The arrival of a new baby into a home can be an exciting but stressful time in the life of any mother. As the mother of four children I have seen my fair share of excitement and stress over the years and also moments of personal depression.
After the arrival of my third child I had my first experience with Post Natal Depression. I had a wildfire, strong willed four-year-old, an adventurous two-year-old and a newborn baby. My husband had a new job and was travelling a lot. Life was challenging, tiring and busy. I expected it to be so. What I did not expect was that I would feel depressed, anxious, and despite having three beautiful boys, a lingering feeling of sadness and isolation.
Signs of PND can include feeling constantly sad or crying for no reason, feeling constantly tired, withdrawing from friends, changes in appetite, sleep problems not related to the baby’s needs, difficulty focusing, and having thoughts of death or suicide.
I didn’t actually realise I had Post Natal Depression at the time. Looking back on my experiences I feel I could have dealt with PND better. If I had acknowledged what was going on and shared my feelings perhaps I could have recovered faster.
But it seems I am not the only one to live in denial: Despite new research revealing that the Australian public believes there is little or no stigma attached to postnatal depression, the perception of ‘what people think’ can still prevent new mums and dads from seeking timely help.
PANDA’s research shows there has been an increase in understanding and compassion in the community with 80% of people believing postnatal depression is not a sign of weakness. In addition, 92% of people believe that postnatal depression does not stop a woman from being a good mother.
However, PANDA CEO Terri Smith said the figures suggesting a public acceptance of postnatal depression are not reflected in the feelings of the majority of callers to PANDA’s National Helpline. “The majority of callers report that they feel shame about how they are feeling,” she says. “And this shame is preventing people from seeking help early.”
“This means more parents are suffering in silence for longer, reducing their enjoyment of what could be a very special time and potentially even putting their lives at risk.” Smith added that three out of five callers waited more than four weeks to seek help, when it is recommended that people seek help if their symptoms persist for more than two weeks.
“This shows the work still to be done in educating people, partners, supporters and the community to help identify what is happening and in reducing the stigma and shame associated with seeking help,” she said.
What I’ve learned about Post Natal Depression
1. Accept the Depression:
When I first found out that I had PND I was shocked… How could this happen to me? I wasted precious time denying how I was feeling and took longer than I should have to get the help I needed. Had I educated myself of the symptoms of PND and accepted help earlier, I could have recovered faster.
2. You are not a failure:
One of the battles I constantly faced in my mind with PND was that I was a failure as a mother because I was depressed. PND is personal and can happen at any time, with any number of children and at differing ages. It is different for every woman and so are the reasons for having it. If you have PND you are NOT a failure as a mother or a weak person.
3. Communicate with your partner:
Suffering in silence is what many women do and what I did at the start. Open up to your partner. Be honest with them and yourself. Its important for your partner to be aware of the situation so they can help and also give you time out so you can recharge your batteries. Sharing your feelings to someone who will listen can make things a little better too. Its cathartic, And its a way to start getting the help and support you need.
4. Reach Out:
If you feel that you might have PND, reach out to friends, family and doctors immediately. Do not suffer in silence. Gather a support network (join forums online, call help lines) and find as many people as you can to help take care of you and your family. PND can be a lonely and scary journey and asking for help is a crucial step in the healing process.
5. Run your own race:
We seem to spend a lot of time comparing ourselves to others. With PND this only leads to greater sadness. I found I was more emotional at this point in my life and it took me longer to do the simple every-day tasks. As soon as I started living a life that was right for me and setting my own pace, I recovered quicker, felt happier within myself, and found I was happier in my mothering role.
6. Dealing with other children:
If you already have children, taking the time to put together a plan, months in advance, will help make the transition of bringing a baby home a lot smoother. Talk to your children about the changes that will happen, tell them you will be tired and will need more help. Assign younger children to be special helpers with tasks such as: nappy fetcher, toy monitor, sandwich maker.
On days that I felt really low, I would take a survival day and let everything go. I simply sat on the floor and played with my children all day. This helped me to connect with them and to focus on what they needed as children. They don’t care so much about the doing, they care about the being.
7. It will get better.
PND is real and can appear no matter how experienced you are as a mum. It is nothing to be ashamed of and is actually very common. If you learn to be ok saying “I have PND”, you’re going to be amazed at the number of women who say “It’s ok. So did I. And I’m here for you”. We have shared some PND stories here as well that you may be able to relate to:
The most important things to remember are that there is help available and there is no need to suffer in silence.
For help contact Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA) on 1300 726 306.