This week is PND awareness week and there is a lot of media coverage sharing womens journey’s through Postnatal Depression.
Mother of all battles
Baby steps to unlocking post natal depression
IT’S supposed to be the happiest time in a woman’s life, so why do so many become engulfed with feelings of guilt and sadness after giving birth? More than 15 per cent of women develop postnatal depression. Robert Fedele goes behind the mask to explore an often-overlooked illness.
‘‘It was a fight not to do it,’’ Moonee Ponds mum Amanda Cox says. ‘‘Every moment of my day was consumed with either thinking of ways to die, wishing I was dead, or wanting to be dead.’’
It started with feelings of failure, set off by a tidal wave of parenting advice until, she says, ‘‘my brain literally kind of broke’’.
It reinforced her mindset that she was a bad mother. It was proof she couldn’t cope.
Her thoughts turned to ways of making it stop. Taking her life seemed the only option. For Cox, it became an obsession.
While chopping vegetables her mind would stray to turning the knife on herself. In the bathtub she’d plunge her head underwater, thinking how long it would take for her body to let go.
Cox describes her encounter with postnatal depression a decade ago as ‘‘black worms getting inside your brain and gnawing at the bits that help you to think’’.
‘‘The thought of suicide is certainly one,’’ she says, when asked to separate the illness from mothers simply suffering the ‘‘baby blues’’.
‘‘Or feeling like a crap mum. It’s constant. It’s overwhelming. It’s consuming. I’m worthless and I’m useless.’’
Cox was diagnosed with PND when her first child Matthew was 10 months old. Looking back, she believes needing an emergency caesarean triggered the illness.
‘‘That was the instigator for me in that I felt like I’d failed,’’ she reveals. ‘‘I’d done everything wrong. I couldn’t possibly be his real mother because I hadn’t actually given birth to him.’’
Medication took the ‘‘crazy thoughts away’’ and Cox had counselling for six years.
At the beginning of her fight she was a happy-go-lucky young mum enrolled at university and running a successful wedding reception venue.
She’d take Matthew to uni, leaving him at creche and breastfeeding between lectures.
But, she thought people saw only the negatives and branded, her an ‘‘evil mum’’.
Cox says motherhood is a life-changing experience and many women are confronted by new expectations.
‘‘I couldn’t be a stay-at-home mum because my brain doesn’t work like that.
‘‘I needed uni and I needed other stuff. That was all just discounted. I wasn’t anything any more to anybody except this child’s mother.’’
Williamstown resident Linda Bradfield discloses a similar story of feeling pigeon-holed once she’d given birth.
The moment is built up as the greatest joy in a woman’s life, but when it finally arrived all Bradfield felt was emptiness.
The wife of a Special Forces soldier, she was used to packing up and moving at a moment’s notice.
When Kiera was born in 2007 the family was stationed in Townsville.
She was a demanding baby who had trouble sleeping. She wouldn’t travel in a car and walking her in a pram was never an option in the sweltering heat.
‘‘I got stuck at home and it was like being in a prison cell 24/7,’’ Bradfield said. She was diagnosed with PND and went on anti-depressants.
Things improved, but when her husband went to Afghanistan when Kiera was eight months old, Bradfield was all alone.
Her lowest point? ‘‘Sitting at home and going to bed at night thinking I don’t know whether I can get up and do another day of this.
‘‘And just wanting to get in a car and leave and never come back, because I signed up for this life that wasn’t enjoyable and I didn’t enjoy being a mum. I didn’t enjoy being with her.
‘‘It was terrible because I always wanted this child and then I became a mother and hated every minute of it.’’
Two years on when the family moved to Melbourne, Bradfield was heavily pregnant with her second child Grayson. When she began to experience familiar symptoms she decided to set up Nifty Mums Network, a Facebook page for women lacking a support network.
Bradfield says her husband was around for the second child but that didn’t automatically cure things.
‘‘It does and it doesn’t. Because with postnatal depression there’s so much tension and when babies don’t sleep then everybody gets sleep-deprived and it ends up being a vicious cycle.
‘‘For me, he’s suffered to some degree as well. We’re in family counselling for the effects it’s had on us because of our interactions and because of the tension and anxiety it puts on you.’’
Kingsville resident Darren, who asked that his real name not be used, says living with a woman suffering PND has been challenging.
‘‘Absolutely the biggest impact is on the woman, and it’s a big change in someone’s life, but you’re in it as a family. You’re in it together. The impacts are pretty far-reaching.’’
He remembers his wife being diagnosed with PND when their daughter was just a few months old, feeling lost and confused by seeing his partner crippled by the one thing he thought was going to make her the happiest.
‘‘You’ve just got to realise that the person you married is the same person. The man is inconvenienced. The woman is decimated.’’
PANDA’S (Post and Antenatal Depression Association) annual awareness campaign runs from November 13-19 and seeks to highlight the many parents who experience depression and anxiety during pregnancy and after birth.
Each year, more than 48,000 women and 28,000 men suffer from PND, which can tear lives apart and sometimes lead to suicide.
Sunshine mother Penny Fenech was depressed after the birth of her first child Amy.
In the early days she remembers feeling ‘‘flat’’ and struggling to interact with Amy.
Her husband would arrive home from work and there’d be no dinner on the table, no housework done.
Like many women she says she hid behind a mask. ‘‘I felt ashamed,’’ Fenech reveals.
‘‘Because people don’t talk about mental illness, especially when you have a child. Everyone’s always like, ‘Oh look how great it is, it’s so fantastic’. No one ever tells you what it’s really like. That it’s really hard and it’s really lonely and isolating. You have your friends but when you have a baby those friends don’t continue. They’ve got their own lives. They’re not interested in how much your baby slept last night.’’
When she had a second baby, Mason, the illness had morphed into suicidal thoughts.
‘‘It wasn’t that I actually wanted to die,’’ she says. ‘‘It was more that I just wanted to escape the feelings I was having. And when you’re in that state that’s the only option you can see.’’
Fenech says more people knew about her ordeal the second time round, and she received better support.
She has become a volunteer with PANDA as part of its national helpline, manning the phones.
Amanda Cox now runs the ‘Real Mums’ website, which began in 2005 as an online portal for women to talk safely about parenting.
It’s been 10 years since she had PND and she feels the stigma she experienced still exists.
‘‘My experience with mothering circles is that there is so much pressure to do the right thing that it’s actually not OK within those circles to say I’m not coping … so people don’t.”
She admits there are a lot more services available to mothers, but ‘‘whether there’s enough of it? I don’t know’’.
APPEARS with mild, moderate, or severe symptoms. It can begin during pregnancy, suddenly after birth, or gradually in the weeks or months following delivery. In most cases symptoms have their onset within the first four months.
Symptoms include sleep disturbance, crying, an inability to cope, anxiety, loss of confidence and self-esteem, suicidal thoughts.
Can recur with a subsequent pregnancy. If a woman becomes pregnant again before recovering from PND the condition will continue through the pregnancy and may worsen.
Contributing factors include a genetic predisposition to depression, unrealistic expectations of motherhood, and lack of family and community support.
Research and anecdotal evidence suggests one man in 14 will experience depression as a result of or in conjunction with their partner’s depression. Men can also experience PND independently from their partners.
PANDA is urging anyone who has concerns about PND to call the national helpline on 1300726306, Monday to Friday. It also encourages people to get help and see a GP.