Maternal Mental Health is a subject close to my heart, having been right in the midst of pregnancy and having my own mental health suffer it has been something I want to help build awareness of. Reading ‘Why are maternal mental health services failing women?’ in the Guardian this morning struck a chord with me, especially those opening lines of asking exactly why mental healthcare is so patchy.
My experience of maternal mental health has been something I have been documenting right here on my blog. I talk openly about prenatal depression, and when the time felt right, I talked about having a mental health Midwife. People like to say that depression is not a form of mental health, but for me it was. Together depression and my mental health rotted my brain and turned what was meant to be such a joyous and special occasion into one of utter hell but not just for me but my husband, my child and my unborn child.
Could you imagine wanting to take your own life while your whole life is right there in front of you? While your child is upstairs in bed, your husband busy working hard to provide for his family and the new baby. That baby that was wanted so much that but it soon became a baby that you didn’t want any more because it was making you ill. It was blurring your state of mind. I did not want to be pregnant any more because I did not want to be ill any more. I did not want to lash out at my husband, and I did not want what pregnancy bought with it, especially the ability to not be able to eat or drink due to Hyperemesis Gradium. I just wanted to be normal again.
Part of me wondered if my mental health would have been affected so much if it wasn’t for the Hyperemesis Gradium I suffered. But then I think I know the answer to that question; my hormones were already in overdrive just before I found out I was pregnant. Looking part, I can see it started as pre-natal depression and reading back through I can see the doctor took the treatment to treat it as so. I was told I was depressed, referred to a specialist and given the option of taken antidepressants. The midwife said all was ok because the GP was sorting it. I never did get a specialist appointment through, not while I was still living there. He phoned to tell me he thought he had found some antidepressants which I could take, but could never give me a straight answer to if they would harm my unborn baby. For that reason, I turned them down.
No one kept a close eye on me, and I didn’t feel like I had anyone to turn to when it got worse. It was hard to speak out, even for me who is so open now on both here and Twitter – who uses social media as an outlet. I couldn’t ask if this was normal. The midwives were busy; I lived in a city. I always saw a different midwife. I didn’t know if I was coming or going with regards to my pregnancy care. Part of me wishes now that the midwife I had on that second or third appointment would have recognised something was up when I screamed at the husband to not set foot in that appointment. When we practically had a martial right there in front of her. But then I guess it was put down to hormones. The other part of me wishes I spoke out then before it did truly hit rock bottom.
When I moved, I moved back to a small-ish town. The problem was still there, my problem. My mental health was still suffering. Thankfully I started to build up a sense of trust and belonging with the midwife community I was now under. Something made me reach out one day; maybe it was the fact I had fought my husband again. I had a moment of sense where I got in contact with my doctor, I walked in and told her everything. I’m surprised she didn’t section me on the spot with what she heard. Instead, I was immediately assigned a mental health midwife; she coordinated with the midwife service that helps for me. It was made aware that I had a problem. My mental health was being looked after from all angles, the support I went on to receive meant that any kind of drugs didn’t get talked about again.
That Guardian article talked about it’s profound and far-reaching implications, I almost took my own life and with it would have taken the life of my unborn baby. I would leave a man without a wife and a child, motherless. I was not in the state of mind to see that at the time. I remember the man taking away the knives; I cannot imagine for a second what that most of looked like to him at the time and how he must have felt. I’m struggling to even look back at that and think how I could of ever or even given these thoughts a possibility of becoming a reality. But that’s mental health for you. But how do you distinguish between a pregnant woman’s hormones and a pregnant woman whose mental health is suffering? The amount of times I had my problems put down to simple pregnancy hormones is unbelievable. Those who didn’t understand that you’re not safe from mental health even when pregnant.
I’m one of the lucky ones, the postcode lottery and where I ended up allowed me to receive the kind of help many could only dream for. My mental state returned to that of normal once the pregnancy was over. My mental health illness was over, but then I guess that’s never a guarantee that it will never return in life. It was a fear that I could have gone down the same route with this pregnancy; my notes are filled with the words mental health and how it’s there for all to see it was a past issue for me. My first consultant appointment this time saw her wanting to refer me on to the mental health services ready in case it was to sneak up on me again. I was bitter about this, but I should be grateful this was an option. My wellbeing and my unborn baby’s wellbeing is being looked after. It was talked about again at my recent midwife appointment, the midwife who saw me in my last pregnancy and even delivered my baby asked about my mental health. Because she’s got to know me, she could see all was well. I knew if it wasn’t that she would have been the right person to of spotted it and I would have felt comfortable to of reach of. The man was with me; even he would have felt comfortable to of talked to our midwife.
“Currently, mental health services are the work of one provider, midwifery is the work of another, and health visitors part of another: they should work more closely where mental health is concerned.”
This is what I never got to experience before I moved to where I am now. My area is ticking all the right boxes for this and for that I both praise and thank them. When we moved, the health visitor knew about my mental health she knew that we had been in touch with social services because things had got that bad. I actually couldn’t stand her at first, I thought she was working against us. I guess my worries about how they would see me a mum with a mental health problem, you just never know what they are thinking. I didn’t get in the first area I was in. The people I came up against then couldn’t see my problem. I’ve actually got closer to our health visitor since and have opened up to her. I’ve opened my eyes and seen that these people are only here to help us as a family, they are there for all of us.
My only wish is that ALL women EVERYWHERE, ALL over the UK could get the continuity of care we deserve during pregnancy and after pregnancy. Dr Dan Poulter MP mentioned last week at the Royal College Of Midwives Annual Conference that he knows they can be more effective still in increasing the quality of care for women’s mental health and that more specialist services and education will become available. As both someone who has suffered personally and someone with interest in this field, I hope he does stand by his word.