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'I imagined my pram being smashed by a car.' Parenting with perinatal anxiety.

Content warning: This post discusses perinatal anxiety and may be triggering for some readers. 

“You’re not crazy, darling, some people just go a bit funny when they have a baby, that’s all.”

My mum’s shaky voice was a stark reminder of the unfamiliar territory I was in. I thank her for answering the phone at 2.30am, pretending I feel better now.

It’s pitch black and the silence and my thoughts are tormenting me again.

I lay flat in my bed, in our Eastern Suburbs of Sydney home. Muscles tight and frozen, staring at the ceiling.

Snap, I hear the sound of a tiny skull cracking on the hard marble tiles. My imagination uncontrollable, I am ruminating on accidentally dropping my baby in the shower one day.

The need to protect my baby was primal and natural after birth. Eight months later it was a chemical imbalance. Constantly hyped up, ready to fight the tiger that was stalking him from the shadows. Or to save him from those pesky hard shower tiles.

One in five women in Australia experience mental health problems in their pregnancy and beyond.

A smaller number of these will develop a mental health crisis.

Watch: Everything you need to know about postnatal depression. Post continues after video. 

Video by MMC

Hysterical sobs wake my husband, who holds my hand. He dutifully assures me that he feels these thoughts too. That he just doesn’t let them hang around. It is 3.03am now. 13 minutes before we know our baby will start screaming. Arching his back in discomfort and kicking his legs.

In 36 weeks, he has never slept longer than 42 minutes.

Every day, I would look in the mirror and tell myself that if I just got out of the house, I’d be okay. I didn’t look like your typical mum struggling. After smashing an espresso coffee and scanning my newsfeed about how best to parent my child, I would apply my makeup and plaster on a smile.

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Most mornings by 5am, with no sleep, I had walked the small trail down to Coogee beach.

But I would be checking my son was still breathing constantly.

I would cover the pram with a double muslin wrap, worried about people reaching in to touch him, infecting him with their germs.

I refused to let my mum or husband take the baby for a walk so I could get some sleep. The image of my pram being smashed by a car was on a loop, burnt into my brain.

Sally Matheson Murdaca
"Every day, I would look in the mirror and tell myself that if I just got out of the house, I’d be ok." Image: Supplied.

My beautiful mum had raised four kids and 11 grandchildren. She is warm, intelligent, capable and incredibly loving. My anxiety told me though that if she was to watch my son for me, this would be the one time a tragedy would occur.

I’d cook batches of food, checking the use-by dates a few times. Once cooked, I’d throw it out anyway, convinced they’d stamped it wrongly at the shop.

I sterilised dummies four times an hour, as a rule.

Still, my baby wouldn’t sleep. So I didn’t sleep.

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Side note: Holly Wainwright and Christie Hayes chat about strategies to help new parents get out of the house and reclaim those adult conversations, without the separation anxiety. Post continues after podcast. 

Finally, I saw a paediatrician, who confirmed my son suffered from silent reflux, required grommets in his ears and a tonsillectomy. By this point, I was very suspicious of the specialist who enjoyed putting babies to sleep and putting scissors down their tiny throats. My husband booked the procedures anyway.

The doctor also recommended a stay at a sleep school. And it was there my anxiety could no longer hide.

Nurses intervened. By then, things were bad and medications was the only option.

I was also booked for a stay at a psychiatric ward – a leading, one of a kind program focused on perinatal depression and anxiety where I could ‘stay in’ with my baby.

I didn’t want to go. I didn’t need a bloody psych ward. As my husband drove me, I clenched my teeth, covered my eyes with my hands. The thought of my baby flying out of the window somehow, caving in on me.

I see a psychiatrist. She listens and then she speaks. She says she is a professional and that she can confirm I have what’s known as perinatal anxiety.

She tells me to stay so that I can fix this and learn to enjoy my baby, not worry about him obsessively. “You deserve to feel good,” she said. As I’m walking out the door her last five words grab me and physically pull me back into the chair. Crying a river of relief, I can no longer keep up the facade.

I now know this is exactly where I need to be.

If you think you or someone you know may be suffering from depression, contact PANDA – Post and Antenatal Depression Association. You can find their website here or call their helpline – 1300 726 306.

Sally grew up in the Northern Territory, then travelled her curious heart out before deciding to settle in Sydney. Her passion and fascination with the world around her inspires her writing. A long-standing member of the travel industry, giving a unique take on travel experiences is her go-to. Recently she has found strength in vulnerability, by writing the real-life experiences that she was once too scared to talk about. When she's not living out her travel obsessions, she can be spotted before sunrise down at the beach, exploring with her favourite travel buddies, her two spirited fun-loving boys.

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