My name is Anna Ceesay.
I’m scared, and I feel very alone. I feel like there’s no way out of this.
I’m eight months pregnant with my second child and I don’t feel good. I’m in my car, parked outside my daughter’s preschool. I’ve just dropped her off.
It started when I was about six months in: but there was a lot going on. My husband was away, we were doing our house up, I was working part time and looking after a toddler whilst growing another human being! I would wake up some mornings with a sinking feeling in my tummy that stayed there for the whole day. It wasn’t every day; some days I felt normal, great even. But when I did start to feel anxious or low, I hid it very well from everyone around me. I didn’t tell anyone, not even my husband or parents. So when all those things changed – my husband was home, our house was finished, I’d started my maternity leave – I thought that I would feel better. I didn’t.
Fast-forward two months, and I’m in my car, on my own. I still haven’t told anyone. But I’ve decided that today, I’m going to ask for help. I pick up my phone and dial the number I’ve been looking at for about a week. A lady picks up on the other end, ‘Hello, this is the PANDAS helpline.’ I stutter. And start to cry. Saying these words out loud for the first time is harder than I thought. ‘I think I need some help’, I tell this perfect stranger whom I’ve never met. But she’s very kind and tells me that she went through postnatal depression when she had her twins, and they’re 7 now. She’s recovered, and there is hope. I only speak to her for about five minutes and she tells me to make an appointment with my GP. I wasn’t expecting her to say that (I don’t know what I was expecting!) but this gives me some direction, so I do what she says. Then I call my husband.
Repeating ‘I need help’ to my GP is hard too, but not as hard as the first time. I’m still very emotional and raw, and scared. ‘I’m worried if I tell you how I’m feeling then you’ll take my daughter away’ I tell her. She reassures me that that’s not going to happen, that I’ve done the right thing and that she’s going to get me help. I’m incredibly lucky as within what feels like days I’m having a phone consultation with my local NHS therapeutic team and then am fast tracked to receive one-to-one CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) sessions with a perinatal clinical psychotherapist.
I have about twelve sessions with my therapist on and off until my baby is six months old. These sessions are life changing and mind-blowing. They teach me that I’m more than my thoughts, that my thoughts don’t need to control me, and that I can even change my patterns of thinking. The sessions are sometimes really hard, but sometimes really fun!
After being very hesitant at first, (‘I’m not someone who needs therapy’ having been my mantra for years), I actually start to look forward to it. We talk about so much stuff: from my negative feelings around my birth plan, then after my son was born adjusting to looking after two kids on even less sleep, to my fears of giving everyone food poisoning (I used to Google how long to cook a chicken every week, even though I always bought the same size chicken and knew how long to cook it for). My therapist sits patiently with me as we write down a food plan in order to manage those feelings. We also talk about my values in life, what’s important to me as a mum, a woman, a wife, and a career gal.
I’m suffering from low mood and anxiety, and I’m getting help.
I’m sitting in my home office looking out onto my garden. The sun is shining through the dappled clouds in the sky. I’m writing this piece as I’m about to launch Motherdom for the first time.
I came out of my experience with maternal mental ill-health feeling much better. Now I have the tools to understand my mind a bit more. I know what to look out for if I start to feel anxious or low. I am better at watching my thoughts and letting them go, rather than holding on to them for dear life. I also feel happier as a parent, able to be more present and enjoy my wonderful children, who are a gift and a blessing.
But even though I feel better, just after I stopped my therapy, I had a niggling feeling that I was actually really lucky to get the care I did, and what about all those other women who might not be in my position? I remember how alone and scared I felt, like no one else had ever been through it. I’m a journalist, and I realised that there was no media platform dedicated to parents’ mental wellbeing. There were plenty of parenting sites, as well as general wellbeing and mental health magazines, but nothing in the mainstream market that combined these two things.
That’s when the idea for Motherdom came to me. I wanted to create a space (both in print and online) where women and men can talk openly about how they’re feeling as parents. Not just for those people who would identify with having a mental health issue, for any parent with kids aged under 5 who wants to maintain positive mental wellbeing.
My vision for Motherdom is to create a world of happier parents.
So I’m launching Issue 1 this month and can’t wait to see what happens next.
Two years have passed. My son is now four and my daughter is seven. And while Motherdom has been growing and evolving, the world has been in turmoil. Covid has come and not yet gone (will it ever?), and it’s had a devastating impact on mental health. Parents have suffered, especially with the UK’s cycle of lockdowns. Pregnancy, giving birth and having a newborn baby have all changed dramatically. A recent study from the Journal of Psychiatric Research reported huge increases in levels of depression and anxiety in new mums in the UK’s first lockdown.
Parenting small children has become an impossible dance between juggling their demands, running a house, and for some, home schooling older siblings and also trying to keep up with paid work. Motherdom ran two surveys in March and April 2020, and 81% of parents told us that lockdown was affecting their mental health to some extent.
‘I just need a hug…I’m feeling drawn back to old behaviours. it feels a lot like the start of my PND and it’s worried me a lot.’
‘Have felt extremely anxious and panicked at times, but it ebbs and flows. Juggling childcare, work, homeschooling, and PND feels impossible at times…’
‘I feel isolated, lonely and suffocated all at once. I don’t have a minute of quiet and feel so stressed all the time.’mums who took part in our surveys in march and april 2020
It’s also been estimated by the UN that the pandemic has set back women’s equality by 25 years, and according to the BBC ‘employment and education opportunities could be lost, and women may suffer from poorer mental and physical health.’
This is a pretty bleak backdrop to be re-launching Motherdom against. But it makes me even more determined than ever to tell these parents’ mental health stories. Perhaps our work has never been more important.
We have paused publishing the print magazine and are moving into online and audio journalism. This month we launch our new website and in May, a podcast too.
The website will include:
- the stories and podcast episodes we publish
- a new membership scheme for maternal health and wellness practitioners
- a searchable directory for parents seeking help
- a ‘creative coaching’ service (delivered by me)
- reviews of books relevant to parents’ and childrens’ mental health and wellbeing
It’s been a rollercoaster getting here. Over the past year I have spent many hours deep in excel spreadsheets (not my natural territory, words are my preferred currency), in conversations with social investors, and pouring over minute details in policy documents. I have built an incredible team who are making a huge difference to our work. I now feel overwhelmed with both fear and excitement at the prospect of launching this new website.
But I’m doing it all for one simple reason: to reach those mums who might feel like I did four years ago. I felt completely alone and like I was the only one going through it. So, here goes. You’re not alone. You’re stronger than you think. And there is help out there. I hope these stories will show you that there is hope and a way out.
If you’d like to get in touch, please first check out our contact page.
Or if you’d like to read more about Motherdom, click here.