Nobody’s thinking about you.

photo-1461549668430-c28f8bf97913
Nobody’s thinking about you is the name of a section heading in Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert. I am just setting out on a writing course. One of the recommended texts is said Big Magic, which happens to be sitting on the book shelf behind me. A short while ago, I picked the book up, had a casual flick through and ‘Nobody’s thinking about you’ jumped out at me.

Nobody is thinking about you

That’s quite a powerful sentiment and it got me wondering…

How many women (and their partners) write birth plans, or choose how to feed their babies or how to raise their toddlers and older children with a subconscious drive, or fear about what other people are thinking?

 

Will the midwife think I’m weak if I ask for an epidural?

Will my peers think I don’t care about my baby if I formula feed?

Am I a rubbish parent if I give my toddler chocolate?

What will school think if we decide to respect our daughter’s decision to opt out of the HPV vaccine?

 

As Elizabeth Gilbert says, we spend our 20s and 30s (hello – prime child-rearing time) worrying about what other people think. This eases as we enter our forties and basically, by the time we hit our sixties and seventies, we realise that no one actually gave a monkey’s what we were doing anyway! That isn’t to say that our friends and families don’t care or that health care providers don’t want the best for us or that social services aren’t safeguarding ‘at risk’ children, but what they’re not doing is spending their quality navel gazing time thinking about US! They’re actually thinking about themselves.

I do occasionally find in my line of work as an antenatal teacher and mentored postnatal doula, that people (most often mothers admittedly) tell me about things that have happened or decisions they’d made with an apologetic tone:

“I had an epidural…but I was in so much pain I didn’t feel I had a choice”
“I breastfed for a couple of weeks but then I got so stressed that I decided to give him formula”

At no point have I said that they shouldn’t have an epidural or formula feed their babies nor have I expressed any opinions either pro or anti such things. I feel sad that they maybe didn’t have the support that they needed at those crucial moments, and although I care about my clients and I want them to be happy and feel empowered, I’m too busy to spend any time in the judgement zone. My thoughts are consumed with my own children, am I being a good-enough parent myself, the day to day running of my home or planning the next antenatal course.

In fact, it’s this lack of judgement that is a prerequisite of postnatal doula work. My role is not to go into someone’s home and tell them how things should be done lest they fail to meet some arbitrary  Successful Parent Criteria. I’m just there for support and guidance, it’s their way or…their way!

As Gilbert goes on to say, embrace this freedom

You, parent, are granted the freedom to do things your way, like nobody’s thinking about you.

For details about Elizabeth Gilbert’s books and other information http://www.elizabethgilbert.com/

 

 

 

A Note To Midwives I Have Known (International Day of the Midwife 2016) #IDM16

 

Notes to Midwives I Have Known_IDM16

To mark the International Day of The Midwife #IDM16 I have decided to write notes to some of the midwives I have encountered over the past 9 ½ years, from my son’s conception to my work as an antenatal teacher and postnatal doula. The midwives I am writing about are all real people but I shall not name them and some are an amalgam of more than one midwife.

A note to a community midwife, off sick with stress.

You suggested at booking that I might like a home birth.

“You what?? A homebirth? No way, just no no no.”

That was the end of the conversation. Looking back and knowing what I know now, how refreshing your approach actually was. You had faith in women’s abilities to give birth at home, why shouldn’t you? You were a case-loading midwife working 13 miles from the maternity unit. It made sense for you to encourage women to birth at home. You could be there (hopefully), the women would get continuity of care without the 30 min (on a good day) schlep into the city. But of course, I was ignorant (that’s my label, not yours), only hippies had homebirths and whilst I wasn’t adverse to a dabble in the realms of the ‘alternative,’ home birth was very much not on my radar. You didn’t push, you accepted my decision. No questions.

Shortly after my son was born, you went off sick, with stress. Before you left, I know you were concerned about me, what had happened at my son’s birth and it was you who emphasised, vehemently, that I must get a debrief. You were so right. The other thing you said was to never go near Gina Ford. Wise words indeed!

I hope you are well now and doing what makes you happy.

A note to A Family Midwife

This midwife is in my family and has many decades experience in midwifery (though she won’t thank me for pointing out that it’s decades plural!). You were on duty in the hospital where I had my son via Category 1 caesarean section and by weird coincidence, you were born under similar circumstances. Hereditary? Who knows?  Your visits on your breaks to see me was so comforting. Unfortunately, (but fortunately!) my son and I didn’t qualify to go on to your ‘transition’ ward. Makes me mindful of how helpful a familiar face is around the time of birth and how unlikely women are to have this opportunity nowadays, unless they have a doula. Anyway, thank you for being there x

A note to the Judgemental Midwife

When I told you that I am an antenatal teacher, your response was “I hate the organisation you work for.” You then went on a rant about how my organisation is telling women to have homebirths and to do this and that and so on. Well, you’d be welcome to sit in on one of the classes I facilitate. Yes, I do mention home birth. I can tell you where and how I mention it. I touch on it when we cover birth hormones and the birth environment, I simply say “and this is why some women choose to give birth at home” and I mention it again, just once, when we are covering the first few hours after birth, how you have your own loo and shower and that there is less disturbance. That’s it.  I’m not here to undermine you or challenge you. My role is simply to help people make informed decisions and offer support. I never, ever tell anyone to do anything.

A note to the newly qualified, radical midwife.

I think my note to you is the hardest to write. You are so passionate about what you’re doing, your vocation. Yet during your training and your first few years in practise, you have had a horrible time, fielding snide comments, outright bitchiness, undermining and criticism. Why? I don’t really know. Does your ‘woman-led’ approach really rock the boat that much? I am glad that there are midwives like you. You’re the ones who notice things, important things which can get lost in the bustle of shifts and the constricts of guidelines and targets. You’re the ones who champion women, who protect them, who celebrates them. You’re the ones who, in the best case scenarios, are now working independently, but in the worst cases, you have left midwifery. A shame. A waste.

A note to the midwife whose nose dripped on my newborn baby

It was Christmas Day. It was snowing outside. You came in to our home, during which time my husband and son were ill with Norovirus, but you still came in. My daughter and I were confined to the bedroom (but not in a good, babymoon-way, in a lonely quarantine-way). You went through the postnatal procedures that you do. At one point you were leaning over my daughter. Your nose dripped onto her babygro. Your face went from horror to being on the verge of tears. I bet you didn’t want to be out in the snow, away from your own family that day. What I want to say is, I wasn’t upset about your drippy nose, I was upset because you were upset. I hope that you don’t remember it.

A note to the midwife who hugged me.

From what I can recall, you were the only midwife on duty on the postnatal ward. I remember you running up and down the corridor, answering buzzers, filling out forms and waving discharge letters around. As I was leaving the hospital with my new baby. You hugged me. You were so busy, but you still took the time to wish me well. Thank you for hugging me. If I ever see you again, I will hug you back.

No evidence that early induction of labour makes a difference in older women (35/39 trial) — sarawickham

I have been promising workshop participants throughout this spring that I will write a blog post about the 35/39 trial, whose results were published just before I went on the road. Now that I’m back, I’ve managed to put my thoughts together, and here they are… If you’ve not heard of the 35/39 trial, it…

via No evidence that early induction of labour makes a difference in older women (35/39 trial) — sarawickham

Don’t be a bloody hero

Untitled design (2)Asking for help isn’t a sign of failure

At the moment I seem to be finding blog inspiration comes to me after conversations I’m having with people after I tell them what I do, that I’m a mentored postnatal doula. Mostly, the first response is “a do-what?” or “I’ve heard of a birth doula, but not a postnatal doula.” I was having this conversation with someone yesterday and her response was interesting. She said, as people mostly do, “what a great idea” but then she said “I’d be worried that people would see me as a failure if I hired someone to help me” or simply that she was being a bit ‘up herself’ having someone paid to help her.
I hadn’t thought of it that way before, at least, not in relation to my doualing. I certainly recognise the fear of other people’s judgement about my parenting, both in the early days and now. But wow though…how sad that we feel that we mustn’t show weakness. What would others do with our ‘weakness’ I wonder? Would they look at us and think ‘look at that pathetic woman, she clearly hasn’t got her shit together’? or would they look at us and think ‘phew, I’m glad it’s not just me?’ I bet nine times out of ten, it would be the latter. Our rational heads tell us this, but our irrational, or should I say, exhausted, drained, bored, hassled, stressed heads loudly tell us the contrary.

Last night, as I was Facebook-stalking people I went to school with (no, not literally stalking, just marvelling at their lack of Facebook security and piecing together the parts of their lives since I last saw them when I was 12 or something) a post popped up in my feed (thanks Raring2Go!Newcastle) which serendipitously tallied with the conversation I’d had earlier in the day (see paragraph one of this blog). Constance Hall. Looks like I’m late to the party, but I’d never heard of her. If you haven’t either, she’s an Australian blogger, who shows a lot of her children and even more of her various body parts in her blog posts and on her Facebook page. She thinks she’s looking haggard and saggy (or rather, she celebrates her postnatal body, and rightly so), but I actually think she looks pretty darn good! Anyway, I digress…She posted this on January 9th on her Facebook Page:

“You know what happens when there’s a natural disaster? The world gets into gear and helps, AID arrives, charities are formed, media gets on board, a bubble of hope is created. But sooner or later, the dust settles and the countries are left to live with the turmoil on their own.

That is what bringing home a baby is like. That small bundle of “joy” is like a mini natural disaster in your own home.

And every comes to help… Creating this false sense of security, your still in a bubble of love and support.

But eventually after a week or so the dust settles, the visitors die down, the in laws go back home and your man goes back to work.

And your left with a tiny natural disaster the size of a football wrapped up in a fluffy blanket.

And despite the roaring, protective, passionate love that vibrates through you for your little disaster, your life is left in turmoil.

The relentlessness. Is. Overwhelming.

And for the very first time, your partner in crime, the Clide to your Bonnie, your best mate, lover boy doesn’t understand. Your little journeys were separated the minute baby came out and spilt your roles in half.
And out of nowhere enters a competition that you never signed up for, who’s life is harder, the one who goes to work all day? Or the one who cares for the little fluffy football disaster zone? Who’s sleep is more important? Who sees their friends the least? 😞

I am amazed that any couples survive.

I am in awe of women who spend an entire day and night 7 days a week with a screening football who’s welfare is so important to them that a simple baby spew can trigger an unbearable anxiety attack.

I am amazed by the men that go to work all day while exhausted and come home to a crying wife and screaming baby yet still remain patient and loving.

Aren’t we all just doing such a good job? And in such a lonely time isn’t it nice to know that we are far from alone?”

Oh my goodness yes, yes, yes!! She sums it up so well!! Though I’m not sure that everyone really realises that they are not alone. Perhaps at baby groups there should be an icemelter where everyone gets a turn to say what is making them feel crap/brilliant/tired/proud etc today. I would have loved that instead of turning up each week, feeling shattered and lonely, desperate for someone to talk to and watching on like a postnatal pariah while cliques formed, stormed, normed and performed. Urgh, the desolation of baby groups….(note that I did eventually find two great groups run by NCT).

Can you see the utter futility of pretending that all is well, that you’re coping, that you’ve got this new parenthood thing nailed? If you genuinely have, then that’s great, of course. But if you haven’t, it really REALLY doesn’t matter. I keep saying this over and over and over to my antenatal clients, postnatal clients, friends, family anyone who’ll listen, and it’s not new or profound, but we are NOT meant to raise babies (toddlers/children/teenagers) in isolation. To do so is utter lunacy. Of course, some people do so either by choice or by circumstance, but it’s completely OK for them to ask for support too. At the end of this parenting journey *borks at cliché* no one is going to hand you a medal for toughing it out by yourself. Get help  feel less shit.

Don’t be a bloody hero!

 

What a postnatal doula doesn’t do

By no means do I wish to insult your intelligence and I do not intend to sound sniffy or rude but there does appear to be some confusion, or misinformation about what a postnatal doula does (and doesn’t do). For a simple guide to what I do-do, please see my meme I created a few months ago. I’m writing this quick blog post following some feedback from someone I was talking to the other day who was confused about what I do –  she suggested that I write a blog post to clarify, so here it is!
My aim when I set out to become a postnatal doula was to support women and their families in the early days with their new babies. My role would be a subtle one really; someone who slots unobtrusively and holistically into the family-setting by performing practical tasks to keep the household  ticking over, to support the mother in her transition to first or subsequent-time motherhood by listening unconditionally and signposting her to specialised support if required. My support of the mother might also extend in to giving her a break so that she can have some time to herself, to go for a breather in the garden, to have a bath or a shower or to do anything which helps her feel relaxed and refreshed. This is where some confusion creeps in. I am not a trained nanny or nursery nurse, they are specialists in childcare/child development, I’m not. I’m a mother of two and a trained antenatal teacher and doula, and as such take a lay-approach to childcare. Nor am I a childminder, I’m not OFSTED-registered and I have no educational remit. So, what I do not offer is childcare while the mother/father/AN Other goes to work. I will however, watch or hold your baby while you have a shower or play with your toddler while you feed your baby. Generally speaking, I am not left alone with your baby or child/ren. Hopefully you can see the distinction.
I do do light cleaning/tidying. I will swing the vacuum around, dust, wash up, empty the dishwasher, put the bins out etc, but what I won’t do is a deep clean, for example. That’s a cleaner’s job, it’s not what I do.
If I find that you want me for one thing i.e. solely for childcare, just for cleaning, just to mow your lawn that’s not me being a postnatal doula, it’s me being something else and I won’t be the best person for that job.
Please see my FAQs page here . If you can’t find the answers you want, please give me a shout via email jo.booth.antenatal@gmail.com

Alternatively, you can find me on Facebook

International Women’s Day 2016

organic

Today is International Women’s Day. I would like to make a tribute to the women I meet in my line of work.

To the dedicated and tired midwife
To the obstetrician, for giving life when sometimes life may be gone
To the antenatal teacher, always with mothers in mind
To the doula, gently loving and caring
To the mother who birthed alone from choice
To the mother who birthed alone because she was scared and no one knew
To the mother who left hospital with empty arms and a full heart
To the mother who is sick, and sick and sick with hyperemesis gravidarum
To the mother who is beaten
To the motherless mother
To the criticised and ostracised mother
To the mother who doesn’t feel
To the mother who feels too much
To the mother who will only be a mother once
To the mother whose child is sick
To the mother who isn’t safe, who is without home or sanctuary
To the mother, the mother, the mother, the daughter, the woman

#IWD2016
©JoBooth2016

 

12 Winter Survival Tips For New Parents

 

It’s the 1st of February today. The weather is erratic and in my mind, a little worrying. Apocalypse anyone? End of days scenarios aside, winter is still very much with us and I remember very well being housebound and frantic with my babies/toddlers during the gloomy days, weeks and months.  Maybe you’re feeling the same, here are my list of tips to help get you through:

1. Get out in the morning! It doesn’t have to be anywhere exciting, even a trip to the supermarket is still out. Parent and baby groups can feel a bit daunting, but it’s ok to flirt with a few, perhaps try one slightly further afield?

2. Get active. I’m generally an exercise-phobe BUT if I can do exercise which doesn’t feel like exercise, then I’m happy to do it. I’m talking here about ‘fit to push’ – style pram-based exercise groups and sling meets. Your local NCT branch might have an ‘out and about’ group (you don’t need to be an NCT member to attend). This usually involves going for a walk terminating at a cafe. This is less intense than sitting in a group (if baby groups aren’t your thing) AND you’re getting exercise PLUS it’s not a problem if you need to sit down to feed your baby or change a nappy; no one will mind.

3. Visit an older person. It’s well-known that older people often feel isolated, especially in winter months. If there is someone nearby who you think would enjoy some company, then arrange to visit them with your baby, perhaps once a week or once a fortnight. It will make their day, you will no doubt get a cuppa made for you and your baby will be doted on. Also, as your child grows they will love having an older person that they can talk to, especially if you don’t have grandparents living near by.

4. Changing rooms. So it’s hammering it down outside and/or the pavements are encrusted with ice. You’ve been in the lounge all day, you’ve got daytime tv-fatigue and your baby is fractious. What do you do? Go into a different room, perhaps put on some music and dance with your baby or read them a book-doesn’t have to be a baby book, read them a book that you would like to read. You could even have a bath together, who cares what time of day it is.

5. GO GO GO Slow Cooker. Often parents find that their babies are most uppity in the late afternoon or early evening (often during the 4th trimester*), around the time you may want to be getting dinner ready. Slow cookers are a true blessing for the fatigued parent. There are lots of brilliant recipes around these days, it’s not all stew! I made a fabulous rice pudding the other day http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/user/191983/recipe/slow-cooker-rice-pudding Pop all the ingredients in the slow cooker in the morning when your baby is feeling chirpy or having a nap OR this could be your partner’s job before heading to work.

6. Get a sling. I’ve already mentioned sling meets but slings are fabulous to use around the house. In the early days, your baby just wants (and needs) to be close to you. Slings enable you to do this and have free hands. It’s important to try before you buy, slings can be expensive, so mistake purchases best avoided. Find a local sling group (they’re all over the place now) which has a trained sling guru in residence. They will be able to advise you on different makes, what suits your body shape, how to fit the slings on to you and so on. PLUS you’ll be getting out. So, once you’re kitted out in your sling you can get your housework done (if that’s what’s pressing your buttons) or do something you enjoy – perhaps doing some gentle exercise whilst listening to an audio book?

7. Audio books! Buy /ask for a subscription to Audible (or similar) and when you get tv-fatigue, you can listen to a good book. It really helps you feel more like you again-you know, a reminder that you actually do have brain cells.

8. Take a couple of minutes’ break. No one’s advocating child-neglect here, but if your baby otherwise well and just fractious, put them somewhere safe and step out of the room for a couple of minutes. You’re not super-human and early days with a baby can be incredibly challenging, look after yourself too. If you’re feeling consistently low/depressed, don’t be afraid to tell your midwife/health visitor/GP. They’re not there to catch you out and getting early support can make a huge difference.

9. Invite some visitors to your house. Don’t fret about the state of your home, I always feel relieved when I visit a friend’s house and there’s is a mess-it makes me feel normal! Perhaps ask people you’ve met at a baby group, ok this feels daunting, but I’ll put money on them being flattered to be asked and no doubt super-grateful for having something to do in the afternoon. Ask them to bring cake!!

10. Talk to your baby. I know this sounds obvious, but in the early days babies brains are in a rapid phase of development. When we’re tired, grumpy and somewhat disillusioned with parenthood, it can be easy to forget to interact with our babies. Take time to talk to them face to face, sing to them (it doesn’t matter what) read to them, give them a massage (if they’re in the mood), lie on the floor with them and enjoy their company.

11. Bonus tip 1.Quiet time.If your baby is quiet or sleeping. Enjoy this time, gaze upon your beautiful baby, marvel. The housework can wait. Perhaps download a meditation podcast and spend a quiet five minutes to yourself.

12. Bonus tip 2. Ignore everything I’ve just said and find something that works for you. When you’ve done that, share it with others, post it on my Facebook page too if you like 🙂 https://www.facebook.com/TheBirthSnug/?ref=bookmarks

Failing all of the above, hire a postnatal doula!!

* 4th trimester –  a theory that babies are born too soon and could really do with another 3 months in the womb – have a Google!

© Jo Booth 2015

My NCT Story #mynctstory

Every few months with unfailing regularity there will be negative coverage of the NCT in the media. Complaints mainly that NCT members are yummy mummies and that NCT practitioners are forcing a ‘natural’ birth agenda down people’s throats. I’m sorry that some people haven’t had good experiences with NCT, I wish this wasn’t so and it’s not something that I can personally relate to.

I hadn’t heard of the NCT until I was pregnant with my son in 2006. I enquired about antenatal classes but didn’t go ahead and book on to a course; something that I’ve regretted ever since.

So, classes aside, my first actual experience of NCT was attending a coffee group in Cambridge when I was pregnant and after my son was born. I used to call NCT coffee group day ‘Sane Thursday.’ The group was low-key, always friendly, we’d talk about all sorts of things, not just baby ‘stuff’ which was a huge relief compared to the mono-topic of other local mum and baby groups I’d been to. I never felt that there was any judgement of me or my choices, it was genuinely always a very pleasant experience. I’m certainly not a yummy mummy – a scruffy mummy more like!

When our son was 9 months old, I started training as an NCT Antenatal Teacher. This came about as a suggestion made by a Cambridge branch member (now NCT head office employee) at a coffee meeting.

The training I received was academically superior to both my degree and my PGCE. I met some truly wonderful and inspiring women on my course, many of whom I am still friends with (one of my training peers is one of my daughter’s godparent equivalents). Yes, the training was challenging at times BUT it needed to be and I wholly attribute my psychological recovery from my son’s traumatic birth to the training and support I received through NCT. I sometimes wonder how I would be now if I hadn’t had this privilege. It scares me. Please, please reach out to the NCT if you need support.

When our son was 16 months we had to relocate to Teesside. I knew no one in the area so as soon as our move date was confirmed I phoned the Teesside NCT Branch to introduce myself. I am still good friends with the lovely woman I spoke to on that day, in fact, her husband is also godparent-equivalent to our daughter.

I was relieved that the Teesside NCT Branch was just as friendly as Cambridge and once again, no snobbiness, no judgement, just nothing that I could flag up as cliquey or negative in any way.

As for my antenatal teaching for NCT. At the beginning of every course I tell my clients very clearly that I do not have an agenda. It matters not to me how they give birth or how they feed their babies. All I want for them is to be able to make informed decisions and feel supported. I cover caesarean birth and all forms of pain management in every course, always have, always will. Yes, the majority of my clients are professionals but many or even most of them do not originate from Teesside and therefore have little support. Also, many of them find that because they are professionals (especially true of those who come from a medical background) it is assumed that they know exactly what to do with their new babies, they don’t! Most of my clients have never changed a nappy or bathed a baby, for example, and these may well be members of the seemingly despised middle classes. So, it’s right that they are supported too. Loneliness, isolation and postnatal depression do not discriminate; anyone irrespective of ‘class’ or income can be affected. NCT IS there for everyone.

#mynctstory

Parenthood: The birth and death of Christmas

Funny old time of year this. The Husband and I are non-believers and have always felt a smidge hypocritical and certainly very bah-humbug about The Whole Christmas Thing. There’s just so much of it we don’t like and really, I (not sure about Himself) would far rather be celebrating Yule, heading out in to the garden, firing up a large bonfire and imbibing a glass of mulled wine and some earthy, but very delicious food.

One heady year, before children, we walked to the pub on Christmas day for a cheeky one while our roast beef for two was in the oven. Perfect.

The advent (see what I did there?) of children in 2007 heralded (there I go again) a change.

It was ok for the first couple of years of parenthood, our son was oblivious. We could still get away with having no decorations and just a few Christmas cards on the shelf. No presents, no faff. Some stodge to eat and it was only right to binge on festive telly.

By the time of our son’s third Christmas this coincided with the birth of our daughter a few days before. We had decided that this year we would have decorations, a tree even, turkey and a blazing Christmas pud. So far so good. Unfortunately, on 20th of December our son came down with norovirus. It was basically spew-mageddon. It was the most ill he has ever been. The Husband got it too. This meant that newborn daughter and I spent a week alone in the bedroom. Great, a babymoon, lots of skin to skin and wonderful bonding. Except it wasn’t like that. It was lonely, boring, isolating and my anxiety levels were at some kind of neverbeforeseen peak. I wasn’t eating because there was no one to shop or cook. Breastfeeding (unsurprisingly) wasn’t going at all well. The midwife visited on Christmas Day and I remember having actually forgotten it was Christmas Day. At some point during this awful time my daughter had to go back to hospital as she was losing weight rapidly. Thankfully the hospital was just up the road, but it was still time enough for our son to throw up en route. My husband dropped us off and I was alone again with a tiny baby, feeling desperately upset when she screamed and screamed a they tried to take a blood sample from her. We were sent home, instructions to top up (that’s another story). The saddest part was having to heave a baby in a carseat and the pram frame out of a taxi (a few days post caesarean) by myself and then try not to slip over on the ice. It just felt so bleak.

It took over a week for our son to stop vomiting. Gradually the colour came back in to our lives (and our son’s face) and I remember being ‘allowed’ to come downstairs with our daughter and feel part of the family again. We had our Christmas a few days late, my parents arrived and all was well.

Six years on and Christmas starts around October…well, in their minds. I really don’t mind it quite so much these days. I love that our daughter is SO excited in particular. The fairy lights have been a massive hit with her this year and the advent calendar opening is quite possibly the highlight of her day.

As the children get older, it will all change again, it’s inevitable. The Husband and I will no doubt go back to our bah-hum-buggery but I think I will miss the twinkly glitz of a six year old’s Christmas.

As a postscript, I would like to add that during the grim Christmas of 2009 a very dear friend (who I met through NCT) dropped off a fully laden Christmas stocking (on Christmas Day with her family in tow, literally, on sledges) for our son, a frozen casserole and she even dashed out one night to get some nappies for our poorly son. I will never forget her kindness.

Why perinatal depression matters

No, this isn’t a book review, but it is a book that I will be reading very soon. It arrived on my doorstep a couple of days before I heard some very sad news, in fact, it was on my table as I heard the sad news. It was deeply and tragically ironic. That said, I am not privy to the full story behind the news and nor is it my place to probe or share.*

wp_20151201_09_30_19_pro 1

The difficulty I have as an antenatal practitioner, is knowing how to interpret what my clients say to me postnatally (in particular). They email ostensibly asking for practical tips (mainly about breastfeeding, sleep and ‘routines’) or asking ‘is this normal?’ What I don’t get are overt statements like ‘I’m finding this really hard’ or ‘I’m struggling.’ So I ask them, ‘how are you feeling in yourself?’ to which they will invariably reply ‘I’m fine.’ Maybe they are fine, but I often sense there’s something more, but if they’re not feeling ‘safe’ enough to tell me, then I need to respect that. I have professional boundaries; I can’t intrude and it’s hard for me to ascertain how they’re feeling for definite via email. Where appropriate I will signpost to other support agencies… The best I can hope is that they did take on board my repeated reminders throughout their antenatal course that ‘it’s ok not to feel ok’ and that ‘it’s ok to tell people that you’re not ok’ and that they are getting support from somewhere.

In a recent antenatal session, a pregnant woman asked me “what percentage of women get postnatal depression?” I found that I couldn’t really answer this question, or rather, I felt I couldn’t give an accurate answer as, in my view and from what I’ve read previously in terms of research, is that it is an underreported issue. This from 2011 http://www.nhs.uk/news/2011/10October/Pages/call-for-postnatal-depression-support.aspx I can also vouch for this myself as someone who, almost nine years ago, manipulated the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. Although not feeling depressed per se, I was having post traumatic symptoms following the birth of my son which then took me years to recover from fully. At the time I did recognise that that was what I was feeling, but I felt that it wouldn’t be any help if I mentioned it; that I wouldn’t get support or I would be seen as making a fuss. After all, I was fine and my baby was fine…

****NEVER EVER EVER SAY THIS TO A WOMAN WHO IS STRUGGLING AFTER GIVING BIRTH****

So I just made out on the form that everything was hunky dory and away the midwife (or health visitor, I forget) went and my mental health was off their radar and up to me to deal with alone.

Milli Hill, founder of the Positive Birth Movement posted on Facebook over the weekend about her forthcoming article on postnatal depression. In her post she gave the following statistics from a recent survey about why women don’t access support:

“Reasons given to survey:

81% weren’t sure their symptoms were ‘bad’ enough to warrant getting medical help
74% were worried that having a diagnosis would raise concerns about their ability to care for their child/children
72% felt as though they would be ‘letting their family down’ by ‘allowing’ themselves to get ill.”

So sad and such a shame.

I don’t have any answers especially, though if you know a new parent (and that doesn’t mean someone who has only recently given birth) and you’re sensing something’s up, don’t wade in with suggestions and petty reassurances e.g. ‘but you’ve got a lovely baby’ or ‘you had a really great birth’ or whatever, be there, offer practical help, ask them what they think they need to make things feel easier. If you can, do that thing to help. If they do ask you for help, you could signpost them to NCT Helpline 0300 330 0700 or another organisation such as http://www.raindropstorainbows.co.uk/

However, as with any mental illness, perinatal depression can be invisible. Sometimes you won’t be able to help. Sometimes, it’s too late.

The book Why perinatal depression matters is available from Pinter & Martin http://www.pinterandmartin.com/why-perinatal-depression-matters.html

*please note that this sad story does not relate to one of my clients