As the weeks wore on, my feelings about myself and motherhood weren’t getting any better. I loved my baby, yet I didn't love me and how I felt. Constant anxiousness, racing heart, tight chest and shallow breathing were my new friends. I felt like I was drowning. I felt so out of control that I had to control everything I could.
When I was feeding our baby girl, her feeds were timed. Ten minutes on each breast, I recall being the magic number and the rule I had. I hated feeding. It was so uncomfortable. I hated not being able to move and hated even more those moments when I needed to go to the toilet but was in the middle of a feed and not able to take her off the breast knowing all hell would break loose if I did. So I carried on, hating it.
I wondered what was wrong with me. I didn’t get the warm and fuzzy feeling that I’d heard many mums talk about when they were feeding their babies. I felt so relied upon all the time and that scared the living daylights out of me.
There were days when I couldn’t shift the anxiety. I couldn’t bear to hear our girl cry. If I did, I would start too. There was so much sadness in my heart. My favourite hangout when she was sleeping was in the bottom of our walk-in robe with the door firmly closed. Enveloped in darkness, I felt safe. My external environment matched how I felt on the inside. I remember silently screaming. So many fears and emotions running rampant, I just couldn’t get them out. I didn’t know how to. I didn’t know what the consequences would be. And so they stayed inside me and the internal screaming continued to get louder and louder.
But the feeling in my chest just wouldn’t let up. I can clearly recall the day that I realised my world was falling apart. It was 7am in the morning and I’d already done 3 loads of washing, hung them on the line, baked a chocolate cake, some monte carlos and had an apple pie on the way. It was as if I had a momentary out of body experience. From afar I saw myself doing what I was doing and said to myself, “This is freaking crazy! You are not okay and you need to talk to someone about this. It can’t be normal!”
It seemed like forever until it was 8.30am and I could ring the doctor’s surgery to make an appointment with my GP. Finally I got through. The receptionist must have picked up that things were not good with me; she managed to get me in straight away. As I got off the phone, I felt relief. The tears were streaming down my face and the feeling of hopelessness and imperfection came bubbling up again. In my heart I knew I was doing the right thing for myself and for our baby girl.
Sitting in the room with the doctor, I managed to tell her what I had been going through. I felt safe with her and trusted her. Through the tears I managed to tell her my story, how I hated breastfeeding, how I felt like a failure and how I wasn’t cut out for motherhood. She turned to me and said, “If the mother is happy, then the baby is happy. If you being happy means stopping breastfeeding and moving to formula, then so be it”. It was really that clear cut and simple.
I was with her for a long time. I talked. I cried. I shared my pain. She just sat and listened and offered me tissue after tissue. She then looked at me and said, “I think you may have postnatal depression, with what you’ve experienced with the birth and everything else that you’ve gone through”. In a sense, there was relief. What I was going through was abnormal and yet again, I wasn’t alone. Now I had a label to add to the collection, and it definitely wasn’t Chanel.
Together we came up with a plan. Start weaning baby off the breast and get her onto formula. Then we could start to take care of me. She gave me options. Once baby was weaned I could go onto medication and see a psychologist. I was to see her every other week as well, so she could keep track of my progress. I left with a fistful of pamphlets about post-natal depression, it’s causes and it’s treatments to take home to share with my partner, phone numbers for Lifeline in case I needed someone else to talk to, phone numbers for playgroups because I needed to start mingling more with other mums and her own personal mobile.
As we left, that familiar sense of failure came back. I had felt so completely safe and trusting in the doctor’s office. Yet as soon as I was back in reality, I felt totally out of control. I had no idea how I was going to explain to my partner what was going on with me and what was happening in my head.
That night I had a discussion with my partner about my visit to the doctor. I had always struggled with knowing the “right” thing to say. When I was younger, I would spend hours having conversations in my head, just to ask my parents a simple question like “Could I go to the disco on Friday night”. Communicating my feelings to my partner was a huge risk and I was terrified of how it he would accept it.
I was able to tell him about our trip to the doctor and her recommendations. He told me there was nothing wrong with me; it was all in my head. Darn tooting right it was in my head!!! He wasn’t in favour of me going on medication, but said if that helped, then so be it. He agreed that the breastfeeding was upsetting me and wanted to become more involved in that side of things. I couldn’t help but feel that I had let him down too, that on some level I had failed his expectations of motherhood.
And I guess this is where it all fell down for me. I had the picture in my head of how it should be and what the right thing was and the wrong thing was. There was no room for someone to throw a spanner in the works and change the course of my pre-planned events. Over time I’ve learnt to loosen my grip on control and have learnt to go with the flow more. To just relax, take a deep breath and trust that things will work out the way they are meant to.