Breastfeeding through PP

Breastfeeding through Puerperal Psychosis was a very different experience to breastfeeding through Postnatal Depression. And to any mums out there who have had PP who are reading this, whatever your experiences and decisions were I respect them. I can only reflect on what mine were.

Unlike Nursling 1, Nursling 2 emerged hungry and fed very soon after birth, and has fed well ever since. For the first 6 weeks breastfeeding both girls was a great way of sharing my attention between the two, and began a bond between my 2 girls as well, as Nursling 1 would often be very affectionate towards Nursling 2 while they were sharing a feed together.

Then when Nursling 2 was about 7 weeks old PP hit. The emotional swings that came with PP very much impacted on my feeding. At times, breastfeeding became a magical experience and I felt like I had an amazing bond with my children, as if we were at one with each other. Then, although breastfeeding my girls had always been very important to me at times I was convinced my milk was harming them, and at other times I became very annoyed at having to feed the girls because I was forced to sit still and it kept me from doing very important other things (like cleaning the house and solving the worlds problems). Still, I had enough insight to remember how important breastfeeding really was to me and persisted.

Things became more complicated when I was admitted to Helen Mayo House. Firstly, because of how important sleep is to recovery from PP, it was decided that the nurses would care for and feed Nursling 2 overnight. I already had a pump and an abundant supply, so I would pump first thing in the morning about double what was actually needed and Nursling 2 had her breastmilk from a bottle overnight.

What really complicated things was medications. Some Psychiatric medicines are among the few things that are truly contraindicated (in lay mans terms a huge no-no) when breastfeeding. There are other psych drugs which are not recommended but breastfeeding can be possible under tightly controlled conditions. But the doctors were perinatal specialists, and kept me on medications that could be breastfed on for as long as possible, and alternatives were discussed, albeit they sounded more scary than stopping feeding, when it began to look like I might need the “not recommended ones”. We had in depth discussions with the doctors and pharmacist about a particular drug, lithium, and whether it would be possible to continue to breastfeed on it, but thankfully were spared having to make that decision when the antipsychotic I was on started doing the job.

Being separated from Nursling 1 was tough as well. Breastfeeding became an important point of connection between us when she visited, and helped in the transition to home as well.

As if psychosis wasn’t enough, PP is often followed by depression, and it can be pretty severe. For me, I experienced is much as a pendulum on an old clock swinging between mostly okay, perhaps even tending towards mania, and really down. Once again, breastfeeding became something I could always rely on to work, something that I was good at, and helped me to have a little self confidence, and importantly stay bonded with my girls during that time.

I’m still recovering, and I am so thankful that despite the challenges that we faced, that we managed to keep breastfeeding all the way through my experiences of mental illnesses.

Breastfeeding through PND

Breastfeeding is always one thing that has worked well for me. I should clarify that “worked” includes cringing through the early days (or with nursling 1 weeks) of totally normal nipple tenderness (tenderness is an understatement), enduring oversupply for weeks with nursling 2 and months with nursling 1 and, working our way through the “biting” phase, and more recently, battling nipple thrush (which is rather painful). Still for the most part, breastfeeding has been comfortable, easy and joyful. But mental illness throws a spanner in the works, and I cannot separate my breastfeeding journey from my mental health journey. I want to share with you breastfeeding through mental illness has been like for me.

I was always adamant that I would breastfeed my babies. The more we learn about human breast milk the more we discover that it is quite literally the perfect food for human babies. The WHO’s recommendation is to breastfeed for 2 years and beyond. I wasn’t sure that I’d quite make it that far, but I was going to try (and we’re almost there).

When nursling 1 was born I fell in love with her straight away. I know this doesn’t happen for everyone, and that is fine, but for us some combination of having a natural labour and birth with all the rushes of oxytocin and other hormones just as nature intended, and God’s blessing it did for us, for which I am very grateful. Breastfeeding didn’t happen for us straight away after birth, but it came together over the first few days and soon we were pros. For me, breastfeeding solidified the bond that had begun in the moments after birth, and it would become an important anchor through my PND journey.

I know that many mums who have mental health struggles also struggle with bonding and attachment. At times, during PND it was very hard to feel anything positive at all, even love for Nursling 1. But somehow, sometimes, breastfeeding seemed to have the power to break through that, particularly when she would then contentedly fall asleep on me, affection for her would rush back. I think it helped her form a secure attachment too.

At times not even breastfeeding could shift the dark cloud, and sometimes at those times I didn’t want to feed her at all. I didn’t want to touch her at all. I found a way to breastfeed her, side-lying so that only her mouth was touching me, nothing else.

Breastfeeding was an anchor to my baby. At times, when all I really wanted to do was run away, I told myself that she needed me to feed her, at least for the first 6 months, and after that point I told myself she wasn’t ready to give it up yet. And just knowing that in at least one way I was most definitely wanted and needed by her helped me to keep pushing on.

As the depression began to lift and I began to enjoy her more and more, breastfeeding still remained a way to keep us close, even when after falling pregnant and my supply dropped, it wasn’t providing much in the way of nutrition.

Then, when the depression came back later in pregnancy, it once again helped me feel affection for her again when I felt the worst. It also helped launch labour, and then softened the blow of having to share me with another little person once Nursling 2 came along.

 

Getting the Pencils Out

Today was the first time since I left Helen Mayo House that I got the pencils out and drew a picture. It has been a long time coming. I started drawing as a sort of documentation of my mental health journey when I was pregnant with nursling 2. Sometimes a drawing helps me to express what is going on for me mentally and emotionally in a way that I can’t do with words, particularly when I am mentally unwell. Then, I find, having gotten these things out of my head and onto paper I am better able to explain what the drawing is about that I was able to verbalise what was going on for me in the first place.

As well as helping me to express myself, drawing has also been a great method of self care, as it allows me some time to myself, is relaxing and enjoyable. It works for me much the same way as a walk by the beach, a hot shower (or cool at this time of year) or baking a batch of biscuits. Needless to say, I did a lot of drawing and colouring when I was in Helen Mayo House. As well as passing the time, it helped me to begin to recover.

Here are a few of the drawings that I have done over time (please be kind, I am very much an amateur):

long road to wellness.jpg

The Long Road to Wellness

anchored by God through the storm.jpg

Rocked by the Storms of Life, Anchored by God

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Drifting Through Life

Drawing isn’t for everyone, but everyone goes through stress and tough times. Please be kind to yourself. Take time to care for yourself because it’s the only way you’ll find the energy to keep caring for others.

This Is My Story

This week, 13-19 November, is Perinatal Depression and Anxiety Awareness week.

After experiencing mental illness after the births of both of my children, perinatal mental health is a subject close to my heart. Although much is changing, and campaigns such as Perinatal Depression and Anxiety Awareness week are increasing awareness within the community and beginning to break down barriers, there is still much stigma, misinformation and lack of awareness that still needs addressing. It is very common for parents (yes, dads too!) to experience mental illness during pregnancy and after baby is born. Sadly, many mums and dads still find it hard to speak up about it. All new parents need support to stay mentally and emotionally healthy, and those that do experience mental illness need extra support on their road to recovery.

Like many women, I found it hard to speak up about my own experiences with mental illness after my first daughter was born, and chose to share my struggles with only a few people for quite some time. Closer to the birth of my second daughter I plucked up the courage to share with my church. As you may expect it became impossible to keep it under wraps any longer once I was admitted to Helen Mayo house with Puerperal Psychosis when my second daughter was almost 2 months.

Today I want to share with you my own experiences with perinatal mental illness. I hope that by doing so I can help to create awareness, reduce stigma, help anyone out there who might be struggling now to feel less alone, and help break down the barriers that are making it hard for parents to speak up.

My journey began with a healthy and happy pregnancy with my first daughter. Aside from the morning sickness that lasted until birth I was physically well. Aside from stress related to my mother being unwell in the last month of pregnancy I was also mentally well. After normal, straightforward labour my daughter was born healthy, took to breastfeeding like a duck to water and was also quite a settled baby.

Then day 3 came around and I warned my husband, “I might be a bit emotional today as my milk comes in”. Sure enough I was. I was amongst the 80% of women who experience the baby blues. I expected it to get better over the next few days, but the random bouts of tears and mood swings continued and over the next few weeks morphed into postnatal depression.

Postnatal depression (PND) sapped my energy and motivation, it took away my appetite, it made me feel incredibly guilty and think that my parenting was not good enough. It made me think that everyone was judging me, made me feel cold towards the child that I knew deep down I loved very much and it made me feel sure that she cried because she hated me. It took much of the joy out of parenting. But the worst part was the intrusive thoughts that would just pop into my head unbidden and were often about my baby getting hurt.

I was fortunate to be educated about PND and sought help from my GP and a psychologist and it wasn’t too long before things began to get better. When my first daughter was 8 months old I became pregnant with my second and by that time, although I hadn’t completely recovered, I was almost there. Unfortunately around this time, baby number one started to go through a really rough sleep phase. Lack of sleep was definitely a trigger and I began to struggle again and this time irritability hit the hardest and was what I had to work hard to tackle. Eventually baby number one started sleeping well again, and was even sleeping through the night in her own room by 14 months.

Then, sometime during second trimester the depression came back with a vengeance. Some days the intrusive thoughts were relentless. It made it hard for me prepare myself emotionally for a new child! And so I trundled off the my GP again and with the help of sertraline (Zoloft) and my psychologist things began to get better again (although the first few weeks of medication was unpleasant to say the least).

Then my second daughter was born. I fell in love with her straight away, she also took to breastfeeding well and I even sailed past day three without getting the baby blues. I started this blog to share some of the funnier moments of parenting two breastfeeding girls and everything was going well. Around the 6 week mark started to feel a bit flat so I made an appointment with my psychologist, but before I saw them, to coin a figure of speech, “all hell broke loose”. We were off to take nursling 1 too see the snow on Lofty (rare as hen’s teeth) when conspiracies started sprouting from every corner, the radio was transmitting secret messages about rainbows and the snow on Lofty was a result of cloud-seeding by an unknown terrorist group. My husband took me to the doctor, then to ED, who linked us in with the community mental health team and after about a week I had scored a bed at Helen Mayo house (a mother and baby psychiatric unit), where I’d stay for 6 weeks.

Puerperal Psychosis (PP) was like a roller coaster. There were the highs, when I had so much energy I was going to clean the house and save the world and run marathons whilst baby-wearing nursling 2, when I felt at one with the universe and a deep connection with both girls, when I thought I could come up with groundbreaking theories that would wow society. There were the lows, when I was inexplicably irritable and snappy, when I was convinced I was being spied on, that the world was going to end, or that there were agents of the devil all around. There was also the plain weird (and at times kind of amusing), when I seriously suggested that the zoo should get some Velociraptors to increase their revenue.  PP also made me incredibly forgetful, so that I could walk past the same whiteboard at Helen Mayo 10 times a day and each time have to re-read what was on it because I’d forgotten.

With the right medication, rest and time I began to get better. The crazy thoughts became less convincing and eventually disappeared entirely, and the mania went away. Nursling 2 is approaching 6 months of age, and it close to 3 months since I left Helen Mayo House. I am doing well, but will be on medication for a while, and am tackling side effects such as drowsiness and a tendency to gain weight. Support and self care are still really important, as is getting enough sleep to stay well. I know I still have a way to go before things are really back to normal.

If you got this far, thank you for letting me share my journey with you. If you’d like to learn more about perinatal mental illness, check out the links below:

https://healthyfamilies.beyondblue.org.au/pregnancy-and-new-parents

http://www.panda.org.au/practical-information/about-postnatal-depression

http://www.app-network.org/what-is-pp/

 

 

 

Chatter Box

Nursling 2 and I are now home from Helen Mayo House (thanks again wonderful staff!) and back at home with Nursling 1 and daddy. For the last few days before we came home though, we thought it would be a good idea for daddy and Nursling 1 to join us overnight to ease everyone back into the normal routine.

When we’re at home, Nursling 1 sleeps in her own room, and Nursling 2 sleeps with daddy and I. Due to to the set up at Helen Mayo we needed to fit all four of us in my luckily fairly roomy for a hospital room room. Still with an extra cot added to the double bed, single bed and pram that were normally in there for Nursling 2 and I things were getting a bit tight. And how would Nursling 1 sleep, we wondered, being in with the rest of us? She’d probably get distracted and wake for any little noise, we thought. Cue some creative thinking from daddy.

Fortunately the cot was on wheels, and even more fortunately it fit in the bathroom. So Nursling 1 slept in the bathroom while daddy and I trundled down to the visitors toilet overnight if needed. This all went brilliantly well the first night, and everyone slept well.

The second night daddy and I took Nursling 2 back out to the lounge with us while Nursling 1 settled herself to sleep, and when Nursling 2 was down and sleeping in her pram we wandered on back to quietly get into bed ourselves. We’re just settling in as we hear, clear as a bell (bathroom acoustics are rather good after all), “good girl, good girl!” coming from the bathroom. Is she awake? No, it turns out she’s just such a chatterbox that she talks away rather clearly in her sleep. And it seems we’re also raising a confident and self assured little girl.

A Shower’s a Shower…

Not all bathrooms are created equal.

My bathroom at Helen Mayo is certainly not equal to my bathroom at home.

Before I go on I must explain a few things: I seem to have won the perinatal mental health lottery and have been diagnosed with postnatal psychosis (Puerperal Psychosis for all you old school peeps out there). And so nursling 2 and I have been staying at Helen Mayo house (a mother-baby mental health unit) for the last few weeks.

Thank you to all the wonderful staff at Helen Mayo who are helping me to to plant my feet firmly on the road to recovery. Any apparent criticism is meant in a completely jocular way. In fact I am very grateful for the unit and all the staff!

Now, back to bathrooms…

In the bathroom stakes there are some things that definitely help a bathroom rank higher than others. An actual bath is very high up on the list of desirable characteristics, for example. But in the absence of an actual bath, a shower screen, or even just a shower curtains is pretty high up there too. This is something that Helen Mayo House’s bathrooms lack. The ability to shower in privacy is also quite high up there, but in here nurses can swipe themselves in to the room at any time if they have too (although a shut bathroom door and shower noises seems to be pretty well respected…) and there is an intercom so nurses can hear baby cries from their office and come running.

This is a typical shower here:

  1. Prior to shower make very sure that everything you need is in fact in the bathroom (especially a towel and clothes!!)
  2. Shut the door
  3. Turn shower on. Try to adjust pressure but finally grudgingly accept fire-hose grade pressure because it’s either that or none.
  4. Step into the not quite warm enough stream of water.
  5. Watch the puddle of water spread most the way along the bathroom floor (no curtains or screen remember!)
  6. Listen carefully for baby squeaks and door clicks whilst soaping and shampooing considerably faster than normal pace. Hopefully you’ll hear neither. If baby does happen to squeak finish off quickly and attend to baby to prevent the nurse from coming in before you’re dressed.
  7. Make sure to open the bathroom door before using any spray deodorant or hair driers or you might score a visit from the fire-fighters.
  8. Breathe a sigh of relief that you managed a shower without anyone inadvertently seeing you naked.

That being said, there are 2 big advantages to showering here:

  1. Not running out of hot water…ever!
  2. Only having to work showers around 1 nursling, not 2.

I do miss my shower at home!!

However, a shower is a shower, and oh how nice it is to be clean!