Did you know that perinatal depression and anxiety can occur even if it isn’t your first child? It doesn’t just happen to new mums. It happened to Kelley. This is her story …
“[With my first child] I had a good pregnancy and indulged my hot chips craving as much as possible. That moment, that very first moment of holding him, was the best feeling in the world.
As first-time parents, we accepted most things as ‘normal’, but I remember a lot of long days – trying to breastfeed, trying to get him to sleep, calling helplines, trawling the internet and reading books.
Some days felt worse than others when I would be counting the seconds until my husband got home to take over, but I never got into a bad cycle.
My son had low muscle tone and was underweight, but I didn’t realise the significance of the weight issue until he was about 10 weeks. It took someone dragging me away from the books, internet and helplines to the reality of the situation, to get Josh better. Support and encouragement is great, and necessary, but I wish I’d got that in-person slap in the face earlier. I would give a lot to re-do his first three months.
How were you feeling during your second pregnancy?
I had another good pregnancy and more hot chips. I wanted to ‘do better’ with breastfeeding, and we knew we were stopping with two children, but the rest of my pregnancy was mostly pre-occupied with work and more specialist appointments for Josh, who by that time had been diagnosed with Childhood Apraxia of Speech. I don’t remember feeling particularly anxious about anything.
How did you feel after the birth of your second son?
I certainly wasn’t expecting my second son to be born on my laundry floor. But that’s what happened after being sent home from the hospital. Thankfully we lived near an ambulance station and the paramedics were with my husband and I to deliver Rhys.
He was a very different baby to Josh – physically strong, big appetite, and my feeding did go better. But I was tired all the time, and quickly realised how different it was having a toddler to look after as well as a baby.
We knew we were going to stop with two children, and a lot of my comments to family and friends when they first met Rhys, were things like “definitely not having any more kids”, or “he’s hard work”. Inevitably, I would get frustrated and upset or angry with one or both boys. On the days with just Rhys at home, I usually spent more time trying to get him to have a sleep, than he slept. Or I would expect him to have some playtime on his own while I did some cooking. But of course, he was still so little and wanted to be with me all the time.
I fixated on why people asked if he’s a good baby – I’m not going to say he’s a bad baby. Surely that would make me a bad mother? It’s just a crap question to ask.
What was an average day like for you at that time?
My anger and frustration was growing, and I was feeling pretty useless most days … questioning why we had another baby, feeling unable to make simple decisions. My husband did his best to help, and told me to stop trying to do so much, give myself a break, get my Mum or friends around – but I wasn’t listening. My brother texted one night to ask how things were going, and I realised that if I answered honestly, I would have to tell him that I was angry and crying and swearing every day.
What made you call a helpline?
I spoke to my husband about not wanting to feel like this anymore. But everything I read about postnatal depression related to first-time mums, not second. My thoughts were that I shouldn’t be feeling like this, especially when I had a very supportive family. A few days later, I was screaming again at Rhys “I don’t know what you want!”. I went outside and googled ‘postnatal depression’. PANDA’s National Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Helpline came up, and I called straight away.
What did the counsellor speak to you about? How did they help?
The best thing that PANDA did for me on that first call, was reassure me that I had done the right thing to contact them, and that my feelings were all that mattered. Not my family or financial situation or whether I had a ‘good baby’ – just my feelings. I was so relieved. The counsellor on that call (and every subsequent call) was amazing. The offer to call me back the next day to check-in was such a massive help too. It took the pressure off me from having another thing to do.
How long was your recovery?
I saw my GP, made an appointment with a psychologist, and started on medication. I also made time for myself. It definitely helped to see the psychologist and classify my illness as depression, but I think the advice from PANDA that was specifically related to perinatal depression was more effective for me. After a few months of medication, I decided to reduce it. I couldn’t completely remove the feeling that I should be able to parent without that chemical support. I think that was the right decision for me, and I still had a lot of support and strategies to draw on, so things kept improving.
How are you feeling now?
I am definitely coping better. There are still some bad days, but not bad cycles. I am comfortable speaking about my experience with depression and anxiety and that has made a big difference. I know when I’m in need of a night out or day away. And I know that seeing my boys’ smiling faces when I get back is the best thing in the world.
What advice do you have for mums who feel they might be experiencing PNDA?
For new mums, or second-time mums, or third, give yourself the same care and attention as you give your baby. Don’t try to push through consistently hard days, because you and your baby will only suffer. I will be forever grateful to PANDA’s National Helpline, so my best advice is to call them.
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.