To help spread awareness of perinatal depression and anxiety we have been publishing stories bravely written by women and men who have experienced PNDA. This is Elissa’s story …
In some ways it’s ironic that I developed postnatal depression with my second baby, because she was an absolute breeze. She was calm and relaxed, a picture perfect little bub really.
Not like our first – she was really unsettled, she had reflux and cried all the time. And her crying was really painful to hear, it sounded like she was really distressed. We even had to take her into the emergency department a few times we were so worried.
She wasn’t putting on weight and was quite floppy, which really concerned the medical people. She had an MRI, which showed she had nodules on her brain. I had an MRI too, and it turns out that she and I share this rare chromosome duplication they’d never seen before. That explained the nodules on her brain and her issues in those first few months, including some developmental delay.
Thankfully she improved over time to the point that now, she’s on a par with other kids her age. We thought we’d put it all behind us – until our second daughter arrived, when it all caught up with me again.
As soon as my second daughter started crying I relived all the concerns we had with our first. On top of that, I was feeling completely overwhelmed with having two children. And I was also struggling to breastfeed. I was also having serious trouble accepting this new reality: I was a mum with two daughters, and I would never get my old life back.
I persevered for about five months, but when I got really sick things took a turn for the worse. It felt like it happened overnight: I was struggling along but feeling like things would be OK, but all of a sudden I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore. I remember going to the doctor with my daughter for one of her immunisations and just standing there, having this out of body experience. It was so weird. I guess I was having a panic attack. I was thinking, “oh my god, I need help. This is actually happening and I can’t cope”.
I came home to my husband and just burst into tears. I said I think I might have postnatal depression. But when we googled it, what I was experiencing didn’t seem to match the description we found online. So we both thought, oh, it can’t be that. So we disregarded it and tried to move on.
But it wasn’t that simple. In fact, having my husband disregard it and make me feel that it was all in my head made things worse. I thought, you’re just not getting it, and started to resent him. It created quite a bit of tension in the house.
I started finding even the simplest things hard. We live about 200 metres from the shops and my older daughter would be asking to go down there and I couldn’t even face getting dressed and doing it. I couldn’t cope with the idea of bumping into someone I knew. And that was when I knew I needed help.
I didn’t want to go to my usual doctor. I had this feeling that she would judge me and ask too many questions, which is really strange because I really like her, but the thought of going to her and talking about it, I couldn’t do it. It was too overwhelming – just the thought of opening up to her, I thought I would just break down as soon as I opened my mouth.
So I went to a completely new doctor and asked for a mental health plan. Looking back I don’t think it was the right thing to do, because he referred me to a psychologist who dismissed a lot of my feelings. She said you should really embrace this time, it’s the best time of your life, you need to be there for your kids, instead of working through it with me. It was awful, and I left there feeling horrible.
That’s when I called PANDA and they were able to talk me through it, and referred me to a psychologist who I see now and who has changed my life. She has helped me come to terms with my feelings of loss and grief around my own mum. She died when I was seven, and I think I didn’t really deal with my grief then.
When you have kids you start bringing up all these other things from your own childhood. You feel the lack of your mum. I don’t really remember her, but I was really nervous, I just started thinking what if I pass away, what will happen to my kids? And all those thoughts like, what if she was still here? My step mum is amazing, she’s been my step mum since I was 10, but it’s different. You can’t help but wonder.
I’m so much better for having postnatal depression – it sounds weird, but it has prompted me to deal with a lot of emotions that I may not have otherwise addressed. I still have some low moments, because having two kids can get stressful. But I’ve accepted that this is the reality of my life, and that it’s OK to not be OK occasionally. I’ve learned to be more present and live in the moment, which shows that difficult times can lead to something really positive!
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 9am to 7:30pm EST.