Content warning: Describes depression and pregnancy loss.
When Sydney mother Alexandra Parker read about Jenny Morrison’s struggles with post-natal depression earlier this year, she felt heartbroken for the prime minister’s wife.
Ms Parker knows firsthand what it’s like to battle with mental health issues during such a crucial time with a new baby.
“Anyone who’s been through perinatal depression, anxiety, my heart goes out to them,” Ms Parker told SBS News.
Mrs Morrison earlier this year visited not-for-profit organisation the Gidget Foundation, which supports expectant and new parents, and spoke about her life after giving birth to her two girls.
“Becoming a parent is life-changing. And often as new mums or dads, we don’t know where to turn to for support, or even that we need it,” she said, according to a News Corp report.
“Thankfully I had a wonderful doctor, a great group of friends and family to help me. Knowing that you’re not alone can be the first step in managing perinatal anxiety and depression.”
But it was a different outcome for Ms Parker, who didn’t have any support from family while in the grips of post-natal depression after giving birth to her second child during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Her application to bring her parents here from the UK was knocked back after she gave birth, despite her providing supporting letters from doctors and counsellors outlining her situation.
When it comes to Australia’s current travel exemptions, parents are not considered ‘immediate family’.
Ms Parker has now been rejected three times.
“It just makes me sick to my stomach how it’s seen as one rule for one, and the rest of us aren’t coping, and the government don’t care,” Ms Parker said.
The mother of two says her post-birth experience – of debilitating depression and anxiety – would have been far different had her mother been able to support her in person.
“She would have been able to help me, she would have been able to look after my daughter, give me that time to rest and recuperate after the birth. But sadly, that didn’t happen and I feel that’s what sent me on the downward spiral.”
‘I needed my mum’
As someone with a history of anxiety, NSW Central Coast resident Madeleine Hull knew she needed help early on in her pregnancy journey.
The 33-year-old applied early for her parents to come over from the UK to help her with her first baby, but was sent a rejection reply within 45 minutes of applying.
Ms Hull suffered a traumatic birth and said she felt unsupported after being discharged from hospital within a few hours.
“It completely broke me. I needed my mum to hold my hand, I needed my mum to give me a hug. I needed my mum to show me how to change a diaper and tell me it’s going to be okay, and I didn’t have that,” she said.
Ms Hull doesn’t want another woman to suffer what she did after birth, struggling with mental health issues and feeling isolated without support post-birth. So she has written an open letter to Mrs Morrison – which has been signed by other migrant mothers – pleading for the prime minister’s wife to listen to their stories.
“I wonder how you and Mr Morrison would feel if you were told that neither of you could be there for your daughter whilst she was pregnant, when your grandchild was born?” Ms Hull writes in the letter.
“As a mother who has openly spoken about their postnatal depression, I hope this letter moves you to help us with our plight to reconnect with our families.”
Ms Parker has also signed the letter to Mrs Morrison.
“We just really wanted to reach out to her because we know she suffered … you have to speak to people who have gone through the same thing because they’re the people that understand the most,” she said.
The Prime Minister’s Office and the Department of Home Affairs have not responded to a request for comment from SBS News.
Women ‘falling apart’
Not-for-profit organisation PANDA, which supports women and their families who are suffering from perinatal anxiety or depression, says the pandemic has led to a doubling in the calls it has received in the past 18 months.
The organisation says it is currently receiving 3,261 calls for help on average per month via SMS, messages and phone calls.
PANDA chief executive Julie Borninkhof says for many people, not being able to have family around them at this time has increased their mental vulnerability and distress.
“We know that there are people that are calling our helpline who have had a history of perinatal anxiety or depression and now having their second or third babies and are really falling apart as a result of not being able to have parents there,” she said.
“We’ve had some really distressed people ringing us who haven’t been able to bring back family from India or who are here, isolated, and their husbands are out of the country and not able to get back in.”
‘My world is shattered into pieces’
When Sydney event planner Nicole Mednick found out she was pregnant, she and her partner were elated.
But at 20 weeks, they were given the news their baby had several heart complications. Ms Mednick gave birth to a stillborn baby just two weeks later.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through in my life. I feel lost, I feel vulnerable, I’m so heartbroken. I feel like my world is shattered into pieces,” she said.
Worse still, she was forced to go through the days after the stillbirth without the support of the one person she says she needed most.
But like the other women, her mother’s application to travel to Australia from the UK was also rejected.
“The pain is never going to go away,” Ms Mednick said.
“But having my mum here would provide me the biggest support and comfort I need and help me get by in my day-to-day life.”
The PANDA National Helpline is available 9am-7.30pm Monday to Friday on 1300 726 306. More information is available at panda.org.au.
Readers seeking support with mental health can contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636. More information is available at Beyondblue.org.au.
Embrace Multicultural Mental Health supports people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.