I am the girl in the pretty dress, who has the perfect life. I have two beautiful children, and an Instagram and Facebook page full of lovely pictures to match this story. Social media pages full of happy videos and smiling faces. Up until recently at least, until I just couldn’t bring myself to post anymore because I couldn’t take photos without my smile feeling untrue. I am stuck in a deep world of depression.
I have been stuck there for some time now, but too afraid to share it publicly because of the shame, guilt and stigma that come with that condition alone. Add to that the million different types of ways mothers get judged and I just thought, not today. I do not have it in me to be that vulnerable publicly. That is why I have not posted for over a year. I do not know how to write without sharing my truth, and to write dishonestly felt wrong.
I have always loved my children and my family more than anything, and the life I have now is what I have dreamed of since I was a child. I have everything I want, so why do I feel like this? I am riddled with guilt for having suffered from Post Natal Depression and Anxiety. Mother guilt, wife guilt, human being guilt, whatever other guilt you can lump on there, just add it for good measure.
Recently someone said to me that I looked so beautiful during all my pregnancy photos. Don’t get me wrong, I was very flattered because I always wanted to feel beautiful when pregnant. There were some moments I did, and I liked that.
Though her comment made me wonder how many other beautiful pregnant women felt like shit while looking beautiful. Looking beautiful on Instagram having other women look at them and think ‘Damn, she’s rocking it like a radiant goddess, why can’t I be more like her’.
I told her my secret to faking it (which I will not share here, but believe me it is a hilarious and genius way to get a genuine smile out of anyone) all and how horribly painful and debilitating my pregnancies actually were. That I could barely walk or move without pain, that I wasn’t able to look after my two year old daughter for most of my pregnancy. I spent $4,000 at the physiotherapist during my last pregnancy just in the hopes of still being able to walk, because I couldn’t with my first without pain that brought me to tears, and I have a high pain threshold. I did manage to avoid the need for crutches this time, just, even if there was talk of a wheelchair and walker at one point. Though the sacrifices I made to keep my mobility this time cost our family a lot more than money. So much more than money, I’d need another blog entry just to begin to explain.
At least I got to look beautiful during my pregnancy photos though. I truly do love those beautiful pictures. Even if I was suffering mentally and physically. I got that out of the experience, feeling momentarily beautiful. Even if in my first pregnancy shoot the crutches were just out of sight and I was leaning against a tree not to be artistically beautiful, but because I couldn’t stand on my own.
Trees, helping out struggling preggo’s since the dawn of time, I imagine. They’re both pretty and practical for your incapacitated preggo’s photo shoot. BUT I did look stunning, right!
No one noticed the reason I had so much trouble and pain during my pregnancies was because my uterus was perforated during a medical procedure, many years ago, and it was missed. I have spent over four years in pain and just found out this fact very recently. I was sent home in pain when I should have been hospitalised and treated. The doctor’s didn’t see a girl in a pretty dress that day, they saw an overweight patient with a poor pain threshold, which is also why they thought I had so much trouble walking. No one took the time to think that perhaps they made a mistake and the pain I was in was anyone else’s fault but my own.
As my babies grew they literally tore my body apart and I have been in pain long since my children were born. No one noticed that, because they were too busy noticing how nice I looked on the outside. No one knew until recently that for the past four years the physical pain I have had that has impacted my life was being overlooked. I put on a damn fine act when I’m hurting, and it’s amazing what an outgoing personality and a pretty dress can cover up. Not to mention I have suffered chronic pain my entire life and while I didn’t even know it myself, my pain threshold is actually exceptionally high. So I was smiling through a lot of pain for a long time. I put on such a good act that I even fooled MYSELF into thinking I was fine, even though I wasn’t.
My point is no one knew how much I was struggling and a part of me didn’t want them to. I knew how to cover my pain, because I’m pretty good at that. Pretty dress, happy smile, outgoing happy nature. Boxes ticked, patient is fine, person is fine, move along.
In hindsight I haven’t been right since before my second baby was born. I kept waiting for it to pass, I got help in the mean time, cause I’m a proactive kind of girl when it comes to my mental health. I thought it would pass. I reached out to professionals, they kept telling me it would pass too and it was normal. It wasn’t though. My gut told me something wasn’t right, I just couldn’t figure out what.
I mentioned it to some beautiful considerate friends who offered to be there for me. Then, I got so anxious that they would see the true extent of how deeply I believed I was messing things up, so I did what I did, and I isolated myself. That was my depressive behaviour, and not my friends fault. I had people who would have been there for me more if I had asked, or asked more loudly, but I was so deep in my shame I disappeared instead.
I isolated myself from the world, and also from my children when I got really sick. I still made sure my children were safe and nurtured though. I started sending them to daycare and then felt more guilt for that. I was meant to be a stay at home mum, but my god I needed a break and some time to heal and figure my shit out.
The truth is I made a choice for my children to not see a horrendously depressed mother and to send them out into a rich, stimulating world. One where they would be around nurturing kind people, other children, and they would not be at home with a mother who was clinically depressed and unable to be the person I wanted to be to them.
I made the best decision I could with the resources I had, which I believe is a fundamental part of being a good mother. Which is all I have ever wanted to be to those beautiful babies. We may all have different opinions on how to go about it, but for me that choice was to make sure they did not see their mother fall into a heap.
Instead I sent them out into a world filled with enriching activities, a safe environment, other kids, nourishing food, and when they returned they came home to mother who was not going to spend all day every day adversely affecting their mental health and development. I’m a book reading, statistics kind of girl and I remember reading that 85% of their neural pathways for life are formed in the first five years. Yikes, if that is not enough pressure on anyone to not fuck another human being up, then I don’t know what is! No pressure, right parents!
This decision hurt us financially, but we were lucky enough to be able to take a hit financially. I know many families could not have made the decision we did. I want anyone reading this who could not or did not do this to know I hold no judgement for whatever decisions you made for your family when you were struggling. I believe that you are just as loving a parent, even if you made different choices from me. I do not believe in judging other parents who are just trying their best to love and raise their kids right in this crazy, hard and imperfect world. There are as many different circumstances and situations and ways to do right by your kids as there are drops of water in the ocean. What matters is your intent.
Having my children in care also meant that when I did spend my time with them I had enough fuel in the tank to put on the happiest, bravest, most loving nurturing version of myself for them. I had patience, I had kindness, I had stability, I had the metaphorical equivalent of my prettiest dress on and my biggest widest grin. I did this so they would not be adversely affected by my poor mental health, because I did not want that for them.
By admitting to myself that I have not been well enough to care for them on my own 100%, and putting that time and energy into focusing on rebuilding my own mental health, I have missed a lot. I have missed a lot of milestones both my children have achieved lately. They are growing before my eyes, and I am missing it. It has undermined my confidence even further as a mother, and caused me pain.
The thing is though, I was stuck between a rock and a hard place, and I had a choice to make. The choice I made hurt me, and maybe it was a little hard on my kids at first, but they’ve adjusted really well now to their new routine. I made the choice to do the thing that hurt me as a mother but protected my children the best I could, because I’m a good mum and my kids come first. That’s what good mums do, if you have a choice between protecting your kids or yourself from pain you take the hit, not your kids. So at least I can see that now. I took the hit of pain of missing seeing my kids grow and develop, missing milestones, seeing my three year old and baby develop lives and independence and stories that did not involve me. I took that hit to my confidence as a mother, because I believed it was best for them. Yes it hurt, but I do not regret it, and I will not apologise because I know in my heart that given my circumstances I made the right choice.
My kids are doing just fine. I am not, but I am getting there and working on it, and I will be fine too in time. This mental health and Post Natal stuff though, it’s a bloody beast of a creature. My god, why do our brains have to do this to us?
I’m going to keep wearing my pretty dresses and working on my shit, and faking it til I make it, cause I have to. I got no other options. A word to others out there though, just cause you see someone, pretty dress or not, mother or not, don’t just assume they’re fine. Maybe they’re just faking it til they make it too.
Be kind to mothers, be kind to others, be kind to everyone, this life thing is hard.
This is a long piece. You need not read on to gauge any further message about Post Natal Depression and Anxiety. However, in the spirit of honestly, which I do love to embrace, I have decided to share some pictures and stories below from my journey. I believe people should see another side to The Girl In The Pretty Dress.
Below are some pictures of what life has really felt like for me this last year. Some of them I’m wearing a pretty dress, some of them I’m not.
The time I thought the baby looked cute so I asked my wife to take a picture, but I was too tired to stop yawning. Then when she got one I couldn’t make my eyes smile, and so I felt ashamed because my smile didn’t seem genuine enough.The time I took my kids to the show, a few days after I had been discharged from hospital. I knew my oldest would love the animals. I skipped my medication at lunch time. It makes me too drowsy to do anything and I wanted to try and give them a good day, while also remaining awake and engaged. I went as long as I could until my hands started shaking and everything started to blur and spin. I got to 3.30pm before I had to take it and my wife had to drive us all home, where I slept for 4 hours straight. I got my kids to the show, I got them to a petting zoo, and the oldest onto her first ride. I kept that happy face on for five solid hours. It took me days in bed afterwards to have the energy to function again. But you’d never know it looking at this picture, would you?Me, in the car holding a shampoo bar from Lush. I have a tradition with my oldest (which I planned on continuing with my youngest) where I wash my hair with the same shampoo that I used when she was born on her birthday each year to remind me of the day I became a mother. I went into Lush and bought a different scented shampoo bar, because this year has just been so difficult and I was so afraid if I had another year like this one that I just couldn’t endure it. I needed to smell different for this coming year because the idea of going into another year the same was too terrifying for me. This was my silent prayer to the universe to please just throw me a god damn bone and help me out of this Post Natal shit hole. Post Natal is classified as onset within the first year after birth, and if I didn’t snap out of it in the next 24 hours before my baby’s 1st birthday rolled around I was afraid I may be frozen like that forever. I was so desperate I was praying to the god damn shampoo gods, I was out of other things to believe in at that point.Me reading the girls their bedtime story. Even with everything, I have tried to make sure that I remained a consistent part of their lives and bedtime routine is a part of that. This is my brave happy face. I am a bloody good story book reader. I think it’s a decent brave, happy story book face. I can tell in this photo at least the baby is believing it.I made it through my child’s birthday party and her first year of life. It was really hard, and it was not the year I had hoped for, but I did it. This was a photo taken right after her party in the car. Pain, joy, relief, sadness and triumph, and a year of regret all pent up in my eyes.
Cheers to the first year, and cheers to Post Natal whatever the hell happened to my brain fucking the hell off, cause it has sucked so bad. Why nature decided to play this sort of cruel trick to new mother’s brains is beyond me.
Also, to my sweet baby, should you ever read my writing one day in the infinite irretrievable world of the internet. You must know that none of this is, or ever was your fault. That you joining our family has been the greatest blessing. This is simply my brain chemistry misbehaving, and that I would go through one million years of this all over again just to call you my own. Mumma loves you, and you never did this to me. It’s just biology and chemicals sweetheart, this was never, ever your cross to bear. Always know that, my beautiful, hairy baby.