Alison McColluck has done some great research about Postnatal Distress (PND) and after hearing her interview on RNZ, I delved more into the work she has been doing.
I listened to the interviews included in her research series, it’s a great new media format which you should check out here – http://werewolf.co.nz/category/pnd-series/
The ladies in the interviews section are all people who have suffered with PND themselves and about their journey. Their ideas and thoughts on the topic generally. What helped them and what they think would help others.
In every case, they all said that early intervention was key. They all thought more focus on the actual parenting part in preparation for having a baby, not so much the birth, could have served them better. That practical tips and skills would have helped them more. That a better understanding of the risk factors would help.
In fact, the women that had suffered mental health issues in the past felt much better equipped to recognise the symptoms and need for intervention. For those who hadn’t, the lack of awareness and clear direct support channels was debilitating.
Feeling overwhelmed, trapped, isolated, tired, anxious.. All things that aren’t uncommon for new parents and make it even harder to identify what is a ‘normal part of this life transformational life process’ and what level of struggling is something more.. But the ongoing and intrusive nature of these issues can be totally crippling or, on the other end of the spectrum, go undiagnosed.
The stigma that surrounds these issues really exacerbate the shame, fear, guilt and other self critical thoughts and feelings. The lack of awareness of these issues contributes to making them more detrimental and perpetuates the stigma.
There are huge ripple effects when people (fathers suffer too) are struggling with these issues. In every interview there was also a common theme, these women where often self less in their concern, it was their children, partners, family & friends they talked about harming and being of detriment to.
I agree with them that greater public awareness of these issues is a big deal.
Support is so key to ongoing mental health and more information available for support people would also help. You are much more susceptible to suffer from mental health issues in this time in your life. It is a massive adjustment for everyone.
I also think it’s really important that we start honest conversations about that struggle. In the digital age, it’s the ‘shiney highlights’ of our stories and journey’s that are shared. Even when people share the bad, it’s often not the worst. Talking more honestly about how it is ok to struggle, how this process and caring for a child is fucking hard work will help people with their expectations around that.
I also strongly agree with them about how we could benefit from a refocus in the antenatal content that is delivered. This is just hypothesis but maybe making these classes so focused on the actual birth process (which is like a tiny blip on the radar of new parenthood!) we are actually unempowering parents? Making them feel more out of control of that process and like someone else has to call the shots?
I’m all for empowered birthing and parenting and encouraging parents to feel confident to listen to and trust their instincts so I will leave that rant for other post. I heard over and over again in those interviews that those mothers wish they had been given more practical tips in their maternity education. That more ways to cope, more information post birth was important too. I couldn’t agree more.
The ones who mentioned learnings from their process that helped most; like practical survival techniques, like remembering to prioritise self care, like being realistic of the expectations you put on yourself, about being kind to yourself, like knowing when to ask for help-all of those could be more throughly covered antenatally.
High among those practical suggestions would surely have to be exploring the topic of slings and carriers. Feelings of being trapped don’t help when you are confined to a chair with a baby who won’t sleep anywhere but on your chest. A carrier can help provide some freedom to move and do things while also helping you meet your baby’s need to be kept close.
Feelings of isolation are compounded when you become so fixated on the holy grail of sleep which you are so desperately in need of and your baby won’t seem to do. Being able to have your baby close to you so they can nap comfortably and safely can give you the security of knowing you can do that without having to be at home. Strapping a tired child to me and going for a walk has always done wonders for both of us in my experience.
Our societies obsession with making our children independent from us as soon as possible is not only unrealistic but detrimental as it further encourages that constant second guess, concerns of failure and fear. “if I cuddle my baby when they cry are they going to be dependent on me forever?” No.
Human babies are born with a biological need to be kept close to their caregivers. As a species, our young are born dependent on us. Carrying them close to us allows them to continue developing critically in that first transition from the womb to the world. Carrying them and using slings and carriers has actually made us develop to be smarter as a species, a long time before now.
Being realistic about the messages we give parents, preparing them with practical tools like mindfulness and prioritising self care, even when it’s hard, in fact especially when it’s hard. Explaining it’s ok to not enjoy every moment, it is ok to struggle.
It’s also ok to be kind to yourself. It’s ok to ask for help. It’s ok to need help.
It’s that adage saying, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ and it’s actually very true, but equally could be said, ‘you need support to be the best parent you can be’.
Sometimes life and situations can rob us of these things and we are really lucky here in Auckland to have a number of amazing support services who are able to step in and help you find support if you need it.
And they create and provide these services for you to use. If you are thinking, “I’m struggling but I’m not that bad…” don’t wait. Don’t wait till you are “that bad” whatever that means to you. That point is too late to rectify damages done in the process. All the evidence and research says the earlier you seek help, better.
You matter too, just like they say on the plane, “secure your own safety mask before helping babies and children” because in short, your not good to them if your passed out cause you don’t have oxygen yourself!
Be kind to yourself.
To find some support in New Zealand, check out – https://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/get-help/in-crisis/support-groups/