My name is Lynda, I live with anxiety and depression. My first and so far only child was born five weeks early at Wellington Hospital. This is my wellbeing story.
Those lines on that pregnancy stick will always change a person’s life. For me, it changed the way I live with anxiety and depression. A borderline panic attack followed the realisation of what two pink lines meant. I knew someday I would have to change the way I “coped” with my times of unwellness, avoiding people, staying in bed all day, binge eating, was no longer going to be an appropriate way to cope with life when I felt life couldn’t cope with me. There was now someone else to think about, look after, keep safe, be strong for. What was I thinking, I can’t even be strong for me, and here I went and got pregnant. Brutal thoughts and sheer panic, not joy or happiness as it should be, my crooked thinking again. And just as terrifying, what if I had an outgoing child, I would have to become an extrovert as to not dampen her spirit.
I wanted to bury my sand, hide, believe it wasn’t true, I cried, we wanted this, we knew it would happen, so many couples are desperate to have children and this was my reaction. I suspect I’m not alone, I can’t be. I hope I’m not. My anxiety stems from fear, of the known and unknown varieties. Reading up wasn’t going to help, not reading up wasn’t going to help either. I was now forced to face I had a problem in my life that impacted my wellbeing, my joy, my happiness and my relationships.
With no other option other than to go forward I started to take control, baby steps to make sure I could be the best me for this little person. I found a midwife I could trust, I googled for reviews. I researched, when we met, it was right. From that point on, I made the decision to trust her completely. If she didn’t panic, I didn’t, if she said not to worry, I didn’t worry, she briefed me on specialist appointments and scans. I put value on her advice and didn’t take any from Dr Google. It was the best decision I made for my wellbeing during pregnancy. The second best thing was she had boundaries for contact. I didn’t have her personal cell number, it was done through a type of small contact centre. It helped me set my own boundaries, I was too shy to call all the time, it forced me to wait and assess, is it urgent? Do I need the answer now? If I was desperate for an answer and I didn’t feel I could call, there was always HealthLine. Did it stop the worrying and panic of is my baby okay, or is this scan abnormal? No. It didn’t. But what it did do is allow me to breathe. To be able to be okay if things were okay and not be so worked up and anxious that I missed hearing the heartbeat for the first time, that I could have excitement and not dread.
It was after the 13 week scan, the “time when it’s okay to start telling people” time, that my pregnancy became real for me. It was happening. We are in this. Walking and eating well became the thing to do. I’ve always found walking clears my mind and works like a reset button. Fresh air, getting away from the situation, distracted by the sights. I wish I remembered it more. I tend to easily forget the simple things that keep me well. A complicated problem doesn’t always need a complicated solution.
Pregnancy is tiring, there’s an expectation to do everything as before and expend energy growing a person at the same time. Slowing down from the DINK (double income no kids) lifestyle can be a challenge. Learning to turn down invitations was hard to do, I didn’t want me being tired to be an excuse. Being okay with saying no, not this time, not right now, such a good skill to learn, I didn’t want to disappoint, unfortunately I had to say this to my life long close friend of 20 years, the morning of her baby shower. I had no physical strength, my mind was exhausted with emotions.
Practise makes perfect, being forced to choose how to spend my time wisely, with a pretty good reason to back it up, has given me the confidence to keep doing it. Giving myself a voice and prioritising my time, my family, our daughter’s needs was empowering for me, the shy, the introvert – Today I cannot stay late at work, no I won’t be volunteering extra hours for that event, no photos of our daughter on Facebook, please remove them – I learned my time and voice are valuable, if I was to put a price on it and there was no monetary remuneration for it, would my time be spent wisely? Is the cause worth the donation of my time? Giving myself value, gave me freedom. I no longer worry about offending people if I have to say no. It means I’ve done right by me and looked after myself so that when I do say yes, I’m at the top of my game and able to give my full commitment.
Staying in the hospital for two weeks didn’t lend itself to walking, ‘me time’, slowing down, none of it. What it was, was shock, fear, the unknown, sleep deprivation, pain, tears, stress and a whole new world of bodily functions. I was allowed to move into NICU with my daughter. This was in the time of the old hospital and we were given a tiny, windowless room with a towel over the door for privacy. We lived a four hourly routine. I cried a lot. Hormones, emotions, unexpectedly early baby… but I was allowed to stay with her. So many mums get discharged from the ward and because of criteria or where there baby is at, they are unable to stay with their babies, they go home without them. We were lucky and grateful. My heart still breaks for those parents. A few days later I also found myself leaving the hospital to go home for the night. Everything finally caught up with me, it was recommended I go home. I was allowed to call the unit as much as I wanted when I got home, I was even allowed to turn around and come back. My bed would still be there in the morning, with her bassinet at my feet. Utter heartbreak. Figuratively, I felt my soul crushing. It is a heavy weight. Part of it was guilt. Part what ifs, and a concoction of emotions. I slept though, through the alarms, my husband did too, I still don’t know how he found the strength to leave us each night in the unit. It turned out some nights he couldn’t and was so tired and strained he would sleep in the car in the basement. And that was just one night for me. Some parents, it can be months of going home without their little one.
We got through it. 4 hours at a time, that was her feeding schedule. The routine was reassuring. Somehow we were able to laugh with the staff, both NICU and The Neonatal Trust. At dinner, we ate with the other parents in the lounge, making connections, sharing progress and encouragement.
The people involved
The staff were amazing; carer, expert, friend, counsellor… There are not enough words to say how thankful we were and still are for their guidance. Medical professionals who got it. Staff who could empathise. The NICU and The Neonatal Trust staff understood the gravity of the situation and their willingness to be available and take the time to sit with you, made it easier to process, to come to grips with a premature baby, to help me grieve the last part of my pregnancy. The final belly pop. The hurry up already…. Being able to talk to the staff, being okay to open up with them, cry in front of them, ask the “stupid” questions, no matter what the time, no matter how many times, to seek reassurance and get rid of that emotional and stressful weight so I could look after me and focus on a very determined little girl.
After two weeks we got to take our daughter home. Yes, I checked with the charge nurse when someone would inspect our house first, apparently not a prerequisite to do that before taking your own child home. They gave us their direct dial number – direct access to the paediatric medical team, 24/7, my mum was on a flight, we were set. It brought on a new wave of emotions, fear, anxiety, it was us and a baby that technically should still be on the inside…
What followed was Anger, Denial, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance, it took me 15 months to go through the grief process coming home. Yes, I had my baby, yes I should be, and am grateful. I still had a process to work through. My mum had postnatal depression, she helped me set up routines, let me cry, let me offload, I still had to do the dishes (no escaping it, even in your late 20s), took me walking, and was a presence to help me work it out, she couldn’t live with us for all of the baby years, but she helped me have my me time, she helped remove the barriers and excuses, a voice of reason over protest when my husband’s voice was lost in the sound of my crying.
Slowly things came into place, catching up with the friends we made in NICU, via txt or in person made a difference beyond the walls of the unit. Talking, sharing, encouraging. Knowing you’re not alone, that someone else is more than likely struggling with the 3am feed, the development milestones, birth date adjustments, the crying, your own and/ or the baby’s.
It also helped and I’m not sure if it’s the right word, but being brave with saying to the midwife, I am struggling, I need help, x,y,z isn’t working. Being brave to go to the doctor and saying, I might need some extra help. And I say brave because sometimes you feel like you need the world’s courage to get there, sometimes it feels you need to be brave to do it. You don’t need to feel brave, embarrassed or ashamed. There is no shame in it. There can’t be. There is no shame in going to a gym for physical wellness, it is admired and applauded, mental wellness deserves the same kudos.
At that point in time, those first few months, I needed help, my midwife made extra appointments to see me, my doctor was there to chat. I needed to make sure I was okay enough to look after our baby, to have her needs met, not just the staples, but to be able to love her and enjoy our new little family unit.
It was a two steps forward, 1-4 steps back process. A lot of crying, rehashing, same conversations over and over. It wasn’t until another pregnant friend recently joked that I should write my little tidbits of advice for her down that I thought, maybe I’m ready to really to work through our daughter coming earlier. I bought a notebook and I wrote, I wrote a letter to my pregnant friend, a survival guide of all I learned, a personal, semi comical parenting handbook that seems to be out of stock on discharge from the maternity ward. The manual of the newborn. The final chapter began with my final week of pregnancy, the all access pass to my labour, the mad driving by husband to the hospital, hindsight recommended calling an ambulance. I went so far as the post-birth, bodily functions and revealing my worst fears and anxieties, things I couldn’t put into words out loud, not even to my husband. The fear that, even though my baby girl was born healthy, I could have lost her in the womb. She was born five weeks early with a three hour labour and a knot in her umbilical cord. If she had gone full term she may not have lived, if she had, I’m told, there was a high chance of development issues caused by a restriction of blood and oxygen through the umbilical cord. When I worked out the last sentence was holding me back from accepting what had happened and being “okay” with that, I stopped spending time on rehashing, more time enjoying the now and the future, not that what was or could have been.
Being grateful that we have her, she’s healthy, she’s home, she’s safe, she is loved. She’s okay, my husband’s okay. I’m okay.
That weight of the world is gone, I’m not “cured” of my anxiety or depression by any means, I’m still an introvert, I still panic in crowds and avoid offending people, what I have learned through this is what my priorities are, it dictates my strength to make things happen and when I’m lost for a while, that I can be found again, somewhere inside I’m still there.
My thoughts on Wellness, which may be of use for others:
1. Walking, getting out, exploring, fresh air, beaches, parks, gardens
It removes you from the situation, hard to be on google looking for advice when you’re walking and it encourages you to breath deeper, get more oxygen in your body to help you relax.
2. Get a good midwife/ doctor
No spark or connection? Find another one you connect with, first and foremost they’re your medical professional, you want to be able to trust them so that when you need to be honest, you can be. When you need their advice, it will be delivered in a way that will support you.
3. Eat well/better
It goes without saying by all medical professionals. When you eat well your body and brain get the right nutrients to help keep balance on the inside. Stock your freezer with lunch sized portions of meals. Lunch times were the hardest meal of the day for me initially. Making suitable freezer meals for lunch, and not just dinner, which could reheat in the microwave and still taste delicious helped me keep up good eating patterns. Know someone who needs a helping hand with freezer meals? Church groups and Bellyful are organisations that can help pitch in. Those first few weeks are tough. Food is something that can be delegated. Bellyful were so generous to us in those initial weeks. You can request Bellyful for yourself or other families and it isn’t income tested, they do have a criteria, check out their website www.bellyful.org.nz
4. Write it down and talk it out
Internalising problems generally speaking, doesn’t work out that great. Like food, we want good stuff on the inside. Also like food, our bodies want to get rid of the bad stuff, externalising a problem can help remove the feeling down, those horrible thoughts, from our bodies and minds. Find a friend, counsellor, talk to your midwife or doctor. Get a book, write it down. Just get it out.
5. Routines – flexible routines
Write it down, stick it to the fridge. They do the thinking for you when you’re in a daze. It also helps when people come over and say what can I do – you can point in the general direction of the fridge and there’s a list. And do let them help. Let them get the cuppa. After 6 months, you probably have to start playing host again, until that day, make the most of it!
6. Find your zen
What’s your hobby? What’s your wellbeing place? What do you do that lights you up? Is it baking? A hot cup of tea and a book? Is it crafts or colouring in? Find your happy place. Let’s face it, as much as you want sleep, as much as you need it, it’s limited and possibly not so refreshing. Find your zen, if you’re going to be awake anyway, might as well enjoy it.
Some great advice above.
If you are going through a tough time, please remember that there are always support options available.
Seek help from your lead maternity carer, GP, friends, and family.