Sometimes I look back at the first eight months of my daughter’s life and it feels very surreal. It’s almost like I’m watching a movie of someone else’s life. I can see what is going to happen but I’m powerless to stop it. Very often that is how sufferers of post-natal depression feel – powerless.
PND is often thrown around in the media and discussed as a highlight on certain days – but what about the women and their families who live with this feeling of powerlessness and hopelessness every day?
The Gidget Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation that provides information and assistance to new parents experiencing perinatal anxiety and depression in Australia:
Perinatal depression can affect 1 in 6 mothers and 1 in 10 fathers. Men are not immune from perinatal anxiety and depression. Commonly, but certainly not always, this develops as reactive depression to a partner’s illness – it’s understandably difficult to be around a person who is ‘down’ all the time. In fact, if the mother is depressed the whole family is affected: partner, baby and other children. That’s why it’s essential to get help straight away. This term perinatal covers both antenatal depression and anxiety (occurring during pregnancy) and postnatal depression and anxiety.
There’s a lot I don’t remember about those eight months. The first month was not too bad – I had a uterine infection which was stressful, but my mother was staying with me and I was still adjusting the routine of parenthood.
I do remember being very, very tired. Little Miss has always slept badly (and still does) and being alone with her all night was exhausting. As a single mum there was no partner to take turns feeding her, or rocking her after she’d been awake for hours. It was every single night and it was unrelenting. It wore me down.
I felt so isolated, lonely and numb. I knew I loved her very much but I just didn’t feel anything. She never slept. Going to the supermarket or hanging the clothes on the line became a Herculean task. And the guilt – I felt so guilty. Babies don’t sleep well – why is this a problem for you? Other mums manage – why can’t you? You have a beautiful little girl – why aren’t you enjoying this? I blamed myself for what I saw as my shortcomings as a mother.
I cried all the time. Sometimes I would just stand next to her cot rocking her with tears streaming down my face. It wasn’t good for her and it wasn’t good for me. We were existing, rather than living and I couldn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.
The Raising Children Network explores the difficulties mothers can face in acknowledging and seeking help for PND:
Society makes it difficult for a woman to acknowledge that she might be experiencing PND. She is constantly confronted by messages about joy and bliss. These messages don’t often mention the challenges that come with motherhood. The media tends to reinforce the unrealistic expectations of motherhood. For example, it promotes celebrities who appear to be coping very well.
Added to this is the stigma of depression. PND is often being portrayed in a negative and sensational way. Women will put on a brave face and go to extraordinary lengths to hide how they feel. A woman who isn’t coping can feel very alone and can find it hard to come to terms with her feelings.
I think I finally began to realise that there was a problem when I asked my mother, “What did you do when my brother and I cried for hours and never slept?”
She looked at me and said, “You and your brother were never like this.” We went to Tresillian and the first night I was there, I just bawled my eyes out after several hours of trying to settle Little Miss. I was also able to talk to a counsellor who helped me to realise that motherhood is hard. Babies are beautiful but challenging and it’s okay to struggle. It’s okay to ask for help.
But most importantly, I was able to connect with other mums who were struggling and I was able to see that motherhood encompasses a whole range of experiences – not just the blissfully happy magazine pictures. It helped to hear others’ stories. It helped to talk to other women. It helped to not feel alone.
One of our main goals at Milkbar Breastpumps is to provide a supportive community for mums, and it’s something we are so passionate about. I hope that by sharing my experiences, if you are struggling with perinatal anxiety and depression or you just need someone to talk to, then there are help and services available:
- PANDA National Helpline: 1300 726 306 (Mon – Fri 10am – 5pm)
- Parent Line: 1300 1300 52 (Mon – Fri 9am – 9pm)
- Tresillian: 02 9787 0855 or 1800 637 357 (outside Sydney metropolitan area) 24hrs
- Karitane: 1300 227 464 24hrs
Please call and talk to someone and don’t suffer in silence. You deserve to enjoy your baby and enjoy your life – and it doesn’t always come naturally.
Note: At Milkbar Breastpumps we donate $1 from every breast pump sold to the Gidget Foundation. Please support this worth charity and support each other.