I am the first to admit how naive I was. Even after having my first child, I remained naive. Ignorant really.
But after having my second child, that was when I knew.
The face of postnatal depression is not what you expect.
It is not the scary picture in your mind, of a woman crouched on a bathroom floor weeping, wearing the same clothes she has worn for days, with her baby screaming uncontrollably in another room.
The home of a woman living with postnatal depression is not messy and cluttered. The sink is not full of dishes. The floor is not unswepped. The rubbish bin is not overflowing.
A woman with postnatal depression can laugh with her friends, organise her household, excel at work, and have a healthy sex life with her partner. She can exercise, eat well and shower every day. She can do her hair and makeup and wear nice clothes.
The children of a woman with postnatal depression are happy. They are loved, cared for and nurtured. Her baby is safe, nourished and covered with kisses. They want for nothing.
A woman with postnatal depression is an excellent mother, caregiver, partner, friend and daughter. Her life has many happy moments and many wonderful memories are made along the way.
She can appear to the outside world that she is holding it all together. She can actually be holding it all together.
But that does not mean that a woman with postnatal depression does not suffer in silence.
That does not mean that she is not often scared, confused, sad, angry, overwhelmed and even bitter.
Because she knows that she is all of those things mentioned above. She knows that she is an excellent mother, caregiver, partner, friend and daughter. That is why it is even more difficult. She thinks, how can she have this wonderful life, and be able to for all intents and purposes be doing a wonderful job, and still feel such a depth of pain?
Postnatal depression is not always what you expect. And experienced by women you would not always expect to experience it.
But that does not mean that it is not real.
I am an excellent mother, caregiver, partner, friend and daughter. Every day I get up early and shower my family with love and affection. I feed my children nutritious food. I keep a clean and well organised house. I play creative and energetic games. I breastfeed my baby on demand. I work from home. I exercise and have a rigorous skincare regime. I am funny, outgoing, friendly and warm. I love my children, husband, friends and parents beyond reason.
I do all of those things and I do them well. But I also have postnatal depression. I have been experiencing it for eight months, since the birth of my second child.
It has taken me eight months to truly face up to it. To put a name on what I have been feeling. Because I didn’t think that somebody like me, who has such a blessed life, could possibly have postnatal depression. It seemed almost selfish.
And yet after eight months of a rollercoaster of emotions and heartache, it is something that I will now admit. And I have finally taken the steps to ask for help and have begun the healing process. I have looked at myself, my partner and my friends and said, I am struggling. Really struggling.
For the first few months I thought it was baby blues, the reason why I could be overcome by such a huge engulfing of sadness one moment and then intense anger the next moment. Having a baby is such a massive physical and mental toll and plays absolute havoc with your hormones. As a second time Mum, I expected this.
A few months passed and then I thought, it must just be sleep deprivation that is attributing to why I am still feeling this way. Getting up multiple times a night to feed and soothe a baby over months and months is incredibly exhausting. Exhaustion takes it toll on you in so many ways.
But after a certain period of time, with my baby growing older and sleeping for longer stretches, I was still feeling the same way. I found it very difficult to handle my emotions. Easy tasks would often exhaust and confuse me. I couldn’t relax and found it very hard to sleep without worrying thoughts consuming me. I was going for periods of time being miserable and not appreciating everything I had. I was very unlike myself in many ways.
It was time to face up to the reality of what I was going through. It took some really scary conversations with my husband, and some sober conversations with my GP, to put a name to what I have been experiencing. Postnatal depression.
I am writing this now as a woman who is now grateful to be on the mend. Who is perhaps now an even better mother, caregiver, partner, friend and daughter. I am now stronger and more humble, knowing that personal well being is not something to take for granted. And healing can happen with the support of a loving partner, the ear of a kind friend and the understanding of a knowledgeable doctor and peer group. There is hope.
The face of postnatal depression may be the brand new Mum in her twenties, the second time Mum in her thirties or the third or fourth time Mum in her forties. She can be an athlete, CEO, stay at home Mum or teacher. She can be the strongest and most steadfast woman you know. Or the most gentle and sensitive woman you know. She can be your wife, partner, friend or daughter. And it is not always what you would expect from the outside. But she needs you and she needs to be heard.
If you or someone you love is suffering from postnatal depression, please seek help. PANDA is a wonderful resource to start with and you can call them on 1300 726 306