Being a single mum is not something that I planned.
Being a single mum and being diagnosed with perinatal anxiety and depression shortly after my son was born, was also not planned. But like so many things in life, once you get thrown into the deep end, you learn to sink or swim.
I sunk. Fast. And so much so, that I admitted myself into hospital.
I had completely lost all rationality when it came to caring for my son.
I was beyond hypervigilant.
Not only because I was in a toxic relationship with my son’s father, but also because everything to do with the care of my son began to overwhelm and terrify me.
It had been two weeks since we left the hospital and I still hadn't had more than three consecutive hours of sleep. My ex and I took turns in what we liked to call, ‘the night shift.’
The idea behind this was to always have one person feeling rested. But the problem was that I could not sleep even when it was my turn to rest.
I constantly worried about my son and his well-being. How much was he eating? Was he hot or cold? Was he still breathing? He would make one slight noise or movement in his cot and I would go and check on him.
One morning after a very unpleasant event with my ex-partner, I called my dad for help, and he took me to the Royal Women’s Hospital. From there my son and I were transferred to a mother and baby unit in Melbourne for rehabilitation and support.
It has been 9.5 months since my beautiful baby boy was pulled from beneath me and laid naked in my arms, all bloody and bluish, but still, so breathtaking. I remember turning to my ex in shock, thinking, "did we really make him? ...Us?"
Of course, throughout the pregnancy it all felt very real. I knew my son would be born one day. But actually having him, his heart beating in my arms, and not in my belly, was the most mind blowing experience.
From that moment forward my focus in life shifted, so far from what I once knew. I could no-longer expel as much energy worrying about pleasing my ex-partner but instead, threw all of my focus and energy into my precious little boy.
In hindsight, going home from the hospital after Levi was born was the most terrifying time in my life, for a multitude of reasons.
I will never forget the feeling of being discharged, and I will never forget carrying Levi to the car - his dad and I not being able to figure out how to secure the car seat,and me, collapsing into tears shortly after, from the argument that ensued.
This little, delicate boy meant so much to me and I was so afraid of breaking him. I was suddenly filled with so much doubt. Did I do the right thing? Am I cut out to be a parent? What if I can't give him what he needs?
The questions were endless. I felt incapable and unequipped.
I was a shell of a woman by the time I had reached the mother and baby unit.
The staff there were so kind and patient. I remember one in particular showing me to my room, explaining where everything was and then showing me around the ward.
She had the kindest eyes and I instantly felt at ease with her. She introduced me to the other staff and some of the other mothers and their babies. And then explained that Levi would be cared for by the nurses in between feedings that night, so I could get some rest.
It was the first night in a long time that I felt safe to leave my son in another room without me, and I slept right through until the morning.
The nurses soon knocked on my door and wheeled in my son. They reassured me and detailed how they fed and soothed him throughout the night. I was so happy and nervous to see him. So many questions came into my mind, “Would I be alone with him all day today?”, “Would I be able to care for him without someone telling me how to burp him properly?”
What I quickly realised however was that the nurses were going to be there to support me whenever I needed them.
I cannot tell you how that made me feel. The comfort it brought to my very scattered and irrational mind. Someone would be there for me whenever I needed them? This was too good to be true.
I lost my mum when I was 17 years old, and throughout my pregnancy, I’d often wonder how I would cope without her. It was much harder than I expected, but I now know that she is the person who guided me to that hospital and she is the person who made me believe I was strong enough to walk away from my relationship.
One night a beautiful lady sat by me in the hospital lounge as I was feeding my son. It was around 3am and there was only a dim light coming from the nurses station.
She sat next to me, close, and began asking me how I was coping, and then mentioned that she had noticed my ex had been visiting. Her voice became increasingly quiet as she asked if everything was “ok” between us.
I didn't completely respond.
I didn't want to talk. It seemed as though she already knew. She began to speak again, "Rhi, if you go back home to him, your situation will not change. I have been watching your interactions and I have been there myself. Please consider leaving so that you can look after yourself and your son. You must keep yourself and your son safe.”
I never returned home to him.
That woman will never know the impact of her words, and the courage she instilled in me which forever changed my world for the better.
I knew it would be hard being a single mother, but every time I looked at my son's beautiful face, I knew the road would be far less bumpy travelled alone.
So that's what I did. One month in the mother and baby unit turned into two, I finally felt ready to be discharged.
Back to what I called home? No.
Back to the person whom I loved? No.
I went to somewhere I knew I could make a full recovery and raise my son in a calm and happy environment.
It’s still not easy. When I have a bad day - you know, emotionally - I don't always get a chance to take time out for myself… to just breathe.
I can't leave my son with his father and just go for a drive to be alone for a moment. That’s often the hardest part. Having to hold it together, no matter what I’m feeling. However, It has taught me and those around me, that my struggle with mental illness does not impact my ability to be a great mother. If I have a bad day, I make sure to rely on my community, my friends and my family, or I do something with my son that makes him laugh.
So to anyone reading this who is experiencing perinatal anxiety or depression.
Please remind yourself that you are strong and resilient, you will conquer this illness in time.
With that time, you will completely recover - but in the meantime, be patient with yourself.
Rome wasn't built in a day and similarly, recovery requires a slow approach. It takes time and patience, but one thing I can say with complete certainty is:
There is light at the end of the tunnel.