Modern Motherhood and Mental Illness is part of a blog series uncovering the ups and downs of my personal two-year journey battling PND, PTSD and OCD. Please stay tuned for Part II in this series!

Part I: That one time, I had a baby and went bat shit crazy

“I don’t need this.” I stated in a matter-or-fact kind of way to my GP. He looked at me like I was about to strangle his cat. Dread covered his face. I had been on antidepressants since I was 16 and at the time being 32 decided this psychotropic drug stuff was sheer nonsense, a big conspiracy by Big Pharma unnecessarily making me tired and a little dopey.

Little did I know I was also a few weeks preggers at the exact same time I decided to drop the meds. Looking back, that definitely explains the throwing of the pedestal fan across the room in a fit of rage. Hormones. Emotionally charged pregnant woman. Coming off prescription drugs I’d been on for 16 years. The commotion was certainly enough to put the young couple next door on edge, who somewhat reminded me of Ned and Maud Flanders. In contrast, I was the madness to their uprightness, and boy did they make it known they did NOT want to catch my leprosy.

The commotion was certainly enough to put the young couple next door on edge, who somewhat reminded me of Ned and Maud Flanders.

It seems what I thought was standard ‘growing a human being’ pregnancy emotions was actually straight-up Perinatal Depression (PND), which is the official term for anxiety and depression during and post pregnancy. It is apparently very common and can vary in severity. For me, these emotional outbursts, feelings of anger, anxiety and sadness were starting to become the norm as PND well and truly set in, making its dark presence known.

What also didn’t help was the fatigue, exhaustion and relentless morning sickness, that continued into the second trimester. Not only was I struggling mentally and emotionally, but physically I was wrecked. Throughout the pregnancy, I couldn’t wear a seat belt without it touching my neck and making me gag. Everything smelt and tasted weird. Very lovely, well-meaning people would say, “You’re glowing! You look great!” and I would think, “Yeah, I just vomited in your toilet, I think I still have chunks in my hair, oh and my thighs are chaffing cos I got some serious water retention going on.” Here I am, feeling like a beached whale that’s too heavy to haul back into the sea, just chilling on the shore.

Fully Beached Bro

Fully Beached Bro

After the incessant vomiting had settled down, the intrusive thoughts started coming. What if I get angry and throw my baby against the wall? Or down the stairs? What if I lose my shit and I shake him to death, like that British nanny I heard about many years ago? What if I accidentally leave him in the car on a hot day and he dies? To help relieve my anxiety, I thought it would be a good idea to watch a documentary on mothers who killed their children. I was horrified, terrified and more anxious than ever. I was convinced that I would somehow lose control and go berserk on Elias.

These fears felt so real in my mind, though my loving husband would often reassure me that he was confident I wouldn’t harm our baby. He had no concerns whatsoever, but the reassurance did nothing but feed the anxiety. There was no way to be certain and I could never be sure that something bad wouldn’t happen. Where there are no absolutes, fear, worry and anxiety festers, which then leads to depression and down and down it goes.

It is completely normal for expecting mums and dads to feel anxious about the parental responsibility that lies ahead. In fact, if you’re not afraid, then you’re probably doing it wrong. We ruminate in our minds, what if this? What if that? Will I be a good nurturer, role model, protector and provider? Our desire is to give our Mini Me’s the best start in life, and somehow, not stuff it up in the process within a world that has gone mad.

Our desire is to give our Mini Me’s the best start in life, and somehow, not stuff it up in the process in a world that has gone mad.

The midwives and doctors were fussing over me a lot during pre-natal checks and I couldn’t understand why they kept bringing up the medication thing. Apparently, I was a high-risk pregnancy given my history of depression. One of them looked at me intently and said, “I think you might be depressed” and made me fill out a survey containing about a dozen questions that virtually all ask the same thing, “Do you feel depressed?” but in different ways.

Enter third trimester. Elias’ due date came. My birthday came. Christmas came. New Year came. No sign of baby. Was I going to give birth to a teenager? Two weeks over cooked and I had had enough. I weighed 72kg during my final week of pregnancy and by this time, I had not only gained 20kg, I had gained the admiration of my friends! They all smiled with glee as my body continued to balloon out and kept attesting that I looked great.

pregnancy-third-trimester

They all smiled with glee as my body continued to balloon out and kept attesting that I looked great.

The midwives finally set a date after I begged for intervention. How convenient. I had no control over what was happening to my body and my life, but at least I got to decide when I would expel a human. The whole birth thing was really a blur, but here’s what I remember. I had a birth plan: give birth in a bath set at ambient temperature with essential oils, candles and calm music playing while Tommy sits in the corner humming Shout to the Lord. This is what really happened: I had a complicated, overly-invasive traumatic birth experience that compounded the depression and anxiety.

I will admit for a ‘natural’ birth, the level of intervention was beyond comprehensible. Manual breaking of waters (nothing like being poked in the uterus), syntocin – the hormone that sends you straight into active labour intravenously pumped through my veins, fetal monitor strapped to my bulging stomach, happy gas, antibiotics, forceps and episiotomy.

After a few hours of sucking in gas that was as useless as a helium balloon, I said, “Screw this, get me an epi!” and called for the anaesthesiologist who I think floated in on a white fluffy cloud with her magic trolley of make-the-pain-go-away drugs. I only smiled once during labour and it was when I saw her, because there were rainbows beaming from her face. She rattled off some legal mumbo jumbo “paralysis this”, “infection that” in between contractions. I profusely accepted the terms and conditions and eagerly nodded to a big long needle inserted into my spine.

epidural-is-magical

After a few hours of sucking in gas that was as useless as a helium balloon, I said, “Screw this, get me an epi!”

I was falling in and out of sleep, and each time I woke up Elias’ heart rate would go up and I was freezing and shaking uncontrollably due to maternal fever. The doctors were uncertain whether Elias would cope in natural labour since there was meconium in my waters, therefore it was important that fetal distress was minimised for a safe delivery. Being carted to theatre for a C section was on the agenda. My ears pricked. What?!?! That wasn’t in my birth plan! I was meant to spontaneously go into labour, not have this shit go down! Throughout labour I was obsessively checking the fetal monitor to make sure Elias’ heart was still beating. As each hour passed my biggest fear played over and over – that we would lose him.

Finally, after 13 hours I was fully dilated and told I had only a 30-minute window to give birth. Any longer than that and I’d be sent to the butchers. After a few episodes of pushing, I was made aware of The Cut that was imminent. The Cut that no woman EVER wants. My birth plan revolved around labour methods that would avoid damage at all costs by measure of probability and an episiotomy was simply out of the question. But, the reality was I had no choice since the doctor was adamant about getting him out quickly, and the only way to get the forceps around his melon was to snip-snip.

Elias Jakob Palm was finally born. They laid him on me and I thought, “Wow, what a fatty. How did I manage to have such a big baby inside me?” He was 3.8kg and 52cm. The doctor stitched me up for 45 minutes while I gazed at Elias in awe and wonder.

Elias Jakob Palm was finally born. They laid him on me and I thought, "Wow, what a fatty. How did I manage to have such a big baby inside me?"

Elias Jakob Palm was finally born. They laid him on me and I thought, “Wow, what a fatty. How did I manage to have such a big baby inside me?”

Yes, it’s true that you forget about the labour. That is, until the epi wears off, your undies are packed with ice and you can hardly walk, let alone sit or let anything touch your womanhood. The pain in the weeks and dare I say MONTHS following birth does not allow you to forget as it is a brutal reminder of what your body went through to bring forth life.

I wish I could say I was fully recovered from birth after the standard six-week time frame so universally spoken of in the medical profession. But NO, life is a bitch and for whatever reason, us women are just punished further, way beyond the labour pains. I had post-partum haemorrhaging, infected stitches, mastitis and thrush in my breasts, chronic pain from the episiotomy, a bruised tailbone and serious bladder control issues. Being challenged on a physical was manageable, as I knew that in time I would naturally heal.

However, PND isn’t quite the same. In fact, there are no guarantees when the thick, dark cloud will make its departure and piss off. Who knows if and when I would ever see the light of day again? You just wait and hope. I thought Baby Blues was meant to last a week or so, but these intense feelings of sadness, hopelessness, anger and fear were relentless. PND was not going away without a fight.

I have only several photos and one video in Elias’ first month, because I spent the majority of time grieving the eternal loss of freedom whilst resenting the insurmountable responsibility that now lay upon us. It’s a paradox in every possible way; the inexpressible love for your child, but the hate of this new life riddled with non-stop lactation, cries, colic, poo, vomit, rocking, arguments as to how to settle the baby and eye-rolling over lame-ass Huggies commercials showing flawless mothers doting on their spawn in slow motion.

Huggies Commercial: WTF? Was this before or after you peed directly in my eye?

Huggies Commercial: WTF? Was this before or after you peed directly in my eye?

For every mother, this transition is probably one of the most difficult in life. Every woman responds differently and that’s totally OK. For some, they take it in their stride and as they collect more tiny humans, it becomes like clockwork. For others (like me), we go bat shit cray-cray and end up winging it while suffering with a tumultuous mental illness that extends beyond months and into years.

Though I have graduated from the tenacious tentacles of PND, PTSD and OCD, it still comes back from time-to-time to remind me that I’m an imperfect human being, tasked to raise a little person who will also one day do the same. Elias will soon turn two and I can honestly say, I still have no idea what I’m doing and I’m 100% OK with that.

parenting-no-idea

Elias will soon turn two and I can honestly say, I still have no idea what I’m doing and I’m 100% OK with that.

This story is to be continued in Part II, which will be released as soon as I get a minute to myself to write it.

 

Modern Motherhood and Mental Illness is part of a blog series uncovering the ups and downs of my personal two-year journey battling PND, PTSD and OCD. Please stay tuned for Part II in this series!

 

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