When the baby blues don’t lift

Doug Hendrie

31/10/2019 2:10:17 PM

Perinatal depression affects one in five women and one in 10 men – so why is it still so hidden?

Alison Boyce and her baby
When Alison Boyce’s son was born, she felt oddly detached from him.

After her son was born, Alison Boyce readied herself for the surge of emotions everyone told her would follow.
But as she stared down at her tiny boy, Liam, she felt nothing of the sort.
‘I was expecting to have the big rush of emotions and love you hear about. But it was the total opposite. I would look at him and feel empty and numb,’ she told newsGP.
‘I didn’t have any feelings towards him at all in those first weeks.’
Soon, other issues emerged. Alison found herself constantly teary. Anxiety began pulling at her.
‘Everyone kept saying – this is normal, your hormones are settling and everyone gets a bit down. So I kept pushing on and pushing on,’ she said.
But the fog never seemed to lift.

‘The baby blues just didn’t go away,’ she said.
Then Alison began to worry about ‘nonsensical things’.
‘When my husband left for work, I’d be in tears, thinking what if something happened to him, what would I do? The worries were huge. I’d never had that before,’ she said.
‘I felt out of control, anxious about what was going to happen, how everything was going to go. I couldn’t sleep. I was really short with my husband.  

‘I felt so distant from Liam. It was not at all what I was expecting and it all hit me like a ton of bricks. I was lonely, uptight, anxious.’
Alison had never heard of perinatal depression and anxiety. When she asked her mothers’ group, none reported hearing about the possibility during their pregnancies.
‘That floored me. Of the 12 of us, nobody had even been spoken to about it. Nobody was aware that what I was going through was a possibility,’ she said.
And yet, what Alison was experiencing is very common. Perinatal depression and anxiety affects 20% of all expectant and new mothers, and 10% of all new fathers.
After three hard months, the South Australian woman went to her GP and confided how she was feeling.
That was the start.
Soon, she came across PANDA – Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia – after Googling ‘depressed after baby help Australia’.
She called their helpline and a counsellor listened to her story.
‘She helped me realise it wasn’t just me, that it affects a lot of women every day. Knowing that was a big relief – to know it wasn’t all in my head,’ she said.
Every day, a PANDA counsellor would call her. It was a lifeline.
‘It was really good, having someone to chat to. My husband was back at work and people had stopped coming to visit the new baby. It was a lonely time, so it helped that they touched base every day. It helped break the day up.’
Her GP started Alison on antidepressants, reassuring her the chosen medication was the safest possible for breastfeeding. That helped Alison overcome another anxiety – that tackling her depression could harm her child.
Alison only had to stay on the medication for a few months before her mood stabilised. Then she weaned herself off them – and her new equilibrium stayed put. She was past the worst of it.
‘It wasn’t until I sought help that I found a better mental space, to really be grounded in the here and now rather than worrying about the future,’ she said.
‘Before I had Liam, I’d never been made aware that this could happen. Knowing the signs and symptoms would have been really helpful. I felt like I was alone and didn’t know where to go for help or how to help myself. But there is hope and there is help.’
When Alison looks at her son, now five, she feels everything she thought she would.
‘Now, Liam and I have got a really strong bond. It hasn’t affected our relationship – I was really worried about that at the time, that I was doing him harm by how I was feeling. But now I know that it didn’t.’
Alison is speaking out about birth-related depression and anxiety ahead of this year’s PANDA Week, which runs 10–16 November.
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Dr Hasan Sarwar   1/11/2019 10:47:10 PM

this is a great case presentation, thank you.