As part of Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week I wanted to share the stories of other mums. Today I want to share with you a guest post written by Sarah Robertson from Bide and Bloom about her reflections on PND.
Hi, I'm Sarah, a 35-year-old mum to Cora, aged 4, and to Harris who we sadly lost during pregnancy in 2016.
By day I run a graphic and digital design studio, IfLooksCouldKill, with my partner Jonathan, and I also manage Bide & Bloom, a blog which I first created to help me open up about life after baby loss and secondary infertility. Self-care and mental health are recurring themes and the blog is home to a series of guest posts, which I publish using #thebigselfcareshare hashtag.
My mental health
My mental health is something I’ve had to be mindful of since my teens. Aged 13, I was struggling to cope with the death of my dad who had taken his own life when I was a child, an act which left an indelible mark on me and my siblings. My first experience of talk therapy was incredibly difficult - there was more of a focus on my eating habits and less on my emotional state - and I was left feeling angry and bitter and without the help I desperately needed.
Over the years, I turned to binge drinking and eating as a method of coping, but it wasn't until the loss of my granda in my late twenties that I realised I needed more support. The experience of losing him brought back memories and feelings I’d tried so hard to make peace with. But it also gave me the chance to reflect as an adult on my dad’s actions, and I credit bereavement counselling with helping me learn about the power of forgiveness.
My PND diagnosis
Jonathan and I knew that becoming parents would be a challenge, but we hadn’t quite appreciated just how anxious and fragile I was during pregnancy. Our journey from deciding to try for a baby to then meeting our daughter was just six months. Without realising it, I was already in the second trimester when we decided to start a family - a blessing in many ways, but putting our recent fertility struggles to one side, I had been catapulted into motherhood and felt completely unprepared.
Late pregnancy was fraught with fear and in the days following Cora’s birth the baby blues kicked in. Those newborn days were as exhilarating as they were challenging. The emotional, mental and physical upheaval was something else. And I had little to no support because I didn’t know how to ask for it and didn’t want to appear as though I was floundering.
The baby blues never quite went away. A small cloud was left hanging over me and it continued to grow in the following months through difficulties with feeding and sleeping, which we later discovered were down to allergies; Cora had been reacting to any dairy, egg and soya in my diet while I was breastfeeding her and that realisation left me in pieces. For months I’d been questioning my ability to cope as a mother and her diagnosis confirmed the damaging thoughts and feelings I had about myself - I simply wasn’t good enough.
At the time, it was very hard for me to distinguish those thoughts from reality. I believed everything I felt about myself and was unable to control my emotions. Then just a few weeks later a new health visitor came by and after a teary conversation, I was encouraged to call CrossReach, a local service offering perinatal counselling and therapy.
I understood the benefits of talk therapy when I was referred to CrossReach as it had helped me in the past, so I welcomed the opportunity to chat with someone about how I was (or wasn’t) coping. During the first session, I found it hard to pinpoint the things that caused me to feel the way I did, but that’s the beauty of counselling - someone is there to help you help yourself, to unpick the tricky parts, to guide us in understanding ourselves better.
It took around 9 months for me to reach a point where I felt I could cope without the support of my counsellor, and I credit that experience with helping me stay afloat these past few years. It was then that I was introduced to the idea of self-care, of taking time to nurture my body and mind and to exercise patience and kindness with myself and with others.
Since then, we’ve tried to grow our family, but without much success. Secondary infertility and the loss of five pregnancies have challenged us in ways we couldn’t have imagined, and in some ways I’m grateful for the chance I got to work on my maternal mental health when Cora was a baby, as while we have down days, and we don’t know what the future holds for us as a family, I have the tools I need to support myself.
I often feel like depression is there, waiting in the wings, silently taunting me when life gets challenging. And that’s why I continue to learn about and cultivate a realistic self-care practice, one that gives me an opportunity to check in with myself each day and make sure I’m taking the best possible care of my emotional, mental and physical health.
I’m so passionate about delivering the message that it’s okay not to be okay. And it’s important to me that my daughter grows up safe in the knowledge that, no matter what her experiences, however big or small she thinks a problem might be, it’s okay to be sad, it’s okay to ask for help and it’s okay to feel whatever you need to feel. There’s always a way through.
Self-care isn’t easy. It requires us to be mindful, to know our boundaries and to assert ourselves. Learning to say yes to what serves us and no to what doesn’t is a skill. And it’s a necessary one.
In summing up my thoughts on PND, I'd say that curiously it helped me discover the best parts of myself. The bits I like most. It involves daily work on my body and mind, but it's work that's helping me heal myself in ways I never thought possible.