"I went to the GP about my sleepless baby. I left with a Postnatal Depression diagnosis."

This post deals with postnatal depression and might be triggering for some readers.

12 minutes. That’s the biggest nap I got out of her. Every day was 40 minutes of settling, 12 minutes of her being asleep, five minutes of her screaming, then 30 minutes of her crying and me resettling her, a few more minutes of sleep, then me giving up because now the toddler was crying.

Fair enough though, Netflix had stopped playing Spirit-Riding Free and was asking her if she was still there after her fourth hour of almost totally unsupervised television for the morning.

Emotional struggles with perfectly imperfect mums. Post continues below.

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Breastfeeding was going pretty well. The baby was putting on weight. When she wasn’t vomiting, choking on her own vomit, painfully hiccupping or being asked to recline to get in the car or go to sleep, she was an absolutely gorgeous, happy, healthy, beautiful baby.

I had wanted her right down to my bones. She was a rainbow baby, and the most welcome addition to our family. But each day that I was home with my two girls, the cycle of vomiting and failed naps and screaming and resettling and abandoning the toddler in front of the TV left me feeling like a total failure because neither of their needs had been met that morning.

Michelle's children Isabelle (18 months) and Elliot (4.5 years). Image: Supplied.

People liked to ask if she was a good baby. What they were actually asking was if she was an easy baby, one that did the stuff babies are required to do: eat, sleep, poop.

They always looked uncomfortable when I told them the truth: not really.

She didn’t sleep, didn’t nap and was constantly screaming from the vomiting and reflux pain, but she was still easier than my first, and she had her father’s curious, happy temperament. Doctors didn’t want to medicate her for the reflux, because she was putting on weight and research had shown reflux was over-diagnosed and the prescribed medications were having unintended consequences on the respiratory health of babies.

So, armed with the confidence of second time parents, we sought our own solutions and pushed through. We tried all the things. I could list them… the settling techniques, the medications, the remedies, the sleep props, the books, the videos, the strict routines, the flexibility, the Tresilian stay… we’d be here a while... and we’d been through it before with our first daughter… we should know how to do this, right?

Michelle's sleep diary documents her struggles with her second child. Image: Supplied.

Night times weren’t any easier. We’d start putting her to bed at around 6.30. We’d eventually leave the bedroom somewhere around 9pm, and she’d wake every 40 minutes to an hour overnight. Our eldest went back into nappies, because we kept forgetting to wake her to go to the toilet and the vomit washing plus the wet bed washing was too much for me.

Her tantrums at one point were so bad that the GP suggested a child psychologist. The baby only stopped screaming when she was on the boob, so my husband felt pretty powerless to help. We were fighting, he was struggling to bond, I was still struggling to recover from the birth…

And yet, when I went to my GP for a baby appointment, I was surprised to leave the surgery not with a script for baby melatonin… but with a postnatal depression diagnosis. I’ve had a relationship with my anxiety for many years, but I’ve never considered myself to be depressed.

I thought I was doing so much better, mentally and emotionally, than I had with my eldest. I’d worked hard on my mindset, my emotional health, my acceptance. I hadn’t actually sought help for myself, because I had an idea of what depression, and particularly postnatal depression looked like, and I didn’t fit that idea.

I thought depressed people struggled to get off the couch. I was always being told I needed to sit down and relax more.

I thought depressed people isolated themselves at home. I was bugging everyone I’d ever met for a coffee or a playdate.

I thought depressed people lacked motivation. I was setting myself goals that were probably too lofty for me to reach if I hadn’t just given birth.

"This is what a woman with PND looks like." Image: Supplied.

When I searched the internet for experiences of women with PND, the overwhelming narrative was of a woman, driving along in the rain with screaming children in the car, suddenly realising she was fantasising about driving off a cliff.

I did not want to die, and I didn’t want to go back to life without my new baby.

This narrative has to change. We need to learn to seek help before we start having suicidal thoughts. I fit all the risk criteria… prior pregnancy loss, history of anxiety/depression, difficult delivery, severe sleep deprivation, unsettled baby.

I’m informed, always seeking new knowledge, entered this pregnancy with a mantra of ‘If Mum thrives, baby thrives’ and am not ashamed of my mental health history.

And yet… in that typical motherly way, I was only seeking help for my baby. Sometimes we don’t even realise that we aren’t prioritising ourselves until it is accidentally brought to our attention by an experienced, sensitive GP on her A-game.

Mums – don’t wait until you’re thinking about driving off the road. ASK for a PND screener at your baby’s next immunisation or weigh in – especially if you fall into those risk categories.

You wouldn’t wait for your teeth to fall out before you went to the dentist, so don’t wait for unwelcome thoughts before you make your mental health a priority.

Feature Image: Supplied.

Michelle is a teacher and mother of two from Newcastle. Her girls are now four and a half years old and 18 months, and there have been three joyous occasions in the past twelve months where everyone in the house has slept through the night. She has recovered from PND.

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.