I had my first child, Charlotte, in 2014 and I definitely struggled after her birth. But not nearly as much after the birth of my second daughter, Georgia. I felt sick quite early on during my pregnancy and even though I desperately wanted a second baby I had a constant sense of dread and was overcome with anxiety about the future. Every time I went to bed I would lie awake with anxiety and think, how am I going to cope with two children? I thought these feelings were normal for all mums and tried to ignore them, but it progressively got worse.
I wasn’t sleeping and was very stressed. The only thing that kept me together was the constant routine of each day; going to work, looking after Charlotte, putting her to bed, going to bed myself. I didn’t notice it at the time but I became really withdrawn. I didn’t want to see any of my friends, I felt sick at the thought of going to social occasions, which was really unlike me. But I just thought this is me now – I’m a mum and maybe this is my new normal. I was constantly trying to convince myself and everyone else that everything was ok that it just added to the stress and exhaustion.
I was pretty much crying every day but I didn’t tell anyone what I was going through, not even my husband. Until one day I saw my GP for a concern that had nothing to do with my pregnancy or mental health. She kept asking me how I was doing with the pregnancy. At that point I was so tired and so sick of lying to everyone; I broke down and could not stop crying.
The relief I felt sharing what I was going through was almost instant, I didn’t realise what a huge burden it was trying to keep it a secret. She then said to me I think you have perinatal depression. I just looked at her and said ‘I can’t have perinatal depression, the baby hasn’t arrived yet.’ She then explained that it can happen during pregnancy – it’s called antenatal depression. I was totally shocked as I had never heard that this could happen during in pregnancy and to be honest it took a while for me to believe it. She spoke to me about it and provided me with resources and I began seeing a psychologist every week up until I was about 1 month due to give birth. I had a really horrible birth; after 12 hours of labour I had to have an emergency C-section.
But once I gave birth I felt like a new woman. A weight had been lifted off my shoulders and despite being in a bit of pain, I felt so much better. I continued to feel great until I stopped breastfeeding when Georgia was about 5 months old. I felt as if the weight had come back and I began to withdraw again, the constant feeling of dread had returned. I felt so ashamed that I was unwell again and despite always being so close to my mum I started to push her away.
And if anyone asked how I was I would always paint the perfect picture so they would think everything was ok. When Georgia was about 6 months old I went on an overseas trip to the UK for 2 weeks to visit my brother with my mum and both my girls. My jet lag was horrible and I was struggling to keep up with the general day to day activities of daily life. I felt so worthless and so ashamed ended up having a complete breakdown. As soon as I got back to Australia I saw my GP and my psychologist. I told them everything and they encouraged me to speak to my family about what I was going through. I found this extremely challenging as I was so ashamed and have always hated asking for help.
But deep down I knew it had to happen so I could begin my recovery. Sharing my story has really helped me open up and since joining PANDA as a Community Champion I feel less alone and have discovered how common perinatal anxiety and depression really is. This journey has definitely been a rough one but I honestly think it has made me a stronger person and has made me take a step back and really appreciate the little things in life.
I would encourage anyone who is having a tough time to reach out to PANDA or your GP, even if you think its minor. Getting things in place early can make a world of difference to you and your overall health.