'No I'm not OK': midwife shares battle with perinatal anxiety

Edwina Sharrock with her family. Photo: Supplied
Edwina Sharrock with her family. Photo: Supplied 

After a textbook pregnancy with her first baby Polly, mum, Edwina Sharrock was shocked by just how different her experience was while pregnant with her son.

"With Polly, I was glowing," Ms Sharrock tells Essential Baby, adding that the first twelve months with her daughter were also "a dream." In fact, the registered nurse and midwife even had enough time to start her own childbirth education business - Birth Beat - from her living room while Polly napped. The mum admits, with a laugh, that her experience left her pondering, "Why do other mums think it's so hard."

But from the moment she realised she was pregnant with her second baby, Theo, Ms Sharrock says everything changed.

"I vomited daily until I was 32 weeks," she says, explaining that she was already feeling some anxiety about how she was going to manage two kids. Admitted to hospital for fluids, and "vomiting all the time", Ms Sharrock recalls, "I looked awful."

But while Theo's birth was a "beautiful experience," Ms Sharrock says that her healthy 4.2kg boy didn't feed. And when he did, it was painful. "He fussed," she says. "Even the midwife, said, 'he's a bit different to Polly'".

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Birth Beat (@birthbeat) on

Ms Sharrock recalls not sleeping for three weeks and going into "survival mode." Her son feeding every 20 minutes, she found it increasingly hard to calm her racing mind - and rest.

"I remember having friends over and thinking, 'I just want you to leave'" she says. "I just want you out of my house".

Instead, Ms Sharrock notes, "I really put on a face. I got up in the morning, blow-dried my hair and took Polly to childcare."

Advertisement

It was her husband, Ross, a volunteer Lifeline counsellor, who raised concerns when Theo was three weeks old. "I went into defence mode," Ms Sharrock says. "I was still trying to look the part of a happy new mum.

Despite Theo being diagnosed with oral thrush and Ms Sharrock with nipple thrush, she was determined to stick to her plan to breastfeed. Hospitalised with mastitis, and suffering two further bouts in quick succession, she pushed through the pain.

Her worrying intensified - particularly about her milk supply.

"Theo was losing weight," Ms Sharrock says, adding that no one had pointed that out. "Everyone assumed, 'oh she's a midwife, she knows what she's doing. It's her second baby. Her first breastfed for eleven months." 

The assumption couldn't have been further from the truth. "I was a mess. Physically and emotionally. All I could think was 'this wasn't how it was meant to be."

At her six-week check-up, Ms Sharrock's nurse forgot to administer the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS)  "But you're fine!" she said.

"My hand was on the door and I was literally about to walk out," Ms Sharrock recalls, adding that she simply couldn't pretend anymore.

"No," she said. "I'm actually really not OK."

A high score on the EPDS lead to a referral to Ms Sharrock's GP and then a local psychologist. 

"I was given tools to cope with the anxiety I was experiencing," she says, adding that she also came to understand that it was the first time in her life she'd really been challenged. "Theo challenged me," she laughs. "I had to deal with the guilt and had a huge feeling of failure. And very significant anxiety."

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Birth Beat (@birthbeat) on

Her children now seven and five, Ms Sharrock wants to share her story so that other mums know "It's OK not to be OK." She's also urging women to listen to their friends, noting that saying things like "welcome to motherhood" are dismissive when a woman is trying to admit that she's struggling.

"It's so important to take the time to reach out and say genuinely 'how are you?'" Ms Sharrock says. "And take the time to listen to the answer. There's so much focus on the baby - mums become invisible. Remember the woman. Remember the mum."

Ms Sharrock is grateful for her two completely different experiences of pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding, adding that it's made her a more empathetic midwife."It made me realise that every baby, every mother and every journey is different," she says.

She also has advice for others who work in healthcare and need help themselves, something she's witnessed  many times with her nursing and medical friends.

"Take off your professional hat and let yourself be a mum," she says.

A recent PwC Australia analysis prepared for the Gidget Foundation, in conjunction with PANDA Australia, Peach Tree Perinatal Wellness and Perinatal Wellbeing Centre, found that perinatal depression and anxiety is costing Australia $877 million annually. The report, The Cost of Perinatal Depression and Anxiety in Australia, released ahead of perinatal mental health week, found that in the first year, the economic costs alone equal $643 million as a result of productivity losses associated with increased workforce exit, absenteeism, presenteeism and carer requirements.

"Each year, one in five mothers and one in ten fathers or partners experience perinatal depression and anxiety in Australia," says Arabella Gibson, CEO of the Gidget Foundation Australia. "This study quantifies the widespread immediate and ongoing health, economic and wellbeing impacts of perinatal depression and anxiety on parents and children."

For immediate support please contact the PANDA National Helpline on 1300 726 306 Mon-Fri 9am-7:30pm or Lifeline on 13 11 14 for 24 hour crisis support. For more information about the support provided by Gidget Foundation Australia please visit: www.gidgetfoundation.org.au or call 1300 851 758.