Start Talking: Olivia Mullan’s story

I am a single mother to a beautiful and energetic toddler. I always wanted children and, at 36, I realised I’d better get cracking as I didn’t have a partner. I met with a reproductive clinic and went through IVF with donor sperm, and luckily for me, all the stars aligned and I fell pregnant on the first try with my beautiful son, William. I had a mostly stress-free pregnancy with only minor complications towards the end with low platelet count. William was born by caesarean at 38 weeks, with me having had a great birth experience.

I was conscious of SIDS as any new mother is, but when William was about 6 weeks old, it became more than normal worry. I would imagine finding William blue and not breathing in the cot. As the weeks past, these thoughts were a continual role play in my mind which I just couldn’t shake. I would imagine finding him not breathing, and ask myself, who would I ring first? I imagined screaming and collapsing to the floor. I was feeling very anxious.

I was visiting family in Sydney, staying at my parent’s house when William was about 9 weeks old, when my anxiety about Williams’s death became all consuming. To me, William’s dying was a definite, not a ‘what if, but a when’. I remember visiting a girlfriend and asking her questions about babies in cots and overheating. I was paranoid that he was too hot and I also raised concerns to my friend that I just didn’t feel normal. I drove to the nearest child family health care nurse which was due to close for the day and was advised to go to another centre. So I drove to a clinic closer to my parent’s house and all the while I was convinced he was going to die in the car.  I just remember sitting in the waiting room uncontrollably crying.  A clinic nurse heard me and came out and told me she would see me straight after she had finished her consult.
I knew at that point that something was very amiss and rang my beautiful sister Zarnie who had been keeping a close eye on me as she was a friend of Gidget’s and heavily involved in Gidget Foundation. She came straight down to meet me.

From there my anxiety rapidly escalated, with me imagining William dying during normal daily activities: falling down stairs with me dropping him, accidentally drowning in the bath, none of my thoughts were of me intentionally harming him, just what could happen.

Zarnie contacted Dr Vjay Roach who saw me in his rooms and diagnosed a severe case of perinatal anxiety. He contacted the St John of God Hospital in Burwood (SJOG) for admission into the Mother and Baby Unit hoping to send me directly that day, but unfortunately no beds were available.

That’s when I had my first contact with Gidget House. The wonderful Christine Barnes, a psychologist from Gidget House, came to my parent’s house to see me. She gave me some very helpful advice and strategies to apply while waiting for at bed at SJOG.

The next few days were an extremely challenging time. I could not stop crying, was in a heightened state of panic, could not eat or sleep, was shaking from the anxiety and was not in normal state of mind.

My beautiful family were amazing. I couldn’t sleep due to worry that William would die. The last two nights at home prior to admission my sisters stayed up during the night to watch William breathing so I could get some sleep. I would wake up surprised he was still alive because I would go to sleep thinking he would die. I wasn’t eating (which was very unusual for me!) and the insomnia was unbearable. I was not in a good place.

I spent 3 weeks in St John of God and the first week was extremely tough. I wasn’t allowed to be alone with William which had me questioning would I hurt him unintentionally? Even though I knew I would not, I was distressed to think that others thought I might. My beautiful mum stayed with me for the first week and after the medication and therapy stated to work I started to improve dramatically.

On discharge from St John of God I had weekly appointments at Gidget House with Christine and as I continued to improve those were stretched. When after 10 months I moved back to Wagga it was with Christine’s help and the knowledge that I could always have appointments via skype that gave me confidence to take that next step in my life.

My only advice for others that find themselves struggling so terribly – is to know that the you can get help. PNA / PND can be managed so well and there are amazing people and organisations (like the Gidget Foundation) that are there to help – you don’t have to go through this alone. I also took comfort in the fact that this condition is a chemical imbalance related to pregnancy/ birth and that I wasn’t going crazy and I would get better.

I have formed some amazing friendships and found a circle of support directly related to my PNA experience that has given me confidence and a new found resilience since having William. As mothers (and fathers), we have the power to change and impact someone else’s experience of motherhood and parenthood just by talking. That can be life-changing.

Olivia is a registered nurse and unit manager at Wagga Base Hospital.  Thank you for sharing your story Olivia. 

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34 McLaren Street
North Sydney NSW 2060
Tel: 02 9460 1550 or 1300 851 758
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