Being Maternal Mental Health week, this has given me reason to reflect on my own experience and how now, as I feel I am fairly out of the ‘fog’, I can talk about what I went through and hopefully help others, even if it’s just the reassurance of ‘me too’.
I experienced mental health issues in each of my three pregnancies - but for different reasons. Since I was a little girl I imagined living happily ever after and had an idea in my mind of what my children would be like. I didn’t give pregnancy itself much thought as I hadn’t any reason to think it would be anything other than easy. I’d seen some of my aunts pregnant but wasn’t privy to any of the detail. Some ‘women code’ to make sure we all keep reproducing maybe?
When we decided the time was right to start a family, getting pregnant itself didn’t happen instantly. This was a surprise; you spend so much time making sure you don’t get pregnant and when you decide the time is now it doesn’t necessarily happen to your schedule and it’s hard to understand why. We were young, we were relatively fit and healthy and generally happy with life, so why wasn’t it happening for us? It felt as though everyone around me was getting pregnant and having no trouble at all and yet here I was month after month with a body that I felt was failing me.
By some miracle, just when I was about to be referred for help we found out we were expecting! My pregnancy was healthy and baby was doing well at every check-up. Towards the end, I did develop SPD and ended up having to use crutches – again this was something that wasn’t widely talked about so when it happened it was another surprise I wasn’t expecting. The pregnancy ‘glow’ that everyone talks about was fading fast and the pain was unbearable.
The third ‘surprise’ happened when our little girl was born and diagnosed with Down Syndrome as well as multiple serious health issues. While we had to rally as parents, I felt I was OK - but once slightly normal life kicked in I noticed I was crying all of the time. I didn’t know if it was tiredness, hormones, shock or a combination of all three. I’d read about the ‘Baby Blues’, but this felt like it went on a little too long. Not only were we dealing with a newborn baby, but we were also running to lots of medical appointments, feeling under pressure to ‘enjoy’ our baby and do all the things the books told us. We were first time parents and this should be amazing right? So why didn’t it feel that way? Why did everyone else seem so happy with their baby, so relaxed and amazed by them? I felt so alone, like I was the only one in this thick mist of sadness feeling increasingly overwhelmed by everything and everyone. I felt incapable as a parent, that I was letting my daughter and everyone else down and I couldn’t shake the feeling of being a complete failure. To say it was a tough time is an understatement. Luckily we were under very good care from our GP mostly due to Rose’s condition and he was very understanding. I was diagnosed with Post Natal Depression and was offered medication as waiting lists for counselling were just too long. Slowly I began to feel better and the thick mist started to clear. I started to enjoy Rose, feel confident in myself as a mother and relax into it all a little more. And Rose herself was – and still is – a super happy child!
I’ve learnt a lot from my experiences – not only about PND as a condition, but about myself. If I could give my pre-baby self some advice it would be to:
1) Understand that pregnancy is such a personal experience and completely different for every single woman. Some will breeze through but many will not. Remember this and don’t compare yourself to anyone else. It’s not healthy.
2) NHS services vary so much depending on location but all are stretched. Make sure you ask for help if you need it but also take any offer of support from friends and family.
3) Sleep deprivation is evil - some people can power through but for others it can really have an impact on your personality and how you think and react to everything.
4) All of this will pass with time...such a cliche but it is SOOO true. Baby will become more independent, you will get more sleep, you will grow in confidence, you will get used to parenting....it will get easier. Just take it one day at a time and be kind to yourself. We are all just winging it.