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 in my tummy! I would wake up some mornings with a sinking feeling in my stomach 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 – 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 who 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 psychologist. 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, 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.
I came out of my experience with maternal mental ill-health feeling much better. I’m not “cured”, but 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. (My daughter is nearly 6 and my son is now 2.)
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 talking about 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 under 5 who wants to maintain positive mental wellbeing. As well as seeking professional help, there are things that we, as parents, can do to look after our mental health. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. Motherdom is a place where we can all come together, a place where we can support each other in our parenting journeys, and a place where we can be happier parents.
PANDAS Foundation gives support to people coping with Pre and Postnatal Mental Illnesses, as well as their families, friends and carers. You can call PANDAS on 0843 28 98 401. The helpline is open every day from 9am-8pm. PANDAS’ dedicated volunteer team are on hand to offer support, advice and can help to signpost to other organisations if necessary. For more info please visit www.pandasfoundation.org.uk/helpline