Maternal Mental Health – Journey to recovery.

How can peer support help in the journey to recovery?

Perinatal peer support can play a huge part in supporting parents through those difficult and scary times. Peer support is having ‘someone in your corner’, someone who understands, has been through or is going through it now with you and gets it. They listen without judgment, expectations and they can help you on your way. Peer support can make all the difference

Here are some stories from mums who have used Light.

Rachel’s journey

No one ever tells you quite how difficult becoming a parent is do they?!…

I had completely unrealistic expectations first time round about what having a baby would be like and found myself totally overwhelmed when my daughter was born. I really struggled with anxiety and PTSD from a traumatic birth. I attended group sessions at Light and found it really reassuring to know that there were so many other mothers who felt the same as me!

Almost 3 years on and I have a second child who is 8 months old, a little boy. The pregnancy was pretty stressful, luckily however my mental health, postnatal, this time round has been brilliant. I do know that I can always go back to Light if I ever need them though!

Carly’s journey
I was in way over my head, feeling lower than I ever thought possible. It wasn’t meant to be like this.
There was a constant rising panic in my chest and heart. A complicated tangle of sadness, anxiety, disappointment, anger and resentment. There was an overwhelming love for my little boys too, but rather than reassuring me, these powerful feelings added to racing thoughts and confusion. Lost and so very lonely.
This is a common PND symptom. Others include a disconnect with the new baby, thoughts of harming them, birth flashbacks, feeling numb and a certainty your family would be better off without you. All of which come with a huge side of stigma, which makes it hard to ask for help.
Just 23 hours after having my elective section, and holding baby Dex alone, crying my way through the comedown of birth, I was discharged. We both ticked all the physically-well boxes and they wanted two-less Covid risks out ASAP. But I was already falling. I didn’t feel like I could say it out loud though, then I was out by the carpark exit, grateful my boyfriend was there, Dex’s car seat in hand, and full of hope it would just go away. It didn’t. Back home, I had to share my heart, head and space with two tiny people who desperately needed me 24/7, a tag team of demands, so I fell further.
Two weeks after birth, I was back in hospital for an infection check, and the doctor raised her concerns about me showing symptoms of PND, but just as we were discussing it she was buzzed to an emergency section. Nothing more was said. Or followed up. I spoke to the health visitor on the eight-week home check. She asked a set of standard questions, making notes, suggesting I raised my concerns with my GP when they do the pre-jab baby health check. Only she didn’t have time to talk about me, ushering us down the hall to the nurse as soon as Dex was back in his sleep suit, saying I’d need a separate telephone appointment. It would have been so easy to give up, as a mum you can feel that you don’t matter anymore, and not call.
I did call. And, after a long chat, was diagnosed with PND. It took two months and there were so many times I could have fallen down a gap.
Now, I have the right help; medication and counselling via Light Peer Support, who supported me when I found out I was pregnant in Lockdown 1.0 as well. On the bad days, the ones where I’m so lost and so sad, I blame myself for not being able to cope. For not being good enough. And for letting my little boys down. But on the good days I can be kinder…the never-ending uncertainty of a global pandemic; sleepless nights; diva demands of a toddler (side note: WTF); and a history of anxiety…it’s no wonder I’ve got PND. On these less dark days I can accept the experts don’t fully understand what causes PND. Hormone surges, sleep deprivation, birth recovery and the emotional challenges of parenting all play a part. But whatever causes it, it’s a very tough gig. Any mum (or dad) who is feeling even a little bit wobbly and unsure needs to ask for help. And keep asking for it. It’s not ok, but you can make it ok.
(This story has been edited, for the full article published on grazia found here https://graziadaily.co.uk/life/parenting/postnatal-depression-lockdown-2021/ )

Emily’s story.
A fairy tale of sorts
There once was a young girl who couldn’t wait to become a mother, as she grew older other people around her starting to have what she so craved. She knew there was probably a struggle ahead but nothing prepared her for what was coming her way.
She had fallen in love with her best friend who had then become her prince. Things moved quickly and soon they were married and found their castle together to hopefully live happily ever. Although things are never as simple as they are in fairy tales. She knew there could be a struggle trying to conceive a baby due to her having PCOS but nothing prepared her for the heartbreak that would actually come. They had tried for a year and a half and with no support from GPs, apparently, we needed to have been trying for 18months and then it become 2 years. The princess asked so kindly for support and her wish was granted in the form of private investigation. It turned out she only needed a little drug called Metformin to get the ball rolling. After a few months she was pregnant. The tears flowed and so did the love for this tiny little baby that would soon join her family. She couldn’t wait to tell family so ended up telling them around the 8-10 week mark! She felt safe that no matter what happened they would be there to support her.
The months seemed to go so slow and yet so fast. Before the couple knew it the cruel curse of COVID hit the world. Just a few weeks before she was due to give birth. This is where it all changed. Everyday she was filled with worry and anxieties. Each day seemed to bring a new challenge. The hospitals were changing their guidelines everyday as were the midwives. The last thing she needed was the baby to be late! She was watching the news and that’s when she heard that there would be no travel, no visitors…..FULL LOCKDOWN…..HEARTBROKEN. This felt like it smashed the princess’s heart into two pieces. The prince was strong and silent and would always say not to worry. From then on she became obsessive about whether or not her prince would be there at the birth. She would lie in bed looking for cases of babies having Covid. This precious thing she loved so much, it was like she didn’t even want to bring a baby into this mess, it was so unsafe and scary! Unfortunately, the baby was late and at around 2 weeks of being overdue she was induced alone. Like she had always feared. Scared, anxious and alone. She had no clue what to expect. Of course, the staff were nice enough, not much contact but still. All dressed in aprons, gloves and masks. It was all still so new and scary then. She was in the hospital with no physical contact with her prince for 2 days before things started to happen. She was in pain and worrying as she couldn’t see her partner anytime soon until she was in the labour suit. She was crying and shaking with fear. As the pain worsened, she was advised to take a bath, however she discovered something wasn’t right. The baby wasn’t happy and so she was finally sent up to the labour suit which is when she could make the call. Her prince was on the way.
He was temperature scanned on entry and was able to be by her side. After a couple of hours it was clear the baby wasn’t happy so she was rushed for an emergency C section. Luckily in the end she could be awake for the birth and her prince could be there to welcome their beautiful daughter into this crazy world.
Lily Jeanette Naylor-Walker was finally taken home and the princess felt like the nightmare was finally over, but that was just the start.
After 3 days of being back home, on no sleep breastfeeding on demand with no help from outside family at all, that’s when the storm appeared. She woke up sweating as if from a night terror she was picturing her daughter dying in her arms. She woke up in a panic but saw her daughter was safe but
the feeling didn’t leave. This constant feeling of dread and worry in the pit of her stomach. She carried it with her and then started to imagine all of these things happening to her baby. She couldn’t watch MasterChef without picturing her beautiful daughter being chopped up like a fish. Why were these things popping into her mind? why was she picturing these things happening to her new born baby? Did she not love her? Did she want these things to happen? No, she felt sick at the thought and tried everything to get rid of these thoughts. Asked her prince, could this happen? Please be careful? Is she okay? Am I a good mum? Will I drop her? Do I hate her? Am I crazy? Am I losing my mind? These thoughts would spiral in her head out of control it was like she was trapped in the tower of her own mind! It was the scariest place she had ever been. She loved her daughter so much she was everything in the world to her, but the fear she lived with on a daily basis was debilitating. She couldn’t sleep but so wanted to, she would constantly have thoughts of something hurting her baby and more often than not she was the villain in the story. But how could this be? She was kind and caring and had always wanted to be a mother, what was wrong with her. She knew something wasn’t right, this isn’t who she was, no way?
She reached out after a few days to her midwife who she thought could be her saviour unfortunately she said the NHS wait for mental health support is long, the princess had struggled with worries before and so did have a lovely counsellor who had helped her. She knew this was the next right thing to help fight this storm! The princess was in such a dark place, doubting her every move judging every thought, she felt like a disgusting human being not suitable to be a mother to her wonderful baby girl. The counsellor felt like a light in the darkness who sent her some information on what she might be going through. It turns out this demon she was fighting was called intrusive thoughts. Although it didn’t help the thoughts it was reassuring to know that there were common and didn’t actually mean anything about the mother she could be. After the initial relief unfortunately, the thoughts did not stop! It was a constant battle, she felt like every day with her baby was being stolen from her the enjoyment the love and happiness was taken away and replaced with worry, fear and frustration about the constant barrage of images that went through her brain. After a week she felt medication was the next step she simply called her GP and said she was suffering bad anxiety and no more questions were asked. Looking back this was a failure on the Gps part as more could have been down sooner to help the princess.
The worst thought that plagued her initially was that she would drop her baby out of the window, the window of the home she created with love and laughter with her prince. The home she wanted to raise her children in. She was so scared that she would not take a step near the window she wouldn’t even look at it. She was scared to sleep, she asked her prince to lock the windows, he couldn’t find the key but he reassured her that she would never ever do that. She refused to let him open the windows even in the summer months that passed. She could sleep down stairs but she wouldn’t let it win, something inside her told her she would never ever do anything like that but the thoughts would still not leave.
It was around this time she found a group of people who understood, who just knew that this illness although felt real didn’t actually mean anything about how good of a mother she was. They were there as she cried and shared her fears, what she got in return was other mothers, other warriors who had dealt with similar things in this first period of mother hood during a pandemic. This saviour was called Light. It was peer support, virtual at this point but it was such a great thing each week to just chat. It was like the princess felt human again and gave her exhuasted brain time away from these thoughts a respite almost to just be as a mum which is all she had ever actually wanted. It wasn’t the ‘normal’ worries that got her down, things that any mother might worry about, is she
gaining enough weight, do I do enough with her, things like that but worrying if she would accidently leave her in the garden all night? I don’t think so. Her mind needed the break!
After 10 weeks on the medication, she hit a massive wall and she came falling towards the earth. She didn’t want to be here anymore, she didn’t want to do anything just sleep all day. She was scared but so so sad. She didn’t want to feel this way and after talking to a GP he recommended a new medication and in fact he would never prescribe the previous medication unless nothing else worked. 10 weeks! 10 weeks of night sweats, shaking, fear and then finally not wanting to be here anymore. All due to the medication. This next lots of meds seemed more of a fit and these did get her feeling much more like herself.
The princess had some good times however these would only last a few hours before anxiety would strike again and she would spiral into googling things and desperately trying to seek an answer to whether she was someone who could possibly hurt her baby, this is what scared the most that Lily would die and it could somehow be her fault. It was crippling. Was she a villain a monster just like in the Disney movies? She found a resource online called the Postpartum stress centre, they had a page on Facebook and Instagram where brave warriors both mothers and fathers would post their scariest thoughts in the hope that this would give some minor relief to others also suffering. She found this to be a very important in her recovery. She really felt some days that she was recovering. She was learning that recovering wasn’t a straight line it went up and down and backwards and forwards like a maze in an enchanted castle. But she kept telling herself that she would get there. Seeing other people stories about how they survived gave her hope. I suppose she never lost hope it was always there in her daughters eyes she would beat this. Through this page she discovered a book called ‘good mums have scary thoughts’ and ordered it straight away through the library of Amazon. She found this so helpful, there it was in black and white ‘mums who worry about their scary thoughts do not hurt their babies’. The answer I needed. And so the googling pretty much stopped. The obsessing calmed down as there it was. A book written by an expert in maternal mental health. The relief was indescribable. The princess wished this was handed out to all new mums as she may have had a different story to tell if it had.
A few more months past as she continuously fought this battle in her own mind, she had support of course she still spoke to the counsellor but it was getting less often as she did start to feel less desperate. She was still in contact with Light. She had a bit more of balance back in her life. Good and bad days of course but slowly there were more good than bad. However she still felt that there was more out there that she could do and learn about how to cope with how she was feeling. Through her breastfeeding support nurse, she contacted IAPT and was given a therapist the next week. She opened up to the nurse who actually then shared her own story of intrusive thoughts. Hers was around pushing the pram into the road. This was a though the princess new well. The nurse had not shared this with anyone before but it felt good to really speak to a survivor, face to face who had gone through what she was going through. She said she looked back and could barely remember it and talked about what her husband would think if she ever told him her thoughts. The princess felt sad but also hopeful after hearing her story. The princess had managed to open up about some of her scary thoughts to her prince which made her feel very proud and safe in her relationship.
IAPT was the final important stage in the princess’s recovery , it really helped her see the cycle of obsessive negative intrusive thoughts and how to fight them she now understood she was worrying over hypothetical situations that were extremely negative. The main notion being that they are just thoughts. Thoughts don’t hurt people, actions do. The mere fact that she was avoiding things left
them safe in the knowledge that she was not a risk, that she did not have psychosis. She was not going to hurt her baby. The princess grew to except this, during this treatment she felt like her medication had hit a bit of a brick wall and wasn’t helping as much. She called the GP who suggested a higher dose however she wasn’t comfortable with this due to breastfeeding, she therefore started her third and final type of antidepressant which really changed things. Between this and the IAPT therapy the princess felt like the future was bright. She fell in love with her baby every day. She grew in confidence. She now knows that she can fight any thought no matter how negative and that she is a good mum, not perfect but nothing is. If she can fight this storm, this demon, this nightmare during a pandemic, she can do anything. It took her a year of fighting day and night, she was exhausted but did she ever stop and give up even if she wanted to? No she didn’t, never, for as long as there is hope there is fight. Shes not a princess, shes a Queen, a warrier, a survivor and nothing can ever take that away from her.

At least one ‘Light’ Mum has contributed to the book found here, brilliant stories. https://www.mothershipwriters.com/borninlockdown

Some further stories and resources from our friends at Parents1st. https://parents1st.org.uk/community-voices

Photo : Rachel & baby Margo