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it takes a village – the importance of community #maternalmhmatters

On Monday, I shared a bit of my story about maternal mental health, and I have been overwhelmed by the response I have received as a result, it really is very touching that you all think I am brave for just being honest about what happened to me. In actual fact, allowing myself to be honest about my experiences has helped in my healing process, so I should be thanking every single one of you that read my post – for being so accepting of my truth, and taking the time to listen.

(I would also say, if you have suffered maternal mental health – or any mental health issues, and you don’t feel you can talk as openly about it – that’s ok too – it’s about feeling able to if it HELPS you, not that you HAVE to in order to recover)

Today’s theme is #pmhpthevillage – or, in other words, the support network, or ‘village’ you have that helps you. I’m thinking this comes from the saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ – and really, you never know this more than when you feel isolated with a maternal mental health issue.

My husband and I live in Fife, with little family support nearby. My mum has a house near by, but is often out of the country, so I sometimes don’t see her for months at a time, and my husband’s family are from Northern Ireland, so distance means we don’t see them as often as we would like either. It is often just the two of us, and my difficult pregnancy hammered that home pretty abruptly.

I was isolated, being off sick from my work, and my husband was basically my carer as well as working a full time job doing shifts. I was bedbound for months, and I needed his help to clean myself. This was difficult, and following the birth of our badger, my husband changed jobs – meaning no paternity leave, and me being left alone in the house from very early in the morning, as my postnatal depression and anxiety brewed. I had been out of my normal social circle for months by this point, and had not really made any mummy friends – so I felt VERY ALONE. My husband helped as much as he could, but it was me and boy for most of the day, and the ‘nightshifts’ were mine too – as I exclusively breastfed, so turn taking wasn’t an option for us. As my mental health deteriorated, I was engaged less and less with my ‘old’ friends, feeling that they did not understand what I was going through, and feeling judged for my parenting choices (I was determined to follow an attachment style of parenting, which some of them didn’t really understand).

Luckily, there were a couple of local mummies that looked out for me – and reached out to me even in the midst of my darkest days. These mummies had suffered mental health issues to some extent following the birth of their slightly older children – so perhaps recognised the signs in me. One confided a lot to me, and it was this mummy that I reached out to when I was suicidal. Feeling understood can have a massive impact, even at your lowest ebb.

From that point, after reaching out, I knew I needed more help – I needed MY village. So, I started asking for the help I had been embarrassed to ask for before – and the help was forthcoming. In addition to my wonderful mummy friends, I also have to thank a few wonderful organisations for the assistance they provided me in my recovery.

Homestart Dunfermline (the local group of Homestart UK) provided support (you can be referred to their service, or do what I did, and referred myself as I recognised I was struggling) – and they matched me with an absolutely fabulous volunteer that came and played with my son whilst I had some time to myself once a week – and provided a friendly ear for me to chat to each week too!

I also referred myself for counselling with Crossreach, who have a postnatal depression support service in Edinburgh, that provides creche places whilst you receive counselling. This proved massively helpful, as with a shiftworking husband, and little family support, I would have found it difficult to attend the counselling sessions without the childcare aspect too.

Before asking for help, I was nervous about reaching out, saying I was struggling. I’d already told my healthcare professionals I needed help, and had felt not properly understood, and part of me felt that I wasn’t the ‘sort of person that needed help’ – which I suppose shows the prejudice I felt to people that receive help. (Any such association has since been dispelled!)

To any mamas out there, feeling alone, or unsupported – please, reach out, if you don’t have a ready made village, look for ways of building your own. You can find support in all sorts of places – in the early days, before I felt up to going out and meeting new people, I found that there are some brilliant online communities providing support as well. I’m now blessed to have a great network of mummy friends and beyond, built up slowly after I started acknowledging I needed the help.

Tell me about your villages – I’d love to read about different ways you have found the support you needed!

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my maternal mental health story #maternalMHmatters

TODAY is the start of Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, and here at Child’s Pose Yoga, I am giving the week over to a series of blog posts on maternal mental health matters – which is a matter that is very close to my heart, as I suffered from mental health issues following the birth of our honey badger.

I could ramble on and on about the subject for days, so to give my posts some sort of structure, I am going to attempt to follow the themes laid out for the week. So – first post is ‘What is perinatal mental health?’

You can read a variety of articles online to find out exactly what perinatal mental health encompasses, so I am not going to inexpertly replicate any of them – instead I will talk about MY perinatal mental health.

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What I showed the world – my FB profile pic when Honey Badger was about 3 months old

Due to the hyperemesis gravidarum I suffered from throughout my pregnancy, I was probably at least a little bit depressed before I gave birth, I don’t really think my issues started properly until afterwards. Any lowered mood I felt then I blamed on the fact I was being sick all-the-blimmin’ time.

If I were to describe what exactly I am still recovering from, I would say it was a mix of postnatal depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress. My medical notes in the year and a bit I was signed off work for after my maternity leave simply said postnatal depression.

From the moment my son was born, I was very protective of him, I didn’t like being away from him, and if someone else was holding him when he cried, I got very very anxious. I was exhausted from a tough pregnancy, and lack of sleep following that – honey badger refused to sleep in his cot, or indeed anywhere except on me or his daddy. I had grazes following the birth that were situated right at my urethra – so whenever I went for a pee, I was in absolute agony – I felt like the pain was worse than labour itself. My husband started a new job three days after our son was born, so he wasn’t able to take any maternity leave, and I felt suddenly all alone with this tiny being, and completely unprepared for parenthood.

 

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This was how my husband would find me on return from work most days. Welcoming, no?

I got very teary, but was advised that this was probably just the ‘baby blues’. However, they didn’t go away, and I would spend hours crying, feeling like I was wasting the time I had with my newborn. I would end up shouting at him as he woke up every time I tried to close my eyes for a bit of sleep, and I would manically sing nursery rhymes to try and calm him as I tried to grab a quick shower. It got to the stage that his crying became a trigger for my anxiety – I would do anything to try and stop him crying, I felt like I was a terrible mother if I let him cry at all. On top of this, I started having intrusive thoughts – of dropping him down the stairs, or shaking him to stop him crying – and although I was certain I would never act on any thoughts that would cause him harm, they were very distressing, and I was ashamed of having them.

I did try to seek help from the doctor, but I was told that to take antidepressants, I would have to stop breastfeeding. Stopping the one thing I felt I was actually good at as a mother would have made me feel worse, so I decided not to take the pills that were offered. No other help was really forthcoming at this point, so I continued on the way I was.

My anxiety got worse. My crying got worse. I started having postpartum rages, where I would be inexplicably FURIOUS at something, and I felt like I no longer knew who I was. I would frequently fall out with my husband, and this would trigger more unwelcome thoughts.

I started to think it might be better if I was no longer around. One night, after another argument, I lay in bed and started researching suicide methods. I was ‘trapped’, feeding my son, so couldn’t act on any urges to hurt myself – and it was the thought of my son growing up without a mother, even one as rubbish as I thought I was that made me reach out to a friend. She told me to tell my husband how I felt – which I did, and the next day was a whirlwind of scary activity, that saw my at the GP, then at the hospital, then home again with a prescription for the same antidepressants I had been offered months before, but this time I was told I could breastfeed whilst taking them.

That was almost two years ago, and I have since gone through talking therapy, taken up yoga and mindfulness, (started teaching baby yoga!) – and I still take the pills (and I still breastfeed!).

I am on the road to recovery. If you ever feel like I did, know that, with help, you can recover too.