*First published in April, 2018*
Mums do matter. A cliche’, yes, it may sound just about that, however, this is today’s theme for peri natal mental health awareness week. The week long campaign serves to raise awareness on this not talked about issue of mental health during and after pregnancy.
Mental health in certain communities is difficulty to talk about because of misunderstandings and misconceptions of vulnerabilities in people. How can you be sad/overwhelmed, unhappy or depressed when you are carrying or having Gods blessing? Yes, our children are just that, blessings. Sometimes those blessings come with challenges.
I remember how excited we were on finding out that we were expecting. Unplanned as it was, we were elated. Soon after, the vomitting commenced and it got worse by the day. By the time we got to second trimester, the plastic bag on my daily commute into work had become my friend. I was literally worn out on daily basis, couldn’t stomach much apart from the TM buns, ham and black tea. I looked forward to the weekend lie ins and not getting out of bed at all.
To a certain extend, I was fortunate to be at home in Zimbabwe ‘surrounded’ by family even though they did not know how to help or support me. The challenge with mental health is that even the sufferer does not know when to seek help because most of the time one is able to just smile through it.
So what are some of the symptoms and signs of pre, peri or post natal mental illness? According to charity mind, around one in five women will experience a mental health problem during pregnancy or in the year after giving birth. The charity goes on to highlight that there are a varied reasons as why one may suffer mental illness, mainly
- previous experience of mental health problems
- biological causes
- lack of support
- difficult childhood experiences
- experience of abuse
- low self-esteem
- stressful living conditions
- major life events
For us we had a few risk factors such as moving house, long distance commute as I worked in a different city to the marital home. The quick unplanned transitioning into parenthood, employment pressures as well as general ill- preparedness took a toll during pregnancy. We didn’t attend any pre-marital counselling. The ante natal classes that I attended were privately provided by a local Obs gynae and the conversation centred around labor and nothing more. The post natal care was publicly provided at a local baby clinic. This however, centred around baby weight, feeding and vaccines. We pretty much found ourselves reacting to situations and circumstances instead of being proactive.
When I had our second, the stresses were there as we had moved continents and I was adjusting to being a mature nursing student. Once again the Zimbabwe community of student nurses rallied behind me and supported me through severe morning sickness, tiredness, looking after a pre – schooler and unending assignments. This time I read and learnt a lot from my nursing colleagues as well as during my health visiting placement. I was armed with a lot of information and the experience was much better second time round even though I gave birth during british winter 😁
Whilst motherhood remains stressful, I haven’t felt the overwhelm and low in mood that I felt in my first pregnancy.
So what helps with maternal mental health?
-Talking to someone about your feelings help. Its important to let someone know how tired, exhausted, overwhelmed, struggling or sad you are feeling.
I personally have found exercising, meditation and prayer key to my mental well being. Long walks in the park or woodland allows me to clear my mind on busy days.
You don’t need to self diagnose, if your feelings/ emotions tell you something isn’t right, then talk to someone about it.
As mothers it becomes imperative for us to talk about our mental health with our children so they can learn. The report in the news highlight the worrying increase in children’s mental illness and lack of resources to support this demand.
Faith in action Charity is doing some work with faith communities about supporting members of the congregation who may need support.
Prayer, meditation and mindfulness do help as well. Being able to pray with someone can make a huge difference.
Mind is also a good charity to reach out to.
GP’s can help with referrals to support services. Talking therapies is a good service where you can self refer into depending where you live.
Other Public Health services such as midwifery, health visiting, social care and home start are also very good.
Fathers tend to be left in this equation, yet evidence shows that partners can suffer from mental health too during the peri-natal phase.
We also work alongside other organisations such as Migrant Family Support who are able to assist with the issues that may be compounding your mental well being such as immigration issues, domestic abuse, housing etc.
Don’t smile through it. 💕
Links and resources:
2-Maternal Mental Health Alliance https://maternalmentalhealthalliance.org/
3- Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services https://www.nhs.uk/using-the-nhs/nhs-services/mental-health-services/child-and-adolescent-mental-health-services-camhs/