By Josie Smyth
I am PROUD to be talking about my journey through postnatal depression. It was an incredibly challenging time – having experienced it with both of my children – but, after having gone through it, I am now a better, healthier and happier person and for that, I am GRATEFUL.
Three days after being home with my new baby Leo, I had a visit from the Maternal Child and Health Nurse, Katie. We chatted about the birth, breastfeeding and setting up Leo’s room. At the time, I was quite a private person, however, Katie, made me feel comfortable enough to also share that my eldest sister has bipolar disorder, and that my elder brother suicided at the age of 25. Katie noted that I was predisposed to PND given my family history of mental illness.
Not long after, my mental state started to go downhill. I was exhausted, yet had trouble sleeping. I lost a lot of weight and was irritable. I began to isolate myself from family and friends. I would often close all the blinds, after my husband Hugh had left for work.
As my mental state deteriorated, I had trouble bonding with Leo. Yet I constantly worried about him.
Hugh and the rest of my family noticed things didn’t seem right, and urged me to speak to my GP. Yet I was too afraid to speak in fear of Leo being taken from me. Then one day, I explicitly told mum that I was contemplating suicide. She immediately phoned my GP, and luckily, I got in to see her that day.
I broke down at the GP and told her everything. She wrote me out a Mental Health Care Plan, a script for antidepressants and a referral to a psychiatrist. When the psychiatrist diagnosed me with Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Postnatal Depression, things started to get better. I was put on medication to help with my anxiety. I also saw a psychologist with support under the Mental Health Care Plan.
At first, I resisted this treatment, but as I began to trust the psychologist, I realised the therapy was helping me work through my issues, including my brother’s death. I know this treatment and the love from the people around me played an important role in my recovery.
I can’t tell you the exact day that things started to shift for me, but I can tell you what I started to notice. For one, I began opening the blinds, one by one. I felt the fog lift and most importantly, I saw my beautiful baby boy Leo, wanting his mummy so much. I realised how precious he is to me, and I felt an overwhelming sense of love and happiness that I longed for and had so missed.
Fast forward three years and I felt I had recovered enough to want another baby. I was still having therapy, but ceased my medication. I changed obstetricians as I wanted a different birth experience at a different hospital. My GP specified in my referral to him that I had experienced PND. At my first appointment with my new OB we spoke about where I was at with mental health and he then proceeded to keep in touch with my psychologist. At every appointment, my OB checked in with me about my mental health and I found that very helpful.
The birth of Lily was everything I had of hoped for second time round. I was supported by two midwives from the moment I walked into the labour ward and then a third in my later stages of labour. My OB kept checking in on me periodically and when I became too anxious, I asked him stay and he did until I gave birth.
The first four months at home with Lily, was a very different experience to Leo, I felt bonded to Lily, I was getting out of the house, I was resting, I was practising self-care. However, Lily was never a good sleeper and after about four months, it got to a point that she was up every hour and I was getting no sleep. I began to have those feelings that I had when I had PND with Leo. I knew I did not want to get very unwell and I remembered that the earlier I sought help, the quicker the recovery. So, I made an appointment to visit my GP. At the GP, I filled out a questionnaire which came back high and immediately commenced medication to help with the symptoms. I also increased my appointments with my psychologist, checked in with my GP weekly and began seeing a psychiatrist to manage my medication. Before long, I was back to myself again.
Leo is now five Lily is two. I LOVE being their mum and feel privileged watching them grow. I have fully recovered from postnatal depression, however I am still managing my anxiety. I love that I can give back to the community by being a Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA) volunteer. I find it very rewarding. I am also in the process of setting up a peer support group in my local area and, have created a presentation to take to organisations to educate them about the signs and symptoms and how to support someone struggling.
My goal is to make an impact on statistics. In Australia, currently, there are one in five new and expecting mums and one in 10 new and expecting dads experiencing pre and postnatal anxiety and depression. By sharing my story, I hope to raise awareness, break shame and stigma and encourage help seeking.
I am hopeful that change is coming.
If you, or someone you know is showing signs of postnatal depression, please call PANDA on 1300 726 306.