I think there is a bit of a misconception about what PND / PND really is in the wider community.
I’m even guilty of it, to a degree. You see, before I had kids, I thought it equated to wanting to hurt your kids.
Since living through it though, I know that’s not always how this shows up (it didn’t for me, thankfully). For me it’s basically the worst days I’ve had of anxiety or depression pre-kids – amplified.
You absolutely can adore your gorgeous babies and be so thankful for them, but just want the pain to stop. You can even want the pain to stop so much that you contemplate leaving this world.
For me, it all started in pregnancy. I mean, I’d had anxiety and bouts of mild depression for as long as I could remember. Stress has always been my biggest trigger – it heightens my anxiety, which I maintain for a while before I reach burnout and depression sets in.
As I progressed through my third trimester with my son, thoughts of bringing beautiful new life into this world reminded me of our mortality. I had already lost family members I loved with every part of my heart, and my grandmother wasn’t doing so well at that point in time. I started focusing on how much ‘quality’ time I would get to have with my sweet baby, questioning if I would still be here to meet & love on their own babies one day. It broke my heart to think that one day I would be gone, unable to be with my baby forever.
Things got much worse in the last few weeks I was home, waiting for my bub to arrive. Before that I had been working and keeping occupied, but those last 3 weeks were spent at home, alone a lot of the time while Dan worked, with not a lot more to do than let my mind wander.
Sadness swept over me and my mind started going to dark places. I was still disproportionately upset about the thought that we would all die one day (something I’m totally ok with today!), and I started to feel that life was almost too perfect now, and something was bound to go wrong. I started to fear & worry that something would happen to my husband. Dan is an electrician, so not the most dangerous job in the world, but if something did go wrong at work, the consequences could be huge.
I started fearing that there would be a workplace accident, or that he would be in a road accident on the way home from work. These thoughts consumed me.
My thoughts lifted slightly when Zac was born and Dan was home with me for a few weeks, but the sleepless nights were hard, and once Dan returned back to work things took a bigger dive for me. I would be frantic if Dan was home 5 minutes later than usual. My heart would be racing. The walls would feel like they were closing in. I was convinced something had happened to him – and I didn’t know how I would survive these Groundhog Days without him.
Looking back, it seems silly to have let myself get to that state, worry ruining my life. But when I was in it, it was all consuming and there’s no way ‘sense’ or logical arguments could snap me out of it.
I also struggled to breastfeed, and dreaded anyone asking me about it – I could put on a brave face, but then I’d go home and sob – legit snot flying ugly crying, feeling like such a failure. And the lack of sleep left me feeling shell-shocked. I honestly didn’t know what the fuck I was doing and there were days I felt too anxious to leave the house. I didn’t want to be caught out without nappies, wipes, anything I could POSSIBLY need to keep my baby happy, so I just opted out when I could.
I would be absolutely hanging for Dan to walk through the door to relieve me of the loneliness, the sameness, and the boredom of my every day. Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely ADORED Zac and he made me feel complete in so many ways, but I found talking to myself for 12 hours a day so hard. I lost social contact to a degree, and whilst that’s exactly what I needed more of, it was like the more I needed it, the more I shied away from it. At the time those that saw me probably didn’t even realize how hard a time I was having of it – I would cancel plans when things were too much (babies are a great excuse for that) and so they only really saw me when I was feeling ok. Thank god for a fab mothers group – they really helped me to feel more normal and I am forever grateful for those weekly catch-ups in the early days which got me out of my trackies and out of the house!
I struggled along for the first 6 months or so with Zac – it wasn’t until around then that I started to feel like I finally had a bit of a handle on this motherhood thing. I was able to leave the house with less stress (and without packing the kitchen sink!), I felt a lot more confident as a mother, Zac was sleeping more, and the flow on effect was less anxiety and less dark thoughts. Things were finally looking up!
Three months later though, I started to feel a little, ‘off’. My only newly returned period was late. Seriously?! The two pink lines on the pee stick confirmed it – we were expecting again. Fuck.
I dropped into Dan’s arms and sobbed uncontrollably when we heard the news. I had just started to feel like my life was under control again – I had NO IDEA how I was going to handle a toddler, a newborn and another potential stint of PNA & PND.
The idea actually petrified me. I remember the last couple of weeks of my pregnancy feeling the anxiety creep back in – it was a fear of the unknown. I felt pretty confident (though exhausted, frustrated, and at my wits end at times) with being a mumma of a toddler. Toddlers are a perennial shitstorm that drive you to the brink, and then bring you back with those gorgeous smiles and delicious giggles. They’re smiling assassins – and I could only marvel at how I had created this funny, clever, sassy kid all rolled into one.
But another newborn? Oh, holy hell. I hadn’t had the experience of a sleepy content newborn, that allowed me to keep the house work under control and still wash occasionally. Zac had been a chronic catnapper, who only liked to sleep on me. No quick warm showers as he slept, no running around the lounge room with a broom or even being able to enjoy a hot cuppa while he slept (did you know one of the most common injuries to children under 2 is burns from hot beverages?! Best be careful and drink it lukewarm like every other mama the world over, k? ;-p ).
From the moment Isla was born, the juggle (and struggle) was real. I’d been telling friends I was a due a good sleeper – it was only fair. The Universe heard and crapped on my dreams. Isla was even worse at sleeping than Zac! Even to this day – she has inherited my ability to wake up to the sound of a pin dropping, and stay awake the rest of the night. FML.
I felt a lot more confident in the whole mumming department – I can change a nappy with one hand in 2 seconds flat whilst stopping a toddler fall off the windowsill. But those skills don’t account for much when it comes to getting some much needed shut eye.
With 2 under 18 months, my days were go-go-go, I barely got to sit down without someone touching me, and despite falling into bed completely wiped, I knew I would be up again in a couple of hours for one of my two kids
For the first 8 months of Isla’s life, I was up around 5 times a night between my two kids. At least one of those times would be for an hour or more. Dan was up too – we had a divide and conquer plan – Isla was my responsibility as I was breastfeeding (Yay! it stuck this time, thanks to having an IBCLC come visit me at home – more on that another time) and Zac was all Dan’s responsibility. But the lack of sleep was honestly the straw that broke the camels back for me. Because I was tired, I had constant headaches, I would get snappy, then feel guilty.
I found my day to day life sooooo incredibly stressful. Although I was breastfeeding this time, it was still an enormous struggle. The pain I endured because of my Raynaud’s I wouldn’t wish upon anyone, but I was so determined this time round. And this added so much to my stress, as I tried to avoid breastfeeding in public wherever possible. I became a nap time nazi and would try to arrange catch ups around nap times & feed times because as I said I didn’t want to breastfeed in public if I could help it (I needed to be in a comfy chair & supported, and most importantly warm), & the thought of my kids being out of the routine and me potentially NOT getting a couple of quiet minutes to lay down and close my eyes too made my head hurt. I would try so damn hard to get the little buggers to sleep at the same time but it was like the more I tried, the more they resisted (kids are like bears – they can smell fear!).
So I was beyond stressed out. And stress is the main cause of my anxiety.
I was holding things together, but just barely. Then it came to a night where it all fell so completely apart.
I remember it vividly. I was up with Isla having a stock standard nappy change and cuddle when I felt everything shift. My heart started racing. I was begging with Isla to just stop crying. The walls started to close in on me and it felt like Isla and I were the only two people in the world, stuck in the middle of black & darkness. I didn’t feel like I could stand – the whole world felt off kilter, and I crouched down in front of the change table with Isla in my arms. I think she could sense the panic and the fear, because she started wailing. And I screamed – a panicked, guttural scream, calling out for Dan. He jumped out of bed, ran into Isla’s room and started to freak out as I thrust Isla into his arms before curling up in a ball and breathing. Just deep breaths. That’s all I could do. I couldn’t even see straight – it’s like my whole body went into survival mode and I lost the ability to do anything that wasn’t critical – literally anything but breathing.
It scared the absolute fucking bejeesus out of me. I couldn’t be standing there holding a baby while my mind felt so fractured! What if this happened again when I was home alone with both kids? I was so bloody scared.
It was at the lowest point I had ever been and it was time to get some help. I saw my doc, booked into tresillian (which by the way, was a 6 month wait!), and decided to try some essential oils to support myself & sleep (BEST. DECISION. EVER!!!). It was the oils that got my kids sleeping (I’ll do a post on those another time) and finally, finally, that meant a little shut eye for me too.
Slowly over the course of a few months, life started to seem better. More sleep. More smiles. Less stress.
I’d love to say that I was out of the woods at that point, but that’s just not how these things go.
In the last 12 months I’ve still had some periods of extremely high stress. This led to adrenal fatigue and I even developed PMDD (pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder) for a 4 month period. It was during those 4 months that I had some of the darkest thoughts of my life. And yet I only had a mild case, where I was affected for 2-3 days out of every month, in the lead up to my period. Others aren’t so lucky, and the thoughts and feelings haunt them for much longer. The intensity of those feelings feel indescribable. I don’t feel words can do them justice – there was just no escape. Think depression, fear, worry, despair, hopelessness, overwhelm, heaviness, darkness, all rolled into one.
I am thankful though that I was able to pick up on the cyclical nature of my thoughts and feelings. It all made immediate sense, and I was able to start a supplementation plan that meant the thoughts & feelings were gone by my next cycle.
Developing PMDD really highlighted to me that there is no ‘end point’ for those suffering PND / PNA. It’s not like your child reaches the age of 2, and you’re out of the woods. This is something I feel I will need to manage for the rest of my life. To be aware of warning signs and to most importantly for me, manage my stress levels, have healthy boundaries, and to listen to my loved ones anytime they notice changes in me. And also, to remain consistent with my treatment (supplements, nutrition, exercise, mindfulness & essential oils), ESPECIALLY when I’m feeling like I don’t need to be!
I’ll happily share in another post all the tools I’ve used to help manage my PNA & PND so you can take from that what may work for you – but if you’re noticing any changes in your thoughts and feelings there will be no money better spent than getting some help. I went predominantly down the natural health route, but there’s no right or wrong, and speaking up is the best thing you can do for yourself & your family.
There’s also PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia) who support families, men & women, who develop depression & / or anxiety during pregnancy or in the first years of their children’s lives. They have a national helpline available on 1300 726 306 (or learn more at www.panda.org.au). FIT FAB MUM are really proud to support PANDA, and have pledged to donate 1% of annual profits to this wonderful cause!