We were married. While we weren't "trying," we weren't exactly preventing pregnancy either. At some stage my cycles completely stopped. With no menstruation and thus no ovulation, a pregnancy wasn't in our immediate future. It took two years for my husband and I to conceive my second baby, his first.
My eldest son was born just before my 17th birthday. I was a child myself when I had him and I remember the difficultly in becoming a new mum when I was so young. When I married my husband and we started talking babies, I remember saying "this is my second baby, we got this. I know how to change diapers and how to care for a newborn. Follow my lead." I felt like having a second baby would surely be easier. I knew the sleep deprivation, the demands of a newborn and more, right? I did it all alone before meeting my husband, after all.
When my daughter was born, nothing, I do mean nothing could have prepared us for what was to come. She was the first baby that I breastfed and I had a new rhythm and experience to get used to. That went very well, actually! What drove me to almost insanity, however, was the sleep deprivation and crying. My daughter would.not.stop.crying! And it would go on for hours. She also would not settle in the evening. I would nurse her to sleep, hold her in my arms and then put her in her cot/crib. She would wake almost instantly... and the cycle would continue.
I remember having one night where I slept a total of 45 minutes. It was in that moment I realised there is a reason sleep deprivation is used as a torture technique.
The high-needs of my daughter didn't let up. My husband was at a complete loss. This was his first baby so he felt anxious and like he didn't know how to help. I had told him we would be able to cope with a new baby, but clearly neither of us were. I remember thinking "what's wrong with me?", "what's wrong with HER?", "what are we doing wrong?" "why is she like this!?", etc. etc. etc. Thinking those things created a whole wave of emotions- namely in my situation, guilt + shame. My daughter was such a wanted and loved baby. We had waited to conceive for two years (I would later find out I have polycystic ovarian syndrome- PCOS) so having our girl was all we wanted and more. I especially felt grateful for having her, my body was the "problem" after all, so I felt like I wasn't entitled to complain... so I suffered in silence.
I felt like the worst mother in the world. I felt like I couldn't cope when I should have been able to. Again, I kept thinking "it's not like I'm a first time mother! I should know how to do this. I should know how to HELP HER!" I felt helpless like others didn't understand, no one believed just how bad things were and I felt embarrassed to ask for help. If I'm totally honest, some of the advice I received was completely unhelpful, even if well-meaning. No, I would not allow my daughter to scream all night long in a dark room with no reassurance from me or her father. She was just days old! I wanted to help my husband as I saw his mood plummet but didn't know how while I was drowning in depression myself. My daughter was born in the United States and my husband had emigrated only three months before her birth. His support system was also limited. In short- we BOTH were suffering from post natal depression and it is one of the most painful memories of my life. I felt like every other person around me was enjoying their baby while there were many times when I was dreading caring for her because of the overwhelm, sadness and isolation. I cannot express how difficult it is to even type these words and admit to myself that there were times when I wished I had birthed a different baby. Do I feel that way now? Of course not... but there were times I did back then.
To make matters worse, the US had (and still has) no paid maternity leave (even partial payments) so I had to return to work at only 9 weeks postpartum. I swear it almost killed me. Emotionally and physically, I was done. I was a zombie going into work with two- four hours sleep tops, for months. At one point I broke down with a co-worker and described one of the lowest points of my life. I still feel a lot of shame around this moment... in fact, it's bringing tears to my eyes now.
... I had been to a gathering for mums + babies. My daughter hated her car seat and began screaming when we were minutes from home. My tolerance for her crying at that moment was spent. I kept driving home feeling like my fuse was getting shorter and shorter. I turned up the radio, hoping that would help me cope with her screaming for another minute or two until we were home. It didn't. As I drove, I broke down into tears, started slamming my hands on the steering wheel shouting "shut up, shut up, shut.up!" Yes, I screamed this at the top of my lungs. When I arrived home, I continued emotionally disintegrating over the shame and guilt that I felt.
I did eventually get help. I sought talk therapy when my daughter was almost a year old. Personally, I know I waited far too long. I should have sought help just weeks after her birth. While this experience was one of the absolute worst of my life, I know it has provided me with perspective. I know what it's like to give birth to a baby you have been longing for and then experience the deep, isolating pit of post natal depression. I know what it's like to feel like you're spinning out of control. It's a dark place, friends, and I hope none of you experience it. I've also seen how post natal depression can present in a new father and that is just as distressing.
If you are reading this now and feel you have any of the signs or symptoms of post natal depression, please reach out to someone. If you are NOT a new mum, ask your friend or family member how they are feeling. Check in with new mums and if they are showing any signs/symptoms of post natal depression, reach out to them. Post natal depression by it's very nature can make it extremely challenging to seek help. There are people who want to listen and point you in the direction of resources, information and support if and when you need it. Sometimes what people need is a safe space where they can say exactly what they are thinking without judgment. That's the best thing talk therapy gave me- a safe space.
** After my daughter's birth we tried so many things to ease her crying and upset. The Happiest Baby on the Block provided great relief, as did regular chiropractic treatments, babywearing and safe co-sleeping. If I knew then what I know now, I would have realised my baby had silent reflux and there are so many things that can be done resolve it! In my case, I believe my daughter had a cow's milk protein allergy or CMPA. To this day she still cannot tolerate dairy and I'm allergic myself.
** To hopefully prevent post natal depression following my third and fourth births, I encapsulated my placenta, which I believe seriously helped with my post natal recovery and kept PND symptoms to an absolute minimum.
Tel: (01) 843 0930
Post Natal Depression Ireland
Tel: 021 4922083
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