Yuz Rozenblum: On PPD & Coping with a Baby With Special Needs – Postpartum Progress 6th Annual Mother’s Day Rally

Dear new mum of a premature baby or baby with special needs,

I know this isn’t what you expected – a baby born too early or with some medical complication/s following his/her birth, but this is now you & your family’s reality.

You’re feeling a myriad of feelings & emotions at the moment, not to mention the normal postpartum/postnatal mood swings. You’re tired, overwhelmed, in shock, sad, relieved (if your pregnancy was medically challenging & you worried about your baby each day), feeling robbed & at the same time dealing with all the unexpected & unplanned for scenarios you’re now living with. Of course you’re relieved your baby is alive & makes it harder to rationalise your negative feelings & disappointment over your situation because so many others are not ‘this lucky’. Welcome to the equation, guilt.

All these thoughts & feelings are shoved (read, suppressed) into an imaginary box of emotions. The ‘box’ is not tied up because new contents will added on a daily, & sometimes hourly, basis. You hold onto these thoughts & feelings tightly because sharing them would deem you self-centred & selfish & none of this is about you. It’s all about your baby – you looking after him/her & taking care of your newborns’ extra needs.

You’re going through the motions of feeding, expressing, vising PICU, NICU or special care & not even stopping to think about how you’re feeling about any this. You just keep busy & keep moving because you are a mother now & this is your job.

What you have time to digest any of what’s going on, or as you’re trying to sleep, thoughts race in & out of your mind. You might be thinking some or all of the following:

  • You feel guilty that your body failed to carry your baby to term. You failed at the one thing your body was meant to do once becoming pregnant & the pregnancy being viable.
  • You feel guilty that your body didn’t create a ‘perfect’ & ‘healthy’ baby & that you’ve caused all the medical complications that may or may not occur following the birth.
  • You feel immensely guilty for causing any developmental deficits or developmental delays to your baby.
  • You feel angry & robbed that you are not having the postpartum/postnatal period you imagined during your pregnancy.
  • You feel sad that you don’t have the balloons, stuffed toys, cards & flowers like the other rooms because you’ve told visitors that they cannot come to visit your baby since he/she’s in care.
  • You feel robbed for not being allowed to hold you baby after the birth, because it needed to go to NICU, PICU or special care. And then guilty for not having all that skin-to-skin contact that all the books & websites say is essential for bonding with your baby.
  • You feel invisible at times as others take over the basic care (not medical) of your baby right in front of you – the midwives that pick up & undress your baby, change it’s nappy all while you’re craving to just be its mother.
  • You’re envious of all your friends that have had ‘normal’ postpartum/postnatal periods & brought home healthy babies home after a few days in hospital, because you’re not going to have this experience.
  • There is an air of sadness about & around your newborn that everyone’s ignoring or avoiding.
  • You feel as though you don’t matter – people have forgotten that you’re also recovering from having a baby & don’t think to ask how you’re doing.
  • You’re sad because you missed your imagined ‘newborn’ photo shoot because by the time you get home from hospital your baby is no longer a newborn.
  • You feel immensely sad seeing your friends’ newborn & toddler photos in your newsfeed because you’re unable to have/do this yet or at all.
  • You get upset when you see other babies feed well & are content following a feed because every feed you do is emotional torture. That’s if of course you are able to feed your baby because the midwives do most of the feeding when your baby’s in their care.
  • If you have a toddler, you’re angry that he/she can’t go visit their new baby sibling because of germs they may have picked up at daycare that might jeapordise the health of your baby (or worse other babies in care). You completely respect & understand this rule in your head, but your heart seems to be taking longer.
  • You feel a pang of sadness seeing mothers walk their babies in prams because your imagined postpartum/postnatal period is nothing like you imagined or hoped for.
  • You get annoyed that people have no understanding or (at least) compassion for just how much harder you have it (& possibly for the foreseeable future).
  • You often feel like your baby’s nurse at times & not his/her mother.
  • You get angry when you hear women complain how uncomfortable the last weeks/months of a pregnancy is, because you would take their place in a heartbeat.
  • You want to ask yourself, ‘why me’, but you don’t feel you’ve got permission to do so.
  • You get annoyed & defensive when questioned about your babies health or developmental delays because of the guilt you feel about it.
  • You life is on hold & you don’t know how long this will be for.
  • When you hear, ‘it doesn’t matter if it’s a boy or girl, as long as it’s healthy’ said to someone around you, your stomach turns in knots because people don’t realise just how meaningful that sentiment is & how much you wished for the full term baby or good health.
  • Images with mums & their newborns will forever upset you, as this was not the experience you had.
  • People are quick to ask you about extending the family again, with little or no regard for anything you went through or are still going through on a daily basis with your baby.
  • The mothers in your mothers group seem like distant strangers because the only thing you have in common is that you both own prams/strollers. Nothing about your experience is the same.
  • You get agitated when other mothers discuss seemingly insignificant things around you, because your priorities are miles apart.
  • You feel lonely.

Your nervousness can be debilitating, you’re always on edge & absolutely everything overwhelms you. You don’t feel as though you’re allowed to feel anything other than being grateful & blessed with this little life. You’re unable to sleep when you can – that is, after all the expressing, steralising, cleaning, administering & monitoring – & the sleep deprivation is all too much to cope with. You don’t know how to just be a mum to your baby because of all his/her other needs & all the things you have to do & deal with. The adrenaline of your situation keeps you going & going until you finally crash. And when you do, you STILL don’t think you have permission to do so.

To my dear (new) mum, please know & understand that you have a lot to deal with now (& possibly in the future*) & your feelings about your situation are understandable, permissible & valid.

When you’re later diagnosed with postpartum/postnatal depression & /or anxiety, (because you were finally honest with yourself on how you were really feeling), you will feel immense relief because you’ll be able to get the help you need in order look after yourself. You will be able to discuss the racing & irrational thoughts you’re having & the trauma with someone that will listen& cares & they’ll be able to provide you with strategies to turn the voices down, & in time, turn off for good. You might need the aid of medication, or as I call it Ventolin, because it too will help you breath. There is absolutely no shame in getting help or admitting you’re not ok because what you’ve been through & what you’re going through is hard & at times, frankly, just suck.

Your reasons or circumstance for suffering any postpartum/postnatal mood disorder doesn’t matter, but what I’m about to tell you does. I will keep reminding you in each & every post I ever write about postpartum/postnatal mood disorders because it’s true & you need to hear it.

I want you to know that you’re not alone.

I want you to know that help is out there.

I want you to stop believing everything you think.

I want to tell you that you will get through this.

Be gentle with yourself, as you will be delicate for some time. You must give yourself this time. Allow yourself to grieve over the loss of your imagined post-birth experience & if you have this experience more than once, allow yourself to grieve the fact that you will never have the post-birth experience that others do & that you always wished for.

I hope that the passage of time treats you well & your recovery is triumphant. Be patient with this process – your recovery will be full of highs & lows, achievements & regressions. The ride will be bumpy my friend, but we’ll be here for you cheering you on & supporting you on your good days & holding your hand & throwing you a lifeboat on the hard ones. No matter what the future holds, you’re strong, you’re fierce & an admirable woman & mother.

Sending you love & hope always & forever,

Yuz (Warrior mum & survivor)

 

* Research has shown that mothers with premature babies or babies with special needs often suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which often goes undiagnosed until many years after the initial trauma or experience.

I’ll be Climbing out of the Darkness (COTD) in Melbourne Australia on June 21. To join her team or to make a donation, click here: http://www.crowdrise.com/yuzrozenblum-COTD2014

 

Sunday May 11th, is the 6th annual Mother’s Day Rally for Mums’ Mental Health. This Rally will feature 24 letters from survivors of postpartum/postnatal depression, postpartum/postnatal anxiety, postpartum/postnatal OCD, post-adoption depression, depression after weaning &/or postpartum/postnatal psychosis. The purpose of these posts is to inform & encourage pregnant & new moms who may be struggling with their emotional health. The Rally is hosted by Postpartum Progress, the most widely-read blog in the world on postpartum depression & other mental illnesses related to pregnancy & childbirth. To read the other posts on this Mother’s Day Rally, click here.

Mothers Day Rally

 

Paternal Depression – help for dads suffering & for those supporting their partners

I have posted a lot on my blog about my history & what happened when I had PND/PPD & what help I received at the time. I’ve posted the series on Postpartum Progress on those of us that formed a group when we were having another baby after our PPMD as well as Dad’s speaking out how they felt when their partners were in the eye of the storm. What I haven’t posted is about the help that is available for fathers that also suffer from PND/PPD, or what is widely known as Paternal Depression.

Although it’s not as common an occurrence than in mothers this mental illness doesn’t discriminate & can affect dad’s too. Dad’s suffering any form of PPMD are often overlooked as the focus is generally on the mother anywhere up to 12 months following the birth of her baby. Feeling disconnected, anxious over caring for their newborn baby & feeling removed from the events following the birth are often the triggers, however each case is different & cannot be pigeonholed.

I was reminded after a post on the #PPDChat FaceBook Support page that there is a lack of awareness & help for father’s is harder to find than for mother’s. So I’m posting a few places where help is available for dad’s & for them to know it’s ok not to be ok, help is out there & you are not alone.

PANDA have launched a website designed with Dad’s in mind. It’s called “How Is Dad Going?” (http://www.howisdadgoing.org.au/) and the purpose of the site is to provide a much needed resource for Dads as they adjust to the life of parenthood. 1 in 7 fathers will have a partner with post natal depression and 1 in 20 suffering from post natal depression themselves but currently there are very few places men can go to be informed and supported through this experience. This new website by PANDA is one of the first in the world to target men specifically and show them that support is available.

There is also another closed FB group for those supporting their partners suffering from a PPMD. This group provides support & resources for partners. To join this group, click here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/156314657856522/

Check this out: http://katiecouric.com/videos/how-postpartum-depression-affects-more-than-just-moms/

* PANDA: http://www.howisdadgoing.org.au

* PANDA: http://www.panda.org.au/practical-information/information-for-men

http://www.fathersreachingout.com

* Postpartum Men: http://postpartummen.com

* Postpartum Support International: http://www.postpartum.net

*Postpartum Progress: http://www.postpartumprogress.com/depression-in-men-a-dads-story-of-male-postpartum-depression#more-10046

* Spotlight on Dads in Science and Sensibility: http://www.scienceandsensibility.org/?p=4355

If anyone has any further information or wishes to add more support pages to visit, please post them below & I’ll update the listing above. Thanks in advance.

 



And then I had no choice, but to surrender

I’ve previously written about my son’s struggles with feeding & eating since his birth. When he turned two back at the beginning of May, he started refusing to be spoon fed the puree he’d been accepting for the previous 18mths. On a human level, I understood it – none of his friends were being spoon fed anymore, so why should he? On an emotional level & in terms of being his mother & needing to feed him, panic set in. My little boy who was still considered ‘failure to thrive’ (FTT) & had recently lost weight had decided to refuse all meals. His daily intake consisted of snacks & his two milk bottles & I was beside myself with worry.

I stressed about this day & night. The thoughts & knot in my stomach was all consuming & encompassing. My anxiety (Selma) was through the roof. I could see that there were no physical & developmental deficits from his lack of intake as he continued to be full of beans, energetic, able to understand my commands & had started saying a few words (although we had started speech therapy with him a few months prior). Our weekly feeding clinics continued & he showed the same level of interest he had in previous weeks (apart from his rejection of cold & wet foods) & I continued to be at a loss as to how to get him to eat meals at home. He seemed to eat some of his meals at creche which was beyond relieving for both myself & his carers as they were also worried for him.

I have often thought that having a child with feeding & eating issues was one of the cruelest jokes mother nature can play on a mother. Feeding your baby/toddler is primal & having this taken away from you is one of the most awful things for a parent to experience. A friend of mine called it ’emotional torture’ & I couldn’t agree more.

Months went by with no breakfast, lunch or dinner being eaten by him. He ate snacks, drank his milk & I was in a panicked frenzy every meal time & leading up to each meal. I decided to take Flynn & consulted with a Paediatric dietician to come up with some ideas of how to increase his calories & intake per day. He was prescribed Pediasure to be added into his milk & this was a successful addition to his daily bottles after a week of slowly adding the scoops (due to the vanilla flavour). I was relieved when he took his milk bottles & sometimes even finished them! It was suggested we try making other puree options for him, by pureeing meals prepared for both Orli & Seon & I due to the amount of protein in some of the on-the-shelf pouches. I bought squeeze ’ems (reusable ouches where I could put in my own purees for him to suck on), bought & stuck Peppa Pig & Thomas the Tank stickers on them to excite him about the content. I pureed, it was rejected. I froze, ice cubed chicken, beef & veggies & they were all rejected. I wished he had a PEG or g-tube  because it was meal insurance – what he didn’t have orally, he would still get. It was the insurance I had for his first three months of life when he was being fed nasal-gastrically. (Note: Please know I don’t mean to minimise the function or use of feeding tubes & other long-term issues that feeding tubes create – weaning, oral issues etc – I am grateful for my son not having one, but my anxiety at the time just wanted my son to be fed).

I was exhausted, defeated, frustrated & disheartened. And then I surrended.

I HAD to relinquish my control over his food & his intake. I had to let him be the one to decide what & when & how he was going to eat. It has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my whole life & each day was a mental & emotional rollercoaster.

Three months of Flynn only eating at creche, we went to feeding clinic & something clicked inside Flynn’s brain. He started to eat new things & was happy, excited & engaging – he wanted to share the experience with us. At this session, we started using a new technique/strategy on how we spoke & engaged with him during meals & it was a thoroughly positive experience for all. It worked. And it worked because HE had decided he was ready. It worked because the room was free of anxiety & pressure. It worked because I had surrended myself a few weeks prior. And then I didn’t care why it worked – it was working.

He ate a chicken nugget, so that night at dinner it was nuggets. He ate them, I used the techniques learned that morning & I cried tears of joy that whole time. The next night I added chips (fries), which was something I was petrified of re-introducing after many failed attempts previously which included gagging/chocking & vomiting. He ate them. I cried. The next night was fish fingers as they looked similar to nuggets. He ate them. I cried. After months of offering & preparing toast, he started eating it. Meal times were more relaxed. Everyone got excited when he ate something new or tried something new. There were made up songs, dances of joy & lots of high-fives against those little toddler hands.

The next few weeks was researching recipes & preparing food together. We did healthy savoury muffins & vanilla cupcakes. I added quinoa flakes, chia seeds & at times & used veggies I’d never cooked with before. We used our strategies & techniques when he would try them & I’m proud to say that there have been many, many successes.

Even though Floo has started eating, I’ve had to admit I’ve now started worry about the nutritional value & calories content of his meals (will the worry ever be at bay?????). Some parents complain that all their child eats is nuggets & chips & I’m bloody thrilled. I’ve now started using Superfoods for Kidz powders in most of the foods I prepare for Flynn & Orli too. The best thing about the powder is that I can add it to batter, soups, mixtures – anything. I feel better knowing his food is ‘better’ for him & Orli too.

As much as I can report that Flynn’s eating has improved, so has his aim. Food flies across our kitchen, yoghurt is wiped all over the table & his is proud to tell himself off ‘nauttttyyy’ (naughty) when he throws food all over the place. And this brings a whole new level of frustration – but he’s eating & now we’re experiencing what other families experience with babies/toddlers at mealtimes – which is something I’ve been waiting for & hoping for since his feeding issues started at  eight months of age.

Another milestone we’ve experienced, is that we have officially eaten out as a family. We ate at a food court together which is simple & ordinary & something most families take for granted. At two years & three months, we have finally had a meal out together that didn’t include me spoon feeding my son, being stressed about him eating or worrying about him cracking it & refusing his food. I had to pinch myself as this has been something I have wished for for so very long.

I could not have stayed sane during this time had it not been for the love & support shown in the LTBM Australia (Laryngomalacia, Tracheomalacia &/or Bronchomalacia Australia) closed FB group. I’m certainly not alone there when dealing a FTT child, a child with oral aversions or food sensory issues, with the feelings of anger, frustration &/or sadness. I am certainly not alone of feeling robbed. Thank you, to each & every one of you that virtually held my hand & sent hugs during the ‘great food refusal of 2013’.

And to all of you that ‘liked’ or commented on my FB posts, photos & videos of Flynn eating – thank you. You’ve all made this hard (& often lonely) journey easier & it’s our pleasure & honour to share our good news & wins with you all.

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My post in Home Life Simplified – June 2013

Once a month Home Life Simplified features the story of survivors of perinatal illnesses (this covers PND, Anxiety, OCD, PTSD, Psychosis). Debra from Home Life Simplied, found that so many women responded to her own blog posts where she shared details of (my) journey through PND & she wanted to give others the opportunity to share their story too.

Each contributor to these featured interviews are provided 10 questions & asked that they choose at least 5 to answer. Our hope is that you’ll take away some helpful information, inspiration &/or a greater understanding of perinatal illnesses.

 

What form of perinatal illness did you suffer from (PND, PNA – anxiety, OCD, psychosis, PTSD etc) and what were your symptoms?

I suffered from PND & PNA following the premature birth of my daughter in 2008.

When did you know or we’re conscious that things weren’t right? What was the moment that defined things for you?

I’m not sure there was a moment that defined things for me or I was conscious things weren’t right. There were a culmination of events, feelings, moments that led me to admit to myself & my husband that I was not ok.

I had been seeing a psychologist during my pregnancy as I had a history of depression & anxiety & wanted to ‘be on top of’ anything that might have occurred following the birth. I knew the signs & what to look out for, yet I mistakenly thought I was just tired & feeling overwhelmed with having a newborn & would naturally get through it.

In the eye of the storm I had many regrettable intrusive thoughts. It was then that I compared my thoughts & feelings to the images I’d seen of new mothers being elated & overjoyed & saying things like they felt complete now that they had had a baby. I felt the complete opposite & feeling overjoyed was the furthest thing from my mind. It was my first appointment after my daughter’s birth that I went to my psychologist that it was evident that I was not ok & needed supports to get me through.

What course of treatment did you follow with your doctor? What do you feel was the most beneficial and why?

After my first appointment with my Psychologist (at seven weeks postnatal), I was immediately put on an anti-depressant as we had known from previous experiences that this had a positive effect on my recovery. A week later, my daughter & I (when she was eight weeks old) were admitted to a parent infant unit in a Psych facility, where we stayed for three weeks so I could be observed as my meds took effect & also had intensive therapy during my admission. The nuthouse, as I now affectionately call it, saved my life. The therapy sessions & groups were immensely helpful, the time away from distractions of cooking, cleaning, washing & focusing & getting to know my baby was beneficial beyond words.

Following my admission I still saw my Psychologist every fortnight & also attended weekly sessions at the nuthouse (day program) until my daughter turned one & my team felt I was well enough to stop attending. I was also part of their outreach program where I would get a visit at home each fortnight from a care worker to see how I was doing in my own environment. I continued this for a few months following my discharge from the day program to ensure my supports didn’t all end at the same time. My psychologist sessions then extended to monthly once we were confident of my progress.

There was no one treatment that worked best for me, it was really the culmination of all those wonderful supports with my ‘team’ overseeing each step of my progress or regression.

What helped you overcome PND / recover – what was in your personal tool kit? (i.e. support group, hired help, partner reduced work hours / work from home, returned to work, exercise..)

The things that helped me overcome my PND/A was all the therapy sessions I had, my medication to help remove the fog in order for my therapy to take it’s full effect, the other mothers I met along my journey that were also wonderful supports & the realisation that being honest with myself & how I was really feeling was crucial to my recovery.

Recovery was like an emotional & psychological tug-of-war at times. There could be weeks of feeling ‘well’ & then something shifting in my universe to make me feel as though I hadn’t made any progress at all & any further progress was not going to happen. Those episodes were almost harder than the times I was actually in the eye of the storm, because I had had a taste of knowing what feeling better felt like & it was like a cruel joke to be feeling helpless again.

Recovery was not easy, nor instantaneous. It required hard work, lots of energy & determination. There were many challenges & many times I thought that recovery was not achievable, however the motivation to continue was my daughter who was thriving & needed her mum & my husband that just wanted his wife & best friend back.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I was feeling well again that I came across the wonderful online social network I’m so honoured to be part of today, however, I found them in time for the planning of my second baby & they were crucial to my mental health following his birth.

When did you know you were reaching the light at the end of the tunnel / tipping point to recovery?

I don’t think there was a time or an event that I knew I was feeling ‘better’. I suppose, the feelings of dread, resentment, anger & sadness disappeared for longer periods until they were no longer & were replaced with being hopeful & excited about the future.

Saying that though, I don’t think I will ever feel the ‘same’ or feel as I did prior to my PND/A. I am forever changed as a person, woman, wife & mother. Although there was a ‘light at the end of the PND/A tunnel’, I feel as though I’m still a ‘work in progress’ given my ongoing bouts or depressive episodes which I now call ‘maternal depression’ as opposed to PND.

If you went on to have more children after PND can you share what you did to prepare yourself and your family (preventative measures). What was most helpful?

We decided to try for another baby just before my daughter turned two & when I was feeling well enough to start the journey again.

Preparation was all about lots of planning. I thought about what had triggered me the first time around & thought of strategies to prevent them from reoccurring, or at least if they did, they would not be as severe as the last time.

I had a wonderful support group of PPD recoverers (that we met over Twitter) pregnant or planning to have another baby & we emailed each other & checked in with each other often during the pregnancy & following the birth. I also checked in with the #PPDChat FaceBook support group often during my pregnancy as sadly I had an extremely medically complicated pregnancy & was very anxious about the likelihood of my baby surviving.

I was hospitalised at 34 weeks & had a scheduled c-sec at 36 weeks & it all went smoothly. My son and I went home together on day five, however after a week being home and him only gaining 50g since discharge, we were re-admitted to hospital by his paediatrician so that he could be fed nasal-gastrically. We remained in hospital for a further nine weeks (away from my 2.5 year old & husband) and finally came home when my son was nearly 12 weeks old (eight weeks corrected) & NGT free. I had some extremely low moments during our stay in hospital – it was a frustrating, overwhelming, confusing & disheartening time that finally led us to a diagnosis & discharge plan.

In the nine weeks of admission I was on the verge of slipping again – however this difference this time was that I knew I loved my son & felt connected to him. The difference this time was that I was having a normal experience in an abnormal situation & it was the circumstances not my mental health that was affecting my moods.

I have also started a FaceBook support group where we support mums from making the decision to have another baby after their postnatal mood disorder, through to their postnatal period. It’s a wonderful way to give back to a community that is so loving, caring, thoughtful & kind & one that has had my back for a long time. [ed: if anyone wants information on this group I can connect you with Yuz]

What is 1 (or more) positive thing that came out of your PND experience?

I truly believe my PND was one of these best things that ever happened to me. I’m a more compassionate person & have empathy for other people’s situations. I am passionate about telling my story so that no mother feels suffers in silence or feels alone & that she & her family knows that help is out there. I also learnt to explore my own emotions, be in touch with feelings I would not have otherwise done & believe I am more tuned in to my kids feelings & emotions than I would have been had I not had my experience.

What would you want to say to women currently suffering with PND?

I want you to know that you’re not alone.

I want you to know that help is out there.

I want to tell you that you will get through this.

I want to tell you that this is not forever.

 

Read previous interviews in this series here:

Jane from Life on Planet Baby

Andrea from Postpartum and Pigtails

Debbie from Aspiring Mum

Tina from The Duepners

Ivy from Ivy’s PPD Blog

Brooke from Slow your home

Jenny from Tranquila Mama

Robin from Farewell Stranger

 

Maternal Depression – my lifelong battle with Selma & Patty

I’ve suffered from Depression & Anxiety disorders for as long as I can remember, except they were not given a name to me until I was in my twenties & went to my GP & saw a checklist of things that if you experience for more than two weeks is considered depression. I cried. They were tears of relief. They were tears for all those times I pulled out of social appearances, put up appearances or just wanted to disappear.

The biggest depressive episode occurred after the birth of my first baby 4.5 years ago & was actually termed Postnatal/Postpartum Depression. I was admitted to a Psych clinic with my daughter, was medicated, received intensive therapy & slowly recovered. To say that I have not suffered from Depressive episodes or anxiety since then would be a complete lie, but I have learnt how to cope, to deal & to move forward even though I want to stay in bed & sleep the days away. At these times, I am less visible on social media & it takes more energy than normal to look ok & to get on with the daily chores tasks of motherhood & parenthood. And two years ago, I went on to have another baby after my PPMD & although I wasn’t sucked back into the eye of the storm, I was certainly tested.

So, nearly five years on from my PPMD, I’m still battling the Demons that are Depression & Anxiety disorders. I’ve actually named my depression Patty & my anxiety Selma – giving them names helps identify who’s with me on any given day or impacting my decisions. And then I read a book as part of the Warrior Mom Book Club called, ‘ The Ghost in the House: Real Mothers Talk About Maternal Depression, Raising Children, and How They Cope‘ (by Tracy Thompson) & the same sense of relief I had in the doctors surgery many years ago was felt again. You see, I now consider my Depression as Maternal Depression. I have a new profound understanding on what I am battling against – it’s depression that affects mothers of older kids & no longer infants/toddlers (although I still have two preschool children). My Depression does not only impact me, but impacts my children too. And more so, I can’t sleep the days away as I have a family to look after & take care of.

Searching for information & resources for ‘maternal depression’ & the results that come up focus on Postpartum Depression/Postnatal Depression which ‘medically & scientifically’ speaking occur/commence within the first 12 months following the birth of a baby. However, what happens after that? Is it still considered PPD/PND years later when you’re still suffering the cyclic pattern of low moods, apathy, irritation etc? When researching Maternal Depression, you find articles discussing the long-term effects on children whose mother doesn’t read to them, sing to them, interact with them etc. They’re also referring to those mothers who are unable to work & contribute financially to the family also adding financial stress to the equation. I’m neither of the above. My postpartum period is well & truly reached its expiry date & I interact all the time with my kids BECAUSE I don’t want them to experience any lasting effects of MY ongoing mental illness. In fact, most of my exhaustion stems from showering my kids with my emotional availability that by the end of the day sometimes I am too exhausted to show my husband the same amount of consideration.

There are not many resources for us mums suffering maternal depression, other than being pigeon-hold with other women suffering depression or those suffering with PPD/PND which I think is wrong. I think we need special consideration as our depression doesn’t affect just us, but can also affect our kids – the very people that learn off us & who actually ‘see’ with us & see us without our masks on. They aren’t old enough to rationalise it like our partners/friends can – they feel responsible, learn how to not cope & handle situations etc. I’m not just a female that suffers depression, I’m a mother looking after preschool aged children. My depression is not as severe as above & I’m able to interact with my children, I just have those episodes that can last a few days or a few weeks. I am still capable of caring for them.

In my teens & twenties, I would retreat during my depressive episodes. I would throw myself into my work, being extra ambitious & working long hours. With maternal depression it’s impossible for me to retreat & hide away until I feel up going out. I can’t throw myself into work either because being a mum & taking care of my preschool aged children is my work. There is nowhere to hide except into my own head & with my ongoing internal dialogue.

I have often forced myself to playgroups, to walk to the shops for adult & social interaction & to ensure my kids exposed to other faces, places, sites & experiences. I make the effort to not let my moods impact them. I work really hard on this. We know that kids are smarter than we give them credit for. They’re able to spot a fraud a mile off & this sometimes scares the hell out of me on the days I’m wearing my mask or forcing a smile on my face.

I also feel guilty at times that my mood disorders are preventing my kids from having a fulfilling childhood – the times where I don’t have the energy to take them to the park or the times when planning a trip to the zoo becomes too overwhelming because of sleep schedules & my anxiety linked with this. I know that day naps will not be forever & the future will be filled with concerts, movies, zoos & aquariums etc, but not now & not yet. I want them to look back on their childhood & remember feeling loved, safe & secure more than I want them remembering giraffes & fish anyway!

So where does this all leave me? I am a work in progress. I’m not sure I’ll ever be cured or free of Patty or Selma accompanying me throughout my, or my children’s lives, but I am learning strategies on how to better manage these episodes & instances. I want my kids to know that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. I want them to be accepting of me & the experiences I bring to our mother & child relationship & to motherhood. I want them to one day know that I did my best to shield them from anything too scary or long term by having ongoing therapy & by being medicated. I want my children to be proud of me – by not letting my mental illness or mood disorders affect my decision to start a family & bring these two amazing little people into our life.

 

Source: The Ghost in the House: Real Mothers Talk About Maternal Depression, Raising Children, and How They Cope by Tracy Thompson

My message to you all on hope

Dear new mum,

I’m watching you as you push your pram down the street & noticing others look at you with a glint in their eye reminiscing about the time when they walked their baby along the same path. I see people taking sneak peaks at your baby & smiling at the newness of life & the innocence of the little face in the bassinet. Then I look at your face & there is a strong sense of familiarity. I’ve seen that face before. I don’t know you nor do I know your story, but I know that face.

I have the strongest urge to stop you in the street, look into your sunken & sad eyes & hug & tell you that things will get easier & you will get through this.

I want to tell that you didn’t ask to feel this way, that you didn’t choose to become unwell, nor did you do anything for this to happen to you. It’s either/or a combination of a chemical imbalance in your postpartum brain, torturous sleep deprivation, dealing with a traumatic birth or having a baby prematurely or with medical issues. It might be because you’re struggling with the transition to motherhood & all the expectations (yours & others) placed on your already overwhelmed & fragile shoulders. Whatever your reason, there is NO shame.

Please promise me that you’ll be honest with yourself about how you’re feeling & be honest with those around you that you trust, as well as with your healthcare provider. You don’t need to feel this way, nor do you deserve it. As tiring as motherhood is (especially with a newborn) pretending you’re ok is utterly exhausting & takes up too much room.

You’re not going to believe me now, given you’re in the eye of the storm, but having a PPMD will be one of the best things that will ever happen to you – as a person & as a mother. Your recovery will be hard, frustrating & challenging & there will be days you feel as though for every step forward is like two steps backwards, but as long you keep moving, you WILL get there.

I want you to know that you’re not alone.

I want you to know that help is out there.

I want you to stop believing everything you think.

I want to tell you that you will get through this.

I want to tell you that this is not forever.

As I sit here & watch you continue to push your pram down the street, I see that you’re putting one foot in front of the other & I know in my heart of hearts that you’ll be ok. I know this because I walked the exact same path. I just hope you see all the directions I continue to leave along the path making your journey easier & less lonely to navigate.

Love always & forever,

Yuz – Warrior mum & survivor

To read other submissions of this Rally, click here.

 

Sunday May 12th, is the 5th annual Mother’s Day Rally for Mums’ Mental Health. This Rally will feature 24 letters from survivors of PPD/PND, postnatal/partum anxiety, posnatal/tpartum OCD, depression after weaning &/or postnatal/partum psychosis. The purpose of these posts is to inform & encourage pregnant & new moms who may be struggling with their emotional health. The Rally is hosted by Postpartum Progress, the most widely-read blog in the world on postpartum depression & other mental illnesses related to pregnancy & childbirth. To read the other posts on this Mother’s Day Rally, click here.