PND: ‘This new baby, with a head of blonde hair, was perfect. I was not’
‘This new baby, with a head of blonde hair, was perfect. I was not’
Looking down at the bundle of blankets I held gently, but awkwardly, in my arms, I felt an incessant rush of euphoria. An instant feeling of being an omnipotent protector of her tiny world succumbed me.
But in all its falsehood, I was delivered into the centre of an earthshattering volcano, ready to erupt. Born with this new motherhood, almost as soon as she began forming inside the walls of my body, was anxiety. An anxiety I battled for nearly two years as she took her first steps and said her first words. All of which I can barely remember.
Devin was born by elective Caesarean section, joining our small family of four. Her big sister, Allegra, a pre-schooler at the time, was delighted with her new doll and I was on cloud nine with our two girls. Life held a momentary perfection before the ash cloud started to form.
This new baby, with a head of blonde hair, was perfect.
I was not.
My body was broken, my mind more so, after nine months of intense pain, severe pregnancy sickness, and a lingering fear we were losing her after a large bleed at 10 weeks. I spent my pregnancy building an anxiety in my bones, battling a fear that made me believe I had to try to hold her inside my womb for as long as possible.
The elation I felt after she was born was a concoction of hormones, pain medication and relief. It was a forged feeling of being in control, before the volcano erupted. Postnatal depression (PND) and anxiety are not something you ever prepare yourself for when reading the parenting books, folding the Babygros, testing the baby monitor and decorating the nursery. It won’t happen. Not to me.
But 15 per cent of us will be hit with something more than the baby blues. And 15 per cent of us will question, why us? However, 15 per cent of us will find our way back, out of PND or anxiety. Eventually.
The road away from the volcano is long, with an unnerving feeling of danger, as we lose trust in ourselves. Eventually, the further our distance becomes from the terrifying eruptions, we learn to walk, pace ourselves, and feel safe.
Joanna Fortune, psychotherapist and author of 15 Minute Parenting, says, “Having a newborn, be it your first or fifth, is stressful and many women experience mild levels of anxiety as they try to adjust to the new rhythm of life. However, for a smaller number of women that anxiety is not mild nor is it a normal response, it is at a moderate to high level and requires specialist support.”
I couldn’t make phone calls, barely made it outside, couldn’t decide what to have for dinner, or make any decision at all
Devin was two weeks old when I realised my behaviour, my mood, my attitude and the frightening attacks were more than simply being overwhelmed with a newborn and a pre-schooler.
When I was at the top of the erupting volcano, I was consumed by an inability to get anything done. I couldn’t make phone calls, barely made it outside, couldn’t decide what to have for dinner, or make any decision at all. I felt safe and in control only when Devin slept in my arms. I was quick, too quick, to be frustrated and angry. I experienced 30 plus anxiety or panic attacks in a day. I was lost, afraid, spiralling out of control.
My body physically reacted to the anxiety with nausea, headaches, breathlessness, tension, dizzy spells and shaking. My mind felt broken as no rational thought made its way in.
It was more than an overwhelming panic at an attempt to juggle family life. It was something I could hardly understand, let alone explain to someone else or ask for help. I felt worthless and powerless, guilty and insecure. I believed I was doing everything wrong. I was not me.
“While fretting as a parent can be normal,” assures Fortune, “pervasive and prolonged anxiety is not and can be debilitating for sufferers. Post-natal anxiety is often misdiagnosed as a post-natal depression [though it is possible for both conditions to co-exist]. Being anxious is like you are always overestimating the level of threat while simultaneously underestimating your ability to cope with it.
“Our brains help us to filter information into categories of what needs immediate attention and what can wait; with this kind of anxiety, it’s as though our brains cannot compartmentalise for us, so emotional flooding occurs and it can feel very difficult to manage our own thought process.”
Anxiety steals from you. My memory of those anxiety ridden months are dark and hollow. It stole those perfect first few months getting to know my baby. I can barely remember her as a newborn. It robbed me of the milestones I am supposed to cherish. It seems she has always been a toddler running around, chasing her big sister. It has taken a part of my personality which I will never get back.
Any depression or anxiety we may feel in early motherhood does not define who we are as mothers, or as women
But it has also made me stronger as I fought the greatest battle of my life to regain my days and put this volcano to rest. It took me a year to come through the hardest part of my mothering days with anxiety. And another year to regain myself. I got help. Counselling, mindfulness, a lot of acceptance and understanding, and breathing played its part in refocusing my mind, pulling me back from the anxiety which took over. It all comes down to one explicit message for me. It’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay.
Any depression or anxiety we may feel in early motherhood does not define who we are as mothers, or as women. We are bigger and better than the chaos that surrounds us post birth. Breaking free, with whatever help you need, is as much for you as it is your family.
“If your anxiety is interfering with your ability to engage with and enjoy your baby or limiting your usual movements and activities such as leaving the house or going to the park, seek support,” urges Fortune.
“If you are not happy with the healthcare provider’s response, seek a second opinion or contact your maternity hospital and ask if they have a perinatal psychiatrist they can refer you to.
“A psychotherapist experienced in perinatal mental health or some CBT sessions can also really help. Peer support might also help so join a parents’ group. The key is that you are deserving of good care and support to help you through this.”
A sentiment I wholly agree with. This is not a road you need to walk alone. And despite it feeling like a never-ending journey, the road will come to an end.
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