Zelma Broadfoot is mum to Cadence, 14 months, and the founder of The Postnatal Project, a supportive and informative website and blog Zelma, a social worker, created after her personal experience with postnatal depression.
Can you please tell us what you were doing before you became a mum? I understand you became a mum at 22, is that right?
Yes. Prior to becoming a mum, I was dipping my toe in youth work and child protection type roles. I completed my Bachelor of Social Work in April 2015 and was pregnant whilst doing my practicum. Brad and I were also on our way to finishing our house. We gutted an old house in 2012 and fully renovated pay-cheque to pay-cheque. It was… an experience!
You have been very open about your experience with postnatal depression, please tell us a little bit about what you went through soon after the birth of your daughter.
It was an indescribable, sinking feeling to realise that I had become part of the 1 in 7 statistic (of women who experience postnatal depression).
I noticed the feelings straight away – even to the point where my doctor wasn’t convinced it was full blown PND because it was so soon after the birth. He thought I just needed some chocolate and a nap. I probably did need those things too.
I mostly felt scared. In fact, I hadn’t stopped feeling scared since the labour (which ended in an emergency c-section). I was having PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) responses to things like visiting the hospital for check-ups and the sound of Cadence’s cry.
When Cadence was very little, I used to sit on the couch with Cadence propped up on my thighs – all day. I’d breastfeed, settle her to sleep and return to my spot on the couch and stare at the space where she was. I was just empty. It took a long time to receive the right treatment. But I kept fighting and advocating for myself. I’ve now found a great private psychotherapist who really honours my experience and celebrates my strengths.
It sounds like your motherhood journey has been a challenging one to say the least. What has been the most difficult part about being a mother? And what about the best parts?
It’s a cliché, but going to the toilet whilst a screaming toddler tries to climb the baby gate isn’t exactly ideal! For me, I struggle with not having time for myself. I have lots of support and often get “breaks” – but they are spent catching up on dishes, washing, errands. I can’t seem to help it. I put a lot of pressure on myself to “do it all”. It’s something that I’m working on (but no pressure).
The best parts are when Cadence laughs or learns something new. It’s an amazing feeling to realise that she’s happy and thriving with me as her mum. Even now, as I write this, I’m shaking my head in disbelief. Cadence is so bloody wonderful. I’m so grateful that I’ve reached a point in my recovery where I realise that Cadence is doing so well because of me and not in spite of me.
Tell us a bit how The Postnatal Project came to be.
When I was receiving treatment for PND, I felt like my symptoms were being treated (with medication and cognitive behavioural therapy, and the like), but my heart and my soul were neglected in this process.
Everything was so clinical. I was also seeing lots of professionals who hadn’t had children – and I know that’s not everything – but I was simply being treated for major depression without the added “postnatal” complexity being considered. I was struggling to find my tribe. I felt like my voice was being lost in the sea of back-to-back appointments and referrals.
I was depressed – but high functioning – so I was often dismissed. At first, I thought I’d start an anonymous blog – to express my unspoken thoughts. But one night whilst breastfeeding Cadence, something just clicked. I thought: ‘I’m a social worker, I’m having this awful experience and I love helping others. I can use all of those things to create something magical’. And so I did. I built the website in two weeks. I had never felt so passionate about anything. It was then that I was grateful for what I was going through – and that’s why The Postnatal Project has also been a massive aspect of my recovery.
At The Hood, we are passionate about encouraging more open and honest conversations about the reality of motherhood - the good and the not so good. How important do you think it is that women share their honest experiences of motherhood?
Very important. Imperative, in fact. The realities of motherhood can confront us at first. When we first envisaged motherhood, with our hands cradling our growing bump, we would sigh with blissful anticipation. We had all these plans. And when things don’t go to plan, or we decide that we don’t like the plan, we feel intense guilt – and mother’s guilt is a uniquely paralysing phenomenon. When we open up and show our authentic, honest self, thoughts and experiences, you can bet your life savings on the fact that another parent is currently, or has previously, felt the same way.
I see blogs and forums all the time where people say things like “I thought it was just me!” or “Wow, now I don’t feel like such a terrible mother”. We all struggle when we are sleep deprived. We all get sick of deciding what to eat for dinner. We all wish there were more hours in the day. We all beat ourselves up from time to time. I wholeheartedly believe that by being our authentic selves and normalising the struggles as well as celebrating the beauty of motherhood, we can reduce the number of parents experiencing postnatal depression – or at least the severity. We always talk about the tribe – the absence of it. Well, this is our chance to recreate it.
If you could put any slogan on a t-shirt what would it be? Is there a particular mantra that you try and live by or a go-to motivational line you draw on during challenging times?
“Mama knows best”. Countless times, mother’s instinct has proven to be worth more than any medical or community health degree. Often, I find myself thinking things like: “boob? She wants boob? But she only had a breastfeed half an hour ago. The nurse said to stretch feeds to every 3 hours”.
It can be hard to shut off the internal dialogue which is stemming from well-meaning advice. It can become overwhelming when you’re going against every instinct in your body in order to follow a book or schedule. Whenever you doubt yourself, remember: “mama knows best”. Follow your instincts, but most of all, follow your heart.
Finally, supporting our fellow mums and "sisters" is a big reason why The Hood exists. Do you have any words of advice for women who might be experiencing PND and/or for friends or family members who are wanting to support someone who might be experiencing PND?
Talk about it. Talk to your family and friends. If you can’t talk about it, write a letter and put it under your partner’s pillow to start the conversation. My hope for you is that my work will help to pave the way in reducing the stigma and increasing awareness about this illness.
My aim is to work tirelessly to ensure that there is a safe community in which you can open up and express what’s happening for you without fear of judgement or discrimination.
We need to normalise not only postnatal depression, but the everyday struggles that EVERY mother faces. Talking about them will help you to find your tribe and professional support – and help you to remember that motherhood is a package deal – there are great times – but there are also some pretty crap ones too. You have to survive the storm to truly appreciate the rainbow. There’s no shame in that.