During the two years after my daughter was born, as I spiraled deeper and deeper into depression and anxiety I refused to seek help.
I was terrified, lonely and felt I didn’t deserve it.
I had everything I wanted- a fantastic, supportive husband and a beautiful “easy” baby who I’d longed for.
All that was wrong was that Lara didn’t sleep. So of course I felt terrible! I refused to sleep-train. And I refused to believe that there was anything more than just sleep-deprivation going on.
But beneath the day to day struggle with tiredness, frustration and loneliness I was experiencing terrible intrusive thinking- thoughts of harming my baby and thoughts of self-harm. Coupled with a rage that was deep and continual I was sure that if I spoek up and told anyone they would take my baby away. Some days, that seemed like a good idea.
After Lara started sleeping (at age 2!) I started feeling better. I attended a volunteer orientation at PPPSS where I heard about intrusive thinking for the first time. I remember sobbing, realising that what I’d experienced was part of anxiety, and that I wasn’t a monster.
I’ve been here at PPPSS since, first as a volunteer and now as a group facilitator and telephone counsellor. I love this work. It is healing and inspiring and an utter privilege.
Thank you to all the mums who call in, and come to group and allow me to support them on their journeys.
When I saw the Facebook post from the Pacific Postpartum Support Society looking for volunteers who wanted to be photographed for this project, my first thought was “oh, that’s cool, but I can’t do it.” I’ve struggled with mental illness on and off my whole life and I’ve always been pretty open about it, but I was afraid to admit I had postpartum depression on a public forum. Like a lot of people, I probably make motherhood look simple and easy on my Facebook page and I was embarrassed to admit the reality was more complex. Most of all I didn’t want anyone to think I don’t enjoy being a mom, because I absolutely do.
I changed my mind about participating in this project because of Florence Leung, a new mom who tragically took her own life when my daughter was only a few weeks old. I’d read about Florence’s death when it happened, but I didn’t really connect to her story until my daughter was about five months old and I found out that like me, Florence struggled with guilt over not being able to breastfeed exclusively.
I had to start supplementing my daughter with formula when she was a few days old because I had low milk supply that didn’t increase despite a great deal of effort on my part. I was already suffering from depression – not sleeping, crying constantly, becoming irate over tiny issues – when I hired a lactation consultant who’d been recommended to me by a number of different women. This consultant lectured me at length about the dangers of formula. She told me things like, “why would you give your baby cow’s milk, she’s not a calf?” and “even African women who are starving to death in famines can exclusively breastfeed. Their babies only get sick when they start taking formula.”
On her advice, I tried to wean my daughter off formula, but after a only a few hours I knew I had to stop. My daughter was desperately hungry, and every instinct I had as a mother was telling me that I needed to give her a bottle. I felt like an absolute failure. If a woman who’s starving to death can give her baby something I can’t, what business do I have being a mother? I wondered. My daughter was so perfect and I felt like I’d already let her down.
Months later, when I heard about Florence’s story, I realized that I needed to get help. Breastfeeding wasn’t the only thing that contributed to my depression, but it was my breaking point, and learning about Florence was a turning point for me.
So I decided to get over my embarrassment and participate in this project in memory of Florence, because her story was a gift to me, and I hope my story will help other women.
Getting help for PPD has absolutely changed my life for the better. I’ve dealt with issues I’ve avoided for years and years. I’m more in touch with my emotions and I’m better able to express my needs and feelings in a constructive way. I know that I’m a better mother because of this experience.
I want other moms to know that it’s okay to struggle and it’s okay to ask for help. You’re living through a difficult time and taking care of a tiny human who requires the vast majority of your time and energy. You should be proud of yourself. I’ve discovered that being a mother isn’t about making everything perfect. It’s about accepting myself and my daughter and finding joy in every day moments, even when things turn out totally different than you expected.
We’re In This Together is a photography series, coordinated in partnership with the Pacific Post Partum Support Society and the Good Mother Project, that offers messages of encouragement, hope, support and love to new parents.
For more information on how you can share your message, please visit: http://goodmotherproject.com/were-in-this-together”