With an absolute passion to raise awareness for perinatal anxiety and bring about change for what can be an extremely crippling condition, I am sharing my story of pregnancy and the days and months following my daughter Indie’s birth.
Reflecting back on how much has happened in the 9 months I have been on maternity leave, it wasn’t sitting right with me that the biggest hurdle I have had to face to date was going to be left behind as I stepped back into the corporate world.
How many other mums have been in a similar position, afraid or ashamed of the anxiety they have experienced or are still facing, unbeknown to their workplace of the challenges they faced in the months off work whilst on maternity leave?
If I was to return to work without sharing my journey with my professional network, how could stigmas ever change and mental illness would remain a voodoo topic in the workplace?
It is important to raise awareness and empower other mums to share their stories, reminding them that they are not alone or weak. It is important that the lack of availability in the healthcare system for accessing therapy for anxiety or other mental illnesses is highlighted, with many people having to wait weeks or months to secure an appointment.
From discussions with many other mums, it also appears that the presence of a formal return from maternity leave program needs some focus from employers. Does your business have a robust program, whereby the mums returning to work are actively supported and have the opportunity to discuss what they are feeling before and after returning with a mentor or independent party where they can speak openly?
This is my story…
The birth of my daughter Indie some 8 months ago, was set to be the happiest time of my life and a moment I absolutely longed for.
That overwhelming feeling of happiness that I felt as I met our beautiful baby girl Indie very soon took a steep turn towards being completely overwhelmed by the responsibility of a life and the lack of control I had over the most natural moments in life.
Indie was born without a fully developed sucking reflex which meant she couldn’t feed properly and quickly became extremely unsettled and would scream frequently due to hunger. As a result, I surrendered to medical advice and supplemented Indie’s feeds with formula at only two days old.
During those first two days; the midwives would accompany me during each feed. They were trying to help Indie develop her sucking reflex and tried to relax me as I struggled to do what was supposed to be one of the most natural and primal things a mother would do. Like so many new mums, I was feeling extremely uncoordinated and awkward with breastfeeding and just couldn’t get the hang of it. Indie continued to fuss and cry and lose weight, and I continued to feel anxious and like a failure as my milk supply was reduced as a result.
During my first hospital visit from my Obstetrician, I explained to her that I had what felt like a lump in my throat and I wondered if it was from the excessive vomiting I had endured from an entire pregnancy with the condition of hyperemesis. Not knowing at the time this was a result of anxiety, I had planned to see my GP about it once I was home.
After four nights in the hospital, I still wasn’t confident with the feeds and requested to stay an extra night for additional breastfeeding support. Discharge day arrived and I was feeling extremely anxious about how I would feed my baby when I returned home and began to catastrophise in my head about how could I possibly be responsible for another life when I have no idea what I’m doing?
I became physically unwell, nauseous, and faint as we walked Indie to the car. I tried to put on a brave face and smile as we were taking our baby girl home to introduce her to her new life. I remember I was dry reaching in the car and was so incredibly anxious with raving thoughts about how I would carry this baby upstairs, downstairs, feed her without the help of a midwife, change her and keep her safe.
These physical sensations continued for the next few days and the feeling of being overwhelmed kept me from being able to fall asleep even when Indie was sound asleep. I was so worried about something happening to her.
During a home visit by the community nurse, I mentioned the lump in my throat and she suggested we complete an assessment of how I was feeling mentally and emotionally as she suspected it might be stress-related. To my surprise at the time, my score indicated I was potentially suffering from anxiety and the reality of the situation hit me as I broke down and cried hysterically.
Over the next weeks, the feeding challenges continued and our daughter continued to lose weight, was extremely unsettled, and wouldn’t sleep unless she was nursed. I was put on medication to try and boost my milk supply and when I wasn’t feeding or holding Indie whilst she was sleeping, I was pumping in an attempt to increase my milk supply.
At the advice of the community nurses, I introduced mixed feeding and Indie began having her feeds supplemented by formula. At just over three weeks of age, Indie was struggling to digest the formula and although she was now getting enough food, she was screaming after each feed with unbearable tummy pains.
Those first four weeks saw me barely leave my room. I spent the entire time trying to get Indie to sleep and feed her. I skipped meals and didn’t see sunlight for days. I had completely lost trust in my intuition and was unable to read Indie’s tired signs, as I was just constantly trying to get her to sleep after I fed her. Naturally, she fought this, as she was not tired and needed more stimulation.
During this time I found my anxiety spiraling. I started developing severe panic attacks, struggled to breathe, and became super clammy, my heart was racing, I was faint, nauseous, and could hardly swallow. Some days I couldn’t feed Indie or couldn’t drive, as I was so unwell, spacey, and even jittery.
At times the lump in my throat was so severe that the only way I could calm myself down was to drink soda water as the gassiness reminded me I was still breathing. I kept this beside my bed and some nights would have a sip every few minutes in an attempt to clear my throat.
I was so anxious about being alone with Indie that I had a family member stay with us when my partner wasn’t going to be at home. They were my security blanket and also a way of me trying to get some rest whilst they looked after Indie. When they were looking after Indie downstairs, I still couldn’t relax. I lay on the bed upstairs completely tensed, waiting for a cry from Indie. I tried meditation and mindfulness, but nothing seemed to help get me out of this “stuck” state.
Instead of embracing every minute I had with my baby that I loved so dearly, I spent the entire day counting down the hours until her bedtime, in the hope that I might get a couple of hours sleep that night. Although I would await the bedtime routine, it was also a time that significantly triggered my anxiety. The worries of how many hours sleep I would get, in addition to the worry if it would be the last moment I would be able to hold my Indie in my arms before I lay her down to sleep, fearful that she wouldn’t wake from her sleep.
Realising I needed some help, I went to see my GP who referred me to a psychologist for some support, however, due to the impact of COVID there was a 3-month waitlist and most had closed their books to new patients. This reality saw me spiral even more, as I was desperate for tools to help reduce my anxiety, yet the system couldn’t cope with the demand.
I am deeply thankful for PANDA and the Mental Health Hotline, who were able to provide me with a friendly voice over the phone and some reassurance that I would be ok. These services definitely took the edge off whilst I waited for a face-to-face appointment to become available.
At about the same time, after many days and hours trying to research some alternative options for healing whilst awaiting an appointment, I came across the incredible Alita Blanchard from Aware Mama who is a Conscious Parenting Coach and Circle Facilitator. One of her visions is to help drive circles to become more mainstream, without so much woo. I attended my first circle in November, which was one of the most incredibly powerful things I’ve been part of to date. A circle of other mums who share their vulnerability and celebrate the wins of motherhood, as well as current challenges. Alita is very passionate about holding space for mums. Without a face-to-face therapy session being available, attending regular circles provided me with the opportunity to be heard and begin my healing journey. Alita has become an important part of my healing journey, and has continually inspired me to surrender and trust my intuition.
Later that month, I managed to get in to see a Perinatal Counsellor. We worked through various cognitive therapies and my obsession for trying to get Indie to sleep started to soften. We also worked through some triggers for my anxiety and some strategies to help me manage the anxiety. Once I learned not to be afraid of the sensations and instead be curious and welcome these, I saw a huge shift in my anxiety levels and the healing began.
8 months on, I am much better and have grown significantly from this experience. I am grateful for the gift of self discovery that Indie gave me and the connections that I have formed as a result. It has seen me step outside of my comfort zone and build my village by participating in Clubbercise, Zumba, Yoga, postnatal mums and bubs exercise groups and joining various mothers groups, including one that I co-admin; which no doubt will lead to life long friendships for both me and Indie.
As the system was unable to support me for several weeks/months, I embarked on my own journey of education and trialing different modalities to help reduce my anxiety. Through this experience, I have built a wealth of knowledge and understanding of anxiety
Yes, I still have some days where I have mild anxiety symptoms… but getting out there and meeting so many amazing women, many of whom have had a similar journey has really helped with the healing. It reminded me of the importance of being vulnerable so that others we meet are empowered to share their story.
I wanted to share this story, not at all for sympathy, but to raise awareness and help remove the stigma for what can be such a crippling condition that many don’t feel comfortable enough to share. This condition does not discriminate and could have affected any one of us or our family and friends. It also reminds us that such a condition can be well hidden behind a happy photo or behaviour, but that person could be in a world of pain.
For those of you that may have also faced a similar challenge, do not let this condition define you. Although at the peak it is extremely difficult to see the light, know that it will pass and a greater sense of living will arise if you welcome it.
Whilst I am returning from maternity leave to the corporate world, my journey has led me to have an absolute desire to continue to support other mums becoming the best version of themselves.
Through healing, I am now supporting other mums through ‘Mumma Life is NOW’ Life Coaching and mentoring. My vision is to support mums that have healed from the peak of their PNDA and are ready to rebuild their lives and get their mojo back at home and returning to work. I will be supporting the AMAZING work of Gidget Foundation Australia by donating a set percentage of my revenue.