Our thanks to Emma Jane Sasaru of Unfold Your Wings and Beyond Birth Trauma for being our first author in our new 2018 blog series. April is our Perinatal Mental Health month, and Emma has kindly written for us on the subject of emotional well-being. If you would like to write for Growing Families you can find details of our upcoming themes by clicking here.
You scroll down the pictures, your phone alight with happy, smiling faces. A day at the zoo, games in the park, oh and look your friend has posted the unicorn cupcakes she made with her daughter. You heart sinks, you can feel the tears stinging and you sniff them away. You look up at your living room. There are toys everywhere, brightly coloured plastic cups have left rings of orange and the remains of half eaten cheese sandwiches from lunch on the coffee table. There’s a few odd socks too. You feel like you have barely survived the day and there is bedtime to do yet. You start to wonder how everyone else is getting it so right, and you so wrong. You wonder what happened to the organized, happy confident YOU!
Ah parenthood, let’s be honest its hard, not only physically with the sleepless nights and a little human that needs you every second, or every day, but emotionally too. Navigating parenthood while making sure you are emotionally ok too is challenging to say the least. This can be even more difficult if we add to it the battle that many parents face due to struggling with a mental health condition.
Around 20% of women will develop a mental health issue either while they are pregnant or in the year after the birth of their baby and this doesn’t include those that already have a pre-existing mental health condition. Of course, it’s not just women but their partners too who can struggle. So, when it comes to perinatal mental health the family as a whole needs support and also to have information on how they can help themselves to keep emotionally well. Perinatal mental health issues are diverse, complex and difficult to diagnose, OCD, antenatal/postnatal anxiety and depression or PTSD are just a few that can leave families needing help. Sometimes pregnancy and birth has been a difficult time, leaving new parents struggling with feelings they don’t understand or finding it hard to adjust to life with a new baby.
So, what can we do to support perinatal mental health?
Firstly, we all need to acknowledge that perinatal mental health is everyone’s business. Anyone can suffer from it. It doesn’t matter where you live, what career you do or the type of person you are. It doesn’t mean you are weak, or a bad parent. It doesn’t mean you don’t love your children or that you simply can’t cope. We all need to maintain our emotional wellbeing, especially when becoming parents. Our mental health is never static but is a continuum of highs and lows that requires us to take notice of when we may need a little time to care for ourselves. With the responsibilities of parenting thrown into the mix we can forget that we matter too as our time is taken up with caring for our new family. The truth is we all struggle, we struggle with our beautiful newborns, our energetic toddlers, our questioning want-to-be teenagers and of course our actual teenagers. We are all doing the best we can, often in very difficult circumstances. So, we have to acknowledge that supporting emotional and perinatal mental health is a must for us all. Providing parents in the antenatal period with information on perinatal mental health can give them tools to use to keep an eye on how they are feeling and what to do if they feel they need support. Addressing mental health in families must become as normal as any other part of caring for families and by openly talking about the challenges we all face we can help make perinatal mental health something that everyone is aware of.
Ask for Help
So, we acknowledge it, what can we do if we are struggling? Ask for help! Yes, it’s hard, but remember, asking for and accepting help will give you the support you need. Don’t struggle on afraid that if you say you’re feeling low or anxious you will be judged or questioned as to whether you are a good parent. There are many people put in place to give you the help you need from midwives and health visitors to baby groups and national organizations that can offer a listening ear or more tailored support. Remember too that your family and friends love you, and want to help in any way they can, so let them. A cup of tea, a sandwich, washing up those few plates or running the hoover over can be small ways they can help make a difference. Be honest too about what you can do and your expectations of yourself. Our mental health is like a bucket full of water. There are so many things that empty our bucket, tiredness, illness, caring for our family, work, etc. Before we know it our bucket can be empty and we have no water left to nourish us. We need to find things to replenish our water. This can be rest, exercise, reading, relaxation or a cuddle with a loved one, chocolate cake works wonders too! When we have a full bucket, the water nourishes us emotionally and can even help us to grow. Sometimes our bucket can spring a leak, such as a perinatal mental health issue, and our precious water gushes away leaving us feeling empty. This is when we must ask for help to stem the flow and mend the hole. Supporting perinatal mental health needs regular maintenance!
No one is perfect
So, protect your emotional wellbeing and perinatal mental health by acknowledging it is an important part of your parenting journey, accepting the help of those that love you, and most importantly by keeping your emotional wellness bucket full. Let us all make it our business to keep caring for families emotionally.
There are no perfect parents, there are no perfect ways to parent, everyone is just doing the best they can. What matters is that families are healthy both physically and emotionally.
Parenthood is a journey that will takes us to many new destinations. We will face challenges and bumps along the way but there is help available and we are never alone. There will be days when you nearly leave the house in your pyjamas, or you find bits of toast in your hair and the only thing you really want is one more hour’s sleep, and you will cry because you will feel like everyone else is amazing at parenting but you. In reality you really are doing ok, so just hang in there.
Emma Jane Sasaru
For more information please visit Emma at http://www.signedemmajane.com/