Maternity and mental health - it's OK not to be OK
When most people find out they’re pregnant, they do so in a normal way. The way I discovered I was pregnant was anything but cliché. Realising you’re pregnant on the other side of the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge after climbing what felt like a thousand steps isn’t something you’re going to forget quickly. And like many women my brain went into overdrive. Will it be a boy or girl? Will they be healthy? Can we afford to get everything we need? Can we afford for me to take so much maternity leave? All the usual worries.
Fast forward 9 months (and a further 8 days; someone was far too comfortable!) and our beautiful baby Dara was born. And suddenly, everything seemed so much more real now there was another life solely dependent on us. Which makes your brain manifest even more worries. Why are they crying? Have they eaten enough? Are they warm enough? Things that most parents worry about when they see their tiny child for the first time.
With a new baby, lack of sleep really skews your outlook on everything and can make you worry about things that are maybe not as pressing as your brain makes you believe. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a positive and upbeat person, usually willing to give anything a go and doesn’t like being negative about anything. It goes to show that no matter how positive your outlook, anyone can be affected by mental health issues.
For me, the only thing that mattered was Dara. My social life became an afterthought. The idea of shopping for myself put me in a panic. The thought of meeting up with friends became a chore and a terrifying prospect. When you have a baby and are off work, your life can easily become so isolated from the world around you. You can become lonely. There is plenty of talking throughout the day; however lying to my son about how I understand why he’s crying and admiring his storytelling skills don’t exactly constitute an intellectual tête-à-tête.
My relationship with my husband suffered as well. I couldn’t wait for him to come home from work each night and loved having him home on his days off. However, most nights, when he came home, I felt like I want to hand Dara over to him and lie under the quilt in bed for the rest of the night. I felt like I couldn’t face the world and that it was too daunting.
Money issues were always a worry in preparation for Dara’s arrival and even before we knew we were expecting. I’m the kind of person that likes to squirrel money away because I like to know we have some security should anything happen. But nothing prepares you for quite how costly having a baby will be. Nappies, baby food, clothes, toys – it all adds up. Not to mention all the equipment babies need, from car seats and prams to cots and quilts, the costs kept rising.
At first, that put me in a panic. Would the savings cover it all? Would we have to use the emergency credit card? Would we have to ask the bank of mum and dad for help? But after a while, I stopped caring. I started spending cash like it was Monopoly money. The savings started dwindling and I couldn’t bring myself to care. But none of it was spent on myself. I spent it on my husband and Dara and my friends, I think it was an attempt to make myself feel happier. Buying things for other people has always cheered me up because I like making other people happy. But this didn’t put a smile on my face.
Eventually I realised I needed to seek help. I wasn’t myself. I was withdrawn. I was negative. I was upset. So, I bit the bullet and phoned to make an appointment with my GP. Only to be told I would have to wait a month to get an appointment with any doctor at my surgery. It was probably the longest month of my life.
As soon as the question ‘what can I do for you today?’ was asked the tears came flooding and it was impossible to stop. There’s something about someone who isn’t a family member or friend asking what’s wrong that sets me off entirely. I can’t recommend having a chat with someone highly enough. Even just talking to the doctor about the symptoms I’ve been experiencing – the overwhelming tiredness, the lack of interest in anything but Dara – was extremely therapeutic and made me feel so much better. What was even better was being told that I wasn’t going mad and it was postnatal depression as I had suspected.
The doctor recommended a course of anti-depressants and some counselling to help and so far, it certainly has. My mind is slowly going back to how it was and I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. Dara is sleeping better, my relationship with my husband is as strong as it was before, and the thought of leaving the house doesn’t feel quite so terrifying now. Everything’s looking up.
Anyone with mental health concerns should speak to someone. If you stay locked inside your own mind you make the issues so much worse than they need to be. Luckily, I was fully supported by Aperture and didn’t feel pressured about my return to work following my maternity leave. One of the first things I did was sit and talk with one of my managers and explain what was happening. Everyone has been so supportive and willing to help in any way that they can. Talking to someone and seeking help has made life so much brighter for me and I hope it will for anyone else.