Mental Health & Motherhood: Emma's Story

Published On
18 Apr, 2023
Read Time
6 minutes

Emma, Newcastle, UK

"The truth is, I don't think anyone can truly be prepared for parenthood. No matter how many blogs and books you read, or what advice you get from others, there will always be pockets of parenthood that you never expected. On top of the trials and tribulations that new parenthood presents to you, throw a global pandemic in the mix and now you're really cooking a whole new recipe of chaos!

Soon after our marriage, my husband and I decided to start trying for a baby. After six months of trying, I got a positive result. It just so happened to fall on the same month my identical twin sister fell pregnant too, maybe my body was waiting for her all along!

Pregnancy is one of those things where you hear the extreme positives or the extreme negatives - nothing in between.

Before pregnancy, I was taking antidepressants for around 8 years. At my first check-up (around 10 weeks pregnant), I was told to come off this medication due to a 'minimal risk' to my unborn baby. There was no consultation about what the bigger risk would be, to my child or to my mental health. I felt scared and agreed to come off the medication that I'd been taking for nearly a decade. I received no mental health check or follow-up after quitting the medication 'cold turkey', and since it was a medical professional who told me to come off the medication, I didn't think twice and agreed.

My mental health started to deteriorate to the point where I wasn't looking after myself and when I reached breaking point, I took myself straight to the closest walk-in centre pleading for help. I was signposted to the local Psychiatric Liaison Team at A&E who gave me an assessment and it was agreed to put me back on the medication. The risk to my mental health far outweighed the risk to my unborn baby. By this point, I was around 20 weeks pregnant, and I felt a massive (metaphorical) weight lifted as I finally started to feel myself again - albeit larger!

If I could go back and do it again, I would be a stronger advocate for my mental health. You cannot expect to look after your baby, or anyone for that matter, if you are running on empty. I'm forever grateful for the Psychiatric Liaison Team who helped me, they inspired me to change my career path and work in mental health - where I currently am, and I'm thriving!

Once my mental health was improving, I felt I was able to start enjoying my pregnancy. Although, one thing I noticed was the lack of 'connection' to this little creature that was kicking my ribcage. I see a lot of people talking to their stomachs and proclaiming their undying love for their child who wasn't even born yet. I couldn't find this bond during pregnancy, and I really struggled to envisage a real-life baby in my arms. I think it's important to realise that many moms feel this way, and it should be normalised. I felt guilty and that perhaps there was something wrong with me, but ultimately the only thing I could focus on was the ever-growing list of changes my body was going through.

I am a negative blood type. This can cause some complexities during pregnancy because if my baby is positive and our blood types come in contact, my body could start to reject the baby to protect myself from Rhesus disease. Thanks to modern medicine, there is a simple injection offered to mothers with a negative blood type to avoid this happening. However, this injection is given whenever there is any bleeding throughout the pregnancy and unfortunately, I experienced quite a lot of sporadic bleeding and spotting. At 30 weeks pregnant, I went for a check-up due to another bleed and after many hours of cervical checks and waiting, a consultant took a final look at my cervix and referred me for an urgent colposcopy. Now, I'm not sure if you know what a healthy cervix looks like, but on the screen in front of me during my examination, all I could see was a cervix full of lumps. It didn't quite dawn on me until the Consultant took me into the office afterwards and mentioned the dreaded 'C' word - cancer. He said the biopsy would be sent off for urgent testing and advised me to bring my husband to the results appointment. He declared my pregnancy as 'high-risk' and said I was told I absolutely couldn't have the water birth I was hoping for, due to excessive bleeding from the lumps. This added a whole new level of fear, and my thoughts began to spiral. Would I be around for my baby? Would I have to go through chemotherapy? How do I tell my family? Will my baby be ok? The week that followed was a blur as I waited with bated breath to hear the results. When the results came in, I cannot begin to explain the relief I felt when I heard the word 'benign'. I would never wish this stress on anyone, and I am acutely aware that cancer touches so many lives today. I am extremely lucky.

I attended antenatal classes in the months before giving birth, which was instrumental in informing me of all things birth and baby related. Three and a half years later we are also still friends with all 12 parents in our group! They are a massive support. When the day finally came, my waters broke, and I ended up being induced which progressed very quickly - my labour was five hours overall which is pretty short considering it was my first! An hour into the labour I was BEGGING for an epidural, however, the anaesthetist wasn't available, and I received no pain relief. This was pretty traumatic in the moment, although it seems a distant memory now.

Becoming a new parent is pretty terrifying, and the connection to my baby didn't come until about four weeks postpartum (again, I think this should be normalised and spoken about). When I was six weeks postpartum and just feeling ready to get out of the house, the global pandemic was declared and all expectations I had of my maternity leave were ripped away. I feel as if I was robbed of my maternity leave, and this still affects me today - the stress of my husband being Furloughed and made redundant while I was on statutory maternity pay; the constant worry that my baby might not get medical attention if he needs it; the pure fear of an unknown virus; anxiety over shortages of formula and medicine. Thinking back on that time, I am grateful my husband was able to be at home to watch our child grow up and wasn't rushed back to work, this is what I try to remember when I am feeling robbed of a precious time I will never get back.

My child recently turned three and I still feel like I'm winging it most of the time!"

After a recent particularly challenging day her son and her mental health, Emma wrote this poem that she'd like to share:

Why didn't anyone tell me?

He's crying and needs a hug again

I've heard 50 tantrums today

But I need to cook dinner and do the dishes

Who knew mom guilt would feel this way

 

It's been a long day at work and now this

Everything today he's disagreed with

From getting dressed to the colour of his plate

How could anyone solve this myth?

 

I notice how I'm keeping calm

And remind myself to just breathe

But then the 51st tantrum comes

And I explode like you wouldn't believe

 

I lose my cool, I lose my patience

My mood is like night and day

I needed to remove myself

So I locked myself away

 

And through the door, all I can hear

Is ���mummy mummy mummy���

After it all, he still wants and needs me

And I feel a pit at the base of my tummy

 

What if me taking a quiet moment

Does more emotional damage than good?

But then what if my emotional tsunami

Is confusing and misunderstood?

 

Why didn't anyone tell me

That motherhood is guesswork most of the time?

I am so afraid of making things worse

And I have no idea how to cross that line

 

That line between struggling and savouring

How does that saying go?

���The days are long but the years are short���

They'll never stay small and they'll grow

 

The truth is that life is hard

Even the best of us would agree

So for now I guess all I can do

Is take as many of those cuddles on my knee

If this content reminds you of your own experiences or makes you think of someone you know and you feel concerned or uncomfortable, please head to the PSI website for information about perinatal mental health resources that may be able to help.