Taking a newborn baby home is intense.
They are very small and very loud and they look super-breakable.
Sometimes they sleep, often they don't and then there is the question of baths, boobs, bottles and bums. It's a lot to deal with – especially the first time.
And then once you've brought the baby home, you have to work out how you're going to leave the house again. WITH the baby. Things that seemed so simple now seem crazy-complicated when factoring in the tiny tag-along.
I decided that the second day after we got home with Luca was the perfect time to go to local shopping centre for a bite to eat. After the post-birth cocoon of hospital, walking through the automatic doors was an assault on every sense. It was deafeningly loud, teeming with bodies, an ugly monstrosity which dwarfed my tiny son and Brendon and I. Feeling exposed and vulnerable, I sat at a formica table in the food court and quietly sobbed as the world went on around us. We could not get out of there fast enough and only when we were back safely within the walls of our warm, quiet home could I relax. I was not ready to be 'in the world' just yet.
For the first two weeks after Luca was born, there was random sobbing until slowly, my hormones rebalanced themselves and I adjusted to navigating real life with a baby in tow.
Perhaps a month down the track, while changing Luca's nappy at around 10:30pm, I had this exchange with Bren:
Bren: Well, I think I'll to go to bed now.
Me: Oh. Okay. Luca is pretty awake though.
Bren: Yeah, I know….. I'm just thinking about work tomorrow. I don't want to be tired.
Me: Right. So just leave me to deal with it then. Thanks a lot.
Bren: Well, honey, I have to get up really early…
Me: So just fuck off then!
Sleep deprivation was wearing my sweet side a little thin.
But apart from occasional moments like this one scattered throughout the first year, I was a very happy woman. Motherhood filled a hole within me, gave me a sense of purpose, made me feel beautiful. In that first year, I was the happiest I have ever been. Ever.
I found the transition into my new reality a lot harder after Ziggy's birth. He was 3.5 weeks early which meant that Bren's holidays didn't coincide with my first weeks at home. I was very teary and overwhelmed at the prospect of being alone with a newborn and a toddler. The idea of Bren returning to work the day after we arrived home from hospital panicked me. My gorgeous mum immediately put in a work request for Carer's Leave and spent the week with me, entertaining Luca and sitting on the couch with me as I sobbed and breastfed and slowly came out of the post-birth fog.
But I did come out of it.
For many women, this will not be the case. In fact, 1 in 7 women will be diagnosed with postnatal depression each year.
My history of depression and subsequent treatment for it almost certainly prevented me from developing PND after Ziggy's birth. My regular medication allowed me to keep head above water during a challenging time. But for those women who have never experienced any kind of depression before, PND must sneak up on them.
And it's an awful kind of depression because most of us expect the fairytale. We want to believe that we'll be 'natural' mothers and that our babies will be angels. It does not take long for a new parent to discover how huge a lie the baby powder commercials are. The discrepancy between the fact of new parenthood and the sentimental fiction we have been sold is jarring enough. The development of PND during this time and the darker thoughts that can accompany it must turn the dream into a nightmare.
The most crippling part of a depression is the shame that comes with admitting we are suffering. There are still people who believe it relates to a poor attitude, that a person could conceivably cure themselves by "bucking up" – and as someone who has suffered, I can not tell you how insulting that is or how incredibly damaging. And while ever misguided and inaccurate views of depression like those remain, people who desperately need help will be too ashamed to seek it.
New mothers are especially vulnerable because the expectation is that we will all experience the bliss of a "babymoon" – cue slow motion baby hand reaching up to softly touch Mother's face as Mother gazes back at most cherubic baby in the history of the world – and if we don't, what does this say about us? What kind of monster can't bond with her own child? The pressure to be instantly in love with our baby and with our new job as "Mum" can be overwhelming and never moreso than if PND is lurking undiagnosed.
Motherhood will break you down and rebuild you. It is so powerful, it will alter you at a cellular level. You can not expect to go through this transformation without a few tears. But if those tears do not seem to be drying up, if the magnitude of new parenthood still looms unbearably large after the intial weeks have turned into a month or more, it may be time to see a professional you trust – a GP or the nurse who does bub's check-ups.
There is no shame in admitting you are not coping. You are not alone in feeling this way. Every mother feels out of control at some point but if you are under the cloud of depression, it doesn't matter how well your baby sleeps or how much fresh air you get – you need support. Don't wait too long to get it.
For further information, check out PANDA (Post and Antenatal Depression Association).
And for an honest and inspirational account of PND (or PPD as she calls it), please check out the beautiful blog, Farewell Stranger by Robin Farr, a gorgeous human being whom I would like to fly to Canada and meet some day. Her writing is raw and beautiful but you can also check her moving account in the video below.