My family and my husband have a Lebanese background. Although they had a bit of an understanding around anxiety and depression, we didn’t know about perinatal anxiety and depression, as there is not much awareness around mental health within the Lebanese and Muslim community. I had had anxiety since I was 18 but never considered I would get depression - I was always a very happy and bubbly person, I had had anxiety but I was happy; I loved my husband and was excited to be pregnant. My maternal health professional knew my history of anxiety but no one mentioned perinatal anxiety or depression throughout my pregnancy.
My son’s birth was very traumatic and stressful, it was a long labour and to top that off while I was giving birth a nurse came in and said ‘there’s a fire alarm going off.’ In the back of my mind, I was thinking ‘great now the hospital’s on fire and I can’t move my legs’ (I had an epidural). I thought, that’s it, I’m going to die here. So there was already so much stress surrounding me as I was pushing my son out. In the first few weeks of bringing my son home, I was not getting any sleep, and my husband was working full time, so it was pretty much just my son and me. The massive change that I had been through – no longer working full time and having to care for someone else 24/7, really hit me.
My grandma and my mum would come over and help but it was all such a big change from my previous life of having my own routine, and I didn’t really know how to express what I felt. One night when my son was about 3 months old I woke up at night and felt like I was having an anxiety attack. I thought to myself: I can deal with this, I know what anxiety is, I’ve been through this. I can fix myself. I then heard my son stirring in his cot and went over to settle him and for some reason I was terrified to pick him up and I didn’t understand why. I woke up my husband and said you have to get up, somethings happened, I can’t pick up our son. He didn’t understand what was wrong. He picked up our son and bought him over to me. I freaked out and had another anxiety attack. From that point on I felt I couldn’t be alone with my son, I felt so disconnected and switched off that I didn’t think he was safe around me.
But I didn’t understand why I felt so numb. Even though this scared me quite a lot I didn’t say anything to anyone as I didn’t want to be seen as a failure of a mum. I began to have intrusive thoughts and began thinking my son was better off being raised by someone other than me. When my son was about 4 months old, one evening my family was over at my house for a dinner party and I was in my bedroom when my Aunty came in. I grabbed her hand and said something’s wrong. You have to help me! I burst into tears and told her what I was going through. She sat down and listened and said ‘I think you have postnatal depression. Don’t worry it’s really common, you just need to get help’.
I didn’t even know what postnatal depression was, I just thought I was going crazy. So I started researching it online and came across PANDA’s website. I looked at the symptoms of postnatal depression and realised I had nearly all of them. At that point I felt a lot calmer as I then knew what was happening, so it felt less scary and confusing. I made an appointment with a psychologist who knew my mental health history and from that moment things progressively got better. I also saw a specialist and discovered that I could take medication for my depression that was safe for me to take whilst still breastfeeding. Although this was a very difficult decision to make as I was initially so scared that I wouldn’t be able to breast feed and that people would think I was weak. I realise now that this is not true. Throughout all this my husband struggled to understand what I was going through as he had never experienced anxiety or depression himself and had little understanding of mental health, as he grew up in a culture that didn't discuss such issues. So I printed off some factsheets from PANDA’s website that had been translated to Arabic. As soon as he read them he understood what was happening.
It was a big learning experience for me and my family and a bit of a culture shock for them. But as soon as they learnt what I was going through they provided me with ongoing support and that really helped me in my recovery.
At that point I realised that there are other women out there who are struggling, who also come from different cultural backgrounds and may potentially have partners or families who don’t understand what they are going through. So I called PANDA and signed up as a Community Champion so I could help raise awareness about perinatal mental health in other culturally diverse communities.
My son is nearly 3 now and he teaches me something new every day. I love seeing him grow and we have an amazing bond. I hope my story will shine a light on perinatal mental health and show that it can happen to anyone, but most importantly it is treatable and the sooner you seek help the quicker you get better.