Motherhood, Mental Health & Me
Updated: Jun 14
Did you know 1 in 5 new mothers will experience mental health issues during pregnancy or in the year after birth? Mental Health as a mother, is everything. I've always harped on about it...Happy Mum = Happy Baby. In the light of Mental Health Awareness Week I couldn't let it pass without me being true to myself. I can't sit here and say how important it is, while sweeping my own troubles under the carpet. Having had two children before, I thought the third time round I'd be okay... "I know what I'm doing...", I thought. "We've got all the gear," we said to ourselves. "The transition from 2 - 3 kids is easier than 1 - 2 ..." people told us. But I've found it hard. So so hard. And it took me 9 weeks to put my hand up and say "Hey Doc, I'm struggling!" I remember the day when it all came to a head. Friends were messaging me asking to come and see Sienna, I'd just collected the boys from school. Sonny wanted me to play Hamma Beads with him, Lex had homework to do, Sienna was crying on my shoulder and wouldn't be put down. I also had dinner to cook, packed lunches to make and milk to mop up off the floor. And it was Sonny, poor Sonny, who got the brunt of it when I felt myself tip over the edge and rage boil up inside me. He just wouldn't give in, saying the same thing over and over again and my response "Mummy will play in a minute...Mummy will play in a minute" just wasn't getting through. I lost it. It was like an out-of-body experience as this guttural roar came from inside me and echoed around the house. The boys both stopped dead in their tracks. Alarmed. Sienna, who I had forgotten was perched on my shoulder then started to cry. Sonny's little face looked at me in shock, he started to cry. What had I just done? At that point I started to cry and Lex came up to me and said "Mummy, tell me what to do". He wanted to help bless him, but didn't know how as he saw his Mummy, his little brother and baby sister all reduced to tears. "Get Papa." I said. Acknowledging that I had completely lost control. Thankfully, my husband was working from home that day at the bottom of the garden. Lex trudged down there, and despite Papa being on a call, he was persistent and got Papa into the house to help. "I'm having a break down", I said. But what does that even mean? A mental breakdown? A physical breakdown? An emotional breakdown? I always felt that people having a "breakdown" literally couldn't function anymore and were hospitalised. But as the words came out of my mouth, I wondered if that was me. I walked out of the room and had to sit with these thoughts...what next? I knew I was struggling because when the Health Visitor came to see me a few weeks before and asked me to complete two questionnaires, I was red flagged for my answers on the anxiety questionnaire. "Right, you're scoring a bit high," she said. "I'll keep a check on you."
My postnatal GP check was the day after this episode, so I raised it with them and found my voice hoarse and raspy, a lump in my throat, as I admitted my difficulty to cope. Admitting it made it feel real, "God, is this it? Am I not coping?" half of me thought. While the other half of me felt a relief, like I didn't have to put a brave face anymore and that "it's out there now, I'm not alone." The GP & I talked through it, he asked my situation, offered practical advice and then suggested medication. I understand medication is incredibly positive in helping those with mental health, and is totally necessary in some situations, but in this case it didn't feel right for me.
The GP listened, and urged me to gather support from friends and family, so I did. Plucking up the courage, I told a handful of people which seemed to really take it out of me. Probably because I was disappointed when those who I thought may be able to support me, didn't. Anyone who has been in this position will understand just how hard it is to admit to others (and yourself!) that you're not coping. But when those you turn to don't hear you it exacerbates the problem and makes you feel all the more vulnerable. I felt alone, really alone.
Giving them the benefit of the doubt, I sat on it and thought how so many people in society don't know how to respond to mental health. Probably because so many victims don't have the courage to talk about it. There's such a huge stigma, so often troubles are swept under the carpet or buried deep down. We have so far to go, when it comes to conversations on mental health and how to tackle it. The phrase "It takes a village" shouldn't be limited to raising a child, it seems. On reflecting on my situation, I know the underlying causes of my anxiety and the current triggers. This pregnancy was particularly fraught for me... I'd lost my previous baby which fell out of me onto the bathroom floor (a moment that will haunt me forever). Then finally pregnant again, at week 14 I discovered something was hanging out of me. I expected the worst and rushed myself to hospital. Doctors couldn't find the answers. I spent a week to and fro with huge uncertainty until I went private and it was concluded I had a cervical prolapse. Thankfully, this was not detrimental to the baby or pregnancy. A few weeks later, at my 20 week scan, the baby had an echogenic bowel - which flagged up a whole multitude of potential issues. We had tests, scans, investigations (worse case scenario being cystic fibrosis) and then after a gruelling two week wait it was fine - just an "over sensitive machine" in the ultrasound department. Then 3 weeks later my dear friend, out of nowhere, messaged us to say her beautiful little boy who we'd all grown to know and love - was being rushed to hospital following a seizure and cardiac arrest. He was also her third child. The following days were utterly heartbreaking as we learnt that this precious soul, at just 21 months old, was not going to pull through (you can read her story here). All these events, without doubt, have plagued my mind and contributed into becoming a super-hyper-anxious mother. I cannot do the nights with Sienna as I lie awake listening to her breathing after a feed, wondering what's normal, what's not, and if she's okay. I then find myself, in the middle of the night going to check on the boys too. Something I never did before now. So when I lost it that day I figured it was a whole mixture of emotions; fatigue, overwhelm, anxiety, the lot. The challenge though, is to recognise any issues before it comes to boiling point. As a mother, you can get so tied down, so focused and so lost in the day-to-day. It's really important to try to notice the signs before it comes to a head. Easier said than done though, right? I've found some incredible Instagram accounts really comforting and informative when it comes to mental health. The first is Anna Marthur, a psychotherapist and mum of three. She is raw, with a candid account of her own experiences both in the chair and as a mother, making her highly relatable. The second is Dr Julie Smith, who is a clinical psychologist and uses incredible visuals to demonstrate mental health, how we perceive it and how we can overcome it. I also love to follow Helene the Illustrator. She is a mother and illustrator and creates incredible images depicting motherhood. What people see, and how it is on the inside, and that you're not alone, you're normal, and it's okay if you're not okay. I have to say though, be careful on who/what you follow when it comes to social media. Remember comparison is the thief of joy. Never compare your life to someone else's show reel...it's not real life! The same goes for people - surround yourself with people who build you up, who lift you, understand you and will be there for you. When it comes to motherhood and mental health, be kind to yourself. Talk to someone, anyone, just get it out. Just speaking about it has allowed me to reflect on what is good for me and what is not, to implement certain things - to form new habits, and break down any negative cycles. I'm optimistic that my case is situational, and I'm hopeful that it's just a phase, rather than a deep-rooted mental health issue. However, for some, this may not be the case. It's so so important to get help, to talk and know that you're not alone. You're amazing Mama, it's a tough gig! Incase you're wondering what changes I've made, I've listed them below incase they might inspire others: * Ice cold shower every morning - good for mental health - think Wim Hof style * Set my alarm earlier than everyone else - do a workout/meditate/calm cup of tea before the kids wake up * Exercise - this will release endorphins - happy hormones * Walk in nature every morning - this not only regulates your circadian rhythm but being in nature is said to reduce your production of cortisol by 20% * Wiped my diary - I have no engagements in the diary and will do what I feel on the day - living in the moment * Buy Cook ready meals - they do 10% off for New Parents * Go to bed at 9.30pm latest - sleep is EVERYTHING!
If you know someone else struggling with mental health, show up for them, even if that means just just sitting in silence together, your company alone will be a comfort to them.
Don't offer to do things or suggest ideas and not follow through. They will find it hard to say yes, they will find it hard to ask for help and they will find it hard to be specific on how you can help. Just show up. The smallest things like a text, a hug, a cooked meal, go a long way. Some organisations that can support Women's Mental Health:
A F INAL NOTE:
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