Thursday, 9 September 2010

Life in the Mother Baby Unit: Part 2

So, where were we? Ah, yes. How did I spend my days? Well, the days had a strict routine. We had to finish breakfast before 8.30 am. Lunch was served at 12.15 pm and dinner at 5 pm (imagine eating that early!), delivered by the kitchen staff on a huge trolley. There were weekly menus which had to be completed the day before. We soon worked out which meals were the best. Mind you, eating two cooked meals a day meant many of us put on weight, something often exacerbated by our medication. Not the best way to improve one's mood, either.

It was a curious hybrid of a hospital and a boarding house. We had cleaners clean our rooms and bathrooms and change our towels every morning but we had to make and change our beds.The babies were bathed after dinner. We had to write their names on a board so there was a ‘queue’ for the bath. Once the babies were down for the evening, we chatted with each other in our rooms, spent time with our partners (some of whom stayed over), watched telly in our rooms or worked on giant jigsaw puzzles together. The staff were often happy to have a chat once the babies were asleep. They were extraordinary women - compassionate, knowledgeable and supportive. If they didn't know the answer to a question, they'd track it down. No question was considered too silly.

There were optional activities lined up for each week day such as art therapy (which I’ve mentioned before), yoga, music therapy, baby massage and various talks by the in-house psychologists. The MBU mums often shared such activities with the residents of the hospital’s psychiatric unit. That proved a little daunting and confronting at times and yet on other occasions, it was rewarding as we shared our stories and realised we weren’t alone in suffering from depression. We mums just had a particularly insidious version of it.
One of my paintings done in art therapy
Our doctors and paediatricians came and went. Medication was trialled, dosages changed, side effects discovered and medication changed. Books and leaflets on PND were read, videos watched and medications discussed and compared. Nurses counselled us. Often their opinions differed and we had to work out the approach which made us feel most comfortable. That’s not easy, especially when you’re a first-time mum. Or a third-time mum like me.

The pixies visited most days, brought in by my parents. They adored seeing their little brother and enjoyed helping bathe him. They seemed to accept that Sam needed help. They had no idea that I did. They still don’t. We also went out of the Unit on family day trips to try to keep things as normal as they could be, in the circumstances.
Family fun on the weekend
In the midst of this turbulent time, I was touched by the extraordinary kindness of friends, old and new, around the world who phoned me, sent me care parcels, emailed me, texted me and turned up unannounced with flowers and hugs. Some just appeared from nowhere - we hadn't seen each other since leaving school 20 odd years ago. Some had suffered from PND themselves or knew others touched by it. They ‘got it’. That meant a lot to me. I will never forget the warmth of their hugs or how much I appreciated them.

Others found the PND all too hard to comprehend. Dealing with their responses was difficult especially when I was feeling so fragile. Their intentions were all good, of course, but it didn’t make my time any easier. I realised that PND can be very confronting for some people. They thought I could just "snap out of it" or "pull up my socks". If it were that simple, PND wouldn't exist.

Sam continued to suffer from ‘colic’, that terrible condition which mothers the world over detest. He screamed his head off, stiff as a board, for long periods on end. Nothing could placate him. His paediatrician suggested we use Losec but it had no effect. And then, once he turned 14 weeks old, it stopped. Just vanished. Finally, I had a calm little baby to hold. The sweet relief.
We had fun painting footprints
Throughout all this time, my darling husband continued to work hard at his new job, rush in to see us after work and then race back to my parents’ house to take over looking after the pixies. He was under a lot of strain. He had so many competing demands. He was feeling pressure from all quarters.

And, all the way through, we were looking at rental properties. In the pouring rain which beset Hobart for weeks on end. The rental market was incredibly tight, with dozens of people showing up for inspections at the most average of properties. We inspected about 30 before we finally landed a place after four months of hunting. The staff were thrilled for me as they realised what it meant to me. I felt like we had been in a plane in a holding pattern for months, circling Hobart but unable to land. Finally, I would be able to get our belongings out of storage and set up house for our little family.

The only question was - when was I going to leave the Unit? I was being encouraged by others to do so. My psychiatrist thought I wasn’t ready. I didn't feel any better. Then Sam came down with gastro. The nurse in charge panicked and instead of quarantining us, had us discharged. Immediately. My dad collected my belongings and Mr PB drove me home. To my parents’ house. My psychiatrist was not informed. When she was, she was furious as it had been done without her authority and against her wishes. Knuckles were rapped. I was bereft. After three months of around the clock care, I felt alone and abandoned. How would I cope?

After a week at my parents’ house readjusting to the reality of looking after three children under five, we moved into our new rental house. It’s the gorgeous cottage I’ve posted about before. The very next day, we threw a combined 4th and 2nd pirate birthday party for Joshua and India. No, we don’t do things by halves!
Ahoy, me hearties!
Organised completely by Mr PB, it was a rip-roaring success. Friends and family were welcomed, the piles of unpacked boxes were dodged and the pixies celebrated joyously. Our house was well and truly warmed. It was our fresh start. Finally. The one which had eluded us for the past three months. We fell into bed that night exhausted but relieved. It was time to open that new chapter of our lives on PB.

So there you go! I made it through that little spell in the MBU, all three months of it. It was one of the most testing times in my life but I'm so grateful I was able to stay there. I think some of the mums I befriended there might be reading this - I'm so honoured to have shared that difficult time in your lives. Thanks for your empathy and support. And now to bed!



  1. Oh Jane, you are so very brave for sharing this. Although I'm brave enough to say I suffered from PND on here, I'm not brave enough to say it to some family members, even though most of my friends know. It was so lovely to read both of your posts and have such a beautiful, happy ending. I can't imagine how hard it must have been coming out of the unit so suddenly, but you made it in to such a positive experience. I am just in awe. x

  2. Why, thanks, Ash. I'm so sorry to hear that it has touched you as well. I hope you're okay now. It can take such a long time to get over - I'm still going through it. Given the practical implications of my not being able to look after the pixies during that period, it had to become public. Early on, I decided I would be open about it as life was complicated enough without the extra strain of hiding it as well. And my, you're an early starter! J x

  3. Oh Jane, you are so brave...... and strong. A-M xx

  4. Thanks, A-M! You're a sweetheart. Hmm, I don't feel strong. I'm working on that one! Have a fabulous weekend. J x

  5. I can't believe that nurse discharged you even though your psychiatrist didn't feel you were ready. She's lucky this turned out for the best!

    More importantly, what on earth were you doing hosting a birthday party straightaway? My mouth is hanging open over here!!! But, obviously it was the right thing for you to do and I guess you knew that.

    I'm glad we're out of the baby unit. Those must have been very difficult posts for you to write. x

  6. It is courageous of you to write of your experience Jane and it will help someone who reads it and feel less alone. Take care.

  7. Er, yes. I think there there was dissent at her end, followed by an 'exchange of views' between my psychiatrist and management. As for the birthday party, well, that had been planned weeks before. We had hoped to move in a week ahead of time but Ian couldn't get time off work and it ended up that we moved at the last minute. He tends to be a bit of a fellow procrastinator like you :) That is 'challenging' for a Virgo control freak like me! You're right - they were tricky to write, to find the right tone without being maudlin or betraying confidences. I'm hoping for a more upbeat note from now on :) J x

  8. Thanks, Judy. I hope so. The thing I've learnt with this motherhood caper is that being honest is vital. Too many of us suffer in silence which compounds the problem. J x

  9. Oh, Bron, thanks for using the word 'we' in your last paragraph. I'm pleased you feel part of my journey on Planet Baby! J x

  10. I felt very teary reading your post and all you had been through.
    It must have been quite a shock to have been so suddenly discharged.
    I was only there 10 days (due to sleep issues.) and came home two days before Christmas and that was enough of an adjustment.
    Good on you for sharing your story and being so honest.
    If only more Mums would be brave enough to share the whole story and not just the good bits.
    Good on you Jane and I hope that things are easier for you now.

  11. Hi Kat Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving such kind comments. I agree - I hope someone, somewhere will read this and feel a little less alone. J x


Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, you gorgeous soul. You've just made my day! J x

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