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

 

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.

 

You’re not alone

After the birth of my daughter 4.5 years ago, I experienced the complete opposite of what the books, movies, other mums had told me about birth & the overwhelming love you feel when you see your newborn baby & when you bring your baby home. I felt like a fraud for acting as though I was in love & bonded with my baby, I felt ashamed, numb, confused, angry, robbed & mostly alone.

As my journey of recovery continued, I met many other mums that had suffered the same experiences in early motherhood than me & I no longer felt so alone. It didn’t matter whether or not their stories were ‘worse’ or ‘better’ than mine – it was just that they had been ravaged by the same Demon & were desperately trying to return to the same person they were before it attacked.

DH & I kept it a secret that I was unwell & admitted to a Psych facility (aka nuthouse) with our baby & told our family & friends that we were at sleep school. It’s not that I was ashamed, I just wanted to focus on my recovery & not what people thought of me. It was Valentine’s Day 2012 where I first shared my story. It was my hope that through my words I would be able to reach out & talk to mothers out there suffering in silence.

By opening up & sharing my story, I’ve allowed myself to be vulnerable, whilst at the same time acknowledging that shame & judgment are likely to be their companion. I had to make a conscious decision to not care about that. I can’t control people’s opinions or thoughts, so I decided that the fear of judgment was not going to get in my way of spreading awareness & finally taking my mask off & telling my story.

The things I’d like to share in this blog hop are the things that I’ve learned as a result of my journey. Mental illness, specifically a Postpartum/Postnatal mood disorder (depression, anxiety, OCD) or Postpartum/Postnatal Psychosis – it’s just not something you choose to have or want following the birth of your child or following an adoption. It’s a hard time for our families, friends & social circle to understand what we’re going through & it’s challenging as they don’t know how to help us which makes as frustrated in kind. Our symptoms are invisible & unobvious so it’s easy for people to distance themselves from us if our illness goes beyond ‘the expected time for recovery’. I’ve learnt that PPMD’s don’t discriminate – it doesn’t matter what socio-economic status you are, what faith you are, what nationally, race or creed. It doesn’t matter what support you have, what means you have or what your social standing you are. It is one of the most levelling of life’s experiences one can have.

But here’s what I can tell you: I can tell you however is that recovery is possible & that help is out there. I can tell you that you’re most definitely alone & never will be in your journey to recovery. I can tell you that the way you feel today will not last forever & you will get through it. I can tell you that there is NO shame. I can tell you that there are some absolutely wonderful peer supports available online (#PPDChat on Twitter, #PPDChat closed FB support group, Postpartum Progress to name a few & also my group on having a baby after a PPMD) if you’re not comfortable attending an IRL group or if there’s not one close to where you live/work. And I can tell you that there are the most AMAZING & brave women that I’ve had the honour & privilege of meeting & calling my friends through opening up & sharing my story.

I want you to all know that you are worthy. I want you to all know you are important. I want you to all know that you matter. I want you to know that being ‘good enough’ is ok. I want you to all know that you now have an Army behind you, supporting you, loving you & are your biggest advocate & voice when you’ve lost yours.

 

To read other blog hop posts, please click here:

 

In May 2011 Postpartum Support International (PSI) declared May as Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month. Since 2011, more States in the US & many counties across the globe have now designated May as a time to bring awareness to maternal mental health. This year, PSI is launching their first maternal mental health awareness month blog hop &  the topic being explored is mental health recovery & coping skills. If you are a blogger who has experienced postpartum depression (PPD) or any other PPMD, please consider joining the blog hop to help spread awareness. Visit the two blog hop host blogs, Kathy Morelli’s Birthtouch Dr. Christi Hibbert’s blog, to review further information & guidelines & also see all the other bloggers that are participating this year.

We don’t all abandon our babies

I’m a sucker for reality TV. I’ve been known to obsess over cooking competitions, losing weight competitions, renovating competitions & those medical documentaries featuring women having babies i.e. One Born Every Minute & more recently, The Midwives which are both documentaries from the UK.

Last Thursday night I was watching the latest episode of The Midwives (see episode synopsis below). This episode focused on the Midwives visiting the homes of mums & newborns after being discharged from hospital soon after the birth of their babies. The show has showed a range of births (water, natural births with & without pain relief, c-secs etc) & invites you into the lives of women who you would never otherwise know anything about… especially since I live on the other side of the globe.

So, episode 5, a midwife is looking for a mum that was discharged from the hospital. There was a mix up with the addresses & she was driving around an, shall I just say, average suburb looking for this family. The voiceover explained what was going on & somehow the copywriter had decided that this was the spot in the documentary that they would mention Postnatal/partum Depression & provide the statistics of how many mums in the UK suffer from this postnatal mood disorder (that they know about – I know for a fact that some women are still too scared to come forward).

Voiceover: ‘One in ten of the women Di looks after suffers Postnatal Depression. Every year in Britain between five & ten babies are abandoned, so it’s vital that Di tracks down the baby & it’s mother’.

So, to recap, one in ten of the women this one Midwife looks after has PND. This seems plausible & I don’t have any issues that that sentence. It’s the next sentence I have an issue with – Linking mothers with PND as the cause for the rate of abandoned babies in the UK. Sure it may be the case at times, but I dare go out on a limb here & say that the rate of abandoned babies might also be due to economical reasons & perhaps social reasons, like the climbing rate of teenage pregnancies.

This quote shocked me. It’s not often that I hear something like mere stats & figures about any PPMD that angers me. I actually welcome the discussion because, the more we talk about it, the less shame & the less stigma associated with this & all other Postnatal mood disorders. And the more dialogue, the more women will feel safe & empowered to speak up & get help. But, to link the number of abandoned babies to mothers with PND is, in my opinion only, both misleading & incorrect. I’m all for using facts & statistics – but they need to be accurate.

Excluding the social & economic reasons for why someone would abandon their baby, I want to focus on the PPMD as being the cause & impetus for this abandonment. In my experience & from the research I’ve done & from all the discussions I’ve had with other mothers that suffer or are survivors of a PPMD, it’s not the merely the depression or anxiety that makes them act recklessly & spontaneously, rather the hallucinations etc that is linked to PP/PN psychosis. The depression & the anxiety create the basis of the thoughts that plague their minds for days & sometimes weeks on end, but it’s the psychosis that makes some mothers act & follow through on these thoughts – this is what fundamentally separates the depressed & the psychotic when it comes to PPMD’s.

Most of the mums I know that suffer/have suffered with their PPMD talk about the repetitive nature of negative self-talk, harming their baby & even the thought of leaving the baby & their family as they would be better off without them (note: leaving their baby in safe hands as they feel they’re the unsafe ones). It’s not often that I have heard of thoughts them wanting to abandon their baby on a doorstep with just anyone. Certainly in cases of Postnatal/partum Psychosis, but not depression/anxiety & I think making a broad statement like that is both unfair & misleading. It’s painting a very broad stroke & I actually feel (surprisingly) offended by this assumption.

I get how scary mental illness is to people that are lucky to have never suffered from any, I get how scary PPD/PND is to women & mothers that have not experienced it (luckily & thankfully) & I get how sad & awful it looks to people that don’t get it, but what I find hurtful, is people with ‘authority’ claiming & embellishing that PND makes you do things that are evil & incomprehensible according to social mores & values which is not (usually & actually) factual. PPMD education & dialogue can be an uphill battle at the best of times due to fear & prejudice, but if met with people that presume we’re all evil is another unnecessary hurdle we have to climb.

My initial thought after hearing the voiceover on the program was, ‘hang on, we don’t all want to or actually abandon our babies’. And I guess that’s the point of this post.

Am I wrong? Am I right? Am I being too sensitive? Am I reading too far into this?

 

To watch the episode, click here: http://www.abc.net.au/iview/#/view/31614

The Midwives, Episode Synopsis: Episode 05 – Bringing Home Baby

The community midwives of Manchester’s Saint Mary’s Hospital are responsible for almost 5,000 newborn babies every year. Every day they are trying to spot the mums who might need more than just a cursory examination – determining which mums will cope easily with a new baby and which ones might have a struggle.

For 10 days after each baby is born, they go into the homes of new parents to offer help and make sure that mums are well and that the babies are being properly looked after. Midwife Joyce is concerned about single mum-to-be Fizah because of her complicated family background. Joyce has referred Fizah to the Vulnerable Babies Service, so they can keep an eye on how she is coping as a new mum. Midwife Farhana is looking after Monique, who is also single and was homeless until recently. But she has to drop everything to go and help a woman who has chosen to give birth in her own front room. Meanwhile, the mother that midwife Di is supposed to be looking after has gone missing the day after being discharged from hospital. With Britain in the middle of the biggest baby boom in 40 years, this film looks at how midwives look after new mums and new babies who might be at their most vulnerable.

Confrontation, oh how I fear thee

I don’t do confrontation. I’m not sure how many people know this about me, but, well, now it’s out there.

I can’t pinpoint exactly what it is about confrontation that scares me – whether it be the ‘I wish I’d thought to say this/that’, or whether it be my lack of confidence in having a conversation ‘live’ that can’t be edited like the written word, whether it be the about my lack of confidence in myself I have & not feeling up to putting my feelings out into the world, or the knowledge that I am leaving myself open & vulnerable by exposing personal feelings & thoughts that once out may be used against me or as bait in future conversations.

Confrontation also brings up so many insecurities for me – of not being smart enough. I was always an ‘average’ student at school & I would always hide & not disclose test scores for fear of ridicule or judgement, even when the scores were ok or even really good. I just didn’t have the assurance that I was able to meet anyone academically & I think I envision confrontation as a type of school debate & don’t feel smart enough to ‘compete’ or will win it for the team. I’m scared of what will happen, what will be said back, that I won’t be equipped with the arguments, the vocabulary or to leave emotion out of it (cos sometimes it’s not about that), to personalise everything & then to play the self-blame game.

I have grown up with depression always being my constant visitor & companion, so my negativity & pessimism spent a long time shaping my outlook on life & my self confidence. I know I’m not the same person as I was as a child or teenager & am learning to see things differently & change the way I think about things, however, for some reason I just can’t shake the fact that confrontation scares me & this fear stops me from acting on it.

I think having a delicate personality or a history of self-doubt also brings ‘character assassination’ into the mix of things I fear when thinking about confrontation. I just can’t shake the feeling that I am going to be ‘dumped on’ even though I might have everything working in my favour for an apology or whatever I’m wanting as the outcome of the meeting. And then there’s the personality of the other party to consider. Strong, intimidating, controlling & those people that are not scared to say anything also stop me in my tracks.

Fear the unknown outcome also scares me. Being one of those ‘type A’personalities & wanting to be able to control as much as possible in my life (which I know is unrealistic, but that’s a whole other blog post) does not bode well when it comes to having conversations ‘on the fly’ that involve feelings & emotions & possible outcomes that I don’t want or didn’t plan for. How will I cope & how will I feel should the outcome be unfavourable? Will this start me on a carousel of ongoing confrontations?

I’m not quite at the point in my life that I know who I am, that I love, respect & accept myself & feel worthy…. And then something like fear or inability to confront shakes me up just that little bit more when things in my personal life requires me to either step up & stand up for myself. This fear makes me question whether I’m ever going to be ‘content’ knowing I’m letting fear & vulnerability take over from rectifying things, improving relationships or standing up for what I believe is right or just having the opportunity to being heard & validated. There are some aspects of myself that I am comfortable with & like & things that attract people to me, but not being able to stand up for myself or being confrontational makes me question if I’m truly content & ok & can lead a fulfilling life.

And I know not all confrontations are hard or need to be a clash of the minds. It doesn’t always have to be a shouting match or a well prepared speech using examples of things from the past to give your point validity. Sometimes it’s a gentle conversation that is included as part of a catch up over coffee & doesn’t get another minutes thought. I think I’m ok with those. Yeah, I am.

When thinking about this fear of mine, it got me thinking of the ‘other party’. Are people nasty or rude to me knowing that I avoid confrontations & they’ll get away with it? Maybe. Do they use this against me? Maybe. Do they push me to the point where I’m backed into a corner out of fear as a means to an end knowing I won’t push back? Maybe. Do I think that those people who know I avoid confrontation exploit me knowing they’ll get away with it? Maybe.  Do I see this as a character flaw of mine & do people that know me see it as a flaw? Maybe. Have I lost friendships & family members over the fact that I don’t confront them. Most definitely yes.

I know I have made conscious decisions lately not to confront certain things that have occurred in my life. It hasn’t been easy & it’s been hurtful, often relentless, nasty & (mostly) unwarranted. This is one of those times that no matter what I say, I will not be heard or given the space to put my case forward. I don’t want to be involved in a situation of having a conversation like this, that only serves to provide the other person with the stage to perform & no purpose other than to give that person an opportunity to lay out their reasons for their actions or inactions.

I know there are times I’ll have to step up & my kids are going to be the impetus for this. There are going to be many occasions that I’ll have to stand up for them as they grow up & I want to be able to do this for them. And I want them to learn this skill from me or DH as I don’t want them going through life letting people take advantage of them for not being able to stand up for themselves.

I would love some helpful (gentle) tips on how I can overcome my fear, so please feel free to share the love cos I sure could do with some of it at the moment.

 

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.