Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week - Steph's Story

As we start the UK’s Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, now is the perfect time to share my story.

In 2006, in the midst of wedding preparations, I discovered I was pregnant…an exciting time for me I hear you say? You’d certainly think so, but sadly, that wasn’t to be.

From the beginning, my pregnancy was overshadowed by this big black cloud. You see, for many outsiders looking in on my life at this point, they could have mistaken it for a fairly happy home, but for me on the inside, it was far from happy. At the time of finding out I was pregnant, we were a family of 3, me, my husband to be and our 7 year old son, living in our newly bought home, preparing for our upcoming wedding, but I had also just gone through a severely difficult time, turning my whole world upside down. So discovering our excitement to plan for another baby had now turned into the worst possible timing to confirm a pregnancy, it was no longer an ideal situation.

Throughout my pregnancy, I faced pressure, not from outsiders, but from those closest to me, family members, who weren’t offering me advice but more telling me what I should be doing. My midwife appointments became my counselling appointments, I would offload my troubles and concerns to her and she would offer me advice and tissues for my tears. The depression and anxiety during my pregnancy was considered ‘normal’ concerns that all pregnant women face.
So fast forward to when my daughter was born and the first 24 hours were horrific. Not only was I sent home from hospital less than 5 hours after giving birth, still not fully recovered from the drugs they had given me for pain relief and completely in charge of this small helpless human, but I had to also deal with my daughter being involved in a minor car accident with her father the next morning, when she was still less than 24 hours old. Luckily, she was fine but this was just the beginning.

Now, as any mum will know, one of the most common pieces of advice you are given as a new mum is to sleep when the baby sleeps. If only! That first week I was met with more struggles, which admittedly, I did not handle well at all. Whilst my then husband was on his one week paternity leave, every day he would receive a call from him mum with an invitation for coffee, the invitation only stretching to him and our daughter. I was told to get some rest while my baby was taken out without me, my emotional distress met with accusations of me overreacting. Needless to say, I didn’t get the rest I was told to. Now I know there was no malicious or ulterior motive from my mother-in-law, but at the time that’s certainly not how it felt. From here, my Postnatal Depression spiralled. Once my then husband returned to work, I hid myself away from the world. I refused to answer the door to anyone other than the Health Visitor, who I would always greet with a smile, laughing as we both cooed over my new baby girl. But the reality was, I felt empty and incapable.

With each day after her birth, I lost more confidence in my ability as a mother, and to me this was only backed up by the family taking her out and away from me in those first few vital days and by questioning my every decision. So much so, that my paranoia firmly took hold and I was now convinced my mother-in-law wanted to take my daughter away from me and bring her up as her own daughter. Looking back, I can see how absurd this may sound, but at the time, that was my reality, and that was exactly what I was thinking. I would hide when she turned up at the door, pretending I wasn’t home, when she would ring, I would immediately take up my hiding position so she couldn’t see me through the phone, as if that was even possible. Each day, I would be up and ready, hair done and make up on ready to face the world…from the comfort of my own four walls without having to actually face anyone. My thoughts would often range from paranoia and detachment to self loathing and at times, suicidal. And this process went on for 3 weeks, with me not leaving the house for the whole period.

After the first 3 weeks, I began venturing out into the big wide world, but still avoiding the mother in law in fear of her taking my daughter. My avoidance did cause problems within the family and quite often would end up in an argument between me and my husband, with him being less understanding and more accusational. Whilst the illusion of my mother in law wanting to takeover my role as my daughters’ mother disappeared after around 3 months, I still did not return to my happy self, instead there was a noticeable absent bond with my daughter and I felt more alone and isolated with nobody to talk to. And even if I did, what would I say…I had just spent 3 months convinced my mother in law was going to take my baby away from me. By now, I had very few friends around me, family relationships were strained and I didn’t particularly like my husband at this point mainly due to his lack of support, I had distanced myself away from everyone.

However, there were 3 men that saved me during this time, they went by the names of Roy, Pete and Greg although you may know them better as Scouting for Girls. After hearing their song ‘She’s so lovely’ on the radio and getting this warm happy feeling that took away all my problems, I bought their newly released album and the rest is basically history. I had found my love of music again, it became my safe place, I found my happiness and even found myself singing along to songs again. It was my love of music that got me through my dark days, and slowly out of the other side of my Postnatal Depression. Now this is not something I would recommend to everyone, as I had to really dig deep on some days to aid my own recovery and so would recommend that anyone with Postnatal Depression to speak to their GP for further advice.

Years on from my own personal experience, I realised that many mums still struggle with isolation and don’t have the confidence to speak to their friends/family for fear of judgement, so I decided to do something about it, it was then that Raindrops to Rainbows was formed. Raindrops to Rainbows is a voluntary organisation based in Teesside that provides peer led support in Perinatal Mental Health. We work with a number of organisations across the region to raise awareness, whilst ensuring the correct support is available.

We have been part of TeesSide-By-Side Network, supported by Middlesbrough and Stockton Mind, since 2015, making connections with numerous other groups providing support for both Physical and Mental health across the region. On a larger scale, we are part of the Perinatal Mental Health Partnership, made up of individuals, organisations and campaigners across the UK. For more information, please visit our website www.raindropstorainbows.co.uk.

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