*Resource links for parents and families in distress (or just in need of some great sound advice around family mental health) below.*
When my first child was born 4 weeks early we were so excited to have him in the world. I had just achieved everything I had ever wanted. I had a wonderful husband, a great job, and now, my first beautiful child. At first we thought the total and complete lack of sleep was causing me to be irritable, teary, and zombie like. Being prem we had to wake him often meaning I was sleeping no more than about an hour and a half at a time. Grumpy seemed pretty reasonable to me!! Then, as the months went on, I became completely (but totally uncharacteristically) hostile - yet apathetic - towards my husband, and prone to bouts of despair and searing desperate thoughts. Still, even though we were aware of PDN as an issue in new mums, we both thought our experience was "just what having a baby was like".
Eventually though, I started to wonder whether things weren't actually supposed to be better than they were; that perhaps happiness was 'the norm' if not at least possible. Unfortunately I had had a knack of lying to people who would take the initiative to screen me for it, but the first couple of times I did tentatively reach out, I didn't get the support I so desperately needed. One doctor asked me whether I would burst into tears at the supermarket, and when I (truthfully) said "no", he told me he didn't believe I could be depressed. So I went away.
It wasn't until I accidentally (please see blog titled "I was just trying to read a book"!) became pregnant with our second child, and my overriding reaction was fury because I had missed the opportunity to kill myself, did I realise I was in desperate need of assistance. I went to see a doctor at my old childhood practice, and I have a feeling she may have recognised herself in me. She was brilliant and got me all the support I needed, including (because I am that old) MAILING me research on the relative safety of anti-depressants during pregnancy. Once I had started to take that medication, and be honest with myself and those around me about what was happening, it was like night and day.
I'm not saying it was easy. Overcoming an encounter with PND can inform your life and experiences for years to some. I am still on my medication. I've been off, and on again, but for me personally, its just better that I stay on.
I will never forget those times, and it has taken an extreme amount of work, time, and water under the bridge for my poor husband not to be frightened of what extreme reaction will be spewing forth next! I think I can say, we are pretty settled now - 10 years on. It is behind us, but will always be a part of us, and thats ok too.
We are made to believe, pre-children, that parenthood is some kind of utopian state, and that anything less than that is a failing of the parent. Which is of course complete fucking bullshit.
Luckily in the last few years there have been more voices being heard aroud pitching parenthood for exactly what it is - a total clusterfuck, and absolutely nothing like what it looks like in the movies. This is SUCH a positive step forward for new parents to be hearing BEFORE they think they've somehow fucked it up, and its the reason I have thrown my own hat into this ring through this blog.
If you, your wife/husband/partner, friend, sister/brother, or colleague is struggling, or even if you think they may be struggling, PLEASE seek advice from one of the many resources dedicated to helping people in this situation.
Below are some links to, and numbers for, some wonderful resources that can help and/or be a great first port of call. Please, if I can offer one piece of advice from my own experience (other than lowering your expectations of parental utopia), PLEASE be as honest as you can about what you are feeling, and what you think you may need. So many people care even when it feels like they don't. It can seem like there is no way out, but there IS. It's a rocky pathway for sure, but one that many are walking at the same time, and that many have before. I'll meet you at the end for a cocktail - it'll be the best one you've ever had!!
Take Care. xx.
LifeLine Australia: 13 11 14 (24 hour Crisis Line)
PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia) Help Line : 1300 726 306 Open Mon – Fri 10am-5pm AEST.
Healthy Families - A brilliant resource produced by Beyond Blue in support of mental health wellbeing for family members of all ages.
How Is Dad Going? - A website developed by PANDA for "dads of all kind".