Mamas’ Mind really does Matter. There are a lot of statistics out there about why a mother’s damaged mental health and wellbeing translates to poor bonding and poor outcomes for children and the taxpayer too.
But I’ll tell you why I believe Mama’s Mind Matters.
I learnt the hard way that that an awful lot of Mamas have a difficult time, yet they keep their struggles quiet, and it affects their mental health and emotional wellbeing. Maybe like yourself, when I became a mother to my baby girl L I expected it to be as gorgeous as the baby catalogues suggested it was. It wasn’t. The birth was what I’m told was a ‘reasonably typical first birth’ in that it was a slow progressing, back to back labour, baby in distress, almost born as an emergency caesarian and eventually delivered with a ventouse. We got her home. ‘The first three months will be hard’ said everyone, and they were.
Scratch and Cry, Cry and Scratch
Then as the colic finished, L got a very unusual and extreme case of eczema that left her entire tiny little body covered in pus, bleeding and with angry red skin, all of the time, without going away. The prescribed steroid creams worked for a while on her skin, but as soon as she had to stop them, the eczema sprang back, worse than before, as she cried and cried.
I know eczema is reasonably common in babies. But L’s wasn’t a little bit here and there, it was all consuming, her and me. The soul destroying part for me was that I just couldn’t resolve my own baby’s distress. Other mothers seemed able to comfort their children by just holding them. L just found a rough patch on my sleeves to rub against, scratching and crying. When Facebook friends’ updates would be jubilant celebrations of their baby sleeping through the night, I’d feel miserable, hopeless and unwilling to share that L never slept for more than 20 mins without waking, scratching, and crying. I also only slept for 20 minutes at a time. So I didn’t say anything on the outside. I quietly drove myself into a tight anxious spring, searching the internet, ready to pounce on any miracle solution – why was her eczema so severe? Why couldn’t I make her better? What sort of mother can’t comfort her child? I tried cutting food groups out of my diet for weeks for breastfeeding. Nothing worked. I kept a cheery face out and about in public, but inside I used to feel like I was failure of a mother.
At around 6 months L was hospitalised with a severe eczema infection. A paediatrician saw this was more than the standard case of eczema and had her blood tested. It turned out L was unusually allergic, with multiple, severe food allergies, so severe in fact, that she was reacting with eczema just through my breast milk. A prescription for a hypoallergenic formula and three weeks later, L had visibly improved.
(6 years later and L is still allergic to wheat, cow’s milk, eggs, seeds, nuts, peanuts and legumes, which includes peas, beans and lentils. Feeding her every day is still a bit of plague on our house and something I still need a better mama mindset for. But that’s probably all for another post. )
My Baby Had An Operation
However unfortunately, caught up with her eczema, everyone had missed that one of L’s leg’s was shorter than the other. At 18 months she had major surgery for Developmental Dysplasia of the Hip (DDH).
It’s hard to pretend you’re loving this motherhood lark when for 3 months you’re wheeling around a toddler in a plaster cast on half of their body. from waist to ankle. This time I didn’t bother with the cheery face. I let my sphincter off and the verbal diarrhoea flooded out. I began talking about what a hard thing this being a Mama just is. And something amazing happened. From all corners – the baby and mother groups, new and old mum friends, old family friends, friends of friends – was a resolute answer, everyone was having a hard time. No one was wholly loving this motherhood lark, in one way or many, whatever their circumstances, all Mamas were feeling mentally and emotionally sore. It’s just that it seemed unacceptable to say it out loud.
It got me thinking – if everyone I talk to feels like this, can PND (post natal depression) really only be in 10% of the population? If 90% of mothers don’t get it, and are therefore ‘okay’, how is it that so many Mamas are feeling their mental and emotional health take a downturn since becoming a parent?
Now I’m not a Consultant Perinatal Psychiatrist. But having done documentary research in my pre kids life, and with the view I was on to something of what they call ‘a Current Affairs issue’, I spoke to a woman who is. Dr Rebecca Moore works at the East London NHS Foundation Trust.
She had some really striking facts to share:
- You can suffer postnatally from anxiety
- You can suffer postnatally from Birth Trauma
- You can suffer postnatally from OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)
- You can suffer postnatally from PPP (Post Partum Psychosis)
- You can suffer postnatally from Depression
- 50% of all perinatal mental health problems go undiagnosed
- 7/10 mothers will hide or underplay the severity of their mental illness
- One of the leading killers of childbearing aged women is suicide.
It’s possible, if I self diagnose, I had postnatal anxiety, it’s possible that I didn’t. In a way I was lucky. Although I had a difficult time, the things making me anxious were medical problems with a specific cause and end. But what was wholly clear to me was we didn’t have enough knowledge about all of these maternal mental health issues, and we aren’t talking enough about it. It’s possible that if you’re a mother reading this right now you’re recognising that you fit into one of those categories. Or maybe you’re a mum of small or older children, or even teenagers, and you recognise you didn’t, or couldn’t say.
That chat was a few years ago.
Mercifully since then there’s been various kinds of recognition about the difficulties Mamas face. The stigma has been reduced. There are wonderful campaigns, products, people and schemes out there to unite and support Mamas physically emotionally mentally and morally. The majority of us praise the skies for the rise of The Slummy Mummies and Honest Mums who are showing the real side of parenting, not the pseudo cheery one, and making us laugh and empowered while at it.
However somewhere in the elevation of pregnancy and having a baby, Mama’s themselves and their well being has become a bit forgotten in society. It really is all about the infant when he or she arrives. Yet motherhood is a life changing experience and not a necessarily wholly positive one at that. Mamas truly need a bit of mental and emotional support.
So Mamas Mind Matters is about reminding Mama that her health and wellbeing really IS important and it DOES matter. I want to address the things or the matters on Mama’s mind – information about maternal mental health, inspiration and empowerment to all and any Mamas out there, worrying about how to talk to a doctor, how to exercise, stay calm and sometimes just remember to laugh and help #MamaStaySane.
I’ll be talking about the way things are dealt with in the East London and West Essex area but this is for ALL Mamas – the ones recovering, the ones diagnosed with mental ill health, the ones quietly suffering, or ones simply having to come to terms with that this new and crazy situation of motherhood is all about.
I’ve never written before so I can’t guarantee I know what I’m doing. But then I’d never parented before and I gave that a bash. So let’s give this a go too. I hope you have a cracking Mama day.
Some amazing places that helped me: