Many people could assume the first few months of a new mum's life is filled with the joy and excitement of a new and adorable baby (with a few sleepless nights in between.) But behind that excitement could be a mum's darker, unspoken struggle. One new mum has given her honest account to More FM of how her happy, bubbly persona began disappearing, and her post-natal anxiety began taking hold of her daily life as she began her life as a new mum.
Read her account below.
How my sparkle faded....
For as long as I can remember I have been known as Sparkle or Miss Positivity or Miss Enthusiasm. I have always had a very happy disposition and I don’t often get mad or upset. In fact I’ve been told that if I could somehow bottle my enthusiasm and sell it, I would make millions.
So never in a million years did I think I would get post natal anxiety several weeks after I gave birth to my baby girl, it never even crossed my mind. How could someone as happy and bubbly as me get anxiety or depression?? It made no sense.
My post natal anxiety starting to bubble to the surface about 8 weeks into being a new mum. But I just assumed I was feeling this way simply due to having a new born, this was a whole new world for me!! The lack of sleep, learning how to adjust to life with a baby while continuing to work remotely, dealing with the hormonal changes in my body, experiencing raging blood pressure (and having to be hospitalised) a week after giving birth via emergency c section - I believe all of these contributed to my post natal anxiety.
My sleeping (or lack of) became heavily affected and I would wake at 4am on the dot every day for months and I had huge anxiety attacks in the middle of the night. I had a racing heart beat and my brain just couldn't switch off. I had so many thoughts going through my head. Most of them were trivial things, like me worrying over what car seat to get for our baby, or when was I meant to start feeding her solids. It was nothing that was seriously problematic but to me they were all huge issues and incredibly overwhelming.
Ironically our baby girl slept really well at night from a very young age, it was me who struggled to sleep. I was physically and emotionally exhausted and often said to my mum that I could sleep for a week.
People said that I seemed to have lost my sparkle and that I wasn't my usual bubbly self. I looked vacant and my eyes looked pained. I also didn’t smile as much as I used to. I simply wasn’t me and this terrified me. Would I ever get back to my happy self?
Work for me was a nightmare too. I went back to full time work when my baby was about 3 ½ months old. The drive into work each day was horrific. I would try and be super positive and make a plan of what I wanted to achieve at work each day but as soon as I got into the office, I was miserable. And I was someone who used to love my job, I'd always said I'd work for free if I had to but now my job was not enjoyable at all and I felt like I was failing hugely in my sales role.
I sat at my desk staring at my computer, dreading the thought of having to speak with clients, and I used to love this part of the job. Simple tasks that I would have done with my eyes closed, now seemed impossible and I couldn’t wrap my brain around anything.
One of my very good friends at work pointed out to me that I was wearing darker clothes to work now too. This may sound insignificant but I was the girl in the office who wore sequins and insanely bright coloured dresses and skirts paired with sky high colour coordinated heels. Now it was all dark colours – black or navy, the colourful clothes didn’t come out the wardrobe anymore.
Work became so challenging and was so much of a worry for me that I made the very hard decision to resign. I had been in the same industry for about 19 years (which was half my life!) so having to say goodbye to it and to my workmates (some who were like my family) was incredibly sad.
Post natal anxiety threw me into a very dark place and I was a broken soul. I hate suicide, I've had several family and friends commit suicide and I simply cannot understand it. I believe it's a permanent solution to a temporary problem. But for the first time in my life the notion of not being in this world crossed my mind. I felt like such a liability to my friends and family and thought that things would be easier for them if I wasn't around.
I would wake up thinking is today the day I have a breakdown or is today the day I get hit by a bus crossing the road. So many dark thoughts going through my head, it was very scary. From my experience with post natal anxiety, I've learned just how powerful the human mind can be. I often said to my husband that I felt like I was drowning and I couldn't see things ever getting better. Was my life going to be like this forever?
I loved looking after my baby but I felt like I was a huge failure as a mother and I felt that she deserved better. I also found it hard caring for her. Being a mum didn't seem to come naturally to me. I watched my three best friends raise 8 perfect children and they made motherhood look effortless, so why was I struggling so much? I felt completely incompetent and thought I had no idea what I was doing as a parent.
Post natal was so hard on my husband, parents, my immediate family and friends too. Their cheerful, carefree girl was now constantly worried, tearful and seemed vacant. I was becoming quite reclusive too. Home was a safe haven for me but venturing outside was a daunting thought. The idea of taking my daughter for a simple walk in the park was overwhelming. It seemed so much easier for me just to stay indoors where I wouldn't need to interact with anyone.
I had always taken a huge amount of pride in my appearance but now I wore very little makeup (or none at all) and I wasn’t fussed about what I was wearing. I remember thinking so many times “oh well, this will do”. Again, this was so unlike me, these feelings felt so foreign to me but I couldn’t seem to change them.
My besties would call and text me and I would often let the call go to voicemail and wouldn't respond to texts for hours or days. I love these girls, they are my rocks and I would've always taken the time to talk with them but it just seemed easier not to communicate and if I had to speak with them, I would keep conversations very short and ask them questions to keep the focus off me.
I used to love shopping and I considered myself a world champion online shopper but once post natal kicked in, the notion of going to a shopping mall or browsing my favourite fashion websites was of no interest whatsoever. I remember going clothes shopping with my mum (I had a wardrobe full of pretty dresses, skirts, jackets and tops and now that I was not going to work I needed more casual clothes) and it was so hard for me to even make a decision as to what to buy. I have no idea what I would have done if mum wasn’t there helping me. Even writing this, it all sounds so trivial but even the simple task of clothes shopping was extremely hard for me.
I also struggled with my speech, I stumbled over my words and found it hard to articulate things. And my memory was heavily affected too. I couldn't remember simple things or past events in my life and I repeated myself a lot.
I often thought I wish I could go back in time a few months when post natal hadn't kicked in and then I would make sure I didn't go down this frightening path.
During this time I attended my very good friends wedding in Christchurch and normally I would have been so excited about being part of her special day but this was a really hard day for me. Weeks out from the wedding I fretted over what to wear, I packed and repacked my carry-on bag many times, I was incredibly anxious during the flight down and my return flight. And when I got back home later that night I burst into tears and sobbed uncontrollably on my husbands shoulder for a long time.
I also started clenching my jaw and this happened when I slept so I couldn't really control it. I'd wake up in the morning with aching teeth and I was so worried my teeth (which were made perfectly straight after 3 years of braces) would move or crack and maybe I'd never smile again.
Another part of my life that changed was that I used to be a bit of an exercise addict. In fact I trained at my gym 5 times a week and was even there exercising 2 days before I gave birth! But with my anxiety, the idea of going to the gym was the last thing I wanted to do. My husband encouraged me to go in the weekends when he was home with our baby but I preferred to lie on the couch and have a rest. I knew I was close by him and that brought me some comfort. Going out to the gym and being surrounded by strangers scared me.
And simple tasks like doing the grocery shopping freaked me out. I couldn't make decisions in the supermarket and called my husband several times during a single food shop asking him questions that I should've been able to answer myself.
Deciding what to wear each day was a major problem for me. Or deciding what to cook for dinner or what to dress my baby girl in. Decision making was almost non-existent in my world now, whereas before, I would make these kinds of decisions in a heartbeat. Indecision, worry and fear were constants in my life and I simply could not see things changing for the better. Life was just hard and not enjoyable like it used to be. For me post natal anxiety was debilitating and terrifying and I wouldn't wish it upon my worst enemy.
After a few months of feeling like this, I went to see my doctor and before I even sat down she looked at my eyes and said 'I know you're putting on a brave face but I can see you're not very good'. I was given medication to help with anxiety and thankfully these worked for me. They were a slow burner but I know they helped me.
Without the love, support and understanding of my husband, parents, family, a handful of very good friends and some workmates who I consider family, I never would have come through this. I am one lucky girl to have such incredibly special people in my life.
After a good 5 months of living with post natal anxiety, things started to get better. I felt happier and less stressed about things. I found so much more joy being with my baby girl than I previously did. I started sleeping better and I began exercising again. Things that used to overwhelm me, no longer did and I noticed that I was laughing so much more. My sparkle was coming back and life was fun again. My husband, family and besties all noticed and I could sense their relief and happiness that I was back to my Little Miss Sunshine self. I felt more engaged with life and not just a vacant bystander as I had been.
Post natal anxiety or depression is tough. I understand it wouldn’t be the same as facing cancer or another life-threatening illness but when you have it, you feel as if the weight of the world is on your shoulders, you question your mortality and that in itself is frightening.
I guess I felt the need to write about my experience to highlight that post natal anxiety or depression can happen to anyone, it absolutely doesn’t discriminate. I have been told so many times that it’s so much more common than people realise, it’s just not talked about much. I hope that after reading this, if people feel similar to how I did, that they get some help. Or if you have someone in your life who has recently had a baby and they seem different now, ask them if they are okay. I guess it’s like anything in life, you have to accept that there is a problem before you can fix it and I wish I had gone to my doctor earlier or accepted that when my husband suggested I might have post natal, that I agreed with him. Maybe I was too scared to admit the truth.
Post natal is nothing to be embarrassed about, you can’t choose if you get it or not, it’s just the luck of the draw. My advice would be to see your doctor or talk to your Plunket nurse and get some help and talk about it in the open. It might not feel very comfortable to speak about it but it will help. In my experience, things did get better, in fact life is better now than it ever was and I have a little baby girl who is my whole world. Along with my husband, she is the best thing to ever happen to me and I thank the big guy upstairs for choosing us to be her parents.
Life is too short to hide away and try and deal with post natal on your own. Get the help you need and don’t be too hard on yourself. Having post natal doesn’t mean you did anything wrong in your life, I believe it’s essentially a massive chemical imbalance in your body that just needs correcting. Once you give birth your serotonin levels can fall through the floor and this can affect your mood and cause anxiety and/or depression.
Take one day at a time and try and find things in your life that make you happy. I also suggest doing an activity that might make you feel scared or overwhelmed but the more you do it, the easier it will get. For me, leaving the house each day with my baby was something that scared me but I made a conscious effort to go out every day (even for half an hour) and I got used to how this made me feel. Put one foot in front of the other and don’t worry about the future, just focus on the present.
Know that things will get better and you will smile and laugh again and be your happy self. Let those close to you help you and take care of you so your sparkle can come back too.