I've mentioned previously that I've been affected by post-natal depression (PND) after both of my births. I thought I'd share more about my experiences. Writing helps me process, and if it encourages anyone else to talk about their PND or seek help, then that's a bonus.
The year before Xander's birth had been extraordinarily stressful. We'd got engaged and then married three months later. I left my job in Dunedin and we moved to Geraldine, where I knew only hubby's parents (and then not well). The whoops six weeks after the wedding meant we had to abandon our plans to move to Canada. I was dreadfully sick all pregnancy, and hubby was laid off when I was 34 weeks pregnant. I was a prime target for PND.
Neither of us had any experience with babies. Xander screamed for six or more hours every night. The Plunket nurse blithely reassured us that "sometimes they're unsettled in the evening". I was tangled in thoughts of having to do it all ("everyone else can do it", after all) and wouldn't accept any help. I remember wondering if you could die from exhaustion, and wishing I would.
Nothing was fun. Nothing was funny. I wanted to run away or just die. Not actively die... just be able to... stop. To have peace. To rest.
I remember looking at a photo, and thinking it perfectly represented how I felt. It showed Xander... and me from the neck down. No mind of my own, just there for the boobs and to hold the baby. I read the WHO recommendation to breastfeed for at least two years, and decided I was needed to be the boobs (I was obviously of no other use) until then, and promised myself that I could kill myself on his second birthday. The thought of it - having an end-date for the numb pain - kept me going. I did not want to interact with Xander, and the sound of him crying filled me with dread. I got very good at faking it for his benefit and for other people.
It was only in the very, very darkest hours that I had any thoughts of hurting him. This was a mixed blessing. If it had happened more, it would have compelled me to seek help sooner. As long it was just me, then it was "fine". I deserved to feel that way, for being such a failure, for being weak.
We moved up to Auckland when he was around nine months old. I'd hoped things would improve being closer to my family, but they didn't. Eventually, hubby made me agree to seek help.
I was listened to. And taken seriously.
I agreed to go on antidepressants while on the waiting list for counselling. (It bothers me immensely that the pharmaceutical option is so cheap and readily available while counselling is either extremely expensive or heavily over-subscribed.) Once available, counselling helped immediately, by giving me both coping strategies and a reason to leave the house. My counsellor encouraged me to night-wean Xander; at 11 months he was still waking every 90 minutes. Sheer exhaustion was a huge part of my problem. I gradually reduced the length of each night feed, and then hubby took over settling him between 10pm and 6am. In less than a week he was sleeping through.
Things got better. We joined Playcentre to have another reason to leave the house, and being with Xander started to be fun.
After that experience, it took us four years to decide to have another. And we got twins. I was dreading it.
Things are better this time. When I found myself sitting in the hospital bathroom planning how to get away from it all, I sought help straight away. I still have moments where the neediness of one or both babies fills me with a lethargic apathy that takes a great effort to overcome. Early on, I came within minutes of walking out the door.
But I've had much more support, and allowed myself to accept it (eventually... I remember crying in hospital because I needed help with my two babies and felt like such a failure). Finn and Vieve are much easier babies than Xander was; "sometimes they're unsettled in the evening" consists of cluster feeding rather than hours of screaming. I sometimes get to eat my dinner while it's hot, and even with two hands! And where Xander woke every 90 minutes, the twins... well, I don't want to jinx it. Let me just say that the other night they both slept from just after 3+3+3pm until nearly 2+2am.
So we're doing okay.
If you think you might have PND, please talk to someone. There is help available, and while it might not feel like it, things can get better and you deserve to feel better.
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