Wednesday, September 22, 2004

How my journey began

Well, I guess I should write this to an audience, but at the moment the audience is my own head, so I'll start there. My name is Carolyn. I am happily married and have two children, Ryan and Caitlyn, and I am pregnant with my third child. The third pregnancy has been an enormous surprise and I have been battling all kinds of feelings trying to decide what to do about having a third child with my history of post-natal depression (PND).

Originally, I wasn't really sure how this Blog might evolve. What I've done / am doing, is including my computer diary which I began in January 2004 as my New Year's Resolution. I think its important to see the good, the bad and the ugly and for people who are suffering from post-natal depression to know they are not alone in their feelings. PND is an isolating mental illness which affects not just the mother, but the entire family.

My journey began when I attended my first pre-natal appointment at the local hospital at about 10 weeks of pregnancy. I was an extremely anxious soon-to-be mother and dutifully mentioned my family history of depression and my own depression history. My father committed suicide when I was almost 17 and I don't think I ever really managed to get past it. Because I had a history, I was 'flagged' as a new mother to watch.

I think my first pregnancy went rather well. My husband was tremendously supportive and would do just about everything for me when I came home from work and just crashed on the couch to snooze and do little. I had a bath almost every night after work and was suffused with a strong sense of well-being which grew as the baby did. I was somewhat disappointed to find out that I was having a son, but spent the remaining 17 weeks of pregnancy resigning myself to this eventuality. My waters broke at almost 36 weeks while I was visiting my mother in Canberra. I decided to stay there to have the baby. The complicating factor was that my grandmother, Dodie, was dying of cancer.

I sat in hospital for 10 days awaiting the birth of my son, eventually saying to him that if he didn't shift himself out of there, the doctors would do it for him. He arrived the day before I was due to be induced. My labour was augmented and painful, but I managed without any drugs and we had Ryan at 7:30 pm on Monday, 5 March, 2001. He was whisked away to the special care nursery and I didn't see him again until about 2 am. I didn't think there was anything particularly difficult about his birth, I managed the birth as planned and also managed to breastfeed him successfully.
A number of journeys between Canberra and Sydney ensued which included a super-quick naming ceremony run by my grandmother. Ryan was 6 weeks old when Dodie died. A week later my husband lost his job. Up until this point I don't think I was really coping, but I was hiding it from everyone. My son was extremely demanding and fed every couple of hours for the first few weeks. He was average weight when born, but was obviously a little 'undercooked'. He gained weight well, but remained fairly demanding, probably encouraged by my nervous mothering.

As a mother I felt inadequate. I had expectations that I should be able to get all the housework done and meals cooked while managing my demanding boy. I became a wanderer to cope. Apart from mother's group meetings, I would wander through the local shopping mall or head to other larger centres and use mother's rooms for feeding. Ryan learned to sleep in the pram very well and I thought nothing of jumping in the car and heading off somewhere at a moment's notice. Still, I wasn't really coping. And I didn't recognise the signs because they were so different from depression. I was angry and couldn't control my temper and my overall feeling was one of unreality, that Ryan wasn't really my son. I was caught between the dichotomy of blaming my son for my depression, and loving him to bits. I had trouble making decisions and would 'dither' at a complete loss of what to do next. I didn't sleep. And I cried.

I slipped through the cracks of the system (as it was then in Sydney). I should have had help. I couldn't ask for help, I didn't know how. I wasn't even sure I had a problem! I thought it was just me not being a very good mother. I remember apologising to Ryan over and over again through floods of tears that he had such an awful mother.

When Ryan was 9 months old, I fell pregnant again. My husband was still out of work and I had to return to work. We had to move house because our landlords would not accept a short-term lease and had put the rent up. It was horrid. I started seeing a psychiatrist because I was starting to have suicidal feelings. I didn't think this was good for either me or the new baby.
I also hated my job – there was a restructure going on at work and I really didn't know where I stood. I applied for reclassification, dealt with my union representatives and generally managed to avoid doing everything but the very basic elements of my job until my second lot of maternity leave began. Throughout all this my husband was still out of work and staying at home with our son. He felt trapped and, I'm sure, depressed too. I encouraged him to join a playgroup or get out of the house more, but he just didn't.

Finally a breakthrough. My maternity leave was due to start in just 2 weeks and my husband landed a job. Halleluia! We had a hell of a time juggling Ryan's care for that two weeks and when I got home, I found I was dealing with a 17 month old complete stranger. I was terrified and had to get to know my son all over again, which is a challenge at 8 and a half months pregnant! We also moved house, thankfully, to a larger home that was just perfect as far as I was concerned.

Things were okay for the first little while. Caitlyn was born and her birth was different, but not nearly as traumatic as Ryan's. She was a healthy 4 Kg baby and slept well from the beginning. Early on Darren and I established a good routine with her and made sure I had lots of support around me. Thank God for my friend Meredith! She would just turn up on my doorstep with her son in tow and the boys would play and she would keep me company and helped me keep my sanity. I joined another mother's group and Caitlyn and I had an outing once a week. Then we joined a playgroup and Ryan had an outing too.

I felt I was managing with minimal outbursts of tears. My husband says differently – he thinks I was off my tree a little earlier than I do. Time rolled on slowly. I got really stressed when I was due to make a decision about returning to work. Fortunately, I was offered another 12 months unpaid leave. Yet by Christmas after Caitlyn's first birthday, I was losing the plot again. Of course, this wasn't helped by the day I was driving down the street to see my husband walking home at a ridiculous time of day. I picked him up. He'd lost his job. Again. [NOTE: it wasn't his fault; it’s the industry. He's a Senior Networking Engineer and the industry is volatile in Australia.]

Christmas Eve Darren was offered another job. Thank God! Because I didn’t want to return to work, which was still as unstable as ever. So ensued the second bout of my post-natal depression. This time my name was added to a list of people to join a PND group run by psychologists at the Childhood and Adolescent Unit at our local hospital. The group was a Godsend. I was able to articulate my own inadequacies, and, most importantly, to find out that I wasn't alone.

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