Today is World Maternal Mental Health day (#maternalMHMatters).
What’s the point in today? To raise awareness, reduce the stigma and change attitudes of maternal mental health in addition to helping to influence policy.
Here’s my story – After some years of infertility, we were blessed with a gorgeous set of twin boys and then even more blessed to fall pregnant naturally with another boy. I was diagnosed with PND when my youngest was 9 months old and the twins were 2 and a half. On reflection I’d probably also when my twins were around 8/9 months too. It’s a really common time for mums to get PND, especially for those that are breastfeeding – the main reason being is the reduction of oxytocin production due to babies naturally weaning off the breast and onto solid food.
So what did it feel like – I’d gone from being a calm mum to shouting all the time, feeling very cross, impatient, irate and just very unpleasant to be around. I cried all the time – I was constantly on the verge of tears. I couldn’t get enough sleep – I could sleep ALL the time, all day, all night, all the time but I was still beyond exhausted. I couldn’t move – getting dressed and out of the house was like a military organisation – it was hard to get out of bed, never mind get dressed. Getting the kids dressed and looked after was even harder. But what was harder still was smiling to the whole world and trying not to let anyone see through to what was going on underneath – that was exhausting. I was so sore – my body ached – my hips, back, neck – all ached all the time. Physical symptoms of depression are frequently reported. And I regularly thought that the kids would be better off without me – that was hard and very hard to admit to.
I had no idea what depression looked like. When I heard people talk about PND, I would think about the still-face mother – totally unbonded to her baby. I was the opposite of that – I wanted very much to hold onto them and be their everything. Part of the issue for me was letting go and letting others look after my babies. That’s something I see ALL the time – mums being so glued to their babies, often worried about all the things they are doing wrong and never seeing all the brilliant stuff they are doing for their babies (ie being glued!). And the feeling of guilt that you need help with your baby, that you can’t do it on your own (where did this crazy idea come from as we are meant to bring up our babies in communities – not on our own!!!).
I remember before I had depression, I used to think that people with depression needed to go for a walk, get more exercise. What I had never realised is that I could barely get dressed, never mind go for exercise. It completely changed my attitude towards mental health and very much made me realise that we are ALL vulnerable to mental health illnesses. Anyone that knows me, knows how much strength and confidence I have so to be so ill with PND makes it something that anyone is at risk from. It is not an illness for the weak – it’s an illness anyone can get.
Through a combination of medication, counselling and returning to work, I got better. It took a long time, longer than I ever thought it would. But being that ill changed me and it made me a stronger, better, kinder person. And it made me who I am now and carved out a change of career for me. I still now have to be very careful – I still get warning signs that my mental health dips and I am so careful that I keep well. I do this now through regular yoga, spending time with my family, with friends who I enjoy being with and not putting myself into difficult situations. I put my health above everything else. For ages, this seemed selfish – now I realise, if I’m not well, I can’t be the mum/wife/daughter/sister/friend/doula that I want to be. Self care is such an important virtue to have. It’s the least selfish task a mum could do – put herself first.
So pop over to World Maternal Mental Health website to see the facts and figures – the official figures are that 1 in 5 women have a perinatal mental health illness – however, the unofficial figures including those that don’t seek help can sometimes be reported as 1 in 3… but the positive is there is so much you can do to get help and getting help at the earliest time possible will make things better. Even if you’re maybe not 100% sure you’re ill (I wasn’t… I thought it was just motherhood making me so tired for a long time….)
- Speak to your GP/HV/midwife – write a list of all your symptoms and take them – be honest
- Get involved on twitter with the PND Family – search #pndfamily or #pndhour – PND and Me website has all the information you need
- Go along to your nearest peer support group (in Edinburgh you can go to Juno PMHS Edinburgh)
- Therapies (Counselling is offered in Edinburgh by the brilliant Sarah from Birth and Beyond, and I offer EFT – Emotional Freedom Technique)
- Talk about it – if you look at the statistics you can see that 70% downplay their symptoms (I know that was me as it felt like such a failure to be ill). Talk about it – reach out for support. There is nothing to be ashamed about. I always think it’s the mums who care so much about being good mums who often are the ones who are ill as we are so scared to get it wrong.
Unfortunately, perinatal mental health is applicable to dads too – up to 10% of dads become ill with a mental health illness for a whole variety of reasons. I think there’s an even bigger stigma around that and I was really pleased recently to write a section for Mark’s book on how doulas can support dads through birth and parenthood. Make sure you follow Mark to find out when his book is out there. He does some amazing work to raise the profile of dads and their mental health journeys.
If you want to know more about what you can do today – go to http://wmmhday.postpartum.net/.
Much love and strength to you
Notes – Perinatal mental health is regarded as being the period from conception until a child is 2 years old. It can include antenatal depression, postnatal depression, baby blues, anxiety, OCD, psychosis and PTSD.