For a successful, high-profile woman like Jessica Rowe, who’s comfortable with presenting national TV, one might think motherhood would be a cinch.
In fact, it was a massive readjustment for the seasoned news anchor and Studio 10 presenter, and she – to her great surprise – joined the league of postnatal depression sufferers.
Jessica, wife of the Channel 9 news reader Peter Overton, wrote openly about her PND experience in her 2011 book Love. Wisdom. Motherhood. Conversations with inspiring women.
She had an honest chat with Hope 103.2’s Katrina Rowe about the topic.
Nothing Prepared Her For Parenthood
In her interview she told Katrina that “nothing prepared her” for being a parent, which is both the “hardest” and “best” thing she’s ever done.
“I think nothing prepares you for the seismic shift that such a little soul does to your life,” she said. “It is such a change to your life.
“Early on I struggled with postnatal depression which made it that much harder.”
She said that having had her first child Allegra by IVF, and having waited a long time for her miracle, postnatal depression was a great blow.
“I had longed for this little baby and was desperate to be a mum, and then when I discovered that I had postnatal depression, I was so upset with myself and I felt like such a failure. I thought, “This is what I’ve always wanted, why am I feeling so wretched?”
Feeling Ashamed About Postnatal Depression
Jessica, whose mother has bipolar disorder, has long been a campaigner for mental health awareness and is an ambassador for Beyond Blue. So she was surprised at her feeling of shame.
“I understand mental illness; mum and I have spoken openly about our family’s experience,” she said. “I had an understanding family, I had the economic means to get help, I knew where to go to get help, I had all of those things in my favour.
“But I still felt ashamed and I still felt the stigma and that really knocked the socks off me, that I felt that way.”
Struggling With Peoples’ Expectations
Jessica voices the feelings and thoughts of many women when she explains the sense of shame that PND can bring.
“There is a stigma with mental illness, and even more so with postnatal depression, because being a mum is meant to be the happiest time of your life,” she said.
“And there is a lot of expectation from people around you, from society generally, that it is meant to be the happiest time and you’re meant to be coping and isn’t this wonderful and fabulous. And when it’s not, it can be very hard to put a voice to how you’re feeling and put your hand up to get help.
“So that’s what I was really grappling with.
“And I remember thinking, “if I am feeling like this, someone who has a support network around me, an understanding family, [then] how hard must it be for so many other mums?”
She said the experience made her passionate about sharing her story later on when she had recovered.
“I almost felt a responsibility to do so,” she said, “because one in seven mums have PND. That’s a lot of mums, but we still don’t talk enough about it.”
The Shock Of Shifting From Career Woman To Nappy Changer
As a high-flying achiever, Jessica experienced what many career women do when they step into motherhood: the shock of not being able to “make everything work”.
“I know that I’m pretty tough on myself and I am a perfectionist… and I’ve always been the sort of person that if I put my mind to something, and did “this, this, this and this”, you would get “this outcome”.
“But as we know with kids — forget it! Nothing is guaranteed.
“I was just laughing today because the rain stopped, so the girls and I were able to head down to the park. And then trying to get them into the car afterwards was just hysterical. I thought, this is like herding cats, just trying to get them in the car.
“These simple things that – before you have kids you think, oh “what’s the big deal” – but then it’s suddenly this monumental effort to do seemingly simple tasks.
“It’s wonderful, but it’s hard.”
Peter And Jessica’s Big Surprise – A Second Child
While Jessica’s first daughter was an IVF baby, her second, Giselle, was – unexpectedly – naturally conceived. It came as a complete surprise.
“Peter and I were planning to have a second baby,” Jessica explained, “so we went to see our IVF doctor. She said, “OK, go away have some scans and tests just to check that everything is in working order — but you’ve got to wait for your next period.
“But my period never arrived. Not for a moment did I think I would actually be pregnant, and then when I was quite overdue I thought, “I really should probably take a pregnancy test”.
“So I got just one of those ones from the supermarket, and couldn’t believe my eyes when I discovered that I was in fact pregnant and that Peter and I had been able to conceive naturally.
“It was just such a lovely miracle.”
Mother Guilt – Even The Most Famous Mums Feel It
One experience common to many mothers is the feeling of guilt and self-doubt. Jessica was no exception.
“I think being a mum equates with guilt… we’re so tough on ourselves because it is such a responsibility,” she said.
“I feel such love for my girls and such responsibility to make everything OK for them, and so [with] everything you do, you’re sort of thinking, “is this the right thing?”, “should I be doing this?” We put ourselves through the wringer.
“I think it’s a lifelong journey of discovery with kids, but there are no simple rights and wrongs. There are a bazillion ways to get it right, and a bazillion ways to get it wrong.”
Struggles Of Motherhood A Universal Experience
In fact all of the women Jessica interviewed in her book identified with some kind of motherhood guilt – such as Wendy Harmer, Nova Peris and Quentin Bryce.
“[Wendy] is such a beautiful woman, and her guilt was sort of inverse,” she explained, “because her husband Brendan was at home looking after the kids and she was the breadwinner.
“So she would often feel guilty that she didn’t know the names of her children’s friends, or the parks that they liked to go to, all of those sorts of those things that she would beat herself up about.
“Our Governor General, the glorious Quentin Bryce, said she still feels guilt about all sorts of different things.
“And there’s that eternal question, “are you a good enough mum?”
“We do put ourselves under too much pressure, and that’s why I wanted to write this book to say – “yes, we do have different experiences, but there is so much that we share as mums, as women.”