Here is my PND story. Well, the early days. If someone had sat me down and told me that the days and weeks following the birth of my baby were going to be harder than giving birth to a 4210g baby at home, drug-free, I’d have told them they were crazy and sent them on their way! We made it though without taking anti-depressants, but it’s been a tough road that nearly split us up. Treya is 18 months old now, and it seems making time for me and setting up my own business has been my saviour! Things are good here now. – Kim
I weighed 49kg before I fell pregnant, and put on a whopping 17 kgs, which was all baby. You couldn’t tell I was pregnant from behind. I had a great pregnancy beside the usual morning sickness and some lower back pain. Concerned one day that I was going to give birth to a giant, Sonja assured me “it won’t weigh over 5 kilos”! We were all astounded by the amount of movement my ever-growing baby made, but given her size, I’d say she was a little cramped in there to say the least!
After her birth, I was exhausted by the labour, and spent the next day in bed, watching my beautiful baby girl. That evening, however, things went pear-shaped. My ribs on my right side were bruised, assumingly from Treya kicking her way out. It was impossible to get comfortable, and I was desperate for sleep having been awake, for the most part, for coming up to 48 hours. It’s like my body went into shock after such physical exertion. My stomach hurt… I could barely walk… my ribs ached… and I just lost it! I couldn’t even pick up my own baby, and when I tried to, I made her cry! I didn’t know if I had hurt her, if we’d put the nappy on wrong, or if I’d accidentally pulled on her umbilical cord tie. I literally started to unravel emotionally, and we had to call on my partner’s mum to come stay the night. Two, in fact.
Even getting to the toilet was an ordeal. I had to be assisted, and still was unable to hold Treya. Attempting to feed her was a nightmare, trying to stack pieces of foam and pillows in a manner that held her off my stomach, whilst my nipples just weren’t coming to the party, sitting flatter and flatter the more engorged my breasts became.
By day 3, I was in so much pain, having to hold my stomach when I walked, and crying with exhaustion, raw emotion and a growing sense of helplessness and uselessness. When I tried to sleep, I would have nightmares, plagued by thoughts of accidentally dropping my baby, and tormented by the fact that if anything happened to her, I might never recover.
Thankfully my herbalist ordered me into a hot bath with 30 drops of lavender in it, which bought me some relief. Then my partner Karl’s sister came to the rescue with a “Mother Roasting” pack consisting of a selection of herbs in which to soak in the bath, followed by some soothing essential oils in warmed jojoba oil for my tummy, which we then wrapped firmly with a hemp scarf. Apparently there was a look of utter relief on my face after my tummy was wrapped up… but that was not before having to surrender to my father-in-law and brother-in-law having to get me out of the bath, dry me and put on a maternity pad for me!!!! Eeek! I could do little for myself and holding my baby was still near impossible.
My story is long, and some of it is vague in my mind, which probably isn’t a bad thing. But I do remember crying a lot, being so devastated by the fact that I still couldn’t look after my own baby. There was nothing medically wrong – I assume the physical pain was just from the physical exertion demanded by birthing a large baby – the emotional pain a combination of adrenal stress and what we now know to be post natal depression.
I am pleased to say that there were eventually small joys appearing ever so slowly in my world. Mastering breastfeeding, with the help of a lactation consultant and nipple shields, after starving Treya for 5 days, was certainly one to be celebrated! My diary entry, made 20 days after the birth, rejoices in the fact that I was able to carry her to the change table and hold her for a while. I was devastated by the fact that I was physically unable to care for my baby, and immensely grateful for the presence of my amazing partner and family who literally had to come and help us daily. Karl turned into Super Dad overnight, having to look after both his girls. My mind talk was negative, we needed visitors to help out, which conflicted with our decision to attempt an unofficial baby-moon, and I felt useless for just about the first time in my life. I was, pre-pregnancy, able to successfully co-ordinate education programs for Red Cross, with ease, and yet I couldn’t even look after my own baby. I found myself unable to do anything with the immense love I felt for this newly arrived being. I could feed her, breathe in the smell that was her and delight in the love that she evoked in me, yet I couldn’t pick her up, carry her, bath her or anything.
Weeks passed, and we continued to adapt and make small steps forward. I used the pram, for example, to wheel her to the change table where I could then lift her up. I also lost my fear of dropping her. However, challenges kept appearing. I had mastitis off and on for 2 –3 weeks; an old work injury in my neck produced a 6 day headache that drove me to tears; I began crying almost daily; my scoliosis (curvature of the spine) caused me pain; and I began grieving for my beautiful Mamma who had died 3 years and 2 days prior to Treya’s arrival, whom I missed so so terribly… and the unravelling continued.
When the local early childhood nurse said to me “if you are still crying in a few days I think you should go on anti-depressants”, I think I almost laughed! Me, needing anti-depressants? Don’t be ridiculous! But I did continue to cry daily, and anxiety attacks were added to the mix as soon as my partner went back to work at the 7 week mark. The darkness that was creeping in around the edges began to cast larger and larger shadows for longer and longer periods. A sense of disconnect developed and I could no longer force a smile even for my beautiful man. I found myself confessing that “this mothering business is mind numbingly boring” and wondering how I could get back to work! This was NOT what I had imagined feeling. In fact, I thought I’d take to mothering like a duck to water, and even went as far as assuming that I would adopt a rather relaxed “do-it-with-my-eyes-closed” earth-mother vibe about me!
The universe had other plans for us however. One morning I woke up, and ever I was worried about myself. I felt numb, like I was just going through the motions, thinking about all those woman I know who just LOVED breastfeeding and motherhood, realising that I was not one of them. I knew that I loved my baby, but I experienced total emotional disconnection and a deepening numbness, and everything just became too hard. I tormented myself with the question “am I just a bad Mum who can’t be bothered or do I have post natal depression (PND)?”. I’d be holding her, watching her, spellbound by how beautiful she was…but at the same time, feeling absolutely nothing. Empty. Numb. Dark. Hopeless. Useless. And so so SAD.
Fortunately, asking for help is something I do well, and I have an amazing support network. I ran my feelings by my friend who had undiagnosed PND 12 years ago. The similarities were undeniable. I made another call to a friend who is currently on anti-depressants for PND. She too normalised the abnormal for me…..well, what I had, up until this point, thought was “abnormal”. It was such a relief to hear that I was not the only one who would happily give my baby to someone else to hold and who felt numb despite having given birth to a gorgeous little human being. I was not the only one who literally cried upon my baby and was going through the motions instead of feeling the “joys of motherhood” that we are lead to believe are the norm.
Once I knew what we were dealing with, I knew what to do. We could act, and do something to move me from the darkness into the light. But before any real action was taken, I hit rock bottom, enduring several horrendous mornings where I was tormented by anxiety attacks that begun the moment my partner left for work at 5am. Every time I awoke from that point, which was multiple times an hour having imagined hearing my baby crying over and over again, I’d be overwhelmed by a wave of anxiety that would eventually drive me to tears and out of bed. I then could not bear to be alone and, in utter despair, would have to call Karl’s mum to come be with me until the light of day. One of the mornings she just lay with me in bed, holding me whilst I sobbed and missed my own beautiful mamma. Eventually we bundled me and Treya in the car and drove to our herbalist, hoping for an emergency appointment – and it was an emergency! By this stage I was considering what mental health hospitals I could check myself into and fantasising about anti-depressants.
Thankfully my diagnosis was good – “hormonal” apparently. A concoction of herbs were administered, along with instructions to drink a cup of miso soup each day, and 1-2 glasses of Bonsoy (milk), of all things! In addition to this, I was instructed to expose myself to the sun for an hour a day, rub fennel essential oil into my chest where my pituitary gland is, as well as my breasts and ovaries. To this, after consulting my GP, we added exercise, “time out” and “not practicing anxiety”. The latter being getting out of bed when the anxiety hit, and doing anything (washing cloth nappies!!!) to distract my attention from it, even if it was 5am.
I have to say that whilst we waited for my unconventional medicine to start working, I had moments of desperation. If someone had offered me anti-depressants there and then, I think I’d have taken them. But my herbalist reassured me and begged me to just hold on until day 3 or 4, when the herbs were said to take effect. To her credit, she was correct, and a few rays of sunshine shone in my world on day 3. I continued to improve, and I still remember my first day of really enjoying my baby, when the loving, meaningless banter between mother and baby during otherwise mundane tasks, such as nappy changing, came easily, and for the first time, it was a joy to be Treya’s mamma.
Fourteen weeks on, without as much as a wiff of an anti-depressant, I can honestly say that I am enjoying being a mum. The PND is still there, lingering in the background, but as long as I am vigilant and supported, we manage to keep it at bay. And I say “we” on purpose as my recovery has really been a community effort, brought about by the amazing support of family and close friends, without whom we would not have ventured so swiftly back into the light.
When I reflect on the challenges we have had since Treya’s arrival, it’s no wonder I ended up with PND, but part of me wonders whether the journey would have been easier had PND and physical, post-birth challenges been talked about more. It seems women are generally so quick to share birthing stories, and yet so reluctant to talk openly about the challenges of the fourth stage. So if someone sits you down before the birth of your child, and suggests that the weeks following the birth could be harder than the birth itself, don’t tell them they are crazy! Make them a cup of tea, pull up a chair and hear them out, not because my challenges will happen to you, but simply because they could.
Kim owns the Australian business ‘Pickled Tink: ‘art with heart‘, for belly casting, photography, Blessingway art and henna, and much much more!
Photos by Brett Stanley Photography