To complain, to admit to struggling, to confess that I was not okay with this deal, that I thought I would enjoy all of this, and didn’t, was unthinkable. What kind of mother didn’t enjoy their baby? I felt like a heartless bitch. Surely there was something wrong with me. Where was the insane love that made all of the hard work okay? I loved my baby so much. I gave him all that I had. But what about me? I was slowly disintegrating.
Who cared if I was losing my mind? Who cared if I was so anxious I couldn’t leave the house for fear I would drop my precious cargo mid transfer from car seat to buggy? Who cared if I was going through a severe identity crisis? I was a mother now. A mother. My body had changed, overnight it seemed, from sexy 24 year old to bloated, saggy, stretchy ‘Host Body’ with designer tiger-scratch stretch marks in all the places that used to be sexy. To me it seemed nobody cared. Except my husband. He cared and understood. But he was exhausted too. And he needed to work.
I needed help. I needed someone to come over and take my baby away. Not forever, though at the time I may have considered it. I really just needed a few hours, even days to sleep, eat, rest, clear my mind.
Sadly the help never really came. Somehow I got through but it wasn’t pretty. There are things that happened: I yelled at my son in the darkest hours and I can never take that back. There are psychotic like episodes, where I couldn’t sleep because: A: I thought someone would break in and steal my baby; B: I thought bugs were crawling all over me; C: I kept dreaming of the labour and how things could have gone wrong.
It was the hardest time in my life.
The help never came because I was too ashamed to ask for it. I was so afraid that people would think I was heartless, cold, mean. When I did finally ask for help I asked the wrong people who didn’t understand what I was going through. One friend simply replied: “Don’t you love your baby?” Yes. Of course I did.
But sometimes love is the easy part. It’s everything else that’s hard.
Technically, for my first son, I did not suffer from PND. I never told a professional that I was ill so my number was never counted. That 13% did not include me. With my second son, I sought help through PND Wellington. They were amazing. I had supportive phone calls, counselling sessions, access to a Facebook group. All of these things helped me to get through the toughest days. But still there was little immediate community support.
When I was at my sickest, I could not get out of bed. I cried all day long. Tears trailed down my cheeks as I walked my son to sleep in his buggy. I couldn’t eat. If I managed to make some food my son would usually wake up before I got to eat it. I needed help. I could barely manage to look after myself let alone another tiny human.
When a person is suffering from any other illness, people come running to help. More often than not that is because those suffering from say, cancer don’t feel ashamed to tell those around them about it. They mention it to their friends, relatives, kid’s teachers. They tell the parents of their kid’s school friends about it. People offer to help, to pick up children from school. Casseroles appear for dinner. The mother in law comes to stay while you are undergoing treatment so you can rest. Get better. Heal. We will get you through this. You will beat this. They say. They watch the baby because you are too sick. Your husband may even stay home on domestic leave. His boss understands – your wife has cancer, that’s awful, take time when you need it.
Why is this not the case for illnesses of the mind? When a person is mentally ill and experiencing a severe bout of symptoms, it can be completely impossible for them to function. They are sick. Proper sick. They can’t do life anymore. All that is possible is bed, perhaps T.V and crying. That is assuming that they are even safe to be left alone.
But there is something about PND that makes a mother get up and show up. Even when she actually shouldn’t. It’s the curse of the martyr mother, the guilt card. Our new role won’t even let us break down like a normal person. It forces us to smile and keep moving. Even when we are breaking inside. Because we have to. There’s a tiny life at stake.
Of course this is fine. If we can get up and keep moving all is well. Until it’s not.
According to Ministry of Health stats, a total of 478 people died from suicide in 2011. 109 of them were female. It is unknown how many of them were mothers or mothers suffering from PND.
We should be able to ask for help. Not just mothers and women but everyone who is battling an invisible disease of the mind. Just like cancer or any other physical sickness, mental illness requires medical treatment and bed rest. It can require medication that has nasty side effects leaving you unable to function. It takes time to get better and sometimes you may relapse. So too like cancer, if left untreated it can be fatal.
The only real difference of the two is nobody will ever tell a person with cancer to “snap out of it.”
I urge anyone who is suffering from depression to reach out. Reach out to anyone you can. Tell them you are suffering. If you are feeling strong enough, tell them you have a mental illness, tell them so that we can normalise depression, anxiety and PND and make people aware that mentally ill people need physical support too. But if you are struggling, at the end of your rope and desperately need help, I encourage you to lie.
Say you have cancer. Tell them it’s treatable. That you will be undergoing medical treatment. Watch as they offer understanding sympathy. As they worry about whether you will pull through. Then when you need them call them. Tell them you are having a hard day. That you could use some support, someone to watch the kids. It’s the cancer.
They will come.
Watch them come.