Saturday, May 2, 2009

Postnatal depression - the next chapter

St John of God hospital is the hospital I admitted myself into when it became obvious that it was the only place where I could get the help I needed with my postnatal depression (PND). Having to admit myself into a psychiatric hospital was the hardest decision I have ever had to make (even though I was in the Mother and Baby unit, St John of God hospital is a psychiatric facility for patients with all manner of mental illnesses). But after living through the most harrowing 2-3 weeks of my life after my son was born, there was absolutely no choice but to accept a bed when one came up.  My husband had done an amazing job of looking after our newborn son, working full time and trying to help me, but the problem was so great that we had reached the limits of what we could deal with on our own. The Mother and Baby unit is the only place of its kind in this state and even then it only has 8 rooms. So out of all the people who desperately need the help provided here, only 8 women at one time can access it. The average stay is roughly 2-3 months (although some women are there for anywhere up to 6 months or leave and end up having to return). If you have private health insurance then the financial burden is lessened, but for women who do not, they are basically looking at thousands of dollars a week to stay there. The only other alternative is to admit yourself to a psychiatric hospital where you cannot be with your baby. So the barriers to women with PND getting help are enormous and it is no wonder that so many women feel there is no solution to their problem and that there is no hope. 
Even though I can look back now and say how remarkable the hospital is, at the time I would have rather been anywhere on earth but there. It really does feel like you have disappeared into a black hole somewhere and that you will never return to the life you once knew. Your life becomes this ward of a hospital where you exist in your own room with a bed and a bathroom and that is it. You are sharing a very small space with complete strangers and you have no idea how long you will be there for or what is going to happen to you. Meanwhile, no-one on the 'outside world' really knows you are there (at least in my case they didn't) and everyone is just picturing you sitting at home having this amazing experience with your new bundle of joy. It truly was surreal. I just kept hoping that i would suddenly wake up and realise it was all just a bad dream.

I was in the hospital for approximately 2 1/2 weeks which is a very short space of time compared to most people. I gradually started to get used to being there and with the help of my husband and the nursing staff was able to regain the confidence needed to take care of my little man. It was a hard slog but the relief of being in a place where other people know exactly what you are going through is indescribable. I honestly do believe that I wouldn't be here today if I hadn't been able to go to that particular hospital. I am one of the lucky ones who was able to get back on my feet relatively quickly. But there are so many other women who aren't that lucky and who struggle with this for years (and through multiple pregnancies). My heart breaks thinking about all the women out there who can't and don't get the help that I received. The effects that PND has upon the lives of mothers, their babies, the rest of their families etc is devastating (particularly when it is left untreated). So that is why I am so passionate about raising awareness and doing what I can to help other women who find themselves in the same position that I did.

Before I sign off from this post, I really do need to say how amazing my husband was through that period. He had to shoulder so much responsibility and it takes a very strong person to be able to watch someone you love lose themselves right before your very eyes. He never once gave up on me and he was the one who constantly rang the hospital pleading for a spot for me. He stayed with me in the hospital (I was the only person fortunate enough to have this. Other partners were either at home looking after other children or were not supportive of their wives), got up to our son all through the night, constantly reassured me that everything would be alright (even though he didn't know for sure that it would be) and offered support to all the other women in the ward. All whilst holding down a full time job as well.  I will never be able to thank him enough. 

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