New mum who had PTSD told mental health issues 'not serious enough'

Baby Finlay in NICU on 2017. Photo: Supplied
Baby Finlay in NICU on 2017. Photo: Supplied 

Virginia Field-Bennett had no qualms about asking for help when she knew her mental health was in decline while on bed rest in pregnancy, and she thought that would be enough to get it.

She was then told by a mental health unit that her mental health issues "weren't serious enough," leaving the mum-to-be to cope with the subsequent premature birth of her son Finlay at 30 weeks - and the PTSD she suffered from it - largely unchecked.

The Canadian was living with her husband Laurie in London in 2017, where she spent five weeks on bed rest in an antenatal ward after a scan at 25 weeks gestation identified an incompetent cervix.

Virginia told Mirror Online, "My diagnosis was cervical incompetence - my cervix was open and funnelling. An absolute nightmare for anyone and an awful introduction to parenthood."

She was placed in a room usually reserved for inductions because of a bed shortage and suffered panic attacks. She was moved to a ward after three nights but continued to suffer extreme anxiety.

"I've dealt with mental health issues long enough to know when to ask for help, so I did, as soon as I felt emotions getting out of control. I requested help every day for the first three weeks I was on bed rest in the antenatal ward and roughly every other day after that until Finlay arrived. I explained to each doctor that visited on ward rounds that I have a history of generalised anxiety disorder and depression and that I was not coping."

The repeated requests for help fell on deaf ears, culminating in outright rejection.

"Near the end of my stay a senior female consultant coldly suggested the reason I may not have been seen was because 'that department usually only deals with people with serious mental health issues.'"

The new mum - who has a history af anxiety and depression - said it left her feeling "shocked" and made her "... question her ability to deal with stress."

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"I needed help and was not scared to ask for it. The whole experience really added to my trauma. No-one ever came. I felt as if they didn't believe I was really struggling," she said.

Photo: Virginia Field-Bennett / Facebook

Photo: Virginia Field-Bennett / Facebook

Finlay was born weighing just 1.2kg and spent six weeks in the neonatal intensive care ward.

Virginia stressed that she is full of praise for the medical staff who cared for her son, but the experience left both her and Laurie experiencing flashbacks and panic attacks, the symptoms of PTSD.

"It was just awful having to leave him there every day. We had trouble sleeping, my husband reduced his workload by half."

She said they might have appeared like they were coping, but internally a lot more was going on.

"We were coping, but I was in tears daily - it was like my body was shouting 'where is your baby' constantly. I was scared to go in to see him out of guilt and for fear of bad news, and I was torn apart every second I didn't have him near me," she said.

Photo: Laurie Bennett / Facebook

Photo: Laurie Bennett / Facebook

Compounding her guilt was the knowledge that Finlay was fine, while others in the ward had lost their babies.

"I felt guilty for feeling anxious and depressed when, really, I had a healthy baby who's biggest issue was that he was very small."

When the couple took their son home, happily a month earlier than anticipated, they continued to experience stress and anxiety. Virginia saw a psychologist after Finlay turned one and was diagnosed with PTSD and postpartum depression.

The family have since moved to Vancouver, Canada where both Laurie and Virginia are in therapy for their trauma. Finlay is now two-and-a-half and thriving.

Virginia said, "In hindsight, it strikes me as shocking that NICU parents aren't just automatically issued a meeting with a psychologist to talk through everything that has happened.

"You're caught in a whirlwind of information and emotion, living on autopilot, then when your baby is finally discharged, you're relieved but it's not like it's over."

For more information about the range of emotional and mental health challenges that can occur when having a baby, and the treatments available, visit cope.org.au.

PANDA Helpline: 1300 726 306 

Photo: Laurie Bennett / Facebook

Photo: Laurie Bennett / Facebook