I have been diagnosed with postnatal depression twice in my life, both times I begged for help very loudly and very clearly, and it fell on deaf ears.
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People seem to think that women with postnatal depression keep everything bottled inside and never ask for help. I did ask for help. I begged for it. Sure some people have never ever asked for help ever, but most actually do.
Firstly I asked my husband for help when my daughter was born. He said no. He reminded me that the nurse we did a birth course with said that the working partner had to be fit for work so it wasn’t appropriate to ask them for too much help. And she did say that, she really did I told my GP I wasn’t coping, that my daughter wouldn’t sleep so I couldn’t and I was exhausted. It took her two hours to feed, then she’d only sleep in my arms. The GP flat out told me I was lying and being a typical first time mum. She said if that was true I’d be dead. I said I was already throwing up and my legs were buckling under me. She just sighed and told me that as my daughter was 5 weeks premature that she needed extra care and to deal with it. I spoke to my community nurses, they again said I was just being a hysrical first time mum. To just cut her off feeding and to put her down. Putting her down resulted in her shrieking in pain, a piercing cry far different from I’m hungry or I want a cuddle, and then would explode in vomit. I told the nurses and the GP this. They just sighed and dismissed me.
Now that I’ve read The Girl Who Cried Pain I understand why. It’s because women are far more likely to be dismissed and left untreated by medical professionals. It’s why women have to see doctors more often, we get sent away without follow up treatment or testing. We have to go back. This study should be mandatory reading for all medical students.
When my daughter was 4 months old she needed her vaccinations, my regular GP was busy, the receptionist recommended another GP. I took the appointment. When I put my daughter down to be weighed and she immediately began shrieking and then gurgling with vomit the doctor diagnosed her with reflux. It wasn’t a subtle case. It was an obvious case that should have been picked up by any medical professional easily. But of course, the ones I’d encountered had their “hysterical mother” blinkers on. She also picked up that my daughter had hip dysplasia. It was so bad that a large part of her pelvis hadn’t formed. Within two weeks my daughter had been put in for surgery and placed in a spica cast. She was also given reflux medication. These are two things a parent CANNOT treat. These are two things that specialists need to diagnose and treat. The medical system failed my daughter because they didn’t listen to me because they felt that I was a silly first time mother. They made the start of my child’s life agony because of their unconscionable bias.
Of course after months of being ignored and left with no sleep I was in a bad way. I would cry, I would vomit, I would collapse. My body was broken but my soul was too. The medical staff hadn’t believed me and my husband trusted them over me because they had the medical degrees. He started to come around after the specialists came flocking and he realised the initial medical professionals had been very fucking wrong and he had been wrong to believe them and treat me accordingly. After my daughter was starting to settle my new GP, the only one I see now, said that now that the intensive treatment of my daughter was starting to dissipate it was time to focus on me.
I was given a mental health check, I failed spectacularly… or aced it? I was prescribed antidepressants and referred to a psychologist. I got the initial set amount and then the two extensions for more for extreme cases. That’s right, extreme. There was nothing subtle or small about it. And I continued to see that therapist afterwards until my money ran out. Things began to settle.
And then I had a miscarriage followed by reoccurring bouts of pancreatitis. It was not fun and involved far too much time in hospital for my liking.
Enter the twins. I got pregnant with twins immediately after a three week stay in hospital. Clearly my husbandis a very sexy man and I just can’t keep my hands off him. The pregnancy went really well up until 30 weeks. And then it continued to go badly until my boys were born via emergency c-section at 32 weeks. They were 8 weeks early. The spent 3 weeks in the NICU. When I went for checkups for the twins back at the hospital I said I was exhausted and having three kids under three years old was really hard. I also mentioned that the twins clearly had reflux like their big sister had and having to keep them both upright was hard, they were basically living in their car seats being rocked. The hospital paediatrician told me that all prem babies had some reflux issues but it couldn’t be that bad or they wouldn’t have been discharged. Again, I was called a liar. When I spoke to the hospital social worker she said, “That’s life in the fast lane.” I was again dismissed.
And then I ended up in hospital with pancreatitis again. Doctors don’t know why, that’s the reality for 20% of cases. So I was in hospital pumping milk but not allowed to eat or drink. I kept needing shots of glucose. At no point was I offered any assistance on how I was to cope with this situation. I was discharged, still weak and sick, and expected to immediately go back into full time care of my three children, the oldest was two. Given that the medical professionals weren’t willing to say I was sick and needed help why would my husband and others believe I was? So I suffered on. And I truly mean suffered. Until my boys and I ended up in hospital again.
The boys had bronchiolitis. My daughter had a cold and had passed it on to the kids. We’d been told to have our daughter taken care of by family members so that she wasn’t in the house with the boys as they were too little. Unfortunately we couldn’t get someone who would look after her for the duration of her cold and she was returned to us sick complete with an lecture. The boys got sick. The boys couldn’t breath so off we went.
I was ready to die. Nobody would listen to me again and I knew that people rush to help widowed men. It was time to die. I had decided that once my husband visited the boys in hospital I would pretend I was going to the bathroom but in reality walk into traffic. And then the paediatrician who had treated my daughter for reflux walked passed talking to another doctor. I had one last hope. I called out and said hello. He looked over at me, immediately excused himself from the other doctor and came over. I looked like hell and he wasn’t going to walk passed like everyone else. Hevsat me down and asked me how I was. I told him, just like I had told everyone else, but he believed me. He didn’t dismiss me. He called the NICU social worker. She was a different one from the one I saw when my boys were in a NICU. She apologised and saidI should have been picked up earlier. I had several risk factors
- Premature birth
- The under threes were outnumbering us
- Previous history
- I had been hospitalised with illness
I should have been helped long before this moment. I should have been referred at the very latest when I was hospitalised with pancreatitis. She was so sorry. They could have referred me to get 50 hours babysitting a week because I was an ill primary carer. BUT I was passed that now so she was going to refer me to the hospital psychiatric team. They referred me to a psychiatric hospital with a Mother and Baby unit. Once the boys were well enough to be discharged from the regular hospital we went straight there. And the rest you know because it’s in my book.
I was one of the many women who did not suffer in silence. I suffered out loud very much BEGGING for help and was ignored. I am not alonein this. Perpetuating the stereotype that women who aren’t helped simply didn’t ask for it, or didn’t ask for it correctly, is dangerous and victim blaming. We need to demand more of our medical professionals. We need to demand a systematic change in the treatment of women. And yeah, I get it #notallmedicalprofessionals but enough of them. Enough of them to make it a subconscious bias that pervades the field. I again urge you to read The Girls Who Cried Pain. Let’s not keep women screaming in the wilderness. Let’s demand change. We are 50% of the population and deserve equal respect and equal treatment.
If you or someone you know has postnatal depression, don’t hesitate to cook them fully prepared meals (not partially, FULLY), and do their washing. You can also find great resources at The Gidget Foundation.
So, how did hearing my story in my own words compare to hearing it from journalists from Kidspot and Femail?
Suicide is the number one cause of death amongst women postnatally, not medical complications. Don’t you think it’s time we started to listen to women when they ask for help?
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If you or someone you know has postnatal depression you can find good resources on the following sites:
- Gidget Foundation http://gidgetfoundation.com.au/
- PANDA http://www.panda.org.au/
- PIRI http://www.piri.org.au/
- Black Dog Institute http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/
- Lifeline https://www.lifeline.org.au/