Trigger warning: this piece discusses themes of post-natal depression.
Seven years ago, I had my long-awaited first child. Everything went well in the pregnancy and had waited five years to conceive. I had a very traumatic birth where my son spent some time in NICU. I had never experienced mental health issues apart from small bouts of anxiety but was overwhelmed with fear once my son came home with us.
I am ashamed to admit it, but I felt something was ‘wrong’ with my son. He only slept two hours a night - sleep deprivation didn’t help. During the first year of his life, I googled EVERYTHING as his developmental milestones weren’t being met. I enrolled him in early intervention providers to help ‘fix’ him.
I returned to work to dismiss it but my gut kept dragging me back to the doctors with endless sickness and development regression. It was very much like riding blind through the health system until he got diagnosed at two years old with non-verbal autism. He was diagnosed with six other diagnoses over the following years. Little did I realise, I was suffering from post-natal depression.
My marriage fell apart, my husband was in denial, and I spent so much time trying to ‘fix’ my son that I completely forgot to care for myself. I can’t describe how lost, scared and numb! I went to get help but everything was so hard with all the wait lists, my GP gave me medication to help take the edge off.
Luckily, I had a few good friends that helped me over the following year get my life back on track. The main thing was walking every day for my mental health, not only did it help my mental health but made me take my son out in the community instead of being isolated at home all the time. Even though it causes a lot of screaming and protesting from my child, I am so glad we have stuck with it. Not only does my child walk with me instead of running away from me, but the local community has also accepted us with such warmth and support.
This year I enrolled in mental health and addiction papers which have undoubtedly helped me understand my own mental health issues. What I realised is my child didn’t need fixing - I did! I have now found an amazing community that we are a part of and I love myself, most days, and live for the life that we have created together.
I used to wonder why I was given a child with special needs, but I’m so grateful for the strength and resilience it is teaching me, I have learnt sign language, and done many courses to understand how I can best support my child. I hope my story helps someone else in this position as one in five kids in New Zealand have a learning disability. It really is the best love that you can be a part of, love needs no words.
Voices of Hope wants you to know that you do not have to do this alone. Click here to ‘find help’ - it’s not weak to speak!