Postnatal depression and the feelings that scare mums most

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TRIGGER WARNING: Depression/postnatal depression discussed

"He cried if I held him, if I put him down, if I rocked him. He cried in the pram, in the car, in the bath, in the cot, in the sling, in my bed. He cried while he was breastfeeding. Nothing I did made a scrap of difference."

Georgina's son had undiagnosed silent reflux and cried incessantly for the first 12 weeks of his life. The new mum felt like a failure because she couldn't soothe her son.

"[His] constant crying was a reminder of what a terrible mother I was. I began to wonder what I could do to stop him crying.

"On a few occasions, I left him crying in the bassinet and went outside so I could have a few minutes of silence."

It was when she had thoughts about putting a pillow over her baby that she knew she needed help.

"I was shocked and horrified that I'd had this thought. That's not me. Anyone who knows me, knows that is NOT me. But it gave me a tiny insight into what can happen in the minds of sleep-deprived mothers who are slipping into the depths of serious postnatal depression."

Postnatal depression (PND) is an unwelcome imposter that can leave new parents feeling very alone. Plagued by anxiety, fear, resentment, constant distress and general unhappiness, it is a mental health issue we need to speak openly about.

Having dark moments where we worry about hurting ourselves or our babies are cries for help that need to be heard, not judged.


Louise had similar thoughts with her second born. One taxing day, when her daughter was around two and half months old, Louise couldn't get her to sleep so she put a pillow in her baby's cot to see if it would help.

"I thought to myself 'I know this is not what is recommended but I could just play dumb and if my baby dies of SIDS tonight, I would be okay in the morning – in fact, maybe things would be better'. It wouldn't be my fault."

As this was Louise's second baby, she expected to master motherhood this time around. She thought she should be able to accomplish this new phase and "succeed" at being a mum of two, looking at other mums who seemed to be coping just fine and wondering why she was finding it all so hard.

"I had daydreams of ways my baby could accidentally die – not me killing her – or ways that I could accidentally die. I thought I might be happy if one of those happened but I never actively planned anything."

When Louise realised how dangerous her thoughts had become, she took action.

"I cried for hours but it was then I truly knew I was sick and that I wasn't coping at this mum gig. I hated being me."

Georgina also says the thoughts about harming her baby scared her most. "Suddenly I understood how a 'normal' person like me could become one of the horror stories we sometimes see in the news."

Sadly, Louise and Georgina are not alone in having these thoughts. Viv told me about driving around contemplating car accidents as a way to end the monotony, and the anxiety of always feeling like she was failing. Nikki admits to feeling constant resentment towards her baby: "it sounds terrible when you say it out loud but I knew it wasn't normal to feel like that all the time."

It takes great courage to admit that you're not coping. Add to that the thoughts about harming your baby when you are the very person who is supposed to protect them, and the guilt and shame can be overwhelming.

But there is no shame in speaking to someone about how you're feeling, and in getting help to get you back on track.

PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia) offers support services to anyone feeling anxious or depressed during their pregnancy or after having a baby. They recognise that "it can be particularly difficult to share [harmful] thoughts as they are scary and distressing to acknowledge. Family and partners may not know how to respond to these feelings and thoughts."

PANDA suggests family and friends ask direct questions, such as:

  • Do you ever have thoughts or feelings that scare you?
  • Do you ever have thoughts or feelings that make you worry about your or your baby's safety?
  • Do you have any thoughts of suicide or hurting yourself?

Staying calm when the mum opens up, even if her answers are confronting, will help the sufferer be honest about their feelings and give them the opportunity to seek help.

And that can be the most important thing of all.

If you feel you may have PND, fill out a check list of symptoms at Just Speak Up

If you have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, contact  Lifeline (13 11 14), Post and Antenatal Depression Association (1300 726 306) or Beyond Blue (1300 22 4636) for support and advice.

If your or your baby's life is in danger, call 000.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy