As I'm sure you're aware, this week is Maternal Mental Health Awareness week. This time last year Sara Campin, Founder of Nourish shared her story with the world for the first time ever. In fact, it was the first time she had really shared her story with her closest friends and family. For a long time she had struggled to admit to herself that what she had experienced in the first year of her daughter's life, was a valid mental health problem.
In case you missed it last year over on her blog, Keeping Mum Mighty, here it is:
There is so much stigma around mental health that we are often terrified to share how we truly feel or even share our past stories because of what people might think of us. I'm sure you can understand therefore that it is with some trepidation that I am writing this post. However, research suggests that mental health issues are incredibly common and 1 in 5 of all woman have a Common Mental Disorder, with Post Natal Depression (PND) affecting between 10 to 15 in every 100 women having a baby . It is therefore so important that we raise awareness by sharing our stories and breaking the stigma, so that the mothers who are currently suffering realise they are not alone, and hopefully feel encouraged to access the help available to them.
Sometimes there is an obvious reason for PND, but not always. I think this is an important point to remember. I've noticed that a lot of stories I've read this week are linked to heart wrenching events where low mood seems a very obvious outcome. But it is important to remember that for some, there is no obvious reason and we shouldn't be ashamed of that, or feel less able to ask for help or share our story.
My story involves two parts, one with a more obvious cause than the other. But as I said, being a brand new mum is often cause enough. A few of the vivid memories that are etched onto my brain from the first 4 months of my daughter’s life include:
Bursting into tears nearly every morning when my husband was leaving for work, and the look of confusion in his eyes
Trying to hold back the tears when I met up with friends and they told me how wonderful their baby was and how much they were enjoying being a mum
Spending every single moment that my daughter was napping (for all of 20 minutes after a 40 minute battle) googling sleep – with match sticks propping up my eyes and the tears of frustration staining my cheeks
Seeing the doctor when my daughter was 6 weeks old and telling him I was worried because she hadn’t yet smiled and then bursting into tears when he turned around and kindly asked me if I was OK
Pretending to the health visitor I was coping better than I was because I didn’t want to admit to her or myself that I wasn’t
A constant feeling of guilt and failure
I’m sure these scenes are pretty familiar to many new mums. Did I qualify as someone with clinical post-natal depression? Possibly, possibly not. The truth is I wasn’t coping, but I was so afraid to admit this to myself and to others that I felt I couldn’t ask for help. I had wanted to be a mother for so long. I was a successful and independent woman and yet there I was, finding it all just too much – how could I admit that? I felt so confused and so alone and started hating myself for failing so terribly and not enjoying being a mother more. PND and all mental health issues can vary on a scale of mild to severe and it can affect women in many different ways. Because I knew other mothers who had more severe depression and some different symptoms to what I was experiencing, I also felt that I didn’t have the right to ask for help.
Thankfully, things did improve, especially once the sleep improved - once we finally got help from a sleep consultant at 5 months! But my biggest regret is not taking greater care of myself, not admitting that I wasn’t coping and not asking for more help. If I had, I might have found greater enjoyment in those early months of my daughters life.
The second time round, I was so convinced it would be different. I was an experienced mum now. I could do chillaxed, I was going to rock at this! #2 was born just before Christmas so I had plenty more support around me during the first couple of weeks and I have to admit they were wonderful, mainly because I sat on the sofa doing nothing and he slept most of the time. But then the silent reflux kicked in big time: I struggled to get him to stay on the breast for more than a few seconds at a time and he screamed blue murder after every feed, unless he was sat completely still and upright in a chair on his own with no one touching him. What kind of baby screamed every time he was pushed in a buggy? I couldn’t understand it. He was constantly snotty and his breathing sounded like Darth Vader. I became totally obsessive about his feeding, his health and his sleep and the anxiety ate me up. The doctors and health visitors initially dismissed us as he was putting on some weight. But no one seemed to understand the shear effort and commitment it was taking me to make this happen and it felt like everyone thought I was just a neurotic mother. My daughter also found the constant crying hard to bear and understandably became hugely jealous. There were plenty of days when they were both screaming at me and I felt totally overwhelmed, lost and alone and just wanted to crawl under a rock and never ever come out again.
Having been through and then reflected on some tough and dark times with #1, my husband and I were so much more aware and able to discuss our mental well-being the second time round. It was with our new openness and his support that I felt able to go to the doctor and ask for help. My GP was amazing and I was quickly enrolled on a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) course for anxiety. I was nervous about taking a drug that would alter by brain chemistry, but was able to limit this to a low dose and it was definitely the right decision for our family at the time. Obviously, these steps didn’t solve all the challenges we were going through, but they did mean I was much more able to cope with them and ultimately our family well-being was in a much better place. I know I was lucky and was only at the lower end of the scale of mental health problems, but if I hadn’t got help when I did, who knows where we would have been.
It was on that NHS funded course that I had my first introduction to a few simple CBT and mindfulness techniques. This really opened up my mind to the opportunity to help ourselves and try and change some of our behaviours. I now realise there are so many different ways we can better look after ourselves and help keep ourselves mentally healthy, so that we can cope better during the challenging times. I wish I had known more about these tools and strategies before becoming a mother and I wish I had prepared myself better mentally for what being a mother would be like: what expectations I was holding on to; what emotions I might encounter and ways to deal with them when they arose; why self-care is so important to keep us on that even keel; and what strategies I could implement to keep myself mentally healthy so that I was better able to cope during some of the difficult times. We read all the books about parenting, we go to antenatal courses, but there is only limited emphasis on how we prepare ourselves for being a mother. We don’t know what motherhood will throw at us or when it will be thrown – I am sure there are many more tough times to come. But we can better prepare ourselves for those challenging times and in the process, enhance some of the good times even more.
Here at Nourish Your Mind, we believe that maternal mental health matters.
We believe that by nourishing our mind and making mental wellbeing a priority, we can not only access our best selves for our families and communities, but we can also protect ourselves from some of the turbulence motherhood throws at us, and navigate a smoother course.
We believe no mother should feel alone on her motherhood journey and that with the right tools & support at her fingertips, all mothers can find greater joy in their path.
We're on a mission to revolutionise the motherhood journey by making good mental health and positive wellbeing easy and accessible to all mothers.
Sign up to our newsletter, follow us on Instagram or Facebook and join us on our journey and help us make this a reality.
Because ever mother deserves the right to enjoy motherhood!
Supporting, motivating and inspiring all mothers to thrive