Postnatal Depression and Anxiety

Written by Grace Stringer

CW/TW: depression, anxiety

I felt the depression slowly seeping in while pregnant with my first child. We were struggling. We were struggling a lot. We had no place to call home, no money, nothing.

Surreal photography by Gabriel Isak

I had to quit my job as I was too ill to work from the morning sickness. We moved in with so called “friends” all to be told how useless we were and I already had some anxiety thinking people would judge us for bringing a child into this world when we were in no position to care and provide for it. I didn’t have much support during my pregnancy as my network must have seen it as me rebelling. But it wasn’t, it was our decision to have a child and when we planned it we were in a great position. Clearly it didn’t work out that way.

We eventually got on our feet and got a house and had money coming in. Everything was perfect. The feeling I had before eventually faded. I had a lot of support from my family then. We had our beautiful little boy but then, just like that, the support stopped and the father had to go back to work a week after I gave birth because we couldn’t afford for him to take time off. That’s when I started to really struggle. All my “support” just disappeared. I was stuck 30 km out of town with no license and a new born baby, it was hard. I was completely new to it all, and I said to myself everyday that “tomorrow will be better, everyone said the newborn stage is the hardest.” Well, weren’t they wrong. I felt like a stranger in my own body, I didn’t recognise my own reflection in the mirror. I felt alone even though I wasn’t alone. I couldn’t take a shower everyday. I couldn’t keep up with the house work. My baby was crying all the time as if he didn’t want me. He was constantly on me, I couldn’t put him down, I didn’t know what he wanted. No one was there to help me, no one told me how to do anything and I wasn’t prepared. It took a really big toll on me and drained every ounce of energy I had. I wasn’t eating properly so I thought I wasn’t supplying enough milk. It was pushed onto me so much that I had to breastfeed, so I did breast feed, but then everyone kept telling me how small he was, that he needed to put more weight on, even though the midwives and child health nurses kept telling me he was healthy. It got to me a lot and made me stress and stress and stress and back then I didn’t know that if I was stressed then the baby would get stressed as well and so he continued to constantly cry at me nonstop. I could not escape it and didn’t want to bother anyone else by asking for help because they had already let me down when he was born. In those first two weeks… everyone let me down.

Everyone who told me they would come watch him while I take a 30 minute nap or at least have something to eat or take a shower to properly clean myself, but no one came, so I didn’t bother asking for help when I really needed it. Some days I would just cry while he was screaming at me. I felt guilty bringing him into this world where I can’t keep my shit together, even for his sake. Every chance I got I would push him off to his father because I couldn’t deal with him. I was never good enough for his needs, he wasn’t happy with me. Maybe I didn’t show him enough affection. That hasn’t always been a strong spot for me, I’m not the most affectionate person. I loved him more than anything but I just felt I was doing everything wrong.

As he got older the thoughts in my head where always along the lines of: 

“Does he love me?”

“I don’t deserve to be a mother”

 “Why does he hate me so much”

 “Why isn’t he gaining weight” 

“He’s not like those chubby babies I see everywhere”

“Is he getting enough milk” 

“There must be something wrong with me if he cries this much” 

It goes on and on but I think you get the point. 

Eventually the house became my safe place, I didn’t want anyone there and I didnt want to leave or go outside. Even though looking at the state of the house made me more and more depressed it was still a place I didn’t want to leave because if I went out in public he would just cry at me the whole time. I started to feel like it was normal to live this way and eventually I could live with it. This became who I was as a person. Anxiety.

My child actually helped me with my fear of public places if we were to go shopping or some place other than the house but that didn’t sit well with my depression, even going to my parents place. I always try my best to make sure my parents are proud of me so if he played up and started screaming at me and I couldn’t control it, I’d get embarrassed or ashamed. I’d feel like I’m disappointing them because I can’t ‘control’ my kid. My head was still thinking he didn’t love me or want me so it was a battle in my mind, each side attacking the other so much that I would start hyperventilating and having an anxiety attack. Then, of course he would start stressing and fussing. In short, I was a mess.

When he was 8 months old, we fell pregnant again. I hated being pregnant because we had a shit pregnancy the first time around, but i had a good feeling this time. We had moved into a new place and had even better income than before so everything finally felt like it was coming together. But of course, I still had guilt and regrets.

“What if it’s the same as last time?”

I was scared, so I pushed everyone away and everything came back to square one again. I didn’t leave the house, our baby would scream and cry at me. He would never smile at me or be excited to see me but then again that could be because I never have a smile on my face either. Though even when I did, he still wouldn’t react towards me, so i thought maybe he would just hate me for the rest of my life. I pushed him away and my fiancé away. I would have random breakdowns but I would be angry and then I would cry. Everything felt heavy, I would think, the house is a mess, no one wants me here, it would be better if I just went to sleep and didn’t wake up. Maybe then they will live a happy life. The air always felt thick and my head was always cloudy, and everything just echoed around me 24/7. I was drowning in my own thoughts, it felt like I was going down a dark hole that I wouldn’t be able to get out of. I felt like I was a burden to everyone, like i was asking for too much if I were to ask if they could watch the kids for 15 minutes so I can do the dishes or put a load of washing on. Most nights I wouldn’t go to bed until 2 in the morning because I felt guilty all day long for not being a good mum or housewife so I would stay up and clean and clean and clean until I could see my face shining off the floors so everyone would wake up in the morning and be happy to wake up to a clean home.

I think the only reason I would distract myself doing those things all night is because I was dreading to go to sleep because I knew I had to wake up in the morning to a baby that hated me. I never had a house routine. It was never a clean home with dinner cooked and all the clothes washed. It was either a clean house and nothing else or dinner cooked and no clean house or maybe some days it was just the washing. I remember one time when I had just given birth someone said to my partner “how can you raise a baby with the house a mess all the time” which really got to me. No one really understands how such little comments can really push someone under, that little tiny comment has stuck with me until this day and my second child is now 4 months old. It’s been playing over and over again in my mind this whole time. The thing is my home isn’t just for MY family, it has to live up to everyone else’s expectations as well.

Finally, I got help

I’ve only ever been down that dark hole once and I knew for sure I did not want to go back. So one day I ran a nice bath and I sat down in it and stayed in there for a very long time thinking and letting my thoughts consume me. There was hope and something snapped me out of it, I was bringing another life into this world. I felt so selfish, how could I be having these thoughts with a child inside of me. After that I reached out to a close friend and she helped to get the help and support I needed. I have never met a person as loving and supportive as her. That is when I came out to friends and family with what I struggled with. No one knew anything about it, no one had any idea.

Show you support for those struggling with depression by donating to Amy’s Beyond Blue fundraiser. Even the smallest donation goes a long way towards raising awareness and helping break the stigma around mental health!

https://fundraise.beyondblue.org.au/lameystringerdonations

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