She embarks on her journey, she – the one in the boat, leaving her safe shore for the unknown. She carries precious cargo across deep waters. Some days are peaceful, and the anticipation of arrival fills her heart with gladness. On other days, the water wails and rises up higher than the boat, threatening to overturn it and everything she’s worked for. But on she sails, determined to reach the other side.
Maternal mental health:
before becoming pregnant, my mind automatically went to the ‘Day 3 Baby Blues’, or things like post-natal depression when I hearing those words. I’d never thought of mental health before a baby’s arrival.
As it turns out, it’s something that I’ve had to address face on, and as I have done so, have discovered that ‘perinatal mental health’ (which refers to pre, during and post birth) really should be something we talk about a lot more.
I’ve been honoured to write about my journey with PMH for Have You Seen That Girl?, a website run by my friend Lindsay, dedicated to helping mums with their mental health. I’ve also written about how my faith interplays with my perinatal mental health for Think Twice, a fabulous charity which exists to equip the Church to handle mental health well.
I’ve found four things that have helped me ‘steady my boat’ through pregnancy. They’re relevant to pregnant and non-pregnant people alike, and I hope you find them helpful!
Flipping the switch
A good friend of mine talks about taking her thoughts captive: catching them, weighing them up and then deciding what to do with them. I’ve tried to be vigilant about catching negative or anxious thoughts. And when one makes its way into my mind, I challenge it by ‘flipping the switch’. That is, I’ll immediately think of something good, maybe something that I’m thankful for or just something that has gone well/been fun/makes me feel good about that day. And then I think of another, until I have at least three. Doing this actually changes your neurological function, and makes it much harder for negative thoughts to spiral. Maybe it helps you to imagine turning a car around – I imagine a STOP sign before flipping the switch.
Sheryl Sandberg’s 3 P’s
In her book ‘Option B’, Sandberg writes about challenging the 3 P’s when faced with difficult circumstances. She suggests trying to be mindful that what is happening isn’t personal – it isn’t caused by you; it isn’t permanent – things will change; and it isn’t pervasive – it does not need to affect the whole of your life. Measuring the 3 P’s up against my own thoughts has been a really helpful way of framing what I’m going through.
Talking about it
Talking to friends and family, and to other mums and mums-to-be sounds simple, but it’s powerful. Verbalising things can make them less scary or big – and we find that we are not alone. This is normal (even though it’s not OK). We are worth taking care of. If reading this marks your first step towards better mental health, welcome: I like to imagine you sitting across from me, hands around a mug of something warm. There are so many others like us, and so many who can help. Reach out. Talk to someone. You are not alone.
I found a fantastic counsellor who is also a midwife and offers a set ‘course’ of four sessions for women who are dealing with complicated pregnancies, traumatic births and post-natal difficulties. This helped me process the shock and trauma (with a small ‘t’) of what has happened, think about how to trust my body through pregnancy, birth and caring for a newborn, and develop some mechanisms for relaxing and staying calm. I’m a firm believer that everyone could benefit from counselling at any stage of their journey, and it has really helped me in this particular stage of mine!
Your mental health is precious, and worth looking after. It is normal to experience issues at any stage of the birthing process, and it’s OK to talk about them. You’re not alone. And things will get better.