I have seen many powerful messages this week across social and regular media. I debated whether I had anything that I could possibly add that would seem valuable in light of the strength shown by these mothers sharing their stories.
I have heard accounts that are tragic. Inspiring. Humorous. Heartbreaking. Thought provoking.
My story isn’t any of those things but I thought I would share it all the same.
I was deeply unhappy when I became pregnant with my first child. I was in a relationship with someone who didn’t love me but couldn’t let me go due to his own mental health issues. I was often paralysed by fear, anxiety, panic attacks and phobias. I displayed obsessive and compulsive behaviour that was being treated with CBT by a psychologist and was diagnosed with depression.
I was convinced that I was going to die in childbirth and had prepared myself to never see my baby. In the seconds after his birth, my life changed forever.
Matthew was rushed away from me to be given oxygen as he couldn’t breathe. In that moment I realised that it wasn’t about me any more. I had a son who needed me to be a mum, not a nervous wreck. Whatever happened to me didn’t matter as long as he was safe.
I had to be strong for him. I have to be strong for him and now my other two children.
The early days are so hard and I often sobbed at my babies begging them to sleep. But I got through it. The pain of breastfeeding and feeling like a failure when ordered to stop feeding Matthew. But I got through it. The despair at being unable to find a job to support me and the children. But I got through it. The heartbreak of going to bed alone each night, wishing there was someone there. But I got through it (and met my soulmate Chris 🙂 ).
I have moments when I want to wallow in my own self doubt and hatred but that won’t get homework finished or tea cooked. I still have dark thoughts, get paralysed by fear of what could happen especially now that I have so much to lose. My mental health hasn’t been cured but it has improved, others have different experiences and as I read the accounts of PND I feel very lucky. I manage to snap myself out of my negativity by concentrating on the good that I have in my life now. I think of my children and how I would hate for them to see me struggling to cope. I am so proud of the people they are becoming and I hope they are healthy both physically and mentally. Matthew is very sensitive and I wonder if this stems from the anxiety he experienced in utero when I was so anxious about everything. Anya is self assured because I was more confident when I had her. Zach is the happiest baby in the world, always smiling unless he isn’t getting his own way (!)
So the message that I would like to give to mums out there in the big wide world is that mental health matters. Not everyone has the same story and not everyone deals with mental health issues in the same way. I know I don’t have the usual PND story, that my mental health has actually improved after having children and I am incredibly happy, a word I never thought I’d use to describe myself. My vlog on children and happiness hopefully shows that I am trying to instil the tools for the children to make themselves happy in a world where their needs will not always be met by their circumstances.
What matters most is that mums remember you have just MADE a human being, an incredible achievement but it is hard work and will affect every single aspect of your life. Some days seem impossible to get through but a quick cry in the kitchen relieves tension. I’m not ashamed to cry in front of my children, I want them to learn to express their feelings rather than bottle things up to keep up the appearance of strength. It is much stronger to seek help and confront your issues than to hide them away.
Please ask for help if you need it, whether you think it may be PND or other maternal mental health concerns. Reach out to another person, whether it is a partner, parent, friend, doctor.
Don’t be afraid.
As this week draws to a closes, let’s unite to remove the social stigma given to mothers who need mental health support.
Mums: your mental health matters.