This week (30th April - 6th May) is UK Maternal Mental Health Matters Awareness Week, with World Maternal Mental Health Day on Wednesday 2nd May. So in the spirit of openness, I'm sharing my own maternal mental health story. Here is me at one of the lowest times in my life. Aged 34, with a newborn baby, a 17 month old, my marriage in tatters and husband about to leave for good.
I really tried to hold it together but just wasn’t coping with all that was going on in my personal life, as well as meeting the needs of these two tiny people. I was blessed with two amazing babes and it should’ve been a joyful time, but it just wasn’t. I look exhausted and a bit shell-shocked in this photo I think. A sleep deprived permanent milk-bar or nappy-changing machine! I had started having regular intrusive thoughts about driving my car very fast into a high, brick wall, with me and my babies in it. I know I wouldn't have actually gone out and done it, but even the fact I was having such hideous 'fantasies' meant something was definitely not right.
In my desperation to convince myself I was coping, I had become very controlling about little things and wouldn't accept help. I remember refusing to let my Mum take away a load of washing as she didn't fold babygrows properly! Looking back, it does sound totally farcical, but it really mattered to me at the time. Quite soon after this photo was taken, my Mum told me she thought I might not be managing too well and suggested I talk to my health visitor. She arranged to visit me at home and did the post-natal depression questionnaire (EPDS), where I scored pretty highly. This is the one test in your life when you want to get a low score! So I was put on anti-depressants for a year (I had Sertraline which is safe while breastfeeding), had regular counselling with a very wise and compassionate lady, and had tons of support, both emotional and practical, from my amazing family and friends. Just opening up about it was a massive relief. And eventually I came out from under that dark cloud and into a more sunny place.
Once I was feeling better, I wondered if there were reasons why I had got PND in the first place? It turns out there are factors which can increase your risk of getting post-natal depression or anxiety, but don't necessarily mean you will get it. Here are some of them:
Motherhood/parenthood is joyful and tough in equal measures. And as my children get older, it doesn’t necessarily get easier, the challenges are just different. Maternal mental health matters whatever age they are. If you think you need help, please open up and speak to someone. It's ok to say you're struggling. The 'Falling Through The Gaps' report in 2015 advised that more than one in ten women develop a mental illness during pregnancy or within the first year of having a baby and if left untreated, this can have a significant emotional impact on the women suffering and their families. I received this message when I first posted about my PND last year:
My doctor was useless, 15 years ago. Said I was doing just fine and just to keep trying to be a good mother and it would all work out. I left the surgery as I had arrived - in tears - and carried on having PND until my son was 20 months old. I have never, ever recovered properly and felt I could never cope with a second child. A huge regret for the rest of my life.
It really haunted me and I felt so sad for this woman. Please don't be fobbed off by your GP or health visitor. You might have to keep asking until you get the support you need. It’s very hard but so worth it to feel more like yourself again, and to enjoy being a mum. There are other organisations listed at the end of this where you can also access support. If you have a friend or family member who you think might be struggling, then just ask them how they are feeling. And really listen to what they say. Don't be afraid to mention the words depression or anxiety. We need to normalise them rather than brushing them aside as if they don't exist. Don't be too proud to accept help when it's offered, or enlist the help of others if that makes life easier. Having a cleaner come round for 2 hours once a fortnight was one of the best (if a bit middle class!) decisions I've made. Self-care is also vital for all mums. Make time to do stuff which is just for you - a long soak in a bath, coffee with a mate sans children, a cinema trip, or a dip in the North Sea, which is my current self-care method of choice. The release of endorphins after plunging into the sea is amazing! This is me below last weekend.
So during this Maternal Mental Health Matters Awareness Week, please be brave and share your experiences with others - it's the only way we will normalise what lots of women go through, and raise awareness about the support that's available. Let's keep the conversation going. If you're posting on social media, please use #maternalMHmatters. I'd love to hear your experiences. Good luck mamas!
Love Georgie x
PS If you would like to know more about perinatal mental health, please come to an event I'm involved with this Wednesday 2nd May in Edinburgh - EGG Talks: Maternal Mental Health. It will be an open discussion with a panel of experts, looking at maternal mental health from every angle. Please register for tickets using the link above, or if you're not a member of EGG, please email them.
Here are some other links to national and Edinburgh-based organisations which you might find useful:
Birth & Beyond
Juno Perinatal Mental Health Support
CrossReach Perinatal Services
Maternal Mental Health Alliance
PANDAS Foundation UK
ANPI - Association for Post Natal Illness
Mothers for Mothers
BACP - British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy
Health In Mind
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