“I was clutching for the mother I had always thought I would be but I couldn’t connect with her anymore. Instead I became someone pretty unfamiliar who made some pretty fucked up choices but seemed much better at coping than I was”
Who wants to talk about post-natal depression?
No one, because its hideous. Its agonising and we feel humiliated and its not something we want to make public.
It’s a dark, terrifying place that no one wants to revisit – like a really bad dream you try not to think about.
It’s a place a lot of women find themselves trapped in and often can’t see it for what it is.
And that’s why we need to talk about it.
Post-natal depression robs women of their ability to access joy right when they need it the most.
With all the changes that come with a baby, the warnings can get lost in the transition and women can be left vulnerable.
My maternal DNA is fierce. I was strong and I was so ready for this journey. I knew my son, from the day I got pregnant; I knew everything about him. I was going to be a rock star mum, still make my own life & smash every stereotype that was thrown at me with him right there beside me because we were a team right from the get go.
But suddenly, and very quietly – something flipped in me somehow. Things went a little haywire in my brain and I became completely unaware of the changes in my behavior. I knew I wasn’t very happy but I thought I could still make sense of the world. There was a lot going on. I thought I was doing ok but realistically the person that I identify myself as became mostly inaccessible to me.
I was clutching for the mother I had always thought I would be but I couldn’t connect with her anymore. Instead I became someone pretty unfamiliar who made some pretty fucked up choices but seemed much better at coping than I was.
By the time anyone questioned me, I had already convinced myself people were just out to get me and I was fine.
I sat on the fence, trying to work out how to fit this little baby into my world where he didn’t really seem to belong. Throwing myself between not wanting to leave him to go to work and not wanting to go back to him.
Loving him like I’d die without him, but fairly certain he would be better off without me and pretty convinced that if I just left, no one would notice much. I was this perplexing combination of passionate and luke-warm in my maternal duties. I often watched him sleeping; wondering what I had done to my life then instantly beating myself up for thinking like that because seriously, what kind of mother could? I felt worthless, confused & without direction. I couldn’t see my way forward. It was just here and now – trapped & lonely.
I was angry. I had this enormous chip on my shoulder about the fact my relationship hadn’t survived and I was raising this baby alone. That my parents had separated. That my best friends had moved away. That no one could possibly understand how frustrated and defeated I was feeling. That where I was, was somewhere I had never imagined I would be and I couldn’t process that. As it turned out, I wasn’t prepared for this life I had suddenly found myself in and I was lost. I was convinced that if I could just change this or do that, I would be happy.
I withdrew myself from people I knew in order to behave in a way that wouldn’t be out-of-the-ordinary to strangers. New job new friends. Being around new people meant it was easier to feign contentment. I could put on a pretty good show. I became really good at finding ways to distract myself from my responsibilities without even realizing that’s what I was doing. I drank a lot. I stayed out. I would call my mum and tell her I was going to work late so “Vann might as well stay with you tonight” and I had no problem with it. Though I could feel that guilt in me somewhere – I rationalized all my shitty behavior by simply telling myself he was safe and I deserved a break.
Then every so often I would wake up in the morning or in the middle of the night feeling numb. I would lay on my bed with my baby and cry and cry and allow myself to be crushed by the weight of it all. What the fuck was I doing? I would cry until I couldn’t breathe but I didn’t really know what I was crying for. I didn’t know what it was that needed fixing. Everything was out of my control.
Looking back on it, it’s all kind of fuzzy and I could almost be telling someone else’s story considering how disconnected I feel from the person in this one. Quite simply, she’s not me.
I remember Vann being born and the feeling of holding him. I remember day one, two, three. Beyond that, there are about 9 months where it’s all pretty blurry with scattered moments of clarity. I don’t remember when he learned to crawl or what it felt like for him to fall asleep on me and that breaks my heart. I don’t remember taking moments, like I did with his brother, to really burn that memory into my mind so it would stay there forever.
I will spend the rest of my life trying to compensate for that. Even though I know now that I wasn’t well, I still find it hard to forgive myself. I know I’m a good mum but; I can’t get that time back. I can’t re-do those first few months of his life and try to make them better – I’m still trying to make peace with that.
It frightens me to think of how quickly I became so lost. I’m lucky. I have my family. I had support that allowed me to still keep some sense about me. I think of myself as strong minded. I have a good moral compass. I know right from wrong but a lot of my actions in those first months didn’t reflect that. I’m ever grateful to the people that spoke up and planted the seed. I’m grateful for the people who noticed the changes in my behavior and had enough faith in the strength of our relationship to question it. I’m grateful to people who walked through the door even when I told them to fuck off and to the people who took the time to show concern for my son & I.
It took just a flicker of realization – a very quick thought of “maybe they’re right” for me to start healing. Despite my backlash and negative reaction and overwhelming defiance against accepting there could be something wrong with me – my people kept at me and brought me back. I had a lot of work to do, but once the fog had lifted and by accepting the help that was offered, I was able to start forgiving myself and moving forward.
Psychiatric illness is the leading cause of maternal death in Australia. It’s a difficult subject to approach but you might see something lurking in us that we can’t. Speak up. Be gentle. If you’re not sure, ask around. Look for information – Speak to a doctor, a nurse, a midwife, a friend. If something seems out of place, there’s a good chance it might be, there could be more than just hormones at play. Never stop caring. Never stop supporting.
We need to talk about post-natal depression.
You are not a bad mother, you are not a bad person and you are not alone.