'Just speak up': mums share postnatal depression stories

Maddy Mendoza-Orubuloye with her sons, Oscar, 5, and Lewis, 18 months.
Maddy Mendoza-Orubuloye with her sons, Oscar, 5, and Lewis, 18 months. Photo: Jay Cronan

At times when her son Oscar was a baby, Maddy Mendoza-Orubuloye couldn't look at him.

"I hated him," she said. "It's a shocking thing to say, but I hated him."

More than five years later, Ms Mendoza-Orubuloye looks at Oscar with love, every kiss and cuddle a natural act, and she can't image those old feelings. But she thanks God she let down her mask of polite "I'm fines" to get the help she needed.

"You just have to keep trying because feeling better is worth the effort" ... Em Rusciano
"You just have to keep trying because feeling better is worth the effort" ... Em Rusciano 

Oscar is now a cheeky big brother to 18-month-old Lewis, and Ms Mendoza-Orubuloye is speaking out about her experience to raise awareness for Postnatal Depression Awareness Week, running from 17-23 November.

"You can get through it. I'm proof of that," she said.

The 31-year-old had postnatal depression, but she kept her fits of crying and feelings hidden from her husband and other family members for four months.

"I never wanted to hurt [Oscar], but there was no sense of control, this four-kilo thing was totally controlling my entire life … I had trouble with bonding.

"I was detached from motherhood. It didn't feel natural."

When she burst into tears on the way home one day, thinking, "Help me, I hate him, I hate me", she knew it was more than the baby blues and went to her doctor for help.

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"I was overwhelmed and I couldn't see it getting better," she said. 

For Ms Mendoza-Orubuloye, it took one year to feel herself again without medication but with intensive counselling. "New mothers put themselves under a lot of pressure and I didn't want people to think I was a bad mum," she said. 

"But I learnt to appreciate and connect."

'A lot women fall through the cracks'

More than 45,500 women and 14,000 men (15 per cent of new mothers and 5 per cent of new fathers) are diagnosed with postnatal depression (PND) in Australia each year.

Steve Robson, associate professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the ANU Medical School, said doctors are getting better at recognising postnatal depression and being able to distinguish it from baby blues.

"Most women will feel sad shortly after the baby is born, but that will pass very quickly," Dr Robson said.

"But it can be utterly devastating. It can lead to the woman harming herself and her baby, and it's the fourth most common cause of maternal death after bleeding and infection.

"A lot of women fall through the cracks because it can be very hard to diagnose. Women don't come along and say, 'I'm depressed'; they come along with a whole other host of problem like, 'The baby won't sleep' or 'I can't bond with my baby'."

He said the earlier PND is picked up, the easier it is to treat. Partners are usually the first ones to notice the signs.

New help for struggling mums and dads

As part of Postnatal Depression Awareness Week, beyondblue has launched its new Just Speak Up website. Parents can share their own stories or read about the experiences of others, helping them realise they're not alone.

Media personality Em Rusciano, a beyondblue ambassador, speaks about her own experiences on the site. She says she had PND following the birth of her second child. 

"I felt like I was in a fog and couldn’t be the mother I wanted to be ... but I was too scared to get help because I thought people would think I was a terrible person," she said.

"I finally went to a doctor who immediately diagnosed me with postnatal depression, which was a huge relief and the start of the road to recovery.

"That road has been tough and there have been ups and downs. But you just have to keep trying because feeling better is worth the effort."

Another site, launched this week by the Minister for Mental Health, Kevin Humphries, encourages mums and dads to learn more about mental health and issues around parenting.  

The site, I've Been There, includes survival tips for new parents, information on pregnancy and parenting challenges, and links to vital professional advice services.

“Let us use this week to work together to increase knowledge about antenatal and postnatal depression and other mental illnesses experienced during the perinatal period - and, in doing so, help break down the stigma so that more and more people are encouraged to seek help,” Mr Humphries said. 

Want to talk to someone about how you're feeling? Contact beyondblue on 1300 224 636. For immediate help, call Lifeline's 24 Hour Crisis Support Service on 13 11 14.