I’m Rachel. I started at The SUN Network in January and am really enjoying the journey so far. I’m amazed and humbled every day by the work that everyone is doing in the realm of mental health to try and support people. As it’s Maternal Mental Health Awareness week, month and day – I wanted to share my experience of with you in the hope that some may be able to relate, and to chip in to breaking down the stigma of mental health challenges with new mums.
It can be really hard to admit that you are struggling when you’re pregnant or after having a baby. For me it certainly was. There feels like so much pressure to do a good job and be ok, and to connect with your baby. Admitting that you are struggling with your mental health can be a real challenge and be really scary.
I suffered with mental health challenges after having my second child. I still don’t understand why, and that still sits with me to this day. It took me ages to realise what was going on. It doesn’t always manifest itself in the ways you think it might. You hear so many people talking about not being able to pick up their baby, or to connect. For me, I could do all the things that any person could do and physically take care of my baby, but there was no love there. I didn’t feel a connection to my baby or feel the love that I had with my first child. Everything was just a process. I was flat in my emotions and flat in my motivation.
For a long time, I just suffered in silence and carried on doing the daily things that I could do, which meant I never went to the doctor to discuss my mental health. I felt like a fraud and felt like I was imagining it all. I didn’t know what to do as I felt that I couldn’t love anyone or anything. I was tearful for the majority of the day, only pulling myself together to drop my other child off at nursery. I didn’t know what to do, so eventually spoke to my sister, who is a mental health nurse, and I told her of all the things that were going on and some of the really dark thoughts I’d been having. She told me to go and speak to someone.
I still didn’t go to the doctors because I didn’t feel worthy enough and felt that I would be told I was a fraud and overreacting. So, I sought help from a private counsellor who really helped me to identify some issues, even after the first session I was able to get things off my chest to someone who didn’t judge me and just listened, caringly, whilst I poured out the last seven months of feelings.
Three years on and there is still a part of me that thinks me and my son are missing a part of our connection. I still blame myself for everything that happened and feel like I wasn’t strong enough to cope. Even though I know it isn’t true.
I wish that I had had the courage to speak to someone sooner. I wish I had spoken to my friends about it. I wish I had gone to my GP. I wish I hadn’t kept all my feelings inwards and tried to cope. It is nothing to be ashamed of or afraid of, there is a huge community of people that were willing to help me. And now I realise it’s not such an uncommon thing. All of my friends now know I struggled after having my baby, and I hope I have taught them something about speaking up and breaking down the stigma of maternal mental health. It’s ok to say that you’re finding it hard, it is hard. But it can also be lovely.
There’s always, always someone to speak to and fantastic, welcoming services that want to help. Your GP is a great place to start if you feel like you aren’t coping or you aren’t managing. There are also organisations outside of the NHS that you can refer yourself to, like CPSL Mind who offer support for mothers. You don’t need to have post-natal depression or a severe mental health problem to access support. Please talk about it and please connect, it will do you the world of good.
Parenthood isn’t always easy, but I bet you are doing an amazing job.
Rach x 😊