“We didn’t have a great deal of support around us and I was in physical and emotional agony.”

bipolar and pregnancy

Rhianna, 37 is mum to Tomas, 8 months. Having been diagnosed with Bipolar Affective Disorder at the age of 21, she was aware of the increased risk of experiencing postnatal depression.

I have a mental health condition and I am a bloody good mum and partner.

I was diagnosed with Bipolar Affective Disorder when I was 21, after a deep depression, then a bombastic manic episode that still makes me blush with shame. Ten years of trying different combinations of medications as well as establishing a real work-life balance means I now appear to be “relatively normal”.

bipolar and pregnancy
Image: Katrina Christ Photographer.

(For more information about managing bipolar disorder in pregnancy click here.)

Having lived with a diagnosis of Bipolar for sixteen years, and previously endured many episodes of depression, I knew that postnatal depression was on the cards for me. I knew the potential dangers to mother, baby and partner. In the planning stages, I sought out a psychiatrist who has specialist knowledge in bipolar medication and pregnancy. It took a year to adjust my medication to a suitable level to ensure I was on a stable footing before proceeding with pregnancy.

(For more information about assessing your personal risk of developing emotional and/or mental health problems before having a baby, click here.)

The complications and the regular issues with pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, birth and postnatally all contributed in their special way to my experience of PND.  My partner and I undertook IVF treatment; I injected myself with hormones and we attended far too many invasive doctors’ appointments. A few disappointments were thrown in for good measure. Half way through my pregnancy I had a colossal bleed and was taken to hospital in an ambulance, with no pants on! I can laugh a little now, but we were devastated to think we were losing our baby. I had two large bleeds and stayed in hospital for a total of one month, then four months on bed rest at home. I ceased work immediately.

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After being diagnosed with preeclampsia, I had a caesarean birth one month early and we were told that our son, Tomas, would be admitted to the Special Care Nursery (SCN).  I saw him for a minute and didn’t see him again for 24 hours as I was in post-operative madness. After a week in hospital we commuted daily to the SCN to feed our son through a tube in his nose. He weighed 2.6 kilos. We didn’t have a great deal of support around us and I was in physical and emotional agony.

When Tomas was two months old I realised I hadn’t told him I loved him. So I tried out an “I love you” and was surprised that it felt like a lie. I was having frequent vivid ghoulish daydreams about Tomas dying in awful ways, or me having a car accident. It wasn’t that I didn’t love Tomas but it just wasn’t that “as soon as you hold him...” feeling that everyone told me I would have. It took me quite a few months before I started to feel that “I’m so in love with my baby” feeling.

(For more information about bonding with your baby click here.)

bipolar and pregnancy
Image: Katrina Christ Photographer.

Four months postnatally I saw my regular psychiatrist he asked me the usual probing questions. My appetite was gone; I wasn’t socialising or accepting any help; I was crying a lot; I didn’t want to shower; I had some uncharacteristic fits of anger towards my partner; I didn’t feel confident caring for Tomas properly. My psychiatrist prescribed a monitored, gentle introduction of Zoloft to my existing medication regime. Within three weeks, I slowly started noticing the good things again. It put a lot of strain on my partner to help me through a depression as well as being a sleepless parent of a newborn. He dazzled me with his support.

(For more information about supporting your partner who is experiencing emotional or mental health problems click here.)

Did you experience postnatal depression? How did you cope?

COPE Facts about severe PND:

  • A woman is more likely to develop a mental health problem around the time of having a baby, more so that at any other time of her life.
  • Postnatal anxiety and depression can be serious and can have long-term and far-reaching impacts upon mothers, babies, partners, other members of the family and the community at large.
  • Mental health problems are among the leading cause of maternal death and disability: The number one reason mothers die is due to suicide.
  • For some women, medication is an essential component of their treatment of moderate to severe depression or anxiety. There are medications that are safe and effective, and psychological (talking therapies) are also effective for treating mild-moderate depression and anxiety.
  • For more information about safe and effective treatments and knowing when to seek help visit www.cope.org.au.

The #nofiltermum campaign is a joint initiative of The Hood, a premium clothing brand celebrating mums supporting each other with COPE, the Centre of Perinatal Excellence, Little Tsunami and Katrina Christ Photographer to challenge the unrealistic perception of ‘parenthood perfection’ during Post Natal Depression Week. You can join the campaign by posting a no filter photo of your everyday life on Instagram tagged with #nofiltermum or by buying a t-shirt from The Hood.

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