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Maternal Mental Health Awareness

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At Medella Life we are forever mindful of the people’s wellbeing, especially around mental health. This week marks the Blue Dot Projects, Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week 2021.

We wanted to share this deeply personal account of one of our colleagues’ wives experience of giving birth during the pandemic to highlight the hidden mental health challenges many women are likely facing during the pandemic.

It is our hope that this account will raise awareness around post-natal mental health and encourage woman to seek help if required. A vast range of resources on maternal mental health can be found here.

Eight weeks on from giving birth I had managed the usual challenge of escaping the house for a walk in a desperate attempt to get our daughter to sleep. Out of nowhere my eyes  started flooding with tears, a song that was on my labour playlist started playing through my headphones, dredging up all of the emotions and traumas from that day and the weeks the followed. This happens quite a lot, spontaneous crying about a situation that I was convinced I was ‘handling’ and it catches me totally unaware. There are details that I have certainly suppressed that come back to me at the most unexpected times.

As births go, mine was not ‘text book’... it started with an induction after movement concerns and reached its dramatic conclusion in theatre with a forceps delivery, episiotomy and major blood loss. Like many I had grand ideas of the perfect birth... a detailed birth plan listing all of my preferences, none of which came to fruition. Despite this, the incredible staff on the labour ward managed to deliver our daughter safely. Unfortunately myself and baby developed an infection during labour meaning we had to remain in hospital for a week following delivery, for me this is the aspect of my birthing experience that I struggle to process most.

Like many women during the global pandemic, I had to do much of the preparation alone... apart from the standard 12 and 20 week scans, appointments and investigations were attended alone. I, like many expectant mums, accepted this as one of the many unfortunate situations that the pandemic has dished out and my view was that people were going through a lot worse. However, I was not prepared for what the pandemic would mean for me postnatally. 

Exhausted and depleted having not slept for 36hrs, dosed up on drugs, catheterised and stitched; I was wheeled into a bay in the postnatal ward with this tiny human who up until that point I had been too unwell to even hold. My husband was then told that he had to leave... he had already outstayed his welcome.  The following days consisted of one hour visits which rushed by faster than you would believe and the rest of the time it was me, trying to muddle through the early stages of motherhood alone and trying to care for a tiny human when I myself felt so incredibly ill. Battered and bruised and unable to lift my baby out of her crib, it did not feel easy to ask for help. Despite there being post natal nursing staff available, most of the time I did not feel supported, I felt alone. What struck me from my particular experience was that there appeared to be a lack of empathy for the absence of fathers and family members who would usually be there to offer emotional support and a lack of acknowledgement of what is a brutal situation for new mothers.  The pandemic has gone on too long and it seemed that for many staff this was now just standard practice and no doubt the understaffing does not afford them the time to play ‘husband’ to the many mothers who are crying out for more support and shoulder to cry on. 

I cried daily in the presence of the medical staff, sometimes verging on hysteria. Yet what was reported on my daily medical notes states ‘seems well in herself’ or a soulless tick. There are posters all around the post natal ward emphasising the importance of mental health but there still appears to be a huge disconnect between what they practice and what they preach. There were several midwives who were wonderful and I would pray they’d be on shift but generally it was a miserable and isolating situation.

I have many friends who have become new mothers during the pandemic, brave courageous women who each have their own story to tell and their own traumas relating to giving birth in a pandemic, each with a common thread... Lack of support. Upon discharge I was given some leaflets about a service called ‘birth reflections’ which I am yet to utilise, mainly because I have lost confidence in the current systems ability to provide me with the mental health support I need as the lack of it during my time in hospital is what was damaging in the first place.

For now I am doing well, enjoying my beautiful baby daughter and concentrating on the present rather than the past. Myself and my mum friends joke and make light of our experiences which is cathartic but I know we are all still processing, we have other priorities right now but hopefully when we do feel ready to seek help in the coming years there will be the appropriate care available as I am in no doubt that there will be massive fall out from the pandemic where maternity mental health is concerned.