I have three children under the age of 4, and my perinatal experiences were so different with each one.
With my firstborn son, I had a fairly straightforward pregnancy and birth. I wasn’t prepared for the trauma and pain I felt in my own body after natural birth, and even the simplest thing like laughing without weeing my pants was no longer a given! I had some postnatal blues and very minor invasive thoughts, but these passed with time.
My second pregnancy was not quite the same. I was expecting the same ease and feelings as the first time, but caring for a 1.5-year-old whilst pregnant quickly dispelled that expectation. We also had some personal family situations change in a negative way, and leading to the birth I was not in a positive headspace. The birth of my daughter was also much tougher, taking a huge toll on me physically and emotionally. I remember leaving the hospital in tears, absolutely exhausted, and questioning myself why was I not happy? Why was I not feeling that same bubble of elated love like last time?
When we got home, my body really struggled to repair, my pelvic floor was a mess and my body, in general, felt so bruised and broken – as did my headspace.
When my daughter was four weeks old my son was rushed to hospital with multiple seizures. Then at six weeks, we got a phone call to tell us that our newborn daughter’s heel prick test had flagged as positive for the Cystic Fibrosis gene. This meant extra testing to determine if she was just a carrier or in fact had the disease. We were 90% sure that she was just a carrier, however the first round of tests was inconclusive, and we had to wait 6 months before getting our answer. (Yes, phew she is just a carrier, and so is my husband as it turns out) However, despite feeling fairly confident that was going to be the result, I did second guess every cough, every raspy breath, and never felt quite safe that she would be ok over those first six months.
I think in reflection, I knew that I was struggling with some postnatal anxiety and depression, but I put my children’s health first and didn’t seek help for myself.
When my daughter was 14 months, my husband I and decided that we were happy with our family of four, and didn’t want to risk another scare of having a baby with the CF gene. We had needed a gentle helping nudge to fall pregnant with both our son and daughter, BUT life decided our family wasn’t yet complete, and turns out we were already 5 weeks pregnant with our little miracle boy.
We made the decision to not do invasive genetic testing, and were both happy with the decision that he was meant to be with us and a part of our family, no matter what. I surprised myself that mentally I was able to be content with this and I didn’t feel worried about the possibility of him being born with the CF gene.
My body handled my third pregnancy by far the best. I had all the normal aches and pains, abdominal muscle separation, pelvic floor weakening, but I was determined to enjoy it and make everything around me as relaxed as possible (ie, no moving home, no job changes etc) – so that I could go into the birth as relaxed as possible.
Then COVID happened.
All my normal scans, appointments, coffee with friends, shopping for the new baby, general nesting activities all stopped. My family and I all went into a stricter than normal lockdown as it was early days in the COVID pandemic, and the risks of being pregnant and delivering if infected were not ideal. In fact, it was quite scary. So all my efforts to make this the most relaxed pregnancy went out the window!
Despite all of this, our birth and the first week in hospital with our littlest boy was actually amazing. We had a planned cesarean, the birth and pain management afterward was wonderful. I felt all the love bubble feelings again and was so happy.
Then my milk came in. And my son’s pain erupted. He screamed in pain for most of 20 – 22 hours a day. He couldn’t sleep longer than 45 minutes before waking in pain. He couldn’t feed without it hurting him. It was so distressing seeing him in such pain, and I was just operating in survival mode on no sleep. I felt so guilty that I couldn’t be a present mum with my eldest two children, nor a present wife with my husband.
My son was diagnosed with severe reflux and an allergy to cow’s milk protein and soy. After many doctors and specialist appointments, we finally got him on to the right medication, and with both of us on a highly restrictive diet his pain finally settled.
But this took 8 months. 8 months of a really unhappy baby, a screaming baby, and no sleep. I was a mess. I was having really dark invasive thoughts. Imagining really sad events happening to my immediate family and if any of the kids bumped themselves or had a fall, I couldn’t react in a measured way, I immediately reacted to everything as an absolute worst-case scenario. I struggled to find any happy moments day to day. My social and general anxiety was getting worse, and after my first panic attack, I went to my GP and finally sought help.
She referred me to the Gidget Foundation Australia Start Talking Telehealth program, and it was here that I found the help I needed. My Gidget Psychologist gave me really useful tools and strategies to help my anxiety and invasive thoughts. I have found clarity in my mind, and have been able to heal. One particular thing I really loved about it was that she was so understanding about doing our consults with my children present.
I’m able to reflect now on everything I have been through, how different each baby was and I’m so much more kind to myself. I still have tricky moments, but I’m now confident about how to acknowledge what’s happening and how to handle it.