We’re failing new mums and it’s not good enough
THERE has only been one occasion in my life (thankfully) when I actually feared for my sanity.
One occasion when I literally felt like I was going insane.
When I felt like I was going ‘out of my mind’. When I knew that I wasn’t thinking like me, but yet couldn’t rid myself of the horrible, irrational and frightening thoughts and emotions that had taken over my mind and body.
That occasion was just after I’d given birth, when Elsie was just four days old.
They call this period the ‘baby blues’ but I think the medical professionals have screwed up describing it like this, because my thoughts and emotions weren’t just a little blue, they were much, much darker than that.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that it was the most horrendous I have ever felt in my entire life. Nor that I genuinely thought I was going crazy.
I had a huge urge to run away, I felt completely overwhelmed, I felt like I couldn’t cope with my new daughter (even though we’d been doing brilliantly up until this point) and I could not stop crying or thinking awful thoughts. No matter how hard I tried to ‘pull myself together’ or ‘get a grip’.
Luckily I had support in the form of my husband. And even though he hadn’t a clue what on earth to do with me (he wasn’t expecting this from me either) he did realise that he needed to remain calm and supportive and do his best to make me feel a little better.
Thankfully after 24 hours or so, the awful dark fog lifted and I felt myself again. Still tired, still emotional, still with hot, aching, heavy boobs, but I was ok again. Kate was back in the room.
But I will never ever forget how I felt on that dark day. Nor how my good, strong mental health was overcome by a tsunami of darkness, albeit momentarily.
I of course am a lucky one because this is very much the norm. Most – if not all – women experience some form of ‘baby blues’ and most, thankfully, come out the other end and back into the light. But not every new mum is so lucky.
Which is why I cannot stop thinking about Charlotte Bevan, her baby girl and their utterly heartbreaking story.
Like all of us who heard the tragic news yesterday and had followed the chain of events, I desperately hoped and prayed that the outcome would be different when Charlotte first went missing carrying her daughter in a bundle of blankets.
Sadly, of course, this was not to be the case.
No one will ever know how Charlotte was feeling or what she was thinking in those final moments, and I’m sure some people will even to struggle to understand her actions but as a first time mum, I can certainly identify with some of the despair, craziness and utter exhaustion that she may have been experiencing. That comes as part of the parcel when you have a new baby.
There have been reports that Charlotte may have been suffering from mental health problems, but whatever the reasons – (and who are we to speculate) – there is no doubt in my mind that she was failed. That she was let down.
By who, I honestly don’t know and I don’t think it would be right to point the finger of blame at anyone at this point. But I do believe, as a result of what’s happened, that we should all be thinking about how can we help new mums and support them better.
How we can make them realise that baby blues, post natal depression, breastfeeding problems, sleep deprivation etc are problems that are horrendous, but normal and can be overcome?
Why is it that in comparison to antenatal care, postnatal care is so woeful and inadequate, in many, many cases?
When did women stop talking about and sharing their experiences as a new mum? And why aren’t we doing more to help each other through the life changing and overwhelming experience of new parenthood?
There are many things that took me by surprise after I’d had Elsie. Things that I didn’t realise could or would happen. Things that I knew nothing about, that no one had ever told me about and I now know from talking to friends, that I’m not alone.
Nobody told me for instance how sore I would be ‘down there’ after giving birth. Was I naive? Yes.
But how could I know what it would feel like post labour when I’d never been through it before. How could I know that I wouldn’t be able to walk for two weeks or even get to the toilet easily without being in agony?
I also didn’t know that the first time I would have sex with my husband after having Elsie, that I would feel unconfident about my post pregnancy body nor that I would be afraid and anxious.
And I certainly didn’t know – until I googled it – that losing masses of hair months after having a baby is the norm.
Nobody had ever told me about any of these things and because of that, there were too many times as a new parent when I felt alone, confused and in despair.
I look back now and think if only someone had told me all of this, if only I’d been given some information about what I may feel like after giving birth, if only I’d had some knowledge of what to expect, things would have been very, very different.
Would it have stopped me feeling horrific on day four, post giving birth? No, of course not. But it would have prepared me for it and my husband would have been better equipped to deal with his wife who clearly fell apart for a short while.
Would information have stopped my hair falling out? Nope.
But it would have saved my tears when my hair came out in handfuls one morning in the shower. It would have saved my panic and put an end to my worry.
It is this lack of fundamental knowledge, information and support which is letting new mums down. This is what is failing them as we ignore their emotional and physical needs.
Knowledge, information and support is power. It enables you to get your head around stuff, it prepares you for things and crucially for a new bewildered mum, it makes you feel less alone.
To be clear, I don’t blame the healthcare professionals nor the midwives for any of this.
From my experience, most of them do an incredible job, and are generally over staffed and underpaid. And I will happily say that some of the postnatal care I received was excellent. I can’t praise the breastfeeding team here in Barnsley enough for the support and encouragement I received from them, for example.
But fundamental things are missing in postnatal care and something has to change. Something more has to be done because no new mum should ever be in a position where they feel confused, lonely, unaware, anxious, stressed or in total and utter despair.
It’s time we started to talk more honestly about parenthood and the challenges it can often bring. It’s time for more experienced mums to step up to the plate and share their experiences and knowledge.
It’s time for new mums to receive the support and information that they and their child DESERVE.
We can begin by reaching out to each other. We can begin by sharing. We can begin by putting embarrassment and shame to one side. We can begin by stopping the pretence that says all women are happy and coping well after having had a baby.
It’s time we stopped sweeping postnatal problems under the carpet and take them out for a good airing so that in future all women can start to know what to expect and what they may have to deal with, if and when they have a baby.
Having a new baby should be one of the happiest times of your life as a parent, but it’s time that we all accepted, that for some mums, the opposite is in fact actually the case.
Perhaps none of these things could have saved poor Charlotte and her baby, but surely as a sisterhood we have to try to do our damnedest to make sure that no new mum ever feels so hopeless and alone again.
We owe it to her, to every future mum and to our own daughters, to at least try. Don’t we?
I’d absolutely LOVE to hear your thoughts on this please. Did you feel you received adequate postnatal care? Are there things that you experienced as a new mum that you weren’t expecting?
Would you like to try and make a difference? Please do share your thoughts and also let me know if you’d be interested in doing something to make a change. Thank you x