My post on PPD to Joy – Taking off my mask

Yael from PPD to Joy kindly asked me to share with you all my journey on recovering from PPD within a Jewish community in Melbourne Australia.

Allow me to tell you a little bit about myself and the most beautiful city in the world, where I live. I’m a born and bred Melbourne-ite. I attended a private Jewish day school and went on to study at Monash University where I got a degree in marketing. I went on to work in the account departments of various advertising agencies over the next ten years before I left to have my first baby.

The Melbourne Jewish community is made up of the largest number of Holocaust survivors of any Australian city – the highest per capita concentration outside of Israel itself. We have a vibrant Jewish community inclusive of Ultra orthodox, Lubavitch, Modern Orthodox and Progressive Jews. There are many synagogues, Jewish schools, youth groups, kosher food a plenty (well, for Australian standards anyway). Most of our grandparents have/had European accents and we grew up eating very unAustralian foods. We are a small community – everyone knows someone who knows someone, who went to school with someone, had a date with someone or is now related to someone by marriage. And this stems global too, as family and friends move, marry and migrate.

When I was in the second grade, my father went to live in Israel for six months in order to study to become a Rabbi. He graduated and returned to Melbourne to take up the position of the Rabbi of Kew Hebrew Synagogue, a modern Orthodox Synagogue in the South Eastern suburbs of Melbourne. I wasn’t too sure at the time what to make of his job and new role and most certainly didn’t think about how it would impact my life – after all, it was just my dad’s job!

Soon after my dad took on the position our family was thrust into the limelight. Everyone knew who we were and we couldn’t go anywhere without being recognized or talked about. I recall my parents often telling me that ‘such ‘n such’ saw me at the movies with my friends – it was as though there were little spies reporting where we were, what we did, who we were with, etc. It was as though I lived in a fishbowl.

My upbringing was all about appearances. It didn’t matter what was going on in our home behind closed doors – when we were in public, it was business as usual and we donned our masks. I didn’t realize just how damaging this was until I was nineteen and we had what would be called a ‘scandal’ in my family,  we all continued on with that Victoria Grayson smile and mask covering extreme sadness. I had learnt and mastered to hide pain and put up a front.

Following the birth of my DD and the hell that followed and my admission to the nuthouse I was adamant I didn’t want people to know where I was (other than close family and friends I felt safe with). For once in my life I wanted to control over who knew my business. I wasn’t ashamed, I just wanted to focus on my recovery and not what people thought of me. I just didn’t want to be the topic of gossip as they lined up for bagels on a Sunday morning. (My family was already on the ‘front page’ as my parents separated and divorced after 39 years of marriage and there was a lot of speculation as to why — I needed my time to heal from that too). We told out friends we were off to sleep school as DD wasn’t sleeping very well and we were there longer than the usual five-day admission as she was premature and needed additional support with sleeping and settling.

 

This photo was taken at a friends wedding the day before I was admitted to the mother infant unit in a psych facility. (L-R) My husband Seon, our daughter Orli and my mask. The name Orli means ‘my light’ in Hebrew. If only I knew how appropriate this was going to be when we named her.

Eighteen months following my admission and well and truly on my road to recovery, I discovered #PPDChat on Twitter – a wonderful circle of mums that came together to share our ups and downs openly (without any judgment), honestly and with an outpouring of love I had never experienced before in the online community. Some of us were in the trenches, some were climbing out and some at the top helping to pull up those below. I started participating in discussions, joined groups (BAPPD – the baby after PPD Survivor Sisters) under a pseudonym – Not Just About Wee – as I didn’t want anyone to know who I was. I have always maintained and still do, that it was never about feeling ashamed of having Postpartum Mood Disorder (PMD), I just wanted to be able to be completely open and honest and feel safe and I wasn’t sure I could do that with people knowing who I was.

What if I had known the person I was chatting to in real life? Would they start telling everyone I knew my story? That wasn’t fair. It was my story to tell – if I wanted to tell it. I was so protective of myself and my (nuclear) family and was adamant I didn’t want everyone knowing my business. I just wanted my own space and privacy to start/continue my journey of recovery.

I was extremely mindful about how I was perceived in the online community by remaining anonymous and not revealing my identity. No one ever asked my name – there was a kind a respectful understanding of someone wanting to remain anonymous. I was never asked to divulge who I was. Despite this, at times, I still felt dishonest by not being completely transparent.

I ‘came out’ to my #PPDChat mamas when the FaceBook support page was created. I felt a great sense of freedom, honesty and truth finally disclosing my real identity. My pseudonym was my virtual mask and I was finally ready to take it off. I no longer cared who knew who I really was. I was sure no one knew me anyway, so it was another way I could ease myself into be open within my community and extended social circle.

The series on Postpartum Progress was the first time I had ever told my story in full disclosure. I stripped myself completely bare for all to see. There were some things in there that I had never told my husband or closest friends. Some of the thoughts I had in the eye of the storm had been revealed in group therapy (with the tidal wave of guilt that accompanied it), however I never really discussed the details of my hell unless I felt completely safe and where I was certain judgment would not be present.

I had spent the previous two years feeling safe on the #PPDChat Support page on FaceBook and various other support groups (e.g. for my sons medical condition). I contributed, I shared stories, offered advice, support and friendship and was unashamedly a recovered mad sad mummy. It wasn’t until my BAPPD sisters and I decided to tell our story that I had to really think about whether I could share my story openly for the world to see. After many days of soul-searching I decided that I wanted share my voice. I wanted to offer hope. I wanted to remove the stigma and the shame of all PMD’s. I wanted to shout from the rooftops ‘this is not forever’. If by my words I could console and comfort only one mother, it would all be worth it.

I was proud of the work I did with my BAPPD Survivor Mamas, however as soon as I posted the first days series on my personal FaceBook newsfeed I immediately felt exposed, fragile and vulnerable – now everyone knew my story and I would be talked about – good or bad, it didn’t matter.

I received lots of wonderful, uplifting and heartfelt messages of support from people who I don’t often interact with on FaceBook both on my newsfeed and in private messages. This made me feel proud in a way I had not prepared myself for. It was truly heartwarming and encouraging and I knew I had made the right decision by opening up. I’m still allowing myself to feel exposed because I am, but I’m working on not caring!

I hoped by sharing my story would help remove the shame associated with any PMD generally and also within the Jewish community. Also it was me sharing my story so nothing could be taken out of context, nothing could be made up, no details could be sensationalized because they were my words. I was able to be in control of the message that went out, which for me has been a huge accomplishment.

I’m not aware of anyone in the Melbourne Jewish community that has suffered from any sort of PMD. And I know lots of people. And they/their partners had given birth. It is just not discussed and this just baffles me. Still to this day when a mother you know attends a baby sleep clinic the assumption is that the mother is struggling with the lack of sleep and it’s the baby that needs help to sleep and settle. There is nothing wrong with the mother and she definitely isn’t suffering with any Postpartum Mood Disorder.

If I’m being truthful, it really doesn’t matter about my background, my upbringing, my religion or anything. Postpartum Mood Disorders (PMD’s) are still not talked about in our community, in most communities and it’s as though the problem doesn’t exist. I find this extremely sad and disheartening.

I am not going to say that everything happens for a reason as I believe things just happen because they happen. There is no reason I got my PMD over the girl next door. It’s what I am doing about having and surviving from my PMD that matters. I would like to think that sharing my story will start the dialogue and get people sharing, talking, listening, helping and loving so that the shame and stigma of having PPD diminishes and one day is no longer. I want to arm expectant mums, new mums and experienced mums with information about PMD’s – and it’s lack of religious and social discrimination – that help is available and recovery is possible. Most importantly, I wish to impart the message of hope to every mother, no matter what race or creed.