Originally published November 16 2015 over at Little Tsunami.
Nami, 36, is a mother to Mannus, 5, and Dulcie, 3. She believes the traumatic birth of her son played a significant role in triggering her experience of postnatal depression.
The birth of my son was incredibly traumatic. For days I was unable to even think about the birth without crying – I felt like I’d been in a car crash.
In the three days before Mannus arrived my contractions came and went and throughout this time I barely slept. I was behind the eight ball before the game began. My son had wedged himself on an unusual angle which prolonged active labour and I pushed for almost two hours. Midwives announced that I was minutes away from a Caesarian-section but we’d give it “one last go”. Suddenly I had a team of people around me and my legs were being stretched up above my head (I’ve since learnt this is called the “McRoberts Manouver”) and moments later a baby boy was being passed across the room. I held him for a few minutes but I think I was in shock. I felt that I’d been man-handled, that my body was not mine and it was necessary to do me whatever it took to get that baby out.
Mannus needed to spend more than 24 hours in NICU and this impacted the chance I had to forge a bond with him sooner. The first morning after the birth I arrived in NICU to find a nurse bottle-feeding him. I’d barely held him myself and there she sat with him tucked in the crook of her arm, explaining that after this feed he’d need to go straight back into his humidicrib to rest. My tears started again. My feedback to the hospital in the ‘extra comments’ section about my birth experience never saw a response.
When I should have been excited at the prospect of going home and starting my journey as a mother, I lay in my hospital bed not wanting to move. My son was brought to my bedside and I turned away, unable to look at him. I just couldn’t fathom how he’d done this to me. I left hospital in a wheelchair – still only able to shuffle for a few metres before needing to prop myself up against a wall. It took weeks to feel like I was starting to physically recover from the birth.
In the months that followed I began to feel increasingly disconnected from my son, my husband, and other people or things in my life. I dreaded going to social outings because I didn’t want to have to answer the question of “Oh, wow, do you just love being a mum?” No one expects a mother not to love motherhood. My husband encouraged me to talk about how I was feeling but it was impossible. I felt nothing, just emptiness.
When my husband started having days off work just to “keep an eye on me” I knew things needed to change, but I didn’t seek professional for postnatal depression until my son was six months old. Ironically, I felt I was struggling enough with a new baby that I couldn’t summon the energy to tackle postnatal depression as well.
Counselling combined with medication proved to be what I needed to stop feeling like life was slipping through my fingers. Gradually life felt brighter, weighted with more meaning and with fewer stresses that before had sent me spiraling into a rage or into a sad, dark & lonely space. I’ve come to understand that motherhood – and my son – is separate from postnatal depression, and the little boy I once turned away from is now undoubtedly one of the greatest sources of joy I could ever imagine.
COPE Facts about birth trauma and its impact on mental health:
For more information about coping when things don’t go to plan, recovering from a traumatic birth and seeking effective treatment for post-birth trauma visit www.cope.org.au