Infant Mental Health Awareness week takes place in June every year to raise awareness and highlight the importance of the emotional wellbeing and development of babies' and young children. It is a week which invites government, industry, community and families to consider the distinct needs of babies and toddlers.
Caring and nurturing a child's Mental Health, within those first 1000 days, lays the foundations for ongoing healthy social and emotional behaviours. Loving and stable relationships, along with consistent and predictable caregiving allows for little ones to feel safe and secure. Being responsive to a baby and/or young child's cues, signals and behaviours builds trust and contributes to positive and loving relationships.
With Infant Mental Health Awareness Week being a focus for the month of June, we had the privilege of speaking with the beautiful Jenna, a successful career Woman and a devoted Mother to gorgeous 5 year old Klara. Jenna has kindly shared her journey through Motherhood whilst living with Postnatal Depression. There is no denying the strong influence Maternal Mental Health has on Infant Mental Health, so we felt there was no better time like the present to share Jenna's story.
Hi Jenna, could you explain yourself in three sentences?
I am usually happy, take joy in music, food and friendships. All my life I've felt that if I worked hard at something I would be able to make some success out of it. I'm super independent and once believed that strong independent and smart women can do it and have it all....you can see how this can all end badly with a newborn ;).
Tell us about the birth of your baby girl?
Conceiving was really easy for me. The first time I fell pregnant I had a silent miscarriage, which was the first straw on the camel's back. It was a huge shock to my husband and I. Second time, conception was easy again and I had what I thought was such a perfect pregnancy. Then at my 34 week scan, the OBGYN said we needed a full radiology scan because something wasn't right. The scan showed that my placenta was deteriorating and my baby wasn't getting enough oxygen or nutrients. That scan resulted in a c-section at week 35 - with nothing planned or ready yet and I had worked right up to the morning of the operation. Furthermore, the day before my c-section, my Father had a mental breakdown which meant my parents weren't able to make it to Brisbane for the birth. Straws were adding and the weight was starting to build.
The first night was okay, husband and I were happy/fearful. But the second night, sleep deprivation set in and I remember us both sitting on the bed crying. We asked each other "what have we done?!". My daughter Klara kept crying, my body was horrifically shaped, I was in pain and couldn't wee without crying. My husband attempted to resume pre-baby life habits, such as watching TV or reading until 9pm at night, with no consideration of needing to wake 2 hourly overnight. It was his way of coping with the enormous change but it left him exhausted and also less able to handle a difficult baby and depressed wife. I felt trapped in a project with no exit, no escape, no ability to resign, terminate or run away. Nothing brought me joy anymore. Not my favourite music, food or friends visiting. I remember always being numb and starting to resent my daughter for robbing me of what was a great life I had prior to her birth.
To be honest, I never had depression before, so I didn't recognise the signs. It was about 2 weeks in and I basically felt so helpless with my newborn crying for 4 hours straight sometimes I called the ambulance. My husband called Beyond Blue. We were just lost. Finally one of the visiting child nurses came to visit and asked me to go to the emergency room to seek help. I went and the psychiatrist recommended I check into a psychiatric ward. Hearing this, I was in complete shock and thought, NO WAY!! I even went as far as to visit the psychiatric ward and was totally appalled that I would be one of those patients.
Well, I blamed the baby and I blamed all the Mothers who 'lied' about what a wonderful experience it is to have a child. I blamed society and my family for all the baby pressures. I even blamed what I perceived as 'fake media', you know the kind that advertises all the glowingly happy families. I blamed everyone except myself.
I didn't, but I had the good sense to hire a Nanny to help and she recognised the signs straight away. She took my daughter and handed me my mobile phone and demanded I call and check myself into the psychiatric ward at Belmont - a Perinatal Ward facility which allowed Klara to stay with me. Miraculously I took her advise and checked into the ward and the psychiatrist was great! Logical, methodical and they recognised that there was no logic or talk therapy that could help me. I needed medication. My Mental Health was severely suffering.
It took about 3 days before they got my medication combination and doses just right. The day that they worked, it was pretty incredible, I woke up and I could see the sunshine. I walked around the hospital gardens and thought, "oh this is pretty". The most important thing I remember was one of the Midwives saying to me that they saw me smile to myself as I bathed my baby.
I am still on medication now, 4 years after the whole episode. I am back working full-time as I have discovered that is how I can mostly be myself whilst also being a functioning and good Mother. Over the years my friends have opened up alot, telling me truths about their struggles too and that has also helped my recovery. They were actually the ones who suggested I should go back to work full time since I find so much joy in my career. Basically, take care of myself so I can take care of another.
There are a lot of stats, in regards to Postnatal Depression, but the strongest one is that 1 in 5 mothers experience PND. So if you experience it, it is pretty common!! You're not on your own and seeking out help early will prevent extended unhappiness, potentially leading to harm to yourself, your child and your family. Also, sometimes, talk therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness all make a really big difference.
What is your advice for other new Mums and Dads that are feeling overwhelmed?
I would say, don't be afraid to ask for help. Always ask for help, be brave enough to seek help when you aren't coping with the enormity of Parenthood. We need to remember that none of our ancestors had to raise a baby on their own - they had family and a village. These days we seem to think we need to be super humans and do it all alone, which is just unreasonable and impossible.
If you, or someone you know, is going through a tough time or is displaying signs of anxiety and/or depression, please do not hesitate to reach out for help. The following websites and contact numbers are great resources for support:
Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636 and PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia) 1300 726 306