Maternal Mental Health Matters
It’s maternal mental health week and as a mum of three children and as someone with a business that deals with many pregnant women and families, it’s a matter that is really close to my heart. Over the years, as a mum, as a teacher and as a business owner I’ve met a lot of women, a lot of mums. What always strikes me is how all of these mums are always, ‘fine.’ Whenever you ask a woman how they are, the answer will always be, ‘I’m ok,’ ‘I’m fine,’ I’m good.’ As if there is no other answer, or at least none that they deem is acceptable anyway.
And yet the statistics show that many of these women are not ‘fine,’ nor are they, ‘good,’ and they’re certainly not ‘ok.’ The maternal mental health alliance states ‘more than one in ten women develop a mental illness during pregnancy or within the first year after having a baby.’ Of these women, ‘7 in 10 women will hide or underplay the severity of their perinatal mental illness.’ Perhaps the most disturbing fact of all, one that I hadn’t even contemplated, is that, ‘SUICIDE is the leading cause of death for women during pregnancy and one year after birth.’ Such horrific statistics, such awful facts, that there are women out there that are so not ‘ok, fine or good,’ that suicide is the leading cause of death in pregnant women. It’s clear that maternal health matters incredibly, moreover, there must be more done to support these women. Babies are being left without a mother because their mental health is compromised. Fathers left without babies, wives and girlfriends because of mental health issues.
I am ashamedly shocked by these statistics, because whilst I am guilty of being one of the ‘fine, ok, good,’ women generally I am all of the above. Yes I have my bad days, those days where life seems a bit overwhelming, the kids are playing up, answering back, being cheeky, the washing is piled high, the to do list is getting longer and nothing is getting ticked off. We all have those days. And maybe during these days we should practice saying something different to ‘I’m ok.’ Maybe we all need to be a bit more honest. For me, and I’m sure I speak for many women when I say this, I say I am ok because the alternative could cause tears. Saying out loud, ‘today is a bit rubbish actually, I feel overwhelmed and a bit low,’ may be embarrassing and cause other people to think you’re not coping. And no one wants to be thought of as not being able to cope with their children, for others to think that they don’t love them, for people to think there’s something wrong with you. Because in this day and age, women are expected to be able to do it all, and do it all extremely well. To hold down a successful career, to be an amazing wife or girlfriend, to stay in shape and look good 100% of the time, to be a mum with time to cook healthy nutritious meals from organically sourced produce, to take her children to several after school activities, to be a great friend, colleague, wife and mother and have a career and home to be proud of whilst still making that illusive ‘time for yourself.’ The pressure is immense.
To shine a light on maternal mental health forces women, myself included to question their own mental health. I think for many, including myself, a good place to start would be admitting to myself and others, that its ok not to be ok, good, or fine, 100% of the time. That it’s natural to feel those peaks and troughs in emotion, that its ok to feel overwhelmed at times and moreover, that it’s ok to admit you need help. Questioning the state of your own mental health does not necessarily mean that medication will be needed, a worry many people have which prevents them from seeking help. I mean what if people think I am mad? For some women, medication will be needed to help balance the hormones that are so turbulent during pregnancy and after birth. Here are some top tips from the experts that may be helpful for us all.
Talk about your feelings – ‘talking can be a way of coping with a problem you’ve been carrying around in your head for a while. There are many people you can talk to. Renew, are a Liverpool based counselling service that specialise in birth trauma and pregnancy related mental health issues. Friends can also help you to feel supported and less alone. There are also links to national helplines via the following link
Exercise – regular exercise boosts self esteem, releases endorphins and keeps the brain and other vital organs healthy. It will help you to sleep better and concentrate too. If you are pregnant, walking is a great exercise or check out pregnancy yoga or aquanatal classes. Post pregnancy, there are many groups which cater for mums and babies now pop a search in on facebook and see what you can find. Being around other new mums will also help you to feel like you’re not in this alone.
Eat well – a diet that’s good for your body is equally good for your mental health. The body needs a mix of nutrients to stay well and this is vital for a healthy brain too!
Ask for help – no-one will judge you and you will probably find a list of people more than willing to offer their help and support. Not one of us is superwoman. We all feel overwhelmed, tired, and a bit out of control at times. Having a support network of friends and family around you to help out when times are tough is incredible.
Take a break and do something for you – its not selfish to take time for yourself. Theres an old saying, you can’t pour from an empty cup and its so true. Take some time each day to do something just for you. Read a book, take a bath, listen to music, meditate, walk sround the block, exercise, watch a favourite tv programme, paint your nails. Whatever it is, schedule it in daily as you would an important meeting. It’s not indulgent, its essential. The more we view ourselves as as important as everyone around us, the more we appreciate we have needs to that need to be met, the more we recognise we need to invest in ourselves before we can invest into other, the happier we will become.
This week, try and look out for the women around you. Ask how people are, and remember, one in ten women are struggling right now. Maybe not massively but still struggling. This week, lets take time out to be kinder to ourselves, to connect with our feelings and to be more honest about those feelings. By talking honestly, the stigma surrounding mental health will lift slowly but surely and its only then, that we will be able to truly support those who are struggling.