We’re failing new mums and it’s not good enough

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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

With love,

Kate

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34 Discussions on
“We’re failing new mums and it’s not good enough”
  • Vital post Kate, I read about the death of Charlotte and her daughter in floods of tears yesterday, just devastating.

    I commend you for writing this, for finding the strength to share your experience.

    I had a tough time after Oliver was born, I felt lost and alone, far from family with little support (my husband was amazing but struggling too as partners often are) after a traumatic birth. It took a long time to heal from that and a councillor who changed my life and gave me the confidence to have another baby and a move to be closer to family who offered invaluable emotional and physical support.

    I personally didn’t share a lot of this journey on my blog purely because it felt like a private space for me to deal with but many who have, found it valuable to.

    You are so right.. there is such a gap between the presumed ideal of life with a baby and the stark reality of it because it can be so, so tough, especially when you have your first baby where you literally know very little and are told even less..(although post-natal issues can of course arise with subsequent pregnancies and babies of course).

    The pressure on new mums be it to look slim after birth or to breastfeed is shocking and support from healthcare professionals is lacking sadly.

    I remember actually feeling scared of my health visitor with my first, afraid to tell her how rubbish I felt or that I wanted to stop breastfeeding. She was didactic and matronly and wouldn’t entertain anything but breastfeeding and not co-sleeping (the only way I was surviving a colicky baby)..

    No open dialogue was had and it’s so hard when you feel so vulnerable to reach out too. Pastoral care is the answer to some extent and this won’t cost the NHS any more, it’s the style and tone discussions are approached and handled. Those front line care workers and doctors have a huge part to play…

    Thankfully blogging has helped so many women to have honest, open dialogues, to reach out for support and remind each other of what in fact is normal..but so much more needs to be done. Well done Kate, together we can all help make a change, you are an inspiration to us all xx

  • THIS is what blogging is all about – such an important post Katie.

    I’ve written in the past on my blog about my battle with Post Natal Depression which I struggled with in China after our eldest was born. I was lucky to have an excellent therapist who saw beyond the option of drugs and saw that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and specifically writing therapy was what I needed to get back to me, but it was my husband who pushed me to seek help.

    But I need to write more. I need to share parts of my writing that show just how close to the edge I was. I need to do that so that others who are feeling that way seek help like I did. Because there IS a way back. There IS light at the end of the tunnel, the long, dark tunnel.

    Like you the tragic story of Charlotte and her baby girl saddens and astounds me. How she could have been allowed to walk out of hospital when she was already deemed to be at risk shows just how much change needs to happen in support of new mothers in some parts of the NHS.

    And importantly the shroud of mystery and shame around PND needs to be lifted.

    Thank you for being so brave to share your story and by doing so encourage other new mothers who need help to hopefully find the courage to seek it. xxxx

  • I feel like as a society women are expected to be women, have babies, breastfeed, do it all/have it all/cope with it all…. but also be completely invisible at the same time.

    This shows and manifests itself in various ways, from something as small as feeling guitly and uncomfortable for telling a teacher you’re on your period at school and that’s why you feel unwell (hang on, why should we feel guilty for what is natural?!!?), to this tradgedy.

    I sometimes feel like women have to ‘pay a price’ simply for being a woman. Attitudes and processes across the board need to shift dramatically.

  • If the tragic death of Charlotte and her baby can somehow provoke change or at the very least open discourse about PND and its grim reality, then it will not have been in vain, although small comfort to those who bear her loss. Thankyou Kate for writing about this so soulfully and passionately. I remember in the early weeks after childbirth the flurry of graphic emails between my NCT girlfriends and I sharing our birth stories, however it was always hard to admit just how horrible you were feeling emotionally after and during those hectic days. I remember feeling incredibly alone and isolated when after just 4 weeks my husband had to be away for 10 days on business, and my family were all heading off on a reunion in the Caribbean. Not only was I literally left behind in the cold, but my girl developed Colic and I truly didn’t know what to do with myself, and spent many hours sobbing. It can still be so hard now, and more than anything I agree that the trivialisation of PND (and many things women go through – after my miscarriage I was often told with a shrug that it was completely normal, as though I should feel nothing) must end. Our emotions as a society are deemed less important until finally it is recognised that they ultimately can affect our actions and other people as well – we cannot keep waiting until it is too late. I will happily and passionately add my voice.

  • Such an honest post, Kate, and a vital one too. I’ve had conversations with leading midwives about these sorts of issues and been told that women are already given so much information – much unread – and they don’t want to scare women. Fair enough, but women need choice in the information they are given about birth and postnatal care, as well as in where they give birth.
    I could go on and on…One important thing to say though that any mum struggling with mental health is very welcome to join the supportive #pndfamily on Twitter – for honest chats about how tough things can be and genuine hugs. They’re amazing. Also #pndhour Wednesdays from 8pm. Xxx

    • I’ve always thought that was the case Leigh but I’m still so shocked to hear that they’re trying not to scare us too much?Aren’t we adults? Are we not worth the truth? Would doctors hold things back from cancer patients for eg? I don’t think they would.

      Of course none of us want to be frightened – the whole pregnancy and labour experience is frightening enough, I get that – however surely to goodness we deserve to know what may happen to us and how we can deal with it?

      Thanks so much for sharing the supportive post natal depression group on Twitter. What an utterly brilliant idea that is xxx

  • If it weren’t for google I wouldn’t have known about hair loss and all the other bits and bobs. I was very much alone and went through a dark place too. In the midst of screaming episodes I can remember feeling like I knew why some mums throw their babies. That’s not to say I felt like doing it or that it is ok – of course it isn’t, but I know the dark thoughts that lead up to it.
    When I was pregnant 2nd time round I joined a facebook due date group. So many mums didn’t know what to expect and would ask the group for support. Their questions were often met with sarcastic and rude comments. How awful is that? I know we were all a bunch of hormonal women but who was to say that they weren’t having a dark day.
    I always strived to help them as best as I could and actually it was through doing so that one if the ladies suggested I start my blog.
    So I would most definitely like to help if you have an idea in mind? Campaigning for ‘real’ antenatal classes where they talk honestly is something I have always thought about. Even if it is an online version or google hangout or whatever. Count me in. x

    • Thanks Katy and thanks ever so much for your email too. I’m astonished at how some women can be so rude and uncaring towards struggling new mums. It beggars belief. Thankfully we’re not all like that and here’s hoping together we can make some positive change x

  • What an important post this is, thank you for writing it so perfectly.
    I was in pieces following the tragic story of Charlotte and her daughter, such an unbelievable tragedy and my heart weeps for the trauma she must have been feeling at the time.
    I had a text book pregnancy, a textbook labour, then a baby with severe silent reflux and colic who screamed in pain every hour of the day and night whilst I stubbornly breastfed through my own tears of feeling like I was failing him by not being strong enough to help him. Breastfeeding came fairly easily to us once I’d found the right support, but being the only person who could care for Toby because he was feeding every 30 minutes began to have really detrimental effects on my emotions and 3 months in, I had to start to combination feed because I decided that Toby would benefit more from a calm, healthy Mummy than from exclusive breastfeeding. My health visitor’s response when I told her all this? “Well as long as you’re still breastfeeding SOMETIMES then it’s okay” Is this what support looks like in this country? That a new Mum pours her heart out about the tears and the fear of PND and the one thing that’s picked up on is that baby is still getting a couple of boob feeds a day?
    More definitely needs to be done and your post highlights this perfectly xx

    • Sorry to hear about your experience but thanks so much for sharing. One midwife wasn’t very happy with some of my comments last week on social media about how new mums need more support, but your experience and that of so many others prove that much more definitely needs to be done x

  • Wow, what a post! I can relate to a lot of what you’ve said here, and if we are honest I’m sure most mum’s can.

    I had a chat to one of my best friends the other day, she had her first baby two months ago and is having a really hard time. Her baby has reflux, isn’t sleeping, cries all day and she said she has been utterly blown away by how hard it’s been; nothing like she imagined it would be. That she’s had days where she feels so depressed. This is extra worrying as she has a history of mental illness. Thankfully she has an amazing support network and lots of help around.

    You are so right, as a society we need to be MUCH more open about how bloody hard it all is. Although I don’t think anything could possibly prepare you for motherhood, apart from having a baby, it would be good for it to not feel as though it’s such a shock. Excellent post xxx

  • Massively important post! If there’s anything I can help please give me a shout. I run #PNDHour a weekly support chat for mums with Perinatal Mental Illness. Wednesdays 8pm xx

  • Maybe it’s cowardly, but I have avoided following the story like the plague because I just don’t want to know? I don’t judge her at all for what she has done (there but for the grace of God and all that) but I don’t feel as if I want to read the finer details.

    I have written about my struggles with Gwenn as a newborn and the gulf between who I thought I’d be and who I was. I thought of be an earth mother but turns out on the Sunday morning after she was both I woke up and I was still Beth but now I had a baby.

    It upsets me a bit now when I say this but for some time I actually hated Gwenn. I was so angry that she wouldn’t latch on and that we were having to top up with formula. I referred to her as evil once when I went into work and I got wrong off my manager (!) but it’s honestly how I felt.

    x

    #allaboutyou

  • A very well-written and thought-provoking post – thank you for sharing your story. The story of Charlotte Bevan and baby Zaani is so incredibly tragic – I just cannot begin to imagine what that poor lady was going through to do what she did. Postnatal care has been a huge casualty of midwifery resources being stretched to breaking point and the system is failing huge numbers of women as a result. There needs to be more focus on good postnatal care and identification of women who are struggling to cope or who have mental health concerns so that appropriate support and treatment can be given.

    As mothers, I agree that we also need to be more open and honest with other mums. Most of us tend to just reveal our ‘highlights’ on social media (although I suspect many of us within the blogging community open up a little more) but we need to be honest about how difficult motherhood is – not to scare women but to help prepare them. I have struggled with postnatal depression second time around and connecting with other women who have also been through or are going through the same worries and struggles that I have experienced is hugely beneficial. It’s made me become more open about my struggles at baby groups too and hopefully this is also helping other mums too.

  • I’m sure like everyone I can’t read about Charlotte without feeling total despair and deep, deep sadness. There is a saying that you don’t know what you don’t know, until you know it. And this is an absolute case in point. Everyone acts differently during pregnancy and after pregnancy, our bodies and minds change after giving birth and we can’t predict how we’re going to react, which is why it’s vital to have people around us who are help. The trend is for women to go “back to normal” but after a baby there is no “normal” it’s all new. Women find it difficult to cope with not being “normal” because all around them, in media, social media, magazines, celebrity culture, others just seem to be getting on with being a ‘happy family’. In my opinion, and my pregnancy experiences on NHS and with NHS midwives was pretty awful, I had to turn to private midwives who, I imagine, offered a service like they did some 30/40 yrs ago. I had a team of two who I knew by name, who I knew would be with me throughout my pregnancy and birth, who were at my side whilst I was trying to breastfeed for hours, who sat with me after the birth and just allowed me to cry and didn’t judge, who helped us adjust to our new normal. My team of midwives visited me every day for 6 weeks, and were at the end of the phone. I don’t know where I would be without them, helping me through the dark stages of post pregnancy (which I think every woman goes through) as well as providing practical and supportive advice.
    This type of service should be available to ALL women, and that’s what drives me to support a better post natal service, which I think is essential.
    Gosh, I’m going to stop rambling now. Great post & some great comments too
    Popping over from #AllAboutYou linky
    xx

  • All the other comments have said what I wanted to say. I just want to say well done you and such a brilliant post. So well written and exactly to the point.
    I had both sides of the coin with my after care. When I felt like I was failed though I was broken, I’ve never felt so low and like such a failure as a mother, especially when the helpline I called did nothing but make me feel worse. I would definitely be interested in doing something to make a change! X

  • YES, YES, YES!!! Brilliantly written post, I couldn’t agree more. I cried for 3 days solid following my daughters birth and was soooo exhausted. I was in hospital for those 3 days and no one so much as gave me a cuddle. Despite a hefty episiotomy and a catheter I was left to care for my daughter single handedly, dragging my tender nether regions over rubber sheets to change her EVERY 2 mins. I desperately wanted home where I knew people would be kind and helpful. I don’t think any of those nursing staff were bad people just that they didn’t have the time to actually care for us past our actual medical needs x

  • This is so spot on. I had moments of despair and I was petrified to truly talk to anyone, aside from my mum and hub, because I thought people would judge me, think me an awful mother and take him away from me. Sounds ridiculous now but at the time I truly felt like people would think me an awful mother if they knew a rare, but few, times I genuinely did not want to hold my child and would wail myself in despair. This is wonderful xxx

  • Kate, this is such a good post. You quite simply have no idea what things are going to be like after having your first baby. Pregnancy is all about you, how you feel etc, but as soon as baby is out, there is another little human being to look after, and you are not the priority anymore, despite a sore body, issues with breastfeeding, sleep deprivation, hormones (oh the hormones!).

    People mention ‘baby blues’, but it doesn’t describe the horrid feeling that overwhelms you for that dreadful day or so. Your description was spot-on. I remember the day really clearly for my first three. Somehow, I have no recollection of this time round, but it’s probably because I’m still sleep-deprived! A really #BrillBlogPost!

  • This is such a good post and a vital topic.
    After my first son was stillborn at 41 weeks I was pretty much abandoned. My GP was great and came to the house straight after I came home. She referred me for bereavement counselling, I had to wait 6 weeks for an appointment. When I finally went it was a man who knew nothing about me (despite having my file on the table in front of him) the session was held in the same room just off maternity where we had been taken after finding out he had died. Frankly, I was a basket case by this point and the session didn’t help. The NHS offered me three sessions which I attended and then that was it – like you can rebuild a life in three sessions.
    Not once during my first pregnancy (or subsequent ones for that matter) was I ever told about the risk of stillbirth – it is truly swept under the carpet.
    After my eldest daughter was born I was on cloud 9, I was so amazed that my baby was alive. I didn’t get the baby blues at all. It was about 3 months later that I started to feel something else though that I hadn’t expected. Loneliness. I had been so fixated on getting through the pregnancy that I hadn’t even wanted to connect with other mothers, I hadn’t attended a single group and I didn’t know anyone else with a baby.
    No one talks about the loneliness. Waking up and simply not knowing what to do with your day.
    Despite being so in love with your baby and being a mother it is not the be all and end all of your life. We are still people with interests and dreams – our children will grow up, go to school and eventually leave home and we have to have something left of ourselves.
    I know we can’t rely on health care professionals to worry about our social interactions, that should be down to us. Reaching out to the woman alone at the park with her toddler or the quiet mum at baby group – maybe she doesn’t want to be so quiet.
    I found it all got a lot better with my youngest daughter’s arrival. Maybe I’m just wiser (certainly older!).
    Really worthwhile discussion.
    Xx

  • I hadnt heard of the Charlotte story till now, after seeing it on your blog. I too felt darker than blue after I had my second. I felt the whole world was crashing down around me and was too ashamed to talk about it. For months, I told no one. Until I realised that not talking was making it worse. I really didnt want to go on any form of medication so I didnt visit the GP or tell any health professional. I was naive in thinking because it was my second I’d find it easier but no the added pressure was too much for me. I really think changes need to be made in the way these things are handled. People need to be made aware of the signs.

    I blogged about my difficulties here http://joytotheworldblog.com/happy-birthday/

  • I’ve just had my 4th baby and my postnatal care has been the best I’ve ever experienced, and this time far far better than my antenatal care. This pregnancy has been VERY stressful, with weekly growth scans and regular CTG monitoring, the threat of early delivery and an unwanted section at 37 weeks. Luckily Elsie was fine, but throughout my pregnancy I was so alone, and in desperate need of someone to talk to that could help me understand what was happening.
    Since Elsie was born my midwife was amazing, the breastfeeding support worked was incredible and my health visitor is now on the case with regular listening visits and she is also arranging counselling for me too. I can’t fault it, but it hasn’t been like this before. When my son was born later 2009 I struggled so much and received no support at all. So while I think things have improved I do know that more needs to be done x x x

  • A beautifully written piece about such an important subject. I suffered silently for nearly a year as I just presumed as a first time parent that motherhood was just one long, exhausting struggle. It was through reading blogs that I realised parenting wasn’t meant to be like that. Pieces like this are really important xxxx

  • This post is both wonderful but sad to read. I too suffered with PND after my first & expected things to be much better after my second as I was in a much happier place in my life & with a much more supportive partner, but my PND was actually worse second time round which didn’t make any sense to me I had to battle with the guilt that I shouldn’t be feeling like this as my life was amazing & I was very lucky to have to beautiful boys & a supportive husband. The key thing is that it can affect anyone no matter what your circumstance, and you are not to blame

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