Mum-of-two and doula, Kathy DiVincenzo is exposed to the reality of motherhood every day through her work, but when she decided to lift the curtain on her own parenting struggles she soon found out she’d tapped into something powerful and important.
Chances are, you're feeling pretty uncomfortable right now (trust me I am too). I'm going to challenge you to push past…
Two sides of the story
While there’s still a regrettable and unnecessary stigma surrounding mental health conditions and parenthood, the bravery and honesty of people like Kathy is slowly chipping away at misconceptions.
Kathy took to Facebook to share a couple of photos (by her close friend, Danielle Fantis Photography) that depict the reality of her life recently.
The first image is a relatable one, showing a defeated-looking Kathy juggling two kids, the usual chaos of family life AND her own mental health conditions. The second a much glossier social-media ready shot of a beaming version of Kathy with her two kiddos. She explained in a frank Facebook post, that both shots are her reality – following her diagnosis of postnatal depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) – and she felt it was time to be more open about how parenting feels for her:
“Chances are, you’re feeling pretty uncomfortable right now (trust me I am too). I’m going to challenge you to push past the discomfort society has placed on postpartum mental illness and hear me out,” she wrote.
“May has been declared Postpartum Depression Awareness Month and as someone with diagnosed postpartum depression, anxiety, and OCD I feel like it’s time to show you what that can really look like, not just the side of me that’s “Facebook worthy.””
“The truth is, both of these pictures represent my life depending on the day. I would only ever comfortably share one of these realities though and that’s the problem. The only thing more exhausting than having these conditions is pretending daily that I don’t. I work twice as hard to hide this reality from you because I’m afraid to make you uncomfortable. I’m afraid you’ll think I’m weak, crazy, a terrible mother, or the other million things my mind convinces me of and I know I’m not alone in those thoughts,” Kathy explained.
Mental illness during pregnancy and after the birth of a baby is very, very common in Australia (and around the world, unfortunately.) Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA) tells us that:
+ In Australia, around 1 in 10 women – and 1 in 20 men – experience antenatal depression.
+ More than 1 in 7 new mums – and up to 1 in 10 new dads – experience postnatal depression each year in Australia.
That’s a LOT of parents dealing with the challenge of caring for themselves and a new baby whilst juggling a mental health issue – at the very same time people are telling them they’re experiencing the most special time of their life.
Shaking up perceptions
Kathy wrote passionately about her hopes for a significant shake-up in how we relate and respond to new parents, pointing out that the storybook version of becoming a mum or dad is often very far from how it actually plays out.
“We need to stop assuming that the postpartum period is always euphoric, because for 1 in 7 it’s not. We need to start asking new parents how they’re doing in a deeper way than the normal, “so how are you doing?” that triggers the knee jerk, “everything’s great!” response. We need to learn the signs, symptoms, risk factors, and support plans for postpartum conditions.”
Kathy gently urged other mums to share their own experiences of postnatal depression, anxiety or other challenging mental health conditions, in the hope that sharing the tricky bits – as well as the triumphs – might make other parents feel less alone.
“We need to break the stigma and #EndTheSilence by sharing our stories and letting others know they’re not alone. If you have had a postpartum mood disorder please share your story below, or simply post ❤ to show you can relate. Let’s show others that they don’t have to suffer in silence.”
She urged other parents to be brave and reach out for help if they were not feeling like themselves during pregnancy or postpartum.
“In case no one has told you, you’re doing an amazing job. You are loved and you are worthy. You’re not alone. Information to local and national support will be in the comment section. I know how unbelievably hard it is to reach out, but I promise you it is worth it. YOU’RE worth it.”
Click here to read Kathy’s full post – and the comments from other parents who have struggled with mental illness.
If you’re struggling with your feelings about being pregnant or looking after your baby, you are not alone. PANDA are waiting for your call and they can help you find a way out of a super challenging time.