Hi, my name is Emily and I’m a postnatal depression survivor. I’m a healthcare worker, and single mum to two beautiful children, now 6 and 8. I suffered from postnatal depression and anxiety after the birth of our second child in 2013. Due to this, I experienced some very dark times. At the time my husband was a transport officer and studying for his nursing degree. He worked shifts, so our time spent together on days off was few and far between. Our marriage soon became very rocky, and unfortunately ended in 2016. Since then I have done a lot of soul searching and am now in a place where I feel ready to share my story in hopes that it will inspire and help other parents who are going through similar hard times.
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- Emily's story: living with postnatal depression and anxiety
Emily's story: living with postnatal depression and anxiety
"Keep a close watch on your feelings, especially in the first year after the birth of your baby."
Our first child Samuel was born in May 2011. Like any new mother, it took a few months to find my feet and learn the ropes of being a first-time parent. It was new and exciting, and I fell in love with our new addition. In April 2013, when our son was 23 months old, our family welcomed our second child, Hannah. I was fortunate that Hannah fed well, settled well, was happy, and was overall a dream baby. I loved my little pigeon pair and felt so blessed to have them in my life.
Towards the end of 2013, I found I was becoming increasingly exhausted all the time. After numerous tests, it was found that an autoimmune liver disease that I had been diagnosed with was getting progressively worse. My chronic disease was causing many symptoms such as fatigue, pain, lethargy, and a low immune system. Along with looking after two little children, and with little outside help, I started to sink into the slow, downward spiral of depression.
After months of getting up and trying to ‘power through’ each day, I found my emotions became overwhelming. I started having emotional outbursts at my husband, and then random family members. I quickly dismissed these feelings and carried on. On the odd occasion that I opened up and talked about my struggles, people would say, “That’s quite normal. Marriage is hard, and raising families is hard. ”
I put two and two together and thought, “Well, it’s a difficult phase in life, and I’m sure this will pass.” I dismissed my feelings and carried on.
After a while, I noticed I was becoming anxious all the time. There are many times I can remember when I was out with the children and ended up having an emotional breakdown. One specific time was when I had arranged to catch up with friends from my mother’s group at a public playground. I was the first to arrive with my little ones, and straight away I saw it was extremely packed with people. I was scared that if I let my toddler out of my grasp he would run off, or a stranger would take him, and he would never be seen again.
I picked baby Hannah up in my arms and let my son Samuel into the small gated baby area. He started having a tantrum and wanted to go into the bigger kinder area. Another parent opened the toddler gate and Samuel ran out at lightning speed. I chased after him, and nearly lost sight of him. Once I finally caught him, I was overcome with anxiety.
I took Samuel firmly by the hand and led my 2 children into the nearest public restroom. I locked the door and collapsed on the floor and started crying. I remember baby Hannah started crying in her pram, and my toddler son stood there silently, watching us with a concerned little look on his face. By this stage I didn’t care. I felt utterly exhausted, and like a failure.
After 10 minutes there was a knock at the door and when I opened it a mum who I had seen in the playground asked me if I was alright. I said I just wasn’t coping. She was very sympathetic and said, “Everyone has bad days, maybe it’s just one of those days you need to take the kids home and have a relaxation day with them. ” I appreciated her warmth and honesty at the time. I packed up all my belongings, and headed home.
Every morning I would head out in the car just to get out of the house, and if I had no energy to do anything, I would quite often park in random car parks and start crying. I went to my GP numerous times for help, but he was not convinced anything was wrong. I was basically told again that how I was feeling was normal, and to keep soldiering on.
Through all of this, no one recognised that I had postnatal depression, not even my own husband, and I was certainly in denial. It wasn’t until I was sitting on the couch watching my children play, that I noticed my dark thoughts. Dark thoughts such as not feeling fit enough to be a mother, and that the children would be better off without me in their lives. This, for me, was a light bulb moment. Due to my nursing background, I knew enough to stop and take notice of this. I knew I must have serious depression to have thoughts of ending it all and needed help straight away.
I took action that very day. I booked an appointment with my GP and asked to have a reassessment of the postnatal depression test. I informed the doctor that I had fleeting thoughts of ending it all. For the first time I was completely honest during the assessment, and not surprisingly scored very high for postnatal anxiety and depression. My GP put a Mental Health Care Plan in place for me. I started on medication and started attending psychology sessions. I also opened up to everyone regarding my mental struggle, and through acceptance I started the long, but positive uphill road to recovery.
It is now 2019, and even though my marriage unfortunately ended in 2016 I am pleased to say my children, now 6 and 8, are empathetic, loving, and make friends easily. I also have a great relationship with them. I have managed to maintain a good life-work balance over the past few years and have recently started dating again.
If there is one major regret I have, it would be that it took me so long to recognise and seek help when I needed it. I wish I had listened to my child health nurse when she pointed out that I was displaying some signs of postnatal depression at my daughter’s check-ups. She said I should see my GP about it, but I was stubborn and believed I could manage on my own. When I look back at photos of my gorgeous baby girl, I sometimes have trouble remembering those special moments because my mind was so clouded back then. I wish I had sought help earlier so I could have enjoyed those early years with my children, instead of merely existing from one day to the next.
If you have a husband or partner, try to check up on them and keep communication open. Be there to support each other. Dads are often one of the forgotten parties when new babies arrive. As a community, more needs to be done for new dads. Even if it is just getting them out of the house and meeting other new dads. Giving new dads the time to attend enjoyable social activities and visiting community groups such as Men’s Shed and baby and dad playgroups.
My advice to fellow parents is to keep a close watch on your feelings, especially in the first year after the birth of your baby. You will have some down days, but it is not normal to feel depressed and anxious all the time. If something doesn’t feel right, make sure you speak up, and seek help. Talk to people who you know will be sympathetic towards your situation. Speak to your child health nurse, GP, or nearest parenting centre about any concerns. If you feel you aren’t being listened to, get a second opinion. Don’t be ashamed to let your health providers see you cry, as you are bound to get help more quickly than if you put on your best game face and pretend everything is ok. If your family and friends are not listening, call on your community support phone services such as PANDA and others.
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