I was 33 when I had my first son, Chase. It was a time that should have been the happiest of my life but unfortunately, it was far from that. Six weeks after giving birth, Chase developed a severe case of silent reflux but, at the time, I had no idea what was happening.
I was extremely sleep deprived. Chase would scream for six or more hours at a time and it started to take its toll. I started to experience daily panic attacks. I started to go into a daze and just felt like everything was swirling around me and I couldn’t keep up. I just couldn’t do anything, my anxiety was so bad. I was constantly stressing about how I would look after him, whilst being so very tired, and about how I could get him to stop screaming! If only he would stop screaming!
I researched every remedy under the sun to try and help with this screaming; colic relief drops, ointments, recipes, different formulas, prescription formulas, sleeping positions…but nothing I tried would work and the crying continued unabated and my mental health continued to spiral out of control.
Before having Chase, I was a free spirited adventure seeker always looking for the next challenge, so to experience mental illness for the first time and be struck down, paralysed by something I couldn’t even see, was completely foreign.
It got so bad I ended up being hospitalised for six weeks at the Brisbane Centre for Postnatal Disorders. I remember it only having about ten beds. Within 30 minutes of being there, the nurses saw Chase (screaming of course) and said he had silent reflux and needed to be on medication. Immediately, I felt relieved. Someone else had finally confirmed that Chase’s screaming wasn’t normal and that he needed to be treated for it.
Within a day they organised a pediatrician to look at Chase and he was put onto reflux medication.
I also underwent psychiatric treatment for my anxiety which included medication and cognitive behavioural therapy sessions.
My healing process
I think what helped most while being in the hospital was being around other women going through the same experience I was. There was a lot of downtime during which I could socialise with other women in common areas while our babies played. Being able to talk to these women going through what I was, and hearing their experiences, really helped put me at ease and made me feel I wasn’t alone. You start to be less harsh on yourself once you hear how common postnatal depression is and that you aren’t alone.
Spending time with the nurses who have worked in this unit – specifically designed for mothers and babies – for a long time definitely helped. They were so knowledgeable and caring, looking after our babies each night so the women could sleep. They were lifesavers. To get a full night’s sleep every night was so important for my mental health.
The experience inspired me to want to help other women suffering from the same trauma so I began to reach out and connect with others via social media, encouraging people to share experiences and advice with one another.
How I’m using my pain to help other mums
Postnatal depression (PND) is something that affects thousands upon thousands of women yet there is hardly any education provided to pregnant women about how to access support if they fall victim to it. Then there’s postnatal anxiety (PNA), which I suffered from, which hardly anyone talks about – especially in the media. Having no idea what I was going through only made it more terrifying. I want there to be more awareness around PNA and more support available for new mums.
I came across the organisation Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia (PANDA) who support women experiencing postnatal mood disorders, and started a positive embodiment clothing label as a way of supporting the great work they do.
When I was in the development stages of my clothing line, I wanted to create outerwear that would not only look good, but make those who see it and wear it feel good inside. I landed on positive phrases like “Be good”, “Be grateful” and “Be kind”, making sure to use colours that have bright, positive annotations. I studied the psychological properties of colours to support the design process.
Today, I donate $1 from every item to PANDA which I hope can help the organisation grow and extend their hotline hours.
I want young mothers to know that if you’re struggling with the same pain I went through, you are not alone. Please reach out, speak to someone and just know that it won’t last forever. I found a large part of my healing was talking to other women and I think this definitely helps to destigmatize it. The more we talk about it, the more likely we are to ask for help which is the best thing you can do.