The Loneliness Of Postpartum Depression During A Pandemic

Photographed by Eylul Aslan
Content warning: This article discusses depression in a way that could be distressing to some readers. 
"I hate myself for saying it but if I did not have the baby, life would be amazing," Mrs B* tells me. "I would be being paid to sit home and read in the sun, I could work on my hobbies, clean the house, learn a skill, cook amazing food. But I have a baby and I can't even go to the bathroom without being cried at."
People are struggling with their mental health as we all try to adjust to lockdown restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic. Almost overnight, our normal routines were thrown up in the air and the uncertainty we are now facing has presented unprecedented challenges.
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Pregnant women and new mothers face even more difficulty. The transition to motherhood is vulnerable, and can be even harder during a pandemic. Postpartum or postnatal depression is common, affecting one in 7 women that give birth in Australia each year, and being unable to see friends and family or meet with support groups hasn't made it easier.

Postpartum depression is common, affecting one in 7 women within a year of giving birth.

Mrs B, who asked me not to use her real name, tells me she finds it difficult to remain positive when she's stuck indoors. "I have days where I scream at my baby then bang my head against a wall for being such a cow."
The 31-year-old's depression came on when she got pregnant with her first child in July 2018. She spent almost three months feeling nauseous every day and as a result wasn't eating well. "This led to my first experience of mum guilt. I felt I was not giving my unborn baby the nutrients it should be getting."
Her depression grew worse after she gave birth to her son last year following a very uncomfortable two-day labour. Due to the baby's position, Mrs B was unable to go ahead with the water birth she had requested and instead had to have two epidurals and an episiotomy to help her push. "He had to be taken straight off me for a check over when he came out, so it was a good 10 minutes before I even got to hold him. A year on, I still blame myself for my crappy labour."
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I have days where I scream at my baby then bang my head against a wall for being such a cow.

Mrs B*
Mrs B continues to feel the guilt and under lockdown, it's worse. She has been furloughed and struggles with being a mum full-time. "It is hard to stay positive, trapped inside all day," she says. "Not having family support and not being able to get out and see friends has been very upsetting."
"The absolute worst thing was my son's 1st birthday. We had his grandparents put his gifts in the boot of the car when me and my husband drove over and chatted through the window, and video called them to watch him open his presents. But without a party and people to distract me, I spent the whole time reliving labour and the first few days. I hardly stopped crying."
Mrs B has been receiving support on Peanut, a social networking app for pregnant women and new mothers, as many mother and baby groups are currently unable to meet. New mum Jasmine* has also been using Peanut to stay connected with friends and share stories about being a mum, but it hasn't always been easy.
The 24-year-old gave birth to her first child in 2018 and the journey was tough. "Pregnancy was hard, hyperemesis (severe vomiting and nausea caused by pregnancy) led to hospital and 1.5 stone weight loss at 9 weeks pregnant. Labour brought sepsis for me and the baby, 50 hours after induction she was born purple, not breathing, having aspirated meconium, and was sent straight to the ICU."
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While she gave birth to a healthy "miracle baby", she says that both she and her husband struggled with becoming parents. "My husband was dealing with his own issues and was no help at all, he wouldn't do anything with our daughter Thea, wouldn't even hold her so I could go to the bathroom," she tells me. "He said he wanted a child not a baby."

Our daughter is perfect and we regret nothing. She was worth it. But it's sad that our experience has left us dreading the idea of more children.

Jasmine*
Jasmine says that her husband's behaviour impacted her and she was unable to sleep due to stress. She was later diagnosed with postpartum anxiety and was prescribed medication. "I took the tablets, I tried exercises to help my hip and developed a routine for Thea and me, and tried to make things easy for my husband as he was trying to get better without help."
Sixteen months on, Jasmine and her husband's conditions have improved. "Our daughter is perfect and we regret nothing. She was worth it. But it's sad that our experience has left us dreading the idea of more children."
Jasmine has enormous sympathy for the many new mums in lockdown at the moment. "I can't imagine going through being a new mum now. I remember the only way my daughter would settle when she was younger was a long walk in the pram, which obviously isn't an option these days. Baby groups were also a lifeline for me, they made me feel like I wasn't alone."
For new mums who are feeling the strain during the pandemic, Jasmine suggests making the most of the outdoors. "Fresh air is so important. Even when our baby was little, I would park her pram in the shade while I had a cuppa in the garden if I couldn't manage a walk. It relaxes you, clears your head and helps you face the rest of your day," she says. "Just take it one day at a time and focus on what's good."
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Fresh air is so important. Even when our baby was little, I would park her pram in the shade while I had a cuppa in the garden if I couldn't manage a walk. It relaxes you, clears your head and helps you face the rest of your day.

Jasmine*
"Postnatal depression can come on gradually or suddenly and can range from being relatively mild to very hard-hitting," says Claire Cohen, head of information content at Mind, the mental health charity. "Changes in our lifestyle, life circumstances and support networks can all impact our mental health, but we can't know what impact the current global climate will have on the mental health of new mothers."
If you are pregnant or a new mother, Claire suggests staying in contact with as many people as you can. "Talking about your feelings with someone you can trust can help you manage your mental health and work out when or if you need professional support. All new parents share the same anxieties and frustrations so it can be reassuring meeting others in the same position as you," she adds. "Have a look for an online forum where you can connect with each other."
Other suggestions include trying to find various relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises, that are taught in antenatal classes. "It doesn't matter whether it's five minutes with your feet up and a glass of orange juice, or an online aerobics workout, as long as it gives you pleasure. This recharges your batteries and reminds you, and others, that you deserve good things."
Peanut CEO Michelle Kennedy said: "Peanut is a safe community for women to connect, share and learn from like-minded women. Having a baby in a normal scenario can be an emotional and often challenging time, emotions which are especially heightened during an unprecedented time such as COVID-19.
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"PND is often something that women feel they aren’t able to discuss with their partner or friends who have not been through similar experiences - it’s important for women to find common ground with someone who is able to understand what they’re going through and Peanut is there to help make these connections between women easier."
If you or anyone you know is experiencing depressive or suicidal thoughts, please contact Lifeline (131 114) or Beyond Blue (1300 22 4636) for help and support. For immediate assistance, please call 000. 
*Names have been changed.

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