It has been such an immense privilege sharing the stories of so many different mums. I have found these mums to be brave, inspiring and encouraging; sharing their daily lives, their highs and lows, in a bid to help other new mums forward in their motherhood journey. What I love most about these mums are that they are ‘REAL’. They are mums like you and I, aiming to be the best mums they can be to their kids.
This month I have been so overwhelmed by the courage of our real mums who have stepped forward to share their stories of Postnatal Anxiety and Depression. Tonight’s mum, Meg, is no different – a brave, loving, inspiring mum who shares her story of Postnatal Depression and the rollercoaster ride it has been for her and her family. Prepare your cuppa (and a Tim-Tam, as Meg suggests), and be encouraged by this amazing mumma! x
Hi I’m Meg!
I’m in my mid-late 30s and I am divorced with two children – my son is 6 and my daughter is 4. I have a purebred staffy and a rescue tabby cat. My partner and his daughter complete us.
I’m an outdoorsy person, and have a passion and obsession with photography. Second to winning the lotto to be able to afford to get into the property market, I would love to be able to make a living from taking and sharing my photos. I studied town planning at uni, and I work in the city. I am on a self-imposed social media ban, I love good coffee and I am a PND survivor.
It took 3 precious years from my life, ripped my family apart, caused havoc with my extended family and friends, and opened my eyes to the real world of mental illness. I was forced to face my vulnerabilities, accept help, and re-examine the set of beliefs that I was brought up with…
My second baby was born when my son (clingy, helicopter parented, sleeping issues) was 23 months. I was still on extended leave from my job and I had sworn black and blue that I was going to be a stay at home mum. Daycare? Snot, kids whose parents couldn’t care less, might as well leave him on the side of the road and see how he goes. My children would get 100% attention and the best of care with me.
I had experienced anxiety during my pregnancy, dealing with beforementioned toddler, morning sickness, etc. After my daughter was born, the struggle of splitting attention between the two of them (why so needy????) was simply mission impossible. I would end up on the floor patting my toddler to try to get him to sleep while breastfeeding my daughter to keep her from crying and waking him back up. Because during both pregnancies I had broken the golden rule of googling any issue big or small; I knew about PND and by 6 weeks postpartum, I was pretty darn sure I ticked all of the boxes. It took days to get up the courage to muster those little words to both my husband and my Mum “I think I have PND”.. Pretty sure I gave myself some sort of anxiety disorder just thinking about it. (Or so google suggested) SIDENOTE Google also told me that the term used is cyberchondria. Its an illness. Guilty as charged.
The GP, who was gentle, kind, scored me an A+ in the Edinburgh Postnatal Scale Test, sent me on my way to the chemist for some mild antidepressants (safe for breastfeeding), and gave me a referral to a psychiatrist.
From here my memory is sketchy. My psych would increase, swap, combine different medications every few weeks to see if I could find a spark. My arms were speckled with bruises from blood tests, my face and waistline bloated from mostly weight gaining side effects of the drugs as well as my lack of motivation to move & my Bridget-Jones-esque comfort eating. . Deciding to ignore advice about avoiding huge life changes while suffering PND, we moved house from Brisbane to the Gold Coast to be closer to the children’s father’s work. I cyber-researched other ways to deal with PND (PND+Brisbane+help) and came across the Brisbane Centre for Postnatal Disorders (BCPND) which was run out of a private hospital (Belmont) on the eastside. I got my psych to arrange a referral and I joined a Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) course with other PND sufferers. I found it strangely comforting to know that I wasn’t alone and that what I had was an ILLNESS. I didn’t do this… it wasn’t my fault. Run by a caring psychologist, she gently suggested that I be admitted to their Mother and Baby unit to try to get round the clock treatment and attention… this kind of shocked me, and my knee-jerk reaction was to decline.
After 4 more therapy classes, I realised I seriously needed help. 12 months had now passed since my daughter had been born. I was at my lowest of lows. My daughter and I didn’t even bother heading home from therapy, we walked down a corridor from a therapy room to an admission room to a private room with a bathroom, single bed, desk, window. This would be our home for the next 4 weeks..
I loved being in the Unit. I could SLEEP! The nurses kept watch of the babies in a separate nursery at night. I ate regular, healthy meals. I participated in daily therapy sessions. I interacted with other mothers going through mental health issues. It wasn’t just me. I connected with others, and realised the full extent of PND – everyone had a different story and different situation. By the end of the four weeks I felt rested, my daughter was sleeping, and I was ready to accept help – including daycare.
Days, weeks, months passed… Everything about my life felt toxic and negative. I had nothing left in me. I moved out. I found an affordable rental only a few minutes from the family home, still on the Gold Coast, and for months tried to adjust to life with children only part of the time. But that black cloud followed me everywhere I went. I struggled to find a balance of quality time with the kids and settle into the community. I felt trapped with nothing left. So for the next 3 months, hospital was my home. The kids, family and friends came to visit regularly. After 3 years of experimenting with every medication combination under the sun, something started to work. I started smiling. I exercised daily. I lost some weight put on from previous medications. I started making friends. I attended regular therapy sessions and started planning my return to my work – which had been put on hold for 5 years. I came to the realisation that I needed to move back to Brisbane to be close to my family, friends, medical specialists/hospital, and workplace. This was an incredibly difficult decision (moving 40mins away from the children and their lives) but the only hope I had of a full recovery.
I found a cute 3 bedroom cottage close to the city. I returned to work, reconnected with old friends and made new friends. While lonely during the week without my children while they attended school and kindy, I gradually grew back some confidence in parenting my children on weekends. I enjoyed work. I socialised and met my forever partner.
For the last 12 months, most days I am happy. My relationship with my kids is better than ever and we openly talk about how Mummy had a sore head and had to go to hospital. We talk about our worries and that its ok to make mistakes!
There will always be bad days. But I know that I am over the worst and I’ve got things to look forward to.
Next steps from diagnosis, formalised treatment, recovery process
From recognising the symptoms of PND at around 6 weeks postpartum, I mostly stuck to the traditional focus of seeing a GP, a Psychiatrist, doing CBT therapy, being admitted to the BCPND’s mother and baby unit…. As well as the alternative stuff such as naturopath, yoga, kinesiologist and other counselling. I also called up phone lines such as Beyond Blue and PANDA to get advice and sympathy.
Moving back to Brisbane from the Gold Coast and being close to my key support crew was a turning point of my recovery. My courage to move out of my family home was a key milestone in deciding that I had to take control of my life and I saw this as necessary for the sake of my kids.
Starting back at work gave me confidence to reignite my intellect and social skills. It wasn’t easy but I remembered how much I loved my job. And meeting my partner was the icing on the cake, providing me with a chance to rebuild a family that is happy, secure and loving.
I experienced most of those telltale signs of PND after the birth of my daughter. Looking back I probably also had a milder version of PND with my son, but I suppose second time around, and feeling like I couldn’t manage one child let alone 2, everything was way worse. There were daily cycles of tears, deep sadness, resentment, frustration, disappointment, hurt and hopelessness. My life wasn’t worth living and my children deserved better. I was going to stuff them up for life having to live with such a depressed, incompetent mother. Tim tam anyone?
Words can’t describe how grateful I am for everyone who has played a role in supporting me. Without a doubt, having 2 BFFs who would text me numerous times during the day – for at least 2 or 3 years straight – to check on me, send me funny memes, kid play dates and being a shoulder to cry on.. it meant the world to me. They showed me that they didn’t judge and they weren’t going to give up.
My parents have gone above and beyond supporting me, and my children. Even if at times I felt they just didn’t really get it, or thought that PND was just another made up illness like “Chronic Fatigue” or maybe I was a hypochondriac??
Another huge help was the daycare educator at the day care centre which both children attended during my illness. I opened up about my PND and immediately a level of trust was established between us. She would text me to reassure me that my son had stopped crying, that he was getting lots of attention and cuddles, she even went out of her way to assist in picking up and dropping off both children when I was at my worst. I’ve got no idea how I can ever repay her.
PANDA Community Champion
PANDA was one of the phonelines that I used at varied stages of my illness. At times when my brain could not compute and I had no where to turn, someone was on the end of the line. I had nothing to lose from calling. So I have always been involved in donating to this cause through them – as well as following their many helpful messages in breaking down the stigma of PND through social media. Their resources for family and friends affected by someone with PND was also something that I turned to and passed on to my family – when I had no words of my own.
I began reading other PND sufferers stories of survival on PANDAs website and was overwhelmed with their bravery to speak up. This has inspired me, and I’m now out of the closet sharing my story because I want to help others think that its ok to admit that they might need help.. So many people have been involved and affected by my illness … and I am determined to “pass it forward” and support someone else.
An “Average” week in my life..
From Monday to Wednesday it is just my partner and I, and our fur babies at home. We are early risers (why!), the dog gets a walk, I change my outfit 3 times, then I make like a sardine and squeeze into an already crowded train to the city for work. The evenings are quiet and we discuss how our pile of folding is growing and how we need to tidy the house before the weekend. We watch the Project on Ch10 as Peter Helliar in my opinion is the funniest man on TV, and my partner is partial to Carrie Bickmore (when brunette). It’s the news delivered differently, people.
I am so lucky to have a wonderful employer who allows me to work from home on Thursdays. This means that I can juggle my work in between attending weekly group therapy sessions at my hospital alongside other PND ladies. I can opt for a one-on-one psychologist session while I am there, as well as schedule in psychiatrist couch dates… In the afternoon I drive down to the coast to pick up my daughter from Kindy and bring her back to Brisbane.
On Fridays, I drive my daughter across town to my mum’s place where she is looked after while I am at work.
My son plays soccer at the coast on Saturday mornings so I get to see him after that. He goes to school down there as that’s where his dad lives, and where we moved to after we had our daughter. Soccer means I don’t collect him like I used to on Friday afternoons. He is 6 and always asking for cuddles. We love riding bikes, going to parks, doing arts and crafts and cooking. He is smart, funny and car-obsessed. Weekends with my kids (all 3 of them) is what I live for.
This is my average week.
One piece of advice
For goodness sakes, if you are not feeling yourself, if your baby is driving you bonkers or making you seriously hate every second of the day… please please please speak to someone. The Baby Blues aren’t meant to last more than a few days. Even if you think “but its just because my baby isn’t sleeping and once she does I will be fine”… what if youre not……confide in someone now. Even me. I’d love to listen!
AND there are no awards for holding out and not taking some little tablets if a doctor suggests it!! Just like paracetamol for a headache, or a bandaid for a cut, taking an antidepressant for feeling continually flat is totally normal and if it makes you feel even the teeniest bit better, go for it!! Breastfeeding? No excuse. There are types of drugs which do not pass into the bloodstream and my daughter was on the receiving end of those for the better part of 12 months.
If you are experiencing similar feelings or thoughts, and would like to speak to someone, please contact the PANDA national hotline (Mondays – Fridays, 10am to 5pm) on 1300 726 306 or visit the PANDA website HERE.