I can still remember my sticky, sweaty legs sticking to the cold bathroom tiles of our Melbourne home. It was a 35 degree scorching Sunday afternoon and I found myself sitting on the floor next to the bath sobbing, unable to drag myself up again. It took 40 minutes before I had the energy to stand up, and go and face reality. My new reality.
My husband was in our bedroom consoling our six week old son who’d been screaming non-stop for over an hour. The first few months of parenthood for us was relentless. Elliot was a colicky baby who woke up every 45 minutes at night and the sleep deprivation was so torturous it sent me deep into the depths of depression. I struggled to ‘love’ my new role as a mother, I felt resentful, trapped, and regularly wondering, why do people do this? This is supposed to be the ‘happiest’ time of my life, but it was hell.
Becoming a mum rocked me to my core and threw my life and my mental wellbeing into chaos. I have always been a career driven woman, so I found the transition to life at home with a baby incredibly difficult and I felt a dreaded loss of identity. The days my husband left for work, I’d burst into tears when I heard the front door close shut, thinking how lucky he was to be ‘free’.
When my son was six months old, we packed up our entire life in the city, and moved to rural Tasmania to start a farming business. My son was finally sleeping well, and I felt a bit more like myself again, with that dark cloud drifting away. However, moving here meant that overnight, I lost my village. We had no family support here, no friends, and I no longer had access to a mothers group as I’d had in the city. I slipped back into negative thoughts and it wasn’t until I started connecting with other rural mums, who understand the isolation and unique challenges that come with raising kids on the land, that I pulled myself out of that mental slump.
There have been many times in my motherhood journey that I believe I would have benefited from professional help or just talking to someone. And while I never got that help, I did seek it. At one stage I spoke to a regional GP here in Tasmania who organised a mental health care plan for me to see a psychologist in person. The next available appointment at the medical center was a ridiculous 8 weeks away with a counselor only visiting from the local down once a fortnight. When I finally turned up for that appointment, a little hesitant, they turned me away apologising for accidentally booking me in under a ‘podiatry’ appointment. To this day I actually can’t believe they did that. But, this is the same regional GP practice that at one point, had NO doctors available for several weeks, with their only one left having their license suspended. Ah, rural Australia. You still have a long way to go to provide adequate postnatal care and support for rural and regional women.
So I left the medical center that day feeling defeated and completely let down by the system that is supposed to support us, not abandon us. I also thought, oh well, I’m not THAT depressed, there are so many women worse off than me, I’ll be fine. And I was fine. I am fine. But it took a long time, and I wish I’d known about telehealth services and the Gidget Foundation back then.
It took me over two years and two children to finally start feeling better which came from doing a lot of internal work with myself, researching matrescence, and connecting with rural mums from around the country through the online community I created just for them….Motherland.
The statistics around postnatal mental health suggest 1 in 5 new mums struggle, but I think those numbers are much higher. Postnatal depression doesn’t mean you are sitting at home crying all the time, unable to function. I know many women such as myself that are high functioning people who just do a damn good job of getting on with things, even though they are secretly struggling.
Talking about the hard stuff with other mums helped me so much. Reading and listening to people’s experiences is so powerful. Because no matter what you’re going through, you are not alone. You are never alone, even if it feels like it.