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‘I felt isolated, desperate and like I was failing my daughter’

As soon as Scout was born the midwives put her to my breast and everything seemed beautiful.

The labour and delivery had been relatively easy and I fell in love with her instantly, something I hadn’t been expecting.

My next order of business was to throw up in a kidney bowl and pass out from exhaustion. But I was happy. Deliriously happy.

The next day in the family birth centre, I had trouble feeding her. She wouldn’t latch on properly and the midwives were militant – they would thrust her onto me chanting, “You must breastfeed. You must breastfeed.” in an onerous tone and become frustrated with me when I couldn’t do it. I wanted to breastfeed her so badly and the midwives weren’t telling me anything I didn’t already know. Years later, I discovered Scout had an undiagnosed tongue-tie. Snipping that tiny bit of flesh may have made all the difference.

At home, I was determined not to give up on breastfeeding. For two long months until her mouth grew bigger and we finally got the hang of it, I was in excruciating pain. I had several blocked ducts and one bout of mastitis. I loved my little girl, but I was exhausted.

She didn’t sleep well in her first year and I had so much (often unwanted) advice about how to get her to sleep, and how to not “give in” to her so-called manipulation at bedtime. I was putting a tremendous amount of pressure on myself to create the idyllic “good baby” and as a first-time mum, I had no idea how to manage the practicalities and emotions of raising a child. Well-intentioned people had me doubting my maternal instincts.

The disconnect between these instincts (of which I’d convinced myself I hadn’t any) and what people were “suggesting” I should be doing with Scout, made me feel isolated, desperate and like I was failing my daughter. Badly. I didn’t sleep. Even when things with Scout were going smoothly, I lay awake wondering when it was all going to go to Hell again.

I was terrified when Husband went to work. In the afternoon, after hours of trying to get Scout to sleep, I would ring him and plead with him to come home so I could get a break and he always said “No”. It wasn’t his fault. He had a job and logically I knew that, but there was nothing logical in the way I was feeling. I would yell. Cry. Hysterical sometimes. I looked in the mirror and saw a desperate shell with some flesh attached. I didn’t recognise myself in there.

I was seriously sleep-deprived. I went to a GP who diagnosed Post Natal Depression, but she was so prescriptive about it, there was a “fill out this questionnaire and we’ll tally your score and see if you’re depressed” approach to her diagnosis that made me feel anxious, too. I had no idea whether I was genuinely depressed or whether I just needed a decent sleep. I was confused. Exhausted. A failure. I didn’t take the anti-depressants that the GP prescribed as I had no faith that she even understood how I was feeling (I’ve since found another GP).

There is nothing black and white about PND. Everyone experiences it differently. For some it lasts a month or two, for others it takes years to feel like a normal person again. Women (and men) with PND need support, not judgement.

For me, it wasn’t until Scout’s third month that it really hit –  even though I was exhausted and in pain, the panic didn’t come scratching at me until then. It didn’t present as a typical depression in that I was able to get out of bed in the morning and I didn’t feel down as much as anxious and panicky. The insomnia, as well as the anxiety and powerlessness I felt when I looked at my screaming child who desperately needed me took a long time to heal.

I am back to my “old self” now. The shadow of an unrecognisable but loving mum who needed help as much as my daughter did is a distant memory. I have a second child now who is no easier, but I’m easier. I listen to my instincts. I let her sleep in my bed if she needs to. I don’t go crazy with panic if she wakes at night like I used to.

I am going with the flow and that is freedom.

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  1. Thank you Kimberley for sharing your story. We know that sharing our personal stories of recovery from perinatal depression and anxiety help others who are struggling reach out for support. ‘It’s not all black and white’ has been our theme for the past few years for PND Awareness Week, and it is nearly that time again. During 16-22 November PANDA will be sharing that message and more. By speaking up we hope to make it easier for new parents to ask for help. Even if you don’t know if it is normal what you are feeling it is OK to call our helpline and ask. 1300 726 306 Monday to Friday, 10am to 5pm AEST.
    Sam Tassie, Website Manager, Post and Antenatal Depression Association.



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