Post natal depression affects one in five Australian mothers, and I’m included in that statistic.
Think of five babies you know… one of their mother’s was/is/might also be suffering. It’s a big deal but one that isn’t often talked about openly by anyone other than medical professionals.
For me, it didn’t manifest as depression, but I was wracked with such intense anxiety I often struggled to breathe. I didn’t sleep longer than four hours at a stretch in ten months, and many of my thoughts were completely irrational. A level of this is normal with all new mothers, but my anxiety quickly became out of control.
I felt nothing but intense love towards my daughter, but I mourned my past life – the ability to take the dog for a bushwalk unencumbered, to spontaneously meet a friend at the pub, or to take a yoga class in my lunch-break. I felt so selfish for even thinking those thoughts. I also struggled with working out what my new role was – the intense feeling I had to mother this child was overwhelming and consumed me – I became obsessed with things outside my control – like whether she would sleep or not, and for how long. I’d check her 100 times a night to make sure she was still breathing, I bought raw organic ingredients I sourced from farmers to puree everything from scratch, I was militant about breastfeeding… and I had to remind myself to smile. I even wrote a reminder to myself on my hand one day.
The worst thing about it was that when I was in the midst of it, I had NO IDEA what was going on. I was just surviving, thinking this was part of being a
martyr mother. Looking back on it I shudder as I now realise what it’s like to be crippled with anxiety that rocks you to your core. It creeps up on you and then controls every muscle, every thought, every moment.
You lose weight. You can’t sleep. You can’t eat. You forget how to laugh. You struggle to be a good friend, wife, even mother.
I survived – it helps when you come from a family of crazies as it often takes a crazy to know a crazy.
I also had a champion husband and a wonderful counsellor from Tresillian who visited my house every week and was able to coach me through a new way of thinking. I had to learn how to sleep again. Now, every time I think I’m being selfish – by doing something away from my child like getting my haircut – I need to think of it as survival. I now have the ability to STOP anxious and irrational thoughts, and feel this experience has made me stronger than ever. Now I understand the warning signs, I won’t let this consumer me again.
And I can pass on my five main failings that are essential for a new mother’s survival guide:
- A mother needs to be mothered,
- You need to make time to spend doing something you love by yourself,
- You need to sleep,
- It takes a village to raise a child, if people offer to help – let them,
- No mother is perfect and you can’t have it all.
Having a baby makes you see the world through fresh eyes.
You start noticing cars, hearing sirens, watching planes and playing with leaves – because all these things fascinate your baby.
It’s also made me think about how I will talk about some of life’s tougher lessons as she grows. Eating disorders, bullying, drugs, and mental illness.
Anxiety and depression are words I want my daughter to grow up with – there have been two suicides in my family in the past three years, and I don’t want them swept under the carpet. The black dog is barking at our heels and only with courage and determination can we keep that bitch at bay. We have to talk about mental illness to protect our children.
A is for anxiety. I’m going to start the dialogue early.