Canterbury midwife’s months-long fight for help with postnatal depression

A mother of two has been fighting for four months to get help after suffering severe post-natal depression and was worried for her and her newborn baby’s safety.

Only on Thursday did she finally get admitted to in-patient services at Christchurch’s Princess Margaret Hospital after a crisis situation.

Jane*, who is a 30-year-old midwife from Canterbury, suffered postnatal depression following the birth of her first child two years ago but told the Herald it had been worse since the birth of her new son in February.

“It has been pretty awful. It’s exacerbated by the fact that my child doesn’t like to be put down and I also have a 2-year-old to deal with.

“I’ve said if somebody were to take him I would feel relief, I wouldn’t feel particularly upset. Which is horrible.”

She said her search for extra help began “basically immediately” after the birth of her son.

“I spoke to my GP when he was 6 weeks old, we put my antidepressants up then. Every time I saw the doctor I mentioned it’s getting worse.”

Jane had been trying desperately to get into the Mothers and Babies programme at Princess Margaret Hospital but was told there is a four-month waiting list.

After a “crisis” on Thursday, she did not feel her baby was safe, and she was finally admitted for in-patient care through Mothers and Babies.

The programme is the only maternal psychiatric inpatient service in the South Island that admits mothers and their babies together.

“Even after the last few days, they tried to keep putting me off and sending me home.

“I called the mental health crisis line and they basically told me to breathe and sent a note to my GP.”

Luckily for Jane, she had Perinatal Wellbeing Canterbury visit her and they called the mental health crisis line back to get her assessed properly and she was admitted.

The Canterbury District Health Board has confirmed there is currently a four-month wait for outpatient services at Mothers and Babies.

“The Mother and Baby Service receives more referrals than it is able to provide assessment, treatment and care for, and therefore priority is given to those in greatest need such as the most severely unwell mums and babies,” Acting general manager of specialist mental health services Vicki Dent said.

Dent said there is a small number of clinicians in the team and they have seen an increase in demand and complexity of cases since Covid-19.

There is no waiting list for the in-patient service where there are five to six beds available for the entire South Island, she said.

Jane said the problem with this is to be admitted to in-patient care, you must first be assessed by Mothers and Babies.

“So there is still a four-month wait for an appointment for them to decide you need in-patient care,” she said.

There are limited options for treatment in the community for pregnant women or those who have had their baby and are experiencing mental health problems, Dent said.

Jane told the Herald for the last four months she has had a lot of support at the ground level but not the specialist care she needed.

“I’ve been so overwhelmed at times that I feel like it’s all too much and I just want him gone. I want to be gone.

“If I know my daughters at preschool and someone’s coming around I’ve thought well now’s the time to do it because the baby won’t be by himself for too long.”

She has been heavily involved with Perinatal Wellbeing Canterbury which has been a big source of support for her.

“They run playgroups, support groups and come to GP visits to push for more support. The co-ordinator has been ringing Mothers and Babies on my behalf.”

She knows she is not alone in her struggles, Jane said.

“It makes me very angry that we have to push this hard to get help. I kept being told to go back to my GP. People tell me to be the squeaky wheel but I don’t have the energy for that anymore.

“You get to the point of thinking well if nobody’s going to help then why keep pushing?”

Along with help from organisations and charity’s, she has also been supported by her husband.

“My husband is amazing, he’s been dealing with my mental health for a long time but I think it is starting to affect him.

“He isn’t getting any sleep, he’s been getting zero attention from me. He said to me the other day we just kind of live together, we don’t ever have conversations about anything.”

She has suffered from depression on and off since she was 19 years old and has been taking anti-depressant medication for the last four years.

Jane has unique insight into the world of postnatal care in New Zealand as she has been an LMC (lead maternity carer) midwife in Canterbury for five years.

She is involved with expectant mothers from pregnancy until six weeks after birth and has had a role in the delivery of about 90 babies.

“I really enjoy it. I do seem to attract some high-risk mums with high-risk NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) babies just because I had a NICU baby, so it’s quite nice for them to have somebody who has been through NICU themselves.

“I’ve definitely seen from a professional standpoint that there is very little support out there. Which is pretty horrible, for everybody, including us because it comes down to the midwife to provide support when they’re struggling which we don’t get paid for.”

Where to get help

Contact your midwife or GP if you have one

Call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor

Call PlunketLine 24/7 on 0800 933 922

Depression helpline: Freephone 0800 111 757

Healthline: 0800 611 116 (available 24 hours, 7 days a week and free to callers throughout New Zealand, including from a mobile phone)

Lifeline 0800 543 35

Samaritans – 0800 726 666

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