Yesterday I spent the day at the London perinatal mental health 4th annual conference. I had been asked to speak from the perspective of my role as a "mindful mums" facilitator for Bromley and Lewisham Mind. To say I was a bit nervous is an understatement but I managed to share my experience with PND and how this has led to my volunteering. As I believe we need to share more of our own experiences to break down the barriers surrounding mental health I thought I would share with you a little of my own story.
My journey began in 2004 when I first became a mother, I was 23 and excited at entering this new phase of my life. I’d always loved children and as an only child had dreamed of having a large family. Shortly after my son Aaron was born my husband got a job in Brussels so off we relocated when he was just 9 months old. At first everything was new and exciting but I quickly felt quite lonely and isolated in this new country where I didn’t speak the language and had very few friends. Aaron was a poorly boy who was in and out of hospital with pneumonia’s and then later with something called kawasaki disease. As the latter is so rare I remember spending a weekend in hospital thinking that my son wasn't going to make it. Nurses looked baffled as they struggled to bring down his raging fever with no luck. Thankfully he was fine and sustained no real lasting damage, nevertheless it was an extremely stressful time which put a huge emotional strain on both my husband and I.
A few years later I was pregnant with my second son Ellis. I remember feeling really angry all the time and constantly irritated, I was lethargic and unable to find the motivation to entertain my eldest or any visitors that came to see us. Ellis was born in Nov 2007 and although I had an amazing birth I remember not feeling any rush of emotion like I had with my first. We moved back to London in the following May and by then the proverbial black dog had taken up residence on my shoulders. As the weeks wore on I began to struggle to leave my bed let alone my home and felt numb.
This picture is of me during one of my darkest times. It was taken at my husbands best friends wedding. That morning I couldn’t stop crying, I didn’t want to go, I just couldn’t face the thought of leaving the house, talking to people. I was depressed. I’ve been told I’m a bubbly, Fun loving, life and soul, slightly loud person and with that comes an expectation that you will always bring that positive energy in any given situation. Whenever I see that photo it reminds me of the broken woman underneath.
It took my husband frog marching me to the GP for me to admit and access support. She was amazing and listened to me, taking her time to focus on me and my needs. I'll forever be grateful for her offer of her door always being open. For the first time I felt like it might all be ok. I was put on medication and offered group counselling, which I was reluctant to do the thought of speaking in a room full of people about my problems seemed like the last thing I wanted to do, but my husband gently encouraged me to go and thankfully it was just what I needed. The group counselling was amazing I felt understood by my peers and Im still in touch with those lovely ladies today. What I haven't mentioned is the fact I was still breastfeeding Ellis at the time and was one of the main concerns I had regarding medication. My lovely GP went out of her way to contact the pharmaceutical company to find the safest medication for me to take whilst breast-feeding. I chose to take the meds of an evening after Ellis' last feed and then didn't breastfeed him through the night as I felt my meds were in their highest concentration. I don't think this was entirely necessary, however it made me feel more in control in a situation that felt I had lost control.
Within a year I was mentally strong again and training to support women as a doula.
Fast forward to the October of 2014. I was 39 weeks pregnant with my fourth son when my mother died. It was sudden and unexpected and the days, weeks and months that followed were probably some of the hardest of my life. I began to get anxiety about going back to that dark place, however 3 years on I can honestly say I’ve not been there. I truly believe this is due to the amazing support that surrounded me in those weeks and months following my Mum's death.
I’ve often thought about why I never slipped back into that dark hole and I realised that it was because I felt
Loved - supported - listened to.
I believe this is an important trio of factors during transitional times of ones life. When these basic needs are met it can have a profound effect on the person that is struggling. We are just children in adult bodies needing to feel loved and nurtured, valued and respected.
It's one of the main reasons I then went on to train as a placenta specialist. The benefits of consuming my placenta to help avoid post natal depression were a massive draw for me. I know that the smoothies and capsules I had following my fourth son's birth supported me greatly as I struggled emotionally with the devastating loss of my amazing mum. Maybe that needs it's own blog post...