Surviving Perinatal Depression and Anxiety
When my first child was born, I spent the first six months of his life walking five feet above the ground. I was elated. Exhausted, emotional and at times, frazzled, but mostly, happy.
The arrival of my second child was very different. My beautiful second son arrived via the VBAC I desperately wanted. I was enormously relieved to have avoided another caesarean. Physically, the immediate difference post-birth was significant. I was up and about and not under a cloud of pain meds. I should have been feeling amazing. And in those first few hours post-birth, I was.
But later that night, when my husband had gone home and it was just me and my baby in the hospital room, I felt a weird disconnection. I looked at my tiny boy sleeping in his crib, and I wondered, “Who are you?” Being alone with him sent a wave of anxiety through me.
By morning, that feeling had largely subsided. My baby was breastfeeding well and I couldn’t help but adore him. When my firstborn arrived at hospital to meet his baby brother, I was overwhelmed with the intensity of the love I felt for my little family.
Teary and overwhelmed
But the sensation of not wanting to be alone with my newborn son was a buzzing undercurrent that became a deafening roar once I got home from hospital. I’d gone into labour almost four weeks early which meant that my husband’s annual leave did not start for another couple of weeks. The idea of being home alone with a three-year-old and a newborn terrified me.
This was my second baby. I should have known what I was doing. But instead, I felt unprepared, overwhelmed, and frightened. I would sit on the couch, feeding my baby and crying. I could not stop crying.
When it became obvious that I was not coping, my mum took the week off work to spend those rough days with me. She helped entertain my active three-year-old, made meals, let me nap, and kept me company. It made the world of difference to have her support.
Managing with support – and medication
By the third week, things began to settle down. I attribute this largely to the incredible support network I had around me. My history of depression and anxiety also turned out to be an odd kind of blessing. I could recognise the warning signs when they began to surface in the week after birth.
But what I credit most for the short duration of my struggle with PND is that I was already taking anti-depressants as part of my ongoing mental health treatment. That first year with my second baby was challenging, a rollercoaster of emotions. But the fact that I had an established mental health plan stopped those low days from tipping over into more serious territory.
Not everyone will require medication for PND, but it’s important to acknowledge that anti-depressants are an option. There’s no shame in taking that option when nothing else is working. Regular exercise and getting out and about will be the turning point for some, but then there are mothers who just about wear pram wheel grooves into their local footpaths trying to ‘get some fresh air,’ while inside, they still feel completely out of control. And when well-meaning advice doesn’t work, this can exacerbate the feelings of failure. Depression and anxiety can present differently in everyone – and the right treatment is different for individuals, too.
When the baby blues become more serious
Feeling a heightened sense of anxiety after a baby arrives is to be expected. Babies are incredibly tricky and demanding little creatures! And who wouldn’t shed a tear or two when they’re operating on a mere fraction of the sleep they used to enjoy?
Having a baby is a wild ride and topsy turvy emotions are par for the course. But so often when we attempt to reassure new mothers that what they’re feeling is normal, we can actually minimise their struggle. By telling a struggling mum not to worry, we may inadvertently stop her from asking for help because she decides what she’s feeling must be normal. And if these ‘normal’ feelings make her feel so awful, what does that say about her mothering skills? Maybe she’s just no good at this whole motherhood caper? This kind of self-talk can be dangerous to someone who is already vulnerable.
Reaching out for support
So where might a struggling mother (or father) look for help? PANDA is an excellent place to start.
PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia) is a national government funded Helpline providing vital support, counselling and referral for Australian parents and their families. They provide a much needed and deeply empathetic connection with parents enduring PNDA (Perinatal Depression and Anxiety).
Statistics indicate that many women who experience perinatal anxiety and/or depression suffer for 6 -12 months before they get help. Some wait for years. That’s such a long time to be struggling, so many precious moments lost under a fog of desperation. It doesn’t have to be that way. Early intervention is so important.
If you or someone you know is not coping, please call PANDA. On the other end of the line is someone who will listen without judgement. Perinatal Depression and Anxiety is real, surprisingly common, and absolutely treatable.
Reach out. You are not alone.
PANDA Helpline: 1300 726 306 (Mon – Fri 9am – 7:30pm AEST/AEDT)
Photo: Victoria Borodinova via Pexels