toddler and baby brother
pregnancy & birth

When you're the mess and there seems to be no magic: A look at perinatal anxiety & depression

4 minutes

We may be all about celebrating the mess and the magic of parenting, but what about when you’re the mess and nothing feels remotely magic? For one of the women in our WaterWipes family, the latter felt much closer to her experience. Here, Christina (mum of two boys) shares her experience with perinatal depression and anxiety.

I was lucky in that my first pregnancy was a lovely time – even if my husband might say he was on the receiving end of a few “moods”). Having suffered from anxiety and depression previously, I found that – if anything – pregnancy hormones had a balancing effect.

I’d been warned about postnatal depression in antenatal class, and that my history increased my chances, but we’d talked about some coping strategies and would cross that bridge if we came to it.

My firstborn’s birth was relatively simple and straightforward and we settled happily into life as a family of three. There was the inevitable newborn fog, but we adapted and the dreaded ‘black dog’ didn’t rear its ugly head. Life was good. So good, in fact, that we were soon rejoicing in pregnancy number 2. This time though, I was in for a different ride.

My son had just turned one when I discovered I was pregnant again. I wondered if the small age gap contributed to what followed – maybe my body hadn’t bounced back enough and I was starting with an already empty cup? Maybe it was just bad luck?

I want to say that the start of my second pregnancy was unremarkable – but of course it was remarkable in that we were growing a new little person. It was only as I was approaching the halfway mark that my mood and wellbeing began to take a dive.

The clues that something was wrong were subtle at first. I was avoiding things that I used to like doing. We didn’t talk much about the baby, but maybe that was normal when we had our hands full with a busy toddler?

There were bouts of tearfulness, but I put these down to pregnancy hormones. People around me were supportive and reassuring; I was told it was all part of it. But I was starting to get the idea that this was something deeper, and I started to withdraw as a result – from my friends, from my family, and from my husband.

Secretly, I resented this baby growing inside me. I tried to fight it and went back to my pregnancy yoga class where I tried to connect with this new little being, but I felt more desolate and alone than ever. When I stopped long enough to think anything, all I could feel was shame. I wasn’t supposed to feel this way; something was wrong with me.

My husband’s approach was space more so than comfort; he couldn’t understand what I was going through and I wasn’t sharing. Understandably from his point of view, I was ruining his experience of this pregnancy. It’s taken us a long time since to talk through and heal the resentments and distance that this time caused, but our story is moving towards a happy resolution.

I reluctantly started my maternity leave around 36 weeks and without any work to hide in, I started to accept what was happening. My heart opened just enough to feel ready. At just over 38 weeks, our second son made a speedy entrance into the world. He was beautiful.

I want to say that the cloud lifted instantly, but some of my worries remained; would I be able to bond with him? Thankfully, in the midst of all that delicious oxytocin post-birth, the storm clouds started to dissolve and I fell in love with our new addition.

In many ways, my story has a happy ending. But the scars are still here. Only when I’ve had the emotional distance to share my story, have I come to understand that perinatal depression and anxiety is even a thing. We hear so much about postnatal, but perinatal suffering still largely stays hidden. That’s despite 2018 estimates by the National Perinatal Association (America) that it affects between 13-21% of new and expecting mothers.

This month, and closer to home, is Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia’s ‘PANDA’ Week. Running from 10-16th November, PANDA Week is primarily about awareness, because even though there is still a lot of stigma surrounding mental health, all expecting and new parents should feel able to be open and honest about how they’re feeling.

This echoes closely what we believe here at WaterWipes – that it’s time to get real about parenthood, because an honest conversation about the realities is the first step towards self-belief.

Don’t suffer in silence. If you’d like to reach out for help, or access other people’s stories or helpful resources, visit: www.panda.org.au or https://pada.nz

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