As I sit here writing this post, my beautiful 8 week old baby boy, Cypress, is snoozing peacefully in his bouncer and the first 6 weeks postpartum feel like a distant memory filled with some of the darkest days I have ever experienced.
Before I dive into sharing my most personal experience, I would like to add a little disclaimer. What I experienced was in no way a reflection on Cypress. I wasn’t sleep deprived, I wasn’t nervous to be a Mum and I wasn’t scared that something bad would happen to him. It was so much more than that at although it was triggered by is birth, it wasn’t caused by it. I would also like to say that if you or someone you know may be struggling, please seek professional help immediately, your mental health is worth fighting for.
My labour and delivery didn’t exactly play out the way most first time Mums would hope for but it was exactly what Chris and I had expected and prepared for. After 23 hours of labour, I was wheeled into theatre for an emergency cesarean delivery. We always knew this was a possibility due to my Mums deliveries and a few complications I had during my pregnancy. One day when I get time, I’ll write my Birth Story.
The first two days after our little boy was born were bliss.
Chris and I sat in hospital staring at our perfect little creation, watching hilarious YouTube videos of Mum and Dad Life rap songs (not a great idea with a belly full of stitches BTW) and dreaming of what our life will be like for the next 5 weeks until Chris returns to work.
On the second night, my Mum came to visit me in hospital and stayed into the night to help me settle Cypress and thank god she did because this is when ‘Baby Blues’ hit and wholly shit do they hit hard. I was fine, totally fine and one little insignificant comment reduced me to a blubbering mess that I just couldn’t pull out of.
The following day wasn’t any better as I continued to sob into my blankets while Cypress and Chris caught up on sleep. The afternoon of day 3 we made a decision to head home, thinking that I would feel more comfortable and settled once I was in my own space. I had experienced some vomiting which the midwives put down to exhaustion.
We stepped out of the hospital doors into a dry 38 degree summer afternoon and I felt a little nervous at the thought of Chris driving for the first time with our baby in the car. The trip home was tense and I just couldn’t relax and once we got home, the tension built. It was SO hot and I was vomiting again. I tried to cool Cypress in a cool bath which he wasn’t having a bar of and all it did was make him scream hysterically. I hadn’t been able to eat all day and when I ended up on the bathroom floor vomiting with my eyes rolling, I called for Chris. He carried me to the couch and rang my Mum. Mum came up, got some food into us and cuddled Cypress for 7.5 hours through the night while Chris and I slept.
Problem solved right? I’d caught up on sleep and had eaten some Vegemite on toast.
Two days later, I still hadn’t been able to eat much, was still vomiting and felt dizzy, hot and prickly, faint and I suspected an infection or reaction to something from the cesarean. I phoned the midwives who told me to come up immediately to be checked out. After hooking me up to all the machines and running all the tests they could, they had no idea what was up with me. I remember staring at Chris sitting across the room from me with a puzzled look and saying “what the hell is wrong with me?”. He commented that the words I was using and the way I was speaking was like anxiety. It was one of those light bulb moments where the doctor and I looked at each other in amazement. How could anxiety be affecting my physical well being this much?
I was admitted back in and kept under observation for another 4 days with Cypress by my side and Chris coming in each day to sit with me. During this time I met with social workers, psychologists, counselors, and even a chaplain in the hope of working out what the hell was going on and how I was going to manage it. Eventually I was diagnosed with Post Natal Anxiety which I had never even heard of, I thought it was Post Natal Depression we all had to watch out for?
From what it seems, I had just experienced a 3 day long panic attack.
I convinced myself the cause of my anxiety was the heat and the fact that the shed was so unbearably hot in this heat wave summer we were experiencing. All I could think was that I can’t be at home. I would dream of being able to stay in hospital until summer was over and all I could think was if this is summer on the farm, we need to move.
Our mums banded together to make an executive decision that we would go and stay with the in-laws in Currimundi until this heat passed and that I was not to return home after leaving hospital in case it triggered another panic attack.
I arrived at Currimundi in a daze. I couldn’t quite act normal, my voice wasn’t mine, my thoughts couldn’t slow to focus on what people were saying to me and apparently my eyes reflected this for the first couple of hours. Then after settling in and Cypress dozing off to sleep, that switch flicked and I was suddenly myself again. I remember looking up at my MIL and saying “Oh, Hello!” as I finally felt like I was there, in that same dimension as everyone around me.
In true Rigby, Fitzgerald form, our family rallied to help us out. While we camped out in their spare bedroom, my Dad, Chris’s Dad, Mums Partner, Chris’s Dads best mate and Chris all worked through the night to insulate the shed roof and install two big shade sails off the side of it in the hope that this would reduce the heat, and help me be at home.
Once the work was done, we had a BBQ to celebrate and I remember being so optimistic about returning home to finally start life the way it was supposed to be, just in time for Valentine’s Day.
I can’t even explain my disappointment when we returned home for two nights before I was hysterical, hyperventilating on the phone to my MIL in the middle of another crippling panic attack.
I was so dissapointed in myself and frustrated that these feelings hadn’t gone away. I felt like I was letting my son down, my husband down and was making our life harder than it needed to be. I felt guilty that this was supposed to be the most amazing time of my life and I was ruining it by crying and hating being at home so much it was making me physically ill.
I phoned my doctors surgery in tears and pleaded with an emergency appointment. They said they could see me in 2 hours and I remember thinking “I don’t have 2 hours”. I don’t remember much of that conversation but they told me to come in right away. As I sat there sobbing, telling my doctor I wasn’t coping and I desperately needed help to get better, I could feel the load lightening just a little bit.
He put into action a Mental Health Care Plan which entitled me to 10 free sessions with a Psychologist who visited the surgery. I assured him I had no intention of harming myself or Cypress so he was satisfied with not medicating me at that point.