To help spread awareness of perinatal depression and anxiety we have been publishing stories bravely shared by women and men who have been affected by perinatal depression and anxiety. This is Cat’s story …
“During my pregnancy I was nervous, but excited. It was uneventful and I worked full-time until 32 weeks as a teacher. I had plenty of time to prepare for baby and had lots of support.
I think I first experienced symptoms when Alexander was just a few days old. He was very unsettled and we could not get him to fall asleep. I had what I now know to be a panic attack. I just kept going through the motions. I remember other times with crippling anxiety too, tight stomach muscles, feeling tense and agitated.
[When he was four months old] Alexander’s sleeping pattern changed and he started waking earlier than before. I felt lost. The change in routine really threw me and I felt like I had lost control. I started feeling more and more anxious. I had panic attacks every morning just before my husband left for work. I withdrew from social activities, and didn’t want to leave the house.
I felt incompetent, and desperate. I started wishing I hadn’t had a child.
What was an average day like for you at that time?
My husband would get up before me, and bring Alexander to me to breastfeed. I would go back to sleep until he left for work. I remember looking at Alexander with dread. Another long, long day trying to get him to sleep and feeling exhausted and anxious.
How important was it that your husband recognised that you needed help?
Without his support, and the support of my family, I don’t know where I’d be. He had to stay home from work to care for my son and I. I became listless. I didn’t want to breastfeed. I couldn’t eat or sleep. I kept crying. If he had not recognised I needed help, I may have hurt myself or my son. He called PANDA to seek advice, and also my parents and sister. A counsellor on the PANDA National Perinatal And Anxiety Helpline encouraged David to take me to Emergency. He also gave him some suggestions to try to help me.
How did he finally convince you to seek help?
Eventually with the help of my family, he said I needed to go with him to emergency or he would have to call the police. I didn’t want that, and I realised I needed the help. It was very hard to admit, and I felt like my family were ‘ganging up on me’. I know that was all part of the illness – being suspicious of others, feeling isolated and alone. But I couldn’t continue as I was, and I knew that. My husband also told me about the Mother Baby Unit, and how they could help me.
What happened after you were admitted to a Mother Baby Unit?
I was settled in with my baby. I spent three weeks there, started on medication for my anxiety and depression, and participated in group therapy sessions. I began to realise how unwell I was, and was relieved to be receiving the help for what was a treatable condition. Mental health nurses, midwives, doctors, a psychologist and a psychiatrist were available to us and I slowly recovered enough to go home and start again, armed with knowledge and medication to treat my condition.
What did the psychiatrist talk to you about?
We talked about my previous history with anxiety, and she helped me to see that I was unwell, and I was not a terrible person, or a terrible mother. We talked about my thought processes and medication, and how I could find assistance when I returned home. I participated in cognitive behaviour therapy, which aims to stop thought cycles, change negative and unrealistic thought processes and replace them with positive, concrete and realistic thoughts.
How long was your recovery? Were you worried about having a 2nd child?
It was around five months before I felt really strong and confident. I saw a psychologist regularly during that time, and continued medication. For a long time I was convinced I would never have another child. I felt I couldn’t put myself through that experience again, nor did I want my husband, son or family to suffer. But as I became more and more strong and confident, I knew I wanted another child, a sibling for my son. I did not want the illness to make the decision for me.
How did you feel after the birth of your second child?
This was very different as my second child has a heart condition. She required a pacemaker and had the surgery at 5 days old. This was terrifying and exhausting, but somehow I made it through. I was medicated and had many supports in place, to prevent the recurrence of my perinatal anxiety and depression. It was easier somehow with my second. I knew what to expect and I had strategies to control my anxiety.
How are you feeling now?
My son is almost 5 and my daughter almost 2. I feel very well. I am still medicated for my anxiety, but I only see my psychologist once every six months, and no longer need to see a psychiatrist. I have returned to casual work and feel like my old self. Some days are hard, but all parents have hard days. I can reflect on the whole experience as positive. I came away with a diagnosis for my anxiety and panic disorder, ways to treat it, and a new understanding and compassion for those who suffer with a mental illness. And of course, two beautiful children.
What advice do you have for new mums?
My advice for new mums: Do what feels right for you at the time. Try to stay in the moment, and take everything day-by-day, hour-by-hour, or minute-by-minute. Surround yourself with positive and supportive people who love and encourage you.
Ask for help. If you think you are experiencing perinatal anxiety and depression, please believe that you can get help and get better. Make a GP appointment and explain your symptoms. Speak to someone you trust, call PANDA’s National Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Helpline or any other helpline. Believe that you are a great parent, and the illness is like any other medical condition. It needs to be treated.
Be kind to yourself.”
The Bub Hub is proud to support PANDA
If you are anyone you know if struggling with perinatal anxiety or depression, call PANDA’s free National Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Helpline (1300 726 306). The service offers counselling, information and referral services with ongoing telephone support for families throughout Australia. The helpline operates Monday to Friday from 10am to 5pm EST.
Visit www.panda.org.au for more information and useful resources.