My journey into motherhood was not what I had imagined. I come from a family of strong-willed women, and my diagnosis of PNDA certainly took me by surprise.
Lily came into the world after a long labor which ended in an emergency cesarean. Our Obstetrician couldn’t find a cause for distress as everything looked healthy once she came out.
I had requested my placenta be kept for burial and unfortunately, it was accidentally thrown in the bin. I felt disrespected but had Lily on my chest so quickly put it to the back of my mind. Placenta burial is common practice in my (Aboriginal) culture. It connects us to Mother Earth, and then later connects us to our Ancestors.
When I left the hospital, things spiraled quickly. I was crying every day. Lily wouldn’t sleep, my entire body was burning in pain every day, Lily screamed most days and I felt lonely. The baby blues didn’t leave.
Breastfeeding was difficult, we saw a lactation consultant, GP, and child and family health nurses, but in the end I gave up. I’m thankful I tried everything. Formula was the best decision and I remember the night we got our first tin.
I was in hysterics and mum called. She said J she’s either in pain from the reflux, tired or hungry. Let’s rule out hungry. I didn’t have it in me to keep trying the breast. I had been doing it all day and was in pain.
Mum said you live in Sydney and Coles is open till late. I’ll do research on what formula Coles have and let’s go from there, they close at midnight.
It’s 10pm, and Lily is still unsettled. I strapped Lily into the carrier and my partner and I walked up to Coles. We go to the baby aisle and both feel daunted. Mum calls and we decide which formula and bottle to buy together.
We get home, and have no idea how to sterilize a bottle or how much to make up for Lily. Eventually, we made up 60mls and she absolutely smashed it then slept for almost the entire night. She was hungry. I was starving her. The guilt came flooding back again. I couldn’t birth her vaginally, I couldn’t feed her, I couldn’t get her to sleep, what’s next?
I was experiencing intrusive thoughts every day. When I would walk with Lily along the beautiful bush tracks I would start panicking thinking red bellies would attack me. What if a snake chased me, I imagined running, tripping over, and dying (from the snake bite) and no one would know where we were or hear Lily crying on my chest in the carrier.
On other days, I would be driving and start thinking that I would crash the car down a hill into a brick wall. The thoughts got worse and I would start picturing blood, broken bones, and screams from Lily.
These things sound crazy but the thoughts and images were so clear in my mind, it was terrifying and eventually made me too scared to go bushwalking.
Every day I’d wake up and feel like my brain was covered in clouds, I couldn’t think properly. My body felt heavy, I was sad about everything, I felt horrible, lonely, and not myself. I missed my old life so badly. Depression felt like a deep hole I couldn’t get myself out of.
My mobile phone was set to “do not disturb” for at least 12 months after Lily was born. I didn’t want any sound to wake her on the days she did eventually give up and sleep.
I ignored messages and calls and simply blocked myself off from everyone.
I saw countless health care professionals for postpartum care and no one escalated the help I truly needed. I appeared well but was breaking inside. Another day passed, and I was sitting on the kitchen floor crying again, googling how I could get help that didn’t cost a fortune.
I came across Gidget Foundation Australia and booked an appointment straight away to see my GP for a referral.
I clearly remember my first appointment at Gidget House. I had just dropped my then 8-month-old Lily at daycare and emotions were running high for the both of us.
The separation at drop-off was filled with tears from her at the door and tears from me in the car as I left her. I drove to Gidget House hoping I would get the help I needed.
I was assigned to a beautiful psychologist who made me feel welcome but most importantly, felt seen and understood. I had been going through this alone for 8 months and I was literally falling apart.
I birthed off country and my postpartum experience was sadly traumatic which led to a decline in my mental health. Since I didn’t get to take my placenta home, Lily’s umbilical cord will be buried in a special place that will spiritually connect her to my Nan. My girl will always know her connection to the country of our ancestors and the country she was birthed on.
When we moved house, Lily was 4 months old, I was in the trenches of PNDA trying to adjust to motherhood. Every day I noticed kookaburras were on the back fence, the clothesline or the deck. Not 1 kookaburra, I’m talking 3 or 4 of them. They are always around us and not shy about coming close.
One of my totems is the kookaburra, the protector. My Aunty told me things will get better, look around, the kookaburra means protection and kinship. They are always around you and Lily.
One day I heard this odd noise in the house. I checked each room and got to Lily’s room, a kookaburra was calmly sitting on her bedroom floor, he or she started squawking, and then out came the familiar cackling laugh.
Thankfully my partner was home and we safely got the kookaburra outside again. I like to think the strong presence of kookaburras around my family is a sign of powerful healing and safety.
If you’re having a tough time, look around you, and connect with country, it has so much to give. Soak your face in sunshine, really listen to the birds around you, listen to the leaves rustling in the trees and listen to country, we call this Dadirri.
Country is everything, it’s family, it’s life and it’s connection.