This week — November 10-16 — is Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Awareness Week. PANDA’s new CEO Julie Borninkhof explains their “let’s get real” campaign for 2019.
When I became a mum I didn’t really know what to expect, and in many ways I think I “became” a mum twice. Once when I was told I was pregnant; and again the day they laid my daughter on my chest.
I’ve always thought of myself as a capable and focused professional and individual. But being told I was pregnant and hearing that heart beat for the first time shifted something in me that I never knew I had. I had never been a maternal person and when people spoke about wanting a child I knew it was something that I really hoped to experience physically, but in many ways I was also scared as I didn’t feel the driving need to be a mum. Even while pregnant, I was in awe of what my body was capable of at 39, but I still worried that I didn’t have the ‘heart’ needed to look after a vulnerable little person.
But that all changed the minute they put her on my chest and I knew everything I wanted was wrapped up in this little bundle. That didn’t make the worry go away though. Would I be able to care for her? Would my partner and I parent well together? How would I juggle my career with being a mum? What if I just failed generally? The list went on.
As a Clinical Psychologist who has supported many mums who have experienced birth trauma, loss, anxiety and depression over a number of years, I know that my experience was common. I also feel lucky that I didn’t require support beyond my family at that full on time, and lucky that I knew expert services like PANDA were there if I needed them.
As a parent, nothing you plan ever happens without a hitch, sometimes big and sometimes small. There is always a self-expectation you can’t reach. This is really confronting for anyone who has been able to rely on the fact that generally, they are able to get things done. That’s why the concept of ‘near enough is good enough’ is so powerful.
Now, seven years later, I’ve joined the PANDA team as CEO. Since coming on board last month I have been heartened by our “let’s get real” campaign being run for PANDA Week 2019. We know from callers to PANDA’s Helpline that those who expect to be able to achieve ‘super parent’ status are more likely to experience depression and anxiety in the perinatal period (from conception through the first 12 months of the baby’s life). We also know going easy on yourself is one of the best ways to lessen the feeling of worry and being stuck in the ‘what ifs’.
To me, that’s what the idea of ‘getting real’ is all about. Trying to be aware that becoming a parent can bring a range of complex emotions, both high and low. That our expectations aren’t always met by reality. That it’s OK for mums to take a little while to learn to love their new little one or grab some time for themselves for self care.
Regardless of your background and your experiences to date, being a new mum or dad is tough. It is also a time of great change, so it can be difficult to know what feelings are normal and which ones you should worry about. It can also be really hard to talk to people about any thoughts or emotions that might be troubling you.
That’s where PANDA’s Mental Health Checklist for Expecting and New Parents can be so helpful. You can go online anytime and complete the Checklist and it will give you feedback on how you are going and what to do about it. It also produces a results page you can print out and take with you to an appointment with a health professional to help you have that difficult conversation.
Perinatal anxiety and depression is a temporary and treatable illness. And the sooner you seek help the sooner you can start feeling better. I firmly believe that the more we can get real as a community about perinatal mental illness, the more people will feel comfortable coming forward to talk about it and receive the support they need.
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For support, please call PANDA’s National Helpline on 1300 726 306 Mon-Fri 9am-7:30pm.