During my pregnancy, when my mental health was at it’s least stable I went through a phase of being unable to be left at home on my own. They thought of seemingly endless minutes and hours with only my own thoughts for company and nothing to distract me from them was more than I could cope with so the Northern One used to take me to work with him.
He’d let me into the Doctors Mess, set me up on one of the sofas and make sure I had the extension number for the ward that he was on so that I could get hold of him via the internal phone. I would then watch rubbish television, try and read my book or do a crossword puzzle until lunchtime when he’d come back and keep me company and then again until he’d finished for the day and we could go home.
It did vaguely occur to me to wonder what the other doctors thought about the obviously pregnant lady who clearly wasn’t a doctor and who barely moved from her spot in the corner of the large, sagging sofa. They never asked what I was doing there or who had let me in and for that I was eternally grateful because, had anyone questioned me I honestly don’t know how I would have responded although some sort of sobbing meltdown would probably have been involved.
At the time I didn’t truly appreciate how difficult this must have been for him; not only was he working long hours on a stressful ward but was also leaving the ward several times a day to come and check on me and make sure I’d not had a complete meltdown in his absence. However, I know for a fact that he’d rather I was in the Doctors Mess where I was at least safe, rather than at home and left to my own devices.
I also know that there were a couple of times that he went to work, leaving me in bed because I was completely unable to get up, not knowing whether I would still be there when he got home.
During those days I spent in the Doctors Mess, if I was in a more stable frame of mind, I would search for resources to hep me cope with the crippling depression that my unplanned pregnancy had triggered. Although I’d battled with depression for eight years by this time, being depressed while pregnant was a completely new experience and now that I wasn’t just trying to look after myself I had no idea how to cope.
I was fortunate that I was very aware of my own mental health issues and that the Northern One was (and is) incredibly supportive. The fact that we are both medical was also hugely helpful and meant that even on the worst days I felt able to fight my corner with regards to my choice to continue taking maximum dose antidepressants throughout pregnancy.
However, I was still desperate for information and advice; for someone outside of my friends and family to reassure me that I was not a monster for feeling as I did.
Yesterday Tommy’s launched a campaign to do just that.
As part of their new #talktosomeone initiative, Tommy’s encourage pregnant women and new mothers to pay as much attention to looking after the mental health as well as their physical health and reassures them that the two are not mutually exclusive.
Their website now contains a huge number of resources that anyone with internet access can read. The topics include finding help and support, common myths surrounding maternal mental health and stories of women who have been through incredibly dark times with their mental health but who are still here and still battling on.
Although I wish that I’d had access to these resources during my own pregnancy I am proud to be able to campaign on behalf of Tommy’s and and spread the message that pregnant women are new mothers who suffer with mental health issues are not ‘abnormal’, they are not ‘monsters’ and they are definitely not alone.
Along with resources mentioned above Tommy’s have also launched a Wellbeing Plan which has been endorsed by NICE (the National Institute of Clinical Excellence) which is the governing body that informs and produces the legislation used by mental health professionals. I was fortunate that the majority of the doctors, nurses and midwives who cared for me during my pregnancy was supportive and understanding with regards to my mental health. However, there were still a few who were well-meaning but misguided at best and downright destructive at worst.
No one should ever feel that their concerns about their mental health are not being taken seriously but maternal mental health is still subject to huge differences of opinion between medical professionals and this has to change.
As an example, towards the end of my pregnancy I met with a consultant psychiatrist who assumed that I’d stopped all my medication as soon as I found out I was pregnant. Once I’d picked my jaw up off the floor I was able to tell him that I’d done nothing of the sort and then dismissed his words completely but a comment like that can have a massively damaging impact.
The Tommy’s Wellbeing Plan is designed to inform healthcare professionals about the appropriate way to treat pregnant women and new mothers with mental health issues and to ensure that all women who try to get help are taken seriously, treated consistently and are referred or signposted to appropriate support.
The main message that Tommy’s want women to take away from this campaign is that if you have concerns about your mental health or feel as though you are not coping then talk to someone. You can talk to your partner, a friend or family member, your GP, health visitor or midwife; anyone you choose but please don’t keep your difficulties to yourself.
Do not let yourself be dismissed or have your concerns brushed aside; keep talking until you feel as though you’ve been heard and if you think the person isn’t listening then talk to someone else. Do not worry that you’re making a fuss or that you’ll be criticised for asking to see another GP or wanting a second opinion; the only thing that is important is that you get the help you need.
To access any of the resources mentioned and to find out more about the #talktosomeone campaign you can visit the Tommy’s website at http://www.tommys.org/mentalhealth
They’ve also launched a 60 second video about the campaign which yoou can view here Tommy’s #talktosomeone campaign video
Louise is a full time mum and a part time neonatal nurse who has battled depression for many years but particularly during her pregnancy.
She blogs at 23weeksocks (http://23weeksocks.com) about lots of different (and seemingly unconnected) topics that she’s passionate about, including mental health, antenatal depression, neonatal care and baby loss.
In 2015 she was shortlisted in the ‘Fresh Voice’ category for the BIB (Brilliance in Blogging) Awards and the ‘Bereavement Worker’ category for the Butterfly Awards. She was also one of the keynote speakers at BritMums Live reading ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ which was her account of caring for a premature baby on the day that he died.