Mental Health Wellbeing and Motherhood

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How many times have we heard the reactions of family and friends when someone tells them they are pregnant. Usually its met with delight and spontaneous rupture. Usually they incredibly pleased and what follows are months of conversations about the date, your health, the family’s responses to all the details such as naming the child, who will be there and whether you will go back to work or now be at home looking after your new family . And this can be the beginning of feelings being both daunting and exciting…

Many woman feel excitement and joy and are looking forward to the birth and their new family. Other woman may have mixed feelings for a variety of reasons; such as careers that are being developed, fears over money, relationship issues or general anxieties . There can be  anxieties about doing the right thing and the new responsibility of looking after another life and how this might affect the relationship .

And then the baby arrives. Your met with warm blessings from family and friends. They are happy for you and enquire about all the details of the birth and the stories of the new family begin to be weaved.

But what if now the baby you felt so excited about having isn’t the baby you expected? What if your feelings towards him or her aren’t joy and happiness?, what if you feel a mess and struggle to work out what each cry means? and to top it all you cannot get the dam pushchair in the boot of the car. I mean who takes a tape measure to the baby shop!

Tiredness sets in, all night waking and feelings about who should help and why you feel the way you do can creep in even more. You notice you feel more anxious, even tearful and you hide what your feelings from your partner and friends. Some of you might share but are met with what’s wrong with you, “it’s a beautiful time”, “you should be happy”, “you have a lovely baby”, “or you’re now a woman ““this is what woman are meant to do” . The responses can make you feel ashamed and different. You look at your friends and wonder why they seem to look glam and are coping so well. The “whats wrongs with me” thoughts linger in the back of your mind.

But what if you really don’t feel joy, what if you wonder if you did the right thing or are scared that you’re not coping? what if you’re worried you have deeper mental health issues?

First, becoming a mother and father is a huge transition. It’s one of the biggest changes anyone will ever make. Your life will never be the same – everything you do has to consider your baby. If you’re working, every day is a balancing act and little decisions like deciding to stay at work late rests on who else can support you and how you feel about your role as a mother .I’ve not met a woman yet who didn’t hasn’t struggle with these feelings.

Many also feel guilt and shame and hold the secret taboos ….

The feelings of fear, anxiety and tearfulness can all be a normal part of the transition. The mind and body have had months to get used to the transition but of course some feelings remain and adjustments in your relationship, body and living arrangements are still being made.

If anyone reading this is pregnant or just had a baby my main point is

ITS VERY COMMON FOR WOMAN TO FEEL A WHOLE HOST OF FEELINGS  – HAPPINESS, SADNESS, ANXIETY, FEAR,

And they may experience IRATIONAL THOUGHTS – IT DOSNT MEAN YOU HAVE A MENTAL HEALTH ISSUE !

The changes made are huge and some of us cope with change and transition easier than others, add a baby, new relationships and extended family and the matter becomes a little more complicated.

I was 23 when I had my first child. In comparison to my friend’s I was not young and I didn’t think I was, yet I was told I was on many occasions . However, within a year I had married moved in with my in-laws and had a child. The “career” that I had been working towards got shelved and my values changed .

The transition was tough as living with a new family brought a whole host of challenges that I’ll talk about in a different space and I had a baby that just didn’t seem satisfied. All sorts of feelings coursed through my body and some day’s panic set in. I was isolated as the house was in a quiet village and I didn’t drive yet. In the day, I was alone as everyone was at work. The following months were tough.

Over the years, as part of my second career, I have met many families. Usually the children have been older. The role of looking after a woman in the UK in the first few months falls into the hands of the GPs and health visitors. All concerns about the feeding , the baby’s weight, their health and whether they are to hot or cold. More so now, the feelings of the mother (and father) are taken into account but what is happening and needed is patchy and relies on the passion and perseverance of many of the good health staff, with little resources if things aren’t so good early on..

The pressure is now on for the woman to perform to society’s expectations which are now very high and many transitions are active at the same time

In the UK we now have a programme of care after the birth of a baby .The health visitor is now expected to ask the new mum a range of questions to see if there are any signs of “The Blues” or post natal depression . Health visitors and midwives are trained to ask and expand on these questions but how many mothers are able to be honest about how they feel is another thing.

There is also a lot of work happening to make peri natal and post natal services more responsive to the needs of the mother and be pro active should the mother show signs of any mental health issues. This is great news as for those that were struggling beyond the normal issues of adjustment to a new baby and change .There are now places where the staff are better trained and can respond in a timely way to get the help that the new mum needs. But these places are not available in all areas. Services that are very good are patchy and support varies across the country and so does government interest.

As I said earlier many of the feelings that are experienced pre-and post-birth are perfectly normal. You are trying to adjust to all the different demands and now must consider a live person that now relies on you for food warmth and comfort. You also must learn to negotiate with you partner and get their input as they too are going through a change. You also must consider each shopping trip, trips to friends and family, as these become like a military planning- taking bottles, spare snacks, and a whole host of gadgets and unless you have your genius brain switch on, who isn’t going to leave the bottle on top of the car and drive away or forget to buy something at the shop.

What’s important is, is that you down expect yourself or your partner to be perfect. As much as you read the books nothing can really prepare you for the various things that your brain must manage. Sleep deprivation and having your world turned outside and upside down is a lot to manage even if you sit in the first category of feeling immense joy at the addition to your life

Therefore, these few things in the in the first few months are imperative

As with Maslow who wrote about the higherachy of needs at no time do they become more important than this

Firstly, (after adequate shelter) we need good sleep, power naps, food, and water. Broken sleep takes some getting used to , so planning how you might both manage this and  agree who is going to do what can help. I felt I wanted to do all of it but wanted to share bath times and evenings where one of us could take over a bit more

Sleep when you can – and  even though our mums say leave the housework, many new mums think that the house must look like a gleaming new pin but you do yourself no favours running yourself ragged

Give yourself a five month plan. the first five months are about adjustment.

So, sleep. try to prepare or buy nutritious food. Good food gives your body the array of nutrients it needs for more challenging times. I recently bought a soup maker . I wish I had that a few years ago .

Focus less on all the other usual activity’s or change the way you do them

Shopping on a Saturday in a crowded shopping centre with a new baby and pushchair can be exhausting, finding somewhere to feed them that is relaxed and clean is rare. Youl just come back frazzled and fed up.

Join a new mother group or organisation so that you can meet woman who are going through the same stage. Often if we are the only one in our friendship group that has had a baby , we will feel different over time. We will now be living different lives and our needs have changed. You need to relate to people that share similar experiences and can also share how they are managing tricky things. Plus, the children can grow up together, giving you a way to socialise your baby and for you to have adult conversations

Don’t get caught up in my baby does this and that conversations. yes, baby’s all develop in a similar way but might do some things at different times. Don’t compete as you either feel inferior or make other mums feel it. Share the delights but don’t compete

Think of your support network and get it mobilised as soon as you can . This means some simple steps at first that can pave the way for more activity later -joining an online support group, skyping , joining a facebook interest group. then maybe a mother and toddler group and something where you can develop a hobby of your own.

If there is a grandad or granny ask them how they feel looking after the baby and what’s times are good for helping -don’t assume they will always be available but when you really need a break do ask

Enlist the help of friends who might offer once a month babysitting, even if you don’t do it yet, get them used to the baby

At some point, you and your partner need to have couple time

If your friends come over, get them to make the drinks and cut the cake. Don’t fall into entertaining all the time.

Don’t obsess about you weight. eat nutrional rich food and get out for a walk daily and the weight will start to re adjust

Drink plenty of water

Good sleep – nutrition- light exercise (walks) fresh air = feeling good

Make time daily to have an open chat with your partner. Try not to fall into the trap of feeling that they don’t understand.  If they are working don’t think  “its ok for him” or that he isn’t interested.  Men (partners) must adjust too and your job is to own your feelings.

If you start to harbour resentment ,this will start to damage a good relationship or throw what you have off track, leaving you both feeling distant and cold. Don’t do this , you need each other . You need  the nice feelings and the respect . It all helps your relationship continue to thrive.

Talk openly, take responsibility for your feelings and try and state what you need rather than what is wrong and when the help is offered accept it.

Organise a task list and ask your partner which ones he can easily do, on the way home, at the weekend etc. and have him sign up to those parts, anyone else in the family can do some of the others. This is the time for you to relax into the new relationship with your baby .

After a few months + date night + a trip out with friends, a day out etc.

When you plan the months, it can also help you see that this stage is temporary. within a few months, you will feel less of a novice and many of the initial anxiety’s will disappear.

If any of you feel so overwhelmed or are obsessing you must talk to someone you trust or the health visitor.

Tackling feelings early on is important , some can linger in the back of your mind. If they do, this can help you see whether as time goes on they are passing or getting worse.

If something is disturbing your sleep and you’re not eating like you did or your overdoing anything that then you need to talk.

NONE OF THIS MEANS YOU HAVE A MENTAL HEALTH ISSUE

Many woman adjust and feel a bit more themselves within a few weeks to a few months

If after a few months , if you are low, feeling worthless, and really struggle to get active then you must talk to someone.

If you , or your partner is constantly irritated , putting a lot of pressure on themselves, not eating , over active and has mentioned that they wish they weren’t there and have suggested that you’d be better off without them then seek help now .

If family and friends have been around, this may not be enough, even where they may be more supportive. You might need more specialist help- see your GP/health visitor. If your ignored call a helpline that has some experience of post natal issues .

Before pregnancy

Learning meditation and mindfulness before or during pregnancy can really help. It will help you develop the skills for slowing your mind down and being in the moment. It’s also great for keeping you healthy and well. It will also help you become more resilient.

Also see if you can do a CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) course online or get a book about it. The skills you can learn their again will help you immensely.

Some of the ways that things can gradually put a strain on you is the thoughts that you have . If you obsess and go around in mental circles this will also affect your energy levels. It can be exhausting.

Knowing how your mind works and harnessing your thoughts so that they don’t continually fire off the stress response will go a long way.

Looking back, the impact that the transition had on me was huge but could have been relived if ;

An I had planned better before hand

Built better mental resilience

Learnt meditation yoga and mindfulness

Knew more about the importance of nutrition

Understood that we go through transitions and cycles and that at times we need to slow it down and do basic care routines for ourselves

Sought some help outside of family sooner

Put less pressure on myself to know how to be a mum straight away

Gone back to work part time only

Spoken to my husband more and stopped making him guess

Saw his role as developing too

Built up a new friend network and got out once a week

Tried the pushchair to see if it fit in the car lol

I wrote this article after many years of being around children families and being a parent myself. However sadly many woman and their partners suffer as they do not share what they are struggling with, get the adequate support and suffer in silence .

Hindsight is everything isn’t it but along with the changes in healthcare ,our cultures have also changed immensely. Men and woman all over the world are bombarded with media images of family life. Sometimes this barrage of “perfection” dose not help, especially when we are more vulnerable, such as during change, transition and new starts.

Many of the support networks have gone and so has the wisdom that we men and woman could tap into. We are guided by a medical profession that dictates how we treat and manage out health wellbeing and families – yet basic tips on looking after our needs are not highlighted yet go a long way to maintain good mental health and wellbeing .

However, the basic rules of sleep food and rest with some good connections is as important as it ever was, if not more so. We need to think about how we look after ourselves otherwise our health can quickly deteriorate and that includes our mental health

It’s a pleasure for me to see the many developments across the country for woman and families where the stress and pressure becomes too much. Some woman have suffered trauma pre-pregnancy and can be more vulnerable to health and wellbeing issues after the birth of the baby.

None of this make you less of a woman, it’s just life sometimes throws us some crappy stuff. If you have some issues, anxiety’s or low mood already then seek help whether pregnant or not. This can inoculate you from further issues down the line. It’s hard to see what we have prevented because we took alternative action,

prevention is always better than cure!