It is often said by women after having a baby that there was a “secret conspiracy” by other women who have had children for not sharing what is it really like to have a newborn baby.
Perhaps there is a bit of truth in this statement. Every woman, her pregnancy and experience will have common factors, mainly that they are creating another human being, but the physical and emotional elements will be unique to her. Your own experience of being a child, the parenting you received and life events will all influence how you cope with pregnancy, birth and a new baby.
Not only do you have these external factors influencing you there will be hormone changes that affect you, especially with regards to your mental health. Information hungry pregnant women will read everything they can about their pregnancy, labour and birth, and when the baby arrive the focus will turn to the needs of the baby. Instinctive perhaps, but the time to look after yourself has never been greater. Your mind and body will need nurturing too so you can look after your baby.
The commonly referred to “baby blues” will happen, for some this is a few days, but for many this can become more serious and develop into postnatal depression. Health professional will check on you and your baby, and they will be checking for any signs, but too often a woman may have to self-diagnose or could hide their true feelings and emotions.
So how do you know if you suffering?
Of course, there is so much on the internet for you to read, but you need to know YOU… before you can truly understand how you are feeling is perhaps a bit more than the “baby blues”
After trying to conceive for 5 years through IVF, I suffered with antenatal depression. My self-esteem and confidence was brutally battered, but when my last treatment worked and I had my son I was euphoric. So much so, that my health visitor told me a year after the birth that she was waiting for me to plunge into depression. How could I have post-natal depression, I had my new baby, everything was perfect and I had been through so much to have a baby. But, it crept up on me very slowly.
I had stopped working from a busy career, none of my friends were having babies and I had no friends outside of work who were in the same place. Alone at home all day I missed being valued and having an appraisal of my work, which was now my baby.
Even with a supportive partner, how could he really know what it was like from dawn to dusk to be on your own with a new baby. With so many questions, was I feeding OK? Did he need a nappy change? When will he do something? My days dragged on and on. Eventually I recognised that I needed to do something for me. One day I broke down in front of the GP, who was very understanding, but that was it. I was prescribed anti-depressants to get me in a calm place and told to go home and enjoy my baby.
Support for women with mental health issues has slightly improved, but mainly in raising awareness, but we are still a long way from providing the support, care and understanding that is seriously needed for new mums.
My Grandmother would always say “educate the mother and you educate the child”, as mother’s today we should be taking action to educate our children to recognise mental health needs before, during and after pregnancy. Everyone should learn from an early age that our brain health needs as much care as our physical health.
Written for the Independent newspaper – June 2017