2 September 2021

Sarah was struggling with perinatal anxiety, then she found her 'tribe'

| Hannah Sparks
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Lexi, Pip and Sarah

Sarah Handley with Lexi, 3, and Pip, five months old. Photo: Supplied.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, but who can parents fall back on?

Sarah Handley of Crookwell in the NSW Southern Tablelands, says parents need a tribe and has partnered with Tammy Hewitt, Renée Rooney and Chloe Love to launch a supportive group for parents experiencing depression and anxiety.

The Perinatal Depression and Anxiety (PNDA) Warrior Tribe launched just over a week ago and already has 75 members.

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For parents living regionally, accessing mental health services can take up to 12 weeks and even longer during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The four mothers hope to use their personal experiences to bridge the gap by providing hope and peer support to parents experiencing PNDA during pregnancy and up to a year after birth while they are waiting on professional support.

Sarah is no stranger to the challenges of parenthood. She struggled to breastfeed her eldest, Lexi, who is now aged three, and experienced a challenging birth with her youngest, Pippa, who is now five months old.

After finding the right support and light at the end of the tunnel, the enrolled nurse at Crookwell Hospital believes in sharing her story to raise awareness of PNDA and support others who are still healing.

“With Lexi, my labour was long – 27 hours. Everything went the way it was meant to, she was a healthy 3350 grams, but our breastfeeding journey didn’t go the way I wanted. I believe this was the start of my PNDA,” says Sarah.

“I felt like a failure and she was only three days old. Lexi was a relatively happy baby, but I became obsessive over her sleep and routine. I would become anxious if she didn’t sleep properly and didn’t cope with the sleep deprivation at all. I then started having nightmares that something terrible would happen to Lexi or me, usually around cars.

“I brushed it all off until I got to the point where I was so anxious I sent myself into a panic attack. From there I went looking for help. Lexi was seven months old.

“With Pippa, my birth experience was horrible. I still feel anxious just thinking about it and it’s something I am working through. Although I don’t have any symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety, I did experience prenatal anxiety and commenced back on my medication.

“The fourth trimester with Pippa has been a completely different experience. I know that one day she will sleep through the night and will eventually become independent from me, so I am really trying to soak up this time as I feel robbed of Lexi’s first months.”

Tammy also has experience supporting mothers as a coach and mentor through her business ‘Mumma Life is Now’ and Renée prints artwork on clothing to help uplift and inspire mums, with a portion of each sale donated to PNDA, through her business ‘Mother Deer’.

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Renée is also making T-shirts for group members with the slogan “The tribe that has your back”.

“We want these mums to know that they are not alone. We have been where they are, it will get easier and we have their back,” says Sarah.

The PNDA Warrior Tribe isn’t just for mums either – it’s also available to dads, family members and loved ones of those who are facing or have healed from perinatal depression and anxiety.

“Suffering from PNDA can be a really isolating time not just for mums but also for dads and other loved ones,” says Sarah.

“When a new baby comes along, most of the focus is put on the baby and the mum, or more often the dad and other family members, are left not knowing how to help. One in five new mums experience PNDA, but one in ten dads do too.”

The group started as an online forum during COVID-19 and plans to launch regular Zoom webinars for tribe members dealing with mental health, postpartum care, baby healthcare, sleep and nutrition experts and empowerment and career coaches in the next few weeks.

Longer-term, the tribe hopes to offer face-to-face support through workshops, retreats and in-person mentoring sessions.

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