November 19, 2013

PND and me

A year ago this week I was in my first week of solo daytime parenting. Mr Fantapants would leave for work early in the morning and I'd pray that five-week-old Ms Marmalade wouldn't wake up for a couple more hours, and that she'd sleep again at some point through the day, and that I could maybe have a shower at  some point, or at least get out of my PJs. Only a few days into being a full-time mum, I was flailing; exhausted and mystified by the wailing little eating-machine that barely slept. If she dozed off in my arms I was so relieved that I'd sit pinned to the couch, staying as still as possible, twitching only those muscles required to flick through my blog feed on the ipad.

One of the (now sadly defunct) parenting-focused blogs I'd started following late in my pregnancy had a post to mark Postnatal Depression Awareness Week. I read the blogger's experience of PND with a pang, more of resignation than recognition. Throughout my pregnancy I'd been aware that, as someone who had experienced depression and anxiety off and on (mainly off, thankfully) since adolescence, my chances of experiencing PND were greater than the average one-in-ten statistic. But I'd also been determined not to become part of that statistic. So determined that I flicked through to the next blog post, telling myself that my tears were just those of an exhausted new mum.

A week later a heatwave struck Melbourne. Ms Marmalade and I were still glued to the couch all day every day, moving only to change nappies or preform essential ablutions. We were yet to get air conditioning installed and the small pedestal fan barely even moved the dense, humid air around the room. Our clammy skin stuck together with sweat and tears, as we took it in turns to wail or made a miserable chorus together. In a brief moment of clarity, I thought back to that blog post and knew that it was time to face the fact that whatever I had was way beyond the baby blues.

Remembering the blogger's advice, I called PANDA. Half an hour later I'd not only received some counselling over the phone but they had also called the maternal child health nurse at my local council, and put me in touch with my GP. The best part of all was when the counsellor asked if I'd like someone to call me again the next day to see how things were going. It was like I'd crawled out of the desert and someone was waiting for me with a small but icy-cold glass of water.

While the council was unable to help me beyond offering a sympathetic ear, my GP sprung into action as soon as I told her I wasn't coping. Within three days Ms Marmalade and I were admitted to a mother-baby unit for some much-needed sleep (on both our parts) and time to figure out what was going on and how it might be improved. I can't say the week we spent in the MBU was fun, but we emerged from it in far better spirits.

Of course, my PND wasn't cured in a week. I (reluctantly, at first) went on antidepressants for the first time in my life and also spent time talking with a psychologist. But by the time Ms Marmalade was 12 weeks old, my outlook on life was very different: not necessarily rosy, but definitely tinged with pink around the edges. Counsellors from PANDA continued to call me regularly until the day I realised with happy surprise that I had nothing to tell them. The counsellor bid me a very optimistic farewell and invited me to call back any time I needed to.

Since being diagnosed, I've been surprised how much of a taboo topic PND still is. Some people (especially women) look shocked when I tell them about my experience, as if it is a shameful admission of failure as a mother, others have been grateful to find someone with whom they can talk openly about their not-so-maternal (or paternal) feelings. I'm sharing my story here in the hope that it might reach out to a new parent the way that blog post did to me. If you're not sure whether what you're feeling is normal, and especially if you fear it's not, take the first step and call PANDA or your GP. I promise you that life on the other side of PND is worth it, for you and for your family.

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