It’s UK Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week this week, hosted by our friends at the Perinatal Mental Health Partnership. Today is World Maternal Mental Health Day.
Wednesdays theme is “The Village” and it’s one of those phrases we hear a lot; “It takes a village to raise a child” as the proverb goes. But what does it really mean? I sat down and thought about my village…
You may already have your village firmly in place before pregnancy, or you may find that they naturally come around after birth. But as is the case with most things, perinatal mental illness can confuse matters. There may be another reality for you though, so what I’d like to say to you is don’t be afraid to build your own village, that sometimes you need to seek some aspects of it out. Or it may be that your existing village just needs a gentle push to be informed of the support they can offer you in your journey through perinatal illness.
I enjoyed being pregnant, but upon reflection I think I suffered prenatal anxiety. I didn’t think that pregnancy was going to culminate in a real life baby for me. I often felt detached, disengaged and also utterly convinced that something would go wrong in pregnancy or birth. It was often a very numb experience for me that I now see as the start of my perinatal mental illness journey.
I experienced a somewhat traumatic birth, which resulted in an emergency c-section that left me feeling very bruised and damaged indeed; both physically and mentally. Whilst recovering from this, I suffered an attack of pancreatitis that left me in hospital for the first months of my baby son’s life. While in hospital, my immediate family and the caregivers of the NHS in hospital were my village.
When I was deemed well enough to return home, I focused on my physical recovery. I completely shunned any thought or discussion of the state of my mental health, but there came a time where I could no longer avoid the reality of my perinatal illness. It took me a few months to finally access the help I needed and it was the week of my son’s first birthday before I started my journey of recovery.
Which brings me to the village. I built my own, step by step. I accessed support from my GP first and foremost, and she has been an incredible support to me through my perinatal mental illness and beyond. She made me realise I was suffering from an illness, that I had done nothing wrong. She put me in touch with another two integral parts of my village; my counsellor and my peer support group. Of course my friends and family had always been a part of my village, but I was now ready to let them know I needed them in a different way than ever before. I was open about my struggles and found that I really did have a village around me, I just needed to ask some of them for help!
Online support was another part of my village, mainly #pndhour on twitter which was pioneered by PND and Me. After realising the benefits of peer support in my own recovery, I joined the committee of Juno Perinatal Mental Health Support here in Edinburgh, facilitating my own peer support group for a number of years and becoming part of the village for the mums who access our groups and services. The team at Juno, and our friends in the perinatal mental health field all over the UK are my tribe.
My son is 7 now, and my village is still really important to mine and my family’s functioning happiness. They’ve been there through all of it and they are still here beside me while facing new challenges. I try my best to be part of the village for those around me too.
I think that sometimes your village is there more than you know in those dark days (that can also be the illness lying to you too!) but that you really need to be ready to let the walls down and open the door to let the village in. Build your own village, find those who are there for you; be it health services, charities, professionals and/or friends and family. You might be surprised how big your village really is once you let them know you need them!