There are some things nobody really talks about during pregnancy or in the first few months of parenthood. Your mental health.
Which is why Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week has been so important.
If you haven’t heard of this before, it is a week-long campaign dedicated to talking about mental illness during pregnancy or after having a baby and highlighting support for all mums so they can access information and help on their path to recovery. And after the year we’ve had, this has never been more important. Being pregnant or becoming a parent during a pandemic is a whole new challenge, and not one that any of us had anticipated.
“Everybody wants to hold the baby but who holds the mum?”.
The Maternal Mental Health Awareness campaign was initially launched in 2014 to reach both parents and the general public and to raise awareness about maternal mental health disorders. There should be no shame and no stigma attached to perinatal mental health issues (and by perinatal I mean during pregnancy and up to one year post-birth) so part of the campaign is to break that down on a global scale. There is nothing to be ashamed of and no woman should ever be stigmatised. Especially this year!
How many of us have had these conversations?
Somebody asks you: “How are you?”
What you’re really thinking is “I’m so sleep-deprived I don’t even know my own name anymore. And I actually don’t even know who I am anymore anyway! Why did I think I wanted to have a baby? I can’t do this, it’s too much. I don’t know what I’m doing. This isn’t the person I used to be. I love my baby, of course I do, but I just feel awful. Other mums seem to be loving this and coping brilliantly from what I see on my social media feed. I feel so alone. I can’t be doing this right. I’m rubbish. I can’t concentrate but I can’t stop worrying either. I can’t breathe properly. I can’t sleep. I’m just so anxious. I’ve never felt lonelier or more isolated. This is horrible.”
And yet you don’t feel like you can say it. So you respond:
“Oh I’m fine thanks! How are you?”
The modern world means that there aren’t always the communities or ‘villages’ that quite literally existed 50, 60, even 70 years ago when women had babies. Families live further apart, we often don’t have the daily face-to-face, personal contact that we used to in those days, it’s a lot easier to have days when we don’t see anybody, where we don’t have help or someone who pops in and checks on you to see what needs doing.
In ‘normal times’ you may have experienced that initial influx of visitors as soon as you arrive home from hospital and which has ended up going on for the first couple of weeks. Everybody wants to come and coo over your gorgeous newborn and have baby cuddles but the focus should be on what you need. Come and have a cuddle with baby, yes! But if they could also bring food, wipe round with the hoover, sort the washing and give the kitchen floor a quick mop too – yes please!
And maybe do those while mum has some valuable skin-to-skin time with her little one. Sit and ask how she is. Let her talk about her birth if she wants to, about how she’s feeling. Allow her to be truly heard.
In these Covid times it’s been a very different experience. Very little in-person support, attending scans alone, feelings of isolation, lack of baby groups and postnatal support.
The saying “it takes a village to raise a child” was born of fact and the communities that used to exist. Some still do and may there be many more but it’s not always possible. Parenthood can be hard and mental health issues are not uncommon. It’s okay to not be okay. You are not failing at this parenthood business.
Maternal Mental Health Alliance are working to tackle these issues. “We call for the mental health of all women to be monitored, discussed and treated in the same way as her physical health during this crucial time. We also call for the same standard of perinatal mental health services to be available throughout the UK. Currently, women in large areas of the UK are not receiving the support they need.” The Maternal Mental Health Alliance’s Everyone’s Business campaign calls for all women throughout the UK who experience a perinatal mental illness to receive the care they and their families need, wherever and whenever they need it. More information can be found on their website at www.maternalmentalhealthalliance.org
What does perinatal mental illness look like?
They might include antenatal depression, postnatal depression, anxiety, perinatal obsessive compulsive disorder, postpartum psychosis and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These illnesses can be mild, moderate or severe, requiring different kinds of care or treatment.
These are the estimated numbers of women affected by perinatal mental illness in England each year:
1380 = postpartum psychosis. This affects women in the postnatal period and can cause symptoms such as delusions, confusion, paranoia and hallucinations
1380 = chronic and serious mental illness; such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. These may already be present but may deteriorate in the postnatal period.
20,640 = severe depressive illness. Symptoms can affect your quality of life and ability to function normally.
20,640 = PTSD.
86,020 = mild to moderate depressive illness and anxiety states. Feeling continually sad, low, fatigued, not feeling interested in anything and not enjoying activities. It can also cause uncontrollable worry, anxiety and obsessive thoughts.
154,830 = adjustment disorders and distress. When adjusting to pregnancy, birth or parenthood causes feelings of not being able to adjust or to cope. This may be a long-lasting distress reaction although doesn’t impair your ability to function.
So, what does this mean? It means that you are not the only one to feel like this; it means that you are not alone; it means that you are not going mad; it does not mean that people won’t understand. And most importantly it means that there is help out there and there are people who will understand. And it is NOT your fault.
What help is available?
Appropriate support can range from advice and help from health care professionals, medication, therapy, complementary therapies and safe peer support to name a few. As well as awareness, understanding and support from families and friends.
If you live in the UK and are looking for extra support or advice urgently, there are a number of services you can approach:
- Talk to a health professional e.g your own GP, midwife or health visitor
- Accident and Emergency at your local hospital
- Emergency services, ambulance, tel: 999
- Samaritans tel: 116 123 (free to call and will not appear on the phone bill) www.samaritans.org or email@example.com
There are also several support groups that can help:
- Action on Postpartum Psychosis (APP). One-to-one messaging available through the site or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Association of Postnatal Illness Helpline: 10am – 2pm – 0207 386 0868 Email: email@example.com Live chat online facility
- Maternal OCD Peer support available, email firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange
- PANDAS Helpline open from 9am-8pm every day – 0843 2898 401 Email support available – email@example.com
- Samaritans Tel: 116 123 (this is a free telephone number and will not appear on the phone bill) Web: www.samaritans.org
- Tamba Twinline is Tamba’s listening service for parents of twins, triplets and more. All the calls are answered by volunteers who have multiples themselves. 0800 138 0509, every day 10am to 1pm and from 7pm to 10pm Web: www.tamba.org.uk/support/twinline Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Tommy’s Tommy’s offers support to women who have suffered the loss of a baby as well as support for those who have had a difficult or traumatic pregnancy, birth or postnatal period 0800 0147 800 Mon – Fri 9am – 5pm Email: email@example.com
What can you do?
- Be aware of signs and symptoms.
- Talk to someone you trust.
- Know there is no shame in feeling like this.
- Take time for yourself. We know we talk about the fourth trimester a lot but it is SO important. Gentle, supportive postnatal treatments can help with hormone balancing, reducing your body’s stress response (the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline) and gently encouraging the ‘rest and digest’ calming reaction as opposed to the ‘fight and flight’ stress response.
But please do reach out for professional help. There is help there for you and you’re definitely not alone.