How Mother's Day can be extra hard when you have postnatal depression

<i></i>
 Photo: Getty Images

Two weeks before my very first Mother's Day, I was discharged from a mother and baby psych ward. I had new pills, a new psychiatrist, and - momentarily at least - brief respite from wanting, so desperately wanting, to die, to escape the pain I'd carried into that admissions office.

After three long weeks, I adjusted, slowly, to being back in the "real world" - sleeping in my own bed, getting coffee from my local cafe, and taking my 10-month-old baby to the park now carpeted in autumn leaves. But while I no longer wanted to die, my body still ached with a sadness so physical it hurt to be touched. I was alive, yes, but my heart had been switched off.

I have no recollection of that first Mother's Day. Unlike all those other precious firsts - the moment I heard my baby's heartbeat, the first flutter of a kick, first crawls and steps and smiles - that day has been lost, swallowed by illness. What I do recall, however, and vividly too, is exactly how I felt in the lead up to it.

Oh how I dreaded that second Sunday in May.

From the moment I gave birth, the moment my son was placed on my chest, nothing about motherhood felt "normal". Nothing was how I had expected it to be, how I had hoped it would be. And, perhaps most unsettling, how I'd heard others describe it.

"As soon as I met my baby it was love at first sight!"

But it wasn't.

I waited. And waited. I stared at my perfect newborn in his plastic hospital crib and I wondered where the love was hiding. He was beautiful. I felt nothing. And that meant one thing: I was a monster. 

"Breastfeeding is really natural!"

Advertisement

But it wasn't for me. I couldn't feed my baby, no matter what I tried. My body was failing me and I, in turn, was failing my son. The shame was a constant, stinging companion.

"Motherhood is the most fulfilling thing I've ever done. My life has meaning now."

But it wasn't. It didn't.

I felt empty, rudderless. My psychotic depression worsened. I lost touch of reality, of whether or not I still existed. I was too ill to return to work, to a job I loved. Who was I without my job?

Who was I, full stop?

I was a mother who was struggling to bond with her son, who was unable to breastfeed, who desperately wanted to get back to work because I knew how to do my job. I was competent in my old life. I was useless, so, so useless in this new one.

And so, as Mother's Day approached, I felt I didn't deserve to be "celebrated". Motherhood had turned my life inside out and upside down until I no longer recognised it. My PND had stolen my friends, my career, my ability to think and read and feel. It had sucked the colour from my face, the skin from my bones and the light from eyes. Motherhood had broken me - and I had no idea how I was supposed to rebuild.

I didn't deserve love. I didn't deserve recognition. I didn't deserve praise. I didn't deserve anything. 

What was there to celebrate?

Today, my Facebook memories showed me this post from 12 months later - and all those feelings came flooding back. It happens sometimes, a momentary winding, a reminder of all that was and all that could have been if didn't receive the help I did. Those feelings don't floor me anymore though - not like they used to. They're just part of my story.

I write this, five years later, happy and healthy and mum to the most wonderful five-year-old boy. This year, I'm looking forward to Vegemite on toast in bed, a handmade card and whatever bits and bobs my little one has chosen for me. I love him, fiercely. When the love eventually broke through the layers of depression, tore at the numbness in my body and my mind, it didn't stop. It hasn't stopped.

If you're reading this, deep in the trenches of postnatal depression or anxiety, go gently this Mother's Day. When you're depressed, when you feel worthless, you don't feel deserving of love, of attention, of being spoilt. But you are, oh how you are. It's now that you need it most.

It will get better, I promise. There's help and hope on the other side of these black days. Let your loved ones carry that hope for you if you don't believe it yet. Let them protect it for you and remind you of it.

Take the kisses and hugs and the flowers and know that you're loved, on Mother's Day, and every other day.

You're so very loved, mama.

If you are suffering from anxiety or depression, or know someone who might be, contact BeyondBlue.org.au (call 1300 224 636), LifeLine (call 13 11 14 or chat online after hours), or PANDA National Helpline (1300 726 306).