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My experience with Postnatal Depression

Alicja Lawler

Posted on May 18 2017

Firstly, I’m really not much of a writer but that’s not what this is about. I’m hoping that by sharing my experience I can help other mums feel “normal” just like a friend had done for me; sometimes all it takes is someone to say "you’re not alone."

As cliché as it sounds, when I was struggling in the first few months after having Lace, a friend of mine was honest with me, brutally honest in fact. She said things no other mother had yet dared to say.
Many of us live in fear of not being in the euphoric love bubble and that it meant something terrible.

She explained that she too had experienced similar angst and guilt that the love was not immediately there when her baby arrived. I think looking back part of me believes when you have a traumatic birth or dealt a card you had not expected, as a mother you go into to self-preservation out of fear.

You don't put all your love on the line, as your future with your little babe is not always certain. But for whatever your reason, not feeling that immediate connection and love for your child seems taboo and scary to share. These emotions create havoc in a new mum; often we are already feeling vulnerable and they send heartbreaking pain through our bodies. My friend assured me the love grows (and oh, does it grow!) but it is different for everybody. This is ok too. No ones story will ever be the same. Saying the words out loud seems to help lift some of the darkness and when someone holds your hand and says I have been there too, it can change their world; it certainly changed mine.  

So here goes….

PREGNANCY

I loved being pregnant! I felt so connected to my beautiful baby and even though at the end I was impatient, I loved the sleepless nights and feeling my baby kick all hours of the day and night.

Our lives were kind of hectic when our baby was due. As this was our first-born we had no idea what was in store for us. Our baby was due on the 12th December 2012, I had Hens Night I was planning on the 22nd December, family Christmas celebrations 24th and 25th and my Sister-in-Laws Wedding on the 29th December, for which I was Maid-of-Honour.

In hindsight, I should’ve factored in time to just be which I didn’t do and can only blame myself. Many would say I'm a selfless person and I always put others first, this is possibly why I came unstuck. 

My due date went by and I started to get nervous that if the baby didn’t come soon it would effect on the other upcoming events, so we booked to be induced on the 15th December.

LABOUR

It was a strange feeling going to the hospital to be induced. We both hadn’t slept much the night before and when we got there it was almost like checking into a hotel to have a baby.

Everything during early labour could be described as textbook. I was induced intravenously and they broke my waters at 9am.

I was managing fine without any pain relief, I bounced on a fit ball with my husband digging his hands as hard as he could into my back with everything contraction. By 3pm, I was 9cm dilated and I was told my baby would arrive within the hour. That was all I needed to get myself into the right headspace, I had less than an hour left and just needed to get through the pushing part. I was managing well, and my daughter’s head was out, but her shoulder got caught.

My obstetrician didn’t let on anything was wrong, so I had no idea that what I was experiencing wasn’t normal. Her shoulder was caught behind my pubic bone and is referred to as Shoulder Dystocia. This obstetric emergency can lead to brachial plexus injury or can be fatal for the baby. They have a small window of time to get the baby out safely. So after a less than ideal delivery but doing what they had to do to get her out in time, our beautiful baby girl Lace Mae Lawler was born at 3:45pm weighing 7 pound 8.

HOSPITAL/FAREWELLS & CELEBRATIONS

During the labour she had done major damage to her right arm/shoulder, as a result she wouldn’t latch on to feed due to the pain it was causing her.  The next few days in hospital were a blur. She was checked over by the Paediatrician every morning, who set follow up appointments because her arm wasn’t improving and was laying limp next to her body. This was a bit of a shock for me because I had been naive in so many ways and I just expected a normal delivery and for my newborn baby to arrive without any complications. It had never crossed my mind that something could go wrong.

We were released from hospital a few days later and my parents were over from Brisbane to help out after Lace was born. With all the festivities coming up, I figured I wouldn’t get to see them much and I sent them home; looking back now, this was something that also affected my mental state.

After the dust settled from the Hens Night, Christmas and Wedding I hit a massive wall. I didn’t want to leave the house and felt everything was all too much.

My husband worked FIFO and went back off shore when Lace was 4 weeks old. I was alone with my baby that would cry and scream most hours of the day and I was exhausted.

BREASTFEEDING

You hear so much about it being so natural and a beautiful thing so I wanted to succeed, turns out its not easy and can hurt like hell!

Lace still wouldn’t latch because of the pain in her arm, I had cracked nipples and later developed Mastitis, so I turned to expressing every 3 hours to give her my breast milk in a bottle. I’d heard and read so much about “Breast is best” and although I know it is, I think unfortunately for me that made me feel if I did anything else, I would be failing my baby. I wish someone had just told me “Fed is Best”.

Breastfeeding is one of the biggest hurdles when having a newborn baby. We have these huge boobs and our milk is either too fast, too slow, not enough, too much and then you add cracked nipples and mastitis and well, it’s sometimes not all its cracked up to be (Pun intended!)

Your baby is learning and so are you which all takes time. Feeding/burping/settling Lace and then expressing my milk ready for the next feed took the best part of 2 hours I was lucky to get 1 or 2 hours of sleep before she woke for a feed again; I was a walking zombie.

She was a very unsettled baby and would scream most of the day. Sadly, I thought this was normal though as I didn’t have many friends with babies yet. I’ve never been great at asking for help, so I kind of just got through each day with lots of crying, endless phone calls to Ngala helpline and the feeling of failure, praying that motherhood had to be better than this.

MOTHERS GROUP

Around the 6 week mark I started a Mothers Group. I watched all the mums lay their babies flat on a mat while they all slept and I was the only mum in the corner rocking back and forth with her screaming baby. After the class the nurse asked how I was doing and whether she was this unsettled all the time. I was referred back to my Paediatrician to have her checked and she also suggested I join a second mothers group, one for woman that had experienced traumatic deliveries which was a HUGE blessing for me.

GETTING BETTER

Lace was diagnosed with silent reflux and once medicated she was like a new child. She wasn’t a spewy baby, so I had ruled reflux out and I had never heard of Silent Reflux before and apparently it’s quite hard to detect. I continued going to the special mothers group and sharing similar stories with other mums really helped me.

My mum called one day and I broke down, she had offered several times to fly over but I thought I could do it on my own. The 2nd mothers group had taught me it was ok to not be coping and the old saying “it takes a village to raise a baby”.

My Mum was on a plane the very next morning.

Having Mum there was a huge relief and she helped me realise that I hadn’t left the house except to food shop and attend both my mothers group meetings.

I would pretend to have my shit together when visitors came but all these things stressed me out.

Mum suggested we go for walks with the pram, which hadn’t even crossed my mind. My pram wasn’t ideal for newborns and the only time I had used it was with the capsule attachment. Mum softened it with a blanket, which was something so simple, but I couldn’t get my head around it at the time. Having those helping hands, a rational and experienced person was what started to make things better.

I remember kissing Laces toes one day and that was something I hadn’t even thought to do in those first 6 weeks. Mum flew home and a few days later my husband flew back from work. My husband had been an amazing support over the phone but having him home was 100 times better. He could see breastfeeding wasn’t working for me and it was causing too much stress and pain, he assured me that giving Lace formula wouldn’t be ‘failing’ as a Mum and they were words I desperately needed to hear. Those first 6-8 weeks were very lonely and it took me quite a few months to feel that bond and connection with my daughter. If friends or family offered to look after her, I would jump at the opportunity. I felt myself lying to people when they would ask

“Don’t you just love it?”
“Isn’t being a Mum the best feeling in the world?”

I understand where people come from when talking like this, but this wasn’t my experience. The feeling definitely came but it wasn’t instant. I felt more connected to her on the inside during pregnancy than in those first few months of her life. 

It’s ok to have those feelings, its ok not revel in every second of motherhood, It’s ok to not want to be with your baby for every minute of everyday; love isn’t always an instant feeling.  For some mums it is, but for the rest of us it’s something that grows everyday.  

Lace had physiotherapy on her arm and shoulder every month during that first year. At about 4 months we saw she was gradually getting movement in her damaged arm. She was slow to learn to roll and i remember when she finally did, i was petrafied she wouldn't be able to role back, especially if it was during the night in her cot. 

My brother was a paramedic at the time and explained to me in detail what would have happened during lace's birth. I then went on to do a lot of online research about shoulder dystocia. This was a huge turning point for me as I learned it wasn't my fault! I had blamed myself for lace's injury. In my head and heart I had felt I rushed being induced instead of going into labour naturally. Silly I know but that's honestly what i thought. After researching I realised it was nothing I had done and that it occurs in 1 in 150 woman. 

It took me about 6 months to feel that real bond and connection with Lace. 

My gorgeous girl is now 4.5 years old and I have a son Austin who is 2.5 years old. Both labours, and deliveries were completely different experiences. 

I speak very openly to new mums and woman about my experience with Post Natal Depression. I’m no expert in the subject but I know how I felt at the time and I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone. These rollercoaster of emotions are very normal; with the influx of hormones, teamed up with sleep deprivation and being solely responsible for a tiny humans life, it can feel lonely. We don't often speak about it because it's hard, so hard and you’re revealing a soft and vulnerable side. It's NOT a sign of failure or weakness; this is where we are too hard on ourselves. If we can all be a little more understanding, kind and less judgmental of other mums, we would all be in a more open and honest network of motherhood. This is what I hope to achieve here with my story and my new charity necklace. Let's shed some light and awareness on Post Natal Depression and as a team help shift the taboo of mental health in our fellow mums.  

Everyone's journey is different. 

For anyone reading this that have similar feelings please seek help, it can and does get better.   

PANDA National Helpline

https://www.panda.org.au

Mon to Fri, 10am - 5pm AEST

1300 726 306


 

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