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Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System

Personal story:

Cat Garcia

Cat is 34 years old and the mother of three children. The birth of Cat’s first child was a traumatic experience.

It was a very intense and scary time. I had a massive haemorrhage and ended up needing two units of blood.

Cat had lost her own mother a few years before and said she did not realise how much her loss would affect her once she became a mother herself.

Cat said she was lucky that she had a good maternal and child health nurse who mentioned that having had a difficult birth, recently losing a loved one and having gone through cancer treatment, Cat had a higher probability of developing postnatal depression. The maternal and child health nurse left Cat with a booklet of information about postnatal depression.

Cat said that in those first few weeks after the birth she was looking out for the signs of postnatal depression.

I didn’t really feel depressed. I didn’t feel down after the first few days. I just noticed that I didn’t really want to go out in public or go to mother’s group. I didn’t want to get out of the house, and I was getting irritable and anxious.

It wasn’t until Cat’s daughter was a couple of months old that she decided to call PANDA’s helpline.

They were the ones that just brought the awareness to me that perinatal anxiety actually existed. They let me know that postnatal anxiety is more common than postnatal depression, but nobody really knows of it or talks about it.

Cat followed up with her GP, who gave her a mental health care plan and recommended that she speak to a psychologist. Cat was referred to a specialist perinatal psychologist located at the maternal and child health centre, which Cat said was a convenient and comfortable environment. Cat said that, at the time, this support was enough for her.

I got to talk about everything I was feeling, started to feel a lot better and more confident in myself. I used all my 10 sessions. Knowing I could talk it through with somebody definitely helped me recover.

A couple of years later, Cat had her second child and said she was more aware of what to look for. She suffered postnatal anxiety but said she was well supported by her GP and psychologist. Cat was surprised that following the birth of her third child she did not experience the same challenges.

It was strange to me because I was expecting it to happen again. Maybe I was a bit more relaxed after having two kids, but he was a different baby as well—slept a lot more and would settle a lot easier.

Cat says her anxiety remains in the background but is manageable now. She believes that every new mother should be given more detailed information about how she might feel after the birth of a child, rather than just a phone number to call. Cat said that parents may not recognise the feelings of anxiety and depression, and antenatal classes could provide a good opportunity to provide this information.

Cat is now a PANDA Community Champion and actively promotes awareness of postnatal mental health.

Source: RCVMHS, Interview with Cat Garcia, November 2020.