Dana’s Story: ‘The truth is we are not meant to be doing this alone.’

Posted by Ariane Beeston on 22nd March 2022

Dana Stephensen, Senior Artist at The Australian Ballet shares her story as part of COPE’s The Truth campaign.

Very early on after the birth of my twin girls, I was diagnosed with severe postnatal depression and anxiety. Naturally, this altered the lens through which I was seeing the world and my capabilities, not to mention the guilt and shame that comes with feeling these truly awful feelings when it “should” be the happiest time of your life. I felt deeply ashamed at not being able to conquer or get on top of these often conflicting feelings – I felt so low but also so wired, I was so tired but unable to sleep with all the racing thoughts in my head. Not to mention trying to look after two little babies around the clock – it was all overwhelming.

I can think of quite a few times when I’ve felt under pressure in my life – Opening nights, World premieres, going on last minute or for a different spot you learned during interval and all on the opposite leg. Giving birth the first time, a twin pregnancy, giving birth to twins, most of the past year really. How was it then, that I was so incapable of “coping well” in this phase of my life?

The reality is for much of my twins’ first year, I was not able to cope with managing the girls and my 6 year old son alone. People close to me will say I coped extremely well under unprecedented circumstances, but my internal experience felt like one of failure. The unique challenges of twins were so overwhelming, the sleep deprivation so intense, the physical and emotional toll of tandem breastfeeding was beyond exhausting. I was incredibly critical of myself and felt very much departed from the person I thought I was. At times, it felt like my mind had been replaced with that of someone else. If it wasn’t for the incredible support of my partner Lachy and my mum who flew in to multiple lockdowns to help out, I would have found it so much harder to speak up and reach out for the help I needed.

I was desperate for the magic solution that would be me “coping.” The truth of the matter is, no one is meant to manage alone. It is now no surprise to me that mothers of multiple births are unfortunately at a higher risk of postnatal depression and anxiety. I was so fortunate to meet a highly experienced and kind Maternal Child Health Nurse, who became the backbone of my recovery plan. Even though I was aware how terrible I felt and at a loss at how to find my way, it was difficult to express that so openly to anyone.

She saw the warning signs in me and held my hand and led me in the right direction to the support structures and people I so desperately needed. I benefited so greatly from all the aspects of my recovery plan including weekly telehealth sessions with a psychologist who listened and gave me tools that were accessible in my greatest moments of struggle. I still use them today when I feel the early warning signs cropping up.

I look back and do remember happier moments amongst the struggles. I’m grateful for the photos Lachy took of me with the girls to remind me that I was there every moment with them, doing my best and loving them and caring for them through it all and on half an hour’s sleep. I am so proud of what I was able to do for them when I felt entirely unable to look after myself. Hindsight has gifted me this perspective.

And while I don’t wish this experience on anyone, I do know that the enjoyment I have with my girls now is double fold because the joy and appreciation is felt so deeply. Sometimes I sit watching them and smile, because I know how hard I fought for these moments. And they loved me through all of it, the good days and the bad.

The truth is we are not meant to be doing this alone. I want other mums who are struggling to know that time and the right support are everything in helping you be the mother you know you can be. Your experience of postnatal depression and anxiety will not define your experience of mothering moving forward, if you’re in the thick of it, please know it won’t be like this forever. It will however connect you to so many women who have walked the same road and it will bring great empathy and compassion to other people’s lives too. We are all in this together.

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