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Every parent deserves support.
That is the message coming out of this year’s Perinatal Mental Health Week, and one that is echoed by mother-of-two, Emma McDermott.
Mrs McDermott, a current consumer of the Addiction and Mental Health Services’ Perinatal Wellbeing Service, is supporting Perinatal Mental Health Week (PMHW) by sharing her journey into parenthood as a woman with a history of medically diagnosed anxiety.
Each year during PMHW the community shares their stories to help achieve the vision of a society where perinatal mental health is valued and understood, and where stigma and systemic barriers to seeking help no longer exist.
When baby Charlotte joined the McDermott household in August, life was as expected; slightly more chaotic, slightly more sleep deprived and a period of transition as the family of three got used to being a family of four.
But two short weeks later Mrs McDermott’s struggle with perinatal anxiety began.
When what started as debilitating panic attacks quickly turned to thoughts of self-harm, the 35-year-old knew it was time to seek professional help.
During a visit to the Child Health Service at Redland Hospital, Mrs McDermott was referred to the AMHS Perinatal Wellbeing Service, something she said was lifesaving.
Clinical Nurse Consultant Jennifer Bennett said she was able to help Mrs McDermott understand she was trying to live up to an unrealistic expectation of motherhood, and shared strategies to manage the guilt of not being able to do so.
Mrs McDermott said there was a societal expectation on new parents to ‘enjoy every moment’ of parenthood, with both social media and fictional shows portraying a new baby as a bundle of joy to cuddle and play with and have fun experiences with.
“What they don’t show is everything in between these moments,” Mrs McDermott said.
“The sleepless nights, the hours spent feeding the baby, the nappy changes, the pressure to teach your children so they reach milestones, the days spent sitting in your pyjamas, holding a clingy baby while the toddler watches TV and eats a bag of chips.
"The pressures I put myself under being a mother of two under two re-triggered my anxiety that was previously well managed with psychology and medication.
“Jenni from Perinatal Wellbeing helped me discover the underlying triggers of my anxiety and worked with me on ways to manage my mental health in both reactive and preventative ways.”
Mrs McDermott said it was important to make the topic of perinatal mental health less taboo and thought PMHW was the perfect opportunity to start having more open conversations about perinatal mental health.
While thankful to have a large support network of family and friends, Mrs McDermott said she didn’t always feel comfortable speaking openly about her mental health struggles with them.
“There are people there who will always be there for me if I ask for help, but I don’t always ask, or even know what help I need,” she said.
Through the Perinatal Service, Mrs McDermott said she had been able to build her family’s community of care (by linking with other perinatal wellbeing services) and was looking forward to chatting openly about her experience in a judgment-free zone with other parents.
“It’s important for new parents to know they are not alone,” she said.
“Connect with others, find people who lift you up and remember to just breathe!”
You can make a self-referral by contacting the Service directly on 3089 2734, or WellbeingPerinatal@health.qld.gov.au.