Start Talking: Kara’s Story as told by Flip Byrnes

Kara Nicholls is a surprise package. She looks like she has it all together but she is not your typical East Coast working mum. “Far from it!”, she says.

What I’m looking at is Kara 2.0, the country girl from Guyra, near Armidale, in country NSW whose mother cashed in her super to send her to business school in Sydney; a constant striver who landed and loved her dream job in investment banking, married the man of her dreams, then was torn down by a mental illness, recovered to crave children, endured rounds of IVF and then found something astonishing.

“I really hated being pregnant”, she says. “Nothing about it felt normal. Plus there was this expectation from society to be overwhelmingly happy. Also, everyone was giving me mixed messages like ‘Go to the movies! Get your hair done! Sleep!’ As if I was going to jail for the rest of my life. I wondered if I had committed a murder? I couldn’t get away from it.”

And now she’s talking about it. As a Non-Executive Director of Gidget Foundation Australia, she’s embodying the message too (it’s even on the business cards)
Start Talking. “This is our message and its time that I embodied it. It’s time for me to start talking too”, she says. “All of these things happened and all this evolution, ups and downs have led me here. I feel like I ended up being involved with the Gidget Foundation for a reason. This reason. It’s time to start talking.”

This evolution has taken Kara from a person who was never really a baby person, to a mum of a 3 and 5 year old who “chases them all day for snuggles. I can’t get enough of them. I choose to stay home on nights that other parents might prefer to be out. I’d rather stay home to be with them, they are my everything. I know”, she laughs, “a big change.”

The brave decision to step into the spotlight to talk about her perinatal issues began when her obstetrician, Dr Vijay Roach (Chairman of the Gidget Foundation) at North Shore Private Hospital, was drafting a pitch for a grant on what support is important for expecting parents. Kara asked (despite being time poor as the Company Secretary at an ASX top 50 company), what she could do to help. And here she is, in all her vulnerable, candid bravery, raising awareness for perinatal anxiety and depression.

Complicating Kara’s unexpected feelings about pregnancy was the medication managing her pre-existing mental health. An appointment with a Mothersafe nurse was pivotal in easing her guilt and anxiety. “She discussed the potential risks of the medication and emphasised that there was a lot of information available about safety in continuing with it. She also pointed out that going off medication may mean the two of us might not be around.” Having sound and logical advice allayed some of her fears — but it was a matter of getting the right advice. She also saw a psychologist regularly and set about exercising to help her feel better along with getting adequate sleep. These were big, necessary changes.

This is why the Gidget Foundation exists — to get timely, appropriate and supportive care to expecting and new parents. There are Gidget trained midwives at North Short Private Hospital and the Mater Hospital who raise red flags for mothers who may need more help.

They also make sure that more high risk and specific care cases (such as women on medication) see niche area psychologists and specialists, in addition to their GP, to build support. In Kara’s words, “The best things that happened were talking to a qualified professional about my medication and making the commitment to attend Mothers’ Group. I dreaded it at first, but after a few weeks, I found that you can easily talk with other mothers who might also be at their most vulnerable, and talking was something I wasn’t doing.”

The new Gidget Foundation online video phone consultation program, aptly named Start Talking, is exciting Kara enormously. Not only because it offers hassle-free access, but also reaches those in the country. “It worries me a lot, mums and dads in the country… In the city we are more open-minded. In the country, if someone isn’t feeling well, what do they do? There are stigmas and fewer options. People are expected to dust themselves off and keep their chin up; it’s imperative we reach and help these people too.”

If there is one thing Kara could tell others, it would be, “Don’t internalise and normalise. We say ‘I’ll get through it, other people have bigger problems.’ But things can happen suddenly, life can turn on a coin and you need to have a very, strong foundation and support networks to rely on.”

And to her struggling perinatal self, she would send gentle words of hope. “I know that you cannot feel love, any love. But…you have no idea how your ‘little people’ will make you feel and the endless love you will have for them. Give it time.”

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