“I cried every day from my last day of work until my baby was born.”

Image: Dominique Ottone with her two children (supplied)

Dominique Ottone was on maternity leave, just weeks away from the birth of her first child, when she found herself crying uncontrollably over spilt milk. Quite literally.

“My friend called and I said, ‘I’m just sitting on the kitchen floor, crying ’cause I’ve spilt a whole carton of milk and I can’t have breakfast’,” she recalls.

“I can laugh about it now, but at the time I was like, ‘This is the last straw’.”

This milk incident was just a peak of the anxious, sad feelings that had been following her throughout her third trimester. Dominique had been married five months when she fell pregnant; she and her husband Denny hadn’t expected they’d be able to have a baby.

At the beginning Dominique was “really excited” about impending motherhood, but at seven months — and two weeks before embarking on leave — she noticed a shift.

"[I thought] 'What is wrong with me? I want this baby'." (Image: istock)

"I started feeling really anxious  ... little things just got on top of me. I was struggling with the idea of leaving work and feeling like I'm stepping into this unknown," the teacher recalls.

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"[I thought] 'What is wrong with me? I want this baby, I'm really excited about it'. It was really funny to feel that way, but I never even thought it was odd."

These feelings became more intense during Dominique's maternity leave, particularly in the last few weeks. She puts much of it down to the stress and uncertainty of having a baby and not knowing when or how it was going to happen.

"Not having control over that made me really anxious. I didn't want to go out in case my waters broke. I became anxious about my husband... I was like, 'What if  go into labour and you don't answer the phone?'" she explains.

Watch: Jessica Rowe reflects on her experience of postnatal depression. (Post continues after video.)

Baby Ezra was eight days overdue. During her labour, Dominique recalls a conversation with a midwife where she made a remark about not knowing what to do. The midwife warned her to "see someone" if she still felt that way after the baby's arrival. When Ezra was delivered, however, Dominique immediately fell in love and was besotted as he "climbed up and latched on".

Three days later, still receiving visitors, she found herself crying for no reason — assuming this was a symptom of the "three day blues". "The midwife came in and I said, 'I just can't handle loving this much. It's awful to love like this'. Every single thing you'd imagine for your child would make me cry," she says.

"That's what it was like for eight weeks. It was painful to love him. It was too much."

She realised something wasn't right when her sister, a mum of two, came to help for the first nights at home and would find Dominique crying for no reason. "She said to my husband, 'She might have the blues but keep an eye on her and take her to the doctor'," Dominique says.

Ezra developed reflux at two weeks, and amid the weekly medical checkups Dominique told herself she didn't have time to make an appointment for herself. She also suspected her anxieties were the result of lack of sleep or her stress over Ezra's symptoms. (Post continues after gallery.)

She soon began experiencing panic attacks and heart palpitations. A cardiologist confirmed nothing was wrong with her heart, however a doctor and chiropractor both suggested anxiety as a possible cause.

At first Dominique brushed this aside, reasoning that her symptoms had been largely physical, but an argument with a friend over an issue that wouldn't usually bother her changed her mind. "I couldn't sleep the whole night... that’s when I was like, ‘Oh, okay, this is not right. This is not normal for me'," she says.

The next day, a doctor confirmed Dominique had anxiety and referred her to a psychologist. She also gave her a prescription for medication.

"I told so many people straight away. It was a relief to be able to say, this is why I've been having these [problems]'," Dominique says.

This happened when Ezra was six months old. Three years on, Dominique has had a daughter, Asti-Rose, and recently returned to part-time work in her "dream job" as a teaching coach.

She's still taking medication, but she wants to wait until her children are older before considering going off it. "Ezra is three now, and I watch him explore his world without getting anxious, but I’m still a little like that with my one year old ... I still don’t feel that I would be quite right if I didn’t stay on it," she says.

Watch: Mia Freedman speaks about treating and managing her anxiety. (Post continues after video.)

 

Although Dominique's anxiety didn't resurface during her second pregnancy, she still had feelings of "uncontrollable upset" and sadness.

Dominique admits that while she was familiar with post-natal depression, she hadn't realised new mothers could also suffer from anxiety. She thought she was simply feeling worried about things any mother would, like her baby's safety.

"There was a lot of stress that I didn’t realise was happening until I started on medication and talking to someone," she recalls.

For other mothers or pregnant women who might be in a similar position, Dominique recommends they examine how they're feeling or behaving and whether it's normal for them. If something has changed, it's important to talk to someone.

"Like we say to the kids at school, if the first person that you speak to doesn’t listen, you tell someone else. You go through your list of people that are your safety net," she says.

"I think it’s also really important for the person supporting you to be open minded and actively supportive. Even when I started feeling better, I my husband would still check in with me,  like ‘How are you feeling now, are you okay about that?’"

Have you ever experience perinatal or postnatal depression or anxiety? Was there a support group or treatment you found helpful?

November 15-21 is Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA) Awareness Week. PANDA offers Australia's only specialist PND helpline. If you need help, advice or someone to talk to, call 1300 726 306 or visit http://www.panda.org.au/

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