The mosquito swoops around my head. I try in vain to swat it away as I keep an eye on Millar jumping on the only other chair in the waiting room. My foot rests on the basket of Xanthe’s pram. She sleeps peacefully. Blissfully unaware of the sticky heat. Too young to be bored like her brother. Too young to be sad, like her mother.
I check the time. Again. She’s running late they say. I smile politely and say it’s ok.
But it’s not. I swear under my breath at how unprofessional it is for the psychologist to be running late. I try to keep Millar still and quiet. Toddlers are not good at waiting. I am given a form to fill in and some information to read but the administrator keeps interrupting me with her attempts at stupid small talk.
I want to run. This stifling waiting room with it’s mosquitoes and annoying questions is not doing anything good for my anxiety levels. How did I get here?
I look at the sweet face of my sleeping daughter and remember her birth.
The instant I saw her face, I didn’t feel that overwhelming rush of love that I had felt at Millar’s birth. I looked at my husband and saw his tears and the love in his eyes as he gazed at the tiny bundle in my arms. He had that instant rush of love I was missing, I could see it. I waited for it to wash over me… and waited. It did not come. I knew in my head that I loved my daughter.. I just didn’t feel it. I didn’t feel anything.
My poor baby girl. It wasn’t her fault that her mummy didn’t love her.
I handed the tiny pink bundle to my husband and watched them together. He was so smitten and proud and everything he should be, everything I should be. I wanted that so badly. I watched them and felt so very far away. I knew this wasn’t good. I had suffered post natal depression after the birth of Millar, even after the intense bond in the hospital room and the intense love and joy in the weeks that followed, I still fell under that black cloud after a few months. At that time it didn’t help that I lived in a tiny apartment in a different country to my family and had no support network.
With a history of depression and anxiety I had expected post natal depression so knew I needed help. I went to the doctor and went back on medication and stayed on that until I fell pregnant with my daughter.
I had expected things to be the same this time around. I had expected the intense bond in the delivery room and then some rough weeks down the track. I had planned to prevent depression with lots of sleep and exercise when I got home from hospital. What I hadn’t expected was for depression to get me first. Yet here I was, only minutes after giving birth, feeling numb, pretending to smile and waiting for my heart to catch up to my head.
I had discussed my history of depression with my midwife during prenatal care and had organised for a Psychologist to visit me after the birth. I had organised the same thing when I was pregnant with my son. But both times I had given birth on a weekend and both times, the psychologist did not visit. I wondered if psychologists were aware that babies were born outside of business hours. I wondered about the women I had seen in news stories on TV. Those horrible stories where they hurt their children. I wondered if they had given birth on weekends. I wondered if that’s how they fell through the gaps. I wondered if that would be me.
No. That can’t be me.
Alone in the dark in the noisy night of the maternity ward, I whispered promises to my baby daughter. I promised her I would do whatever it took to get better. I told her this was just a temporary feeling and that her mummy did love her very much. I covered her face in kisses and held her tight to my chest as I sobbed.
The hospital stay was almost torture. I was moved to a shared room and my room mate’s visitors had no respect for visiting hours. I got precious little sleep. The orderly ripped open my curtain every mealtime and left it open when she left, leaving my attempts at breastfeeding exposed to my room mate’s twelve year old nephew. There was no privacy, dignity or respect in that hospital.
I ached to be home with my husband and my son. My own bed. No visitors. No orderlies without curtain closing training.
The staff did not want me to leave without seeing the psych team. But they couldn’t tell me when the psych team planned on appearing.
My husband and I told them what they needed to hear to get me out of there. Yes we’ll call the psych team, yes I have a support network, yes I feel totes awesome!
Home was better. But I still waited for that bond to magically fill my heart. I spent hours staring at Xanthe, willing my heart to explode with the intense emotion that I wanted and needed in order to feel normal.
My husband returned to work and I tried to learn how to juggle the needs of a toddler and a newborn. The steep learning curve had me exhausted and Millar suffered the most. My beautiful boy. Previously the light of my life and the reason I got out of bed every day was now a noise that I shushed so as not to wake the baby. My plans of having time for just me and him to ease the inevitable sibling jealousies were thrown out the window as I tried to keep up with Xanthe’s constant feeding and to sleep whenever I could.
I missed my son. I missed being the mum to an only child. As dramatic as it sounds, I really felt like I was grieving the loss of a son instead of celebrating the birth of my daughter.
Since the moment of her birth I had been waiting for my heart to catch up to my head. In my head I knew that my daughter meant the world to me. In my head. I knew I loved her.
After three agonising weeks, my daughter smiled at me and my heart caught up. The rush was instant and overwhelming. I smiled back at her and cried.
But while waiting for my heart to catch up, my mind had started falling apart. I was experiencing recurring intrusive visions of my daughter falling from my arms onto the ceramic tiles that dominated the floors of our home. The visions were vivid and disturbing. The visions were uninvited and unwanted. But mostly the visions were scary. I took comfort only in the fact that I did not want to harm my child. My problem seemed to be not an urge to harm but a fear of accidental harm.
I recognised these visions. I had similar intrusive thoughts when my son was a baby, but in those visions I was the one causing him harm. I have never told anyone about that. I was afraid that at worst, it could be used to take my baby away, or at best that people would think badly of me and perhaps not trust me around my own children.
It wasn’t long before my fears expanded to the outside world. The thought of trying to control an active toddler while also wrangling my daughter’s pram paralysed me with fear. I played out the possibilities in my head; Millar runs one way, I leave the pram to grab him and the pram rolls into traffic, or a river. If I stay with the pram, Millar runs into traffic or just disappears. My imagination was not my friend.
I started making excuses to stay at home and I soon realised I had imprisoned myself. I consulted Dr Google and he told me I had Post-Natal Agoraphobia.
I knew I needed help and decided to finally make good on those late night whispered promises.
“Come Through” says the administrator. The psychologist is finally able to see me. Millar is lead to a room full of toys to be entertained by staff while I am with the psychologist. I push my daughter’s pram ahead of me into the tiny office and take a seat.
The first few minutes are spent instructing the psychologist on how to pronounce my children’s names. This is a common annoyance and today is no exception. Xanthe wakes and cries and I make up a bottle and cradle her in my arms while I feed her.
The psychologist asks me questions. I have not warmed to her at all but I know that even if I had, I would not be able to fully open up and explain my dark thoughts and depressive episodes while I am feeding and soothing my daughter.
I fake my way through the rest of the session with a smile. I say the things the psychologist needs to hear as I try to get through it as quickly as possible while itching the new mosquito bite on my foot. I leave feeling angry at the time and money I have wasted.
I wrestle the pram and the toddler to the car while yelling at my son to hold my hand as we cross the road. My breathing only slows as we get into the car and I make the decision never to return. Leaving the house with both kids has caused much more anxiety than the counselling relieved.
For a while after that visit I felt better. Maybe I decided that the counselling was too hard and pointless, so the only other option was to be happy. And I was. For a while.
One night, after many nights of broken sleep, seemingly endless feeding and crying sessions, I yelled at my baby in the dark. I can’t even remember what I said. “shut up!” or “what do you want?” Something stupid like that. I remember her cries and how completely worthless I felt after yelling at a tiny baby. I returned to my GP and went back on the medication.
It’s not all sunshine and lollipops everyday but I no longer have horrific visions of the demise of my children and most days I can handle the mum thing without losing my shit. I no longer yell at babies in the middle of the night, and most days I’m pretty happy.
But the best thing, is that my heart now bursts every time I look at my daughter.
I know I will be ok.
Post Natal Depression awareness week is 18 – 24 November. Help spread the message that post natal depression is not all black and white.