"Wanting to be a healthy woman doesn’t mean that my healthy baby is any less important."
Speaking up for yourself, and seeking help for physical and mental health issues after birth can be difficult or embarrassing. Let’s hear from Moira and Yvonne, mothers from the MAMMI study, and how they felt when they spoke to a doctor about their health issues after birth.
I think that new mothers often feel that they should be happy to have a healthy baby, so they tend to ignore their own health issues. There is also a lack of knowledge and a stigma around postnatal women’s health. We often presume that what we are experiencing is normal after having a baby and on top of that, we are sometimes embarrassed to speak about things like incontinence, sexual health or postnatal mental health issues.
My doctor really put me at ease when she pointed out that wanting to be a healthy woman doesn’t mean that my healthy baby is any less important.
It was reassuring to hear that me and my baby were both important.
Your doctor has seen it all, so there is no reason to be embarrassed or worried. It may help to write down any questions you have before your six-week postnatal check-up. Having it written in front of you might just give you the courage to mention it.
Most issues can be cured, or at least improved if you see the right person. If your doctor can’t help, they can definitely recommend the person who can.
After the birth of my baby, I faced the daunting challenge of how to cope with and manage postnatal anxiety. In the first few days after the birth, I had the usual ‘baby blues’, I was irritable and would feel like crying a lot, but this passed after a week or so. Then a few weeks later, the feelings of being overwhelmed appeared again, these were feelings of constantly being on edge, always battling against time – there was never enough of it! I felt that I had to have the house perfect, meals on time and the baby and I should always look “presentable”.
Postnatal anxiety had a huge impact on my family life, and my relationship with my husband, parents, and friends. I became a “closed book”. I was very lucky that I had a huge amount of support from my husband and my parents, but I still felt that I was doing everything on my own. I felt isolated. From the outside, my family could see that I was strained (I had become obsessed with cleaning the house) but when they asked if I was ok, I’d give the usual reply “I’m grand, it’ll pass over”.
But inside I was screaming for help, I just wanted something to take the feeling of anxiety away, to let me have time to myself, let me get the housework done, oh god another dirty nappy, baby is due another bottle again, the ironing is piling up – this is all too much, I just can’t cope, I can’t sustain this…..
I knew something wasn’t right. Here I was with this beautiful baby, exciting times ahead, someone to nurture and treasure, but each morning I woke up crying and absolutely dreading the day ahead of me……
In Ireland, maternity care is free up to 6 weeks after the birth of your baby; at 6 weeks postpartum, you receive a final appointment with your local doctor to assess your and your baby’s health. In the days before my 6-week check-up, I jotted down the way I felt (due to having baby brain you learn to jot things down or keep post-its everywhere to remind yourself of things that you need to do!). At my appointment, I told my GP how I felt. She was very understanding and had a good chat with me; we talked about how I should approach my anxiety and what options were available to me.
In my case, she prescribed a low dose of an anti-depressant and put me in contact with Nurture to avail of their counselling services. It was going to be a long road ahead but I knew it had to be done.
“Healthy and happy Mammy = healthy and happy family.”
When I got home, I contacted Nurture; they were just so nice and understanding. They arranged for me to meet with one of their counsellors within a few days, and my journey back to what I would call the “real world” began. Where you don’t have to appear to be the perfect mum and wife or partner, your house doesn’t need to be glistening clean, you can set yourself reasonable targets for each day and you just – go with the flow.
For me counselling definitely worked. The time spent talking, venting and expressing all of my emotions to a neutral and non-judgemental person worked wonders for me. Going for counselling, expressing how I felt was something that was helpful. In counselling, you can just say your thoughts and feelings aloud and not feel ‘oh I shouldn’t have said that’ or ‘that sounded really bad, they are going to think I am a very selfish person’.
The anti-depressants helped also, and my doctor helped me to reduce and eventually stop taking them in a few months, at the pace that I wanted. She checked in with me regularly, she made sure that each step was working for me, and that I could handle the feelings of anxiety if they crept up again. At counselling you learn through CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), not only how to off-load what stresses you and makes you feel anxious, but also how to cope and reflect on lessons learned, and identify what caused the stress or anxiety and how to keep this at bay or cope with it when it happens again.
- In the next step, we will look at how you can speak up for yourself and your own health.
© Trinity College Dublin