Being pregnant and becoming a new parent is often thought of as a one of the best and most exciting times of your life. However, for lots of parents, the reality can be quite different. Pregnancy and the postnatal period are a time of huge change. This change is not just physical, but it also involves a change in role (going from working to being at home with a baby), change in relationship with partners and the people we are close to; and changes in our own identity.
As many as 1 in 5 new women will experience mental health difficulties in the perinatal period (during pregnancy or in the first year of being a new parent) as a result of the transition to motherhood. In the piece below, Nicky (one of our TALKWORKS perinatal champions) shares her experiences of what it was like to welcome a child for the first time.
“I don’t think anything really could have prepared me for the changes that occur when you have a new baby, I was expecting to take to the role like a duck to water and imagined that I would be a calm “Earth mother” who could easily breast feed. I imagined I would spend my days caring for my baby and enjoying every second of being a new Mum. The reality was quite different to this.
I found that I really struggled with transition to motherhood, I expected to feel a sudden rush of love as soon as my baby was born, but after a long labour and being awake for what felt like days this didn’t happen. I vividly remember an overwhelming feeling of regret and thinking “what have I done”, “I don’t think I can do this” and then feeling immediately guilty because I shouldn’t be thinking this. I felt unprepared in caring for a baby and didn’t have the confidence to change his nappy. I worried that I wasn’t breastfeeding properly and that he wouldn’t gain weight.
I struggled with the lack of sleep and the constant feeling of dread that something bad would happen to my baby. I didn’t want to tell anyone how I was feeling as I thought they might think I was being dramatic, and that I should be happy and grateful that I had a beautiful baby. I felt on edge all the time and couldn’t eat because of my anxiety. My relationship with my partner suffered too - he knew that something was wrong but I didn’t feel that I could tell him how I was really feeling.
I missed being at work, as I knew what I was doing at work and didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing as Mum. I felt like I was letting my baby down and that he deserved someone who knew what they were doing and would do a better job than me. I would avoid seeing my friends and family because I worried that they would be able to see how I was feeling and know that I didn’t know what I was doing. I was afraid to go out because I worried that “I wouldn’t know how to set the pram up” or “what will I do if he needs feeding or I need to change his nappy” and “everyone will know that I don’t know what I’m doing and that I’m a rubbish mum”. Avoiding people and not talking to my partner increased my feelings of isolation and I don’t think I have ever felt so alone in my life.
A time that was supposed to be exciting and happy became a time of worry and anxiety. I found every change difficult to navigate and it filled me with dread. I kept wishing for my old life again where I knew what I was doing and felt confident and in control.
I eventually spoke to my Health visitor about how I was feeling and she was able to reassure me that lots of women struggle with becoming a new mum. Just being able to open up about my worries and how I was coping felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulder. I was lucky enough to be able to access a group for mums who were also struggling, and knowing that I wasn’t alone made a huge difference. I still had days when I struggled and found the constant change that happens with a baby difficult to navigate, but being able to talk to other people about this and share ideas and tips on how to cope was invaluable.
I would encourage anyone who is struggling in pregnancy or being a new mum to reach out for support. Remember that you’re not alone and TALKWORKS can help and support you with the transition to parenthood.”
If you are a new or expecting mum, dad or birthing partner, and would like to access support, TALKWORKS can help. Our service is open to adults (across Devon, outside Plymouth) and is available free of charge as we are Devon’s NHS Talking Therapies service. Our treatment and support includes one-to-one sessions with a therapist (available face-to-face, online or over the phone), online self-help (accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week), interactive group courses and a range of wellbeing workshops. Our waiting times for appointments are currently short, with early morning and evening appointments available.
Please do not think you need to hit rock bottom before you access support. You don’t need to contact your GP either, you can simply refer yourself by completing our online self-referral form or by calling our team on 0300 555 3344 (our phone lines are open Monday to Friday from 9am – 4:45pm).