Becoming a new parent can be challenging, so let's talk about perinatal mental health...
Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week is a week-long campaign dedicated to talking about mental health problems during and after pregnancy, which ran from 3rd to 9th May 2021. It’s a good opportunity for us to raise awareness of perinatal mental health problems and to address the wider societal issues that go largely unspoken. We felt this was especially important this year as the pandemic has been particularly isolating both before and after birth.
Lucy Maller is an Accord rep and member of the Principal Executive Council, currently working in Customer Services in Halifax. Lucy shared with us her experience of being a new mum and the thoughts and feelings she had at the time. Libby, her daughter, is now 5 years old and doing well.
Tell us a little bit about your experience before taking your maternity leave?
I don’t think I really thought about what maternity leave would be like while I was pregnant. There’s so much to think about being a new mum, so I was focused on giving birth and making all the necessary arrangements along the way.
Everything was in order at work, and when my last day came, I went home with presents and good wishes to wait. Libby was born two weeks early, so the wait didn’t last long!
What was your experience like as a new mother?
When the little one was born, everything was like a whirlwind – we had plenty of visits from family members and friends to celebrate the birth. For everyone else, the novelty passes quickly and soon it was just me and the baby. The days felt long and lonely. Nobody prepares you for just how isolating that can be. I remember counting down the hours to my partner coming home just so I had someone to talk to and tell me something from outside the four walls.
My friends and colleagues were getting on with life as usual, and in some ways, I think I felt the entire world was carrying on as normal except me – my world was so different to what I had known, working in an office with people around me all the time. Health visitors recommended I went to baby groups, but at the time I was filled with dread just at the thought of going.
Perinatal mental illness affects up to 20% of new and expectant mums and covers a wide range of conditions. If left untreated, mental health issues can have significant and long-lasting effects on the woman, the child, and the wider family. Source: NHS Perinatal Mental Health
It sounds like it was a bit of a challenge to start with?
Oh absolutely. Anybody that knows me knows that I’m a confident person usually. When it came to being a mum, I felt less confident – I hadn’t trained or practised to be a mum. And then I’d watch my mum with Libby and I just couldn’t understand how it came so easily to her, everything seemed effortless.
I also found myself feeling guilty for not loving each minute of being with my baby, like everyone said I should. I missed my old life because I knew how to do that, I felt secure, confident and well-practised at it. I absolutely love my daughter, and I loved watching her growing up, but there’s so much going on when you’ve got a new kid. And it’s of course exhausting too.
Did things get easier for you?
Yes, things did get easier over time and I got the hang of being a mum and juggling everything. For me, going back to work helped massively because it gave me some structure and I think it made me feel like myself again – I’d found myself again.
I returned after 7 months, and of course not everyone will feel the same. I would say to choose what works for you and your family, you don’t have to meet anybody else’s expectations of how you should juggle work and family life. That connection with work was necessary for me for my mental health.
Is there anything you’d say to new and expecting mothers?
We don’t often hear people talking honestly about being a new parent, or when we do it’s mostly around the sleep – or lack of it. People don’t often tell you it was a struggle and there’s so much expectation around it that it’s such an enjoyable time. That’s why I wanted to share my experience.
I know everything that I felt was a natural reaction to my new circumstances, but there is support out there to help, especially if you’re feeling like you’re not coping. Looking back, I can see that I needed more support, but it doesn’t always feel easy to ask for it.
I think it’s really important that people know it’s ok to feel like this, and it’s normal not to love every second of it, and it can feel like hard work.
Lucy Maller attended the TUC's Women in Leadership school and we'll be sharing more about this in the next My Accord magazine where we'll be interviewing Lucy about her experiences throughout the course and her thoughts on next steps within Accord.
Knowing when to get support
Perinatal mental health effects more than just a mother, and it usually requires support from family and wider support networks. These are just some of the symptoms that can indicate that help is needed:
- Feeling like you're detached from your pregnancy
- Feelings of anger or irritation around others - or simply not wanting to be around other people
- Panic attacks
- Unable to concentrate
- Worried about giving birth
- Feeling overwhelmed with the responsibility
- Sense of hopelessness about the future
- Feelings of guilt or that you've made a mistake
- Intrusive thoughts, images or urges (usually about yourself or your baby)
The Perinatal Mental Health Project (PMHP) has created a self-care tracker that can be used to help anyone going through a difficult mental health period (either before or after birth) to focus on taking steps to improve their mental health. However, if you're having a mental health crisis, or if you're unsure if you are, you can always reach out to Accord, or any of the supports we've collated for you below.
- NHS: The NHS has produced a video about supporting parents, partners, and family members
- LBG’s Employee Assistance Programme (Validium): 0800 9700 100
- TSB's Employee Assistance Programme: 0800 0856 348
- Bank Workers Charity: 0800 0234 834 — https://www.bwcharity.org.uk/
- APNI: https://apni.org/ or 02073860868
- Mums Aid: https://www.mums-aid.org/
- Family Action: https://www.family-action.org.uk/
- Tommys: https://www.tommys.org/
- Samaritans: 116 123 — https://www.samaritans.org/
- Mind: https://www.mind.org.uk/
- NHS 'Every mind matters': https://www.nhs.uk/oneyou/every-mind-matters/
- NHS (including 111): https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/suicide/
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The Accord Equality Diversity & Inclusion group’s aim is to maximise our members' potential, regardless of background, and ensure everyone is treated with dignity and respect. It’s a place where diversity is celebrated, without prejudice or judgement. It’s a chance to collectively learn from our experiences, and enrich all our lives.