Maternal adjustment disorder and mental health.
7 in 10 women hide or underplay the severity of their perinatal mental illness.
More than 1 in 10 women develop a mental illness during pregnancy or within the first year of giving birth.
It’s maternal mental health awareness week, and to provide awareness I’m using this space to share my personal experience of what I now know to be a combination of maternal adjustment disorder, post natal depression and self-neglect.
As a mother to a teenager, it’s become easier to go through life focusing on today without reflecting too much on the past. Many years have gone by since I experienced post natal depression. I was a young single 21 year-old mother with not much self-awareness. I habitually went ‘through the motions’, during pregnancy, riding a free flowing frequency - which sounds lovely, but was almost a vacuous existence. I was oblivious to the extent to which being a new mother could impact my mental health.
During my pregnancy I felt happy and healthy. I’d had a normal, natural delivery and things felt generally ok... until a few weeks in. I noticed my body weight was rapidly falling, I suffered a huge loss of appetite, my daughter wouldn’t breast feed and I began feeling fatigued and generally overwhelmed. At this point I lived in my family home and there were usually family members around to support me. Despite this, I hid the way I felt inside and wanted to appear strong and stable as opposed to having everyone think that I couldn’t look after my daughter and that I wasn’t coping.
The relationship between my daughters dad and I broke down during the first two months of my daughter being born. This felt devastating for me at the time. I was then faced with mental and emotional overload, coupled with hormonal changes and of course a new baby.
During this time I was struggling with accepting that my life was changing in such a way that I felt I was losing control. I felt powerless and isolated. I also developed a mental obsession with the idea that I didn’t want to be a single mother (like my own mother was) and have my daughter end up with a stepdad - as I did.
I want to say now that my stepdad is amazing. I went on to have my first relationship (as a single mother) when my daughter was four. This person became like a stepdad to my daughter. He too did an outstanding job - the best role model I could have ever asked for. He sadly passed away in 2016. May his soul RIP.
Growing up not knowing or meeting my real father created a mental dysfunction for me. The idea of already struggling and then finding out that I was going to be doing this alone freaked me out. I wanted to feel loved and to feel that security of a family unit that I wasn’t born into.
I found myself going deeper into a state of depression. My mental and emotional well-being was at a huge risk and I knew this because I could actually feel that my mind was unwell. I felt mentally dysfunctional but didn’t have the tools and ‘know how’ to cope and help myself. The only thing I managed to do well was be a mother to my daughter. In hindsight she still experienced ‘lack’ - to a large degree. This is why it’s important to take care of us first, take care of our mind, our heart and general well-being as mothers. I wanted to give my daughter the best of me and really felt like I was failing in doing so. Our children depend on us and if we are broken inside we expose them to a sense of lack. This could have negative repercussions in some very fundamental areas and cause long term damage.
I moved out of my family home when my daughter was a year old. My mother wanted me to be further independent. I think she could sense I was struggling and perhaps thought it would give me the lift she wanted to see.
Moving out meant I didn’t have to pretend as much. I could stay in bed and shut the world out while giving my daughter just enough care that didn’t feel like neglect. Once she was settled I’d go back into my internal hole. This continued for just over two years with various ongoing signs of depression. I remember being told by a non-professional person that I was mentally ill and that I should seek help. Well let me tell you how that comment made me feel worse inside. It was the delivery. It was the fact that I didn’t feel supported and felt there was no one who could relate. I felt that there were people who would rather label me than support me.
I grew up in a home where emotions weren’t expressed. I leant to turn inward but in a way that was suppressive rather than liberating.
Sometimes we need to know and to hear that it’s ok to not be ok. It’s normal to struggle, to feel isolated, to feel trapped and alone. We all experience these feelings at some point in our life.
It’s key to remember that there’s support out there and services that are ready, willing and able to travel through with you on this unfamiliar journey and help to navigate the way.
When we suffer in silence we create more lack, and self-destructive behaviours embed themselves into our lifestyle. We create dysfunctional habits that do not serve us or move us forward.
When we develop self- awareness and feel ready to make the change, talking things out can help gain clarity and we feel less alone and more able.
I didn’t have the support back then and the resources weren’t as they are now. I wasn’t exposed to the kind of support I see today and I feel it’s necessary to create more awareness of how maternal mental health can occur and trigger previous life experiences, which can further contribute to a deeper state of depression.
My story is a lot broader than what I can express in a blog post but the commonality is mental survival and wanting to feel better within ourselves. I saw a therapist when my daughter was three months old which helped me to recognise that not knowing my father had impacted on me becoming a mother for the first time. Not being shown that expressing emotions is ‘ok’ also impacted on my ability to feel normal and discuss ways to cope.
Starting conversations that address what’s going on inside of us is necessary for our mental health and well-being.
I am a 1-1 certified therapist and coach. Please reach out if you think you can benefit from talking therapy. I run a 30 minute FREE therapy session via telephone or video call and 20 minute FREE consultation call.
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