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Linda’s Story: Postnatal depression in Canberra

Ginger Gorman

Before being diagnosed, 29-year-old radiation therapist Linda Grose says she “didn’t really think of myself as a candidate for postnatal depression (PND).”

However five weeks after her son, Benjamin, was born Linda’s mental illness had become so severe that it landed her in Canberra Hospital’s emergency department.

“I was panicking all the time. I felt so low, I just didn’t want to live anymore. I just wanted all of this to be over. The insomnia, the panic attacks, the teariness,” Linda says, “I just wanted out.”

Even though Linda and her husband, Andrew Grose, wanted a baby so much, nothing went as planned. Throughout most of her pregnancy Linda had terrible morning sickness.

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“All I could do was lay on the couch,” Linda says, “my husband and I were just counting the days until the pregnancy would be over. I thought I’d go back to my normal healthy self once the baby was out.”

Things did not go back to normal. Ben was big baby and he was “posterior” – his head was down but facing Linda’s abdomen. She laboured for 24-hours.

“That was a really hard, painful labour. Eventually, they decided on a emergency C-section, because he was stuck and he was never going to make it out.

“After the caesarean, I haemorrhaged and I was losing consciousness on the bed,” Linda explains.

The bleeding wouldn’t stop and medical staff considered giving her a hysterectomy, Linda says, but in the end they stopped the blood flow with a B-Lynch suture on her uterus. Linda had a blood transfusion too.

“After that, I was just in a lot of pain from the surgery and feeling very weak.

“I couldn’t even hold my baby, let alone breastfeed or do skin to skin, which was everything that I’d hoped to do after he was born,” she says.

While Linda was in recovery, she was separated from Andy and Ben for five hours and found herself “lying there alone, scared and in pain and worried about my baby.”

The medical difficulties didn’t end there. Linda ended up with a bowel obstruction caused by the surgery that was “super scary and super painful,” Linda says.

It was a full seven days before the issue was fully resolved and she could start bonding with her baby.

Once Linda got home she tried to get on with being a new mum but found herself struggling with conflicting feelings.

“I felt really angry that this had happened to me,” she says and at the same time “also felt that I should just ignore it, let it go.”

“So many people are worse off and have really unwell babies…at least my baby is healthy, and I was eventually healthy,” Linda says.

Psychologist Alison Christie says that many parents, like Linda, are ashamed or angry about having these negative thoughts and feelings because they think either things are worse for others or they feel being a new mum ‘should’ be a time of joy.

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“The battle with these strong emotions and unhelpful thoughts can be just as debilitating as the sleep deprivation or hormonal effects,” Ms Christie says.

“But it often helps new parents to know that this experience is more common than most think,” she says.

The latest figures from Beyond Blue estimate that one in seven new mums and one in 10 new dads experience postnatal depression in Australia, and it is estimated that perinatal anxiety is just as high.

In the weeks that followed, Linda found herself unable to sleep even though Ben was frequently sleeping in four-hour stretches.

“I was only sleeping maybe one or two hours total in a 24-hour period, just because I was lying there, anxious, waiting for him to wake up, listening to all his little noises.

“That went on for about a week, and then I started having small panic attacks.

“Every time he cried, I would go rigid, and my heart would race and my breathing would be super shallow. I felt frozen. I couldn’t move, or do anything,” she recalls.

Linda remembers feeling “distant” from Ben and “resentful” of him.

“I was angry that he’d come in to the world, and ruined my life, and ruined my marriage, and ruined everything.

“I didn’t really love him, or feel that close to him,” she says, adding: “I knew something was off, but I couldn’t tell what. I didn’t know it was postnatal depression or anxiety. I just thought something was wrong that I just had to get over.”

Andrew and Linda attempted to seek help from their GP and to get counselling but this “didn’t really work.”

“I don’t think that the GP realised the severity of what was going on,” Linda says.

The situation went from bad to worse.

For three days Linda didn’t sleep all. By this time, she was having constant panic attacks “one on top of the other, collapsing, not being able to breathe properly.”

“For about a week, I’d been having suicidal thoughts. I’d been having thoughts of just dumping my baby at the hospital.

“I was having thoughts of ringing the adoption agency, and giving him over. I was planning on jumping a bus to the Northern Territory and just running away, or getting on a flight overseas just to get away.”

“It all seemed completely rational at the time,” Linda reflects.

Finally, Linda ended up in emergency and it was there she saw a psychiatrist who “immediately” understood that she had severe postnatal depression and needed medication and support.

“I just felt such a sense of relief that someone was taking me seriously and had seen this before,” she says.

Even though it took “months and months” to start recovering, life is looking much brighter for Linda and her family.

Linda started regular counselling, began to exercise and got in touch with PANDSI, Canberra’s perinatal support and referral service.

Linda describes PANDSI’s help as “invaluable” and says it really helped that the PANDSI support worker could empathise with her.

“She was the first person to get through to me, that it was okay not to be okay, and that it was all right, that I would get better,” Linda says.

Benjamin is now 18 months old and Linda says she’s enjoying mothering so much, that her and Andrew are even considering having a second baby.

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“I know the warning signs for PND now and I know where to get help,” she says.

As she started her recovery journey, Linda realised she had many risk factors for PND, including isolation from her family and support networks in Newcastle.

Ms Christie, who is also a PANDSI board member, urges new parents to contact their GP and support services such as PANDSI if they experience symptoms or feel they may be at risk.

Risk factors for PND include previous history of a mood or anxiety disorder, having an anxious or perfectionist disposition, having a difficult birth or pregnancy, unrealistic expectations of parenting, relationship issues and social isolation or a weak support system.

“There are numerous preventative strategies parents can put in place if they are susceptible to perinatal depression or anxiety. We also know that early support and treatment can not only help parents cope with symptoms, but enable them better connect with their babies and this amazing time of life,” Ms Christie says.

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To find out more about the risk factors and symptoms associated with antenatal depression and anxiety or to get support within ACT, go to PANDSI’s website or call 02 6288 1936.

 Ginger Gorman is an award winning print and radio journalist. You can follow her on twitter @GingerGorman or check out her website. Ginger has previously suffered from PND and is an ambassador for PANDSI.

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Ginger Gorman

Ginger Gorman is a fearless and multi award-winning social justice journalist. She has an innate ability to connect and communicate with some of the most interesting and marginalised people in our community. Ginger works hard to translate those untold stories into powerful and insightful journalism. She regularly writes stories, makes radio and TV for media outlets such as: news.com.au, Fairfax online, The Guardian, The Big Smoke, HerCanberra and the ABC. You can follow Ginger on Twitter @GingerGorman. More about the Author

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