Congratulations! You have just had a baby!
Well in case no one has told you already today – you are doing an amazing job. You are loved and you are worthy. You’re not alone. I know how unbelievably hard it is to reach out, but I promise you it is worth it. YOU ARE worth it.
Everyday, all around the world, there are parents who are struggling with their emotional health. Pregnancy and parenthood is a period of great change and it is common to experience a range of emotions, both positive and negative in response to these changes.
It is really difficult to learn how to be a parent, and extremely difficult adjusting to the needs and behaviours of a new baby. Especially when you are feeling sore, exhausted and perhaps even distressed by your birth experience.
If you are struggling to understand your thoughts or feelings and it is affecting your day-to-day activities, it is important to seek support and understand why it is that you feel this way.
LET’S TALK ABOUT POSTNATAL DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY:
It’s actually more common than you realise.
Each year in Australia, 1 in 5 new mums and 1 in 10 men experience postnatal anxiety and depression.
When anxiety or depression begins sometime in the year after birth it is referred to as postnatal anxiety or postnatal depression. It can be a frightening and isolating experience as parents try to deal with their symptoms at the same time as needing to care for a new baby, and sometimes other children as well.
Everyone wants to be a good mum — but with that comes so many expectations. PANDA chief executive Terri Smith said “It affects women right across the social sector, it doesn’t discriminate.”
“There’s this idea that it’s going to be the most joyful period in your life … but these expectations can often create enormous feelings of guilt and shame for women if they don’t feel that way.”
IT CAN HAPPEN TO ANYONE: CELEBRITIES WHO HAVE EXPERIENCED PND
Throughout her pregnancy and motherhood journey, model and author Chrissy Teigen has been refreshingly honest about her experiences. From getting real about the difficulties of IVF to capturing the humour in stretch marks and leaking boobs, Chrissy is known to be a “chronic over-sharer” in the best — and most hilarious — ways possible.
However, there’s one relatable difficulty that Chrissy hasn’t made a joke about: her struggle with postnatal depression and anxiety. Although Chrissy and her husband, John Legend, welcomed their baby girl, Luna, in April 2016, she revealed for the first time in Glamour’s April 2017 issue, that she developed the illness.
In her emotional essay, Chrissy revealed why she waited to share her struggle in addition to other honest details about her recovery. “What basically everyone around me — but me — knew up until December was this: I have postpartum depression. How can I feel this way when everything is so great?” she wrote. “But it’s such a major part of my life and so, so many other women’s lives. It would feel wrong to write anything else.”
And Chrissy Teigen isn’t the only celebrity mum who has been open with their experience of Postnatal Depression and Anxiety. In 2006, Gwyneth Paltrow shared with British Vogue how she didn’t feel like a doting mother after the birth of her son Moses. “At my lowest, I was a robot. I just didn’t feel anything. I had no maternal feelings for him – it was awful. I couldn’t connect, and still, when I look at pictures of him at 3 months old, I don’t remember that time.” She added: “My problem was that I never acknowledged anything was wrong. I didn’t put two and two together.”
Bryce Dallas Howard (Ron Howard’s daughter) who you might know from Twilight and Jurassic World in her own right might appear to have it all together but in a recent open letter for GOOP she revealed her own confronting experience with the illness. “Theo woke up next to me, and I knew I needed to begin breast-feeding. Because of the stitches, moving even an inch sent daggers of pain tearing through my body. I tried to sit, but finally gave up and lay still as my tiny son cried. I thought, “I’m going to die here, lying next to my newborn son. I am literally going to die tonight. It was not the last time I felt that way.”
Bryce continues with a heart breaking honesty saying “Before Theo was born, I had been in good humour about my 80-pound weight gain, but I was now mortified by it. I felt I was failing at breast-feeding. My house was a mess. I believed I was a terrible dog owner. I was certain I was an awful actress; I dreaded a film I was scheduled to shoot only a few weeks after the birth because I could barely focus enough to read the script. And worst of all, I definitely felt I was a rotten mother—not a bad one, a rotten one. Because the truth was, every time I looked at my son, I wanted to disappear.
Although perceptive, intuitive, and sensitive individuals surrounded me, my numb performance of “delighted new mom” seemed to fool everyone. It wasn’t until my “shower breakdowns” began to manifest out in the open that people began to worry.”
SIGNS & SYMPTOMS: WHAT DOES POSTNATAL ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION LOOK LIKE?
Postnatal anxiety and depression can be mild, moderate or severe and symptoms can begin suddenly after birth or appear gradually in the weeks or months during the first year after birth.
Basically it can happen to anyone at any time.
And here’s the kicker:
The severity of postnatal anxiety and depression depends on the number of symptoms, their intensity and the extent to which they interfere with getting on with day-to-day life.
It’s never a one size fits all issue but signs and symptoms may include:
- Panic attacks
- Persistent, generalised worry often focussed on fears for the health or wellbeing of the baby
- The development of obsessive or compulsive behaviours
- Increased sensitivity to noise or touch
- Changes in appetite – both over and under eating
- Sleep problems unrelated to the baby’s needs
- Extreme lethargy and a feeling of being overwhelmed and unable to cope with the demands of chores and looking after the baby
- Memory problems or loss of concentration
- Loss of confidence or low self-esteem
- Constant sadness or crying
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Fear of being alone with baby
- Intrusive thoughts of harm to yourself or baby
- Irritability and/or anger
- Increased drug or alcohol abuse
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Thoughts of death or suicide.
In Chrissy’s article she says “Most days were spent on the exact same spot on the couch and rarely would I muster up the energy to make it upstairs for bed. John would sleep on the couch with me, sometimes four nights in a row. I started keeping robes and comfy clothes in the pantry so I wouldn’t have to go upstairs when John went to work. There was a lot of spontaneous crying.”
WHAT TO DO:
Struggling to get out of the house can have a big impact on these feelings but it is by no means the only solution to the very big problem. The aim of The Out & About Baby Company is to make getting out of the house and being social as easy as possible. We want to encourage parents to get out of their PJ’s (dry shampoo helps), get in the car or go for a walk and go see their friends. Have a coffee and talk about how you are feeling.
Six months after singer Adele’s chart-topping album 21 garnered Album of the Year in 2012, the singer had another life-changing moment: she gave birth to her son, Angelo, now almost five years old. In an interview with Vanity Fair she later talked about parenting, postnatal depression and the comforting knowledge that she’s not alone. She says she didn’t turn to antidepressants but rather gravitated toward other mothers who were going through the same struggles. “One day, I said to a friend, ‘I fuckin’ hate this, and she burst into tears and said, ‘I fuckin’ hate this, too,’” she remembers. “And it was done. It lifted.”
WHAT ELSE CAN HELP?
Other than getting out of the house, being social and talking to friends, there are other things you can do to help feel better in the situation. There are a range of health and community services that can assist you and there are many things that can be done on a personal level to reduce stress.
- Keep realistic expectations. Resist the glossy media representations of easy parenting.
- Try not to be swamped by information. Trust that you are learning how to best look after your baby and this takes time.
- Allow yourself to learn from experience. Don’t judge yourself harshly against others expectations.
- Have one or two trusted sources of independent information – a GP, a child health nurse, a supportive and non-judgemental friend or family member.
- Take care of your own health – it’s just as important as your baby’s.
- Try to arrange some time out for yourself doing something you love.
I HAVE A FRIEND THAT I THINK IS GOING EXPERIENCING PND. WHAT SHOULD I DO?
One afternoon a friend of mine came to visit and found me sobbing on the couch in the lounge room with my 3 week old son sleeping in a bassinet beside me. It was late afternoon, and I hadn’t yet showered or eaten because I was too overwhelmed to figure out how to do it.
Its time to stop assuming that the period after having a baby is always euphoric, because for around 100,000 Australian families, it’s not. Start by asking your friend how they’re doing in a deeper way than the normal. Asking “so how are you doing?” will usually just trigger the knee jerk, “everything’s great!” response. Learn the signs, symptoms, risk factors, and support plans for postpartum conditions and offer to help.
Extending kindness, love and understanding to parents of new babies is often the best thing you can do. Because the feeling of “How can I take care of my son if I can’t take care of myself?” is so overwhelming that its often to hard to even describe.
Bring some food, fold some laundry or watch the baby while mum takes a shower and brushes her teeth without placing pressure on the usual airs and graces. It’s what my girlfriend did and it’s one of the greatest gifts she has ever given me. It’s those small simple things at such a highly emotional and stressful period that help the most and will be remembered forever.
SO NOW WHAT?
It’s important to remember that postnatal anxiety and depression is temporary and treatable. So if you or your partner experience any symptoms for more than two weeks, it’s time to seek support. Otherwise things can get worse and it might take longer to recover.
If you, or someone you know is experiencing postnatal depression or anxiety, please call the PANDA National Helpline on 1300 726 306 or visit their website http://www.panda.org.au/
If you or your partner are at immediate risk of harm call 000 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.