Praising the parents (with cards!)

It’s Perinatal Depression and Anxiety Awareness Week and we are really excited to be launching a range of cards tailored to these conditions.

I am not a parent. But over the past couple of years I have been blessed to witness some of my greatest loves become parents. And my wonderful friends have gone through a range of experiences during the perinatal period, all of which have filled me with feelings of joy and astonishment and pride.

(FYI – perinatal refers to the time during pregnancy and the first year following birth. ‘Perinatal’ is the collective term used to describe both antenatal and postnatal depression and anxiety. Antenatal depression and anxiety is experienced during pregnancy and postnatal depression and anxiety is experienced within the first year after the baby’s birth).

There are way too many things to try and list about what I admire about my friends who are parents. So I will now try and list them.

They seem to survive on little to no sleep. They have found endless reserves of patience and tolerance. They're consistent. They somehow stopped swearing overnight. They read parenting books. They try really hard with sleep time routines. They go to swimming classes. They put up with strangers touching their pregnant stomachs. That feeling they talk about when they leave the hospital with their brand new human. Trimming baby finger and toe nails. Everyone provides them with advice on the ‘right way’ to parent. There's baby talk. And breast feeding. And tantrums. Making mushy food. And the tears, when you don't know why there are tears. And they have given up napping. And freedom. For ages.

From comfortable Aunty Sammy’s position, parenting looks like really, really, really relentlessly hard work. (I know this is a massive understatement, but words are failing me now. I'm stuck on the thought that my friends may never nap again until the year 2045.)

And I often think. How f@*king hard would this pregnancy and parenting be if you were also experiencing depression or anxiety.

Because those things I have had. And they’re f@*king hard work too.

But unfortunately a lot of parents do experience these things as well. Australian research indicates that up to one in 10 women and one in 20 men will experience depression during pregnancy. This rate of depression increases to around one in seven women and one in 10 men in the year following the birth of their baby.

The information available on perinatal anxiety disorders indicates that anxiety is likely to be at least as common as depression (if not more) during this time. It is also common for women to experience symptoms of depression as well as anxiety, however severe anxiety can also be present without depression.

The symptoms for these disorders are similar for depression and anxiety experienced at any other time of life, however they can be a little harder to identify and to deal with if someone is pregnant or a new parent. Some of the changes that come with being a Mum for example overlap with the symptoms of depression - such as changes in sleeping and appetite - and it can be difficult to tell the difference.

Like other mental illnesses, perinatal mental health conditions can affect anyone and they occur in every culture. Pregnancy is the common factor. It can happen after miscarriage or stillbirth, normal or traumatic delivery, or caesarean delivery. PNDA happens not only after a first baby. It can occur after a third or fifth baby. Sometimes it happens after a first baby only. Sometimes it happens with a third baby, but not with the first two. Sometimes it happens after each pregnancy.

Falling pregnant, giving birth, becoming a mother or a father – these are all milestones or life transitions that as a society we’re pretty good at praising and getting pretty excited about. However, like all of the life experiences us humans can all experience it incredibly differently. What if the mother or father is feeling miserable about the whole thing? How about if they are experiencing total panic?

Unfortunately the feelings of guilt associated with experiencing a PNDA disorder and not feeling overjoyed, happy and thrilled about parenthood are real. Research revealed this week showed that 92% of callers to Australia’s national perinatal anxiety and depression helpline felt ashamed of their condition and felt they were not meeting the expectations of parenthood they had set for themselves.

Wouldn’t it be nice if these parents knew that just because they have an illness does not have anything to do with the person they are? Because like physical illnesses, mental illnesses are just experiences we have. They are not things that make us 'less good' or 'less worthy'. They are not defining characteristics.

Maybe if we sent them a Hope Street Card they would know. (See that? That was a sales pitch).

You can have a look at all the cards here.

Really, really good services to chat to:

PANDA National Helpline: 1300 726 306 (Mon-Fri, 10am-5pm AEST)
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
beyondblue: 1300 22 4636
MensLine Australia: 1300 78 99 78

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