To help spread awareness of perinatal depression and anxiety we publish stories bravely written by those who have experienced PNDA. This is Alison’s story …
My story begins with the birth of my eldest son Liam, who has just turned five. After he was born, I suffered with postnatal depression and anxiety which hit me like a ton of bricks.
You hear about the baby blues, but this was different, and it lasted for months. I was just going through the motions and felt really distant from Liam. I would put him down on his play mat and just sit there staring at him, feeling quite empty.
I remember thinking surely this is not what it’s meant to be like, this isn’t the way I’m meant to be feeling. I’d had high hopes of being one of those mums who was bursting with love for my baby, but my experience was really different.
No one had said anything about perinatal mental illness during my pregnancy so I had no idea what was happening. I thought, ‘is this normal, am I the only one who feels like this?’.
I was really teary all the time, felt really low could barely eat. Everybody says sleep when the baby sleeps but I couldn’t. He’d be fine, and I’d go and lie down but I couldn’t get any sleep. So I was sleep deprived as well.
I know now that Liam’s birth also had an impact on my mental health. I had a very long labour, and in the end I had an emergency caesarean, which was something I was really scared about. Looking back now, it was the right thing in the end but I think those last few hours of the birth really added to my whole anxious feelings about motherhood.
I feIt I could have gone through with a natural birth, given a bit more time and support. I sort of felt like I didn’t have control over the birth, that the decision was taken away from me. Looking back, I think when people told me to focus on the fact I had a healthy baby, it minimised any legitimate feelings I may have had around the birth process.
After speaking to my GP, I was prescribed antidepressants, which definitely helped. This was a big step for me as medication and breastfeeding was another source of anxiety. The GP reassured me however that the antidepressants were safe to take whilst breastfeeding so that was a big weight off my mind. I also stumbled on PANDA as I was Googling one day. I rang their helpline, and they were fantastic. I just instantly felt so supported and I found that the people I spoke to on the phone really helped ground me and bring me back to the here and now.
I vividly remember one of the counsellors saying ‘pick up your baby and have a good look at him. Look at his eyes, look at his little features, look at his hands’, and that really stuck with me. Just to be present in the moment, it stopped my brain being in overdrive. They also stayed in contact and made a time to ring me every day for about a week and really helped me work through a lot of my feelings about the birth.
Then my second son Harry came along. By then I’d come off the medication and was feeling back to my old self again. But about six or eight weeks into the pregnancy I just became really anxious about completing everyday tasks and worried about everyone around me. I would have terrible fears about my husband going to work and not coming home again. Or people I love, terrible things happening to them.
I rang PANDA again, and said I feel like I’ve got anxiety that I never really had with Liam. I’d had the depressive feelings the first time around, but not this crippling anxiety. So they helped again with that, gave me different tips and techniques and emailed me fact sheets and gave me practical tips to help me work through any panic attacks I was having.
Being a mum was completely different with Harry. Second time around I experienced a lot more instant joy and hands on bonding. I had all those feelings around motherhood that I’d hoped to have with Liam, which was really nice, but it did make me a little bit sad knowing that I missed out on that with Liam. Liam and I have a fantastic bond now though, you would never think we had been through all those struggles in the beginning.
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.