Melissa always dreamed of the day she would fall pregnant. After marrying her husband in 2020, the couple discovered there was an inherited genetic condition in the family and decided conceiving their first child through IVF would be the safest option.
But it wasn’t the start to motherhood she’d hoped for and Melissa struggled with the ups and downs of an IVF journey.
“After a couple of failed cycles, I experienced moderate depression and PTSD from embryo transfers. I would close my eyes and vividly experience the process with fear and grief,” Melissa shares.
“I struggled to accept going through IVF. It felt unnatural and clinical, and I grieved the decision not to fall pregnant naturally and experienced a long acceptance period. My pregnancy was accompanied by emotions of fear, and I was worried something would go wrong. At every scan, I would show up feeling nervous and scared.
“These difficult emotions stayed with me during the whole pregnancy, and it was hard for me to feel completely relaxed.”
Cultural barriers to prenatal care
Having migrated to Australia from Lima, Peru, in 2016, Melissa also battled with cultural barriers during her prenatal care.
“I was determined to find a Hispanic obstetrician as I wanted to feel connected to my doctor on a deeper level by speaking my language. Doctors in South America are an extension of your family and the patient-doctor relationship is based on trust, love, and compassion. It was very difficult to find this in Australia.
“I was 41+3 when Aitana was born. I was going to be induced on the day my labour was finally established. I laboured drug-free for over 15 hours. At 2am, I was advised that I was fully dilated, but contractions stopped so interventions were required to get through the pushing stage. My obstetrician attended another birth before checking on me in the hospital and once she was back without examining I pushed for 1.5 hours. There was no progression, I was depleted and as a new midwife at the hospital started her shift, she requested to conduct an examination to confirm dilatation, that’s when I was told that I was only 4 centimetres dilated. They tried to reactivate labour with more drugs and after 5 hours of not progressing, I requested a c-section to the obstetrician.”
“Birth was traumatic and made navigating postpartum more challenging.”
‘Getting support changed my life’
As the weeks went on, Melissa and her husband both struggled to cope at home with their newborn.
“We knew something was not right and we decided to seek professional help.
“I found listening to podcasts related to mental health helpful. Deep within me, I felt I was truly not able to cope and needed to hear experiences that validated how I was feeling. I remember in one episode, a specialist doctor was a guest speaker. She was Melbourne-based and I decided to reach out to her. I haven’t looked back since.
“Getting support changed my life. I forgot how it was to feel joy and love, I was constantly feeling under stress, on edge, panicky and physically depleted. Being able to understand what I was experiencing and take control over my recovery brought acceptance and hope.”
1 in 5 mothers experience perinatal depression, anxiety
In Australia, perinatal anxiety and depression affects up to one in five new mums and up to one in 10 new dads.
National mental health organisation Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia (PANDA) is busier than ever.
PANDA’s National Helpline engaged in over 55,326 interactions with callers in the past 12 months to June 2023, with over 25% of parents speaking to a support member for more than 60 minutes.
“Our Helpline staff are talking to callers with greater levels of distress. They are spending more time providing counselling support to people and doing more follow-up calls and interactions with many callers,” PANDA CEO Julie Borninkhof said.
Perinatal Mental Health Week runs from 12 to 18 November, and this year the awareness campaign urges parents to focus on connection through conversation.
“It can feel tricky to find the right words. You might be worried about the way the person you’re talking to will react, and there’s a lot of fear around getting it wrong. The most important thing we can do is to engage in honest and compassionate conversations about perinatal mental health. These conversations are life-changing,” Ms Borninkhof says.
Abby’s birth story: ‘Constant feelings of dread’
For Brisbane mum Abby, reaching out for counselling support helped her overcome feelings of physical and emotional isolation.
“At the time I met my now-husband Simon in 2011 (who is from Germany) I was living in Pleasanton, California.
“I got pregnant with our miracle rainbow baby at the end of 2014 – my third pregnancy that year. Felix was born in August 2015.
“My pregnancy was fine, other than me experiencing near-debilitating anxiety every minute of every day. After losing my first two pregnancies, I was petrified that I would lose this baby too and that occupied my mind at all times.
“My waters broke on their own soon after my 39-week doctor’s appointment. I really wanted to have a vaginal birth and all was going well until I’d been pushing for around an hour. At that time, my OBGYN (who had looked after us for all three pregnancies) gently told me that she would need to perform a c-section as the baby’s heart rate was dangerously high.
“After 39 hours of labour, I was okay with that and from there, everything happened very quickly. There was a question over whether I’d need to have a general anaesthetic but thankfully, the epidural worked at the last second and my husband could come into the theatre.”
Abby says it was especially hard becoming a new parent with her family and support network living on the other side of the world.
“We moved to Australia just before Felix turned one in 2016. I had really thought that my anxiety would go away when I moved home – almost like my mental health would magically be fixed because I’d be back in Brisbane.
“Of course, this did not happen. I finally sought proper help when I realised that my panic attacks were not going away, nor were my constant feelings of dread, and this was affecting my parenting. I saw a couple of professionals before I found a counsellor who I really clicked with and found super helpful – and I still talk to her to this day.”
With her son Felix now a happy, healthy 8-year-old, Abby says she wants other parents to know that no stage lasts forever, even though in the moment it can really seem like it will.
“Seek support when you need it, do things that bring you joy and trust that you are exactly who your baby needs.”
If you experiencing feelings of sadness please know there are plenty of support services available for you and your partner including …
- Pregnancy, Birth & Baby – 1800 882 436
- PANDA – 1300 726 306
- Beyond Blue – 1300 224 636
- ForWhen – 1300 224 636
- Lifeline 13 11 14
More stories from our Grapeviner mums…
- ‘I felt absolutely nothing’: Why having a baby isn’t always love at first sight
- 5 ways to help avoid postnatal depression
- New dads feel overwhelmed and need support too
- What postnatal depression really feels like
About to (or just had) a baby?
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