I recently met with a mother in early pregnancy. We were talking about the doula services I offer; the chat involved a lengthy discussion in which I learnt of her determination and strength in fighting for the birth she wished for in a previous pregnancy. I also learnt of a medical procedure that she had had since her last pregnancy which meant there was a risk of late miscarriage in the current pregnancy. I then watched as this powerful warrior of a woman broke down, asking for my doula partner and I to make sure she reached out for help should that happen because she didn’t know if she could survive it.
This reiterated to me how important awareness of maternal mental health is. Yesterday was World Maternal Mental Health Day. A day that advertises itself as; Helping mothers, helping babies, raising awareness, influencing policy and changing attitude.
My above experience highlights just how early on maternal mental health can be jeopardised. There are so many aspects to this topic I’m not sure how to fit it into one short blog post. Becoming pregnant, being pregnant, having a baby and beyond are all such huge moments in life. Combining these natural experiences with our very unnatural world does not always work as perfectly as it should. One of the hardest things is to know how we should feel. Does anyone know how we should feel? Is there even a should?
You’re pregnant, and you really don’t feel right. There is something specific that is bothering you but you’re speaking to the experts and they’re all telling you it’s ok because they can do this procedure or that procedure and then it will be fine. But you don’t want to be fiddled about with, maybe you’ve had interventions pre pregnancy and you’re done with it. Perhaps there has been sexual abuse in your life and you don’t want to be touched. Maybe you were hoping for a more natural experience, but they keep telling you it’ll be fine. You feel out of control and frightened.
You’re pregnant but you don’t feel good, maybe you’re sad, anxious, worried, confused or any other type of emotion that is affecting you negatively. But why do you feel like this? You’ve been wanting to fall pregnant for so long. Everyone says it’s your hormones. Your friend felt the same but now she’s better apparently. Your other friend felt the same, she doesn’t seem better, but she says she is. Someone else is feeling on top of the world, so why don’t you? Everything just feels so weird and surreal. You feel alone and unsure of what to do.
You’re pregnant and terrified. Everything ahead seems scary. Everyone tells you that it’s normal to feel scared. But is it?
One friend tells you to seek support, she offers you the name of someone she spoke to, you’re not sure if you want to speak to the same person but you feel like it might benefit you to speak to someone. Will they think you’re stupid though? Won’t they just tell you it’s normal?
No, they won’t.
You’ve had your baby; your birth wasn’t quite as you expected it to be. You feel like a failure, your friend had the same situation, she feels let down by the medical team that attended to her birth. Everyone says to you both; “at least the baby is here safely”. But this isn’t how you feel. Maybe you should just pretend you’re ok and agree. Yes. “I’m just glad he’s ok, that’s the main thing”.
It is so important that your baby arrives safely but your mental health matters too and it’s ok to hold your head up high and say that you are not ok.
Your birth was great but then they left you alone with your baby, alone …. How on earth are you meant to know how to look after this teeny tiny person. You feel too much responsibility, too much fear, in fact it’s terror. Terrified that you’re going to mess it up. You ask for help but they tell you they’re too busy. They tell you to try some formula because you don’t have enough milk – but you want to breastfeed. They tell you that you’re doing great, but it feels far from it. Is this how it’s meant to feel?
You’re home, your baby is growing, other people think you’re super-mum but inside you feel detached, irritable, guilty. You can’t focus on anything; you don’t sleep and sometimes you have panic attacks. Everyone tells you that you’re the best mum they know – so you must be doing ok. Everything must be fine. But… why can’t they see? Why can’t they see how you really feel?
It’s ok to seek professional support.
I work with so many people that ask me whether it’s ok to keep coming to see me. They are feeling better but; “is it ok if I keep coming?” Absolutely, yes. It is always ok to ask for help. A good therapist will never turn you away because there doesn’t seem to be an issue. If you feel that you benefit from the therapy, speak up. It’s incredible what some time spent being heard can do for the soul.
Thinking back to my earlier question; is there a way we should feel? I actually don’t think there is. Feelings are so unique, and no two people have the same. Regardless of how you think you should be feeling or your ability to portray a great look, if you do not feel right please ask for help. I initially wrote the words; “feel like you are not coping” but actually it’s so much more than that and I cannot be the person who decides whether you are ok or not. If you are questioning whether you are ok, it is worth speaking to someone. Even just one session with a therapist can help clear your mind so that you can decide whether you need some further time.
In 2017 the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists published a document that said as many as one in five women develop a mental health problem during pregnancy or in the first year after the birth of their baby. Very few of us know how to truly listen. Those of us who do know don’t always remember and I can raise my hand to that one. What if we did though? What if we gave our mama friends and family just five minutes to speak? Sometimes that’s all it takes, five minutes of uninterrupted talking time. No opinions, no trying to fix the problem, no responses of what we did in that same situation. Just an ear, just listening. Often by doing this the other person will find their own answers, find their way themselves. If not, they know they have someone who will listen. Listen and not judge, not try to change, not try to fix and not try to diminish. It is also ok to gently guide this person towards professional help if you do not feel you have the necessary tools to support them fully. Try it, next time you speak to your pregnant / new mum friend just sit and listen, let them know you hear them but say nothing. I’m going to make the extra effort to remember this too.
Rcog.org.uk. (2019). [online] Available at: https://www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/patients/information/maternalmental-healthwomens-voices.pdf [Accessed 2 May 2019].