Having children is an incredible blessing, but it can also be exhausting and emotionally draining. As many as 80 per cent of new parents feel some form of emotional distress, with one in five experiencing postnatal depression. We spoke to Adelaide mum and entrepreneur, Tiffany De Sousa Machado, about her personal experience with postnatal depression and the app she has created to connect parents feeling isolated.
Tiffany has two daughters, Faith, 9, and Rumi, 2, along with three step children. She loves to paint, workout, cook and has recently also found a passion for gardening. She has an Honours Degree in Psychology/ Anthropology and is completing a PhD focusing on postnatal depression and social supports.
What was your experience with postnatal depression following the birth of your oldest daughter, Faith?
Shortly after Faith was born, my marriage began to break down and I felt an incredible loss of who I was. My mum had died some years before and I felt isolated not having her and other family to support me. I have memories of feeling so desperately alone and being filled with guilt that I wasn’t profoundly happy. I would deny it to myself every day, until one day I just couldn’t hold it all in anymore and I broke down. I think I cried a lot after that day, just mourning what could have been. Eventually things got easier. I sought professional help and reached out to women with older children including my midwife and a work colleague (who were able to offer the best help). I began sleeping (this is a biggy), I returned to work and I slowly found a new normal.
You are now completing a PhD focusing on postnatal depression. How prevalent is postnatal depression and how does it manifest?
About one in five parents (both women and men) experience postnatal depression but around 80% of new parents experience some form of emotional distress. Postnatal depression has similar symptoms to any depression but usually begins in the first few weeks after the birth of a child. It can start during pregnancy, it can include anxiety, it can be hormonal in nature or psychological and, of course, have varying severity and length. The transition to parenthood can be laden with emotion, guilt, loss and grief as we 'lose' who we were to 'become' something new. Research, including my own, shows that our individual circumstances, such as how we are supported by our community or what our own cultural beliefs are, can also lead to the experience of depression.
What are some key signs of postnatal depression and when should you seek help?
It's important to understand that it’s not a big sudden ‘thing’ you get. It can just be a way of being in the world that doesn’t feel right – where you are not being understood or heard. Signs can include extended or frequent periods of sadness or crying, feeling empty, excessive worry, panic attacks, loss of appetite, not wanting to participate in usual activities, feelings of loneliness and despair, feeling lethargic (from more than lack of sleep) or thoughts of harm to you or baby. The list goes on. If you are unhappy and unable to correct your mood or recognise yourself beyond what you feel then you should reach out to your GP or PANDA or any number of helplines. I have found that mentors and experienced parents can often be just as helpful in conjunction with professional help.
What are some key takeaways from your experience you would share with other parents?
- Postnatal depression is not a personal failing.
- You are not alone in your experience.
- It's ok to want to be perfect and to feel devastated when you’re not.
- You will come through this with SO much to offer others.
- You are strong enough to get through it.
- Your children will know it's ok to be themselves (imperfect) when they see you accept yourself in the same way. It’s a beautiful lesson to teach.
You have since launched a business called The Village Foundation, which offers an app. How does it work?
The app was designed because, as a new mum, feeling isolated and alone, I wished for a way to connect to people in my area. I wanted to be able to meet them face-to-face, not on a forum. I wanted authentic and honest friendship; someone who would hold my baby and tell me about their experiences. I wanted someone to make me feel normal and like I was doing ok. You simply download the app, create a profile and start searching the profiles of people in your area. You can reach out and chat with them from there, and you can invite other parents to join. We also offer workplace programs for businesses of all sizes. It’s about creating your own Village – a network of support – which is a critical element in postpartum wellbeing.
You can find out more about The Village Foundation App here. For support, you can also reach out to Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA) here.