I had gone into my pregnancy knowing that as a person who suffers from anxiety and depression that the chances of me developing perinatal anxiety and depression were high. Despite this, I made the decision to go off my medication before trying for a baby as I felt that there was not enough data regarding the impact of my chosen anti-depressant on an unborn child and its safety to use while breastfeeding. At the time, I was also doing quite well physically and mentally.
When I found out we were pregnant, I set myself up with a good GP and was honest with her about my history of anxiety and depression as well as having survived a suicide attempt 10 years before. I was put on a mental health plan and began seeing a psychologist regularly to monitor my mental health. My husband attended all my prenatal appointments so that he could be actively involved in all aspects of the pregnancy.
Physically, my pregnancy was okay. I suffered a little bit of nausea and towards the end endured a fair bit of reflux and swollen feet. Mentally, I stressed myself out but wrote it off as life. I started a new job that I absolutely loathed but kept at it. We bought our first home, leaving a house and area that I loved and moving to a new house and area that I didn’t. At 36 weeks, we found out Bowie was breech right before Christmas. I still wanted a natural birth, but we were underwhelmed with a lack of information and support so I spent my last few weeks of pregnancy stressed out and scared.
I was determined to make Bowie’s entry into the world joyous and as relaxed as I possibly could. We were at hospital cancelling a scheduled C-Section as I was determined to give him more time when I started feeling strange. We decided to go get it checked out. It was decided that it was too dangerous for a variety of medical reasons for my labour to proceed naturally. So, Bowie entered the world via a semi-emergency C-Section in the early hours of the next day. As far as C-sections go it was perfect. There was laughter, music and most importantly, joy just as I had wanted. The surgeons even had to tell me to stop laughing as they were trying to stitch my wobbling bits up.
Bowie took to breastfeeding like a pro and I was determined to force my body to heal as quickly as possible so that I could care for my son. People commented on my energy and enthusiasm. We got out lots very early on. I hated being home. Bowie went to his first pub trivia when he was only 2 weeks old.
I experienced some scary and intrusive thoughts after the first couple of weeks. I swept them away to the back of my mind. It was nothing I hadn’t deal with before and I put it down to just being tired and worried about Will going back to work. I distracted myself by training as a lived experience speaker in suicide prevention and then sharing my story publicly for the first time via the national media.
After an explosion of excitement and interest everything suddenly went silent. I was alone, bored and had too much time on my hands to think about everything. All of a sudden in the weeks that followed my anxiety increased ten fold. I couldn’t sleep, I cried about everything and was scared of everything. I was scared of my own disturbing thoughts, I was scared about someone breaking into the house and I was scared about us all dying in a car crash. I was angry at myself that I had let this happen, I was jealous that my son loved my husband more than me and that my husband loved my son more than he loved me (or so I thought) and I was exhausted from feeling on edge and anxious all the time.
I reached out to my psychologist and GP. I tried one medication that made me acutely suicidal. I stopped that quickly and went back on another medication that had worked well for me before. I was reassured that I could still breastfeed and that Bowie would not be affected. Slowly, things started to get better. I continued seeing my GP and psychologist regularly to monitor my progress. It is because that I was prepared that this could happen and intervened early that I recovered quickly. It was still horrible and intense and earth shattering but it could have been so much worse.
The thing that helped me the most was being able to be honest with my husband, my parents, my GP and my psychologist about what I was truly feeling and thinking. They did not judge me. They did not speak to me condescendingly and they respected what I had to say. It is because of them that I was able to shed the guilt, shame and fear that I felt.
The image that I had imagined of me previously having perinatal anxiety and depression was of me lifeless, sad and unable to connect with my baby. Instead it was like I couldn’t relax or shut down. I felt constantly triggered and not at ease. All I wanted was to breathe easy and enjoy this time of our lives. I was not depressed. I was anxious.
The greatest compliment I receive as a mum is when people tell me how relaxed and easy going that I am. Bowie is so very full of life, noise and poo that no two days are ever the same. I was so worried that all this stress, fear and anxiety would wear off on him but he is happy, social and full of curiosity. I know that I always loved him to bits, but it was the hormones, chemical imbalances, pain, lack of sleep and confusion around having a newborn that threw me.
There are good days and bad days. He is after all a toddler now. But as horrible as having Perinatal Anxiety was it emphasised to me the importance of taking care of your own mental wellbeing. It is not selfish, it is not a luxury. I am now even more than ever honest about my struggles and difficulties privately and publicly. It has made me a better lived experience speaker and advocate and for that I am grateful.
I want others with a lived experience of mental illness to know that it is possible to have a child. But, we need to be honest and we need to be real about the difficulties we face by doing so. Even more, we need to be better supported and encouraged. I hope that by sharing my story and working with others in a similar boat as me that we can all take turns paddling to get to where we need to be so much more quickly and easily.
Thank you for sharing your story Peta.