This is a personal experience of PND and anxiety and not intended as a medical description. It is not written by a medical professional.
A few things in the past few weeks have prompted me to share this part of my story. The story of my child’s journey with reflux is published elsewhere on this website and I am aware that most of the time our personal stories focus on the child.
This one focuses on me. My daughter had a rough, rough ride. No doubt about it. But the impact on me was also tremendous. Most reflux mums know what I mean. Significant sleep deprivation. Constantly averaging less than 4 hours sleep (cumulatively) a night and that is only taken in extremely small intervals. On the rare occasion the possibility of a slightly longer sleep presents itself, it proves illusive because your body is on alert to wake to the sounds of a screaming, crying or choking child.
For me the reality was that our day to day situation wasn’t going to change quickly or easily. I was a walking zombie. I was getting increasingly frustrated with the situation and the lack of sleep was playing havoc with my capacity to perform even the most basic task. There was a possibility that I could have inadvertently hurt myself or my child I think. Bad decisions get made when you are chronically sleep deprived. You can fall asleep with a baby in a compromised position, have impaired driving skills or make mistakes with medication. Plus it does something awful to your nerves to nurse a screaming child that will not be consoled. Listening to screaming you can’t seem to do anything about, for days, nights, weeks, months and sometimes years does something horrible to your brain.
I remember a work colleague (who had been through a profound bereavement) describing depression to me. She told me that once you’ve been under a certain amount of stress for a certain period of time, it did something to the serotonin levels in your brain and that it could become physically impossible to recreate the normal levels without the help of medication. I don’t know if this is accurate or not but at some point I had a moment of lucidity and thought that the duration of the stress I had been under with my daughter had reached well beyond normal, I wasn’t making good or clear decisions and I might need help.
I’m lucky. I have an insanely good GP. I went and saw her. She understood my situation and that I was living a set of circumstances that could not be changed. That even though I was coping as best I could, it probably wasn’t terribly well. And that frankly, I could use all the help I could get. She assessed me as probably living with a condition closer to anxiety than depression and prescribed some medication accordingly.
It was one of the best things I did.
It didn’t solve anything or change my situation. It just lifted my spirits a bit. I could cope a bit better. When the opportunity arose, I could get what little sleep was on offer. I was able to think a bit more clearly about how else to approach my daughter’s medical issues.
It was not a silver bullet. But it was liberating to be able to admit to myself as much as anyone that there were mental health consequences for me because of what we were living through.
I know that other carers have even more difficult times than we do – but there are unique challenges to raising a reflux child that impact significantly on the mental health of the mother. I know that the circumstances lots of us live through can push people to the edge. And there are support services around. You are no use to your child if you’re not around and we can suffer some pretty dark moments as mothers of these high needs children. Seek support.
Below are some phone numbers that may be of use to you.
Or just start with your local GP. Certainly the RISA facebook groups is a good place to seek some support.
In the end, I don’t know whether what I had was strictly PND. I think it more likely that it was secondary depression caused by the circumstances of my child’s illness. It fell within the period of time PND would ordinarily be diagnosed but I don’t know if its the same thing. Thats for medical professionals to determine I guess.
We spend lots of time in RISA looking after our children and trying to work out what else we can do to help them. We don’t often talk about ourselves and how we’re coping. Partly this is because all too often we can present to a medical professional who thinks that our issues with our children are really issues with us as mothers. That we’re just mother’s who aren’t coping.
Often though, we are mothers who aren’t coping because our babies are sick and we’re not being believed. And while its important to get help for our babies, it can also be the case that we aren’t coping for very good reason. And its ok to go and ask for help or assessment for ourselves separate to our children.
When you do go, if you can, don’t take the baby (or child/ren) with you. If you’re not sure, go and ask to be assessed. There’s no harm in being wrong but it might just help your child if you can be closer to your best than the hellish worst that reflux takes us to.
Here are some phone numbers and organisations who may be able to help:
Health Direct 1800 022 222
Australian Govt run, nation-wide 24/7 to speak to a registered nurse who can transfer you to a GP
Pregnancy, Birth & Baby 1800 882 436
Australian Govt run, nation-wide 24/7 – advice & counselling for pregnancy, birth & baby
Maternal and Child Health Line 13 22 29
Victoria Govt run, Victoria only – 24/7 service
Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636
Independent not-for-profit, Australia-wide, 24/7 service
Post and Ante Natal Depression Association (PANDA) 1300 726 306
Independent not-for-profit, Australia-wide, 10am – 5pm (AEST), weekdays only
Lifeline: 131 114
Charity, Australia-wide, 24/7 service
Mensline: 1300 789 978
Australian Govt funded, nation-wide, 24/7 service