I came across an interesting article this week, about the effects of extreme sleep deprivation on new mothers and that this contributes to anxiety and post partum issues like post partum anxiety & depression. We fail new mothers, and despite this being obvious we still aren’t doing much to fix that.
As someone who struggled with post partum anxiety and depression, then later was diagnosed with anxiety disorder, I can relate to a lot of the article. In fact, I was in tears by the end.
Emily was born ten days early after a traumatic end to my pregnancy, with pre eclampsia and then a painful, disastrous birth, where I tore very badly, haemorrhaged, and needed surgery. Emily also had a minor issue with her breathing, after birth. She stopped breathing twice, when I was breastfeeding her, but after being checked by a paediatrician, was declared to be “fine” and we were sent home to get on with being parents, after 3 days in hospital. I could barely walk, was in serious pain, had no clue what I was doing with breastfeeding (in fact I begged the nurses to give her a bottle, one night, when I hadn’t slept, and was beside myself with tiredness, anxiety and pain but they refused and told me to carry on trying to breastfeed) and frankly, terrified!
I don’t think I slept for more than 2-3 hours in those first 5 days after she was born. She wanted to be on my breast almost constantly, and I was terrified she’d stop breathing again so I refused to sleep, instead lay awake checking her breathing. I was a nurse, I “should” have known better, but I was also exhausted, confused, taking a lot of pain meds for the 37 stitches (yes, that’s right) in my perineum and we basically were left to figure it out, with minimal help from NHS staff allegedly supposed to be there to help and support me/us. I was told to “snap out of it and get on with being a mum, you have no idea how easy you have it” by one “caring” midwife on a home visit 7 days after Emily was born. That pretty much sealed it for me.
I spiralled into a cycle of sleep deprivation and anxiety, with a husband who had no idea what to do with me, and who did his best to be the one to hold things together.
I firmly believe we discharge mums from hospital too soon, we put too much pressure on mums to breastfeed but don’t have enough support and properly trained help to facilitate their success, we expect women to get back to normal far too soon after birth and we don’t make what is the most amazing but incredibly challenging physical and emotional time in a new parent’s life easier. We fail women and their babies, and families, and then we wonder why rates of depression and anxiety rocket and why women struggle to manage.
We fail women. I was failed. I’d give anything to go back and be able to enjoy the time when Emily was a newborn. I cry still when I think about it. I started treatment when Emily was 18 months old, when we realised I needed help, after so many moths of pain, struggle, denial and fear. I was let down by a system that shuffles new mothers out with little care or help.
I’m in the process of starting a charity, with a colleague. One of our aims is to be a support for new mums, and those struggling with mental health issues after birth. I simply cannot sit by any more and not do anything. We need to stop failing women, we can and should do better. I want to help with that.
If you think you might be struggling from feelings of anxiety, depression or both, either pre or post birth, please don’t be ashamed or try to hide it, don’t soldier on and pretend it’s ok. Please seek help, please tell someone. You are not alone, there is support and help out there. You are not broken, and you have every right to be looked after. You can find out more here