by Meg Goulter, Charnwood BRA
‘It’s a mother’s job to worry.’ Or ‘You’ll never stop worrying about them.’ Most new parents will be told something along these lines over the first few months of parenthood and to some extent it is true. As parents, we are blessed with these young vulnerable lives to watch over and guide and we hope, dream and pray for them and what their lives might be like. We worry about so much in the early days, are they feeding enough? Should they be waking this regularly? Why will they only settle on me? They haven’t rolled over yet, is that okay? And on and on it goes. This is natural and normal, we want to make sure we are doing a good job for our babies and that they are thriving, however, there is another level of worry and concern that some new mothers can feel that is not so normal and one that can be very counterproductive to being able to parent at our best.
As a first time mum in May 2018 I was aware that maybe some of the things I was feeling were not just normal parental worries but something a little less helpful. At first, it was little things, on a Sunday morning at Church, if a friend would ask to hold my baby I would start to feel a rising panic, my heart would start beating faster, my palms would get sweaty and I would get this urge to draw my darling girl in closer to me. I couldn’t leave her with my husband and go out of the house even for a short period, my brain would just go into overdrive and all I wanted to do was get back to my baby girl. Even going to have a nap upstairs whilst she was downstairs being watched by my loving family would make me feel anxious and was rarely restful. I would wake a million times a night to check she was still breathing. I was aware in the back of my mind that these things weren’t ‘normal’ and they were making this new mum thing even more exhausting than it needed to be. Following a panic attack in Leicester city centre where I had ended up convinced that someone was going to try and steal my baby, I decided to ask for some help.
These were not rational fears and they certainly weren’t helpful. I scheduled an appointment to see my GP, who was incredibly helpful and supportive. She listened, she reassured me and she encouraged me to self refer to a talking therapy service. The talking therapy took a little while to set up and in the meantime, my GP scheduled fortnightly appointments to check in on me and encouraged me massively. She knew I was breastfeeding and was pleased to hear that this helped a lot during times when I was feeling anxious or on edge. She explained that the huge release of oxytocin I experienced when I fed my baby overrode the adrenalin and cortisol my body was producing, it created a moment of peace and connection, reminding me that actually both my daughter and I were safe and well.
Once I was able to see someone from the talking therapy it was very helpful. From the conversations at my first session, it was decided that I was suffering from anxiety triggered by the traumatic events at my daughter’s birth. We both had been very poorly and I didn’t even get to see her for the first 16 hours of her life. In what was the longest night of my life I had waited and waited for someone to bring me my baby and in my exhausted and medicated state at 4 in the morning I started to think that maybe she didn’t exist and no one wanted to tell me, this was not the case and she was actually fine, In my sessions, we talked about how given this information my not so rational behaviour was actually very rational to my brain which was creating a fight or flight response to any potential ‘threat’ that might see me and my daughter separated. From this understanding we were able to come up with a plan for exposing me to situations that would trigger these feelings at a low level and reteach my brain how to respond to them, building it up slowly over time.
The talking therapy made a huge difference and by the time I was due to be back at work, I was comfortable leaving my daughter. However, it wasn’t just the talking therapy that helped, I confided what I was going through in a couple of other new mum friends and they were brilliant support. My husband was immensely supportive, patient and understanding. We were also encouraged to get in touch with the birth reflections team who helped us piece together and understand a bit more some of the events that had occurred at our daughters birth and with understanding came an ability to release some of the fears that fuelled my anxiety. If any new parents reading this feels like they might be struggling with feelings of anxiety and worry, or you are concerned about a loved one, I would really encourage you to reach out to your GP or Health Visitor and ask for help. I realised that there were services to support me and actually with that support, I could leave the unhelpful feelings behind.
Written for Perinatal Mental Health Week May 4th-10th 2020