May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and as part of my ambassadorship for Mum & You, they’ve asked me to write about my own personal experience with maternal mental health.
“Is she your first baby?” is something I heard a lot whilst travelling with Tabby at the beginning of the month. My reply was always (laughing): “No – she’s my third”
It’s quite fitting that I travelled across the country solo, and then went to France with a group of ladies I’d never met before at the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s not something I would have ever considered doing with the other two due to PND and anxiety.
With Busby I was so overwhelmed by motherhood. There were so many opinions. So many things I thought would be different. Breastfeeding didn’t work out. She ended up having surgery for an inguinal hernia at around 14 weeks old. Everything felt so intense. I felt like I was always failing. I often felt like she was judging me as her mother (which looking back is ridiculous because she was a baby!). I was the first person in my friendship group to have a baby, so no one really understood where I was coming from. I was lonely. PND was finally diagnosed a few weeks before her first birthday.
My mental health was even worse with H-Bear. I had crippling perinatal anxiety, which continued postnatally. I was drowning in the perpetual waves of PND. Trying to look after a demanding toddler, with a baby suffering from silent reflux and (at that point) undiagnosed allergies, who would scream all day and only nap for 20 minutes at a time. Leaving the house felt like a momentous task. We had just relocated to Yorkshire. I knew no one. But I couldn’t leave the house and meet people; even the thought of it terrified me. Tear-filled phone calls to my husband at work, telling him I couldn’t cope. Wondering what on earth my life had become. Who was I? Where was I?
Third time round I feel happy. The anxiety is still here. It never truly leaves. But it is such a relief not to feel constantly sad. Before Tabby, I never truly understood when other mums would talk about how they loved the baby days but I completely get it now. I feel (mostly) relaxed. I don’t feel like I’m drowning. I’m tired, of course, but I feel like I am appreciating her and making the most of these flying baby months. I don’t feel like I’m stuck in a hazy fug of sadness or overwhelm.
Maternal mental illness is extremely common during pregnancy and in the year after giving birth. Attitudes have changed and improved over the past seven years that I’ve been a mother; it’s definitely less of a taboo subject, but we still have a long way to go. Continuing to talk about how we feel, sharing our stories, being aware of symptoms and supporting each other, will all help to change this.
If you think you may be suffering from postnatal depression and/or anxiety, please talk to your GP or health visitor as soon as possible.