You are not alone: one woman’s story of PNDA

I was diagnosed with postnatal depression and anxiety (PNDA) when my baby was three weeks old.

I felt immense pressure from myself, mummy blogs, Facebook groups and baby books to be the perfect parent. I felt shame and guilt that I wasn’t the kind of mother I thought I should be, or that I admired in others.

It turned out that I actually couldn’t ‘have it all’ like many had promised. Or I could, but only if I did everything half-heartedly.

I told my mother in law that I felt like my baby belonged to someone else. That’s when she suspected I had PND and suggested a visit to my GP.

In my personal experience, I’ve found three things to be incredibly helpful: a supportive group of friends and family, a good GP and the team at PANDSI.

Initially, I was terrified of reaching out to PANDSI. I told myself that I didn’t need help and that I should be able to cope on my own. I was in denial about how much I was struggling.

Every step was confronting – the first phone call, the first meeting with a Perinatal Mental Health Worker, the first session of support group, and the first time leaving my baby with strangers in PANDSI childcare.

PANDSI offer a Day Support Group for women experiencing depression and anxiety related to pregnancy, birth and early parenting. When I was offered a place I was fearful of joining. I thought I was weak, as if turning up was a public admission that I’d failed at being a mother.

I had a preconceived idea about the type of person who suffers from depression and anxiety, and in my mind, I didn’t fit that stereotype.

The truth is that mental health can affect any of us at any time. I learnt this by getting to know the accomplished, intelligent and strong women in my support group. I found it incredibly valuable and healing to share with others who understood exactly what I was going through.

Each week our group leader introduced ideas and information to support our resilience and recovery. We explored issues like expectations, coping with change, positivity, parenting, self-attitude, self-care and ways to develop personal strategies that work for each of us. It’s not weak to ask for help, it takes strength and courage. In the words of one of the women, we were all brave enough to say ‘well this is a bit shit’.

In the last session, I ugly cried in front of my support group. When the tears slowed, I was able to articulate what I’ve struggled with my whole life: it was my own thoughts making things difficult. I was telling myself that I’m a bad mum, not worthy of love or good relationships, that I’m useless, and an infinite number of other negative thoughts.

What I didn’t realise before that moment, was that I was blaming my discontentment on external events and other people because it was easier than taking responsibility myself. This realisation was confronting because I can’t escape my own thoughts, and I could no longer place blame elsewhere.

I had to accept responsibility and begin learning how to change my negative thought patterns. This kind of self-awareness can’t be forced on anyone, it can only be learnt in your own time. I am grateful to PANDSI for supporting me to do this.

The truth is that not everyone feels an instant bond with their baby. If we want to normalise the hard parts of motherhood, we need to talk about them openly and honestly.

We need to stop idolising motherhood on social media, by sharing only our highlights and unrealistic expectations. All of our experiences are ok, from awful to blissful and everything in between. Ask a new mum how she’s feeling, and listen to her answer with open-minded acceptance.

We need to ask ourselves if we offer the same compassion, grace and forgiveness to ourselves that we work so hard to extend to others. We give our time, love, empathy and encouragement to others, but we neglect to give those very gifts to ourselves.

Having a bad day does not make me a bad person. I am enough exactly as I am. I am not a perfect mother, I am a good enough mother. My daughter does not need perfection modelled to her, it is unattainable. My daughter needs good enough.

One Monday morning at PANDSI’s playgroup, (somewhere that pre-baby me would never have thought I’d go and actually enjoy) I stopped to look around and felt immense gratitude for this group of women. Here it doesn’t matter where you’re from, your history, achievements, status or who you know. It is an accepting and judgement-free, safe space.

At PANDSI, my worth comes from showing up and doing my best. Even if on that day, my best is a dishevelled mess of sleep deprivation and greasy hair. I don’t need to pretend that I’ve got it all together. And neither do you.

By Anthea Torres