Eleven weeks. That was always my goal. Eleven weeks. That was when it was diagnosed last time. When I had Alex, Eleven weeks was when everything started to go very wrong.
When Alex was born, I didn't know who I was. I had just stopped a rather nasty binge drinking habit and was two years in recovery. I loved Richard, but swapped excessive drinking for his approval. If he approved of me, then it meant that I was okay. I moved from a social city existence in Canberra to the role of a rural homemaker. People kept asking me how Richard liked his steak, his tea, his food. I was still learning. I was sure the one thing that would make me feel truly whole was having a baby. Getting married was great, and I loved Richard, but it didn't stop that feeling of creeping dread and anxiety inside of me. I thought a baby would fix that. I focused hard on it, and when it was time to start trying, I was anxious to get this little baby as soon as possible. I went off my antidepressants to give baby the best start, and waited to feel happy.
The pregnancy hormones kicked in and I started to feel good. I went for long walks, but also had regular meltdowns about the house and having to do housework and look after myself. I guess I thought that once I was a mother I would somehow morph from my ratty selfish self into a selfless angel like my mama. I had a support network, but apart from my mum and sister, most of my friends were Richard's mates wives. I was trying hard to shoehorn myself into a conservative country gal, even if I had regular battles about Islam at Bible study and questioned women not being able to preach in the church. I started wearing sensible shoes. I started dressing like a mum, instead of me. I kinda lost me, or perhaps I didn't know who that really was.
When Alex was born, I was in shock. I had enjoyed the world talking to me and my bump and asking questions about when it was due. I imagined an idyllic existence of long walks, mothers group, bonding and a rosy glow around it all. I so did not expect the horrendous pain that labour entails. I so did not expect having my request for an epidural ignored and perhaps I didn't ask long enough. I tried too hard to be a good girl and didn't respect my body and the fact that I wasn't progressing and wasn't coping. Twenty four hours after I had Alex, they needed my bed and I was sent to Finley hospital, an hour away by car, where they hadn't had a newborn for years and years, and Alex's cries echoed through the quiet ward. There were no other new mums to bond with and I had no idea what to do with Alex. After having everyone interested in how I was coping during birth, everyone disappeared and I was supposed to know how to look after this tiny little human. I felt waves of panic crash over me and the night lasted an eternity. The responsibility started to shrink me. I felt out of control and wanted to run away.
Taking Alex home, my milk hadn't come in. I hated the feeling of breastfeeding, hated the hurt as he latched on, or didn't....I tensed with anxiety every time I sat down to feed, he picked up on that and wouldn't latch on....he cried, I tensed, he cried, I cried, he didn't sleep, I didn't sleep. I read books and wrote myself countless notes. People kept telling me to follow my instincts. Those f$ckers? I'd been trying to ignore them for years. I had no idea who I was, and yet I was supposed to be a mother. I felt nothing like a mother. I felt like a fraud and a failure and the more anxious I got, the more he cried and cried and I couldn't settle him. I stared at the clock. Time stood still. Richard went back to work and Alex cried and I couldn't sleep. I stared at the clock some more. Richard left at 9 and the clock stayed still. Years had passed with this crying baby and somehow it was only 9.05. How was I ever going to make it through this day? I watched the clock some more. Alex cried some more. I walked the streets with Alex in his pram, singing "twinkle twinkle little star" and wishing I was somewhere else and someone else.
The anxiety grew and grew like some sort of monster in my head and chest, until the day when even if Alex was sleeping, I couldn't. My stomach clenched in knots. I had my six week check and my results were off the charts for anxiety. I argued that I was just an anxious person and I refused help, thinking that I had to do this, that I had to clench my teeth and fight this monster and stop it stop it stop it. One morning, when Alex was eleven weeks old, I hadn't slept all night. My stomach was churning and I thought I had gastro. I took Alex and myself over to the doctor in Cobram and trembled with fear as I struggled with the Valco pram. I sweated as I pulled tiny Alex out of the car, struggling with his carseat and hurriedly placing him in the pram. I was sure that everyone was watching me and thinking me a total failure as a mother. I looked around at the other people and wished I was one of them. I wished I could run away. I wished I was a proper mother for this baby, who I could see was beautiful and wonderful, but who I couldn't seem to parent.
The doctor diagnosed me with Post Natal Depression, told me to put Alex on a bottle and go on antidepressants immediately. I was free from the battle and agony of breastfeeding. I was relieved. I rang mum to get her to help me wean Alex. I thought the tablets would fix the gaping hole in my soul. They didn't. My anxiety was too far gone, my depression too entrenched. The antidepressants seemed to make me worse, as I battled with the darkness and the terrible fear. It grew and grew until it became a six month battle that saw me spend much of Alex's first nine months in hospital, with suicidal thoughts for the first eighteen months of his life. It blew my family apart, I blew my family apart and I made my family suffer. I hated myself for what I had done to them and felt constantly guilty for not being a mother to my beautiful boy.
When Alex was nearly two, I started seeing a psychiatrist who was incredibly tough but who gave me a diagnosis for the hole in my soul. I started to recover and fill the hole with figuring out who I was not, so I could figure out who I was. I stopped trying to be who I thought you wanted me to be, and started to be truly me. I was terrified of ever having another child and losing myself again for so long. I hated the thought of letting my family down and for hurting them again.
Last year, just when I was at a place where I had really started to enjoy the love affair of self acceptance, I decided to take another child off the table for ever. I wanted to have my tubes tied so I could finally close that door. I had been open to it as part of my healing, but it hadn't happened. That was when I fell pregnant with Stephanie. I had never been more scared, or excited. I had to laugh. Nice one, God, I thought, as I stared at the positive pregnancy test.
I am forever grateful to those who have worked with my during my pregnancy and beyond to ensure that I am well. My amazing mother, husband, sisters and friends, plus those care professionals who encouraged me to stay on antidepressants through my pregnancy and to see a psychiatrist regularly. Part of my fear was for pain that would not end again in my labour. So, I was able to choose an induction under full epidural cover at the Mercy Hospital. I was still afraid, but the night before I was to give birth, a beautiful midwife told me her story of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after a horrendous labour experience, and gave me the truth that "it needn't be a disastrous labour to be traumatising for you, especially if you feel like you weren't listened to..", and "a positive labour experience this time around will wipe away and heal all the struggles of the past".
It did. My labour was peaceful and pain free. My baby was born and put on my chest and I looked at her and worried that I wouldn't love her, but I gave myself the freedom to feel how I felt. I talked to people and I told them my anxieties and my thoughts. And because of that, they flew away. The burden of fear released. Stephanie has been a balm to my soul, a healing, and part of that for me was to bottle feed from birth. I hated the sensation and I knew that not breastfeeding would make me feel more sane and less responsible for her. I needed to feel like this was a joint venture and not a test I had to pass. Choosing what was right for me meant that my confidence grew. I followed the kernels of love I had for her. I carefully explored my feelings and was relieved to find tiredness, worry and doubt, but in expressing those, an overwhelming love for my little girl and my beautiful boy. It has been bittersweet to have such a positive experience, because it highlighted how terribly sad and bad my experience was the first time around.
My mum brought Alex up and we went off for walks around the Mercy Hospital, forming the first born club and cementing our relationship. I began to be free of the guilt that I had always carried around not being there for Alex, and began to see that I didn't have to live out a punishment for that. I began to see that the important thing was that I was here for him now, and had been for the past six years. I began to see that I had changed my parenting to support him and that my patience had grown. I trusted myself in the good parenting decisions that I'd made and forgave myself for the shouty mistakes when I was low on sleep.
Stephanie has healed a part of myself that I thought was forever broken after my PND experience. My guilt is gone and in its place, pure love. I didn't lose myself, because this time around I knew who I was. The most amazing people have been put in my path and I have learnt to trust myself. Part of that is a relationship with a higher power, who I choose to call God, and who is also my inner truth. I am sometimes searingly honest about myself, and that is a scary place to be, but it is also fantastic, because it frees others to be honest about themselves, and brings my sort of people closer to me. Life with a newborn isn't easy, and every day is different, juggling two kids can be exhausting. But, I know when to ask for help, I try to accept it and I celebrate and forgive myself. I'm still always gonna be a little highly strung....but that's me. As Popeye said, "I yam who I yam".
Eleven weeks. I made it. I'm free.