Did you know that 1 in 5 women develop mental health problems during pregnancy?
This week Tommy’s, a charity very close to my heart, has launched the Big Give campaign where they are fundraising to create an online tool to help all pregnant women manage their mental wellbeing. With information, advice and features to help women throughout their pregnancy, pregnant women will be able to request a personal call-back from a Tommy’s midwife which could prove invaluable.
My story of mental health in pregnancy is complicated – a mixture of existing mental health issues and the relentless fear that I would lose a baby, in the same way that I had so many times before.
When I fell pregnant with Eva after fifteen losses, including the death of our beautiful boy Joseph, there wasn’t a single part of me believed that she would arrive safely into my arms. During those early days my pregnancy seemed futile, just waiting for the moment I would feel those familiar cramps, see those angry red spots on the toilet tissue, hear the sympathetic words from a sonographer that our baby hadn’t made it.
With every scan, as they showed us that beautiful flickering heartbeat, rather than provide me with comfort, it simply felt like the cruellest blow to allow me to get my hopes week after week, only for them to be shattered further down the line when the flicker was nowhere to be seen.
When we finally announced our news at 16 weeks and told Lewis that I was pregnant with a baby sister, what should have been one of the most amazing moments of my life was clouded by grief. I can still remember sitting there, choking on my own words, telling him about the baby, showing him scan photos and allowing him to finally believe that his dreams for a sibling had come true.
And it felt like torture.
I had cried that night, angry, scared tears into my pillow, thinking about the look on his face when we had told him. It killed me to imagine how happy he had been, how sure he was in that moment that it would all be okay. And I berated myself for allowing him to feel that excitement, knowing that, when the worst happened, it would be even harder for him to process that loss than six years earlier, just two years old.
When others congratulated us on our news, asked us about names, about my labour plans, about how excited we must be to have a daughter, I felt as though I was drowning in my own sadness. I was painfully aware of how ungrateful I was not to be cherishing this time and I loathed myself for becoming everything I had promised I would never be, should we ever be blessed with a baby after all of these years.
During hospital appointments, as my consultant held my hand and promised me that they were doing everything they could to bring our daughter home safely, I would nod along in agreement, screaming inside that I had heard those words before. When I was reassured that I was being monitored as carefully as was possible, I wanted to tell them it wasn’t enough, that I wanted to be admitted to hospital, wired up to monitors and allowed to stay there every moment of every day, until she made it here safely.
But instead I said nothing, just blankly stared into the distance, that feeling of dread churning in my stomach, waiting, and waiting, for the moment it would be too late. Because I truly believed, with absolute certainty, that it wasn’t a case of if the worst should happen, but when.
And of course alongside all of those emotions, I felt such gut wrenching guilt that I had ruined the whole experience for Gaz, a first time Daddy, a moment he had waited for all his life. It breaks my heart that I hadn’t allowed him to experience the joy of shopping for a new baby, choosing a pram, building a cot, picking out little cotton babygro’s and first teddy bears to cherish. It pains me to remember all of those days I left the room when he spoke about the future, all of those conversations I refused to hear, all of those moments when I wanted to tell him that the only plans we should make were for our baby girls funeral.
I was completely and utterly consumed with fear and grief, every kick a reminder of the last little one who had wriggled in my tummy, every appointment a reminder of the last time I had been there, hearing the words that no parent wants to hear.
And I felt completely and utterly alone, will all of those thoughts, and all of those feelings.
But, as we all know, Eva finally came screaming into the world, safe, healthy, and breathtakingly beautiful, and she healed my heart absolutely. But afterwards, when I held her in my arms, I felt overcome with fear that perhaps now would be the time she was taken from us, perhaps now would be the moment when our dreams would be shattered. And of course, as post-natal depression kicked in again, and later diagnosed with post traumatic stress, I very soon spiralled into a dangerously low place.
It is only now, looking back, that I can see that I was seriously struggling with my mental health at that time. And I can’t help but wonder had I received the help I needed during my pregnancy whether things would have been different. Whether, armed with the right tools and the right support, I could have enjoyed even a handful of moments during those eight long months. Whether actually, if all of those things had been available to me, those first few months with my little rainbow would have been far less fraught with fear and anxiety.
Because the truth is, pregnancy is hard work, both physically and mentally. It’s the most incredible, terrifying, life changing, rollercoaster of emotions and it’s no surprise that it impacts so many women’s mental health. I think far too many of us chastise ourselves for struggling with something which, in all sense and purposes, is supposed to be the most natural act of all. And yet we do struggle, and it is tough, and there is no shame whatsoever in holding our hands up and admitting that.
As always I commend Tommy’s for paving the way to help all mothers manage their mental well being. Because it’s important to remember that it’s not just for Mothers like me, with pre-existing mental health issues or navigating pregnancy after loss. It’s for Mother’s facing this journey alone, or missing a loved one at such a momentous time in their lives. It’s for Mother’s who are feeling a little scared at the responsibility which awaits them, for Mother’s who are worried how they will juggle a family alongside a career, or love a second child in the way they love their first. It’s for Mothers who need a little reassurance, a little support, a little pick me up on the days they are finding it particularly tough.
And it’s for Mother’s who, perhaps un-explicably at times, feel a little overwhelmed with the fact that they are growing a real life human being and their entire world is about to change in an instant. Because for all Mother’s, your mental well-being is paramount, and having that support at a time you need it the most can make all the difference.
This Christmas we will be donating to Tommy’s Big Give Campaign instead of sending christmas cards, and I urge others to do the same.
You can donate here.