Age at interview: 36
Background: Michelle and her husband have an eight-month-old baby boy and live in a large city. Michelle is on maternity leave from her customer service role. She is from an Anglo-Australian background.
Michelle's son was born via emergency caesarean following a difficult labour. Michelle spent four weeks in a Mother and Baby Unit in a psychiatric hospital after being diagnosed with postnatal depression at the age of 35 and was prescribed antidepressants (sertraline (ZOLOFT)). Michelle found her hospital experience beneficial and things are now improving.
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More about Michelle
Michelle's childhood was very difficult. Her father was abusive and her parents divorced when she was 8. Michelle said she blamed herself for the divorce, then felt 'a little abandoned' when her mother began going out a lot and leaving her with her grandparents. When Michelle was 10, her mother re-partnered with a man who sexually abused Michelle. She said she remembered feeling 'down' and 'worthless' at high school but it was not until her mid-20s that she began seeking help and at 25 was diagnosed with depression. In her late 20s she found a 'really lovely' psychologist who she found very helpful.
Around this time Michelle met her husband. Within a couple of years they married and began trying for a baby. After two years without conceiving, they tried IVF. Michelle described IVF as an 'absolutely gruelling physical, emotional, financial drain' and said they were 'very lucky' to conceive on the first cycle.
Michelle said her pregnancy was 'fairly non-eventful'. At 38 weeks her waters broke and she went into spontaneous labour. After the anaesthetist tried but was unable to administer an epidural, the obstetrician ordered an emergency caesarean. Michelle said the experience was 'a bit dramatic' and not what she expected.
During her six-day hospital stay, Michelle had problems breastfeeding her baby. She said several nurses were 'fairly aggressive' and she felt under 'immense pressure' to breastfeed. Michelle developed nipple trauma and a urinary tract infection in addition to recovering from her caesarean.
Michelle's first week at home was 'just terrible'. Breastfeeding was painful and she started expressing breastmilk. This was time-consuming and her baby's difficulty settling meant that before long 'the sleep deprivation set in'. A week later she was re-hospitalised for post-operative complications. Michelle said 'it was a lot of upheaval to begin with' and she became tearful, impatient, and increasingly scared she would take her frustration out on her son.
One particularly bad night, Michelle said she 'just lost it'. Her husband took the baby and let Michelle sleep, and the next morning took her to the GP who referred her to a psychiatric hospital. While Michelle waited to be admitted, they investigated their son's sleeping and feeding problems. They discovered he had reflux and an allergy to cow's milk protein.
Michelle said her four-week stay in a Mother and Baby Unit was 'really hard' but the 'best thing' she did. She learned how to settle her baby, connected with other women facing similar problems, and realised she wasn't a bad mother. She said her experience in hospital as well as her son's digestive problems being diagnosed led to 'gradual improvements' and helped her to bond with her son.
Michelle's advice to other new parents who may be struggling is 'not to be too hard on yourself', and to understand that parenting is a 'learning process' which doesn't always come 'straight away'. She also advised new parents to ask for help and support, because having only two people looking after a baby is 'very difficult'.