My journey is one of many revelations that resulted from falling into the depths of the darkness of perinatal depression and anxiety after having BOTH of my beautiful boys. They were the MOST harrowing experiences of my life and whilst I am grateful to be a transformed version of myself, I feel this urgent need to help other women navigate their way through this path and to smash through all of the stigma and misconceptions.
PNDA does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter how educated, wealthy, or prepared for motherhood you are. It is not this simplistic misconception of ‘not being able to cope’ but rather a biochemical cascade caused by a HUGE hormonal drop post-birth that has the ability to take over your body, mind, and soul… It has the power to destroy lives and relationships with the stress and strain that it places on families. Its ability to claw its way into every facet of your life is real, painstaking, and unspoken.
As a Pharmacist I knew all of the signs in ‘theory’ and yet when it came pounding on my door 5 days after having our first son in Cairns, I disappeared into being vacant, incognisant, and unable to function or make any decisions. My body was there but the essence of me; my joy, emotions, and ability to think and have a conversation instantly vanished.
I had a recurring loop of regret, wishing I hadn’t had a baby even though he was so wanted and loved every moment up until day 5. Like a flick of a switch, I had left the building.
I felt hopeless. Alone. Scared. Empty. I could not switch my mind off with my incessant anxiety which felt like knives cutting into my chest. I would imagine running away and I could not eat a thing or sleep at all. Every hour felt like a year as I struggled with simple tasks. I remember staring blankly in the wardrobe for an hour to choose something to wear or take 45 minutes to make a bottle.
I denied telling the child health nurse how I was feeling because I was so fearful of what would happen to me or my baby. I was scared I would get locked away or have my baby taken away. As an Australian-born Indian woman, I feel like there is so much stigma attached to mental health that being silenced into the shame and guilt was easier than standing up and reaching out for help. As a health professional, I was scared of getting de-registered for seeking help… and it was FEAR that kept me silenced for so long when my whole world was crashing down all around me.
It wasn’t until my 6-week appointment that my OB saw that I desperately needed help and referred me to a specialist…no ifs or buts. I blamed myself for having PNDA from gaining too much weight, not working right until the end, having family so far away, living in a dark apartment, having an emergency C-section after a long and failure to progress labour, which I blamed for causing my inability to breastfeed successfully. My Type A personality needed to place logic and reason as to why it had happened to me.
Through CBT and two medication changes, at exactly 11-weeks I woke up one morning and I felt like I had unzipped a black suffocating bag enveloping me and walked back into my real self. The moment I heard Ari cry I jumped out of bed and cried with joy instead of my usual hiding under the blanket wishing him to stop. I felt freedom and joy again. My heart could feel and my mind could think clearly!
I was petrified to have a second child and did a lot of healing, inner work of forgiveness, and surrender before embarking upon it again. I had a harder pregnancy but I was adamant to change every variable so that I wouldn’t get PNDA again. I gained one third the amount of weight, I did Hypnobirthing, aimed for and had a VBAC, did yoga and exercised daily, worked until the end, went to ABA meetings to form a community to help me breastfeed, lived in a bright big house in Perth and had our family come early before the baby was born.
Despite ALL of this and being absolutely euphoric at his birth, exactly on day 5 I snapped from my bright, bubbly self into this dark, absent, unable to think, feel, or decide being…yet, this time it was SO much worse. I had severe suicidal ideations, an angry 4-year-old who just could not understand what happened to me and the tension in the home was palpable. My world felt like a huge vortex of pain and darkness despite having a dream baby in every respect.
I went onto medication much sooner this time but I still couldn’t eat, sleep for the entire duration and the anxiety was ALL encompassing. Eventually at 11-weeks exactly, with medication changes and CBT, I again jumped back into my true self one morning with the darkness disappearing completely. As if someone had removed a cloak from over my head and I could breathe and see the light finally!
I feel it is my duty to support other women along this journey now when all I felt was alone and scared. I want to use my voice to break the stigma and fear associated with it and to offer support tools to help navigate through it with more ease and lightness.
The hardest part for me was not knowing how long I would be unwell and I want to give women hope to hold on…because the light will come. I am so grateful I held on because I would have missed out on so many sacred and beautiful moments with my boys and in life if I didn’t.
I savour every second with them now and motherhood has been so bountiful to my soul. By reaching the depths of the trenches through no fault of my own, I no longer sweat the small stuff and I am filled with gratitude, grace, and humility that we are fallible and it is OK to fall. It is in the rising up where all the sweetness lies and I promise that you will feel it too. Hold on. Reach out and never give up.