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.

 

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Hungry, Hungry

Both of my nurslings love their solid food. Nursling 1 has even sailed into toddlerdom without becoming too fussy about food. Most of the time this results in the satisfaction of empty bowls and messy grins. Other days my diet it determined largely by what nursling 1 has refused to eat.

Last night nursling 2 signaled the end of her dinner with her daily “oh no, my tea is all gone and I am very sad about it” yell. Which I fixed with some milk while nursling 1 tucked into her curry. With both girls fed I fetched my own dinner, which was raided by nursling 1 as well.

How hungry can one toddler be?

Obviously very hungry, because after raiding my dinner she promptly as for more. So I fetched her a snack of nuts while grabbing a pear for myself. At which point both girls decided they wanted my pear for themselves.

How many mouths can one pear feed?

Three apparently. As I doled out chunks of pear to nursling 1 and chewed up portions to nursling 2, and tried to get a few mouthfuls in edgeways for myself. This left both girls happily satisfied, and not long after husband returned with frozen yoghurt sticks which left me happily satisfied.

This morning nursling 1 made up for her food pilfering by generously feeding me grapes as I pushed her and nursling 2 in the trolley back to the car (paid for before we started eating them!). Before once again sharing my lunch then demanding more grapes. Today is another hungry day. And so it continues.

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

drifting.jpg

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.

Scritch Scratch

Nursling 2 likes to hold her food now, whether it comes on a spoon, in rusk form, or from the breast. At the same time, her rate of fingernail growth seems to have doubled. No matter how much I cut the things they remain sharp and scratchy!

As she breastfeeds her little fingers grab fistfuls of skin and scratch!

They make nipple shields to protect that part but I need something to protect the rest. I wonder if such a thing exists.

The Transfer

Long gone are the days of transferring nursling 1 into her bed when she falls asleep in the car or the rocking chair. Evidently she has decided that she’s too big for this. Luckily she has also evidently decided she is too big to fall asleep in the car or rocking chair anyway, and happily talks herself to sleep in her cot.

Nursling 2, however, falls asleep in the car on almost a daily basis, and when the circumstances are right the transfer is successful. Achieving the right circumstances is a finely balanced thing with a toddler in the house! It goes something like this:

  • Arrive home.
  • Unload the toddler, the nappy bag and any shopping out of the car. Carefully avoid hitting the toddler with any of the bags as you open the front doors (she likes to be where the action is).
  • Explain that you’re just going back out to the car to retrieve “sister”. This should prevent any freaking out so long as the toddler isn’t too hungry or tired herself.
  • Gently, gently untangle the baby’s hands from her car toys.
  • Gently gently undo the straps and pop them over baby’s shoulders.
  • Carefully pick up the baby, avoiding snagging her legs on the tethering strap of the rearward facing capsule/travel system.
  • Tuck the baby’s face into your shoulder and pat them back to sleep if whinging occurs.
  • Juggle holding baby in cradle position and opening both doors. Even though you only shut one, the toddler is sure to have shut the second. Avoid hitting the toddler with the door, as she’s probably still standing behind it.
  • Sneak quietly down to the bedroom and carefully wrap the baby.
  • “Shhhhh” the toddler, tell her “sister is sleeping. Repeat this step as often as necessary. Hope she doesn’t decide to start shouting.
  • Lay baby down in her bed and shoo the toddler out of the room before she wakes up the baby.

Sound simple enough, right?

Just when you have all this mastered (and feel a bit like supermum) the toddler will throw you a curve ball. Cue the noisy toy.

Yesterday, I’d just finished wrapping up nursling 2, who successfully stayed asleep (hooray!), when nursling 2 picked up and started blowing on the tin whistle, that up until that point I had no idea was on the bedroom floor. Nursling 2’s eyes flew open wide, with a rather shocked expression on her face accompanying this rude return to the land of the awake.

Oh dear. Time for some quick thinking. I hurriedly confiscated the tin whistle from nursling 1. Handed her a shoe which was lying around to distract her from the confiscation and stop the inevitable crying. Luckily nursling 1 absolutely loves books, so I had very little trouble convincing her to go find a book for mummy to read her, and using the time she took to find a book, managed to pat nursling 2 back to sleep, lay her in her bed and dart out the door before nursling 1 could return.

We read the book of choice. Nursling 2 stayed asleep. Two happy girls and one happy mum. Hooray!

 

Almost Civilised

We haven’t done a together feed in a while. Nursling 2 is getting bigger and bigger and there is only so much room on my lap, and besides that, the girls have very rarely wanted to milk at the same time. But the other day they did. So we curled up together, the three of us, in the rocking chair for both girls to have milk at the same time, and I was surprised to find that the experience had become civilised. There was no kicking, no squirming, no poking or hair pulling. Nursling 1 looked lovingly at nursling 2, nursling 2 looked back at her and reached out her hand, and they held hands peacefully. Not needing to fend either child of off the other, I relaxed and enjoyed the moment.

Well, that is until nursling 2 finished. At which point, smiling happily she commenced poking, hair-pulling and kicking her sister, who admittedly took this pretty well and continued to feed undeterred.

Sigh.

I will revel in that small moment of peace and perfection.

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/

 

 

 

Words, Words Everywhere!

Last night nursling 1 could be heard running around the lounge room announcing “I am NOT ticklish!”

In the last few months her vocabulary has expanded hugely and her love of books has grown just as much. Currently her favourites are anything Spot or Hairy Maclairy and friends. Most evenings I can be found with nursling 2 sitting on one knee trying to grab any book (or any other thing really) that I am holding and nursling 1 bringing me a book, snuggling into my lap to be read to before getting up to find another book. Aside from reading the several Spot and Hairy Maclairy books that we own over and over and over and over, we also borrow from the library, and you guessed it, the latest borrowing included a book about tickling.

It is really quite astounding how nursling 1 can remember and repeat so much from the books we read. Another new skill she has picked up is making the connection between things that are alike. If there is a  minuscule circle somewhere, she will find it. Milk is still quite important to her, and so the other day when I was occupied feeding nursling 2, she wandered over to daddy, pointed to daddy’s shirt and asked, “Daddy milk?”.

Sadly, “daddy milk” brings only disappointment. But the wait for “mummy milk” seems to still be worth it, and ends with a happy, satisfied toddler.

Missing Pieces

With a toddler in the house, objects turn up in the strangest of places. There are, for example, the multiple instances of pieces of food turning up days later all shriveled and dried up in toys that open and close or just have holes of appropriate sizes. I once found a plastic spoon in my mop water, and clothes pegs of course turn up just about everywhere you could think of.

Shoes seem to be a particular favourite of Nursling 1’s to stash stuff, whether it be nicely squishy food, or hard plastic toys; either way not so fun when you put the shoe on and aren’t expecting it! Recently she’s also taken to putting “fluff” (aka: anything I picked up off the floor including hair, actual fluff, small pieces of paper, sticker or other grot) in the bin which is quite sensible, except that other things end up there as well, like pegs and shoes.

We have a great toy library near us, so I’ve started borrowing the types of toys that we don’t have any of ourselves for Nursling 1 to develop different skills. Most recently we borrowed a set of big building blocks, which are awesome. At the end of the day I did my normal check to make sure all pieces were there. Shock, horror, one piece was missing. ‘No worries’, I thought, we’ve got 4 weeks for it to turn up, and after checking all the bins in the house, I was pretty confident it would turn up eventually.

Two days later it unexpectedly turned up in my ugg boot as I was putting it on. Ouch!

All pieces present and accounted for.

The Best Thing on Offer

We have officially reached toddler hood with Nursling 1. While this is a wonderful age full of discovery it definitely comes with its own challenges, especially when it comes to food. Foods that were favourites yesterday, and literally disappeared off the plate before you can say ‘Amen’ are left to go cold and eventually end up in the bin the next day. Foods that have been asked for are then rejected when offered, only to be asked for and rejected again. Yoghurt has to be interspersed with precisely the right amount of Weet-Bix. One day the whole bowl full of food is downed and then some, and another day hardly any is eaten at all. Food is also often used as a toy and shoved into the crevices of any actual toys that it will fit in, leaving a trail of crumbs in its wake.

And yet, despite all the fussy, messy changes of mind there is one food that is never rejected.

Yes, you guessed it… breast milk!