As promised in my post yesterday I’m going to endeavour to continue to write about Perinatal Depression and Anxiety Awareness Week and today I’m going to share some of the things I’ve learned a lot about Perinatal Depression and Anxiety.
Some things I didn’t know that I didn’t know and other things I was just completely wrong about. I still don’t know everything; I only know my own experiences, the things that I’ve read, or been told by the therapists that I have seen.
It’s common – but it’s not “normal”
Anxiety and Depression affect 1 in 10 women, and 1 in 20 men in the Antenatal period, and then 1 in 7 women and 1 in 10 men in the Postnatal period – so Anxiety and Depression are common during pregnancy and in the time after baby is born, for both Mums and Dads.
However, just because Perinatal Depression and Anxiety is common, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s “normal”.
With my first baby I’d been told that stress, worry and guilt was all a “normal” part of motherhood, but what I didn’t realise at the time was what I was experiencing was more than that. My stress was overwhelming, my worry was anxiety – often bordering on panic, and my guilt was so intense it kept me awake at night even when my baby was asleep. That’s not normal. It was a relief to find out that I had Postnatal Anxiety, because that meant what I was experiencing wasn’t just how motherhood would be for me – it meant that things were going to get better.
The Signs and Symptoms of Perinatal Depression and Anxiety can be different for everyone.
It’s not as clear as Anxiety = constant panic attacks, and Depression = crying all the time. There are many different ways that people experience and react to Anxiety and Depression.
PANDA have a handy list of possible signs and symptoms to look for – though if you have any concerns about your mental wellbeing, talk to your midwife, doctor, or call PANDA on 1300 726 306 – sometimes even just having a chat can make a huge difference and then possibly lead to finding more support if you need it.
Struggling with your mental health is not a reflection on you as a person, or how much you love your baby.
I remember getting frustrated that I couldn’t just love my baby enough that I could just be happy and well again – for him.
My psychologist was great; she said that love is a beautiful, powerful thing, but it can no more fix this can it can heal a broken leg.
I had had trouble bonding with him, so I thought that once that bond had been established that my anxiety would lesson – and it didn’t. In some ways it got worse, because loving him completely was terrifying in itself. My Anxiety had made me constantly afraid that something bad might happen to him – that he might die – and to be able to love him openly and unreservedly, on some level I had to accept that it was a possibility and if something did happen to him as much as it would hurt, I would never regret loving him.
Looking back, it’s obvious now that a lot of my Anxiety, even not feeling bonded with him, was BECAUSE I loved him so much and I was so painfully aware of how devastated I would be if I lost him. (And side note, he is turning 7 on Thursday and is a perfectly healthy and robust.)
It’s okay to talk about it.
I won’t gloss over the fact that there is still a fair bit of stigma attached to mental health issues, and that does seem to be especially true for parents. But it NEEDS to be talked about. That stigma needs to be shifted and the only way that will happen is if people talk about it.
When so many parents have Depression and Anxiety, if you speak to 10 parents about your experience, then odds are you’ve spoken to someone who’s been through it, or going through it right now – and you’ve just told them that they are not alone.
And talking about it, either with a health professional or family and friends, or even complete strangers, can be such a relief. Even just to get it out and have your story heard.
It’s okay to NOT talk about it.
I used to go to a group therapy session for parents with Perinatal Mood Disorders and every week we’d go around the room and everyone would say hi, and share a little bit about how they’re feeling and what’s going on for them – and week after week after week I reported that I was fine, and everything was okay.
But I went back; week after week after week.
I’m quite certain the therapists who ran the group were not at all fooled by my “I’m fine” – but they never pushed me to say more than I was ready to share. One session though, when the 2 hours were up, and everyone was saying their goodbyes, I burst out crying.
I’d promised myself that would be the week I’d talk and then I sat there for 2 hours and didn’t say anything. Everyone waited with me while I had a cry and they still didn’t push me to talk. I NEEDED to be there, I needed to be listening to all these other amazing, dedicated, loving, intelligent, strong women who were speaking my own unspeakable truths, that I wasn’t ready to talk about yet. (That is why I think it’s so important if you can talk about it – to do so)
It can be hard to support someone through Perinatal Depression and Anxiety
I did have two friends I spoke to about my anxiety and both of those friends immediately dismissed it.
One said to me that I’m fine – I just need to get out more (which, if you’ve read my post from yesterday, that was pretty much the opposite of the truth) and the second, with all the best intentions, told me I just needed some sleep, and that I was the most bonded mother she’d ever met.
But I don’t blame those friends for their reaction. It’s hard to sit with someone when something is wrong and there’s nothing that you can do to fix it. My advice would be watch this video and learn to respond with empathy.
Though quick key points:
- Don’t ever start any sentence with “At least”. (ie “At least you have a healthy baby”.)
- If you don’t know what to say, but you want to be there for them; just tell them that “I don’t know what to say, but I want you to know that I’m here for you.” It sounds so simple, but it can make a huge difference.
- I think the most important thing you can do is just listen, and be there.