This month I’d like to introduce you to my friend, colleague and partner in crime – Nami Clarke. Nami is the creator of Little Tsunami – a fantastic blog dedicated to exposing the highs and low of motherhood. Here is a little piece from each of us about how this partnership came about.
I met Nami at her studio in 2006 when I had a photo shoot with my first baby. From the outset Nami struck me as an incredibly warm and engaging person, with ever-ending energy and amazing creativity and a keen mind for business. At that stage Nami didn’t have children but I loved her photographic work and her ability to capture moments of those early months with a new baby. I distinctly remember as I viewed the photos from the shoot that we spoke about our united passion for capturing the essence of motherhood.
Our connection became stronger the following year, after Nami’s personal experience with postnatal depression and anxiety. Nami knew that I had devoted my career to this issue. When she first told me of her experience I could see the impact that this had had on her, and she knew that I understood. I suppose this was really the beginning of a journey for both of us – not that we realised it at the time.
After leading the perinatal area at Beyond Blue for over 12 years, I truly believed that this area needed a dedicated focus. I understood that postnatal depression and anxiety was part of the story – a small part but one that was critical for some mums and dads – so I developed COPE. COPE is the one stop shop for quality information about managing the emotional challenges that are faced on the journey into parenthood. There are so many things that contribute to us developing high expectations of what it means to become a mother or a father – and so many things about our culture and society that stop us talking about what it’s really like. Having two children of my own has also highlighted for me how isolating motherhood could be.
Nami’s openness and her honesty underpins her blog – Little Tsunami – and these qualities also capture the essence of what COPE is about. Her positive energy and vitality and our combined creativity has enabled the development of two soft, sensitive yet strong brands that is about supporting and empowering women and men at this highly vulnerable stage of life. Most of all I admire Nami’s combination of warmth, strength and courage – to engage others, speak out and let people know that they are not alone.
We are united by a cause and the essence of COPE’s message – though we come to that cause from different places. For Nami it is her personal story. For me it has come from years of research with people about their experiences coupled with my clinical background and work in the field for many years. We are both passionate, and full of ideas; whenever we come together we are both excited and ignited by these. Often I have a concept based on my understanding of where people may be at and how we can move things forward – but then Nami will often take this idea a step further and draws on her creative skills to bring this to life.
We are both committed to making other’s journeys easier, and along the way living our own dreams. That often means that you have to work extra hard but all that hard work pays off, because each day is truly fulfilling.
Currently most women don’t seek help until they get to the point that they cannot cope because they fear how they will be viewed or judged by friends, family or heath professionals. COPE will be the driver of change in a culture where high hopes and expectations surrounding parenthood are currently preventing people from being open and honest about the challenges and realities of parenthood. I want a create a culture in which we support one another on the good days but also the boring, the mundane and the bad days – the ones that no-one is talking about – or posting on Facebook.
I was in my late 20s and very much in baby-planning mode when I first met Nicole. Because I was soon-to-be mum we got chatting about all things pregnancy, birth and the emotional and mental health concerns that came with it. I had a huge interest in anything about life with newborn but of course I was certain that nothing like post natal depression would happen to me. Nicole reeled off stat after stat about and perinatal and postnatal health, the effects of postnatal depression on its sufferers, their family and the community. She struck me as super smart and as a woman on a mission. Mental health for women and mothers was clearly her passion.
I remember sitting down one night with my mum, sister and my big fat pregnant belly to watch Nicole speaking about postnatal depression on SBS’s Insight. By that time there had been flickers of depression but I just thought I was a bit hormonal; I was really just interested in the subject matter because PND sat within the realm of the mother experience – a shiny new adventure that lay ahead of me.
I was diagnosed with postnatal depression when my son (now six) was six months old. I thought I was just having a hard time adjusting to being a new mum. I’d worked hard at building my career and now I had to suddenly form a new identity outside of work, as well as deal with the demands of a newborn baby. I started to resent my husband who was able to return to his ‘normal’ life back at work each day. I didn’t deliberately resist getting help for the depression help but I suppose I felt I already had enough on my plate and didn’t have the strength to tackle the elephant in the room. I held on until I reached the point that I was both mentally and physically run down and really started to lose my grip on what could have been ‘easier’ days. Any chance of enjoying motherhood was slipping through my hands – I felt very disconnected from any joy in my life, and I felt disconnected from my child. There was one point that I actually told my husband that I would understand if he felt life without me would be easier. It was without a doubt one of the hardest experiences I’d endured.
Once my symptoms were being managed with medication and counselling, I rang Nicole. I explained what I’d gone through and how it knocked me for six. I wanted to help other women who were going through a similar experience. Beginning to share my story was the first step I took in doing this. I think this also helped me in my recovery, it gave me a bit of direction again.
Nicole is a woman on fire! I’ve never met someone with such a tenacity and drive and passion. She makes me look lazy even on my busiest days and I look up to her as a role model. To me she is someone who has been able to combine career and motherhood and thrive balancing both roles. Nicole practices what she preaches when she says life is too short. She is on a mission – don’t get in her way!
COPE is an incredible organisation and I am so glad it now exists for women, their partners and children. It is gathering so much momentum – you can feel it. It’s one of those things that are bigger than you; bigger than just your individual experience. It really is a community collective and there is an incredible energy that comes with something like that.
Last year I launched Little Tsunami, an online project where I interview mothers across the globe about their experience of motherhood. I started it just as a creative outlet, but the response has been amazing and I realised very quickly that as mothers we need a space where we can talk openly and honestly about our experiences – the good the bad and the ugly – without guilt or fear of judgement. Little Tsunami and COPE compliment each other so well – just as Nicole and I do! Each interview about motherhood that I feature on Little Tsunami references COPE’s data and statistical information – their website is an amazing resource for new parents. I am just so keen to get this message out there. I want other women know that if depression is part of their pregnancy experience or new role as a mother, they can put their hand up for help and be supported. The more we have the conversation, the more that we can shake the stigma, fear and shame that comes with the illness. Just because you have postnatal depression and you don’t love being a mum, doesn’t mean that you don’t love your children. It took me some time to separate my feelings of PND from the feelings I had for my kids but now I am very much back in a space where I love my role as a mum.
Together we’re on a mission to shake the stigma surrounding mental health and the emotional challenges of parenting. We are so excited that you’ve chosen to come along for the ride with us.
Nicole and Nami
COPE and Little Tsunami