Mental Health Awareness Week 2020
By Ruth | May 17, 2020
My Mummy Life
Mental Health Awareness Week takes place from 18th – 24th May 2020. The theme this year is kindness. With the current pandemic around the globe, mental health will be at an all time high for a number of different, tragic and incomprehensible reasons. I wanted to reflect on what mental health meant to me, and my most recent experience of having to deal with my own mental health - postnatal PTSD.
My Birth Story
As a first time mum, I attended all of the pre-natal classes, I had my birth plan written down, I was going to have a water birth with minimal pain relief. I like to be in control, I'm organised, I believed that I could 'have the birth I wanted'. My reality however, was so different. I wish someone had told me more of the realities of child birth before I experienced it, not to put a dampener on things, or not to make me fear it, but because if I'd have realised the realities of what could happen I would have been much more prepared. Whereas I went in having been sold this 'just breathe and use the water and everything will be fine' ideology (which for many it is, but for me it wasn't, so I want to share my reality.)
I went into labour after five sweeps (yes five!), naturally, 10 days past my little boys due date. I was at home and started getting mild contractions on the Friday afternoon, I went to bed and woke up around midnight Saturday morning knowing I was definitely having contractions (because again - as a first time mum, you don't know until you definitely know!). My husband rung my mum around 2am and she came round, but I didn't actually go to the hospital until 3pm the same day. I was in control at this point, using my breathing exercises, getting in and out of the bath, everything was okay. I arrived at the hospital that afternoon and was in the midwife led unit, using the birthing pool and gas and air but there was no sign of my waters breaking or Hugo coming! At 1am on the Sunday morning they popped my waters and this is when it all changed. I was already exhausted by this point after having not really slept since Thursday. When they popped my waters they saw that my little boy had done a poo inside me, so I had to be very quickly and urgently transferred to the labour ward due to infection risk.
This is when everything changed. I knew my husband couldn't stay with me on the labour ward post birth, I knew my dreams of a water birth were gone, I didn't know what was going to happen next, where I was, how I would continue to cope with the pain. My mindset had changed, I'd gone from being in control and okay with the gas and air to suddenly I couldn't cope and I needed relief. They hooked me up to a machine to monitor his heart rate but it wasn't working properly so they had to insert a clip on to his head. Every time I had a contraction his heart rate was slowing. I really needed pain relief now, but they couldn't give me pethidine due to his heart rate and they couldn't give me an epidural as the anaesthetist was in theatre. For the next two hours I just had to carry on, in absolute agony, using language I've never used in my life, on the edge of desperation to try and get some relief. The midwives were amazing, they kept supporting me mentally and kept me as comfortable as they could, manually emptying my bladder and continually talking to me. My husband and mum were amazing too, repeating numbers for hours on end so I could concentrate on my breathing. Around 3:30am on the Sunday they checked his heart rate which had dropped again and I was still only 7cm dilated so I had to have an emergency c-section to get him out as soon as possible. I don't really remember much here, just being wheeled out, it all felt very dramatic and scary. My husband and mum had to be out of the surgery room while they prepped me for the c-section and I just remember grabbing one of the nurses, holding on to her, half crying, half screaming in pain through my contractions as they did the spinal injection. She was there for me when I needed her and I will be forever grateful to the outstanding, wonderful NHS staff. Next thing I knew, my husband was next to me again and our little baby boy was born. It was the best feeling in the world.
Having gone through a very traumatic birth, post birth my physical and mental health was not in a good place. Although never diagnosed, the health visitor said I had elements of PTSD. I was happy, I had my baby boy that I had always wished for, but I was also exhausted mentally and physically, trying to breastfeed, recovering from an emergency c-section, trying to please everyone and make sure everyone had time with our newborn baby. I also felt that I should be out and about, looking good, wearing make-up when all I really wanted to do was shut the door and curl away. My mum would come round and help me shower, put my surgery stockings on and bring dinner. I have a vivid memory of trying to eat some food and my mum asking if I was ok? The next minute I just couldn’t stop crying. I should add, my husband is a rock and 'one of the good guys', he too was looking after our son just as much and his mental health was also compromised (new father's mental health is a blog post for another day though!). From the outside however, there I was, a perfect family of 3 holding it all together. Luckily, I had the support network to get through and even now I look back with a sense of apprehension, but I know I’m in a good place. I can only empathise with new mums in the current climate, who are unable to see family and have that support which is why it is more important than ever to reach out, call and keep in contact.
The Birth Trauma Association states that around 30,000 women a year experience birth trauma in the UK alone. This is around a third of mothers and yet this is something that is almost taboo, rarely spoken about and almost has a sense of shame. I hope that by sharing my experiences it will raise more awareness and understanding of mental health postpartum.
Kindness is one of my favourite adjectives. I wish we could say ‘kindness makes the world go round’. The world can be a scary and daunting place, but I truly believe you can see kindness and positivity everywhere too. When I was recovering from the birth of my son one of the kindest things one of my friends did was to bring round a home-made, freshly prepared, ready to pop in the oven dinner. It really was so kind. We were overwhelmed and so thankful for all the gifts and well wishes, but this had taken time, care and was just simply so kind. Spreading kindness or #bekind is something we can all take little steps to do and it doesn't cost a penny. Doing one kind thing a day can really lift someone's mood and completely change their day. I'm going to challenge myself particularly this week to consciously spread kindness every day.
In my day to day life to keep on top of my own mental health I do the following:
- Talking. Yes, this is quite often hard to do. Embarrassment, fear, disappointment, there are so many emotions you may have to overcome to even begin to feel in the right place to talk. But for me, talking helps. I ramble on and on if I’ve got something on my mind, but by getting it off my chest I feel I can almost ‘tick it off’ and share the load with someone. If you don’t feel you can talk to a close friend or family member there are excellent charities you can call for support.
- Getting out in the fresh air. Even if it’s only for ten minutes. Taking a break away from my phone, technology, work and being out in the open either walking or cycling lifts my mood and helps me collect my thoughts.
- Knowing that it is okay to feel down, it is okay to feel disappointed, it is okay to feel confused, it is okay to feel anxious. These are normal emotions that everyone feels. Try to work through the reasons as to why you are feeling that way, can you make a change? Can you do something differently? I remind myself it’s okay to feel different emotions and it's normal! However, if these emotions are all consuming and engulfing your thoughts and trying to think rationally isn’t an option make sure you reach out for support.
I want to end on this note, what can you do to spread a little kindness today?
If you would like to get in contact with me directly to talk about what I have written or collaborate please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
There are some excellent organisations and charities out there which can offer support if you have been affected in anyway by my story:
www.birthtraumaassociation.org.uk - 01264 860380 (10 am - 5.30 pm Monday - Friday)