*Diane came to motherhood later in life. Her little boy *Bobby was her only child, so this experience was very precious to her as something she wouldn’t repeat. So, when the pandemic came she faced the loss of many hopes and dreams she’d had for this once-in-a-lifetime experience and her motherhood story predominantly happened behind closed doors.
Bump to Baby
It started for her in pregnancy. She recalls her sister-in-law complaining about people constantly touching her bump – an uninvited invasion of her privacy. But as Diane commented, “no-one saw me at the whale stage… wouldn’t it be lovely if someone other than my husband could touch my bump!” Her only pregnancy felt like it passed by unwitnessed.
As an older mum at 41, Diane was classed as ‘high-risk’ and cared for under a specialist team. She was blessed to have a problem-free pregnancy and smooth elective C-Section.
However, at 2 weeks old, Bobby became very poorly and had to return to the high dependency unit for 10 days. She spent those 10 days alone with him in hospital. Another moment of isolation where before there would have been the strengthening comfort of husband, family and friends.
Thankfully, Bobby has thrived since this stay in hospital. Back at home, Diane could begin to settle into being mum – albeit in the midst of coronavirus.
Lasagnes on the Doorstep
Diane remembers the practical ways she has supported friends and family when they had a new baby. “Lasagnes on the doorstep”, representing the way in which community holds new families together. This simply wasn’t possible in the same way during Bobby’s early baby days.
The pandemic also meant she “missed out on the feeling special”. She didn’t experience the fuss and love and delight that are a part of becoming a mother and having a baby. There was no gathering around to welcome a new child, or to affirm and honour a new mother.
The isolation also undermined the informal community contact that can do so much to keep anxiety at bay. Like most new mothers during Covid-19, Diane couldn’t “sense-check the little things”. She was reliant on the wildly varied, unreliable wisdom of the internet to work out whether to give her son cucumber or when to introduce peanut butter. She missed the lived experience of real-life mums, and the breadth of approach to give her confidence in carving her own way.
Fairly early on in her motherhood journey, Diane was diagnosed with post-natal anxiety (PNA) and referred for support through her midwives. She accessed cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help her challenge anxious thoughts and reshape her mindset.
Perinatal mental health issues affect between 10-20% of women in the UK. With the added complication of covid-19, recovery is harder. It is more difficult to do the things that help you overcome your anxieties because of lockdown – and harder to draw on the support of others.
In the midst of this isolation, however, grew points of connection and healthy habits that supported Diane on her journey.
Diane’s connection with *Abbie, *Holly and other mums through a Bump and Baby group was “a real godsend”. Diane knew she could send out a message at 3am and get a response within minutes – and there aren’t many contexts where you can do that!
The group become her informal community with other mums. Her opportunity to support and be supported – to draw confidence from others’ experience.
Diane also quickly recognised the importance of fresh air and exercise. Going for walks with Bobby helped her “get out and have a bit of headspace”.
Aspirations of Motherhood
A shower. Eating with two hands. A solo toilet visit. Half an hour to myself.
The aspirations of motherhood are a lot smaller than you might think! But for Diane these little things went a long way. They were precious moments of self-care in the midst of constant childcare.
She was particularly blessed by friends and family who didn’t wait to be invited. In the midst of post-natal anxiety, it is really hard to ask for help. A text from a friend saying “we’re coming to visit – when would be good?” was exactly what she needed. And if they arrived with food, even better!
Diane recounts the visits of one friend with two older children. During their regular visits, her friend would hold Bobby while she drank a coffee and ate something. Just the simple opportunity to eat two-handed and drink a hot coffee was an immense blessing.
It’s the Little Things
Diane’s story demonstrates how much difference the little things can make when we’re struggling with anxiety. There was no need for grand gestures; no reason to be put off because the problem seemed too big. It was the friends who did the little things that made all the difference.
A lasagne on the doorstep. A coffee and cake. A proactive visitor. A 3am text conversation. Real-world answers to simple questions.
If you know someone suffering with anxiety, be encouraged. You can’t solve their mental health struggles for them. But you can be proactive in bringing a little light and a little hope into their day. Those little things can pave the way to recovery. And if you suffer with anxiety – whether postnatal or not – counselling can help you build better mental health. Get in touch with our counsellors to find your way forward.
And if you find yourself struggling with anxiety, like Diane – please know that we can help you. You may just want to access our free helpline to book a 30-minute chat with qualified counsellor, to help you clear your head. Or if you feel the need to explore deeper issues, get in touch with our support team to book in for individual counselling. We often have funding to allow free or subsidised counselling, so don’t let cost keep you back.
This is a true story, told during an interview with three mums for Maternal Mental Health week. *Names changed to protect their identity.