The month of April we discuss mental health/illness. Moms across the globe will be sharing their stories and journeys with us.
Today we have Nikki, she is a 38-year-old mom originally from Durban. She now lives in England with her husband and children aged 9 and 18 months.
Nikki is a Mental Health Advocate and freelance writer. She blogs about her experiences with anxiety, depression and other mental health topics on https://digitalbutterfly.life
Moms spill the tea #1
Let’s Talk About Postnatal Depression.
When I fell pregnant for the first time, I was so excited. We’d been trying for over a year. I was becoming desperate for a baby. I’d gone through all those tedious tasks of charting my temperature, peeing on sticks to check when I was ovulating, lying with my legs in the air afterwards in hopes that gravity would help the little guys along. So, when those two lines appeared on the test, I was shocked and thrilled.
No Glow Zone
I read all the baby magazines showing glowing mothers in flowing, cutesy maternity dresses and babies with squishy little bums that you could just imagine smelling of baby powder. But as the months progressed, I didn’t get the glow. I got spots and the brown mask of pregnancy, uncoverable with foundation. I became bloated and was in agony with sciatica. They didn’t show this in the magazines! Where was my glow I was promised?
In my prenatal classes, I learned about breastfeeding and how the baby lovingly latched to your breast while you nourished it with THE MOST essential thing in the world, breast milk. I built a plan for the music I’d hear while giving birth, the lavender candle I’d have lit in the corner of the room, naturally calming me.
Labour of Love
Then labour came. I want my money back. It was nothing like what I imagined. The pain was ridiculous, I screamed like a woman possessed, there was no time or patience for candles and music and afterwards I was stitched up like something out a horror movie.
And don’t even talk to me about breastfeeding! That most natural, MOST IMPORTANT thing you MUST do for your baby. I couldn’t do it. My baby wouldn’t latch. I pumped and squeezed and trickled out mere millilitres of colostrum. He starved for three days, crying in hunger while I kept trying to do what I was told was best. No bottle was suggested or offered.
I was in agony and despair. I was already failing as a mother.
Down the Hole
And so, the downward spiral began. My baby developed colic and cried day and night for three months. I couldn’t help him. Every time he cried, I felt like the worst mother in the world.
I wasn’t told much about Postnatal Depression. “Be on the look out for the baby blues”, nurses had told me. This perfectly normal, hormonal reaction comes just a few days after having a baby, where you might feel particularly sensitive and cry a bit. But what I started to experience was more than the baby blues.
I’d sob. I was so incredibly tired from the lack of sleep, the incessant crying and cycles of expressing and feeding. When my baby eventually fell asleep in his cot, I’d sit on the floor next to it and sob. All I could hear in my head was “I can’t cope. I’m useless. I’m a rubbish mother.” Over and over the thoughts would rotate.
I felt like a failure as a mother and a wife. I tried so hard to lose the 22 kilograms I’d gained during pregnancy, but again it wasn’t happening like it did in the magazines. I didn’t bounce back into my size 8 jeans, my sex drive didn’t magically return, and my hair started falling out! The more I looked in the mirror, the less I recognised myself. I didn’t realise this was part of depersonalisation, a mental illness symptom associated with depression and anxiety.
As the months went on the symptoms became worse. The noises in my head grew louder, screaming at me that I was a failure and my baby deserved better. The brightness of outside became too much and my anxiety levels grew. Panic started to set in. I couldn’t go to the shop alone without having a panic attack.
The attacks started happening more regularly. In the car, while I was walking the dog, even in my sleep. I’d cry and shake uncontrollably and thought I was dying. I’d be walking and it would feel like the sky was falling in on me.
Then I started to think everyone would be better off without me. I’d picture how I would end my life. Crashing the car into a wall. Driving it off a cliff. One day, while walking the dog and pushing my baby alongside a canal, I decided everyone would be much better off if I just fell in. Went with the current and disappeared. I planned where I would leave the baby and dog so they would be found, thought about the calm at the end. And then stopped.
I made an emergency appointment with my doctor and was diagnosed with Postnatal Depression. After several weeks of medication and deteriorating symptoms, I was hospitalised. I spent away from my baby, fighting for my sanity.
18 months ago, I had my second son. I was terrified of a reoccurrence, but this time I was watched carefully by nurses and I had more realistic expectations of pregnancy and motherhood. I planned for the pain of labour and did pregnancy yoga classes, learning to breathe the baby out and regain control through the agony. I did it too. I was ready for the blood and indignity of labour, the shitty nappy explosions and sleepless nights. I was kinder to myself the second time around.
PND is one of the hardest things I’ve ever experienced. I felt completely alone. But so many women suffer from it and feel shame admitting what they are thinking and feeling. We need to talk openly about our fears, expectations, hopes and failings. Pregnancy and motherhood aren’t filtered perfection.
They are bloody hard work!
Thank you Nikki, what a captivating read. This has really given me a better understanding on PND and that no mother asks for this.
Tune in next week for Nikki’s second piece where she discusses anxiety and let’s show her some love on her blog