Saturday, 17 November 2012

PANDA - It's not all black and white

It's Post Natal Depression Awareness Week and as a blogger, every now and again you're given the opportunity to write about something that really matters. When I was sent the email about Post Natal Depression Awareness (PANDA) I started reflecting on my own thoughts and ideas about Pre and Post Natal Depression.

Did I have it? No. Did I always know I didn't have it? No. Here's my story...

When I discovered I was pregnant I didn't know what to feel. I knew this was the next step in my life. That this is naturally where my life should be headed, but I was more scared than anything else.

When morning sickness set in, I had no idea what I was in for. I spent weeks running out of a classroom to meet and greet the staffroom toilet and wash my face, silently wishing the bloodshot look in my eyes from crying would disappear. Often, I couldn't get myself out of bed. I took a lot of time off work and I spent days on end crying. Crying because I felt guilty for taking time off, crying because I felt sick, crying because I was doubting whether I could go through with it. I didn't know how long the morning sickness would last. I was scared of being that way, forever. I started to wonder whether I had Pre Natal Depression. I googled. But I spoke to no-one.

My hormones were like waves in an ocean though, and before long, the tide was down, and those feel-good hormones started to take over as the morning sickness dissipated. I was pregnant. I was woman. And I felt good.

Then the waves started to get pretty high again. I was tired. Exhausted. I was having difficulty going to work each day. I nearly passed out in front of a parent. There's that guilt again. Feeling guilty that I couldn't handle my work load. I swallowed my pride and spoke to my boss and a lighter load was given to me until I was ready to take my leave. I was grateful and things started to be OK. We were moving into our new home. A baby was on its way. Small waves of excitement entered my heart as I saw my little man grooving on my obstetrician's ultrasound screen.

Eventually, the day came and baby was here. I was tired but I was content. But again, I didn't know what I was in for. He was 9 pound 4. Born hungry. I was exhausted and had no milk. While other babies snoozed during the night, waking to feed and sleeping again, my baby was screaming in hunger. I didn't know it was hunger at the time. I buzzed for nurses who paced the halls with him while they urged me to get some sleep.

Eventually it was discovered that he was indeed, hungry. He had lost more than 10% of his birth weight. I finally let loose. The tears rolled. The one thing I needed to do - nourish my baby, and already I was failing. I felt like the Earth was falling out from underneath me. I pretended. People came to visit. Too many people. I smiled. I chatted. Then they left and I cried and cried. I started to hear nurses talking to my obstetrician outside the door. They were talking in hushed voices and I knew there was some concern but when my obstetrician came into talk to me, I told her I would be OK. It would be OK.

We went home and mostly things were not OK. I cried a lot. And I didn't know again. Is this baby blues? Hormones? Depression? All of it? I googled, but again, I spoke to no-one.

And then finally my milk came in, but my baby was colicky. For hours on end my husband and I would rock him. Sometimes my husband wasn't home and I would rock him for up to 5 hours, until both baby and I cried ourselves into an exhaustive sleep.

External pressures started to come in. Having a baby so close to Christmas meant engagements left, right and centre. All of a sudden expectations of having to appear at these engagements, happy and smiling and not at all ridiculously exhausted sent me spiralling into anger and frustration. I just wanted to crawl into my bubble that was my baby and sleep.

Time passed, and things started to ebb and flow. Sometimes they were good, other times they weren't. I cried less and smiled more. I thought to myself that maybe it was just tiredness and hormones. There was also even a sweet 3 months or so where my baby started to sleep a bit better.

That didn't last though and he got heavy and continued to rely on being rocked while pacing the room for every wake. At 9 months old we headed to sleep school. The admissions nurse asked me if I was feeling depressed and I burst into tears. Finally I spoke to someone.

When we got there, they assessed me. I was told that I didn't have depression, but a high level of anxiety and  I was clearly exhausted. I wasn't surprised. But deep down, I was so relieved that this was not Depression. Over the days that I was at Sleep School I got to know some of the mums there who were admitted for Post Natal Depression, and all I could think was how strong they were to ask for help. And why had it taken me this long?

I didn't want the label.
I thought if I was told I was depressed, it would just make me more depressed.
I thought maybe I should just suck it up and get on with it.
I thought so many people have had worse. I had a supportive husband and a beautiful, healthy baby.
I thought Google was enough.
I didn't want to be put on medication

I don't think I had depression. When the baby was happy I was happy. When I was rested, I was good. But I wish I had tried to seek the confirmation early on. I wish I had reached out for support instead of fearing that I would be jumped on and have medication shoved down my throat.

Babies and giving birth changes your entire physical, emotional and spiritual existence. It's not all black and white. The best thing is, if in doubt, reach out - Talk to a professional or call for help. I wish I had.

PANDA, the Post and Ante Natal Depression Association, are the only national organisation in Australia that raises awareness of depression and anxiety during pregnancy and after birth and provide ongoing support services to families to assist in their recovery. 

I'm opening up my Blog with many others. If you have a story to share. Please do.

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