When I first became a mother over twenty years ago I had never heard of perinatal mental health. Though my pregnancy was very much wanted and I had longed to become a mother for many years, I was unprepared for the maelstrom of feelings that would engulf me both during the pregnancy and following the birth of my first child. I had heard of the ‘baby blues’, but did not fully grasp that the physiological and emotional changes of pregnancy, labour and caring for a newborn baby can make this a particularly vulnerable time for new mothers.
Having already experienced depression and anxiety, I realise now that pregnancy was a catalyst for a surge in emotions that further affected my mental health. I was consumed by fears about not only having my baby, but by how others would perceive me and how I would be judged as an inadequate mother. And after the safe delivery of my first child my anxieties became magnified. Despite no evidence to suggest this was or would become the case, I became overly concerned that people would see me as an ‘unfit mother’ and they would take my baby away.
These fears were ‘irrational’, but they felt very real and they affected my ability to enjoy my time as a first time mother. Above everything else, I felt alone and isolated. I had few friends or family nearby that I could share my anxieties with. Although I felt depressed and anxious I didn’t see it as related to becoming a mother and wasn’t sure that I could get support for these feelings. I also felt guilty and ashamed for not being able to cope as well as I thought I should. I did however find support through a local breastfeeding group. Here I found a community of mothers who met weekly to give mutual support to each other. This really helped me and my self esteem around my baby and my abilities to parent her.
Thankfully I was fortunate, and my anxieties did not completely overwhelm me, becoming a more serious mental health crisis. Over time I felt less anxious about motherhood and began to enjoy my time with my baby a lot more. Sadly, this isn’t the case for some new or expectant mothers, whose experiences can lead to serious conditions such as ‘postpartum psychosis’, that often affects women soon after birth.
By the time I had my second baby two years later I realised that I needed more professional support so saw my GP who referred me for counselling. This greatly helped address underlying issues I had with my mental health and ultimately helped me navigate motherhood more successfully.
If you (or somebody you know) have any concerns about your mental health during the perinatal period, help and support are available to ensure you find a healthier and more rewarding journey through parenthood.
For more information or support you can visit the NHS website on https://www.england.nhs.uk/mental-health/perinatal/ or visit the mental health charity MIND at https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/postnatal-depression-and-perinatal-mental-health/about-maternal-mental-health-problems/
To gain peer support from other mothers who have experience of perinatal mental health problems visit The National Childbirth Trust at https://www.nct.org.uk/about-us/commissioned-services/parents-mind-perinatal-mental-health-peer-support
And remember that here at Harmless we aim to support anyone experiencing difficulties with self harm or suicidal thoughts, whether these occur during the perinatal period or not.