Protecting your maternal mental health
Today marks Maternal Mental Health week, an initiative set up to highlight the myriad of issues that trying for, loosing, carrying and caring for a baby can throw up, in otherwise healthy women.
This is something I really relate to, as for me, I only really began to notice my own mental health once I became a mum. It was like an almost instant switch, from about 8 weeks pregnant with my daughter, I just knew that something mentally had shifted.
I remember telling my lovely midwife, Annie Francis, that I would just be glad once my daughter was here, and then I would relax. Annie gave a kind little chuckle and told me that in fact that is just when the worry begins. And she was right.
I was very luck never to suffer from Post Natal Depression, following the birth of either of my children, but I do not think that means they have not had an indelible impact on my mental health, both positively and negatively. .
Firstly there is the anxiety, within days of the birth of my little girl, I informed my husband that we had to move house. I suddenly felt clostrophibic and stifled in our West London home, and craved green and open spaces, more similar to my own upbringing. We put our house on the market within the year.
At the time I thought this was just about having room for a playroom, but with hindsight I see it was my way of 'nesting', creating a space I felt more at home in and control of as a way to my anxiety. It was a way of protecting my own mental state, and ensuring I was going to be the best mum I could be.
Of course the new born phase throws up more worries than most - a 30 minute journey often took over an hour because I stopped to check she was breathing at every traffic light. And night feeds are not the friend of the anxious - worries seem tenfold when you are alone in the dark at 2am. But, over time I have learned to manage my worries and give my children what I see as a balanced start in life. I am always mindful not to impact their mental health with my anxiety.
Its not all bad news though, I genuinely believe that having children has improved my mental make-up in ways I wouldn't have thought possible. I am much much happier on the whole, as having two tiny people to care for has given me the greatest sense of purpose. It also helps get things in to perspective, I simply no longer sweat the small stuff. Mentally my children make me feel strong and capable, because I simply have to be.
When I look back at the pre-baby me, I realise she maybe wasn't as mentally healthy as she thought she was, and if anything it has taken motherhood to highlight the good and the bad.
That is my maternal mental health journey, very much still ongoing, but for those mums who are in the thick of it, be it with a crying new born, a tatruming toddler or a stroppy teen, I will finish with a saying that has helped me through many many long days and exhausting nights - the darkest hour is just before dawn - hang in their mamas.