Maternal Mental Health is an important issue. Don’t get me wrong, all mental health and well being is important but as a parent who has just undergone 9 months of hormones and growing a human and then the stress and pain of pushing said human out there is A LOT of emotions and thoughts to process.
We had been trying for Baby F for over a year. After suffering a miscarriage prior to falling with him I was a mess. Not only did I have pregnancy hormones running through me but I had a feeling of guilt (I felt like I was ‘replacing’ the baby we lost), fear (that I’d miscarry again) and so happy that I’d cry because I had a life growing in me.
Then I had a huge sense of anxiety and dread hanging over me every time I had to see the midwife, go to hospital or discuss birth options. I had a miserable and traumatic experience of maternity care when I had J and it was something that was never resolved at the time. So it hung over me and I was so scared that it would be the same this time. I worried that I’d have that same feeling of loneliness and being ‘abandoned’ which led to me spending the first few weeks of J’s life in a bubble of darkness.
During one of J’s checkups a health visitor said she thought I had post natal depression. I cried and told her all about my experience and how it had affected me. She said she’d call me in 2 weeks to see how I was and whether I needed further support…J is now 4 years old and I’m still waiting for that call. However, I pushed myself to move past the bad thoughts and focus on how much I loved motherhood.
I spoke to Baby F’s midwife about my concerns. She reassured me that things were different on the ward now and that as a second time parent I’d know what I want more. Thankfully whenever I did go in for reduced movements or issues the staff were lovely and really reassuring. I started to feel a bit more relaxed…although the cloud still hung over me.
At 38+4 weeks I was admitted to hospital and was being induced (I was in labour but was having some issues). It all felt very familiar. I was induced with J and spent the night in pre-natal ward. It’s where the feeling of being alone started. Back then partners weren’t allowed to stay. Once my husband went home I was alone on the ward. I only saw staff when I buzzed for pain killers or to ask them to check me. Even then it was a rush then I was alone again. I was scared and in pain. It made me feel like I wasn’t worth their time. This time round my husband was allowed to stay (policy change). It made a huge difference. The staff were friendly and would come have a chat with us.
The labour for J was stressful, painful and long. I ended up in the theatre having assistance. That alone was terrifying and when my husband had to leave (I gave birth at night so he couldn’t stay after recovery) I was back on the ward and alone again. I only saw staff for the general obs. Again, no real conversation or support. I was tired, in shock and struggling to breastfeed. I asked for help…it never happened so I switched to bottles and got attitude from the doctor. I began to feel like it was me. I had done something wrong or I was too needy and therefore failing as a mother.
With Baby F I was terrified about labour. I was convinced it would be like J’s. When they went to pop my waters it took 3 attempts and was painful. I thought ‘this is the start of it all again’...however this time I had midwives who were amazing. They asked what I wanted and helped make it happen. I was more active and although painful (after all it’s a big head coming out of a small hole) it was a much easier labour. They were praising me and being so positive that I felt like a super hero!
Again my Mum and husband had to leave after recovery as Baby F was also a night baby. I was nervous about going back to the ward. I was waiting for that same loneliness and staff not talking to me. But it couldn’t have been more different. Staff were helpful, making jokes and when I said I wasn’t feeling good they ran tests and took it seriously. I started to relax and I took advantage of being able to get some sleep, food made for me etc. I actually looked after myself...after J I was so down that I just sat in my hospital bed and barely ate or drank. I just waited for time to tick past so we could go home. I think the difference for me mentally was the whole atmosphere.
Once home with Baby F I felt really positive. I was more active, more interested and still taking care of myself. I took my recovery seriously. I was feeling really good about myself and my mental health.
However, instead of ‘baby blues’, this time I had a sudden influx of anxiety. I’ve suffered with low level anxiety since I was a teenager. Usually it’s based around a ‘need’ to make sure everywhere is locked and safe (I check everything is turned off and I check front door several times when I leave house) and I have this weird need to count ‘1, 2, 3’ to check I have ‘keys, phone, purse’. If I don’t do these things then I can’t focus. But the anxiety this time is different. I have this feeling of doom or dread. Like something bad is going to happen.
I have sudden flashes of worst case scenarios. For example a car got too close to mine and suddenly I was picturing it hitting one of the kids doors and injuring them. In that split second I’ve played out a whole movie in my head. I can feel my heart beating and feel sick. Of course there’s a rational part to my brain that kicks in and tells me to stop being stupid.
The problem is this is becoming more frequent and I’m getting tearful. I’m worrying about noises in the night and find myself checking and rechecking back door at stupid o’clock in the morning.
So far none of this has affected our life. I’m not actively avoiding the world or living in an underground bunker to avoid anything bad. I am using my CBT to talk myself down. I am looking after myself and making sure I rest when I can. I’m asking family and friends for help and accepting it when it’s offered.
I am going to mention this to the doctor or midwife (whoever I see first). At the moment I feel in control of it. I’m pretty sure it’s a combination of being over tired and hormones changing. My poor brain and body have gone through a lot over the last 3 weeks. I need to treat my brain the same way I am treating my body. I need to look after it, give it time to relax and heal.
I was unsure whether I’d write this post. I didn’t plan it out, I just started writing and letting it flow. I’m still not entirely sure what message I want to get across…or whether this is all just a big ramble. But I have seen so many other mothers and fathers out there sharing their struggles and their stories that I thought I’d give it a go. After all, talking about mental health will hopefully help normalise it. Mothers who are struggling but are too scared or embarrassed to talk to someone may read our posts and not feel alone. If professionals (and trainees) read our posts and can see the effect something as monumental as childbirth and postnatal care affects us then it might encourage them to be more aware of how they treat mothers.