'I hated looking at my baby': Jess's journey from IVF to postnatal depression
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'I hated looking at my baby': Jess's journey from IVF to postnatal depression

When Jess Crowe's tiny son Lachlan was three weeks old, she would tell "absolutely anyone who'd listen" how badly she was struggling.

"I never once pretended motherhood was great," Jess says.

"Not once did I say, 'I'm loving it'. I was honest. I'd say, 'It's so hard' and then I'd start crying.

"People would come and visit and I'd say, 'To be perfectly honest I'm not upset that you're the one holding him - I'm happy that you're here because it means I don't have to hold him'."

Jess Crowe and five-month-old baby Lachlan.

Jess Crowe and five-month-old baby Lachlan.Credit:Jamila Toderas

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It was this constant talking and honesty that helped Jess out of a "very deep and dark hole" early in her experience of post-natal depression.

More than 700 Canberra mothers - or one in every seven births in the ACT - will experience post-natal depression and anxiety this year, and Jess, 28, wants mums across the capital who are struggling to know they're not alone.

Like most Canberra couples, Jess and partner Ryan Fairweather "just assumed we'd be able to control exactly when we had kids". They decided they'd travel extensively and then buy a dream home in Canberra before having kids once they hit their early 30s.

Lachlan was a "wakeful baby" and would often be awake in seven-hour blocks from just one-week-old.

Lachlan was a "wakeful baby" and would often be awake in seven-hour blocks from just one-week-old.Credit:Jamila Toderas

But when it was discovered 18 months ago that Jess's ovarian age was 33 and not 26, everything was fast-tracked. With no savings, the couple lent on their parents for financial assistance to purchase a house in Tuggeranong and to commence IVF. They had Jess's eggs frozen but ended up falling pregnant naturally with Lachlan.

Jess had a mostly uncomplicated pregnancy and birth, she says, but the first few nights in hospital alone with her new baby "absolutely terrified" her.

At home she felt like "a duck out of water" and by the time Lachlan was two weeks old, her mental health was suffering.

Lachlan was a "wakeful baby", she says. He would be awake for up to seven hours in a stretch; sometimes he was happy, but mostly he would cry and his parents had no idea why.

Jess's lowest point was sitting on her bedroom floor in tears. 'My lunch was cold on the bench, I'd been trying to get Lachlan to sleep for three hours. I called Ryan and he came straight home from work.'

Jess's lowest point was sitting on her bedroom floor in tears. 'My lunch was cold on the bench, I'd been trying to get Lachlan to sleep for three hours. I called Ryan and he came straight home from work.'Credit:Jamila Toderas

Jess and Ryan would take turns sleeping in three-hour blocks so the other could stay up and try to console Lachlan.

"I didn't want to look at him, I hated the fact that I was able to breastfeed because I didn't want to, which sounds horrible," Jess says.

"I just wanted somebody else to do it because I just hated being near him. I hated touching him, I hated looking at him - I genuinely thought that I hated him - and I know that I didn't hate him, I was just so scared."

Jess also had to defend how she was feeling to people who assumed her IVF journey meant she longed for a baby.

"Everyone's IVF story is different," she says.

"You can't just assume every couple is doing IVF as a 'last resort' because they want a baby very badly.

"In our case, we were so young and we had to press play quickly on so many major life events that we hadn't planned on doing for another 10 years.

"That stress definitely contributed to my depression after Lachlan was born."

According to Post and Ante Natal Depression Support and Information (PANDSI) president Yvonne Luxford, difficulty falling pregnant is a definite risk factor for postnatal depression.

"Using IVF or other fertility treatments is a definite risk factor," she said.

"And one of the other key risk factors is the sudden change of identity - from career woman to motherhood - you're actually out of control for a while.

"You're not running the show anymore, you have to go by the baby's schedule.

"And for a lot of women, especially in Canberra, who are successful in their careers, it's a struggle."

Postnatal depression doesn't always look like uncontrollable crying and loss of appetite, Yvonne says. It can manifest as a lack of concentration, obsessive behaviour like cleaning, walking or pacing, and blaming yourself all the time for things that seem to be going wrong.

"We do have women who unfortunately feel like that they might harm their baby or themselves which is obviously incredibly sad," she says.

"Thoughts of suicide are not as uncommon as you might think."

Canberra's transient population makes it an especially hard city for new mums according to Antonia Anderson from Peaceful Postnatal.

Following the birth of her first child, Sebu, Antonia was "shocked by how isolated I felt". Her extended family was all living back in her native US, and Antonia hadn't invested any time in building a support network in her new home town of Canberra.

"A lot of people have moved to the ACT for work and so they don't have those strong friendships or family close by," Antonia says.

"They don't put the time in to start to build those relationships when they're pregnant.

"Women are wired for support during the postnatal time and traditionally we've always been supported by our villages - but here in Canberra we've lost our village.

"I really wanted to give women the tools and the skills to start to build their villages before they have their babies."

Through Peaceful Postnatal, Anderson teaches mothers how to ask for help.

"When you ask for help, you need to be specific, you need to be concrete and you need to put a time limit on it," she says.

"Don't just say, 'I'm really exhausted, can you help me?' because someone might go, 'Yeah sure' but then they don't give you the help you need, or maybe they give you a different kind of help.

"So you can say, 'I'm really exhausted, could you come over Tuesday afternoon for two hours and hold the baby so that I can have a hot shower and a nap?' and you put that time constrtaint on it.

"You tell them exactly what you want them do and when you want them to do it. And most people will say yes and it makes them feel good to be helping."

For Jess Crowe, the combination of seeing a psychologist, calling on her family for assistance, using PANDSI's services and having a partner who "drops everything" when she's having an incredibly bad day has made all the difference.

"It's still hard and every day is different," Jess says.

"I work hard on self care and know I have to fill my own cup before I can fill Lachlan's.

"I want other mums who are struggling, or who know what they're feeling isn't right, to know they're not alone, this happens to lots of mums, and there's definitely a way through it all."

PANDSI 02 6288 1936

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