Guest Blogger: Rebecca Allen
Just this last weekend my husband compassionately said to me “I wish you got to enjoy Harvey the way I did when he was little”. My reply was a heartfelt “so do I”.
For me, being new to motherhood was a time full of anxiety, fear, paranoia, isolation and depression.
Pre-children, I was a woman of the world! I had travelled extensively, really lived my life, and had moved back to New Zealand when I met my now husband. Within two years I had my own Hairdressing Salon, we got married and bought our first home. I was a party girl, always keen to drink wine and have fun, that was me, it was a blast! Dying to become a mother since ‘forever’, I was EXSTATIC when I fell pregnant.
By the time I was 15 weeks pregnant I was struggling to keep my head in the game. I had come undone when I immediately stopped drinking alcohol and smoking when I found out I was pregnant. I had taken my coping mechanisms away, and I had nothing to replace them with. Oh, well, I ate, I ate a lot. I gained 35kgs in that pregnancy, which in itself created feelings of uselessness. How pathetic of me to let myself gain so much! I berated myself continuously day in and day out, it was damaging to my heart.
I had a full-blown breakdown and was taken under the wings of Maternal Mental Health and was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. I knew I was depressed, but Bipolar?! My history with addictions and impulsive behaviour spoke a very clear story, the problem was that I was pregnant and couldn’t be treated with medication for it. I was given an antidepressant that took the edge off, and I joined a group of other women experiencing similar issues. We did different types of therapy together and individually, it was a real turning point in my life; sober and keen to help myself as much as I could.
I was the type of woman who wanted a home birth and to breastfeed for 2yrs (yep, I was her). Well, my baby’s head never engaged fully, even after my waters broke, so my midwife told me I was going to have to go to hospital. The devastation was real. I was unfortunate to end up with a three-day labour ending with an emergency c-section. I haemorrhaged badly and had a blood transfusion. My body was madly trying to get me better rather than make milk for my baby, which of course was another blow. I pumped and pumped and pumped. DESPERATE to breastfeed like I always had imagined I would. My feelings of ‘not good enough’ grew by the day.
We stayed in hospital for a week where we were given the news that our baby possibly had something wrong with the bones in his head. I don’t remember thinking much of this at the time because they let us go home.
We hired a super-duper breast pump, and I continued to pump, 8 times per day. I was running on nothing. Not feeling good enough, not enjoying this BEAUTIFUL baby I had grown inside me. I became phobic of public spaces because of germs, and phobic of people for the fear that they could see how useless I was at being a mother. And of course, they did see it, because they kept shoving advice at me, like I had no idea of what I was doing (I believed this).
By the 8 weeks mark I had built my breastmilk up enough to solely feed my baby, no more formula top ups, a MASSIVE feat in my eyes. Unfortunately, my mood started to take a dive, and within another month and a half I was so depressed I thought they would take my baby off me.
One day he lay in the middle of our bed smiling at me and I just didn’t have the energy to smile back at him. I decided he deserved so much better than this and I called my keyworker at Maternal Mental Health. She was there within an hour and so was my husband. The support was wrapped snug around me. I was given a full review of my meds and told I really needed to be treated for Bipolar to get better, which meant stopping breastfeeding because the medication passes through the breastmilk. It cut me in two. I grieved. That may sound dramatic, but I had always seen myself breastfeeding my children.
We had a Psychiatric nurse come into our home for a month to look after both me and my baby. This was instead of putting me in a psych hospital. I am SO grateful to this day for this service because it made a HUGE difference to our little family. I slept for a good 10 days then started finding my feet again as a new Mum with her guidance.
It wasn’t long after this we discovered our precious baby boy had indeed been born with a condition called Craniosynostosis. All of the bones in his head had fused together around birth, and they’re not meant to fuse until the child is approx. 2yrs old, this explained his difficult birth. We were told he was going to need major Cranial Facial Surgery. It was a tough time to say the least and I chose to deal with it by taking up drinking and smoking again. I sat with an undercurrent of disgust in myself and did what I could.
Time moved on, as it does, and when our son was two I fell pregnant with our daughter. As much as I was happy to be pregnant again, I was relieved that my drinking days were over. Again, I stopped it all, and that was where I left it! This was 8 years ago. I have received so much support from different mental health teams in Auckland, Hamilton and Thames. I am not gripped with addiction, I have many healthy coping skills that help keep me a happy well lady. For me to stay well I keep my physical health on top, I exercise 5 days per week, I eat well, I nurture my relationships with family and friends, I practice mindfulness, I use Emotional Freedom Technique to release emotions, I journal, and I take medication. I get a bit wobbly if one or more of these things in my wellness recipe have been neglected.
I am now the proud Mumma of Harvey who is 10 and Lily who is 8. I have the worlds most supportive and understanding husband and wonderful girlfriends who are there always. When I see a new Mum struggling my heart hurts and wants to emit loving energy all around her. It is such a damn hard job and if she is suffering in any way shape or form of mental distress she needs support. One of the BEST things I ever did for myself was make that call, putting my hand up and saying I need help. I accepted every single bit of help that was offered and that’s what I put my wellness down to today.
If you’re a Mumma reading this and if you need help, please ask for it, please.