Josie's Story - Smiling after postnatal depression

Josie's Story - Smiling after postnatal depression
Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA) reports that one in seven new mother’s will be affected by Post Natal Depression/Anxiety (PND) in some way. These figures clearly demonstrate that more women have or will be impacted compared to the number that won’t however feelings of shame, isolation and fear of judgement are scarily common in these vulnerable women.

A Mum hoping to change the stigma associated with PND is the gorgeous Josie Smyth. She is what can only be described as a beacon of light for mothers who are deep in the trenches of this awful illness. Josie is the founder of Smiling After PND, a platform where she shares her experience of living through and recovering from PND not once but twice. She hopes by sharing her story it will empower other women to do the same and see that they too can beat this and there is a whole community behind them.

Who was Josie before she had kids?

I think Josie pre kids was similar to who I am now. The two main differences I have noticed is that I was more self-centred because I only had to look after myself. A positive side effect of having children has taught me about the other – their thoughts and feelings and it has brought out a more caring and nurturing side to me that I didn’t know I had. I was also silly and would make a joke out of everything which I realise now that I was overcompensating for the underlying anxiety I was feeling. I still love a joke and love to laugh but now it is not so over the top.

How old are your babies and what is something you adore about each of them?

Leo is 5 and I adore his sensitive side – he always thinks of others’ feelings. Lily is 2 and I adore her assertiveness – she had it from birth when she refused a dummy and a bottle and I know it will hold her in good stead for the future.

What is one thing about being a Mum that drives you bonkers?

The mess. I can’t tell you how many hours of my life I have spent picking up toys – lego pieces are the worst!

You experienced postnatal depression (PND) with both of your children.

The first time it got to the point where you experienced suicide ideation. I know it's different for everyone but can you try and explain to our readers what your first PND experience felt like?

The first experience with postnatal depression was scary because I didn’t know what was happening to me. It felt lonely and isolating and I thought I was the only one – everyone around me who was a mother seemed like they had it all together whilst I was crumbling. I had persistent worry, a racing heart, loss of appetite, I couldn’t sleep when I had the chance and it felt like I had a dark cloud hanging over my head. At its worst, I experienced suicidal ideation. I just wanted the pain to end and I wanted a permanent escape.

I have to admit, when I read your blog about your experience with Leo, I felt such empathy for you that my chest physically hurt.

To the mums who have not experienced PND, what do you want them to know?

I would want mums who have not experienced PND to know:

That postnatal depression is a common illness and can happen to anyone.
There are treatments available and recovery is possible.
Having someone you feel safe and trust is invaluable.
A listening ear can also be really helpful.

Download your FREE copy of 10 Self Care Strategies you can implement right now e-book

You wrote in your blog that you were too scared to be honest about the way you were feeling as you were fearful your baby would be taken away.
If the now Josie could go and give the “then” Josie (and our readers) 3 pieces of advice, what would it be?

The three pieces of advice I would give to the ‘then’ Josie would be:

Get help early – the sooner you ask for the help, the quicker the recovery.

It is encouraged that mum and bub stay together to assist with the recovery process.

Be honest in your appointments with the GP – their job is to help you. If you don’t have a GP you trust, keep looking as there are brilliant ones out there.

How did you come to the decision to have another baby? Were you anxious throughout your pregnancy about the possibility of experiencing PND again?

When Leo was about 2, Hugh and I felt like we wanted to grow our family once more. I was quite anxious about having another baby but the desire to have another baby was stronger. Hugh and I had many discussions about our fears and when we were ready, we decided to speak to medical health professionals. We wanted to get advice about maintaining mental wellness and what options we had if I experienced postnatal depression again. We also wanted to build a support network around us as a safety net.

How was your experience with PND the second time round?

Postnatal depression was different the second time round. I wasn’t scared because I knew what I was feeling. I knew it had a name and I knew where to turn to for help. It was frustrating because it happened again even with the supports we had in place but I knew it was temporary and I trusted in the process that I would recover again. The second time didn’t last as long as the first and being free to talk about postnatal depression helped with recovery. It’s the shame and stigma that is a barrier to help seeking.

You speak very highly of your GP and the significant role they played in your diagnosis and recovery.

A lot of women, especially in regional Australia, do not have access to GP’s who would operate in a way that yours seems to; what would be your advice to them?

My advice for women in regional Australia who don’t have the same access to GP’s as women in metropolitan areas is to find someone you feel safe with and trust and let them know you are struggling. It could be a family member, neighbour, another mum in the local community – as long as you have that one constant person it lightens the load of the burden of the illness. If you can grow that community then you are a step ahead. Also, to not underestimate the support from helplines such as PANDA, Gidget Foundation, Beyond Blue and LIFELINE. There are also online support services that can act as a go-between whilst waiting for professional assistance.

What do you think are the 3 biggest myths surrounding PND?

The three biggest myths surrounding PND are:

“Feeling down is just a normal part of parenthood”. If you are feeling flat and it impacts your daily functioning for more than two weeks, it could be an indication that you need some extra support.

“You’re a bad parent if you have postnatal depression.” It is not something you chose or have control over. It happened to you. Most parents with postnatal depression can care for their babies, often putting their own needs last to care for their children.

“You can ‘snap’ out of postnatal depression.” Untreated postnatal depression can often lead to dire consequences. It is not something you can just ‘snap’ out of. Postnatal depression is a treatable illness and with the right treatment and support you can make a full recovery.

What do you think are the 3 biggest myths surrounding PND?

I started Smiling after PND as a blog after recovering from postnatal depression in 2015. My aim was to use my lived experience to raise awareness, reduce shame and stigma and encourage affected people to seek help. After blogging for several years, I felt it was time to recreate the support and connection I received when I was in the depths of my illness. I host a series of health and wellness workshops at various yoga studios around Melbourne, present my story to organisations including hospitals and early education centres, I host fundraising events to raise money for Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia, and, I also have my own tea line, carefully created to evoke conversations around postnatal depression.

All the links...

Smiling After PND Website:

PANDA National: 1300 726 306 or

The Gidget Foundation: 1300 851 758 or

Beyond Blue – 1300 224 636 or

Lifeline Australia 13 11 14 or

In an Emergency 000 in Australia

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