Thaiday: ‘My baby nearly broke us’
RACHEL Thaiday has revealed she endured a devastating eight-month battle with crippling postanatal depression that threatened to break her family after the birth of her youngest daughter Ellsie.
Opening up for the first time in the hope that sharing her story will help at least one other person, the mother of two told The Courier-Mail she still felt sickening "mother's guilt" over her struggle to bond with Ellsie, now three, and the impact she fears it had on her little girl.
"It hurts still now - nearly four years down the track - to think of my behaviour and what I didn't feel for her in the first eight months of her life, which is so detrimental to a newborn's life," she said.
"I didn't feel anything, I was numb to something that I had given birth to and created and that is what kills me now."
The 33-year-old wife of Brisbane Broncos great Sam Thaiday said that while she had a milder brush with postnatal depression when eldest daughter Gracie, 6, was three months old, nothing could have prepared her for how incapacitated she felt after Ellsie's arrival.
Rachel said she felt defeated ahead of her second C-section, having wanted a natural birth, but a comment from Sam as Ellsie was delivered crushed her.
"The obstetrician pulled out another bundle of joy and Sam looked at me and was like 'it's another girl, we'll have to try again' and my heart just like broke," she said.
"I was like 'I've got my insides on the outside on this table for you and you're telling me 'you'll just have to do it again?'
"I felt like someone had picked up all this heavy resentment and this horrible depression and put it into my stomach while everything else was laying on the outside and then covered me back up and said 'you deal with it'."
Rachel, who speaks of her depression with co-host Katie Mattin on their Nova podcast Am I A Bad Mum?, said she was left unable to function and incapable of connecting with Ellsie.
"I didn't want her around me or sleeping next to my bed, I'd feed her and then that was my job done, there was no connection and that makes me feel sick just saying that - it was really horrible," she said.
She said it was her toughest challenge and incredibly tough for her and Sam as a couple.
"Given his career playing football, I had forever been Sam's support network, I had been his No.1 cheerleader, I was the backbone to everything and it was like taking the backbone out and he didn't know what to do, he was down and out," she said.
"When you're blindsided and you can't see it coming you're like, our walls are falling down.
"We had a (cafe) business at that time and we basically gave the business away because it (the situation) was breaking our little pack of four.
"He didn't care how much money we lost, he was just like, 'get rid of that because I need to fix my wife - she holds the house up, our toddler is dependent upon it, our newborn is dependent on it', and his career was still going full steam ahead.
"It was probably the hardest times in our marriage, but we were lucky enough to have a platform of 20 years worth of friendship."
Rachel said she had been in complete denial that she had postnatal depression because she saw it as a weakness, but thankfully she had the support of her entire family, including Sam and her older brother Lee, who was living with them at the time.
"I was very lucky to have that family support around me," she said.
"At about the six-month mark Lee was basically dragging me off the couch and literally like, 'get off your arse and get outside now'.
"He made me box two or three times a week with him, which I hated at the time, and I hated him and I'd yell at him and cry and scream and we'd go through all this stuff, but he didn't listen and kept going and pushing me and I broke and I broke and I broke.
"I went to see somebody, and it took me eight months to see the other side of it."
She said that after "walking in a mess" and telling her chiropractor, "There's something wrong, I am not leaving with her, I can't do this," he helped identify Ellsie's tongue and upper-lip ties, which were affecting her breastfeeding.
"She wasn't getting enough food, which is why she screamed from 4.30pm until 10pm every night," she said.
Ellsie starting kindergarten this year had triggered a wave of guilt, but Rachel was "working to be the best version of myself so I can then be the best version of a mum for the girls".
"I walk her in (to kindy) and she turns around and looks at me and was like, 'don't worry, I've got this' and I was like 'oh my gosh' and then it sort of brought all of this up again - I thought 'I'm not coping and I want to redo the last four years and I want to change everything, she deserves more'," Rachel said.
"I'm constantly trying to make up for those eight months of her life that I didn't give her at the start so I feel like constantly loving her and kissing her and hugging her and overdoing it."
The couple have decided not to have more children - Sam had a vasectomy after retiring from the NRL last year - but Rachel said it wasn't an easy place to get to.
"It took us a while - it's been a back and forth," she said.
"That was my line in the sand to go 'I'm a great mum, I absolutely know where I stand in terms of my quota and what I can give to little people, we're blessed to have two happy and healthy young girls but I don't want any more kids' because if you told me I had to go through that again, I don't know if I'd come out the other side of it.
"He would love a big family because he's from a crazy family of five boys - if it was his absolute happiness and was going to fulfil him, I would tell him to go and find somebody else that wants a big family and I'd still be there and still be his best friend."
She said the couple were determined to pour their energy into raising strong, independent little women who were "absolutely fine" owning who they were.
"I know that she (Ellsie) is meant to be mine, and she does nothing but bring utter joy and laughter to my life," she said.
"She's blossomed into this beautiful, charming little girl, and we just look at her and go 'we're so lucky', we've gone through the hard yards but it's good now.
"I'm so blessed to have two amazing little girls that push my buttons as much as anyone else's children do but they're my little best friends."
Rachel's advice to other women battling postnatal depression is not to be scared to ask for help, and to find an outlet and find what works for you.
"I can absolutely tell you that mine is exercising," she said.
"Whatever it is that's going to push you out of your comfort zone to help you with your mental state, because we all know that if we can get that part right for us, the rest will come with it - so just be nice to yourself."
If you are concerned that you, or someone you know might be experiencing postnatal anxiety or depression, you can contact the Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia (PANDA) helpline on 1300 726 306 between 9am and 7pm Monday to Friday. Outside those times, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Pregnancy Birth Bay Helpline on 1800 882 436