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‘I’ve never had to fight so hard before’: How I battled PTSD after a traumatic birth

At The Spinoff Parents we are committed to publishing stories of parents who have struggled with poor mental health in the hopes that others will see they’re not alone and we can break the stigma of mental illness in parenting. Here Kelsie Moroney shares her story of overcoming PTSD after a traumatic birth.

Content warning: This post contains a descriptions of mental illness. It may be upsetting to people who are struggling with their own mental health. There are helplines at the bottom of the piece – if you are in urgent need please call the Suicide Crisis Helpline (open 24/7) – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO).

Kelsie and her baby Brook

I didn’t think about post-natal depression before I had my baby. Why would I? It was something that other people went through – other mums, not me. I was married, we owned our own home and we were pregnant. Life felt perfect.

So how was it that three scary, out of control months following the birth, I had no choice but to face this beast of a thing  – post-natal depression – head on? I am still trying to figure that out.

My pregnancy was easy: I continued going to the gym until I was 33 weeks pregnant, then towards the end of the pregnancy my blood pressure went up and my baby’s movements began to decrease. I would lie on the couch just waiting and waiting for him to move. The relief when he did would dissipate my anxiety until the next long period without any movements. This continued until I went into labour.

Like many mothers, I didn’t know what to expect in labour. I had heard birth stories from other mothers and I had been to antenatal class, but nothing can prepare you. Things can change so quickly. And they did.

My waters broke Sunday morning. I laboured at home with horrible, horrible pains in my back.

I wanted it to stop. I hated the feeling of waiting between contractions, and the not knowing when the next one would be.

That night I desperately wanted to just go to the hospital, I didn’t want to be at home anymore. The disappointment was huge when my midwife said I couldn’t go to hospital because my contractions weren’t close or consistent enough.

I felt like giving up, I didn’t want to do this. But I obviously had no choice. Finally, at 1am my husband rung my midwife and said that we needed to go. We met at 2am at the hospital. I’ll never forget the drive to the hospital, even though I didn’t feel like I was in my own body. Little did I know that this feeling would be repeated when we were driving home from the hospital too.

I was assessed by my midwife. Lights were turned down low, the birthing pool was filled. I had my husband by my side. This was OK I thought. I can do this.

I felt calm, I felt strong and in control. Then, with the snap of a finger those feelings vanished. My midwife got me out of the pool and onto the bed.

My son’s heart rate had dropped significantly. People came rushing in and stood over me; their panic was transferred onto me. Time seemed to slow, but everyone was rushing. My body shook. I could not control any part of my body.

Months later, I would close my eyes and see everything once more and feel that pain again. Then the tears would pour down my face.

My son’s heart rate thankfully returned to a safe level. Specialists arrived, specialists went. I was pushing for what seemed forever. My midwife kept me going. She kept me strong when I lost my way. She did all that she could do, but in the end, I gave up, my body gave up, my mind gave up. I was prepped for an emergency c-section.

I felt relieved that I didn’t need to push anymore and that the pain would stop. But that feeling of joy and relief was taken over by what my body was now experiencing. I shook, cried and felt completely out of control. I remember lying there shaking with every contraction, truly petrified.

Being reunited with my husband in the theatre made me feel a bit better. He held my hand, but the look on his face, the look in his eyes was one I had never seen in the 12 years we have been together. He was terrified too.

The anaesthetist struck a nerve twice, sending the left side of my body up in the air. I cried out in concern. What was going on? Was this normal? I wanted to run away. I wanted to quit. I was so scared.

I didn’t feel anything when my son was finally born. Everyone talks of that moment of joy, when you instantly fall in love. I didn’t. I just wanted everything to end.

Back on the ward, a lactation consultant was brought in. She used the words “inefficient feeder” over and over. My heart broke. She stood over me, telling me what I was doing wrong, what my baby was doing wrong. She did not ask me how I was.

I don’t remember much of the first week of being home. I remember crying every time I tried to breastfeed. I hated it. It didn’t feel right. I wanted to give up.

I kept telling myself that mothers don’t give up on breastfeeding. But I did give up. I had to stop breastfeeding. I had to be strong not just for me but for my baby. Breastfeeding was not making me feel strong.

Looking back on it now, I was strong. I put my baby on formula not because breastfeeding wasn’t successful, but because I didn’t like it. I put myself first.

My husband was due to go back to work and I felt scared. I felt like I couldn’t be trusted alone with my son. I cried. I couldn’t stop crying.

I didn’t know what was wrong. I felt like I didn’t know who I was.

My husband, sister, and midwife recognised these feelings as symptoms of post-natal depression. I went to after-hours and was prescribed anti-depressants. I didn’t want to be on anything. I felt I had failed. I had failed as a person, as a mum, as a wife, as a sister, as a daughter. Taking the first pill was huge – I had to overcome all of the feelings I had about medication. Things didn’t get any better. I was spiralling down.

I tried a different medication. I still cried every day. I was still wishing my life away. I felt so guilty for feeling like this. What sort of person was I? What mother wishes her son away?

Panic attacks set in, nearly every day. I was constantly wanting to run away. I used the 0800 mental health line at two different times to get support. Through talking to them and my family I decided that I needed to get more professional help.

This realisation came when I thought about just driving into the sea.

I didn’t want to be alive. That scared me. I knew I had truly hit rock bottom. I used the advice of a very close cousin who is an occupational therapist to make some small changes, to regain some control, to learn how to want to be a mum.

I changed GPs to one that specialised in mental health and I saw him every week. I changed my medication and my husband signed me up to the Napier Family Centre Post-Natal Adjustment group and we attended the course weekly. I was working with a psychologist doing EMDR therapy which is for people who have Post Traumatic Stress. I needed help to process my son’s birth. I was doing mindfulness every night. I had to fight, I had to work hard, I had to do this. Thankfully I was able to access a psychologist privately – but not all mothers out there are able to do this. I fear for them.

I have never had to work so hard before. I have never had to fight so hard before. I have never had to change so much before.

*

I now look at my six-month-old son and I love every part of him.

Kelsie and Brook today

I don’t wish away what I went through. I believe that it made me love myself, my husband, my family, and most importantly my son, even more. If you had of asked me previously if I ever believed I would recover from this, I would have said no. There was no way I thought I could get better, there was no way I thought I would ever have the feeling of wanting to be a mum. I never thought I’d see myself as a good mum.

I have learnt that there is no ‘right’ way. What you do is the ‘right’ way for you. Everyone is different. Everyone has different expectations and different ideals – and that is OK. We are all allowed to experience pregnancy, labour and motherhood differently.

I can now look back and be proud. Proud that I fought, for myself, for my husband, for my family, but most of all for my son.

And finally, as a friend recently said to me: “You have got to earn your Mummy stripes before you receive all the blessings”.

Bigger stripes, bigger blessings.

Kelsie Moroney is a 28 year-old mum of one and school teacher from the Hawke’s Bay. She loves coffee, her family, cafes and helping others. 

Where to get help

Lifeline – 0800 543 354

Suicide Crisis Helpline (open 24/7) – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

Depression Helpline (open 24/7) – 0800 111 757

Samaritans  – 0800 726 666

Youthline (open 24/7) – 0800 376 633. Text 234 for free between 8am and midnight, or email talk@youthline.co.nz.

0800 WHATSUP (0800 9428 787) – Open between 1pm and 10pm on weekdays and from 3pm to 10pm on weekends. Online chat is available from 7pm to 10pm every day at whatsup.co.nz.

Healthline – 0800 611 116

For more information about support and services available to you, contact the Mental Health Foundation’s free Resource and Information Service on 09 623 4812 during office hours or email info@mentalhealth.org.nz.

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