Warning: This article contains sensitive content which some readers may find distressing.
It’s no secret that having a baby changes your life in every way. From sleepless nights and feeding routines, to nappy changes and seemingly endless crying, starting a family is, put simply, a life-altering experience.
And while the early days of having a newborn can bring love and chaos in equal parts, for some, the days, weeks and months after giving birth can welcome a whole new set of challenges.
While most parents are privy to the “baby blues” and a rough day here and there, those struggling with postnatal depression can often be overlooked.
Postnatal depression is common, with one in five mums, and one in 10 dads, experiencing postnatal depression symptoms after their baby is born.
For Lija (pronounced Le-ah), postnatal depression completely changed her life.
Lija, a music teacher from the Central Coast of New South Wales, welcomed her first child, a beautiful daughter named Harper, into the world at the end of 2017.
When Lija discovered she was going to become a mum, she was overcome with fear.
Lija spoke exclusively with OverSixty about her journey with postnatal depression, and how her feelings of anxiety began as soon as she fell pregnant.
“There was this lie in my head that I could not give birth… That I would die. You feel like you can’t make a way through it and you’re predicting all these complications. [Lija’s friends’ traumatic birth experience] confirmed all these feelings and i just thought ‘Maybe you die from this’.”
As soon as Lija and her husband began to celebrate the news of their growing family, she quickly began to “spiral” into self-doubt and depressive episodes.
“When I found out I was pregnant, it was a spiral. I didn’t think I was good enough, I was crying so much… I didn’t feel like I could tell anyone because I was so gripped in fear.”
“It took me about seven months to accept that I was having a kid.”
Over the course of her pregnancy, Lija’s mental health continued to plummet with her feelings of fear and self-doubt, which led her down an even darker path.
“The worst part was I was suicidal. There were moments where I wanted to end my life because I just felt like my time was up.”
These feelings of helplessness led Lija to reach out to a counsellor, who helped manage her mental health symptoms for the rest of her pregnancy and introduced her to hypnobirthing.
Her sessions with a hypnobirthing specialist gave Lija the boost she needed to be in tune with her body, and get her through to Harper’s birth with a sense of confidence.
“If I’ve grown a baby, I can give birth to a baby. It was all just focus.”
When Harper was born, Lija remembers healthcare professionals warning her husband that her mental health could decline, but she was never spoken to directly.
“Apparently nurses were talking to my husband after the birth saying ‘She’s going to be prone to postnatal depression, you need to watch her’, but no one told me I was going to be so lonely.”
“I was so focused on the birth going well that I hadn’t thought about what happens after, and I didn’t know what postnatal depression was.”
When Lija and her husband brought baby Harper home, as they encountered perfectly common issues around sleep and breastfeeding, Lija thought she had failed as a first-time mum.
“I felt like I failed as a mum because I couldn’t give Harper everything she needed. And that started all these terrible thoughts and I just started to mentally spiral down again. But I didn’t know for about six months that I had postnatal depression.”
During the first few months of Harper’s life, Lija began to find simple day-to-day tasks very difficult.
“My poor husband… I was a psycho. It began when I said no one was allowed to come over because I was constantly in my pyjamas and I felt ashamed that my house wasn’t clean.”
Lija shared that as she began to settle into the reality of being a mum, Harper’s needs always came first.
“I was just in such a routine. I needed to have my baby follow a good structure, which meant my mental health took a backseat. So I just kept spiralling and spiralling.”
As Lija tried to better herself, she quickly found out that comparing yourself to other new parents is a slippery slope that welcomes thoughts of self-doubt.
“I tried to go to a mum’s club and they all seemed so perfect. I feel like they weren’t real. It was like Instagram mums. So to try and look good, I was spending all this money to try and keep up appearances.”
As Lija’s mental health continued to suffer, she said it wasn’t until a difficult conversation with her husband that she realised she needed professional help.
“I wasn’t being the normal me. There was no joy, there was no laughter, and I felt like I failed as a mother and as a wife. So my husband said ‘I’ve booked you in for a therapy session’, and that was the start of it.”
“I wanted to be better for Harper. I wanted to be a good mum for her. So I had to start working on myself.”
Now, five years on, Lija is reflecting on her experience with postnatal depression in the best way she knows how: through her music.
Lija’s debut single Save Me details her journey of becoming a mum and bettering herself, while painting an honest portrait of the first months of motherhood.
After being a musician for most of her life, Lija’s passion took a backseat when she became a mother.
“I started to miss my music, because I’ve done music my whole life. It was so hard to walk past my studio and see the guitar going to waste. I started to miss the other half of me as a musician.”
After working on Save Me for several years, Lija believes it is the right time to put her story out there in order to help and inspire other parents struggling with postnatal depression.
“It’s okay to be vulnerable. Be real, because you can help others with your honesty.”
“It’s also important to remember that babies aren’t going to remember the best outfits they were in, or if they had the best pram. They’re going to remember if they were loved or not.”
Lija has long been a champion of music and its healing power, which became a saviour in her darkest times through her postnatal depression journey.
“I went back to teaching music three months after having Harper. I worked one day a week and these kids and teenagers that were singing to me were actually healing me with their music and their talent.”
“Music is something I have always turned to. It has always spoken to me, and I thought if I write a song about my journey, that could heal me too. I thought ‘It’s time to kick fear in the butt and write about life’.”
Musical talent is something that runs in the family, with Harper’s singing talents already at “the next level”.
“I swear she came out singing! Her ability to hear pitch is insane. In lockdown, she would be singing scales while I was teaching music classes over Zoom. She is just so joyous, and she is like my healing.”
Lija’s debut single Save Me is out on now.
Don’t go it alone. Please reach out for help.
Lifeline: 13 11 14 or lifeline.org.au
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636 or beyondblue.org.au
Headspace: 1800 650 890 or headspace.org.au
PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia): 1300 726 306 or panda.org.au
Image credits: Instagram
This article first appeared on Over60.