Part one: Postnatal mental health and its demons- interview with Destiny.
Hello and welcome to all of you lovely people!
Thank you so much for supporting bumpnbub (@bumpnbub), but most of all, THANK YOU for supporting each other over the last few months of this little journey! Nothing makes me happier than seeing mama’s reach out to other mama’s and tell them, “Hey, that happened to me too. It gets better, I promise”. They say motherhood and parenting is a community. The overused phrase, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, used to be true, and has so much beauty. However, these days we can be so disconnected from our ‘communities’. Mama’s are doing it solo or just with their partners and, whilst there is huge strength in that, it’s freaking hard - let’s be real.
I often discharge new mama’s from the postnatal ward where I work who tell me their partners start back at work the next day and they’ll be on their own. For a first time mum, that can be scary, lonely, difficult and exhausting. In creating bumpnbub, I hope to bring some form of community to all of you lovely mama’s and papa’s/future parents, but also some education and hopefully some reassurance and support.
So, I’ve been wanting to write a blog for a long time but didn’t quite know where or how to start until a couple of weeks ago when I was at a coffee shop in Sydney and began talking with a lovely mama (who also happens to own this epic cafe). Being a midwife ALWAYS starts great conversations - conversations women wouldn’t normally get the opportunity to have so freely.
Often before I know a woman’s name I know about their sore nipples and their baby who doesn’t sleep - ever - oh, and, “why doesn’t anyone tell you motherhood is THIS HARD!”.
But, I love it - I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Anyway... back to the point of my story! This woman, for starters, looks like a goddess, is as bubbly as any human could be, runs a successful business and is always smiley. I remember saying to my partner, “I don’t think I could run a cafe. Imagine being that happy ALL the time!” Aren’t judgements a funny thing? The universe, however, snapped me back into shape quick-smart when Destiny (her name as I learned, so fitting) asked me some questions after finding out I was a midwife. We got chatting about my passion for mental health in pregnancy and the postpartum period. She told me that after her first baby, her mental health took a massive decline, that nobody around her seemed to be speaking about the illnesses that can come with mamahood, and how surprised she was to find out her ‘ride-or-die best friend’ had gone through severe depression after her baby, enough to be hospitalised. She gave me a brief synopsis, and right then and there, I decided - I must write a blog!
So my lovelies ... this first blog post comes about a week or two after this encounter where I was able to discuss/interview this (amazing) woman and hear her full story! This is just part one, as it is a long story. She’s allowed me to share this here, with you all, in the hopes of reducing some of the stigma associated with mental health issues, especially in the perinatal period. Remember this is a real story, with a real and precious mama at the heart of it. Please be kind. Enjoy ✨
To set the scene, we sat down opposite each other in a busy cafe and just talked while I recorded the conversation. I always like to just listen to mothers stories - I love listening to how they piece things together and how their memories, often painful ones, flood back. Below, beautiful mama Destiny describes her experience of navigating through a bunch of mental health hurdles.
Part one of two:
I had an awful traumatic experience as a child, so perhaps I had a predisposition to postnatal depression or OCD … I only know that now. I had NO idea about postnatal mental health before my experience. A few years after I met George, my husband, we decided to have a baby, we weren’t married yet but it was planned. I was SO excited, so excited. But once I was pregnant, I started having these very strange and unusual thoughts. I thought I was raped and I was going to have a baby of colour, I know that sounds awful to even say out loud. I was married to a Greek guy, so how was I going to have this beautiful baby of colour that I couldn’t stop thinking about? That thought … that was obviously a product of the trauma from my childhood and that’s when I could see weird thoughts starting to creep into my mind. I was constantly worried, my anxiety was so high. I would count over and over how many times the baby moved and if I didn’t count, I thought that the baby was dead. All of those things added up … I realised that my thoughts were becoming obsessive during the pregnancy, but it was so easy to put it down to a stressful job and a bit of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) from my childhood … I just thought, “I’ve got this, I have a supportive husband, I can do this”. I wasn't alarmed, I just thought it was stress. I probably should have sought help then, but I didn’t. I noticed that every time I was stressed with work, everything … those thoughts, all of it would be so amplified.
Fast forward to my birth, I feel like I had a bit of a traumatic birth. I put on a lot of weight and I felt really heavy. I put on 25kgs, I had diabetes and then my doctor said to me, “you can’t give birth, you need a C-section,” and I just felt so damn cheated …
“Why did they tell you that? Was the baby big?
Well yeah ... She was measuring big on the ultrasound, but that’s the thing, she didn't come out big, she was only 3.6kgs.
“I’m so sorry that happened, that is very disheartening”
EXACTLY! I mean I paid my obstetrician ten grand for this … and it was probably just cause it fit into her schedule.This wasn't a paid transaction for me, this was a very important time of my life. I felt cheated … I went into the operating theatre for my C-section and I was there for three hours because I had so much fluid, I had tubes coming out of me everywhere. Afterwards, none of my family were in Sydney so I didn’t get to have that OH JOYOUS moment, you know? But I didn’t feel traumatised, I don’t think. I wasn’t upset about how it all went. But by day three I was quite emotional, I couldn't stop crying, but I know this can be normal. I went home and I felt so distant from everything. At this time in my life I was a very spiritual person, I guess I still am, but now I understand the importance of scientific facts and medicine that can help you recover.
So, I started getting kinesiology and doing all of these different things and finding out ways to heal because I kept having these thoughts about harming my baby … which is so contrary to me, I’m such a loving person, I always loved kids. But I just kept thinking, “Oh my God, I’m going to put her in the dryer and she’s going to burn,” and that was one sign of, oh … maybe I’m having a psychosis. But what’s funny is, I started seeking some spiritual help and I realised that I just needed to talk to someone about it and that I was actually so exhausted. I started to feel reassured and okay, I just needed to talk to someone.
“The power of simply being able to share your thoughts and secrets with someone else is amazing isn’t it?”
YES! Then I was fine. For the first year of her life I became obsessed, absolutely infatuated with her - just so in love. But when I say obsessed, I now know I mean obsessive. Nobody was allowed to look after her, I didn’t want anyone changing her, I did everything … I had to wash things three times - then it became three times three. If I steamed and sterilised bottles I had to do it three times three, that’s NINE TIMES, it was exhausting. Can you imagine the counting I have done in my life?! OH MY GOD.
We both laugh for a little while at the way Destiny describes this time in her life.
Then my daughter stopped sleeping well. It was just after her first birthday, she got a cold and she was awake for nights and nights on end, I was more than exhausted. And at that time there was a woman who killed her daughter in the northern suburbs and then she jumped off a bridge and killed herself as well. Do you remember that?
“I do remember hearing about that, yes. So much tragedy and I remember the way people talked about her, people had no idea she was suffering so badly".
I know ... It happened about six or seven years ago … well that was all it took for my mind to get to harmful thoughts again. I couldn’t stop thinking, “Am I going to do that too now?” My obsessiveness became even worse ... the counting became worse, the checking of the stove, all of it. I felt like I needed to do these obsessive things to make sure the same thing didn’t happen to me … I mean that's obsessive compulsive disorder at its finest, right?
I thought the house was going to burn down, that someone was going to break into the house. I thought she could no longer sleep in her room and she had to sleep with me. I WAS EXHAUSTED. My thoughts were getting worse. I couldn’t see knives around the house, I just couldn’t. I had to cover them all, everything sharp. I had to put Post-it notes on everything to say:
It got to the point where I thought … I’m going crazy. I called my mum who lives down south and told her to come to Sydney, I told her that my daughter wasn’t safe with me anymore. The automatic reaction from me was to withdraw from my baby, so that she would be safe, not with me.
So my mum came, she’s a very healthy and active person and believes in modern medicine - I don’t have the traditional Greek parents, they are very liberated and all about seeking and asking for help. I went to my GP - she referred me to a terrible psychologist who actually specialises in perinatal depression. Terrible, she was just terrible. I told her, “I need to go to Saint John of God and be admitted.” I even showed up to ED (emergency department) and asked them to send me there, but they wouldn’t. They said I was too rational ... I could talk through my anxieties but I still needed to be admitted. I was calling my husband and telling him, but he thought I was crazy. He kept saying to “snap out of it”. At the time we had a very successful business, I had everything I wanted, “why was I complaining?” But honestly, I could forgo all of that. The psychologist I saw, she said, “You are lucky you aren’t under financial pressure, I meet so many women who have financial pressures and you don’t - you should be grateful”.
“A psychologist said that to you? Geez… I’m so sorry. As if money is going to make any impact to your mental state at this point …”
I know right, why would she say that? I ended up being put on antipsychotic tablets. It was terrible, I felt like I was on drugs and on a comedown everyday. I wanted nothing to do with my daughter and I felt like she still wasn’t safe with me, that’s not healthy. I dropped down to 47kgs, I was so skinny and sick. I’ve always been a runner and I couldn’t even do that anymore because we lived near a big bridge and I thought I would end up throwing my daughter over it like the other woman did. Everything I used to do, I couldn’t anymore, I wasn’t me.
I went and saw another doctor in Sydney (who I won’t name, I don’t wish to shame anyone). She also specialises in postnatal areas and hormones, but she has a more holistic approach. She is very publicised in Australia. She gave me cream to rub on my thighs that had progesterone in it … I was doing this whole routine but I told her, “I’m not well, honestly I need more help, please.” She kept saying to me, “You have to focus on your happy health vibes, you just have postnatal depression.” I kept going back and saying, “NO, this isn’t postnatal depression, this is very different.” The thoughts, the counting, the compulsions … I could not stop. I might have had an element of postnatal depression but this was more, the thoughts never stopped. She reached out again and sent me an email saying, “When you’re better I will get us an interview on 60 Minutes together.” I thought WHAT!? NOPE. This is not working ...
Part 2 where Destiny continues talking about her road to recovery will be shared in the coming week. Thanks for reading. Please leave a comment below about your thoughts xx
For anyone needing help, information, education, or to talk to someone- have a look at these organisations below:
Lifeline phone number in Australia: 13 11 14