Nicole had panic attacks during pregnancy but assumed things would get better when her son was born - they didn't.
Becoming a mum first time around was relatively straightforward for me. I was active at the gym, productive around the house and I felt like I was in control. I remained the social butterfly I had always been and everyone regarded me as a bit of a “supermum”.
Number two wasn’t so easy
I became pregnant when my daughter was nine months old. I had returned to work but morning sickness kicked in harder and earlier this time and by 18 weeks my mobility started to decline as I started to show signs of pelvic instability. As a very active person, this really took its toll on me both physically and mentally.
Naturally, plenty of dads instinctively focus on the professional, because modern life ain’t cheap and their partner is likely a) not getting a particularly generous paid maternity leave and b) will probably have her career torpedoed by deadbeats above who won’t even give her a chance to make her job work three or four days a week and scoff at the mere suggestion of a jobshare.
I was much more weepy and emotional.
Then I had my first of many panic attacks
They would come on mainly at night – a gripping feeling of almost not being able to breathe, a tightness in my chest and stomach. I would cry and scream out and my husband would try to console me. I knew this was out of the ordinary for me but I put it down to exhaustion and hormones and thought that when I had my son this would all go back to normal.
It didn’t. When my son arrived he was a perfect and healthy little being, but to me that’s all he was. I didn’t get the happy butterflies that I did when I had my daughter. But I figured it would just take some time.
Don't try to fix everything. Give young kids a chance to find their own solutions. When you lovingly acknowledge a child's minor frustrations without immediately rushing in to save her, you teach her self-reliance and resilience.
'With my first baby, I was a supermum.' Image: iStock.
I felt nothing when my son was born
Feeding and settling issues over the first few months made it more difficult to love this baby that was keeping us up all night and causing stress throughout the day. Not to mention juggling the attention of an 18-month-old. I felt all I could do was focus on her and do the bare minimum for him. Even that consumed all of my time and energy.
In the beginning I organised many catch ups with friends and family members, but this slowly stopped. It was easier to stay indoors so I could avoid the crushing anxiety. I withdrew from friendships. It made me feel sick to my stomach having to put on a front or admit that I was not coping. I was the “supermum”, right?
'The day I almost destroyed myself'
Once again I put all these feelings down to fatigue and exhaustion and that if I just got a “few decent night's’ sleep” or time away from the children, I’d be able to recharge and get back to normal.
At four months I booked in to stay at a Mother Baby Unit to help me with sleep, settling and feeding and to try and get myself some much needed rest. The five-day stay was great. It gave me the one-on-one time I needed to finally work on our bond together and we got ourselves into an almost clockwork routine over the day and night. I was getting the rest I needed during the day and I finally thought that I could do this.
Give appropriate praise. Instead of simply saying, "You're great," try to be specific about what your child did to deserve the positive feedback. You might say, "Waiting until I was off the phone to ask for cookies was hard, and I really liked your patience."
We couldn't leave the house
When I got back home I was pleased with our new routine but then the fear of disrupting it took over. For it to continue, we could not leave the house. And I had to try and keep a toddler entertained indoors all day, every day, and quietly. So while I felt I had one child under control, I was losing it with the other.
'I thought I was just fatigued. I was wrong.' Image: iStock.
I started resenting both kids
I was snappy. And every single cry was like fingernails down a chalkboard. I felt sick. I felt tense. I felt angry. And I was starting to feel so out of control I did not know where my anger would lead.
After a couple of months of this my husband told me to organise a day out with a girlfriend and get pampered one weekend. Surely this would help.
We went out for lunch and then went to a day spa for some pampering.
These were activities I loved before having children. But I had a panic attack during my massage and again during my facial. I could feel my pulse escalating but I tried to keep a calm exterior and let the therapist continue with the treatments.
Rather than feeling relaxed and rejuvenated, I walked out of there tenser and even more exhausted than I was that morning.
Turn taking. Help all members of the family take turns talking and listening. Children find it much easier to talk when there are fewer interruptions.
This was my light bulb moment that things were really not right
I called PANDA the next day. The counsellor made me feel like she had all the time in the world for me and understood everything that I had explained had been going on. I tried to keep it together in the beginning, but it was not long before I felt the rawness of letting go and the tears started flowing. But talking about it made me feel a bit better. Slowly, I realised I may have perinatal anxiety and depression.
It took some time, and it wasn’t easy, but I gradually got things back on track. I was officially diagnosed with postnatal depression and anxiety. I reluctantly agreed to try medication, and after a few hiccups, it started to help.
Once Nicole was officially diagnosed with PND, things began to get easier. Image: Supplied.
Work was the missing piece of the puzzle
Despite the anxiety of returning back to work after a turbulent 12 months of maternity leave, this was actually the missing piece of my puzzle to recovery. I really enjoy the work I do and the people I work with. The adult time, the adult conversations, the use of parts of my brain that had been in hibernation for over two years. The feelings of accomplishment and the return of my identity.
Be a good role model. Teach and model kindness and good manners online. Because children are great mimics, limit your own media use. In fact, you'll be more available for and connected with your children if you're interacting, hugging and playing with them rather than simply staring at a screen.
And most of all, the feelings of missing my children when I’m away and the greater appreciation of my time with them when I am home.
I’ve been medication-free since September. I'm feeling 100% like myself now and ready to experience what life has to throw at me. I know that this will not only have its ups but its downs and that is normal. It's a good feeling.
I’ve now spoken about my year openly amongst friends, families, colleagues, hairdressers, gym mates. And you know what? Everyone has a story! Whether it be themselves or someone close to them, there is always a conversation to be shared or understood. That feeling of shared understanding is why I want my story heard and shared amongst the greater community.
We need to keep the conversations going to continue raising awareness.
Kidspot Cares has partnered with Mum Society for a special event focusing on mums’ mental health. If you're in Sydney and would like to join some inspiring women sharing their stories at a brunch for mums, tickets are still available here . If you or someone you know is in need of support, please know it's available.
Please share what helped you heal by joining the conversation on Instagram with the hashtag #youwillmakeitthrough to share your story.
Mel Watts opens up about her struggle with PND
Remember: Kids will be kids. Kids will make mistakes using media. Try to handle errors with empathy and turn a mistake into a teachable moment. But some indiscretions, such as sexting, bullying, or posting self-harm images, may be a red flag that hints at trouble ahead. Parents must observe carefully their children's behaviors and, if needed, enlist supportive professional help, including the family pediatrician.
Mel Watts opens up about her struggle with PND