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  • Koreen Liew-Young

Postnatal depression: had it but didn't know it

Updated: Sep 18, 2021

I'm driving along one day and my son is bawling in the back...incessantly...uncontrollably.

I can't cope and my mind is clouding over.

At that point, I'm thinking "it would be so easy to have an accident right now".

It seems such a long time ago, but at that time, I was a shell of my former self. I was unconfident, filled with anxiety and always sobbing. A far cry (see what I did there) from the capable and controlled 21st century professional designer I thought I was. It was so bad that I didn't want to be left alone with Martin. What made it worse was that I hid my struggles from others.

If they asked how my son or I were doing, I would tell a white lie - that it wasn't so bad. I wanted to show others (and myself) that I was a competent mum because it seemed like no-one else was struggling as much as I was. I didn't want to be seen as "that mum" whose baby didn't sleep through the night or "that mum" who didn't know her chia seed from her quinoa.

My son had several issues, he:

  • couldn't bring up his wind so had a very uncomfortable tummy that was as tight as a balloon. I had to carry him upright as a newborn to sleep.

  • had to be bumpatted to fall asleep - and later on, bumpatted to stay asleep (though on the upside, I used this time to finally earn the elusive Crown of Bubble Gum Hill on Candy Crush. #yusss)

  • was unable to nap longer than 40 minutes till six/seven months.

  • had silent reflux so would cry uncontrollably after every feed.

My son after an allergic reaction with red puffy inflamed skin
My son after an allergic reaction with red puffy inflamed and itchy skin

And then there were the allergies. I developed a sensitivity to all dairy and wheat (because the egg and cheese allergies weren't enough!). Plus Martin was having allergy issues we couldn't diagnose. Watching what I ate became especially tough considering I was eating five enormous meals per day to cope with the hunger from breastfeeding. I couldn't order takeaways either as I was paranoid and anxious and didn't trust anything else. The allergies made my son's skin constantly puffy and red (like he had skin burns). The days were spent on anti-scratch surveillance and we dreaded the nights as that's when he would do the real damage. It wasn't uncommon to find chunks of skin clawed out and his bed sheets dabbed with blood.

Oh yeah, and then there was the stress of that breast cancer scare (thankfully, it turned out to be a milk cyst).

With so many issues, it was hard to make him feel better - and this made me feel guilty. Other mums seemed to be in some sort of loved-up paradise with their baby.

Me, sometimes I just wanted to hide away.

Sometimes I resented having my son and felt like doing some pretty colourful things.

So what got me out of it?

A lot of prayer - which it dawned on me, if I don't get a grip on this, no-one can help my son.

So we sought experts to sort out the issues:

  • Osteopathy for my son's sleep, silent reflux, and wind issues. After my son had been treated, he was a completely different baby and slept through the night at 12 weeks.

  • Baby consultant Dorothy Waide who helped me with a basic framework and settling/resettling techniques including the engulf hold and cupping, which now means my son can go to sleep on his own at night, (after alot of hard work initially.)

  • Paediatrician, Allergist and Chest Physician Dr. Allen Liang who confirmed his silent reflux and diagnosed his wheat and nut allergy. We saw huge results within a couple of weeks which did wonders for my anxiety.

  • "Scratch Me Not" mittens and "Bamboo Bubby" sleeping bags to prevent my son from scratching.

  • Plunket family centres for overall encouragement and support about parenting, including breastfeeding, infant nutrition, sleeping, child behaviour and parent/family needs. Very under-rated service and entirely FREE.

But I still needed to sort out the PND. After struggling through for the first three months, I finally I struck up the courage to ask for help at my GP and got referred on through the public health system. Pretty much the next day I was called by Maternal Mental Health (MMH) to have a phone assessment done (what an amazing support service we have), to make sure I didn't need urgent help. I then had a follow up specialist appointment to confirm that I had PND.

In hindsight it made so much sense. There were so many moments where simple tasks seemed too hard, that I would freeze up and not feel able to do them. I would be completely overwhelmed.  And I felt so much better now knowing my hormones played a part in how I was feeling.

I'm so thankful for family and friends who came and kept me company, text messaged, and prayed for me so I didn't feel totally alone.

Today, my son is much healthier and super happy. He's nearly one and I am cherishing (most!) moments instead of wanting to run away from them.

I know that my issues pale in comparison to some people's, but that doesn't make them insignificant. Mental health issues thrive when we tell ourselves that just because other people have worse problems, that ours don't also require addressing.

PND is more common than people think and each person's experiences can vary. If you are struggling, please don't be ashamed. Get the support you need as there are many organisations that can help. You are not alone.

But if you are blessed enough to not have to struggle with it, please realise that sufferers aren't bad parents. You can still love your child even without having that loving "feeling".

If you are pregnant, please don't be scared of the journey ahead, it's a wonderful experience. This is only my journey and now, I would not give up my son for anything.

Additional resources:

As a result of this blog I've started up a facebook group for mummies and daddies who have/had PND, or for people who want to spread awareness. Please go to this link to join a private discussion where we can safely share our stories, articles and experiences.

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