Four weeks after the birth of my second daughter I went to the supermarket.
It was an ordinary day, there was no ominous thunder or fanfare, not anything that would prepare me for the sudden and unprecedented terror that assaulted me in the aisle. There was an immediate buckle in the reality of the standard suburban supermarket – it was as if the fabric of time tore open and let into my life the demons of Fear, Anxiety, Self-Doubt and Paranoia.
I changed from an independent, feminist breadwinner to a weeping, cowering perma-victim who spent much of her time in her walk in wardrobe crying over anguish and pain from the past that had suddenly lifted up its head to attack me again. My husband had to stop working, our whole world shut down into survival mode – limited income, constant medical appointments and an endless stream of social workers coming to make sure that our kids were ok.
My daughter is 14 months old now, and she is just the most precious little thing I have ever seen. I don’t remember a lot of her babyhood – I spent it in a haze of panic and frenetic writing.
I am conscious that I am, as I re-enter the workforce as a survivor of PND, sticking my neck out a little to be so open about my journey. There is still so much stigma against mental illness – especially a mental illness that is generally found amongst females (although men do get it) and I just don’t see that anyone with a voice has a right to sit there silently while others are suffering in secret.
With the demise of the ‘village’, women are forced further and further into isolation, especially professional women who decide to have children and put work on hold. We are isolated from our birth families by distance, and our friends by lifestyle. We become less affluent, and just can’t ever seem to meet up for drinks with our old buddies we thought we would be close to forever. Our worlds become smaller and rotate around these tiny people who are like megalomaniac bosses – needing everything, demanding all of us.
So because of this I say that I, like the roughly 50 000 women in Australia who are diagnosed each year with PND, (and this is only those who seek treatment) am a person who has a serious mental illness. I will put myself out there to be judged by those who think that having a mental illness is weakness or laziness – I wrote two novels and started my own business while I was under the care of my husband and unable to leave my house.
And so for this reason I see my illness as a strength – I have overcome it, and I have come out the other side a stronger and more sympathetic me, firing on all cylinders, caring for my children and having given myself a voice strong enough to reach others who might still be finding their way.
If you are struggling with emotions after having a baby, or know someone who is, speak to your GP and contact PANDA on 1300 726 306.
Thank you for sharing this, I am really enjoying your articles. I also had PND with my second child and can relate to the lack of babyhood memories. I was in a medicated blur at the time, and felt like I had fallen down a deep, dark, hole and couldn't see any way to dig myself out. My husband also had to stop working to care for our toddler and baby. Thanks to counseling and medication, I recovered, and even went on to have another baby. It takes time, but regaining happiness is possible :)
Thank you so much for your comment - sadly it seems that we have to 'come out' about it, but whenever I have said that I have PND I have been met with only support. Its like a shameful thing that isn't real - it should be normalized so it isn't a secret, but a normal part of childbearing.