This week is Maternal Mental Health week. A chance to share our wellbeing and mental health journeys through pregnancy and the postnatal period.
I wanted to include my own story as I know I’ve taken comfort from reading about the experiences of other mums. So grab a cuppa and get comfy..
Having suffered with generalised anxiety during my twenties, mental health struggles weren’t new to me when I became a mum. But once you have this little person depending on you, anxieties and worries seem to magnify even more than they did in the past. Even though my first pregnancy with my son was mostly straightforward, I had a lot of anxiety about the birth and generally being a mum for the first time. Thankfully, his arrival into the world and first few months were very positive and full of joy. Until my son was 6 months old and I received a phone call one morning to say my dear mum had died very suddenly on holiday. We were incredibly close and it turned my world upside down.
I had never left my son’s side except for a couple of hours here and there. With only a few hours notice, my sister and I had to leave our babies and fly out to Athens to join my dad on a cruise ship. We had no choice but to stay onboard that ship for an entire week until it reached the UK. It was the most horrendous week of my life. The separation anxiety alongside the deep grief numbed me to the core.
The following months were a blur. I barely remember moments of the rest of that year. My son was my daily sunshine, but there were many days where I wished I could fast forward life to the end to be reunited with mum. Dark thoughts that were very unlike me. With a great support network, I slowly pulled through that first year and got my mental health back to a happy place, albeit a very different place to what I had imagined a year earlier.
Fast forward 3 years and we suffered a devastating pregnancy loss with our second baby. A whole new kind of shock, deep grief and anxiety followed. A grief that was wrapped up in guilt and feeling a failure as a mum. In the months that followed, grieving our baby, my mental health was struggling and I started to suffer from panic attacks out of the blue. Looking back, I felt completely out of control in my life.
I was very blessed to be pregnant with our daughter 9 months after our loss. As happy as I was about our new blessing, the grief was still very raw and I was convinced we wouldn’t get to bring this baby home. In my first trimester, I experienced sudden bleeding and I remember rushing to hospital convinced she had gone. But there she was on the scan screen, alive and well 🙂
Those first few months my anxiety was through the roof. And just as things started to settle, life had yet another bombshell for us. When I was 35 weeks pregnant, my husband was diagnosed with cancer and our whole world flipped for a third time (I’m over the moon to share that my husband has just celebrated 3 years all clear!). I remember thinking I didn’t have time to have a baby!!! I had to somehow ‘save’ my husband and protect our son from it all. So in those last few weeks of pregnancy, I went into a strange denial about even being pregnant. Because I couldn’t face it. I needed to press pause on life. I became very detached from the pregnancy.
But baby girl wasn’t going to wait around! Two weeks early, our beautiful rainbow arrived in the world. Unlike the smooth birth of her brother, she had to be rushed straight to NICU with some breathing issues. I didn’t even get to hold her and not having that immediate skin to skin had a huge effect on me mentally. I remember being in the recovery room not feeling like I had just become a mother again. I had no urge to rush off and find her. Instead, I just wanted to get home to my son. I was his mum. And at that moment, I didn’t feel like I had another child. I was very lucky that my sister was with me and she instantly picked up on this. She fought hard for me to be taken up to NICU. I am forever grateful to her for that!
My amazing husband hadn’t left our daughters side so I knew she was safely with her dad. It took a few hours, but that night I was finally wheeled up to NICU and able to hold my daughter for the first time. It was incredible! It was like a switch had turned on and I knew this perfect baby girl was mine (and I want to say here, I realise this is very often not the case. It can be instant or take some time, so don’t panic if you don’t instantly feel that bond after birth).
I was so happy and grateful to bring her home. She was a dream come true. But of course the following months were full of anxiety and panic attacks. My husband was going through treatment and I had to do motherhood for a second time without my own mum there to meet her. It was a good year before the panic attacks properly lifted and positive mental health fully returned.
If you’ve stayed with me this long, thank you! 🙂
I now want to share what kind of support got me through all of those dark times. Because there is so much out there that can help and make all the difference..
- First and most importantly, an amazing support system. My husband was my rock, my sister was right there by my side and I had my dad and other family on hand for us whenever we needed them.
- Friends – I was very lucky to have an amazing group of ladies come into my life during my first pregnancy through the NCT. They held me up when my mum died and have been there to share the highs and lows of motherhood ever since. I also had a wonderful friend, who I’ve known since school days, who was always there to chat and offload to. Finding a group of friends and other mums that you can connect with is so important in those lonely first months of motherhood. And I can’t imagine how hard it has been for new mums in the pandemic who haven’t been able to form those friendships face to face! I think new mums from the past year need extra support in the months to come. A chance to get back out into the world and meet others who have been through the same experiences.
- Self Care – you can’t look after others if your own cup is empty! You have to refill your own wellbeing first and foremost. This is something that feels so hard to do when you become a mum. You have less time, less money and you’re often surviving on very little sleep. Find activities or support that recharge and nurture you. It might be a hobby you find relaxing, designated time to just sit in silence or booking a class or therapy that you feel real benefit from. I reconnected with myself and my therapies through booking in my own reflexology and reiki sessions. Knowing I had that time booked in for myself often pulled me through the week.
- Counselling – CRUSE Bereavement counselling were a real lifeline for me during my grief. Talking really does help!
- EFT – Emotional Freedom Technique. I discovered EFT in 2012 and I have used it every year since! It has got me through many anxiety attacks. Known as ‘acupuncture without the needles’, it’s a therapy that involves talking through an issue or memory whilst tapping on acupressure points on the body. I’m so passionate about this therapy that I’m currently completing my training to become a Practitioner. I look forward to being able to share this powerful support tool with my clients.
- Mindfulness – When you’re fully in the present moment, you are no longer ruminating over the past or worrying about the future. But it’s so hard to do this!! Mindfulness techniques help us to find simple everyday ways to bring ourselves back to the here and now, calming our mind rather than us running away with dark thoughts.
Medication – Never ever be ashamed to reach out to your GP if you feel you need that extra support to get you back on track. Medication can be the way back to calm for many new mums. So speak to your GP about how you are feeling.
I hope by sharing my story, it will resonate with some of you reading this. One of my favourite quotes is:
“This too shall pass”
I always found it a comfort when it felt like a dark time was never ending. But dark times do end. There is always light ahead!
I absolutely love supporting mums to be and new mums through my treatments. It’s something I’m passionate about. A listening ear and the power of reflexology. If you would like to see how I can support you at this time, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. I’ve been supporting women for the past 10 years from my clinic room in Hoddesdon serving Broxbourne, Ware, Hertford and surrounding areas. It would be lovely to hear from you x