My Maternal Mental Health

My name is Jessica and I have Postnatal Anxiety. That might be the hardest sentence I've ever written, and I still want to delete 'anxiety' and insert 'depletion'. It seems much less dramatic and much more manageable, and in all honesty it could have just been Postnatal Depletion. However, I didn’t get the help I needed when I needed, so I slid up the scale to Postnatal Anxiety and here I am having to admit it.

Now, let’s take a quick breath together and acknowledge one another. I am so thankful for you reading this story - thank you for taking time out to read this little slice my life. I also want to acknowledge that I am not sharing my story for any sympathy or to receive any gain. I am simply here sharing, what is a very common story around the world, as a way to shed light on a condition that many mamas are suffering from. My hope is that sharing my story will encourage mamas to ask for help earlier than later, and get onto enjoying life with little ones and family and friends. Thanks for taking that breath to acknowledge each other.

My current state of maternal mental health is surely linked to my first pregnancy and birth (and prior), but I can see what’s happening in my body and mind now originating at the end of my last trimester of my last pregnancy. I was TERRIFIED of having a repeat belly birth, and the closer we got to the “due date” (which I hate that I was given a day, and should have resisted even receiving that knowledge, but that’s for another post) the more anxious I became. I knew I had 10 days past my due date to naturally go into labour before the medical system would want to induce me, and I knew if I was induced my likelihood for belly birth increased dramatically. I had written out my birth plan with all scenarios I could think of laid out on pen and paper for my husband to rely on in the heat of any given moment, but I knew it was going to be an uphill battle because my body had never experienced labour before. My first birth was an “elective c-section” (again, not really elective but that’s a story for another time), so the cards were stacked against me.

I remember going into see my GP about 3 days past Leona’s due date and crying out of fear that I would not have the birth I yearned for. I wanted my baby to decide when he or she was ready to enter the world, and I wanted my body to get to experience bringing that baby into the world. Talking with my doctor was so helpful, and in that appointment she did raise the flag that the anxiety I was presenting with now was a risk for Postnatal Anxiety and to be mindful of this. I brushed it off, as I was a mama determined to give my child what I viewed was the best birth possible.

Welcome to the world little Leona

Five days after my due date, my waters broke standing outside of the grocery store. I was more than excited - I was pumped - I was calm, cool and ready to do this! But, after 21 hours of labour and very little dilation + Leona presenting spine to spine I made the call to have a belly birth. I was heartbroken, defeated and exhausted but oh so ready to meet our little baby. Plus, I wanted to prevent any unnecessary trauma for the two of us. I logically know I did the right thing, but emotionally this decision is still something I struggle with to this day and I believe this is the root of my current maternal mental health. In the hour and a bit discussion we had in the delivery room on belly birthing versus persevering towards vaginal delivery I remember pointing out that I felt like a failure as a yoga teacher for mamas. How would I be able to stand up and teach women how yoga could assist them in their deliveries when it couldn’t even assist me? Again, logically I know there was no place for that in our conversation, but emotionally it was there and the pressure I put on myself was very real.

My Baby Blues came and went with day 3, post birth. I was crying and I was sad, but I knew what was happening and I let my husband and mother know it was only my bodies reaction to the lack of hormones being created. The sun rose on day 4 and all was right with the world, and it seemed to stay that way for quite some time. I specifically remember loading the kids up in the car one day with my husband and saying “this is the happiest I have ever been in my life.” Life. Was. Good.

When Leona was about five months old, corona virus came to Australia and all the nasty realities that came with it. This pandemic has affected us all in so many ways; ways we are all yet to still define. Covid forced me to close the doors to my small mama + baby yoga studio and to stop teaching my other classes around Brisbane. While my husband and I still had my in-laws visiting at the time, the reality of being internationals from different countries raising a family away from our families really started to set in. So my husband and I decided to make the best of it, and to take advantage of the pause that Covid brought. We moved away from Brisbane and into an area with more space that aligned with our intentions to raise the kiddos. But in this move I was losing my identity. My business and my home were no longer where they once were. My milk supply starting plummeting, I was diagnosed with psoriasis, my skin started looking the same as my 62 year old mother (she looks awesome, but hey I am only 34). Postnatal Depletion had set in, and I knew something was amiss. At this point I should have poked my head up and said, my body is not operating the way it should - I need help. I knew what was happening, so I thought I alone could quietly cure it. I thought I could meditate and pranayama my way out if it. Spoiler alert, I could not.

Following the purchase of our new home, I started snapping at my husband and my children regularly. I was so sad and so homesick for my family and friends back in the States. Anytime my husband left the house I was terrified something horrible would happen to him, and the kids and I would be stranded alone in a foreign country. I definitely enjoyed too many glasses of wine at night, and was not eating how I should have been. Snacking on the go, and desserts if you please. Postnatal Anxiety had now set in on top of my depletion. About a month or so after getting settled in our new home we had our first overnight visitor. A great friend to all four of us, it should have been easy. But having someone else in my bubble, highlighted how anxious I had become. It was as if seeing myself through someone else’s eyes, outside of my immediate family, allowed me to finally see how mentally unhealthy I had become.

A day or so after this friend returned home, I sat my husband down and just broke down. I told him I was suffering from Postnatal Anxiety, and I told him I didn’t know what to do for it anymore. I told him I no longer wanted to feel this way, and that I just wanted to enjoy life as a family four again. We hugged, we cried and we talked for hours. I went to sleep about 1,000 pounds lighter that night. That was the beginning of the healing for me. I chatted to my acupuncturist/friend (shout out to Spring Acupuncture) and explained how I knew things were off and I needed some help. After that chat, she very quickly determined I needed more supplements. For some reason I had stopped taking mine (going to write that off to the move), and getting me back on some quality mama supplements was a game changer. From there I booked in with a naturopath that not only has my psoriasis finally healing, but my mind too. Yes with some natural medicine, but also with her time and energy to chat and discuss everything I am dealing with and feeling.

So what is the point of all this sharing? Because I truly believe that sharing is caring, and that by sharing my story I might be able to help another mama out there in her maternal mental health journey. Know the signs, ask for help and do the work. Be aware that birth trauma is real, and that sharing that story is super healing (stay tuned for birth story circles, coming soon). Talk to your people and get them involved in your health. Acknowledge that coming into motherhood is a very transformative time, and this transformation takes time. None of us know what we are doing, but the more we share our stories the more we can learn from one another. If you need someone to talk to - I am 100% here! If not me, then find someone you’re comfortable sharing with and work together to come up with a healing plan that feels right to you. We are not intended to mother alone, and we are not intended to bear down and grind through motherhood either. It can be an amazing journey full of amazing relationships and amazing enlightenments, but we have to allow it to be that way by sharing and caring.

Much Love, Jess

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