Breaking the silence: Navigating perinatal anxiety and depression

Becoming a parent can be a joyous and magical time, full of love and utter adoration for the new precious life you’ve just created… but it can also be one of the most terrifying.

WORDS: Gia Hogarth, Host of Survive & Thrive podcast 

For many new mums and dads, it can be an emotional time full of uncertainty, fear and overwhelm. The perinatal period (pregnancy through to the first year of parenthood) is an adjustment like no other, so it’s probably no surprise that many of us struggle to maintain a balance between our mental wellbeing and the hecticness that comes with a new baby. Perinatal anxiety and/or depression affects 1 in 5 mums in Australia. I’m one of those 1 in 5. 

My name is Gia and I’m a proud Adelaide mum of three beautiful boys who I adore. I suffered postnatal anxiety after my first son but, like so many new mums and dads, I didn’t seek help when I really needed it.

I couldn’t wait for my new ‘mum life’ to start. At the time I fell pregnant I was a television news reporter who thrived under pressure and was used to functioning on little sleep. I’m a little embarrassed to admit, but I honestly thought: “I reckon I’ve got this; I mean how could staying home with a baby possibly be more demanding than the job I already have?” Afterall it was something I’d dreamed of since forever. I was in for a rude shock.  

When our son finally arrived after a long and exhausting labour, I remember lying in the hospital bed feeling completely shell shocked. I lay waiting for the euphoric endorphins rush I’d read about, but it never came. The ‘newborn love bubble’ friends had so often talked about was also nowhere in sight. I instead found myself trapped in my own bubble of anxiety and panic. I thought there must be something seriously wrong with me: “why was I not feeling like other mums?” I felt like a child myself; vulnerable and scared…for the first time, I didn’t feel in control.

I lay waiting for the euphoric endorphins rush I’d read about, but it never came. The ‘newborn love bubble’ friends had so often talked about was also nowhere in sight. I instead found myself trapped in my own bubble of anxiety and panic.

Those feelings of hopelessness plagued me for the next few months. I put on a brave face most days, but I was scared to be alone, would cry a lot, was often sick with worry and would catastrophize things in my head. I even had some scary intrusive thoughts. All signs of perinatal anxiety which at the time I didn’t recognise. An irrational fear that my baby could be taken from me stopped me from telling anyone how I was truly feeling, and it wasn’t until my second son came along that I finally got some professional help. I saw a perinatal psychologist which was an absolute gamechanger and something I wish I’d done much sooner.  

I also wish I had known about PANDA – Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia in my time of need. PANDA operates a free National Helpline that expecting and new parents can call if they are struggling.

Anxiety and depression can be mild, moderate, or severe and no-one’s experience will be the same. Symptoms can begin suddenly after birth or gradually in the weeks and months after. 1 in 10 dads will also be affected.

Signs of Perinatal Anxiety

Mood-related

* Excessive fear and worry, often about birth, being a parent, or your baby’s health

* Feeling nervous, on edge, stressed, angry

Physical changes

* Panic (racing heart, breathless, shaking)

* Easily startled, feeling scared

Relationships

* Constantly seeking reassurance from loved ones

* Avoiding or minimising contact (baby, family and friends, healthcare providers)

Signs of Perinatal Depression

Mood-related

* Feeling sad, low, hopeless, frequent crying

* Angry, frustrated, resentful

Physical changes

* Lacking energy or motivation

* Constant fatigue, disrupted sleep patterns

Relationships

* Withdrawing from loved ones, relationship conflict

* Avoidance or worry about telling your healthcare provider what’s happening

Survive & Thrive podcast

PANDA has just released Season 2 of its podcast, Survive & Thrive, hosted by Gia Hogarth. Listeners will hear stories from everyday parents who’ve overcome a range of mental health challenges and get practical, takeaway advice from experts.

Making sense of intrusive thoughts, solo parenting, what to do if your partner is struggling and a deep dive into some cultural practices like Confinement and Birthing on Country are just some of the captivating conversations explored in the raw, real and uplifting series.

To listen, just search ‘Survive & Thrive’ on Spotify, YouTube, Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.

PANDA

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms (or any others) that are affecting your daily functioning and mental and emotional wellbeing during pregnancy after birth, it’s time to have a chat with someone.

Let’s be real. Despite what you might read on Instagram alongside the hashtag #blessed, newborn love bubbles don’t always surround new parents. The journey to parenthood is bloody tough for most of us. But you don’t have to struggle alone. Speaking to someone was the best thing I ever did.

If you or someone you know need support, you can call PANDA on 1300 726 306 from Monday to Saturday


For more information:

panda.org.au

 

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