lifestyle

'"You have to be that perfect, happy mother. The reality is, it's not always like that."

By GRACE JENNINGS-EDQUIST

You’ll remember Samira El Khafir as the 2013 MasterChef finalist with the infectious laughter.

She’s also the proud owner of Melbourne’s Modern Middle Eastern Cafe and the mother of Nada, four, and Mariam, who Samira tells me is “three going on five”.

But Samira’s open smile belies a tumultuous struggle with postnatal depression  — and she’s now harnessing that personal experience as an ambassador for the Post and Antenatal Depression Association Inc (PANDA).

The Lebanese-born chef and former beauty therapist says the condition hit her hard after Mariam’s birth, leaving her feeling “very lost”.

“I couldn’t understand what was happening around me. I felt people were watching me and speaking about me. At one stage I actually felt I wasn’t good enough to be a mum,” she says.

“Society does put out an image that you have to be that perfect, happy mother, and the reality is, it’s not always like that.”

Samira Masterchef
Samira on MasterChef.

Accompanying her postnatal depression was “severe anxiety”, and a tendency to “play the blaming game: ‘whatever my husband does it’s wrong’,” she tells me.

She adds: “I was afraid to say what I was thinking in case someone did decide to take my baby away.”

When the illness worsened about four months after Mariam’s birth, Samira sought help — and a PANDA pamphlet handed to her by a GP marked the start of a journey toward recovery.

“I did contact them on numerous occasion and they managed to help me understand (the illness),” she says. “I managed to recover, but it took a very very long time.”

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That experience highlighted the need for more awareness around the common illness — and prompted her to take up the ambassadorial role to “help other women understand that there’s nothing wrong with you, you (just) need help to get out of the situation that you’re in”.

Now, Samira’s pregnant with her third child, due in March — and while she’s concerned the illness may recur, since a woman who has had PND has an increased chance of recurrence with a subsequent pregnancy, the chef is taking steps to address that worry.

Samira Masterchef
Samira and her family. (Photo: supplied)

“I pretty much jumped onto help straight away. Im seeing a psychiatrist, I’m not embarrased about it,” she says.

She adds that she’s working on “prepping up”so she’s as prepared as possible after the birth.

“Fear can get the better of you,” she says. “The aim is, with my busy lifestyle, to take a break, to have a breather– go get a pedicure, do something for me, not to forget who I am as a person.”

What is postnatal depression?

More than one in seven mothers are diagnosed with postnatal depression each year, while almost 80,000 Australian women are likely to sufer depression during pregnancy or following the birth of their child, according to PANDA.

Symptoms can begin suddenly after birth or appear gradually in the weeks or months during the first year after birth. The illness can strike after miscarriage or stillbirth, normal or traumatic delivery, or caesarean delivery, PANDA reports.

The signs and symptoms of postnatal depression can differ in each person, and can include feeling sad, anxious or teary; irritability; changes in appetite; sleep problems not related to baby’s sleep; feeling guilty, worthless or numb; and fear of being alone.

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Symptoms can also include a fear of the baby; withdrawing socially and/or not looking after yourself; difficulty concentrating or thinking clearly; agitation; and thoughts of harming yourself or your baby.

Symptoms that last for more than two weeks and prevent expecting or new parents from functioning well indicate it is time to get help.

If you need help, you can contact PANDA’s National Perinatal Depression Helpline 1300 726 306 or www.panda.org.au.

In the past, many people in the spotlight have spoken publicly about their struggles with mental illness. Scroll through the gallery below to see celebrities who have opened up about their struggles and helped lift the stigma that surrounds mental illness:

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