Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week.

MMHAW runs from 2nd-8th May 2022. It’s purpose is to raise awareness for mental illness and mood and anxiety disorders that occur during the perinatal space. The perinatal space is considered to be from pregnancy right up until your child is a year old, but in my personal experience this fluctuates for everyone. Last year during MMHAW, I was pregnant, and in a very dark place. I opted not to get involved in much awareness raising, though it was a decision that I found difficult, because spreading awareness of topics such as this, is so important to me. However, whilst these weeks/days/months are so important, they don’t come without triggers. So I want to let you know, if you’re in the perinatal space, just out of it, or five years postpartum, if spending too much time online is proving triggering for you right now, please take a break. Not feeling able to spread awareness is ok. Joining in for one day is ok. Wanting to get involved in the whole shebang is ok. Having good intentions and then changing your mind? Also ok.

Last year just before MMHAW and Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week Blog

Maternal mental health/illness is complex and the effects are different for everyone. We’re often warned of postnatal depression but maternal mental health is so much bigger than depression alone and definitely doesn’t just occur postnatally. I’ve had two babies and suffered with my mental health with both, throughout pregnancy and during the perinatal space. But the effects of each illness were very different. For example with my daughter I suffered low mood (depression) as more of a prominent symptom. I would want to be away from her a lot and I struggled with bonding and finding my identity as a mother. With my son, anxiety and intrusive thoughts were the overriding emotional responses to pregnancy and for a long time postpartum. I couldn’t be alone with the children for weeks after his birth, I felt as if something bad was going to happen whilst they were in my care. I had many intrusive thoughts and my main fear was of developing psychosis. Funny really, because the fear of this very nearly tipped me onto the scale of being psychotic.

Have you ever considered the language used in relation to maternal mental illness?

The reason I ask this, is because I have realised as a sufferer and survivor that we are still relatively behind in how we refer to maternal mental illness. Many people still only resonate with the term postnatal depression except we know that postnatal is just one period within the perinatal space. We know that depression is just one of the many perinatal mental illnesses that affect women during this time period.

Other types of maternal mental illness include

  • Maternal Anxiety
  • Maternal OCD
  • Peri and postpartum psychosis
  • Maternal suicide
  • Exacerbation of existing mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Development of menstrual disorders postnatally

Organisations such as PANDAS often now refer to mental illness that occurs during the perinatal space PMADS which stands for Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders. Others refer to postnatal depression as PND or PPD and some like myself who suffered both depression and anxiety refer to it as PNDA. Perinatal depression and Anxiety. The terminology might not seem overly important, but what is important is the level of understanding and knowledge, that maternal mental illness is not just one symptom, it can often include all of the above at the same time.

I’ve just finished ten months of medical and therapeutic intervention since giving birth to my son in July 2021. I am also medicated for both anxiety and PMDD. Having my children crippled me physically, it shattered my mental health and any equilibrium in my life disappeared. I love my kids, that’s not in question. Though I found growing, birthing, and caring for both of them during the perinatal period, traumatic in the extreme.

What really saddens me when I look back now is that I cried out for help, particularly in my second pregnancy. From just seven weeks pregnant I asked for mental health support. I was told I wasn’t anxious or depressed enough at that time. There was no preventative intervention, nobody to guide me. Particularly as I carried my son during the height of the 2020 pandemic. By the time I was admitted to hospital on the verge of psychosis, the damage had been done. Not only did I need to recover from the trauma of a debilitating pregnancy, I had to do so whilst mentally very unwell and with two children to look after. I still believe that if I had been referred to the perinatal mental health service earlier in my pregnancy my experience would have been very different. You can read more about my experience during my second pregnancy here. Pregnant and chronically ill.

I haven’t shared Kaiser’s birth story, because still to this day, ten months on, after much therapy and support, I find it a harrowing and destabilising time to reflect on. I can talk about it in conversations but I struggle when recalling the details and writing it all down. It causes me pain. And whilst I’ve worked through a whole heap of trauma and accepted my illness, delving into and sharing the true extent of my thoughts is not something I’m completely comfortable with yet.

What I am willing to do is share a quote from the day he was born. A quote that I wrote in the notes on my phone during our first night with Kaiser.

I feel scared of my baby, scared of what the responsibility of being his mum means. I’m missing my other baby, I can’t cope with this one too. Am I a bad mum? I don’t want to be here, in this room with the yellow light and the sound of feet moving and trollies rolling outside of its door. I don’t want to go home either. I just don’t want to be HERE at all.

12.10am 02.07.21

There is a lot of work being done by charitable organisations such as PANDAS as well as The Perinatal Mental Health Partnership to find out what’s causing huge hold ups for people waiting for mental health care during the perinatal period. NHS England are also working on extending the time you can be supported when suffering perinatal mental illness. It’s currently until your child is a year old, however many women find symptoms of mental illness might occur later in the perinatal period and need further or ongoing support.

If you are struggling with your mental health at all please reach out to your GP or one of the organisations listed below. You’re not alone. If you feel like you’re not getting anywhere with your GP ask to see someone else. If you or someone you know is suicidal please visit your nearest A&E department or call your maternity unit immediately. Mental health care is for women during the perinatal period is as essential as physical healthcare.

Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week

A topic so close to my heart and one that I always feel needs highlighting, but also one that I myself am finding particularly triggering at the moment – if you’ve been following my second pregnancy journey you’ll understand why. If you haven’t I’ll explain in short, that I am finding this pregnancy, similar to the first, in that it’s detrimental to my mental health.

Whilst this time round I don’t feel utter desperation and despair, I do feel hopeless and flat. My physical pain has hugely contributed to my mental health during pregnancy. I am so pleased to see maternal mental health reach such heights with awareness, but I feel it’s important to understand how intrinsically linked our physical and mental well-being is. Something that I feel is often overlooked for women who are pregnant and managing illness and physical challenges as well as poor mental health and low mood.

This will be my only post on maternal mental health this week, and the reason for that is stated above – I’m finding it all a bit triggering. I feel so lucky to have come so far on my journey of regaining my strength and mental stability after the birth of my daughter, but equally I feel a strong pull back to that dark time, right now.

There are a few messages that I often shout about in my need to highlight, and want to again here:

You can dislike pregnancy and still want your baby. You can resent the process and it’s toll on you and your body and still feel a deep connection to the life you’re creating.

You can feel sadness and loss at your sense of self in motherhood and still love your children.

Maternal mental health isn’t just present postnatally. It doesn’t just occur during the process of pregnancy or immediately after. It can strike at any time. It can be dark and all consuming, during phases of exhaustion and sleep deprivation, but it can also be triggered during the quagmire of everyday life. When you feel like the old you has gone missing for a while and the responsibility of caring for others takes it’s toll on you emotionally. It can occur with setbacks and regressions in your child’s life, and sometimes it will pop up at any given time it likes.

Postnatal depression isn’t always intrusive thoughts and hiding from the world. Sometimes it’s high functioning anxiety that actually powers you through the days only to hit you like a tonne of bricks when things seem to be going ok.

Depression and anxiety are not always prompted by birth trauma, or tragedy. It can manifest in many ways, sometimes presenting as irritable or snappy, other times as rage, bouts of tearfulness and friction at home. And sometimes it can creep up on you with a dull flatness, you may not even realise you feel depressed at all until the things you used to look forward to in life start to lose their appeal. The things that used to excite you suddenly don’t anymore and everything just feels a bit grey.

When I was pregnant with my daughter six years ago there was no such thing in my area as a perinatal mental health team. It shows great progress that such teams are now in place across the UK helping women come to terms with difficult emotions during and after pregnancy. It has definitely provided me with some reassurance when going through the process again. The only thing I will say that I feel to still be somewhat lacking and this doesn’t just refer to perinatal mental health but mental health in general, is there still isn’t enough preventative measures in place to support people who have a history of depression but aren’t currently depressed.

When I found out I was pregnant this time my anxiety was in full force but when referred to talking therapies I was deemed to score low on the mood charts and therefore not particularly high risk or in need of additional support. Unfortunately this is all too common when seeking support for mental health. I believe I know myself best and after having come through many bouts of poor mental health I feel I’m the best judge of character to preempt spirals. It’s frustrating when you know you could go either way but the support is only in great supply when you are close to crisis.

I’ve found great support this time in grassroots organisations such as Bluebell Care probably even more so than I have in my midwifery team.

Maternal mental health has been highlighted even more in the last year because of the pandemic and if anything good was to come from that it would be that we’re shining a light on mother’s struggling.

There’s a long way left to go and it’s not easy to be candid on such topics – but one thing I do know is that however you’re feeling, you’re not alone. It takes a great strength to open up about parenting struggles because societal judgement is still placed so heavily on a mother. Speaking up is the first step, becoming aware is the next one.

For more information on maternal mental health support please visit Maternal Mental Health Alliance