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This week is Maternal Mental Health Matters Awareness Week. This is a week focussing on increasing awareness of the mental health issues faced during pregnancy and in the first year after birth. It also helps the mums affected to discover and access the vital help that they need.
Maternal Mental Health And Me
More than 1 in 10 women develop a mental health issue during pregnancy or in the year after birth. If these are left undiagnosed it can be devastating for all concerned. And as someone who has suffered with depression several times since my 20s I am only too aware of how horrible these feelings are.
During the last trimester of my pregnancy I suffered severe anxiety. I was overweight before getting pregnant, but then put on additional weight AND had an anterior placenta. This meant that I was often unable to feel my baby movements. In the last 8 weeks of my pregnancy we visited the MAC (Maternity Assessment Centre) on many occasions. Often in the middle of the night. I have always been a worrier, but my anxiety absolutely became all encompassing. It really tested my sanity and relationship with my OH.
Then just after having E by an emergency c-section, I started to suffer with a lot of unexplained bowel swelling and discomfort. The GP’s couldn’t find a cause, they tried various tablets, and I had several scans but nothing worked.
My anxiety probably didn’t help here either. I was overly concerned that it may be bowel cancer (my father had died of this 25 years ago at a relatively young age). The pain and discomfort I went through every day was overwhelming. It affected my work and home life. I was miserable, sleep-deprived, snappy and irritable all of the time. Just not myself.
I felt broken. And occasionally felt angry that I’d had a child. I adored my baby, but I just felt hopeless. I finally went to see my GP, who diagnosed PND and gave me Sertraline. She said the bowel pains may also be PND related. In fact, the Sertraline didn’t help with the bowel pains but did lift the black cloud slightly.
Being A Mother
Being a mother can be such a brilliantly loving and rewarding time. But it can also be stressful, overwhelming, exhausting and full on. Especially if you have anxiety. I am quite lucky to be a relatively organised person. But my OCD and other anxious behaviour has not been helped by being a mother. Far from it.
When E was younger, she had a lot of breathing difficulties when she was asleep. She was diagnosed with sleep apnoea. My anxious mind was constantly awake. When she was asleep she would struggle breathing properly. None of us were sleeping well, and I was constantly referring to the baby monitor. I had a fear that she would suffocate, a fear of SIDS, all the irrational fears motherhood can throw at you. Intrusive and persistent dark thoughts, that may seem irrational to others, but aren’t to you as a mother.
About a year ago I started suffering with panic attacks, and this culminated in a full on attack. It was so bad that I felt like I was having a heart attack. I could not stop shaking, crying and hyperventilating. In the end I went down to A&E. I realised that it was time that things changed.
I went back to my GP, who increased my Sertraline dose. But other things in life are needed to help me cope.
What Helps For Me?
In the struggle between my maternal mental health and me, I have these things that help me through. Your list may be totally different.
- Having a list of things that I am grateful for. Here is my list, and why this is a powerful tool.
- Having positive affirmations and motivational quotes to hand. Here are some of my favourites.
- Being organised and decluttering regularly. I find it clears stress, and this post explains why.
- Sewing is definitely my therapy. I feel happy when I finish a project.
The medication and giving up work also helped, but these aren’t without their issues.
Are You In Need Of Some Help?
Do speak to your GP, as the first port of call. It can be hard to admit that there is a problem. I was in denial that I couldn’t cope for a while. We all try to be too perfect. And it can feel wrong to admit that we cannot do it all or be in control of it all. Sometimes we do need the help.
NHS England recently announced (April 2019) that they were increasing funding for more perinatal mental health services. This sounds great, until you realise that this money is in no way ‘ring-fenced’. This means that on a local level the money could be used other underfunded services in your area. As ever, write to your MP or local councillor and let your feelings on this matter be known.
Lastly, check out these wonderful Maternal Mental Health sites.
DO seek the help that you need.