I just realised that it’s world mental health day today. Which feels timely for me because I’ve been thinking a lot about my mental health lately. See, being pregnant has not come easy to me this time around (you may have read all about the emotional roller coaster I experienced with secondary infertility and IVF which was thankfully successful). And pregnancy itself is sadly not all unicorns and rainbows for me either. I experience a severe and at times distressing rash known as PUPPP and last time I was pregnant, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes – something I am trying to mentally prepare myself for this time around. I also can become more anxious than usual, because that’s what hormones do to me.
Being pregnant for a second time around has really made me reflect on how things went last time (all the way back in 2011), compared to how I hope things will go this time.
A couple of times throughout pregnancy, most Aussie women will do a short quiz to help with the detection of depression/anxiety symptoms. Last time I was pregnant, I made a big mistake. I lied.
I was feeling stress in my relationship, I was suffering awfully from living with my rash and the gestational diabetes diagnosis just felt like the icing on the cake. I was depressed. I was feeling a horrible horrible guilt for some of the dark thoughts I had. One of those thoughts was wishing everything would just go away – pregnancy included. Of course I did not mean that one bit. I loved the Little Mister before we even conceived him and I knew I loved him while he was inside me – not every single moment was awful. I knew I would love him when he arrived earth side. I just felt so distressed and down that my mind said mean things to me sometimes.
I was desperate and crying a lot.
But when I walked into my appointment with the midwife, I lied. Because I didn’t want to deal with it. I felt overwhelmed at the idea of having to talk to someone about what I was feeling. I already felt like I was busy enough growing a human and trying to survive the day by day. I knew what they were looking for in that quiz so I manipulated my answers just enough that I wouldn’t be confronted with offers of further support.
When the midwife told me that I was showing some signs of depression, I lied and told her that it was just the rash getting me down – everything else was fine. She had to take my word for it. I was an idiot.
If I had accessed support groups or counselling or even medication, I might have fared a bit better for the rest of my pregnancy and what was to follow.
While being a new mum, having a slightly traumatic birth, feeling a bit like you have no idea what you’re doing, you’re so tired and the hormones are wreaking havoc is part and package of being thrust into new parenthood, I now know that the almost crippling anxiety I suffered from after the Little Mister was born, was beyond ‘normal’ or ‘healthy’ – for me. I felt that my husband didn’t know how to support me emotionally either (in fact even he will admit he was terribly unhelpful in that area), which made it worse.
So this time I will be honest. I have already had some pretty tough moments. It’s really hard work staying chipper and positive all the time. I’m constantly having to talk my anxious side down. It’s a hard fight and it can be exhausting trying to keep yourself strong. When I take that quiz again, I will be brutally honest with myself and with my caregivers. That is my promise to myself. I will also reach out if I am struggling after the Little Miss is born. I will do what it takes to be a healthy mum to my kids – it’s what they deserve. I won’t pretend I’m fine if I’m not. I will not make excuses about why my mental health needs to come last. I will not let my fears of what other people may think influence my choices as a parent. Even if that means having to make myself vulnerable and put my hand up and say, “LITTLE HELP OVER HERE, PLEASE.”
I want to enjoy these special moments and while I was lucky to share such a strong bond with the Little Mister from the beginning, which helped enormously in getting me through, I know I did cheat myself out of having the peace of mind that comes with looking after your mental health for almost the whole first year of his life. I agonised over so many little decisions as if they were all life or death (they weren’t) and I isolated myself more than I’d like to admit. You can imagine how exhausting that was day in and day out.
So my message to all my pregnant or ‘new mum’ friends out there is to be honest. Speak out. Don’t try to be perfect, like Mrs Snootybitch over there on Instagram. Don’t be afraid to let someone know when it’s all too much. I know there’s a lot of judgement and stigma out there, but we can only beat it if we keep trying. Keep looking for your tribe – I promise we’re out there. Use resources such as beyond blue. Speak to your community nurse at your baby’s check ups. Your midwife. Your doctor. Tell your partner when they’re being really fucking unhelpful (you might not want to use those exact words ha ha but you need support so ask for it – a baby is the quickest way to highlight issues you may have already had in your relationship so maybe you both need some help together).
Please don’t make the mistake I made my first time around. Look after yourself. You’re the heart of your family. It is so important that you do what you need to do to get better. Make time. Speak out. If you’re surrounded by arseholes, then find people who make you feel good about yourself and don’t expect you to be perfect. Don’t put yourself last – mum guilt is not an excuse. What Carol Whatsherface on Facebook said once about selfish parents or parents who give up on breastfeeding or mums who struggle a bit harder with becoming parents for the first time, is not a good enough reason to not ask for help. Carol Whatsherface is a fucking moll.
I am sending so much love to everyone out there who has struggled with their mental health at some time or other. Take care of yourself – you’re not alone.