TODAY is the start of Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, and here at Child’s Pose Yoga, I am giving the week over to a series of blog posts on maternal mental health matters – which is a matter that is very close to my heart, as I suffered from mental health issues following the birth of our honey badger.
I could ramble on and on about the subject for days, so to give my posts some sort of structure, I am going to attempt to follow the themes laid out for the week. So – first post is ‘What is perinatal mental health?’
You can read a variety of articles online to find out exactly what perinatal mental health encompasses, so I am not going to inexpertly replicate any of them – instead I will talk about MY perinatal mental health.
Due to the hyperemesis gravidarum I suffered from throughout my pregnancy, I was probably at least a little bit depressed before I gave birth, I don’t really think my issues started properly until afterwards. Any lowered mood I felt then I blamed on the fact I was being sick all-the-blimmin’ time.
If I were to describe what exactly I am still recovering from, I would say it was a mix of postnatal depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress. My medical notes in the year and a bit I was signed off work for after my maternity leave simply said postnatal depression.
From the moment my son was born, I was very protective of him, I didn’t like being away from him, and if someone else was holding him when he cried, I got very very anxious. I was exhausted from a tough pregnancy, and lack of sleep following that – honey badger refused to sleep in his cot, or indeed anywhere except on me or his daddy. I had grazes following the birth that were situated right at my urethra – so whenever I went for a pee, I was in absolute agony – I felt like the pain was worse than labour itself. My husband started a new job three days after our son was born, so he wasn’t able to take any maternity leave, and I felt suddenly all alone with this tiny being, and completely unprepared for parenthood.
I got very teary, but was advised that this was probably just the ‘baby blues’. However, they didn’t go away, and I would spend hours crying, feeling like I was wasting the time I had with my newborn. I would end up shouting at him as he woke up every time I tried to close my eyes for a bit of sleep, and I would manically sing nursery rhymes to try and calm him as I tried to grab a quick shower. It got to the stage that his crying became a trigger for my anxiety – I would do anything to try and stop him crying, I felt like I was a terrible mother if I let him cry at all. On top of this, I started having intrusive thoughts – of dropping him down the stairs, or shaking him to stop him crying – and although I was certain I would never act on any thoughts that would cause him harm, they were very distressing, and I was ashamed of having them.
I did try to seek help from the doctor, but I was told that to take antidepressants, I would have to stop breastfeeding. Stopping the one thing I felt I was actually good at as a mother would have made me feel worse, so I decided not to take the pills that were offered. No other help was really forthcoming at this point, so I continued on the way I was.
My anxiety got worse. My crying got worse. I started having postpartum rages, where I would be inexplicably FURIOUS at something, and I felt like I no longer knew who I was. I would frequently fall out with my husband, and this would trigger more unwelcome thoughts.
I started to think it might be better if I was no longer around. One night, after another argument, I lay in bed and started researching suicide methods. I was ‘trapped’, feeding my son, so couldn’t act on any urges to hurt myself – and it was the thought of my son growing up without a mother, even one as rubbish as I thought I was that made me reach out to a friend. She told me to tell my husband how I felt – which I did, and the next day was a whirlwind of scary activity, that saw my at the GP, then at the hospital, then home again with a prescription for the same antidepressants I had been offered months before, but this time I was told I could breastfeed whilst taking them.
That was almost two years ago, and I have since gone through talking therapy, taken up yoga and mindfulness, (started teaching baby yoga!) – and I still take the pills (and I still breastfeed!).
I am on the road to recovery. If you ever feel like I did, know that, with help, you can recover too.
10/10/2018 edit :
This article has just popped up on my timeline – It’s by Eve Canavan, a rather brilliant woman who has become an ardent campaigner for perinatal mental health awareness, following her experience of postpartum psychosis. It’s well worth a read.