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.
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.