Let's talk about mental health.
Maternal mental health to be precise.
Every mum no matter what their situation deserves to have access to non-judgemental mental health support. Why? Because, every mum matters.
May 1-7th marks Maternal Mental Health week, and one I am proud to be an official partner of. It is something I have regularly blogged and spoken about.
This week will show the gaps that so desperately need to be addressed in mums receiving the care they need.
After the birth of my first son, I was diagnosed with a mental illness, at times I was let down by the system and have struggled a lot to come to terms with the first 18 months of becoming a mum.
I have also found this is the case with mental illness in pregnancy, now pregnant with my second and approaching 30 weeks, I have only been asked once how I am feeling yet it clearly states in my notes I had PTSD.
It is so easy to hide, as mental illness seems to be judged on appearance. If you look semi put together and smile politely you won’t be asked what you really need someone to ask you. Are you okay?
It is so important weeks like this are recognised, so we can all get involved and raise awareness and demand change.
One thing I have learnt is how supportive the social media community are, how honest they are about sharing their raw experiences but we all had one thing in common.
The fear of the stigma, the shame, and the judgement of admitting you need help. This NEEDS to stop. This NEEDS to change.
I will carry on telling my story in hope that it goes towards changing the way we view maternal mental health and the changes that are needed.
No one deserves to suffer in silence in fear of being judged, we all need to have easy access to reliable support and help that we may need from time to time.
The more we talk, the more open and honest we are at sharing our stories, will hopefully one day break down the walls that have been put up around maternal mental health.
When I was pregnant with Elijah, having mental health problems during pregnancy or post partem didn’t even factor in to my preparations for welcoming him into the world.
I worried about the usual things, breast vs bottle feeding, did we have enough clothes? Would we be good parents? Would I be okay giving birth? What I didn’t worry about was that I would be so depressed post-natally that I would abuse pills, have an eating disorder return and plan on leaving my family all within 6 months.
We were given a leaflet by the midwife about looking for the signs of post-natal depression, but you do not really read it, never mind learn the signs of it. I mean I wouldn’t be affected would I?
But, you cannot know that for sure, and 1 in 5 mothers will be affected by mental health issues during or after pregnancy.
Turns out, I was affected badly after having Elijah taken away and admitted to NICU within 12 hours after he was born, later needing lifesaving open heart surgery.
I was angry, in denial, resentful to all and began to slowly close of everyone one by one, including Greg. I shut down and did what I did best, self -destruct. I punished myself as I believed this is what I deserved.
It came slowly, eating away at me as I tried to gain control of the situation we found ourselves in. Did I think I needed help? Did I recognise that I did? I don’t think I really knew what was going on. I felt like I was the only one in the world feeling like this, feeling such a darkness have a hold on me and suffocating me from the inside out. That I wasn’t normal, everyone else had it together didn’t they? Yet, here I was failing at being a mum. So, I turned on myself even more for, failing, for being a crap mother, for not being normal.
When we were in NICU, we met so many people, the staff turnover for shifts is high. A few leaflets were given about support groups, other parents who have had children in NICU most of this is focused upon premature babies. Honestly, at the time I was in such bad denial that they would turn around and say they have made a mistake I didn’t want to acknowledge that we were like the other parents in there.
We were discharged determined to forge our way as new parents whilst awaiting Elijah’s surgery date. The NICU outreach and health visitors came to check in now and again, I smiled politely, held back the tears and pretended that yes, I really was fine. This became a familiar disguise I put on to family and friends as well.
As with most things, if you hold them in for too long something with blow up, I was lashing out any anyone even Elijah. It couldn’t go on I think the real time I realised I wasn’t well was when Elijah was 18 months old I couldn’t just keep pretending it was what we had been through that was causing this. Elijah had his op and recovered well. I couldn’t move on.
Eventually, I plucked up the courage to go to the GP and throughout the whole walk there I was petrified they would take Elijah off me. That I was an unfit mother, but I wasn’t, I was an unwell one.
I felt ashamed sitting in the chair being asked if my child was at risk from me, that I had failed him. But, no matter how hard this was to accept, this is what was needed.
I was prescribed anti-depressants, and recommended counselling. I had never been offered this in the whole 18 months of having a baby in NICU, or having a child need a lifesaving operation. If this was my experience were other NICU parents going through the same thing? Turns out yes, the lack of mental health care on offer for NICU parents is deeply saddening and one I am in talks with my MP to try and change.
Due to the extensive waiting lists, the promises that I was a priority suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder I never did see a councillor. Due to the extensive wait times Instead I began to try and reach out to other heart parents on Instagram, and pour everything I could into writing my blog. This saved me, but I feel the lack of support that was offer, the stigma, the judgement around being mentally ill all led to me going down a path that was the darkest I had ever gone on.
I can see how and why some mothers end up sadly ending their lives due to the lack of support on offer. The system seems to be quite flawed and it tends to now be down to other mothers supporting one another and picking up the pieces for at times for complete strangers. The network of parents talking openly about maternal mental illness is a revolution and one that could save so many lives. Even Kate the Duchess of Cambridge has recently opened up to her struggles and is campaigning for better mental health care.
Post Natal Depression is something that is now becoming a more open and acceptable conversation to have. Depression in pregnancy? Perhaps not so much. This is something I didn’t experience with Elijah but 7 months into my second pregnancy some familiar feelings have started to stir. However, from learning what I did with my PTSD I knew I had to stop them and quickly. I couldn’t self-destruct, I couldn’t bury my head and pretend it wasn’t happening. Greg thought I was tired and hormonal, I knew it was more. I have shared my story online, all the gory details of how I felt, yet I could not tell the one person standing in front of me, I needed help. I did what I do best, I wrote it down and was honest about how I was really feeling and he knew straight away I was not just being tired. You feel like you cannot talk about not enjoying your pregnancy, or it frankly making you miserable as you will be seen as ungrateful, selfish and insensitive to others around you who perhaps are struggling to get pregnant. But, I had to face facts this is how I was really feeling.It seems that becoming a mother and mental illness went hand in hand for me, and on the brink of becoming a mum of two it is something that is never too far from my mind. That is why I have included some personal blog posts from the last year to showcase maternal mental illness. I will also be sharing these articles across social media through out the week. I will be posting my personal and honest letter that I sent to Greg asking for help at the end of the week to try and break down the barriers around maternal mental illness and depression in pregnancy.
Below are also all of the details for you to get involved from May 1-7th. I would also like to highlight, The Every Mum Movement who is asking everyone to raise awareness by changing their profile pics on social media with the following message on Maternal Mental Health Day which is May 3rd. I’m in, are you? Find out more info on the Facebook page or Instagram.
MATERNAL MENTAL HEALTH BLOG POSTS FROM A NICU MUM
The Longest Wait
Why blogging helped me cope with PTSD
Is there enough support for NICU parents?
Goodbye Old Friend
The World Book Day disaster and the musings of a failing mother, a letter to my son.
Who am I? The Mum change.
Walking on a tightrope ft Sandi Thom
The darker side of pregnancy
Are we judging mental illness on appearance?
Slipping through the cracks of NIICU parent mental health care
My body secret, an eating disorder
Why I grieved for my healthy baby
You think I am strong but I am not
NICU parents need help too