My first pregnancy was lovely, despite some major stress when my parents separated rather traumatically after 40 years. It never occurred to me that that alone was putting me at risk for mental health problems post-birth.
I felt in my prime: 31, newly married, highly independent, healthy and thought the world was my oyster. It never occurred to me the anxiety and depression I had suffered from in my early 20s would rear its ugly head again, in such an exciting and hopeful time.
My perfect maternal picture began to disintegrate about the time we arrived at the hospital. I had a difficult, prolonged labor, and my baby Finian, while an absolute angel to behold, needed extra attention when he was born.
Fin ended up in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for five days. This was a very dark and excruciatingly lonely time for me; it pretty much set the tone for the following year.
My husband Dave returned to work two weeks after the birth, and I missed him horribly– to the point of terror on a daily basis, but was too ashamed to tell him. We had moved about 30 minutes out of the city, thinking it would be an ideal place to raise our family.
Our parents were hundreds of miles away – not an ideal scenario for life with a newborn baby. I had many acquaintances and work-friends (counsellors no less!), but no one close enough to ask … “Are you OK?” and genuinely listen to the answer.
Fin had an undiagnosed tongue-tie and breastfeeding was incredibly painful as a result. I told every health professional I came in contact with how much it hurt but none of them thought to look at the underside of his tongue.
He was feeding 1-2 hourly and screaming a lot, through each and every night, but the scales said he was getting what he needed so I felt as if most people concluded it was “all in my head.” Somehow I persisted (it got easier when his mouth and tongue grew) but it was at the expense of some of my sanity.
I tried in my way to get help from my doctor and maternal child health nurse, and others; but for whatever reason, they just couldn’t hear it.
In the end it was time that probably healed me. My son got older and I recognised in retrospect my own misery. I talked about it with people, wrote about it and got free of the shame.
But I would have much preferred a diagnosis, and intervention. That’s a year of my life, and my son’s life, and a year of my marriage, that I’ll never get back after all.
When I had my next child, I did everything differently. I shouted from the rooftops that I’d had postnatal depression (PND) the first time. I found a good doctor, and a counsellor, and I told everyone I might need their help.
I wasn’t sure if I’d suffer from PND again, but that wasn’t the point; I had people to care for me if I did, and knowing that made all the difference.
Anyone concerned about postnatal depression should call PANDA’s National Perinatal Depression Helpline 1300 726 306 or go to www.panda.org.au
(Helpline operates Monday to Friday from 9am to 7pm EST).