Mental illness unfortunately doesn’t have boundaries it doesn’t matter if you are rich, poor, educated, non educated etc. Anyone can suffer it at any time. Perinatal Anxiety and depression can occur any time from pregnancy through to the first year after birth. Interestingly enough this serious illness affects up to one in five expecting or new mums and one in ten expecting or new dads!
Having my second child, presented many challenges. Ones that would later define my mental health and put me into a mother and babies unit. Admitting defeat and being placed there was the last thing that I ever wanted but it was the way it happened.
Rewind the clock to the walk out of the hospital doors when reality hit me like a tonne of bricks. Then when my little one was 4 months old things hit rock bottom the sleep deprivation was getting worse with feeding every two hours for an hour, a screaming baby 24/7 due to colic/reflux and an undiagnosed tongue tie, which resulted in my nipples being cracked and cringe-worthy pain every feed. My need for perfection and having a house where everything was in its place plus trying to keep up with the newborn demands eventually lead to me being admitted to the mother and baby unit. At the time I told very few people as part of me was ashamed that I ended up in this state. Sometimes it would hurt my head because I was so mad at myself for feeling the way I did.
The signs and symptoms of antenatal anxiety and depression can vary and may include:
- Panic attacks (a racing heart, palpitations, shortness of breath, shaking or feeling physically ‘detached’ from your surroundings)
- Persistent, generalised worry, often focused on fears for the health or wellbeing of the baby
- The development of obsessive or compulsive behaviours
- Abrupt mood swings
- Feeling constantly sad, low, or crying for no obvious reason
- Being nervous, ‘on edge’, or panicky
- Feeling constantly tired and lacking energy
- Having little or no interest in all the normal things that bring joy (like time with friends, exercise, eating, or sharing partner time)
- Sleeping too much or not sleeping very well at all
- Losing interest in sex or intimacy
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Being easily annoyed or irritated
- Finding it difficult to focus, concentrate or remember (people with depression often describe this as a ‘brain fog’)
- Engaging in more risk taking behaviour (e.g., alcohol or drug use)
- Having thoughts of death or suicide.
For me, at the time, I did not recognise any of the above signs/symptoms but now I can see I had quite a number of them. With postnatal mental illness, people can not see it like a broken arm or leg and it is something that will always stay with you. Unfortunately, a label is now attached and I still have some of the signs several years later, but they are better managed.
Screening for depression is currently being introduced throughout Australia. It is intended that all pregnant and postnatal women in Australia will be offered two questionnaires, which will provide women with the opportunity to discuss emotional health. The questionnaires will not be compulsory.
The first questionnaire is called the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale and the second is the Antenatal Risk Questionnaire (If pregnant, or the Postnatal Risk Questionnaire if you have already had your baby.)
In December 2015 my husband in combination with my GP and child health nurse convinced me to go to the Raphael Centre. I was assessed there where they determined that I needed care and admission straight away. After much deliberation, I finally agreed to be admitted to the Mother and Baby Unit at KEMH. My stay there was the journey changer that I needed. I remember walking around the supermarket (during my admission) trying to get ready for Xmas:-delusional, distracted and was struggling to just even be there- that was the moment I decided that something needed to change!
I was completely against taking medication especially as I was still breastfeeding. They presented to me research done by the hospital to demonstrate the amount of medication that would be transferred. I still wasn’t convinced even though my son was starting to self-wean (so maybe it was a partial blessing). They prescribed the medication and I started taking it and within a few weeks, my mindset started to improve. As part of my journey, I met some amazing mums who also were suffering and we sort peace in knowing we were not alone.
I spent three weeks in the Mum and Bub Unit receiving the treatment and being armed with the tools to be able to cope with my postnatal anxiety and depression. It was from this moment that I wanted to do something about my mental health and to try to do what I could to not be in this situation again. My mindset was changing and my resilience and determination was returning little bit by a little bit. Yes, I was now medicated, but I now also was armed with some great strategies to cope, one of them was using exercise.
For me, I turned this struggle into something to help Mums. With no fashion design or business experience, MUMMACTIV was created. I constantly get asked why and it is about helping Mums because if I can help inspire a Mum or get a Mum some help when she is struggling I have achieved my mission. MUMMACTIV has taught me so much and everything has been self-taught to this point, so with a passion and a darn lot of determination anything is possible. And if it wasn’t for my struggles then none of this would of evolved.
The first steps to get moving/out of bed etc are often the hardest but afterwards, I’m so glad I made the effort. I am blessed that I got the help I needed as so many just suffer in silence. As part of my future journey, I want to continue to help Mums who also may be struggling so that they too can see that there is light and support! Please reach out to the relevant authorities and remember I was once there too… (it ain’t weak to speak.) Hopefully, through time we will break down the stigmas attached to Postnatal Mental Illness and PANDA is a great resource if you or your loved one needs the help/support. Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Helpline: 1300 726 306
Joanne is a mum to two boys, 2 and 18, and one girl, 14 months. She met her husband in 2014 after fate bought them together. She is a qualified and practising teacher, a personal trainer and in October 2016 launched her own line of pregnancy and breastfeeding activewear. She continues to teach at a Primary School 2 days a week and is a mumpreneur the rest of the time. MUMMACTIV is about colliding fashion and function together to help keep Mums stylishly active. Joanne is passionate about helping Mums regain a sense of themselves through exercise or a little bit of style- as individualism is so important. Her passion has evolved and the ‘Active Mum Revolution’ is growing which is about showing Mums that anything is possible!