Warwickshire County Council, Coventry City Council and partners are proud to be supporting Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week on May 3-9 with the theme of ‘Journeys to recovery’.
This year the awareness week aims to highlight the different ways in which new and expectant parents can access support during this unusual time as we all learn to adjust to service and lifestyle changes brought about by COVID-19 as well as putting a spotlight on individual routes to recovering from the pandemic.
Maternal mental health awareness week is organised by the Perinatal Mental Health Partnership (PMHP UK). The awareness week focuses on the mental health of new and expectant parents, encouraging parents to share their experiences while also raising awareness of the support services available.
A Warwickshire parent, Leanne, takes us through her journey of becoming a mum for the second time during a global pandemic and how she accessed support and recovery. “Before I had children I had a really naive understanding of mental illness and believed I was immune to it. Five years on I have learnt the hard way about the importance of recognising, understanding and looking after your mental health.
“My first son was born in 2016 and soon after his birth my mental health began to suffer, my mid-wife was concerned about my mental health and after lots of discussions and nervousness from me, I finally agreed to be referred into the perinatal mental health team.
“The decision to have a second child after this was incredibly difficult and one that we put off for years. However, in 2019 I fell pregnant. The pregnancy was filled with anxiety, and I struggled with the idea of being pregnant. However, I knew the support was there and I had a quick referral into the perinatal mental health team where comprehensive support was put in place.
“My little girl was born and the birthing experience couldn’t have been any more different to my last. She took to feeding quickly and I felt really positive that I would remain well this time.
“However, after an initial couple of good weeks she very quickly became an incredibly unsettled baby. She would cry for hours at a time; she wouldn’t sleep anywhere except on me and settling her was impossible. I started to feel anxious even when she did sleep, waiting for her to stir and would end up not sleeping myself.
“Eventually my mood started to take a downward turn and my anxiety went through the roof. Most nights I was getting less than 3 hours sleep and once the lack of sleep took hold my mood just plummeted and many of the all too familiar thoughts and feelings from my first postnatal period returned. I felt like I wasn’t good enough and every little thing that didn’t go quite right I would blame on me being a bad mum, a bad person, a bad friend.
“I would find everything in life too overwhelming from messaging friends to doing the food shop which meant I couldn’t even face doing the things I enjoyed. I was incredibly lucky to have intensive support from the perinatal mental health team (PMHT) and my health visitor. My CPN would check in twice a week and was so patient with me. My health visitor would also check in weekly and spend up to an hour at a time reminding me of why my children needed me and what I needed to fight for. These professionals gave me hope when I had none.
“Slowly, by fully embracing my recovery and working incredibly hard at the techniques they taught me, I started to feel a little better. My sleep improved and I started to be able to distract myself from the dark thoughts. I stopped fighting the support and let them carry me through the recovery journey. Bit by bit I would notice the old me return. Sometimes only for a short period of time, but it was enough to give me a glimpse of recovery which I could then hold onto when the darkness fell again.
“My CPN said to me when I was unwell that she was holding the hope for me that I would get better until I felt able to hold it myself. I never believed her but when I was sat there in my discharge appointment feeling excited for the life ahead and in control of my life again, I remembered that statement and realised how true it really was.
“To the parents who puts on a brave face day after day when inside they are falling apart, please seek support. I was incredibly unwell but never once did a professional question my ability to be a loving mother to my children. There is no shame in needing support for your mental wellbeing and everyone wants to help.”
Doctor Shade Agboola, Director for public health at Warwickshire County Council said: “Looking after our mental health is incredibly important, particularly through times of change and uncertainty.
“Having a baby is an amazing time but it can also be worrying as your life changes. Lack of sleep, changes to relationships, breastfeeding and other challenges can make you feel low or anxious.
“Warwickshire services remain open throughout the pandemic and beyond, whether you want advice and tips on looking after your baby, help to manage loneliness and anxiety or if you are struggling to cope. Whatever your situation, support is available to you.”
Director of Public Health and Wellbeing at Coventry City Council, Liz Gaulton added: “It is important that we continue to work closely with our partners to provide parents in Coventry with the help they need in the early stages of parenthood and stand by them to reduce challenging stigmas, especially with the added challenges the pandemic has created.
“This not only means raising awareness among parents about the support available to them, but better equipping our frontline health professionals to recognise early signs of perinatal mental illness, have those difficult conversations and signpost accordingly.”
Julia Patterson, Team Manager, Perinatal Mental Health Services, said: “If you are feeling low, anxious or overwhelmed, it is important you talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP and if they think you would benefit for specialist support they can make a referral into the perinatal mental health service. Speak up and talk about your feelings, remember asking for help if not a sign of failure, it is asking what can we put in place to help and support you.”
To find out more about support available for parents in Warwickshire, visit https://www.warwickshire.gov.uk/children-families/help-new-expectant-parents
To find out more about support available for parents in Coventry, visit https://www.coventry.gov.uk/familysupport