Culture

Antoinette Lattouf on living with perinatal depression and the art of just being there

Antoinette Lattouf was 37 weeks pregnant with her second child when the restless and sleepless nights started.

By Sally Spicer

Culture

Antoinette Lattouf was 37 weeks pregnant with her second child when the restless and sleepless nights started.

By Sally Spicer

Antoinette Lattouf was 37 weeks pregnant with her second child when the restless and sleepless nights started.

During a Q&A about perinatal depression and anxiety for Future Women’s Jobs Academy, the Gidget Foundation Australia Ambassador admitted that though her first pregnancy was far from easy, it hadn’t prepared her for this.

‘[With my first daughter] I just thought, “well, this is new, it’s different – I’m sleep-deprived”.’

Looking back now, Antoinette says that even the early days with her first daughter weren’t quite what she’d expected.

‘Probably not connecting as much, enjoying it, not feeling all of those Hallmark Card expectations of what motherhood should be like, but it got better.’

But by the time Antoinette gave birth to her second child – a healthy baby girl – things had become unmanageable. Not only was she suffering from insomnia, but night panics had set in as well.

The night of her second daughter’s birth, a frantic Antoinette wandered through the hospital, trying to find a way out.

‘I felt that if I could escape the hospital, I might be able to stop the dark thoughts in my head and my racing heart.’

She was intercepted by a midwife who specialised in perinatal mental health and returned to her room and was sedated to get some much-needed rest.

The anxiety that propelled Antoinette out of her room that night continued to spiral before reaching what she describes as a tipping point, three weeks post-partum.

‘I got to a really, really bad point, where the anxiety tipped over into depression and hopelessness and an inability to believe I could get through the day. I was doing the mental checklist, because I’m like, “Okay, I’ve done stories on this – can’t sleep, can’t eat, finding no joy, waking up with a horrible pit in my stomach, feeling an immense amount of guilt crying uncontrollably.”

‘I ticked every box.’

Six months after her second daughter’s birth, things escalated once more. The culprit this time? Trying to wean herself off her medication.

‘There continues to be an enormous stigma around medication. My mother kept checking in on me.

‘[My mother said] “So, you still have medicine. So, they haven’t taken you haven’t off yet. When do you think you’ll get off it?”.

‘I also wanted to prove to myself that I could “beat” mental illness. I tried to take myself off medication when my daughter was about six months old. I thought, “okay, I’m good.” And then I ended up in emergency one night when I’d had a complete panic attack meltdown and my racing heart and spiralling mind terrified me.’

There was another factor compounding the pressure the award-winning journalist and author felt: her heritage. Her parents came to Australia from Lebanon as war refugees, and the enormity of their struggle fuelled Antoinette’s shame about struggling in a position of comparative privilege.

‘They had endured what I would describe as textbook trauma. They saw people killed, and they fled for their lives, and they lost siblings,’ she said.

‘And so, when [my parents and community] saw me, with my lovely helpful and involved husband and all the support I needed and all the knowledge I had… [they were] thinking: “You’ve got all the resources in the world. What on earth is wrong with you? Get your shit together”.’

When facilitator Jamila Rizvi asked Antoinette what she wished her loved ones had known, her answer was simple: be there, without reservation or judgement.

‘Everybody’s an expert on motherhood. As soon as you’re pregnant, you’re all of a sudden, the subject of unsolicited advice everywhere you turn,’ Antoinette answered.

‘So, for people to not minimise it by suggesting, “oh, well, you’re just tired, or you’ll get better. Or just do this. Or, you know, maybe pray”. You know, not to minimalise it and think that they have the solutions.’

Although she speaks candidly about that time of her life, Antoinette knows her mental health is still a work in progress.

‘I’d love to say that I’ve beat it, that it was something that just happened to me with a beginning and an end. And I could book end it. But that hasn’t been my experience.’

Having people in her corner, she told Jobs Academy members, was what made all the difference.

‘[My GP said], “you didn’t ask for this. And you don’t deserve it.”’

Her decision to share her experience is not an act of community service – it’s part of her own healing.

‘I talk about it really freely and openly, and it makes some people uncomfortable, but you’d be surprised by how many other people it helps whether they tell you in the moment, or they come back to you later.’

Ultimately, Antoinette would rather make some people uneasy with the honest way she talks about her mental health challenges, than keep quiet about a condition affecting 1 in 5 women across the country.

‘I’m okay with making some people uncomfortable when I’m confident in the greater good.’

Antoinette is the co-founder and co-chair of Media Diversity Australia. She is a multi-award-winning journalist and media commentator. She is also an ambassador for Gidget Foundation Australia. You can follow Antoinette on Twitter and Instagram.