Today I’m answering your questions sent in via Instagram about maternal mental health..
“As a mum with mental health issues, I worry that my daughter will end up with similar mental health issues. Should I talk to her about it?”
Basically the plague of being a mother is that you feel eternally guilty about everything and I think we are so aware of the impact that we can have on our children. When you are somebody who suffers from mental health problems, obviously that is really acute and your main concern is that your mental health is going to somehow contaminate your children – that’s really not the case.
What we can talk to our children about, depending on how old they are and what is age appropriate, is just educating them about mental health. I speak to my eldest daughter about the fact that you can have both physical and mental health and that you can get sick and heal in body and mind. When we can speak frankly with our children about our experiences, we don’t necessarily have to disclose a lot of information about our personal journeys and what we’ve been through, but we can give them an overview and still give them an honest perspective on how we see things.
“How can I look after my mental health when I have a small baby to take care of?”
Mental health is so important when you first have a baby. So much emphasis when we have small babies has really got to be about our physical self care because when we are physically taking care of ourselves we mentally start to feel better as well. Sometimes what we are physically capable of doing doesn’t always mean that we should be doing it.
A good friend of mine, Becky Hands, who is an amazing advisor of new mums, has a mantra which is “One week in bed, one week on the sofa” for new mums. I think that is such brilliant advice not just because of your physical need to heal but also to give yourself some time out to come to terms with the shock of suddenly having a new life to care for and also coming to terms with your journey of pregnancy, your journey of birth and giving yourself a bit of time to adjust and not put too much pressure on yourself.
Social media is not always your friend in these situations when you see very new mums looking amazing and managing to smash it. The reality is that isn’t the reality for most of us. Having a new baby is difficult and juggling a new life – how that changes you, how that changes your relationship both with your partner and also any existing children you might have is something that you might need to adjust for. Speak to other people who have been through similar experiences and really maximise your self care.
“My mental health got worse last time I had a baby. Will it happen again?”
Maybe! When we have children we get sleep deprived which isn’t good for our mental health. When you have had mental health problems you become aware that you are vulnerable to certain things. What we really need to be mindful of is not getting frightened of that happening but preparing for it – so recognising that we have been through difficult times before. Acknowledging that doesn’t mean that we have to be terrified of it but it can say that “you know what, I might need a bit of extra support around this time so I am going to make sure I’ve got these people in my life I can draw on. Also, I am going to let them know in advance that they might need to check up on me, check in on how I’m doing and make sure I’m ok”.
If you are really concerned then speak to your GP and midwife about your concerns; ask them what support is going to be available to you because there are resources out there to help people.
“I keep having nightmares about the birth. What can I do?”
I think it’s scary having a baby and so much of what’s talked about is what’s wonderful about it, how amazing it is. Most of us have come across people who have got horror stories and we can feel really frightened about that whole experience, particularly for first time mums. Arming yourself with as much support as possible will help you cope with whatever it is to come. If you are having nightmares and you are getting really distressed about it then recognise and acknowledge the fact that you are feeling anxious about this massive life change that is coming your way and give yourself some support.
There are a lot of people out there to talk to about how things might go for you as a new mum or particularly how things might go for you during your birth experience. We can get a sense of a lot more control than we think we can when it comes to the birth itself; we have a lot more choices available to us than we probably realise and speaking to people who have had experiences like that and chatting to your midwife about your concerns will hopefully alleviate some of them and make you feel more confident about the whole experience.
“Sometimes I have thoughts about harming my baby. What can I do?”
If you have thoughts about harming yourself or your baby, the first thing to know is that this is common. One of the reasons why women don’t talk about these things is because they are so deeply shame based. Actually, what people don’t tell you is how normal it is to have those thoughts and feelings, particularly when you have just had a baby and are so sleep deprived and not feeling yourself, it can be a really frightening time. The best thing to do is to get some help as soon as you can.
Speak to your midwife and GP immediately, or whoever you feel comfortable with, and let them know that you are feeling vulnerable and that these things are coming up for you. There are resources available out there and you will immediately be put in touch with people who can help you. The most important thing is to not feel like you can’t share that with anybody because absolutely, there are people who understand and can support.
“I had a difficult labour and my baby was poorly afterwards. How can I help myself from feeling on edge?
I think partly it is saying, “yes, that is really difficult.” If that’s been your experience then that’s absolutely terrifying. There is nothing more scary than having an unwell baby/child and it does stay with us; it is something that we don’t ever move on from and I certainly haven’t and have never forgotten. I think what we start to do is to recognise that difficult experience is in the past and although we may still remember it and it is something that is always going to be frightening to us, we can move on from it.
If you are finding it is really difficult in terms of having a lot of triggering thoughts and it’s really getting in the way of your day to day functioning, then speak to somebody and get some help. Quite often talking to particularly other women who have had shared experiences can be extremely healing because you recognise that you are not alone and that so many of us go through these things and are able to move on from them no matter how hard they’ve been. Women are pretty amazing and resilient actually!
“I can’t stop feeling like I have to be the perfect mum!”
The reality is that there is no such thing as being the perfect mum. When we strive for perfection we don’t give ourselves any opportunity to reflect or to grow because the goals are so high that we are never able to be within ourselves and think about how we are functioning at parents, how we are doing as women and to just nurture ourselves a little bit.
It is so important to be mindful about what you are modelling to your children. When we are putting these high expectations on ourselves and are expecting this level of perfection, that is what we are modelling for our children. Actually, what we would say to them is that it’s ok, we don’t have to be perfect all the time, we can get things wrong and can learn and reflect on the experiences that we have. We really need to live by that truth as well if that’s what we believe in; to really reflect on that ourselves and be willing to just, not even make mistakes, but not be perfect all of the time.
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