"We can be our own worst enemies at times. We look at the Instagram perfect lives and we think that is the normal. But we need to realise that 'normal' for a new mum is often feeling overwhelmed and feeling like you are struggling to cope. We need to recognise that and be easier on ourselves."
New mum Michelle Daly Hayes knew she had no reason to be unhappy as she held her beautiful new baby boy. Yet she couldn’t shake the despair and sadness that was enveloping her.
"I have had depression before but I am high-functioning in my depression. I will always try to work through it and say, ah I’ll be grand. But I knew something wasn’t right after I had Luke, that there was something there that I needed help with. I was constantly anxious and despairing. I was worrying about the baby and about the future if something happened to me or my husband. The negative thoughts were just relentless and I couldn’t pull myself out of it,” explained Michelle.
"I just thought it was a bit of the baby blues and put on the front that everything was fine. But I was feeling very down and very inert. It was a real struggle to do anything. I had lots to do but no motivation or energy to do them."
The Limerick woman is just one of the almost one in five women that experience mental health problems in pregnancy or after the birth of their child. You can feel many different emotions during pregnancy and after birth. These can range from love, pride and joy, to worry, sadness and frustration. It is natural to feel stressed or anxious at times during pregnancy - or when you have a new baby. These emotions are quite normal.
"Women have a tendency to think that we can be superwoman, that we can do anything. But we are being so unfair to ourselves. They say that when a baby is born a mother is born and I found that I wasn’t Michelle anymore, I was Luke’s mother. Everything revolves around the baby and you feel you lose a bit of yourself. It’s okay to have those feelings,” she said
“We need to make talking about maternal mental health a simple and ordinary conversation. We need to normalise it and put an end to the stigma that surrounds it. Women can be embarrassed to admit they need help or that they aren’t feeling on top of the world after their baby is born. They feel like people will judge them and think they are doing something wrong. Post-natal depression is so much more common than people think. We must end the stigma and start the conversation.”
Michelle had a history of depression and was assessed for depression during her first pregnancy and things only got worse after her son Luke’s traumatic birth. She suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and struggled physically and emotionally. She had great support around her from her husband and from her mum and sisters but found it hard not to feel alone.
“I first met my perinatal mental health midwife Maria and she was so reassuring. She foresaw all the questions that I might have and made sure I was happy with everything that was happening. I was having pregnancy complications so it was decided that I would have a C-Section. They were so helpful and brought me in to get a tour of the operating theatre and meet the midwives that would be working the day that I was due to go in. I was totally prepared for everything,” she said
Unfortunately for Michelle, things didn’t go as planned due to a haemorrhage during the birth of her second son Cole
“It was a pretty traumatic birth again but I didn’t have that same level of anxiety afterwards. I was in hospital for a week recovering and met regularly with Maria and the team. And when I was home, I had the reassurance of knowing that I had an appointment with them coming up. They were constantly checking in on me. They were my safety net,” she said.
“I can’t stress enough how important a role they played for me. The public health nurses come around but their focus is the baby. And when you see your doctor, it’s hard to start talking about your mental health during a short appointment. But the perinatal mental health team were interested in how I was doing and checking in on how I was feeling. It really gave me the strength to keep going.”
They also linked Michelle up with the Community Mothers programme in Limerick.
“I was assigned Maeve as my Community Mother. She was such a support and was able to tell me about services that I didn’t even realise existed. There were parenting classes, baby reflexology, baby yoga, and then other supports when I started weaning him,” she said.
Now a busy mum of two, Luke is 7 and Cole is 2, Michelle said she is feeling good and listening to her body.
“I still have my struggles, particularly during the pandemic, but I have learned to recognise when I need some help,” she said.
And she urged mothers not to compare themselves or their babies to anyone else:
“We always look around and think that everyone else is coping better than us. But you never know what is going on behind those Instagram posts. Everyone has their difficulties, some are just better at putting the brave face on.”
Until relatively recently the only specialist services available to women with a mental health problem in pregnancy or postpartum year were based in the Dublin maternity hospitals and only had a part-time service in each. The University Maternity Hospital Limerick had the first specialist perinatal mental health service outside of Dublin, established in 2018. Since opening it has assessed and diagnosed and provided specialist interventions for thousands of women in the Mid-West area.
Specialist Perinatal mental health-specific patient information leaflets for individuals and frontline patient services are available here or to order in hardcopy from www.healthpromotion.ie.
Further information on SPMHS for health professionals is also available through the Perinatal Mental Health App.