It’s one of life’s paradoxes After the physical, emotional and mental marathons that are pregnancy and labour, alongside the often traumatic and invasive procedures required to deliver a baby safely (c’mon mother nature, let’s make this a litttttttle bit easier), women are sent home into the most demanding, life transforming roles of their entire lives. Not only are they healing significantly on a physical level both externally (and internally), they are experiencing a shift in identity like no other, under conditions which would test even the most resilient. It’s no wonder so many women experience post-natal depression.
Now in a bizarre way, because I’ve battled with an ongoing myriad of mental health issues since the age of 7, I was expecting PND as a given. A combination of a history of anorexia, borderline personality disorder, depression, OCD and anxiety (to name but a few) which all reared their ugly heads during my pregnancy (and then some), meant that I was already struggling majorly even before the traumatic birth. Not that you can ever be prepared for the soul-destroying impact of depression, however my history means at least I have an awareness how it feels and the resources and education necessary to take steps to get me through it. However, I can only imagine for someone who has never experienced mental health issues how devastating and bewildering it must feel.
After all, generally having a child is portrayed as the most wonderful experience that can occur for a loved-up couple. And it is! However there is very little mention of the almost guaranteed negative impact it can have on your relationship with your partner, the massive shift it creates in your identity, the loneliness, the claustrophobia, the frustration, the despair, the exhaustion and I’m going to say it, the occasional ‘what the fuck have I done?’ moments.
Don’t get me wrong, having my child has made me the luckiest woman alive and brought me tremendous joy. My little family is the most wonderful part of my life. However I feel there needs to be more pre-natal preparation for the specific psychological impact of having a child and more support for and acknowledgement of the ambivalence that parenting can create. To deal with PND, openness of how it comes about needs to be discussed. I was told in the hospital I may feel a little weepy and sad. Possibly one of THE most mother of fuck understatements of the century. One of the healthiest and beneficial things we can do is discuss the true range of emotions and at times, distressing thoughts that we experience in order to normalise the rollercoaster that it is for women in particular. Motherhood can sometimes be portrayed as the most natural process in the world yet for many this isn't the case, which can result in massive feelings of shame, guilt, sadness and confusion. Women should be coached in mental tools that will assist them through the mental transition as part of the pre-natal process and informed of the range of emotions/thoughts that can be experienced. When expectations are made realistic and the resilience required is part of a preventative care program, incidence of shock, shame and guilt are irradiated and people feel able to share their vulnerabilities, express their difficulties and get the help they need.
Let’s change our thinking on pre-natal mental health approaches!
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