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By Jade Glen

The torture of prolonged sleep deprivation and subsequent diagnosis of Postnatal Depression inspired Emma Benninga to create an online network of mums that has now grown to encompass regular real-life meet-ups, a ‘mums who make’ market and charity fundraising.
Emma, from Mooroolbark, started the facebook group Sleepy Mumzzz in October 2015 after returning from a week at sleep school with her then-seven-month-old son Maverick.
“I had just returned from spending a week at O’Connell Family Centre feeling very lonely, vulnerable and confused. I wanted to create something special, a network of women going through the same experiences,” Emma said.
“The women were beautiful and I connected with a couple of mums who I still keep in touch with now.
“(After) sleep school I stayed home for about six weeks. I withdrew myself from my busy daily life and just focused on what I had learned. It worked and things definitely improved … not dramatically but it was better.
“Then Christmas holidays came along and we went away for two weeks and all my hard work went down the drain. This was pretty much when I gave up and went back to our old ways.”
Not long after this Emma visited her long-time GP, who diagnosed her with Postnatal Depression and referred her to a psychologist.
“PND is something I thought occurred in the early days, not 12 months later. But when you have literally been living off five hours of broken sleep a night, occasionally more sometimes less, your body becomes physically and emotionally exhausted. Your mindset starts to change and your sanity becomes less and less. And it’s basically a roller-coaster of emotions to follow.”
Emma lists her recovery from Postnatal Depression as her biggest achievement – she declined medication and instead decided to overhaul her lifestyle, along with fortnightly visits to a psychologist.“I started at the gym five days a week, I drank more water, changed my entire diet and I gave up alcohol for five months. All these things made me a happier and healthier person … I became confident, mentally stable and healthy.
“It was a very busy time in our life when I was diagnosed with PND, We had just brought a new business which required my husband to work extremely hard and put in 60 to 70 hour weeks to get it up and running, while also and playing and coaching at the local football club which took up three nights per week and every Saturday. So as you could imagine life felt pretty lonely at times, but somehow we did it, and we both came out the other end stronger for it – and that’s something I am so proud of.”
Emma has done some work with PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia) and is part of its online group.
“I believe there is still a stigma associated with PND – I’m not quite sure why because it is so common and I truly believe every mum would feel some degree of depression at some stage, just others more serious. This is something I have tried to break down and be honest about and I have received a very supportive response from other women going through the same thing.
“I still have my days, but I think every mum has their days.”
Through the Sleepy Mumzzz group, Emma has shared her journey and has also been able to reach out to other mums who may be struggling – and unlike some of the large online parenting groups, Emma ensures Sleepy Mumzzz is a supportive and encouraging environment with no negativity or judgement.
It is also an important social outlet for some women. At one Sleepy Mumzzz event, one mum confessed it was the first time she had left the house for five weeks.
The biggest event to date has been the Mums who Make market held in Montrose in December. The market showcased a number of stalls selling everything from candles, jewellery, baked goods and baby products, all produced by local women.
More than 150 mums and their children attended to listen to guest speakers, enjoy the live music, have some nibbles and stock up on some locally made Christmas presents.
The market was a great success and raised more than $1100 for The Babes Project, a local charity that supports women through pregnancy and the first year of motherhood.
“This was the part that made everything sink in and made me step back and think, hey we did it! It was a very proud moment,” Emma said.
Emma has also kicked off 2017 with the launch of a regular inter-generational playgroup at Donwood Aged Care in Croydon.
“It is bringing the young and the elderly together to create something truly beautiful. The way they interact together is magic. We have story time, sing songs, dance and play with all the toys and enjoy some morning tea. Eventually I would like to get some children’s entertainers in and schedule some themed days where we all dress up to have a bit of fun.
“We have only done one so far but the feedback was incredible from all of those who participated, the residents and also the staff. It’s a very overwhelming experience, seeing some of the residents in their vulnerable way, and it can become quite emotional at times also, because you can just see on their faces how much joy and happiness they get out of it. But I am going to embrace that emotion and be real because that’s what shows you care. There’s nothing wrong with showing emotions, they are part of life.”
Emma has big plans for the future of Sleepy Mumzz as she contrinues to share her parenting journey and give back to others.
“I want to have a support group for mums to meet weekly or monthly to share stories and support each other, I want to run events to support ‘mums that make’ while also raising money for my chosen charity The Babes Project, and my ultimate goal is to create an online platform where you can share real stories and helpful information, to list upcoming events on, and to interview other mums about their journeys.
“For me, helping others brings me so much happiness.”

* Save the date: The next market will be a day supporting all things mums for Mother’s Day and is being held on Saturday 6 May. Venue is TBC; check for details.

Need help?
You can call The National Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Helpline on 1300 726 306 Monday-Friday 10am-5pm.
Your call will be answered by a counsellor who will seek some basic contact details and ask a few questions about what prompted you to call the Helpline and about your own and your baby’s immediate safety. While you can choose to remain anonymous most of our callers don’t. From here the call unfolds for you as a storytelling experience. We want to understand what you are concerned about and how it is affecting you and your family.
If all counsellors are on calls you are encouraged to leave a brief message on the answering machine and you will receive a call back as soon as possible within the same day.

Why would I call PANDA?
Most people call PANDA to seek support for themselves. However, they also receive calls from concerned partners, family, friends and health professionals. Being a parent can be very emotional and challenging, often in ways we don’t expect. Sharing your story with someone who understands what you are going through can be a valuable step in your parenting journey.
Some people call because they are finding the transition to parenting tricky. Others call because they are worried they may be experiencing perinatal anxiety or depression. Generally something has prompted them to make that first call.
Some of the reasons are:

* I don’t know what’s going on but I just don’t feel like myself.
* I cannot stop thinking about the birth … it was nothing like I had planned.
* I just yelled at my toddler … I am not the parent I wanted to be.
* I am so tired I can’t do this anymore.
* I hate being a mother … I feel so guilty.
* I am struggling in my relationship … everything has changed since the birth of my baby.
* I’m not sure I should be having this baby.
* I had thoughts of driving into a tree this morning, it scared me, I need help.

You do not need a diagnosis of perinatal anxiety or depression to call PANDA. Almost everyone who calls is seeking to make sense of unfamiliar thoughts and feelings. It is not the group’s role to provide you with a diagnosis. Rather they aim to help you understand what is happening for you and your family, and to provide information and options for you to get additional support.
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