I was never the most maternal of women but I knew, deep down, I wanted to have children. I’ve always struggled with body image issues and it became very apparent how much during my pregnancy, when I started to see the numbers increasing on the scales. Although induced, I had an easy birth but when Liam was placed on my chest, I didn’t see the firework display or feel my heart bursting, I felt nothing. Looking back on those first few days, I would feel anxiety whenever my husband left me alone with Liam, even if it was just to get a coffee from the café downstairs.
Breastfeeding was a real struggle and although Liam fed beautifully, my nipples were a bleeding mess and I would freeze up when I knew it was feeding time. When Liam was 6 weeks, I couldn’t understand why it was still so painful to wear a top and it wasn’t till the 5th Dr, a male, decided to take a swab, that they found a staph infection and although I’d taken rounds of antibiotics for Mastitis, I was resistant to that specific one for the Staph. By this time, it was too late and I’d already decided to ween off breastfeeding, traumatised by the experience.
Don’t ask me why we decided to move into an apartment block, still under construction, when Liam was 10 days old. The jackhammering and building noise meant that those few hours of early morning sleep were compromised.
I also developed De Quervains (tendonitis in my wrists) and had to wear splints on both hands which meant that I wasn’t able to do a lot with Liam. Very hard with a newborn and it was extremely difficult to not hold some level of resentment towards him for putting me in this situation.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was a very quick overseas trip to a friend’s wedding. The jetlag, wondering if I was breastfeeding or bottlefeeding and the stress of the trip itself brought on insomnia, on my return. I describe it to people as all of a sudden forgetting how to fall asleep, which sounds crazy but I became crazy. Liam was sleeping through the night at this point and there was I, eyes wide open to all hours and running on only a few hours. I was prescribed sleeping pills which I ended up taking nightly for the next 6 months. The anxiety that came with 3pm and knowing that soon it would be time to go to sleep and wondering would I sleep that night. The screaming matches I would have with my husband in the middle of the night because he would try everything to support me and I was so upset that this was all happening.
I started to see a sleep psychologist, still not knowing that I was about to enter into the worst time of my life and she never once said to me, I think you have PND. I started to become extremely sensitive to noise, not wanting to leave the house and when I did go to my Mother’s Group, I’d put on the bravest face I could because everyone else seemed to be doing so well.
Even when the panic attacks set in, it still didn’t occur to me that I had PND. I would call my husband, stuck with Liam in the middle of the street, paralysed and not knowing how I would get home. He would talk me through it and left work day after day to come home and be with me. I was constantly in tears.
The panic attacks got worse and the pinnacle was when I drove to see a friend about 45 mins away, I knew how tired I was but she’d just had a baby and I wanted to see her. As I drove into the Lane Cove Tunnel, I knew something wasn’t right. I wasn’t able to breathe, my legs went to jelly and my vision blurred. I could no longer see, I was crawling along and with Liam asleep in the back, I was losing my mind. I was so lucky when I spotted one of the areas in the tunnel where you can pull into. I remember calling my husband who didn’t answer and not knowing what else to do, I called an ambulance. In case you ever wondered, those little “side of the tunnel” spots are quite big as they could fit the truck with the neon sign telling traffic it was occupied and an ambulance. I kept telling everyone I was fine but thankfully, they didn’t believe me. After a psych assessment at North Shore Hospital, I was referred to the Perinatal team at POW who diagnosed me with PNDA and I had no choice but to go onto anti depressants. I was so scared of the weight gain but little did I know this was the least of my worries.
The next few weeks of adjusting to the medication was a blur of heightened anxiety, crazy thoughts and I mean crazy and not being able to be left alone. My thoughts were getting the better of me and I remember being in the kitchen, cutting up an apple, my Mum having just left and I started thinking about what I could do with the knife. I was so scared at what I could do that I had to call her back. I couldn’t be left alone. My family rallied around but they couldn’t stay with me 24/7 so I was admitted into St John of God at Burwood. The great thing was that my husband could stay with me but I’m not sure if the nurses were told to leave me alone, but I didn’t feel supported by the staff. I told myself I would only be there for a week until the medication kicked in and this was the case, but not by choice. SJOG had an outbreak of gastro and both Liam and I were affected and sent home. I never went back and with the anti depressants starting to kick in, the help of an amazing psychologist, beautiful people around me and the most supportive husband a woman could ever wish for, I started to recover.
I remember saying to my psychologist in the early days, am I going to get through this? She promised me I would and I did. It wasn’t an easy road, I’m still on medication, I’m 4kg heavier, I still suffer from anxiety but when Liam was 3, I finally felt like we bonded. He just turned 4 and I couldn’t image life without him. He’s my little mate, I look at him sometimes and my heart bursts with love.
It’s very important for expectant Mothers to know that it’s ok not to feel a connection immediately. We skipped over PNDA in our antenatal classes and I wish I knew more. I wish I knew of PND support groups and the Gidget Foundation.
I wish the many Dr’s I visited had of picked up on my symptoms. I wish the sleep psychologist who I saw for 4 months had of picked up on my symptoms but for whatever reason, I was meant to take this path and I’m definitely stronger for it.