When the test read pregnant I was taken aback. I was 40 and a couple of years earlier had recovered from brain surgery to remove a tumour. It had taken a year to wean myself off the anti-seizure medication. At the time, I was told we were not to have any more kids due to risks to the baby and my personal health. But nature had other plans for me and my family. The pregnancy went smoothly, with the birth all natural without too much medical interference and we were gifted with a healthy and happy, almost 10-pound boy.
I’d hoped to be at home with our new baby for his first 3 months so that we could have that bonding time as well as breastfeeding was really important to me. This meant Chris had to work to cover our living expenses. But for a whole number of reasons, Chris wasn’t getting enough work. Within 5 weeks, I made the call and said I would go back to work. It was the practical and logical call that was best for all our family. And it was my decision.
So I went to the shops, bought a tin of formula, made a bottle up which our son took willingly and with no fuss. Chris was clapping and saying "good boy son, good boy." That’s when the tears started. I looked into my baby’s face and watched him suck in the formula so easily.
I had so much milk. My boobs were weighing me down in size F cups on my size 12 frame. "F" for fricking huge! Chris looked at me and I could see the look of confusion on his face. Why was I upset? It was my call to go back to work. We wanted him to take the bottle, didn’t we?
My sister in law came to visit just as baby finished his bottle. She took one look at me and just knew. Knew I was falling apart. Knew my heart was breaking. She knew as a mother, and for me in particular, the significance of feeding your baby.
I went back to work the next day. I think I got asked no less than 20 times, who is looking after the baby? Don’t you want to be at home with your baby?
I survived two days at work before the weekend when I could hold my baby all day. That first day back at work. I didn’t see him all day because of sleep times. Everyone seemed elated about that too. Everyone except me. I hadn’t been able to hold my baby for a full day, night and the following day.
I work in the office of a Construction Company. Predominantly with men. I would hide in a little back office at work pumping off milk into a container. Hiding away feeling exposed with my shirt open, ashamed and a contraption on my breast to relieve the pressure of no baby consumption. Uncomfortable in my body which was still trying to shrink back recovering from birth.
Taking my milk home for my baby in a little chilli bag I kept in the staff beer fridge. He didn’t want it. He now preferred formula. He didn’t want my milk anymore. Nevermind that it was better for him, had important antibodies and the most natural food source for him. He didn’t want it. I was tipping my precious breastmilk down the drain.
This continued over the weekend. I missed him so much I just wanted to hold him all day and all night. Chris was trying to get him into a routine of putting himself to sleep but I just wanted to hold him. I would hold him to sleep and watch him sleeping in my arms.
Later that day Chris and I had an argument. I can’t even remember what it was about now. Something trivial. I felt alone. He couldn’t see me. He thought I was just being a difficult moody bitch but what he couldn’t see was me dying inside and fighting to stay afloat. Fighting to keep my emotions in check. Trying to be reasonable, logical, sensible and all the things that I would normally be.
I started telling myself I didn’t belong here and my family were better off without me. I'm a burden. I'm useless. I’m not meant to be a mother. I’m a terrible wife. How can I escape this pain and feeling of despair and hopelessness? I started visualising or fantasising about how I could end my life. I never felt like I was going to hurt my baby. It was my own personal safety and sanity that was at risk. A strange feeling of sadness, hopelessness and negativity.
I lay down on the covers of my bed crying. Not silent tears that slip into the pillow but really bawling. Snot dripping down my face, hiccupping and the pillow drenched in tears. I couldn’t stop. Literally. I couldn’t stop. I just wanted to lie down and cry all day.
I was so tired of crying but I couldn't sleep. I just lay there looking out the window into the trees crying, wishing a hole would open up and I would just fall into it and disappear. When I cry I can’t talk. Chris was at a loss. I’d had three kids before and we had endured many of life’s challenges and I had never been like this. Ever.
This isn’t me. There is something wrong with me. What is wrong with me.
I need to go to the doctor.
Chris rang the doctor and called my cousin who had been my birthing partner too. She came over and hugged me. Held me for the longest time as I cried into her shoulder. She held me firm and told me she had me. I told her a little of what I was feeling. I started to feel a little better. Chris too. He could now see me and what he needed to do to support me.
I went to the doctor. A young man, younger than me and I imagined probably single with no kids. Fresh out of medical school and absolutely no real-life experience with what I am going through. I try to tell him that this isn’t me. I can’t stop crying.
We agree I have mastitis and a fever. Antibiotics will help he says. I tell him if we can just make the milk stop I believe I will be better.
Please make the milk stop.
Apparently, there are a number of drugs and options available to help make milk but none to make it stop. Typical.
My doctor was very careful not to give my condition a label in our face to face discussion. We were talking in circles with him telling me that I had a lot on my plate right now, mastitis and my hormones all out of whack. I could sense he was uncomfortable with my emotions. He also referred me to a counsellor and stated I was going to come right after a few days. I've seen my medical notes since then and postnatal depression was his official diagnosis.
On reflection, I had probably more stress and worries that any new mother should. But what helped to heal me was talking. Talking with my sister in law, talking with my cousin and eventually to my husband. Every woman who suffers from postnatal depression is different. It can be triggered by different things and it heals differently for everyone.
This was my journey and I’m happy to share it with all of you. Because sharing has helped me to heal my heartbreak.
Editors Note: Melanie’s story highlights the overwhelming stresses that can affect new mothers. As we have seen, living through postnatal depression can be one of the most overwhelming, frightening and debilitating experiences a woman can have. It is my belief that we need much more support for mothers in the form of spaces for women where they can access timely and free family planning, pregnancy and post-pregnancy yoga, doula services and counselling. If you are experiencing postnatal depression, some useful links have been provided below.
You can also find out more about depression and get support from: