PANDA’s National Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Helpline is here for you if you're struggling with becoming a parent.
"Breastfeeding was a nightmare. I tried everything and everyone and felt under so much pressure to avoid formula at all costs. My daughter was crying constantly due to hunger and my mental health was deteriorating."
When I was 20 weeks pregnant I lost my job and unfortunately, it didn’t end well.
The next 20 weeks I had at home and while I should have been enjoying watching movies all day, I hated the financial pressures. I tried to look for temp work but found it difficult upon disclosing I was pregnant.
Little did I know that this was the start of my first postnatal depression experience.
The pregnancy wasn’t fun. I loved the kicks and the amazing gift of growing my daughter, but I was uncomfortable, in pain and anxious. At nearly 40 weeks I had reached my limit; I was too uncomfortable and in pain and anxious and as a result my obstetrician agreed to book me in to be induced. While the process of being induced wasn’t necessarily a great experience, in the end my daughter was too stubborn to come naturally, resulting in an emergency caesarean. It was what came next which broke me.
Breastfeeding was a nightmare. I tried everything and everyone and felt under so much pressure to avoid formula at all costs. My daughter was crying constantly due to hunger and my mental health was deteriorating. Medication to boost my supply only made me feel worse and I began to have thoughts which weren’t mine. ‘Fight or Flight’ certainly kicked in; the nights were long but the days were even longer and harder.
It was at this point, at 3am one morning, when I found PANDA. I did an online test which suggested that I might have postnatal depression. I obtained a mental health care plan from my GP and was referred to my amazing psychologist who taught me the skills to overcome postnatal depression and postnatal anxiety and realise I was a good mum!
Recovery certainly didn’t happen overnight, but with a lot of time and self-care I got there.
I started an exciting new job and found myself again!
Nearly three years later, I became pregnant with my son.
This time was going to be different: I was prepared, I was aware and I had ongoing support.
But I also knew I was more likely to have postnatal anxiety and depression, because I’d had it before. I was working during this pregnancy, which helped to take my focus away from having too much time to worry and become anxious. I was also running around after my daughter who was two years old. I only had one month of maternity leave before my son was born.
I also made the decision to book a planned caesarean to reduce anxiety. My son was eager (unlike my daughter) and arrived two days before my planned caesarean (although also by caesarean).
In some ways the second time was easier. But I also missed my daughter and was overcome with guilt that I couldn’t be with her. I struggled to bond with my son and breastfeeding was again painful and difficult. I mix fed my son and was constantly told to consider the medication that had previously worsened my postnatal depression. I felt like a failure, as again my supply was low. I was eating 10 – 20 lactation cookies a day to maintain supply! My mum was also struggling to keep up with making enough cookies! Sleep was harder – I struggled with sleep deprivation – and I had the baby more, as my husband had my daughter. It felt like our family was split down the middle.
My postnatal anxiety and depression eventually worsened. My anxiety was through the roof and when it subsided, my depression kicked in. I was struggling again, missing my daughter and putting pressure on myself and my husband. My son was a very chilled-out baby and I felt like I was blessed with two kids, but I was also unhappy and not coping.
During my worst moments I was angry, impatient and intolerant. I struggled to socialise with friends. It was all just too much and during my worst moments, I had suicidal ideation. I needed a release for my high levels of anxiety; my psychologist was a great support, but I was constantly struggling. In a moment of desperation I sought some advice from a nutritionist; this changed my life as I began to give my body nutrients that it lacked and this dramatically assisted in my recovery.
I also had the opportunity to volunteer with PANDA and reach out to friends and family on Facebook. I put my story out there and accepted myself and owned my postnatal anxiety and depression. I was honest with my employer and took some extra time before I returned to work. I scheduled in “me time” where I could, including massages and the occasional movie. These self-care strategies and returning to work helped me to heal and to overcome my perinatal depression and anxiety. I started to find myself again. It was a long process with a lot of setbacks but we got there. I must also recognise how hard this experience was on my family, in particular my husband. Due to the severity and complexity of postnatal anxiety and depression he was also dramatically affected, but he stood strong and supported me and helped me get back on my feet. I am extremely lucky to have him.
I still battle anxiety and depression as it’s a part of me, but I have overcome perinatal anxiety and depression twice now and understand the complexities and challenges that come with the condition. I have made the decision to use my experiences to help others and I am incredibly grateful to PANDA for providing me with the opportunity to break down stigma and help others through sharing my story.
I have learnt that we are not alone, help is out there and you will be ok. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Recovery isn’t easy but it’s definitely worth it and so are you.
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