It’s meant to be the most wonderful time of your life.
It’s meant to be filled with miraculous firsts. First cuddle, first feed, first time you go home as a family. First time you venture out as a mum.
Sweet firsts. Memory making firsts.
But what if it’s not.
What if the firsts are darker?
The first time you feel panic. The first time you couldn’t breathe. The first time you couldn’t pick her up. The first time you felt like running away.
The first time you wanted it all to end.
What then? What if that’s first time motherhood?
Around one in seven mothers experience postnatal depression on differing scales ranging from a mild feeling of sadness to a paralyzing, gripping depression. For these one in seven mothers each first can be terrifying.
I remember the first time I noticed something wasn’t quite right with an old friend of mine. She’d had her baby daughter eight weeks earlier and we’d met at a local shopping mall for a coffee after much insistent on my part.
I lugged my toddler along to meet the new baby imagining we’d drink coffee together and I would impart upon her all my newfound wisdom being an “experienced” mother of an 18-month-old.
An hour later, I sat there with my toddler picking at banana bread next to me wondering what had taken place, wondering who my friend was now.
She’d arrived looking glossy and sleek like she always did, parked her pram next to me and muttered something about needing some time alone and left me with the baby. Half hour later I texted her when her daughter stirred and she wandered back, she handed me a bottle and asked if I wouldn’t mind feeding her as she wasn’t up to it. She didn’t look at her baby, didn’t interact with my toddler.
She just wasn’t there.
Our conversation was brief and stilted.
‘I’m not like you’ she said a few times.
‘I haven’t taken to motherhood like you did. I am not really sure it was for me.’
She then left abruptly placing her daughter in her pram and leaving in a hurry to get back home.
Three weeks later her mother sent me an SMS explaining my friend had been admitted to a ward for mothers suffering postnatal depression.
I hadn’t a clue.
I often wondered that if I had picked up the signs earlier then could I have helped her sooner? Would I have given her back three lost weeks? Was there anything I could have done?
Well yes, what I wish I knew then was what I now know, that there are ways to help friends with PND.
Australia’s leading experts in PND, Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia ( PANDA) Foundation say that for friends and carers struggling with someone suffering PND knowing what to do can be tough. They might feel alienated or scared, they might wonder if they are interfering, if they should let them have their space.
“I don’t know what to say in case I make things worse.” is a common thread among loved ones.
PANDA say to reach out. Give it a go. Speak up. You never know what barrier you can break down.
Here is what you can do:
1. Encourage her to see her GP or health worker. Go with her if she needs, help her find resources.
2. Listen to her. Let her talk about her feelings and anxieties. No matter how irrational they may seem.
3. Offer practical help, cook meals, offer to mind her baby if the mother is happy about it.
4. Encourage her to get out, with or without the baby or to go out with friends, but don’t force her to go out if she does not feel up to it.
5. Try not to take anything she may say as a personal attack.
6. Give her space when she needs it. But let her know you will be there.
7. Pick up the phone. An SMS is good but actually talking in person can help more.
8. Recognise when to call for back up.
Sometimes you need a professional. Know when its time to call in help especially if things reach crisis point.
TV personality Jessica Rowe has spoken candidly about her struggle with PND.
My friend now has gone on to have a second baby.
She recovered with the help of professionals and second time around she didn’t have the same battle.
She now talks openly about her struggle and says that at the time she was at crisis point her worst fear was that people would not believe her, she regrets reaching out sooner. What I regret is not reaching out at all.
But you can
How to tell if your friend has postnatal depression:
Common symptoms include:
• inability to sleep even if baby is sleeping
• fear of her baby
• changes in appetite
• feelings of sadness, inadequateness and being overwhelmed
• fear of being alone
• fear of baby
• withdrawing from others
• irrational thoughts.
If you or someone you know is suffering from PND and/or you need help there are many organisations Australia wide that can help:
PANDA Post and Antenatal Depression Association Inc Telephone support: 1300 726 306
BeyondBlue: 1300 22 4636
The Gidget Foundation promotes awareness of Perinatal Anxiety and Depression amongst women and their families, their health providers and the wider community to ensure that women in need receive timely, appropriate and supportive care.