“I loved you before I had even met you. That love was always undeniably true, but it evolved and changed unique to our beautiful relationship. My darling daughter, my life is better because I had you.” - Chezzi Denyer
Chezzi and Grant Denyer with daughters Sailor and Scout
I am quite an open book in real life. I’ve spoken to lots of friends and women I’ve met over the years about my struggles with motherhood, but one thing I’ve not really touched on publicly until now, was my intense periods of heightened anxiety following my eldest daughter Sailor’s birth.
And it’s not because I’ve got anything to hide or that I feel ashamed at all. Quite the contrary. I’ve spent a great amount of time and energy over the years dealing with my own inadequacies and challenges to get me to this confident and calmer point. But have I forgotten just how difficult and tough some of those times were for me, for my baby and I? No, not for one second.
What is your journey of dealing with Postnatal Depression and Anxiety?
I am not your textbook case of Postnatal Depression, well not the stereotypical one that uneducated people picture with that title, I guess. I saw plenty of Doctors and Professionals during my struggle. Not one of them could really “diagnose” me or put me into a pigeonhole. I think I completed about fifty of the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale quizzes. But nothing was really “stand out” to them. I was often asked if I was being “totally honest” while filling the out. I believed I was. I wanted answers too, however I just didn’t feel the test results really represented what I was experiencing.. But, then again what would I know? I was a brand-new mum with next to no experience. I was putting all my faith in the system. Surely that was the right decision? Surely, they could tell if something wasn’t right? If I wasn’t normal?
I was NOT OK. I was telling myself that I WAS OK. Everyone I was talking to was encouraging me and telling me that what I was experiencing was NORMAL. But nothing felt “normal”. Nothing felt “right” now that I look back on that period. I was struggling to keep my head above water in a world I didn’t know. I was alone and scared for a good part of those first few months, and the only thing that saved me, saved my sanity, was my unwavering positive and upbeat attitude.
Looking back now, I realise I was dealing with a lot. The usual brand-new mum hormones, and the fear and unknown of a brand new baby, PLUS after years of professional help I realise and can admit I had undiagnosed/untreated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at the time of my daughter’s birth that I knew nothing about, I also suffered from disassociation after my daughter’s traumatic birth, plus I was trying to manage a co-dependence with my husband that developed after I nursed him back to health after his broken back. While those words may not mean a lot to you, in knowing what I know now, just writing this paragraph has made me so sad for myself. In realising the struggles faced by people suffering from PTSD and disassociation, my heart absolutely breaks for myself back at that point. I had no idea, nor could I articulate anything about what I was going though. At times I was fine, but at other times I was not. In trying to manage all those emotions and stages, my bond with my daughter suffered and that is the hardest thing I’ve got to digest out of all of this. Those first few months when everything is supposed to be rosy and delightful and loving were hard work, lonely, scary at times and full of anxiety. And that, to this day, breaks my heart.
Sailor's birth, May 2011.
I had been induced and in labour for 3 days, and finally had an emergency cesarean.
Is there any advice you’d pass on to other new parents who may be dealing with postnatal depression and/or anxiety?
Everyone has their own story. Their own demons. Their own struggles. Since my experience with terrible and gripping anxiety following my daughter’s birth, I’ve never EVER judged another mum for how they cope because I’ve had some really hard times that you wouldn’t ever see or read about in a glossy magazine… Because, unfortunately it’s not sexy. Unfortunately, our society likes people in the public eye to seemingly have it all together. To have their outfits all colour co-ordinated with their hair! To have their shoes match their designer prams. This is not reality though, it’s far from it.
I am such an advocate for “keeping it real” because I was once someone who compared myself to try gauge how “I was measuring up” as a mum. I suffered with irrational anxiety when I felt I fell short. That just makes me so sad now because I realise, I’m not the only one who does this. And it’s only getting worse with social media portraying such perfect images, what hope do our children have of recognising the varying levels of normal?
So, to anyone else who wants to pass judgement on my passionate call to help support the work that Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia does, know this:
I very well may not have been here had I not received help with my anxiety when I did. I feel totally indebted to the support from my loving husband and family and professional counsellors and doctors. I knew about Postnatal Depression but had no idea that there was such a thing as Post baby anxiety. I didn’t even recognise that I was suffering from anxiety. And one of the best remedies for me has been laughter. Real laugh out loud, snort kind of giggling. I’m such a strong believer in the healing power of laughter, which I try really hard to inject into everything I do nowadays. In all of Mummy Time TV you’ll see I try to take the lighter view of some fairly crappy situations. Not because I don’t take anything seriously, quite the opposite – because I used to take everything TOO seriously. While I’m not perfect, I try to remember this and always try to see the funny side of things… And that’s why I created the Baby Brain Merchandise range. To take the lighter side of what caused me so much grief. To help unite mums in the craziness of being a mum, while giving back to a charity that I have so much personal respect for.
Read Chezzi’s full story here.
How did your experience differ when you had your second baby Scout?
I wasn’t overly worried when I was pregnant with Scout about having any postnatal issues like the anxiety I had when Sailor was born, because I felt like I had learnt a great deal about myself since then and had been attending regular counselling since my diagnosis when Sailor was about 8 months old. I think I also knew about PANDA and the sensational work they did and I felt like there was a lot more support and even supportive dialogue about the condition since my diagnosis. I also didn’t put as much pressure on myself for her birth to be anything except what it was. That was very liberating as with Sailor’s birth I had tried to plan every minute and when my plan didn’t eventuate, I felt a great sense of failure.
I was much more patient with myself when Scout was born, plus I knew asking for help wasn’t a sign of weakness but actually a sign of strength.
Congratulations with the announcement of your 3rd baby due in 2021! How has your pregnancy been the third time around?
I have had Hyperemesis Gravidarum with all of my pregnancies. With Sailor it kind of eased up about 15-16 weeks, with Scout I was on and off hospitalised until about 18-20 weeks and this time around it has been much more severe. Even now as I approach 23 weeks I still have “off” days but nowhere near as bad as it was around the 12-week mark where I was visiting hospital every second day for fluids just to stay alive. I lost a great deal of weight and was bed ridden for months. Despite all of this, I actually really love being pregnant and this time around I haven’t put pressure on myself to do anything or perform to my optimum level. If I feel unwell then I need to be a bit slower that day or that week, and sometimes throughout the process I’ve had to ask for help with the girls and that doesn’t come naturally to me. But I am very happy and content right now as we desperately tried for this baby for a heartbreaking 12 months and so I am trying to really savour as much as I can! Plus, I’m older and I think that makes it a little more special?
What are 3 nuggets of wisdom that you’d pass on to other new parents or expecting parents?
Good question! Firstly, if something doesn’t feel right speak up. Ask for help. Don’t try to do it all yourself because as the saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child”.. it does take help at times. Don’t be afraid to lean on people or loved ones. If they offer you help, try to take it to ease the pressure a bit.
Secondly, DO NOT EVER COMPARE YOURSELF OR YOUR STORY TO SOMEONE ELSES. I can’t stress this enough. The prevalence of social media makes this so much worse I feel. Everyone’s story is different and no journey is the same. Don’t ever feel like you’re inadequate or failing just because you think someone else has it all together. Being a new parent is a very big change to anyone’s life. There is a big adjustment period and while some people might claim they have it all together, I’ve learned that this is not the case! No one has it altogether. Some days you may get some wins, and you should celebrate this while other days you might feel you’re getting everything wrong. But to compare yourself with someone else is not healthy, and if you’re comparing yourself to someone via social media just remember most people only promote the good in their lives not the normal, embarrassing or awful! Try to keep it in perspective!
My third little nugget of wisdom, would be to try to savour each moment. Try to live in the present. Know that what you’re going through will evolve and change and if you’re struggling know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. One thing I wish I did when Sailor was born, was to really live in every moment because that time just went so quick and while I was worrying about reaching milestones and trying to look like I had it altogether, I missed out on living the experience at times and that is something I do regret but I try not to dwell on.. But for new parents, try really hard to savour each moment. When you hear people say it goes so quick, I am here to tell you it really does!
To read more about PANDA and their resources for new parents, visit their website.