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Postnatal anxiety stopped me leaving the house. Here's what helped me get to a better place.

My sister is one of the people who has struggled with postnatal anxiety. In October 2022, Zoe gave birth to one of our family's greatest gifts: my niece. From the moment she was born, I could see the ceaseless love pouring out of Zoe and her husband Nick for their beautiful little girl. But despite how hugely grateful she felt for the child she was holding in her arms, postnatal anxiety quickly appeared to try and darken this exciting moment in her life.

As a sister, it has been extremely difficult to watch the impact this has had on her. I am so proud of the courage and resilience she has shown despite her mind trying to convince her that she cannot do things she has found the strength to do. This is my first experience of being close to someone who has become a mum for the first time and it has really opened my eyes to the importance of talking about maternal mental health and raising awareness of the support that is available.

My sister has kindly agreed to share her story in the hope of not only educating people about postnatal anxiety, but providing reassurance to other mums out there who may be struggling with it themselves.

baby's hand in her mother's hand

What were the first few months like for you as a new mum? Did it differ from what you expected?

The love I felt was instantaneous. I knew I would fall in love with her. I knew she would be everything to me - nothing can explain the feeling I felt the second I held her in my arms.

The three of us were together in this little bubble at the start of our brand new adventure. After a quick check up, a cuppa and some toast, we were transferred onto the mother and baby ward. But because of the time, no dads were allowed. Suddenly, we were alone together and I lost all my confidence. I suddenly felt like I had no idea what I was doing. I wasn’t expecting to feel so overwhelmed. Looking back now, 18 months on, of course I was overwhelmed - I’ve never been a parent before! But that was the start of feeling like I was failing.

Our first five days together were spent in hospital and I didn’t sleep until the day time when I knew she had her dad to look after her. I couldn’t take my eyes off her for one second. I was so overwhelmed with anxiety that I wasn’t going to be able to be the mum she deserved and that I was going to fail.

When we got home, it was a breath of fresh air. We were home in our bubble : we were safe.

When I walked through the front door of our house that day, little did I know that over the next three months, I would only leave the house a handful of times.

It was the middle of the winter and I had the teeniest little precious diamond under my wing. My brain had convinced me that everything outside our house was a threat and I wasn’t going to put us in any danger. I spent 9 months growing her and developing this bond and I thought the only way to keep her safe was to keep her at home.

The thought of leaving the house petrified me, I couldn’t explain it but I was absolutely crippled. If I left the house, I would only leave by myself or if I ventured out with our little one, I had to be with my husband.

Postnatal depression and anxiety was something I was aware of - you get all the warnings from the medical teams and friends - but I never thought I would experience it. I also thought that if I did experience it, I would be able to identify it immediately because I’ve had depression and anxiety before so I knew what to expect. I didn’t. 

What helped you start to cope with and address the postnatal anxiety you were experiencing?

When our little one turned three months old, I got a call from our local children’s centre and they were reaching out about a closed group that they offered for mums and their baby. The fact it was a closed group made me feel less anxious : it would be the same attendees every week. But what scared me most was leaving the house to attend.

Before we attended the course, we had to go for a pre-class meeting with the course leaders. Getting myself to that meeting was incredibly tough - I cried all morning and nearly didn’t leave - but I knew something had to change.

I walked to the class, shaking and anxious, but it was the best thing I did. My brain told me that I was a terrible parent and everyone in the group would see that. It convinced me that they would see how much of a failure I was, how much I couldn’t cope and I was scared that she would be take away from us. Little did I know that in this class, I would find the most incredible, beautiful and strong mama tribe.

The first session was raw but within minutes I knew I was not alone and I had found the ladies who would help me grow into the mum our little monkey deserved.

Are there any resources or support that has been particularly effective for you?

I really benefitted from doing the 10 week class I mentioned previously, but I also knew I needed more support. Having massive fear of abandonment, I looked for another net to catch me to stop me from falling. That’s when I discovered Mothers for Mothers - an incredible charity who offered a range of support including home visits.

Although my confidence to be able to leave the house was growing, I didn’t actively choose to do so unless completely necessary. After a telephone chat, I was allocated a home visitor and the visits were timed so that they would start after the class at the children centre ended. It stopped me from feeling like I was freefalling on my own.

Each visit helped me grow stronger and stronger. During the sessions, we came up with a slow and steady plan to help me deal with the battle in my head. 

We planned small walks to get me out of the house and for the second to last visit, we attended a comedy gig which was baby friendly and I am proud to say I made it!

During these visits, my home visitor told me about her own motherhood battle and she mentioned that she had journaled to help her. I am not a creative person (Soph can vouch for that) so the thought of journaling felt completely out of my reach or a waste of my time and paper.

My friend sent me a link to a class called Maternal Journal and something drew me in so I thought I'd give it a go. I’m so glad it did! Journaling was the final piece to the puzzle to help me process my overwhelming emotions and unlock a part of my head and heart that I never knew existed. I’m so glad I found it because it brought me peace and finally enabled me to give my beautiful baby the mum she deserved.

My husband got me the maternal journal book to continue my journalling journey after my classes finished and I still use it now! I recommend it to everyone.

I recently journaled to process my whirlwind of emotions after finishing my breastfeeding journey very abruptly, due to medical reasons it was taken out of my hands and I was devastated. Journaling helped me process everything I was feeling and also honour everything we did together. I could now accept that although this was the end of one chapter, we were flourishing together into a new one and I was ready.

A scrapbook style collage with layers of different types of patterned paper and an illustration of a mum breastfeeding her child. There is a piece of text in a speech bubble that reads: 'If me feeding my child offends you, feel free to throw a blanket over your face'

What advice or words would you share with new and expectant mums?

You are amazing. You are not alone. You are strong. You can do this!

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1 Comment

Thank you to your sister for sharing this. More work needs to go into helping women with both antenatal and postnatal depression.

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