“We never planned to have a five-year age gap between our kids: it was just how it happened. It wasn’t that we were trying and couldn’t fall pregnant, but there was a lot of fear clouding the thought of having number two. Growing up, if you’d asked me how many children I wanted, I’d answer very confidently ‘two – one boy, one girl, two years apart.’ That was the plan; that was what was in the back of our heads.
Ever since I was little, mental health has always been a challenge for me. Growing up going through psychologists, psychiatrists and counselors galore landed me with a diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety, with Separation Anxiety and Depression thrown in for good measure. I started medication from my early teen years, which kept me relatively steady through to adulthood – steady enough to hold down a job, meet the love of my life, marry him, and find ourselves ready to start our family.
As we began the process, my doctor who was managing my medications very clearly advised me that I would need to be off my antidepressants if I wanted to get pregnant, so with our eyes fixed on the future, I came off them. The trying to get pregnant wasn’t the issue – two months later I found out the good news – but the next several months were some of my darkest. I spent that time desperately wanting to have the glow that everyone talked about, inside and out. When I didn’t feel numb, I was either anxious and irritated, or extremely sad and teary. It wasn’t until an amazing midwife picked up on how I was, and asked why I had gone off my medication. Shocked that I would be told such a thing, she provided the help and assistance to make sure it was all safe, and I went back on them. There was anger at my doctor for giving me the wrong information, anger at myself for not following it up with a second opinion, but beyond all that – sheer relief that I could begin taking the medication again that very obviously corrected the chemicals within my brain and leveled out my hormones. Within days I felt back to normal and I was able to enjoy the last eight weeks of my pregnancy. ‘This is what I imagined looking forward to the birth of your baby would feel like,’ I remember telling multiple friends.
Labor started two days before my due date, and Elijah was born via emergency caesarean section at 4.30 p.m. on the day he was due. And while we were so watchful for Postpartum Depression, what we didn’t expect was how low I sank into my general anxiety.
I don’t remember much of the first few months of Eli’s life. I was in bed a lot and James was holding down a full time job while being Eli’s main carer, looking after the house and caring for a wife who, in his words, ‘had disappeared.’ I was there physically, but I wasn’t the woman he had married. Eventually things began to even out, and by the time Eli was 2, our family began to regain some semblance of normalcy – whatever that is. But it was enough that the thoughts of ‘our family isn’t complete, I know it in my heart,’ returned, and I would try and explain the deep ache that was within me.
We were terrified, however. Terrified of who I was when I was pregnant, and going back to that dark place when we had finally made it through to the light after having Eli. And while I could see a way forward, driven by this desire, James could not. ‘I can’t go back there; I can’t lose my wife again,’ he told me at one point. ‘I’m not sure I’d survive that.’
As each year that passed, the thoughts would roll around my head of, ‘okay, if I was to fall pregnant now, the kids would be 3 years apart,’ etc. The idea of Eli being an only child became more real, but I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I knew our family was not finished, but I also knew full well we were nowhere near being ready to bring a newborn into the mix. But over time, very, very slowly, the thought became more and more real to me.
We did the hard work. We knew we were in a much better place than when Eli was born, but daily life was still difficult for us. Both of us saw counselors, and while the end goal (at least for James) wasn’t to get to a point of having another child, we clawed back enough ground that the idea began to hold some merit. We were out for dinner, just the two of us, for my birthday one year, when I broached the topic, ‘When do you think the right time would be to start trying for another baby?’ It was a real indication of how far we’d come that James didn’t have a physical reaction to that question, and very calmly and very carefully, we began to talk about what may be. ‘It will never be a perfect time,’ I remember he said. ‘But we’re in a place where we can work towards getting ready.’ Five months later, we realized there was no set level of readiness we could achieve – it would be a struggle no matter what – but we both wanted it.
Again it didn’t take long, and very quickly I was pregnant. We learned our lesson from my first pregnancy and worked with my doctor and counselor to prepare and guard ourselves as best as possible. Things traveled fairly smoothly until around the third month, when all of the sudden my mental health took a very deep dive. One day I was fine, and the next I felt like I was in the darkest place I had ever been. I immediately got referred to a Perinatal Psychiatrist who took over looking after my medication and all things mental health. From day one, he was all over it, diagnosing me with perinatal depression, and changing my medication. Within days I was back to normal.
I had a beautiful scheduled caesarean and our sweet girl was born 5 and a half years after our boy. Again, things went relatively smoothly until one day, two weeks in – on James’ birthday – the darkness returned. I knew straight away that it was postpartum depression and my medication was adjusted until a few weeks later the fog lifted once again.
The 5 and a half year age gap? Perfect, for us. They adore each other (most of the time!) and Eli, from the very beginning, has been old enough to help, and independent enough that we haven’t felt overwhelmed with the weight of having to parent two tiny tots.
To this day, my anxiety and depression play a large part in our lives. We have our ups and downs, our good weeks and bad, and it’s far from easy. But in the valley, we have learned things about the world and each other that we never would have if we were always on top of the mountain; a greater appreciation for each other; a respect and admiration that is incredibly special. And a gratitude for our little family that goes beyond anything I’ve ever known, and is made sweeter by knowing how hard it was to get here.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Beth Burke of Melbourne, Australia. You can follow their journey where she posts about their everyday life on Instagram and Facebook. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.
Read more powerful stories about postpartum depression:
‘Is it normal to hate your baby?’ I was desperately begging for God to kill her. What’s wrong with me? I was terrified of what I would do to her.’
‘This a picture of me where I appeared to be blissfully happy to everyone on the outside but drowning in postnatal depression and anxiety because I expected to have it all together.’
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