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‘I would walk around the house like a zombie’

Rachel talks abour her experiences with perinatal depression and anxiety

Did you know if you have suffered with anxiety or depression in the past you are at an increased risk of suffering perinatal anxiety or depression during pregnancy or in the first year after birth? Rachel did. This is Rachel’s story …

“I had experienced both anxiety and depression prior to falling pregnant and had been medicated for some years. I suffered social anxiety which led to avoidance and depression, both had to be managed on a daily basis.

[When I became pregnant] I worried that I wouldn’t cope with the pain of child birth more than the pregnancy. I went back to medication in the third trimester under the guidance of my obstetrician to ease my anxiety. I trusted my obstetrician and wasn’t worried about the impact of or on my pregnancy.

Were you aware of your increased risk of developing postnatal depression?

I wasn’t aware of postnatal depression and anxiety at all during my pregnancy nor after child birth. It wasn’t in any conversations that occurred with my obstetrician, GP or antenatal classes.

How did you feel after your baby was born?

For the first 24 hours I ran on adrenaline, which seemed normal. On night 3 I couldn’t get my son to sleep and the anxiety and self-doubt took over. I struggled to comprehend breastfeeding and getting my son to attach which fed the anxiety as well. Why wasn’t my baby “perfect” and I must not be the “perfect” mum. Whilst I was still taking medication, there were no discussions around PNDA or even an assessment completed during my stay in hospital.

READ: Check out this article on 8 ways you can help new parents

What was an average day like for you at that time?

I mostly slept during the day after I had fed James and mum would hold him and put him to sleep, something I just didn’t seem able to do. I would walk around the house like a zombie with such sleep deprivation, I couldn’t function.

James would wake every two hours – three hours if we were lucky – for a feed at night, which would take an hour by the time you change nappy and burp. Even then I struggled to go back to sleep between feeds, I anxiously waited for James’s little cry to do it all over again.

I did breastfeed which did make things easier for me in some ways as he could be quickly fed on demand, but in other ways I felt that he was attached to me 24 hours a day and I started to regret him for that. He wouldn’t take a bottle, so there was no help in sharing this task.

What made you ask for help?

After six months of continued sleep deprivation and feelings of hopelessness after trying all the sleeping books on the market, I contacted a lady who had been recommended by another new mum for sleep options. She was a registered nurse and midwife, her first task was to put me in contact with a psychologist.

This was the best help I had ever received regarding my anxiety and depression. Through strategies to help me with this I was able to be more accepting of my role as a mother. She introduced me to other mums who were feeling the same through group therapy which helped immensely.

How long was your recovery and how do you feel now?

It was probably around 18 months before I learned to love my son in a way that I felt comfortable being his mum. I have fully recovered from PNDA, however I am still medicated to help with the day-to-day management of my anxiety.

How did your experience shape your career goals?

When my son was about two years old and I had fully recovered, I went on to co-facilitate groups for mums with PNDA for about three years and have now found the time to study my Cert IV in Mental Health. I want to be able to help mums who feel alone with their struggles and to do this I need to engage in the proper training and gain the appropriate registrations.

What advice do you have for mums?

I often start my advice with “its OK”, to feel the way you do. Don’t compare your child to other children as they develop at different stages and ages as they grow. If you feel that you really can’t cope with what’s going on in your head, go talk to your local child health nurse or GP. Don’t be afraid to talk and share your feelings with others, you’ll be surprised how many other mums are feeling the same, just waiting for somebody to speak first.”

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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.

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