!! TRIGGER WARNING: CONTENT CONTAINS INFORMATION ABOUT A TRAUMATIC BIRTH !!
I had my first miscarriage when I was 15. It wasn’t a bad thing and I didn’t think much of it at the time. Then, when I was 19 and my partner and I decided to have a baby, I never thought it would happen again. We got pregnant our first time trying and we were over the moon. Within a week I began bleeding and lost the baby. My heart hurt more than I ever thought possible. I fell out with my family because I was just so angry all the time. Ten months later, I still hadn’t had a period and I still wasn’t pregnant. I was literally on pause, a not very well-known side effect of having a miscarriage. Fast forward 16 months and I was pregnant again! I cried, but it wasn’t happy tears. I was terrified. Every bit of spotting throughout my whole 9 months of pregnancy and I assumed the worst.
With every ache and twinge I panicked. I spent multiple nights crying. I decided then and there that I had suffered enough loss and it wouldn’t happen again.
Then Covid hit and hospital appointments were cancelled from 36 weeks. I went 9 days overdue and finally I had my baby. After 3 days in labour and an emergency c-section, my baby needed to be resuscitated. I saw this baby girl that I spent 9 months growing and loving for all of 5 minutes before she was flown across the country. I got left behind because they couldn’t risk me bringing Covid. I had no cough and no symptoms. I had spent weeks isolating and there was no way I had Covid.
She was put on a cooling mat to lower her body temperature and try to stop her seizures. A week later, she finally woke up and I got to hold her for the first time. She went for an MRI to assess the extent of her brain damage and then we got transferred to the hospital back home. After another 2 weeks in the hospital, she was finally let out and she got to meet her daddy for the first time.
The first week was torture. There was constant stress with weekly weigh-ins and appointments with an early intervention team to see if she would need help in any areas. My heart broke at every appointment. I remember one appointment when I just sat and cried the entire time. At the time I blamed the doctor, I thought he had been rude and mean. To be fair, he was, but I see now it was my own pain that I projected onto him. As time went by, she had no problems but I still worried. It’s only now in the past 6 months or so that I truly believe she will be okay and have no additional needs.
When she was about 6 months old, I just couldn’t shake the depression. I remember thinking, ‘what’s wrong with you? Your baby is here and she’s alive, she’s a true miracle to say the very least.’ So why was I so sad? I believed I was wishing bad on her by being sad. After 7 months I spoke to my doctor. She was just surprised it had taken me so long to come to see her, she had expected the depression to hit straight after the birth, due to the trauma. That’s when she first prescribed me medication to help with the anxiety and depression. I felt so much better after. But I gradually took myself off medication.
More time passed and when she was around 2 years and a few months, I noticed I just had no patience for her. I tried to follow gentle parenting, but every day I was shouting more and had less patience. I got to the stage where I was looking at her and believed I hated her. Again, I felt guilty. I distanced myself from everyone, from my family. I argued with my partner. I went back to the doctor and went back on medication, and now I have so much more patience and love for my little girl again. I find joy in her every day, when I could only see her as a hindrance a few months ago.
Becoming a mother was absolutely not what I expected, not what I had been told by other mothers, and I feel like more people need to know how truly hard it is with the constant mom-guilt and the fears you feel for the child. How you can love them so much it hurts while still wanting to run away screaming and crying.
WOW! THAT’S SOME STORY TONI. AFTER EVERYTHING YOU HAVE BEEN THROUGH, HOW HAVE YOU CHANGED AS A PERSON?
I think I’m definitely more realistic on my outlook of life. I don’t always expect everything to just go hunky-dory now. I realized that in life, things can go wrong.
It definitely made me realize how strong I am as a person too, because I didn’t think I could cope when it first happened. I was thinking, ‘I can’t do this! I can’t cope with this!’ But then within a week I was calmer and it was what it was. And there’s nothing I could do to change it. I realized I can cope with a lot.
I was told that she may suffer with health issues long-term. And that she could need physical therapy. I tried my hardest to do research and prepare so that I could do the best for her.
I think everything I went through just made me appreciate her that much more.
It also desensitized me a lot, so now when something goes wrong I’m just like ‘oh well’. But beforehand I would have been crying at the slightest little thing.
DID YOU FEEL SUPPORTED DURING YOUR PPD? WHO WAS YOUR GREATEST SUPPORT? AND DID YOU FEEL SUPPORTED BY YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER?
My mom and my partner were great. Even now, whenever I feel burned out, they’ll take Alice and play with her for a while. Mum takes her overnight often and that’s also really helpful. She always has done that for me. It made me feel like my own person again – not just someone’s mother. I was definitely supported a lot by my doctor, she was great. She would ring me every two weeks to check in and see how I was doing.
Actually when I first had Alice, the health nurse came out every week to weigh her. They said that she was too small, but she wasn’t. And every week she would sit down and talk to me about postpartum depression. She told me to expect it after I experienced a birth like that.
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION ABOUT PPD? HOW CAN WE EDUCATE PEOPLE MORE ON THIS SUBJECT? AND DO YOU THINK WE CAN DO MORE IN OUR SOCIETY TO HELP WOMEN SUFFERING AFTER CHILDBIRTH?
I was always told that when someone has postpartum depression, they want to kill their kids. That that was it. That was all that I knew about it, that someone wanted to harm their child. And when I had it, I just didn’t like her. I didn’t want to harm her, but I didn’t like her. I think that people really need to talk about that. Because if I said to someone, “I feel like I actually don’t like my child,” they would say, “what is wrong with you, you idiot, you’re completely wrong! You love her!”.
I do think people need to talk about that more. I think when someone first has a baby, everyone flocks all around them, and it’s great. But it’s not always in the beginning when PPD happens. It can be months down the line. That’s when people need to start paying more attention to the mother, instead of the child. Baby groups all stopped during COVID and I think that they would have helped me more. They would have just made me feel a bit more supported, even though I was supported by my family etc. I think it would have made me feel a bit more like I’m not alone in this.
Everyone always talks about the sleepless nights, but they never talk about the emotions that the sleepless nights cause. It’s like all your emotions just go into overdrive. You will love that baby so much that it actually hurts. You will feel like crying just looking at them. And you’ll cry when they cry. I remember one time Alice was crying and I just sat on the floor, crying with her. I can’t even think why. My emotions were all over the place.
For someone who’s beginning to experience postpartum depression: you don’t have to feel guilty for not loving your child every minute of the day. You don’t have to do it all alone. Reach out for help! You have to ask people. Even if it’s to take your child for a few hours. You have to look after yourself just as much as you have to look after your child.
Get professional help. Try to not let it get worse, because the worse it gets, the harder it is to get back out of it again. It’s a very deep hole! I’d never be ashamed to ask for help now. A lot of people seem to think, ‘its my child, I should do everything’. You can do the majority, but it’s OK to have help. It really does take a village to raise a child. I would almost even say a small town. They’re a lot of work.
YOU MENTIONED MEDICATION HELPED YOU. WHAT OTHER METHODS ARE THERE AVAILABLE BESIDES OR IN ADDITION TO MEDICATION?
The medication definitely helped me. I’ve suffered with depression on and off for years and I just knew that I was in too deep.
Simple things can really help. There’s a lot that can be said for just going on a walk or spending time outside. I actually found gardening quite relaxing. I couldn’t even tell the difference between a weed and a plant. I still can’t really. [laughs] But it helps. A coffee with friends…just to get out and about really helps. Get out of your routine, your little rut that you’re in. Baby groups are a great way to make new friends as well. It’s just mommy’s looking for friends. If you’re the first one out of your group of friends to have a baby, you’re going to be lonely. I think you’re going to be lonely either way, really. Because if your friends have babies then they’re busy with them, if your friends don’t have babies, then they’re just busy living their lives.
What else? Meditation is great! It’s not really my thing, but my mom is mad about it. And going to a therapist and talking. It’s helpful.
I think it’s hard to pinpoint just one moment. I’d say every time I came out of an appointment and they said that they had no concerns. I just thought that she was amazing. I thought she was the strongest baby ever. Even now that she’s a toddler, I still feel the same level of pride. And for myself, I’d say it was when she came home. No, actually, it was when I’d stopped pumping. I just thought some people don’t put in any effort at all. They’ll try and then they just say it’s not for them or whatever, which is fair enough. It wasn’t for me either, but I made sure it worked. So I’m very proud of that, that I could give her the best start.
What products could… ANTONIA BURNS not parent without?
The mandela handheld pump – I thought that was absolutely amazing. I exclusively pumped for six months and I used that every day. I had the double suction electric hospital grade one for a month, just to boost my supply. But then after that, I swapped onto that handheld pump and it was magic. But then that was a lot of work, so when we switched to formula, I have to say the Tomee Tippee prep machine was absolutely amazing.
Also, I thought ALDI nappies were just absolutely great! Better than Pampers. And Fairy pods for the baby clothes.