A few days before I went into labour, an image came into my mind. The image was of me sitting in my rocking chair, snuggling up to my baby, reading them a book. The image filled me with so much joy that I hopped straight in the car, drove down to the local bookshop and bought two books – The Hungry Caterpillar and Guess How Much I Love You. I don’t know why that particular image came to mind at that time or why I chose those two particular books, but in time, they came to play a role throughout my recovery from perinatal anxiety and depression (PND). I placed the books on the table next to my rocking chair and eagerly awaited the arrival of my baby. I just couldn’t wait to read to him.
Two days later, I went in to labour and after 36 hours we were greeted with our precious baby boy. We spent three days in hospital, getting to know this new little person and adjusting to our new role as mum and dad. The day had come and we went home as a family. The first day at home was a blur, I can hardly remember the day, except for various visits to baby bunting by my husband, some washing that had been building up since we’d left for hospital and lots of kisses, cuddles, feeding, changing and burping the baby. I was still on a euphoric high.
The high didn’t last long though, and after about a month in, I felt that my mental state started to go downhill. I had worrying thoughts about all the terrible things that could happen to my precious new son. My thoughts eventually stopped me from leaving the house and stopped me from sleeping and eating well. As my mental state deteriorated, I also had trouble bonding with my baby. The beautiful image of me reading to my baby prior to giving birth, had been replaced by very troubling images. I was so lucky that I had incredible support from family and friends and enough insight to know that I was very unwell. I also realised that this new life I was living was not normal. I eventually stopped resisting the need for professional help and that is when I began the road to recovery.
I remember a day, a few months into my recovery as I was feeding my son, I looked over to my right and noticed the two books I had bought before he was born, sitting there on the table next to me. I placed my son on his playmat and picked up the book, “Guess How Much I Love You”. I started flicking through the pages. I thought the illustrations were incredibly beautiful of Big Nutbrown Hare and Little Nutbrown Hare. I began reading the story out aloud to my son. For that time, the worrying thoughts left me and I found myself getting lost in the pages. My son was looking up at me and cooing and smiling and when I got to the page where Big Nutbrown Hare declared to Little Nutbrown Hare “I Love You to the Moon and Back, tears welled in my eyes. It was a beautiful moment because I had realised I had finally connected with my baby.
From that day on, I continued reading to my son many times a day. I would either place him in my lap, on his playmat, or in his rocker and we would look at the pictures together or trace the words on the books with my fingers on his; from the fruit in the hungry caterpillar, the bushy tail in Possum Magic, to the round wet nose of Hairy Maclary of Donaldson’s Dairy. As the days and months rolled by, his book collection grew and I continued on my path to recovery. I found myself enjoying those moments reading with my son more and more each day. I do believe the professional help I was receiving which consisted of regular visits to the GP, psychologist, psychiatrist, Maternal and Child Health Nurse and anti depressants assisted the process of finding this joy.
One day, a dear friend came to visit and I told her about the joy I had found reading to my son. She mentioned that her local library ran a free story time class and that mine probably would too. I was still too terrified to leave the house but when I became well enough, I remembered my friend’s words and looked online at what my local library had to offer and sure enough our library ran a story time too. I put my son in his pram and off we went to story time. As I walked in, I noticed a group of parents sitting on the carpet playing with their children. I looked around and wondered if any other parent in that room had also experienced PND like me. I took my son out of his pram and we sat down to enjoy singing songs, reading books and playing with musical instruments – it was a hoot. From then on, we (mainly me), looked forward to the outing every week.
To this day, I still enjoy reading to my son and his book collection has since grown from two books to two bookshelves. Just recently, we picked up a box of books from the local school fete for $5 – what a bargain! We have just moved house and am yet to check out our new local library but I do know that they also run story time too.
In the meantime, I have attached the links below to story time at several libraries around Melbourne, Victoria, in case it is something you might be interested in too.
If you or someone you know has been touched by perinatal anxiety and depression please call PANDA’s support helpline on 1300 726 306.
Love and smiles
Josie : )