The first three weeks of my son’s life were bizaare. I didn’t sleep, I was exhausted and constantly questioning everything.
Sounds like any other Mum right? Well I had a bit of a different experience.
When I say that I didn’t sleep… I mean I Did.Not.Sleep. For six days. I lie. I slept, with the use of phenergan (after pumping breastmilk for a feed for him and enlisting the help of someone I trusted) for 40 mins on day four and 1 hour and 20 mins on day five.
The day before I gave birth I had four hours sleep. So in over a week I collectively had six hours sleep. Makes you feel loopy just reading about it huh?
Well let me go back a notch. I suffered from anxiety and depression back in my teenage years relating to study. I always wanted to be perfect… to be able to control everything. I got my OP 2 and I wanted to be the best. I would cry when I got an A-. I would break down (to the point of threatening to commit suicide) if I didn’t think I could ace an exam.
I eventually left Uni and became a happier, more balanced person… Or so I thought.
When I fell pregnant with Cameron I started getting that urge for control again… the anxiety again. I felt I was going to lose my baby. I was always at the hospital. More than I admitted. Getting scans, CTG monitoring, etc. Every day I would look for things that could indicate that something was wrong.
After his birth I was on cloud nine. I had my baby boy. I did it! I gave birth to my son and he was happy and mine and safe. I was soooo protective of him. I let people hold him but the whole time I felt like I was missing something.
I wanted to watch him all the time. So I did.
The funny thing is (well… not funny… but you know what I mean) that I was so functional. The home was perfect, my hair was washed and tidy, I ate super well and got more than what was needed done (on day 3 we were in the city racing around getting his birth registered, birth cert and medicare card… *face palm*)
Therefore I thought I was doing great. I put it down to normal anxiety… normal lack of sleep for a new Mum and was convinced that the birth hormones were enough for me to keep going on for a while.
Then my body started showing the signs of insomnia… First it was easy things – blurry vision, dry mouth (despite drinking litres of water from breastfeeding) but it soon progressed to hallucinations (at night I would look at Mike and see Cameron’s head where his head was and same with my sister and her daughters face). I would babble in my head… Utter nonsense, for HOURS… playing games in my head. Counting. ANYTHING to keep me awake while my body completely shut down.
I felt like everything I was experiencing meant I was sick or dying (I was scared of getting sick or dying & not being able to care for Cam. I was constantly calling 13 Health asking little things about Cameron – convinced he was sick or worried about him.
I feared sleeping. I would get anxious as I began to get more tired during the day. I would get tingling down my arms and in my mouth. Then on day 5 I had my first anxiety attack.
I had NO idea what it was. I had had panic attacks in the past but this was a combination of sleep deprivation and anxiety so it was bizaare. I felt like I had been sedated… I felt like there was poison in my veins and I struggled to breath from mere lack of energy. Then my heart would pound, I would shake and have this over-whelming feeling that I was dying.
We called the ambulance. Then as the ambulance was coming my husband found out that his cousin had passed away. It was the worst night. That’s all I can say.
On day six I decided to get help… to see my GP and get medication for the attacks. She gave me anti-depressants (because anxiety is part of the umbrella of depression) which I could breastfeed with and low-dose anti-anxiety pills and have a very mild sedation.
The anti-depressants take a minimum of 2 weeks to work so the anti-anxiety pills were meant to help me sleep in the meantime.
So I went home and took the pills but had a huge anxiety attack. I called my sister because I felt my body was shutting down & that I couldn’t take care of Cammy. I was so scared and felt so tortured.
I called an ambulance and they said there would be a massive wait. I lay there feeling like I was dying and wishing I had the strength to kill myself. I believed that Cameron deserved better than me. I felt so much guilt over my anxiety and I felt insane.
The ambulance team kept calling and asking if I had got any better. This went on for ages before I told my sister that I didn’t care anymore. I was just going to cut myself open and bleed. That would make it better. I wanted so desperately to punish myself for not being perfect for Cameron.
I figured that he was so perfect… So amazing… If I wasn’t all he needed (which I felt I wasn’t) then he was better off without me. The ambulance team called again and my sister grabbed the phone off me and said “just hurry up and get here… she’s suicidal… what more do you want?”… magically they were on our doorstep.
The night that ensued was crazy. I went to the hospital that I gave birth in and was treated as a post-partum patient even though I should have technically been at a mental health unit (which this hospital doesn’t have) so they were in contact with another hospital the whole time.
The whole night was a blur. Cameron was being formula fed and Mike was sleep deprived himself and having to hold it together while watching me go through hell.
The doctors kept asking if I still had suicidal thoughts and I’m so glad I could be honest. I told them each time through tears that if I could (I was so weak) I absolutely would. I cried and apologised to Cameron and Mike constantly. It felt like eternity in that hospital but it was only overnight.
They got heavy sedatives sent over from a nearby hospital after talking to the mental health unit there. It took 3 hours from the decision for them to arrive. They had two sublingual tablets and administered them separately just in case I had a reaction and because I’d never taken sedatives before aside from drowsy-antihistamines.
They gave me the first dose and I felt drowsy so quickly. My whole body felt like it was sleeping but my mind just wouldn’t stop. It was in this constant state as though I was in danger. It was so bizaare. I kept asking “why aren’t they working?” “please let me sleep”.
I was scared of taking them but also scared of staying awake and feeling this tortured. I took the second one and as I started to fall asleep I saw I thought I heard Cameron scream so I woke up with a massive anxiety attack where I screamed the hospital down and people came running and talked me through it while stopping me from hurting myself. The only thing that calmed me down was telling me that I was waking Cameron.
A beautiful midwife stayed back with me. Throughout the night she held me hand, made me cups of tea, talked to me about things like pets to keep me feeling sub-normal.
Later on in the morning I got 1 hour and 45 mins sleep then I was transfered to another hospital where I was assessed and they gave me sedatives and explained that I would need help throughout the nights while I got decent sleep. Because Mike was back at work I got help from my sister.
The anxiety attacks didn’t stop over the next week. They were always at night. Almost always when I was about to fall asleep because I had such a fear of losing Cammy. I felt as though he would die if I wasn’t caring for him.
I started thinking I was a bad Mum… that I wasn’t good enough for him. I even remember thinking that I should give Cameron to someone else so that he would get the very best because I didn’t feel that was me.
I resented my husband. He could sleep. He didn’t worry about not waking up. He didn’t worry about Cameron all the time. I felt like he was incapable of caring for him. I always got angry at him. He seemed so unprepared at the time. I felt that he took too long changing Cam or that he let him get too cold at bath time (when I let him bath him).
I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone with him. I grew to rely on my sister because she was the only person I could trust at the time.
For those 2 weeks I stayed at my sisters house and waited for my meds to kick in whilst taking care of Cam for as many feeds throughout the night. My anxiety slowly decreased to a normal level for me but I started to get depressed. Postnatal depression (postpartum depression) is such a horrible thing – it takes away so much from what should be a lovely time.
I could tell the warning signs… lack of motivation, loss of appetite, I just didn’t care. I looked at Mike and felt nothing. I hate to admit it but I just didn’t know how to feel about Cam. I knew deep down that Mike and Cam were my world but I couldn’t feel it. I felt nothing towards them. I was completely numb.
All I could feel was hate toward myself. I hated everything about myself. I began to wish I didn’t exist. I felt weak… stupid… useless.
Thankfully around Cammy’s third week the meds began to work. I felt like eating, showering, cuddling Cammy. I felt over-whelming love for my boys (like I knew I did all along… but it’s amazing what the mind can do). I felt more natural. I still had anxiety and questioned myself as a Mumma but what new Mum doesn’t?
Since then I’ve only got better and better. Coming home and getting a routine has been the best thing. Giving up on doing it all freed me to just enjoy being a Mumma. So I proudly have a washing pile that needs folding/ironing sitting around. I have a mattress out in the lounge that we sleep on to be in the air-con near the kitchen for his feeds. The floors aren’t done and all rooms are messy that can be closed. I just keep the kitchen and dining tidy for guests and let it be.
I absolutely love being a Mumma. I am so glad to be free of the over-whelming fear. I obviously still do all I can to protect my little Cam-burger but I sleep when I can at night and cherish every moment with my boy. He is so gorgeous and I can’t believe that he is a month old!
I wish that I didn’t have to go through what I did but I’m glad that it happened so early and that I was so proactive (and still am) in seeking help.
I urge every pregnant woman to know the warning signs and for their spouses to too. It’s all too common and such a difficult thing to admit that you’re not coping. But you can get through it and it is no reflection on your strength or ability to be a great Mum.