“’I’m worried if I tell you how I’m feeling then you’ll take my daughter away’ I tell my GP. She reassures me that that’s not going to happen, that I’ve done the right thing and that she’s going to get me help.” Anna Ceesay, founder of Motherdom, on anxiety and depression during pregnancy…
Anna Ceesay, founder and editor of Motherdom magazine, on her personal experience of maternal mental health issues…
It’s January 2017. I’m in my car, on my own, and I’m not feeling good. I’m six months pregnant with my second child and I’ve just dropped my daughter off at preschool. Some mornings I’m waking up with a sinking feeling that stays there for the whole day. Sometimes I feel fine, great even, but when I do start to feel anxious or low I hide it very well from everyone around me. I haven’t told my husband, or my parents. No one actually, until I dial a number that I’ve been looking at for about a week, and a lady picks up “Hello, this is the PANDAS helpline.”
I stutter. And start to cry. Saying these words out loud for the first time is harder than I thought. “I think I need some help”, I tell this perfect stranger who I’ve never met. But she’s very kind and tells me that she went through postnatal depression when she had her twins, and they’re seven now. She’s recovered, and there is hope. I only speak to her for about five minutes and she tells me to make an appointment with my GP. I wasn’t expecting her to say that (I don’t know what I was expecting!) but this gives me some direction, so I do what she says. Then I call my husband.
Repeating “I need help” to my GP is hard too, but not as hard as the first time. I’m still very emotional and raw, and scared. “I’m worried if I tell you how I’m feeling then you’ll take my daughter away” I tell her. She reassures me that that’s not going to happen, that I’ve done the right thing and that she’s going to get me help.
I’m incredibly lucky, as within what feels like days I’m having a phone consultation with my local NHS therapeutic team and then am fast-tracked to receive one-to-one CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) sessions with a perinatal clinical psychologist. I have about twelve sessions with my therapist on and off until my baby is six months old. These sessions are life-changing and mind-blowing. They teach me that I’m more than my thoughts, that my thoughts don’t need to control me, and that I can even change my patterns of thinking.
I came out of my experience with maternal mental ill-health feeling much better. I’m not “cured”, but now I have the tools to understand my mind a bit more. I know what to look out for if I start to feel anxious or low. I am better at “watching” my thoughts and letting them go, rather than holding on to them for dear life. I also feel happier as a parent, able to be more present and enjoy my wonderful children, who are a gift and a blessing. (My daughter is nearly six and my son is now two.)
But even though I feel better, just after I stopped my therapy, I had a niggling feeling that I was actually really lucky to get the care I did, and what about all those other women who might not be in my position? I remember how alone and scared I felt, like no one else had ever been through it. I’m a journalist, and I realised that there was no media platform dedicated to talking about parents’ mental wellbeing. There were plenty of parenting sites, as well as general wellbeing and mental health magazines, but nothing in the mainstream market that combined these two things.
That’s when the idea for Motherdom came to me. I wanted to create a space (both in print and online) where women and men can talk openly about how they’re feeling as parents. Not just for those people who would identify with having a mental health issue – for any parent with kids under five who wants to maintain positive mental wellbeing.
I had an instinct that it wasn’t just me who was struggling, but I knew I needed some research to back up this hunch. So I commissioned a survey of 1000 mums with kids under five, and the results were still pretty shocking. Over half (54%) of mums we spoke to have felt anxious since having a child, 45% have felt low, and 35% depressed.
Many mums are dealing with problems alone. One in five (20%) haven’t told anyone about their feelings, a quarter (25%) of whom just don’t feel able to. Well over half (59%) do not feel supported by their family with 45% saying they have to deal with everything alone, and one in five (22%) thinking they would appear weak if they asked for help.
So it’s clear that things shouldn’t go on as they are. I want Motherdom to help those parents who are finding it tough. As well as seeking professional help, there are things that we, as parents, can do to look after our mental health. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. Motherdom is a place where we can all come together, a place where we can support each other in our parenting journeys, and a place where we can be happier parents.
PANDAS Foundation gives support to people coping with Pre and Postnatal Mental Illnesses, as well as their families, friends and carers. You can call PANDAS on 0843 28 98 401. The helpline is open every day from 9am-8pm. PANDAS’ dedicated volunteer team are on hand to offer support, advice and can help to signpost to other organisations if necessary. For more info please visit www.pandasfoundation.org.uk/helpline.
Main photo credit: Natalya Chagrin