Today is the final day of Perinatal Depression and Anxiety (PNDA) Awareness Week 2016. To mark the occasion, Anna Reed writes about anxiety in mothering, and the value of finding other mothers who are going through the same thing.
Some days we don’t leave the house. My little boy whistles on my chest and bounces his legs up and down. Ung, he says. He looks at the leaves clinging tightly to the branches and smiles.
There’s a little cloud outside so we’ve cancelled our appointment in a northern suburb, slightly further from our own.
We’ll go for a swing at the park dude, I promise him. Just not today.
He doesn’t mind. He sits on the floor and pushes a truck into another truck. Ung! He says. Ung!
My husband drives me to the doctor. It’s not the first time. Every time it happens I feel like a failure. I feel like a trailer that has fallen off a truck on the motorway, lying helplessly, while drivers sigh and steer around it.
My doctor speaks fast. Her voice is reassuring. She tells my husband to take a few days off work to support me. He brings me coffee in bed and takes our child to the lounge for a bit.
It was a difficult pregnancy. Multiple hospital admissions for pain and bleeding. I left my busy job early, left my friends to become a stay at home mother months before my child was born. These were the friends I’d made since moving to Wellington, my support. A group of funny, awesome people. I said I’d come back and visit lots. I was full of promises, my growing belly full of promises and excitement. On the last day of work, the car was full of presents, balloons, cake. I smiled at the pale buildings and drove slowly away.
My son was born by emergency c-section. I had half expected it. In a small white hospital gown, it looked like his christening day. I held him below my elbow, kissed him. We would be fine. I love you son, I said, I love you.
Back in the hospital for feeding problems; he won’t put on weight. We’re given the codes to get into a room for parents there for the long haul. My baby is so tiny that his newborn clothes hang off him. Our days are a series of input and output charts. He loses another 20g. I start to find it difficult to breathe in this hospital room with one small, non-opening window. The nurses are kind but quick – in and out, leaving interminable hours of cuddling my child closely against my defective chest.
The pediatrician tells us that it might be cystic fibrosis. He’s failed a test. In the car, my husband and I say nothing. There is a whole ocean welling up in my eyelids. We see healthy babies in their pram walking past us out the hospital window. I don’t want this. I don’t want this life. On the way home, I ring our family doctor but I can’t find the words. I hang up the phone. One small rain drop falls down the car window and smashes on the ground outside.
My due group on Facebook is wonderful. Other Wellington mothers offer us support and love. I am so grateful.
He’s finally putting on weight. It’s February now. He’s four months old. I force myself to go out, go to baby gym and baby activities where my son grabs at balloons and I sing words to him over the soft melodies of baby music. I have a small success rate with these outings. I blame the baby: he’s sleeping, I’m sleeping. I’m tired. I shouldn’t be afraid of driving him, of leaving the house with him, but I am. At mums’ groups, the other mums smile and chat. I rock my baby against me and talk to him softly. I pretend it’s just him and me in the world.
We go to work so that I can see people. I put on a different face for work: I work on smiling with both sides of my mouth. I hand my child around and ask for the gossip. Sometimes I stay too long and when I leave and we drive away, I drive around for an hour not wanting to go back home to a silent house.
My son loves it when we go out: when we go to Playcentre and to the playground. Sometimes we take the train because it’s easier to cope with. The other mothers are lovely and I wish we could go every week. My baby sings and moves around. I’ll see you next week, I say at the end. I don’t know how to explain.
On my due group, a few of us discuss anxiety. We never call it anxiety – it’s that feeling. We start posts with “Is it normal?” or “Sometimes I feel…”. We all love our babies but how do you explain the feeling of wanting to be in two places? Of wanting to be at work, talking to people, but not wanting to leave your baby? Of the loneliness? Of the love for your child, so strong that you stay up at night scared of losing them. I often stand outside his door, listening to him breathe peacefully, making sure he’s okay.
I find a group on Facebook for mothers like me. At first, I don’t want to join. I see that there are four girls I know who are members, a couple from my due date group and all in Wellington.
After joining, I get a message from two of the girls. They’re grateful I joined, grateful someone else feels the way they do. We make plans to meet up and have coffee. I’m happy to have something to do, something to put on the calendar. Something local so that I don’t have to navigate a bus and a train. Girls who understand why I can’t drive into Wellington.
There’s so much I talk to the girls about. So much I can’t write here. A group of us meet up in a cafe. We don’t even talk about our struggles but just get to know each other; we talk about our husbands and children. We add each other as friends on Facebook. Every day when I push my son down the street, I find that the strange faces become familiar. So many mothers like me. I never realised how many, how much.
Back in the hospital again, this time for me. When I’m home, weary from the drugs and sleepless nights of four hourly observations, a friend brings a pyrex dish of dinner for us. Our children play together in the lounge. The sound of talking, of crying, of music, makes me smile.
A South Island girl at heart, Anna Reed lives in Wellington now with her husband and one year old son. Anna enjoys wine, coffee and poetry. You can find her work in Landfall Magazine and Cordite Poetry Review.
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