This story was submitted by a reader to Stuff Nation.
I was 26-years-old when my first child was born. I had all these dream fantasies of feeding my calm, contented baby, gazing dreamily down in to their eyes and swimming in a cloud of perfect love where life was simply wonderful. The reality was slightly to the left of this.
For the first few days in hospital my daughter was a very calm baby who barely fussed at all and slept like a champion - until the night before I left to go home. All of a sudden she decided to wake up every 15 minutes and shriek until I rocked her in my arms and held her the entire time she slept.
I suddenly had a sinking feeling that maybe my fantasy was not realistic. From about 5pm to midnight each night she would kick in to high gear and scream as loudly as she could. Nothing I did could stop her, not breastfeeding, not rocking, not swaddling, nothing.
Within two weeks of her birth I had gone from being overjoyed with my new role as a mummy to spiralling headfirst in to the most sleep-deprived, darkest depression I have ever experienced. My little girl barely slept for more than an hour at a time and I was suffering from such severe sleep deprivation that I was weak, dizzy and nauseous all the time. I would spend hours every day crumpled up in an exhausted heap on the couch, crying while my beautiful little newborn girl would do the same.
Looking back, I think the sudden shock of realising that I was forever going to be responsible for this vulnerable little pink creature was so overwhelming that it hit me like a freight train. It was probably the reason my daughter was so unsettled, because I was so unsettled and she was feeding off my emotions.
Whatever the reason was, no matter how hard I tried to cheer up, to see the bright side of things, to remind myself that babies do eventually begin to sleep more, I couldn't pull myself out of the hole.
Family began to notice how withdrawn and miserable I had become - a far cry from my former bubbly, outgoing, crazy self who was constantly laughing and smiling.
There were times where I wouldn't leave the bedroom for two or three days, simply spending my time feeding my baby, trying to get her to sleep, sitting on the edge of the bed feeling trapped and panicked. And crying.
My midwife knew something wasn't right. She suggested I see my doctor and discuss the possibility of anti-depressant medication but I refused because I was terrified it would harm my breastfeeding daughter. I refused to accept any help because I was afraid it would mean I was an unfit mother.
So I put on a brave face when she would visit me. Every day was like struggling in quick sand. I loved and adored my beautiful little daughter more than anything in the world, and was so overwhelmingly protective of her that even when my husband offered to take her for a walk so I could get a break, I refused to let the most precious thing in my life out of my sight. I trusted no one else to care for her. The love I felt for her was so powerful that every time I looked at her tiny feet and pouty lips, my heart felt like it was being squeezed.
It wasn't my daughter that was making me feel so depressed - it was my lack of knowledge on how hard this would be, and my complete inability to cope with it all. I missed how I used to be able to just sleep in as long as I wanted on the weekends, how I could curl up with a book and read for hours, how I could window shop to my heart's delight. I felt like a prisoner in my own home.
I knew I was suffering. I knew I was sad and in shock, but it never occurred to me that maybe I had post-natal depression until one night I found myself curled up in a ball on the bathroom floor, crying. As I lay on the cold tiles, desperate for the exhaustion and panicked feelings to stop, a thought suddenly occurred to me: I could kill myself and end all the pain and sadness and exhaustion in one hit. As soon as the thought entered my head, I felt a surge of utter relief and delight.
It all seemed like such an easy way out and I couldn't believe it hadn't occurred to me earlier. But within moments of this miracle cure came a massive roadblock: My beautiful daughter. Who would love her and protect her as much as me? How could I leave the most important thing in my life behind and allow her to grow up thinking her mum had committed suicide because of her? How could I abandon the one purpose I had to live for?
In this moment I found the irony of the situation mind blowing: The thing that had led to me wanting to end my own life - motherhood - was the one thing that was keeping me from doing it. In the cold still darkness of the bathroom that night I found the answer to keep going and battle through it.
For months and months I struggled on, slowly beginning to accept the help from my husband so I could take naps, going for walks at dusk when the world was peaceful and still, and I even joined a coffee group with other mums of newborns who all knew exactly how hard it was and what I was going through.
As the months went on I began to adjust to this new role of living purely for my daughter and I began to accept I had to say goodbye to the days of living purely for myself. As my daughter grew, she began to settle and cried less and by the time she was 12 months old, she slept wonderfully and right through the night.
It took me a long long time before I was able to fully shake off every last drop of post-natal depression but eventually I got there and when I look back, I can't believe how close I had come to feeling like I was losing my mind.
The thought of having any more children and possibly going through that depression again scared me and it wasn't until my daughter was three-years-old that I felt brave enough to get pregnant again. This time around, I was prepared. I had eventually gone on anti-depressant medication and I continued to take this through my second pregnancy. I knew sleep deprivation would be a factor so I came up with a plan for my husband to help out to allow me to nap as often as I could, and I did all the reading I could on being prepared for the onset of post-natal depression.
By the time my son arrived in to the world, I was beyond ready to fight the depression beast should it show up. But to my surprise and huge relief, my son was an absolute dream baby - calm, quiet, laid-back, fed super well, and slept amazingly. Nothing came as a shock to me and I handled everything with ease and a smile on my face. I did myself proud.
The reason I am writing this article is because so many women suffer with post-natal depression in total silence because they are so afraid to ask for help and fear looking incompetent or being harshly judged. Post-natal depression is like diabetes or cancer - it strikes any one at any time and it's through no fault of your own. You can only deal with it as best you can and ride it out. It is in no way a reflection on your ability as a mother and it certainly isn't a reflection on your love for your baby.
When I look back I am reminded how hard it was, how far I've come, and how thankful I am to be the happy healthy person and mother I am today. Post-natal depression almost killed me, but ultimately, it made me stronger.
HOW TO GET HELP
- Suicide Prevention Helpline 0508 828 865
- Youthline 0800 376 633
- Depression 0800 111 757
- Samaritans 0800 726 666
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