Post Natal Depression.
These words are so scary and alien to most new mums.
“That” happens in a land far far away from the soft fuzzy warm feelings of maternal love that should happen when you have your newborn cradled in your arms, right?
“That place” was certainly far away in my mind when on day three in the hospital, trying to bathe my newborn and I thought I saw her turn blue, and I panicked so hard I was hyperventilating.
“That place” was still far away from my mind when the first time I was left alone with her after my husband went to work, I cried because I was so scared to have a shower in case she woke.
It was still a far away place, when I found myself crying along with her, at 3am after yet another unsuccessful breastfeed attempt.
My GP suggested “sleep school” aka a Mother Baby Unit. All I heard was the word “sleep” and I melted with longing at the thought of closing my eyes and resting peacefully.
Two days later I had two psychiatrists looking at me in the eye and saying those words. Post Natal Depression. PND.
No way, I told them. My baby has reflux, I am exhausted. This is normal. Don’t mothers with PND want to kill themselves or their baby? Screw that. That’s not me.
No way I told them. You can take your diagnosis and your medications (which all you shrinks think is a panacea) and take them back to your land where the sun don’t shine.
Over the course of a couple of weeks, my view changed, as I saw other mums like me. Struggling, but in love with their babies. Yes, I was down. Yes, I had no support. Yes, I had been a high achiever with my fuel base of anxiety driving me. Now it was killing my experience. I wasn’t enjoying my baby. I was focusing on the negatives.
And then a turning point. No more denial. I needed help to feel better. I reached out and I got it. I made some beautiful connections with others, and most importantly with the part of myself that was so scared of “failure” as a mum.
Self denial is the worst sort of taboo. It keeps us in the cycle of suffering.
When I read recently about the inquest into little Lochlan and Malachi Stevens deaths it made me incredibly sad. Their mum Miranda Hebble admitted she had been finding life difficult after the birth of her second child, but was too “ashamed” to tell her partner or family. Miranda had put the toddler and baby in the shower and closed the bathroom door. She says she blanked out and woke up about 10 hours later to find both children dead.
It appears she was struggling greatly, and that she was alone. She found it hard to admit that she needed help.
Why is it that cases like this are left to raise the issues that confront new mums – sleep deprivation, lack of control, no self care, feelings of failure, no emotional support. Such cases are scary and as extreme and as such, no struggling mum wants to admit that she identifies with Miranda Hebble.
Her case and cases like hers perpetuate the myth and misconception that when a mum is struggling that this usually ends up in tragedy. And so we avoid any notions that we need help and struggle in silence. Ironically, just like she did.
As for a diagnosis of PND. No way. No one wants to be branded with that label. Next thing you know the mums at kinder will be watching you like a hawk around their kids, should you admit to having had PND.
But this case like so many others that end up in the news, is a reflection of how living in self denial and feeling afraid to reach out for help and how you will be perceived as a failure in doing so actually creates these extreme situations. I am not talking about post partum psychosis here. I am talking about the unrelenting anxiety and depression that a new parent feels in those first few years. And, I am talking about people who have an ability to have some insight into their own moods and thoughts.
And so I fear, that most mums will continue to struggle in silence.
The myth about PND being a label for people who want to commit suicide/infanticide needs to end.
New mums themselves need to be open to help if they are struggling. We must start by acknowledging that it is OK to admit you need some support, and in fact you are a great mum for realising that.
PANDA’s Millions Mums campaign seeks to raise awareness of the crisis in funding
for postnatal depression support services and asks governments for essential funding for the PANDA Helpline. One million mums from around Australia are being asked to
help PANDA’s campaign and support other mums by
contacting their local MP at millionmums.org.au.
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