A perfect storm:
Following the birth of our first daughter, Claudia, I was struck down with postnatal depression. After a difficult conception journey, I was blessed with a straightforward pregnancy. I was first diagnosed with depression in 2010, following a few years of low mood and trying to ‘soldier on’ for fear of what others might think. I finally saw a GP and was prescribed Citalopram. I noticed an immediate improvement in symptoms and subsequently started seeing a Psychologist to address the root causes of my low mood.
Fast forward ten years to April 2020 and Claudia was five weeks old. Miserable with colic, she screamed every night from 5pm until midnight. I had significant pelvic floor trauma following my delivery and was unable to exercise. When I did sleep, I would have to change my pyjamas 4-5 times a night due to extreme night sweats. My Graves Disease flared up and my blood test results were quite literally off the charts. The world was in the grips of Covid-19 and fear about the unknowns of this new virus was palpable. I had none of my own family around and my in-laws and friends weren’t able to visit due to lockdown restrictions. My husband was working night shift and was asleep during the long and lonely daylight hours. I was desperate, my world was so very, very dark.
A closely-guarded secret:
I was determined, however, to keep this to myself. Other than a few people who had caught me at a vulnerable moment, my PND was a closely-guarded secret and I was adamant to keep it that way. What would people think of me as a mother? I had so longed for this baby and now I could see no light at the end of my postpartum tunnel. I was so exhausted that I would start uncontrollably shaking come 5pm. I couldn’t sit down due to the pain. I wanted my old life back and for this I felt sickening guilt and self-loathing.
I confided in my GP at the six week check up and told her I was in dire straits. I needed an intervention and I needed it quickly. She prescribed an antidepressant but I had to change this within a few days as it dramatically worsened my night sweats (a known side-effect). I got a mental health plan written up and booked back in with my Psychologist. Within a few days, I had also seen a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist and had a plan in place for my physical recovery. With time, support and a lot of self-compassion, I started to feel more like myself.
I gave birth to our second daughter, Georgina in March 2022. The world wasn’t quite back to normal but the Covid restrictions were lifting globally. I was armed and ready to face this fourth trimester and not succumb to the darkness that enclosed me in 2020. I called the PANDA hotline one day in June when I started to feel overwhelmed with it all. Previously, I had heard of PANDA but never considered reaching out or taking a look at their online resources. This day in June, unbeknownst to me at the time, was the start of a new chapter for my personal growth.
Turning pain into power:
Learning more about what this amazing organisation offers to new and expectant parents was such an eye-opener. I vividly recall thinking “I wish I knew about this two years ago”. That’s when it struck me. Once I felt like I was able to give back, I was going to do something, in any capacity, to help others feel less alone during the perinatal period.
I applied to become a PANDA Community Champion. The criteria for this include being someone who has “experienced mental health challenges in the perinatal period (and/or have cared for people at this time) and use this experience to raise awareness, reduce stigma and share messages of hope”.
8 months on and I feel so fortunate to be part of the PANDA community. Volunteering my time and my story to this organisation has helped me to realise that those dark times can lead to something powerful. I truly believe that you cannot fully empathise with someone’s journey unless you have a similar lived experience. With my perinatal mental health journey, I hope to help as many people as I can. I aspire to be as honest, raw and transparent as possible, in order to demonstrate authenticity to others who are suffering.
I am always here as a listening and compassionate ear and endeavour to do my best to support those in the trenches.
~ Ali Minichiello
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