Beth was interviewed by Shevonne Hunt for the awesome Kinderling radio show Kinderling Conversation, all about kids, health and relationships.
Penny Johnson from ABC’s great Babytalk podcast interviewed Beth about You’re Doing Great, Baby.
You’re Doing Great Baby! Is a picture book for babies but it has a subtle message .. parent’s you’re doing just great too! The book was born (like a lot of parenting projects) when a young couple realised that having a baby was a lot harder than they expected… and they really wanted a way of expressing this to friends and families while giving them support and encouragement as they went. So ‘You’re Doing Great Baby!’ was born, a picture book that when read out loud gives parents a beautiful affirmation that they are doing just fine too!
It’s been a really big deal for me to ‘come out’ as having suffered from mental illness after the birth of my children (yes, I had issues both times). I am writing about my own experience because I found it really helpful to read about other people’s stories when I was recovering, and because a big part of who I am is that I survived two bouts of postnatal depression (later diagnosed as mild postnatal psychosis).
I am also sharing my story because the challenges we’ve been through explain why we are passionate about this project. We have seen first-hand how tender those first few months are and would like to tell parents who are giving themselves a hard time that they are doing great.
You’re Doing Great, Baby is not just for people with postnatal depression. It’s for anyone who has found the learning curve of being a new parent challenging. For people who are tired and have good days and bad days – which is most parents I think.
People who suffer from mental illness often suffer two-fold: once in experiencing the issues and all the ramifications this has on your life, job and relationships, and then again in the shame of keeping it secret. I am not ashamed anymore. Or at least I’m getting there with not being ashamed. It’s a work in progress.
My darkest times were in the first ten weeks after having my first son, Leo. I became convinced I was a total failure as a mother and that Jeff and Leo would be better off without me. I felt unsafe in my own skin. So anxious I couldn’t sleep, watch television or carry out a conversation. So depressed that I couldn’t taste food or see colours. I was paranoid about my caregivers and felt like I was going crazy. Getting up each morning seemed impossible but somehow I did, and I put on a brave face for Leo – crying only while he slept. The thing that kept me going was my love for Leo and Jeff. I couldn’t figure out a way of not being around anymore that wouldn’t scar Leo for life. After ten weeks of suffering in silence – ashamed of what I was feeling at a time that was meant to be the happiest of my life – I told my Mum what I was going through and she made sure I got the help I needed.
If you’re curious about what helped me recover, it was first and foremost a mixture of medication, therapy and support from Jeff, my parents and understanding friends. I was helped along by exercise, diet and sleep (once my own depression-related insomnia was gone, getting up to a hungry baby was much easier).
Birth is such an important time in a woman’s life. When a baby is born, a mother is born as well. Here are some thoughts about my two birth experiences with our boys. Reading other people’s birth stories has helped me process my own experiences, so I am offering these up in the hope they may help someone else.
Labouring at home
Get to hospital: freak out!
Vaccum and he’s here
Leo’s birth was traumatic for me (and probably for him too). We laboured beautifully at home (got to 9cm dilated), but when we got to hospital things went pear-shaped. He was born with the use of ventouse extraction, with a lot of fear and a bunch of medical people we had never met before in the room. He was whisked away for oxygen before I could hold him, or even look at him. We were reunited about twenty minutes later, but it was the longest twenty minutes of my life.
For the first few hours after he was born I felt like it had all been wonderful. I had a beautiful, healthy baby after all.
But then the memories of the birth started coming back to me in bits and pieces, along with a flood of emotions. I remembered being told not to push when I had the urge to (with no explanation) and then later being told crossly that I wasn’t pushing hard enough or fast enough and that my baby was in danger. I remembered the rushed episiotomy. The phone call for back-up being made in haste and the room being filled with medical professionals and bright light and me flat on my back.
I remembered the last thing I heard before he was born was the obstetrician saying to the midwife “of course the heart-rate would be fine now…”
Nothing was explained to me about what had just happened. It felt like I could have just dreamt it all.
“A woman is more likely to develop PTSD if she feels like all control has been taken from her and she is the passive object of other’s ministrations. She isn’t asked for consent, for example, for different maneuvers which they may do. She’s supposed to shut up and let them get on with doing the birth. And she comes out of that feeling helpless, and this helplessness can persist in other areas of her life too, so it’s not just the birth. So she gives up and feels that it isn’t justified for her to take responsibility for anything. And women can feel this for many, many years and I’ve had women in their 60s and 70s call me to talk about births which they haven’t yet worked through and this experience has stayed with them and incapacitated them.”
Sheila Kitzinger (1929-2015), author and birth activist
I believe in Jane Hardwicke Collings‘ idea that “everyone has the birth they need to have to teach them what they need to learn on their journey to wholeness.” She also believes that we learn something from each birth that helps women mother their child. Through Leo’s birth I learnt that I didn’t know how to communicate my needs effectively. Everything that I learnt during Leo’s birth, and in those early months as his mother, taught me how to tell people what I needed and how to advocate for myself and him. Now that Leo is five, it makes my heart sing to see how easily he tells people what he needs. That was always something I struggled with as a child (and as an adult).
I want to share some snippets of our story to show why we wanted to write You’re Doing Great Baby.
When I was a new mum I read A LOT of blogs and articles about things that I was going through and wanting to learn more about, and I found it really helpful and normalising to read unvarnished tales of motherhood. I hope that in turn it is helpful for people to read about our story.
The main challenges I faced when I first became a mother were:
- Mental health issues. I have had postnatal depression (PND), which was later diagnosed as mild postnatal psychosis, after both of my children.
- Breastfeeding issues – Insufficient Glandular Tissue (IGT) and the heartbreak of low supply.
- Birth trauma.
- Isolation and loneliness.
- Not knowing how to look after myself or ask for help.
- Identity crises.
- Freaking out about baby sleep.
- (Listening to) the unhelpful things people say to new parents.
It’s not all challenges though. There have been many, many joys. Especially once the mental health and breastfeeding issues had settled down. I have also written about the good times:
I am going back to my job part-time next week after 14 months of maternity leave.
It brings a chapter of my life to a close and another one is beginning. I look forward to: listening to podcasts on my commute, wearing dangly earrings, being part of a team, talking to other adults, warm tea, learning new things, yoga in the office on Fridays and eating lunch without a million interruptions. But as much as I’m looking forward to the break from total 24/7 parenting, I am also sad about missing out on time with Clem and Leo. It’s a balancing act, right?
If mothering was a paid job I would sit down with my boss each year and reflect on what I’ve achieved and identify the areas I need to work on. Instead, I’ll tell you. I have:
- Loved and cared for little Clem.
- Loved and cared for Leo, and helped him transition to big school.
- Recovered from my second bout of postnatal psychosis and depression (the first was after Leo’s birth).*
- Developed my skills as a cook/cleaner/playmate/dispute resolutions consultant/mumma bear/school mum/washerwoman.
- Worked hard on everything to do with this book (we are going to launch our crowdfunding campaign to actually get the book printed in August – more details to come of course!).
It’s been great work – all of it. I am so grateful to have had this precious time with my family.
The areas I need to work on are: going with the flow, working exercise into my everyday routine, spending time with Jeff where we are not sitting on the couch working on our laptops, and not flying off the handle at Leo.
I find the time right before a change or transition the hardest. The waiting, the over-thinking – gets me frazzled every time.
Baby and kid land is full of transitions. It gives you the chance to really hone your ‘going with the flow’ skills. Kids are great at living in the moment, but heaven knows I need all the practice I can get!
- Dropping naps
- Toilet training
- New beds
- New ways of getting to sleep
- Starting solids
- Going back to work
- New siblings
- New daycare/preschool/big school
I am exhausted just reading this list! But we get through it all, and afterwards I can’t see what all the fuss was about.
If I’m feeling tense and overwhelmy about a change coming up I try to remind myself that it is going to happen whether I resist it, wish it away, or just hang in there. So I may as well relax into it as much as I can and enjoy the ride.
* I am slipping this in like it’s no big deal, but this has been a big challenge for me. It’s something I will have a post devoted to soon because often people stay quiet about mental health issues and I am ready to talk about it.
– For more about ‘going with the flow’ – see my post about the book ‘Buddhism for Mothers’