According to the literature and articles written on mental health in Pregnancy and Childbearing, it is very common for women to experience mental ill health for the first time. This is due to many reasons, but mainly it is because women feel vulnerable and anxious about what changes the pregnancy is having on them physically as well as emotionally.
Just the very physiological changes in how your body functions when pregnant is enormous and not to be taken lightly or dismissed. Therefore, it follows that some alteration in mental health follows for some women.
When I had my children in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, you weren’t allowed to display any signs of being depressed or anxious and if you did, then the thoughts that you tried to express would be very quickly dismissed with comments such as:
“Nonsense, rubbish, what’s wrong with you – you should be happy you’re not ill, you’re just having a baby etc. etc.”
As for trying to talk through your birth experience then,that too,was another big taboo.
I remember trying to explain to a dear Aunt who was a Health Visitor and Midwife, how traumatized and shell shocked I felt after giving birth to my third child. Which incidentally, was classed as a ’normal vaginal birth’ with no intervention, but to me felt like I had been run over by a bus. I also felt overawed by the whole experience, even though I had given birth twice before. When I tried to express this to my Aunt her words were:
“Never mind. It’s over. Don’t think about it any- more. Read a book and take a couple of Codeine!’
Women were also afraid to express that they might be depressed because of the fear of having the baby removed from their care or judged as being poor mothers or simply not coping with the demands of motherhood.
When I read these words back, I feel that I could almost write a thesis, un-picking how powerfully negative they are and how unhelpful it is for women to have to hear these Kafkaesque phrases trotted out by well-meaning people including some health professionals.
Just the very hormonal changes in a woman’s body alone is enough to upset the equilibrium. Add to the mix recovering from being pregnant, the labour and birth and then a few weeks of broken nights and constant demands being made, it is no wonder that some women may feel ‘down or depressed’ following the birth.
Thank goodness attitudes are now shifting to mental health.
Midwives and other health professionals over the past decade have really moved the subject into the public arena and there is much more openness about the subject than there ever was before.
In the past, the emphasis had always been on ensuring that women and babies survived child-bearing which is of course the primary concern. But when you consider that maternal suicide is the fifth most common cause of women’s deaths during pregnancy and remains the leading cause of death in the first year after birth (MBRRACE, 2018) then the care and support for women with mental ill health in pregnancy and afterwards is essential and not an optional extra.
It is also essential that we continue to talk to each other and share our feelings and not be frightened to say to your doctor, health visitor, midwife or family when you are struggling with anxiety, depression or negative thoughts about your birth experience.
Remember it’s OK to not be OK and there is an abundance of help and support out there.
Rosemary A Harris.
Watch this space for further articles.