poignant in my mind, because it was the last time I remember feeling happy for many months to come. The picture above is that moment, and it still tears at me to see it. I remember everything about sitting there on that couch, and very little after. The darkness settled over my mind in the weeks to follow. I slept in 20 minute blocks, but never more than 3 hours in a day. The twins had reflux, multiple protein intolerances that rendered all formula useless to us, they wouldn't sleep lying down. Someone had to rock them in a hammock continuously to get them to stop screaming at all. The anxiety was so pervasive that even when they did fall asleep, I couldn't. My mind remained in the constant state of vigilance for a baby to scream and need me again. My four year old started waking in the night at about 3am and literally screaming the house down at the top of her lungs until she saw me come in. It didn't matter if I was stuck breastfeeding twins. She just kept screaming the 45 minutes it took me to finish feeding them and go to her. I breastfed every 2 hours minimum. I was on a heavily restricted diet because a list of about 8 foods, if eaten by me, led to continuously screaming babies with reflux and terrible nappies. I remember one day sitting in my front yard while the babies screamed in the house behind me. I just couldn't do it anymore. On my inside, I felt utterly dead. It was like the inside of my chest was entirely hollow and the edges ached and echoed with a painful prickle that reminded me of the hollow emptiness within me, a feeling that made me think perhaps I had lost what made me human at all. On this particular day I just stood up, and walked away from my house. Thankfully, my husband was home, but I wasn't sure if he wasn't if I would have been able to not walk away. I walked and walked and walked. I took no phone, gave no warning. In my mind I wrestled with my fears, my desperate desire to be away from all of the stress and exhaustion and pain. Eventually I came back home and told my husband (again) all that I was battling.
We had already asked for help early, we already had a plan in place with our amazing maternal child health nurse. We spoke to family, we spoke to our friends. My husband knew that the real worry was when I no longer communicated, because if I reached that stage he needed to call the CAT team and not leave me alone. There is so much I don't remember at all about this time. I can't remember most of when my babies were 5 weeks until about 10 months. I remember having a review with the CAT team at some stage. I remember medication reviews, I remember constantly arguing with health care professionals about breastfeeding as everyone seemed to believe that if I didn't breastfeed I would be happy. I kept telling them that breastfeeding was the only connection I had to my babies when I felt this awful, formula feeding was associated with higher severity of depression anyway, and there wasn't a formula they could take. The only healthcare professional who listened to me was my Maternal Child Health Nurse, who was honestly the most incredible health professional I have ever known. She checked in on me, she made sure my GP was chasing up my Psychologist, she called my church minister and asked him to get the community around me to help me, she came to my home, she researched intolerances, she gave me advise to help me where I was at. She organised subsidy for childcare so I could get a break. She bumped me up the list for sleep school. She wrote the action plan for my declining health. She was incredible. If every MCHN in the country was like her I can't imagine what motherhood could look like in our society.
I remember getting to sleep school when they were 4 months old. There was a video that I first saw when I was 18 in a lecture for psychology. It showed experiments where mothers were told to not give any facial expression to their babies, even when they were crying, as well as to not respond. The mothers stared dead-pan at their crying little 6 month old babies. They showed how the babies lose their own internal balance and start to sob and hiccup. You can see their fear and concern as their mothers stop responding. Of course, these experiments relate to the impact of post-natal depression and they absolutely haunted me. In sleep school, they would play them to us in one of the classes that they ran. I had to leave the room. I thought of those stupid experiments all the time, and riddled myself with guilt and shame at the damage I must be causing my babies. So many times I leaned over a change table with tears pouring down my face and sobs wracking through my chest, forcing myself to smile at my little babies so they would know I loved them and they were safe even though I felt so awful. I absolutely couldn't bear to see those experiments again, and in my two stints at sleep school with the twins I walked out each time.
And I remember the snippets that were my steps out of that hole. There was returning to work when the twins were 8 weeks. It was only 3 hours, on a weekend. But it was 3 hours where I didn't have to be anything except a physiotherapist, helping someone else. My amazing and very supportive Boss accomodated my short hours, putting in pumping breaks. It was 3 hours where I actually felt good. I didn't feel the darkness or anxiety in that time. There was going to sleep school when the twins were 4 months and getting the help I needed to get them feeding 3 hourly. There was returning when they were 1 to get them sleeping at night.
Slowly increasing my work hours gave me so much happiness and purpose outside of motherhood. I loved my job, I loved the break from home. I loved a chance to be with people doing what I loved. Then when I came back home, I was happy and grateful to be there. That's just how I am. I am a woman who needs to work in addition to being a Mum. I love to be both. I remember exercising and how much it helped. Swimming, running and doing weights again just made me feel like my body was mine and I could care for it. I remember finally getting on top of all their intolerances and getting proper help from a Paediatrician who guided me through the process and gave us a prescription formula for when we needed it. For me, getting better was about getting back to work, seeing my friends, exercising and getting sleep. For many, it's getting the right medication, or family support, or care support. The biggest thing I want you to do is GET HELP EARLY. So many Mums put our selves last and soldier on, as they put off talking to their GP or their families about what they are really experiencing. You might be finding the places you are seeking help are not giving you what you need, or your family support is far less than what you had hoped or needed. Please- don't give up. Keep pushing. It can be better. There is so much amazing help available to us in Australia if our healthcare providers know where to look. You can be happy again. You can thrive. You can enjoy your life. There is a way through the darkness.