I think I entered motherhood with expectations of what it would look like, feel like and be like. But little did I know what lay ahead.
It was hard from the get go …
The first few days were honestly a blur. I had a somewhat traumatic labour, having to go under general anaesthesia for an emergency C-section. This meant I was unconscious for my son’s birth and those precious first skin-to-skin moments with him. All I remember was frantically being transported from the birthing unit to the operating theatre, and the anaesthetist counting down from ten. I then awoke in the recovery area, still without having seen my son.
The phrase on repeat in my head was “I can’t do this”.
It was only after about four hours that I was moved to the maternity ward and met our son. I remember already feeling disconnected from him, as it felt like he was just being handed over to me by the nurse. I was also confined to my bed, so on my first night being a mum, I couldn’t even get to my son when he cried – the nurse had to help me. As we left the hospital a few days later, I was already thinking, “How in the world can I take care of this baby?”
I worried endlessly about him sleeping too much or too little, not feeding enough, the list went on. My heart was always racing and I was constantly on high alert. We had an early bump in the road when our son was admitted back to hospital at ten days old with diarrhoea and dehydration. This caused my confidence as a mother to drop even further and the anxiety rose even higher. The phrase on repeat in my head was “I can’t do this”.
Baby blues or PND?
A beautiful friend and midwife lovingly pointed me to the Edinburgh Depression Scale and that was when I realised how I was feeling was more than a combination of sleep deprivation and hormonal changes. What I thought was “baby blues” turned out to be something I did not envision, especially not having a family history of mental health illness. I was now having to deal with postnatal depression (PND).
PND is not something you can simply go to the doctor, get some blood tests, walk out with some kind of treatment and carry on. The illness really consumed me and it was probably the darkest moment of my life. At the height of it, I had constant panic attacks. I felt like I couldn’t cope. I was crying all the time. I barely got out of bed. Everything felt impossible.
My soul felt dry and utterly depleted, and I was angry at God.
I also felt no love and affection toward my son. I couldn’t feed him, look at him, play with or talk to him without feeling a sense of disdain. I kept telling myself that either one of two things had to happen: for me or my son to be out of the picture. “Oh, he is still breathing” and “Oh, I am still alive” were thoughts that went through my head often.
My soul felt dry and utterly depleted, and I was angry at God. I could not bring myself to pray to him or read his word.
But God …
In his kindness, God met my needs through my loving husband and brothers and sisters in Christ.
When I could not bring myself to pray, I was prayed over by them.
When I could not bring myself to read God’s word, they continuously spoke truth into my life and encouraged me.
When I was at my wit’s end in the wee hours of the morning, a friend came over at 4 am in her PJs to be with me.
When I could not even make myself food, they set up a meal roster.
All of these acts of love were the Gospel being lived out.
When I was too afraid to be home alone when my husband went back to work, they set up a visitation roster.
All of these acts of love were the Gospel being lived out, and while in the thick of the fog I could not see this, it ultimately helped to point me back to God.
God also met my needs through the professional help that I received.
When I had trouble breastfeeding, God sent me a lactation consultant who I had simply Googled, who turned out to be a beautiful Christian lady.
When we had a short stay at Karitane – a residential service for those experiencing significant parenting challenges – we had an amazing team who went above and beyond to help.
When we were trying to navigate the complex public mental healthcare system, God sent an amazing caseworker (shout out to Michelle Batten!) who jumped through all the hoops for us.
I finally ended up staying in a specialised mother and baby unit at St John of God Burwood Hospital – a mental health hospital in Sydney’s inner west – for three weeks, to manage and treat my PND.
Having come out of the fog, by God’s grace, I can truly say that “his grace is sufficient for me, for his power is made perfect in my weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Final words of encouragement
To mothers who may be experiencing postnatal depression, I would like to offer these encouragements:
1. God never lets you go – PND will not separate us from the love of God
Christian author Ruth Chou Simons puts this beautifully: “Even when our circumstances appear grim, we have the comfort and safety of our Good Shepherd who goes with us, even through the darkest valleys.”
How you “feel” doesn’t negate the fact that God loves you and you have access to him. I realise that having dealt with my PND does not mean I won’t have “bad days”, but I have been reminded to turn instead to the unshakable, steady and strong shelter of our Saviour, who is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1). You can be confident in what God has promised.
2. Lean into community – it really does take a village to raise a child
Allow people to help and care for you. Be honest and open with your village. I have been rendered speechless by the love our little family has been showered with during this time. To everyone who has prayed for us, visited me, cleaned my house, rocked my baby to sleep and made meals for us, thank you from the bottom of my heart.
And to the loved ones of those experiencing PND, I offer this encouragment:
Romans 12:15 says: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Recognise the signs of PND. Anyone can experience PND – it’s something completely uncontrollable and scary, and mothers need a lot of support. Be that shoulder for her to cry on, and don’t feel like you need to ‘fix’ everything. Encourage her, perhaps talk about things other than the baby, and if she needs to seek professional health advice, go with her and walk alongside her as she recovers.
Six months in, motherhood still continues to be a wild ride but it has also been a constant reminder of my need for Jesus.
Jo describes herself as “wife to Jono and mum to baby M. Lover of Jesus, a good bargain and coffee.”
If any material in this story has disturbed you or relates to someone you know, please reach out to the following contacts:
If you are in an emergency, or at immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, please contact Emergency Services on 000.
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636 is a trusted source of information and support for those suffering from depression
Lifeline: 131 114 provides 24/7 crisis support