Did you know that 1 in 5 mothers will experience depression and/or anxiety either during or after their pregnancy and birth? And did you know that 1 in 10 fathers will experience the same?
I don’t know about you, but I find these figures startling, no matter how much I know them to be true.
Someone you know is affected by this.
Your friends, your colleagues, your neighbours, your family. Maybe it’s you.
This week is Perinatal Depression and Anxiety Awareness Week, and today, I want to talk about it.
I want to talk about it, because it matters. Because talking about it can be hard, and because those who are sitting in the fog of that experience may find it impossible to speak for themselves.
Despite a definite increase in public awareness about perinatal depression, a particularly persistent sterotype continues to prevail about what it “looks like”.
I’m sure you’ve seen the imagery: black and white photos of a mother with a screaming baby, head in her hands, tears streaming down her face, unkempt, curtains drawn and hiding from the world.
There’s so much more to it.
What about the parents who still manage to go to work, but who can’t get to sleep at night (even when the baby is sleeping soundly) because they’re laying in bed, worrying about all of the things that could possibly go wrong, and all of the mistakes they’ve made that day?
What about the mother who feels the baby physically kicking inside of her belly, but feels nothing but numbness when she thinks about her impending motherhood?
What about the father, who finds himself irritable, and withdrawn, and edgy, and feeling as though he’d do anything to be away from home, so he doesn’t have to feel so bloody useless, because he just can’t get things right?
Or the mother who finds herself becoming critical, and hypervigilant about every single move her partner makes, because she’s convinced she’s the only one who can provide what her baby needs to the correct standard?
What about the mother who puts on that brave face, and talks herself into getting out of the house, only to feel on the edge of panic by the pressure of being around people, who must surely be judging her every move? That mother, who goes home feeling so exhausted by the interactions that she’s in tears before the key is in the front door, but who managed to drink coffee, and make jokes, and ask about your day as she sat with you in the play centre not two hours before.
What about the father who sits playing on the floor with his son, listening to that baby giggling as he tickles his feet, but feeling nothing in response? No joy, no warmth. Just, going through the motions of playtime.
The point I’m trying to make here, is that depression and anxiety don’t always look the way we expect them to. Sometimes it’s obvious, and sometimes it’s cleverly hidden, but I think it’s time we started looking closer.
That old bastard Depression shows up, often with his evil sidekicks, Anxiety and Perfectionism, and starts wreaking havoc, indiscriminately, and often unexpectedly.
He’s an insidious jerk, who can sneak in unnoticed, masking himself as sleep deprivation, or transitional stress, and then making himself thoroughly at home, eroding through self-confidence, pleasure and relationships like a termite plague in the foundations of your house.
That’s going to need re-stumping, mate.
Old jerk Depression doesn’t care if you had the most perfect pregnancy and birth in the world (although he is particularly happy to hang around with his other buddy, Birth Trauma).
He doesn’t care if you’re breastfeeding or bottlefeeding, and he doesn’t care what parenting style you’ve adopted, but he does really love it if you’ve been introduced to his second cousin, Guilt, because those two also get along quite well.
His favourite pastime, along with his motley crew of nasty friends, is to make you feel like you suck, at everything, ALL THE TIME.
He will take your sleeping patterns and your appetite, your laughter and your patience, and what’s left of your resilience, and crumple them all up into a giant phlegmy spitball, left at your feet, as some semblance of your old life, and he will make you wonder who you even are.
If any of this sounds familiar to you, or you can relate to these feelings, please know you aren’t alone.
Many times, I have seen that mother.
But more to the point,
I have been that mother.
And it took me almost a full year, after each of my children, to realise that I wasn’t just tired. That Hot Husband wasn’t actually being an arsehole, that my children weren’t actually the most challenging babies ever known to man, and that I wasn’t alone in this chaos. I was functional, and social, and organised, and absolutely numb.
You’d think after the first baby, I would have been more clued in to what was happening when it popped up the second time.
The thing that got ME through, both times, was the support of my own little Village: The PANDA hotline, a great counsellor, a wonderful GP (and a period of prescription medication), and a whole bunch of friends and family, who in truth, probably saw the signs long before I ever did.
On one particularly difficult week, a friend of mine came to the door, unannounced, with a huge box of fruit and vegetables, and said to me,
“I know how lonely it can be, being at home with the baby and doing everything in silence. Maybe we can cook together today?”
And we cooked up a huge curry, and chatted in my kitchen, and for the first time in MONTHS, I felt relief. And I realised, I’d been really, really struggling.
She understood. I didn’t need to say a single word. But, she understood.
If anything I’ve written today has struck a nerve with you, or you’re recognising some of those feelings in yourself, I really really REALLY hope you are able to reach out to someone.
Start anonymously if you need to.
The first time I ever really verbalised that I was NOT ok, was anonymously to a wonderful counsellor on the end of the phone at the PANDA helpline. It was my first terrifying step in realising that what I felt, wasn’t quite right.
If you don’t feel able to speak directly to those around you, then please, utilise a helpline service. Sometimes just saying the words out loud can be enough to get the ball rolling on identifying what you might need. You can reach PANDA on 1300 726 306, Monday to Friday, 9am-7:30pm. The Lifeline hotline is another amazing resource available on 13 11 14, 24 hours a day.
If you have a friend, or a loved one with babies or young kids, and you have the capacity to do so, please join their Village. Be the friend who pops in with food. Stay in touch, even if you dont hear back from them often. Bring them coffee. Don’t ask them to call you if they need help (they won’t, until they’re at breaking point). Love them, and love their kids, even if it’s messy, and noisy, and they’re cranky. They might never be able to tell you how much your presence means to them, but it may just be life-changing.
With the strength and love of a Village, Depression and his evil Henchmen don’t stand a chance.