Kay Macklin was a happy and secure mother of two, but when her third child arrived everything suddenly changed.
She felt disconnected and lost.
“When I had my two previous children I had felt that total connection straight away and this was so different, and I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what,” Ms Macklin said.
“When my daughter cried I had no reaction and sometimes didn’t want to even pick her up, and I used to think, ‘What’s wrong with me?’. It was scary.”
Ms Macklin, now aged 65 and living in Queensland’s Sunshine Coast region, said her experience of postnatal depression was in 1984 when the condition was rarely discussed or acknowledged.
“I went through a time when I thought, ‘They don’t need me here. I am more of a problem than a help’.”
Song shines light on mental health
Ms Macklin is one of 12 women from across Australia who has shared her story as part of a project to create a song about postnatal depression and anxiety.
“Hearing the song, it’s so amazing that other people will hear the stories,” Ms Macklin said.
The project was led by two sisters living in regional NSW, Oneewa McDowell, based in Port Macquarie, and Shara Hala’api’api, who lives in Armidale.
Mothers themselves, they run a songwriting business and say that while things have improved since Ms Macklin’s experience in the 1980s, more still needs to be done to reduce the stigma attached to postnatal depression and anxiety.
“A lot of women are out there experiencing it … they feel they have to hide it and put on a mask out in public and pretend they are someone else,” Ms McDowell said.
“We spoke to women in NSW, also Tasmania, Victoria and Queensland.
“Our aim was to write a song that would be a reflection of the collective voice of many women who have been through postnatal depression or anxiety.
The song, The Valley Below, was recently released and shared widely on social media.
“The song is very honest and very raw,” Ms McDowell said.
“It starts in a place of darkness, and a place of pain, and as the song progresses this light comes in and it’s the light of finding hope and connection with other women and healing.”
Families have ‘really struggled’
The CEO of Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA), Julie Borninkhof, said it was great to see awareness being raised through song.
“We know that one in five mums and one in 10 dads, prior to COVID, were experiencing perinatal mental health [issues] and that’s a significant number,” she said.
“So the more we can increase awareness that it is quite normal to feel this way during that period, the more people are going to feel able to reach out for support.”
She said the need for mental health support had spiked during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We know communities have really struggled across Australia with financial instability, housing instability, workplace disruption, working from home, homeschooling.
“There have just been so many factors that have impacted even on those who would have claimed to be well before COVID.”
‘It’s OK to not be OK’
Deb Mather from Darley, near Melbourne, has two young children and shared her story during the project.
“It’s a great way to get the word out that it’s OK to not be OK,” she said.
“I had postnatal depression with both my children and, in hindsight, realise I had it during my pregnancies as well.
“I didn’t realise at the time, but that was probably the beginning of perinatal anxiety and depression, the constant worry about losing another one.”
Expectations around breastfeeding also played a role.
“I had my child and wanted to breastfeed and that wasn’t successful. [It] put me on a downward spiral as it’s so promoted that breastfeeding is the way to go and natural,” Ms Mather said.
“I had a great visiting midwife who suggested I seek help from my GP, which I did … so we were onto it [postnatal depression] quite early.”
Ms Mather said understanding was increasing but there was still a long way to go.
“Having a baby is portrayed as being the most magical time of your life, which it can be,” she said.
‘It does get better’
Jessie Massa from Brisbane was also interviewed during the project, after experiencing severe postnatal depression and anxiety after her daughter, now aged two, was born.
Ms Massa said helping to create the song had been very rewarding.
“It was a really good experience, it was quite cathartic … I cried when I listened,” she said.
“It [postnatal depression] is a very hard place; it’s a very lonely place to be in.
“I remember feeling like I would never get out of that place and that nobody really understood what it felt like.
“So that’s what I like about the song — the women have all moved through that place and found the light at the end, and so I hope others will realise it does get better.”