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A new mum who hit “rock bottom” after giving birth has revealed how Queensland’s first dedicated centre for perinatal mental health patients saved her life.
Grace and baby Harriet were the first in-patients admitted to Mater’s Catherine’s House for Mothers, Babies and Families after the South Brisbane facility opened in March.
Grace, who works as a cancer nurse, said she “owed her life” to the multidisciplinary team who supported her during her three-week stay in April.
She was diagnosed with severe postnatal depression and OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) during her stay – but is now recovered and dotes on her now one-year-old daughter.
Grace is bravely speaking out during Perinatal Mental Health Week (12-18 November) to raise awareness of perinatal mental health issues and spread the message that support is available.
“I was in a really deep dark hole before I came to Catherine’s House,” said Grace, of Forest Lake, Brisbane.
“I had had a miserable pregnancy – I didn’t enjoy being pregnant at all.”
During her pregnancy, Grace was diagnosed with Pubic Symphysis Dysfunction, a condition which causes discomfort and pain in the pelvic area.
“I hadn’t slept properly since I was 20 weeks pregnant. I couldn’t walk 10 metres and had to use a wheelchair,” she said.
“I was taking truckloads of painkillers just not to cry, I was barely functional.
“I was 100 per cent depressed and felt helpless. I had socially withdrawn and thought that was my life now.”
Grace said she felt “emotionally disconnected” when she gave birth to Harriet at Mater Mothers’ Hospital in South Brisbane on 5 October last year.
“My labour was so fast, just three hours. I felt disconnected to Harriet just from the shock of such a rapid labour that I couldn’t process what was happening and that she was real.
“When Harriet was born, she was put on my chest and I felt no connection to her.”
Her connection with baby Harriet failed to develop in the first months after her birth. It was only after she was admitted to Catherine’s House that Grace realised how obsessive compulsive thinking was causing her harm.
“I loved Harriet a lot and I didn’t want to harm her. She had colic and screamed all day and all night, I hadn’t slept properly in months.
“There was a lot going on in my head.”
Grace was at her “wits end and suicidal” when she reached out to Mater Mothers' Parenting Support Centre at Catherine’s House, which fast-tracked her admission to Catherine’s House.
“I was having trouble finding a psychiatrist and I was running out of steam. My husband Riley, who is a doctor, was on high alert – something had to change,” she said.
Her recovery involved receiving daily support from the team at Catherine’s House, including peer support workers, a psychologist and a child health nurse, as well as medication for OCD.
Grace also attended ‘Together in Mind’ therapy sessions, which further assisted her post-partum mental health struggles, and she joined a mums’ and bubs’ group with other mums experiencing similar mental health issues.
“The peer support workers have lived experience, so they knew exactly what I was going through,” she said.
“It was reassuring to see that model of care. People tell you all the time that things will get better, but to talk to someone who understood and has been through that experience themselves gave me so much hope.
“One of the nurses took Harriet to the nursery for the first couple of nights, and for the first time in six months I had a full night’s sleep – my brain really needed that.”
Catherine’s House was established in Mater’s former convent thanks to $17.6 million in public donations raised by Mater Foundation.
Eight in-patient beds at the centre are available for public patients suffering acute perinatal mental health issues thanks to a funding agreement with Queensland Government.
Since opening in March, 45 new mums have received specialist support in the In-patient Unit.
Mater Young Adult Health Centre Senior Manager Greg McGahan said it was heart-warming to see the impact Catherine’s House had had on new mums and their families since opening.
“One in five new mothers and one in 10 fathers experiences mental health problems in the weeks after their baby’s birth, and many struggle to find help, so we want parents to know we are here to help,” Mr McGahan said.
Seven months on from her stay at Catherine’s House, Grace is urging other mums not to deal with their mental health issues alone.
“There are so many people willing and waiting to help you,” she said.
“I felt like a was in a bottom of a deep pit but my experience at Catherine’s House has changed me forever.”
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