One woman’s experience of maternal mental health

Becoming pregnant or having a new baby can bring a wide range of feelings and emotions for expectant and new mums.

When a woman conceives, or when the new baby arrives, there is an expectation that mum should be happy and excited, however it is estimated that one in five women will experience a mental health problem.

Leanne Ellis, perinatal mental health midwife.

One woman has told her story anonymously as part of the maternal mental health matters awareness week which runs from today (April 29) to May 5 in the hope other mums will come forward and seek help.

Jenny (32), that is not her real name, lives in Scunthorpe with her partner and bouncing baby boy who was born in August 2018. She said: “I sailed through my pregnancy. I was very happy. My partner and I were like two excited school kids going to the antenatal appointments.”

She was asked at one of her appointments if she felt ok, and she said she was fine. “I knew I felt a bit anxious, but I am an anxious person naturally so didn’t think anything of it. I work in health and had seen people really stressed; that wasn’t me.”

Jenny had a great pregnancy. She continued working, socialised, went to pregnancy yoga and read up on childbirth and parenting. “I was all into attachment parenting, breastfeeding and being there every time the baby cried,” she said.

As her due date came and went Jenny started to get anxious about what was going to happen. “I didn’t feel in control. I had had it all mapped out and now nothing was going to plan.”

The team at Scunthorpe hospital booked her to come in for an induction of labour but the night before she noticed the baby wasn’t moving as much so came to ward 26. She was kept in as her blood pressure was on the high side.

She was induced the following day. Jenny said: “Things just didn’t go the way I had planned. I wanted to be active and walk about but I couldn’t. I was in labour 10 hours and then had to have an emergency caesarean section.”

The next two days were a blur as she couldn’t sleep and struggled breastfeeding. “I got quite upset. I just felt really anxious and tearful. When we were getting discharged home though I felt like I was walking on air. That is until I got to the car. A wave of fear came over me and I just felt petrified.”

Another sleepless night ensued as her son wasn’t feeding properly. A visit from the community midwife revealed he had lost 10 per cent of his birth weight. Another night without sleep and another visit showed he had lost yet more weight and was now dehydrated.

Her son was admitted to the Disney ward, and while she was in hospital she rang ward 26 as she was experiencing pain from her scar. “They told me to pop up and they put me in a side room. I cannot remember much else other than a doctor coming to see me from the mental health crisis team. He suggested they formula feed my baby and that I should get some sleep. They allowed my partner to stay with me. By this point I didn’t know my own name, I was absolutely beside myself.”

When she returned home two days later a network of support had been put in place in the form of Leanne Ellis, Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust’s perinatal mental health midwife, as well as visits from the mental health team and a health visitor.

Jenny said: “The next couple of weeks were a fog; I cannot remember much. I felt stuck. I felt very tired. I felt very scared about being tired. I was terrified I would fall asleep and I would harm him somehow, or make a mistake and hurt him.”

She saw a poster which said breastfeeding could reduce the risk of cot death. “That sent me off on a tangent. I convinced myself I was going to lose him. I couldn’t picture a future with him in it anymore. I felt like I wasn’t fit to look after him, or have him. I set an alarm every hour through the night to check on him. I was absolutely shattered.”

Her partner returning to work also triggered feelings of panic and she found herself ringing the mental health access team. Four weeks after the birth of her son she was prescribed antidepressants, which she says helped a lot.

“Slowly the feelings of anxiety got less, and I started to get out more attending local groups and the Talking Shop. Having Leanne pop round and knowing she was always at the end of the phone made such a difference. I knew I wasn’t alone. She understood me and would just sit and listen. Nothing was too much.”

Jenny added: “I had built a picture in my mind of what sort of parent I was going to be. I had such high expectations of myself that when it started to unravel I really struggled. People always talk about that ‘rush of love’ when you first hold your baby, I didn’t get that and I struggled to bond with him. I am returning to work soon and now I don’t want to leave him.

“I feel guilty that I struggled in the beginning. My message to any woman out there who can relate to my story is ask for help. Don’t sit and suffer in silence. It doesn’t make you any less of a mum or parent. It can happen to anyone.”

Leanne said: “Having a baby is a big life event, and it is natural for women to experience a range of emotions and reactions during and after their pregnancy. But if this starts to have an impact on how they live their life, they might be experiencing a mental health problem.”

Perinatal mental health issues happen during pregnancy or during the first year following birth. They can have long-lasting effects on mums and families if left untreated. But mental health problems are treatable and recognising the signs early and seeking support quickly improves recovery and outcomes for mums and babies.

Women’s mental health symptoms can fluctuate and may include:
• Antenatal or postnatal depression
• Anxiety disorders
• Adjustment difficulties
• Bipolar disorder
• Schizophrenia
• Post-traumatic stress disorder
• Post-partum psychosis
• Self-harm
• Suicidal thoughts
• Eating disorder.
Leanne said: “It’s important to ask for help or support. You’re likely to find that many new mothers are feeling the same way. It is about helping those women affected by maternal mental problems to access the information and help they need to support their recovery.”

Leanne is on hand to provide extra support for local mums and works alongside other healthcare professionals, including the specialist perinatal mental health service, to make sure women and their families receive the help and support they need.

She is backing the Every Mum Matters campaign which has been launched today (Monday April 29) across East Yorkshire, North Lincolnshire, North East Lincolnshire and Hull. Its aim is to support new and expectant mums and their families to be able to recognise symptoms early.

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