Written by Annie Littlehales, part of the small Baby of Mine Team, this post is about preparing for parenthood if you have a history of mental illness.
I work alongside Glynis and wanted to share a personal post with you all. Often the conversations and things Glynis and I observe in our day to day spark ideas for things we want to share with you. In this instance it was a conversation with some of my friends about Post Natal Anxiety that made me want to share this with you. This is one of those 'long but we hope you get a chance to read' posts. Please note I write this as a fellow mum and parent. I'm not a health care professional so this is simply written from my heart to yours.
When my daughter was born in April of 2015 I ended up spiraling into a horrible and intense period of Post Natal Anxiety. While I knew I was someone who may be considered a high risk category I honestly didn't expect the ferocity of the tidal wave of anxiety that hit me.
Since that time I've often thought about what I could have perhaps done differently to be better prepared for that period of time. As I'm sure many of you can relate, it's very hard to go back to that pre-parent headspace and know what, if anything, could realistically prepare you for those initial 3-6 months. While at Baby of Mine we are passionate about educating expectant parents about preparing for the Newborn phase there is something I'd like to share with you that perhaps could help you or someone you know. It may or may not sink in but worth a try as I do wish someone had had this conversation with me.
Typically when you are someone who has had a history of Anxiety and Depression and you have worked on this in your life, you establish certain mechanisms and patterns of thoughts and behaviour to enable you to function better and deal with these mental health challenges. These can often look like some or all of the below:
1. Good sleep habits and enough sleep 2. Healthy eating 3. Regular exercise 4. Organised and tidy home and life 5. Structured general routines 6. Good balance of 'me time' and social life 7. Medication 8. Professional support with counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist etc
Nothing surprising on that list really. Now take a closer review of that list again and consider how many of those things take a hit when you become a new parent.
You would probably agree that just about everything shifts in each of those very important factors we build into our lives to deal with Anxiety and or Depression right? So while I was prepared that I might be in a higher risk category for Anxiety in becoming a new parent, I had not had THIS conversation to realise that every single mechanism I had established for myself, and with the support of others, to manage the Anxiety was going to come under attack. I wish someone had spoken to me about this not to freak me out....rather to enable me to consider the road ahead with greater awareness.
As mentioned, the shock of the anxiety was such a blow to me that I was immediately on the back foot as I hadn't even mentally prepared myself for the reality of these mechanisms being removed or shifting. Obviously I was sleep deprived, my eating went out the window, exercise had to wait, my house was messy, there were no routines, I had no me time and my social life became limited because I was freaking out and I felt isolated and a failure.
So......obviously there is a reality that our whole lives shift as we become parents and of course there is so much beauty and amazing and wonder in this too as we welcome our precious babies into the world. I would however encourage open and sensitive conversations with friends and family about this if you are expecting or have friends and family who are. The reality is that while our options may be limited in terms of up-keeping our mental state with maintaining these mechanisms, there are some other things we could certainly consider such as the below. Of course we don't want to create a self-fulfilling philosophy but we can also take some practical steps to be prepared:
1. Pre-establish a safety net of support prior to baby's arrival - this could be things like finding a service before baby arrives that offers post natal support to parents should you need it later, speaking to your GP about your thoughts prior to baby arriving, speaking to family and close friends about this ahead of baby arriving
2. Get a cleaner - not always possible on limited budgets while on maternity or paternity leave but something to consider in the short term to provide some initial support. Or take up the offer from family
3. Ask and accept help - when family and friends offer support, take it. Think of things ahead of time that might help you like have someone hold your bub for 20 minutes while you go take a shower or walk around the block. Say yes when there is offer of a meal. Get someone over to your place to enable you to have a nap knowing someone is there.
4. Get a food service - again we know this is a cost but there are some highly affordable options to take the pressure of meal prep for a short time as you adjust to being a parent
5. Talk to other parents about what it's really like in those first few months - often there is a feeling in the beginning that the craziness of it all won't stop so these are healthy conversations to have to really understand what it is like. It's also wonderful of course, but if someone is prone to feeling overwhelmed it is helpful to know from other people that it does get easier.
6. Educate yourself - get involved with classes and information that look beyond giving birth and really help you understand what those first 6 months look like. Baby of Mine does offer a service to expectant parents about this so get in touch if you want.
7. Be kind to yourself - recognise your triggers, perhaps write yourself a letter to read and re-read once baby arrives giving yourself encouragement and hugs, recognise that it's okay if you're not okay and that you can ask for help, just be soft with yourself knowing some of your triggers may be pushed
These are just some ideas but the biggest thing I hope you will take from this is that it's so important for new parents to be aware that all the mechanisms they have previously established to become mentally healthier in terms of Anxiety and Depression may take some sort of a blow. I believe this awareness is critical as a first step to then support the next steps that may need to follow to prepare for this stage of parenting.
Of course as someone who is passionate about what Glynis does for families and little ones, remember she is also here with the biggest of hearts to help you too.