2020 has been a really funny one, hasn’t it?! It's been absolutely tragic and just devastating as we see more and more areas in the UK move into Tier 4. Covid-19 has taken over everybody's life in some way shape or form and yet for me, I honestly have to say 2020 has been one of the best years of my life.
I got engaged to the man of my dreams – I honestly don't know what I've done to deserve such an amazing human being! We also safely welcomed a little rainbow baby - our beautiful Elsie Dorothy - something this time last year, I never thought or would allow myself to dream that it would be possible.
Christmas 2019, I was 10 weeks pregnant and had hit my lowest point with major anxiety and depression. I couldn't get out of bed. I couldn’t go to work. I didn’t want to see friends or family. I couldn’t stop crying. All I could think about was reaching that 12-week scan. Praying and hoping that all would be well but I couldn't be positive, I feared the worst. Constantly. There was no positivity in me and I was totally consumed with crippling anxiety. All I could think was once again, there would be no heartbeat – just like last time… and that heartache would happen all over again.
So in January 2020, I didn't know what help I needed, but I knew I needed something because I couldn't even get myself out of bed and wanted to enjoy being pregnant. I felt guilty for not enjoying it or getting excited. I couldn’t tell people I was pregnant for fear of jinxing myself and for the very few who did find out, I wouldn’t accept their congratulations as I was convinced there was no point in getting excited – in case I lost this baby too. I had lost all interest in life, in activities, in fun, in being the best mum I could be to my daughter, and had no idea how to be the partner I needed to be for Martyn, as he too was also dealing with pregnancy after loss. I didn’t know how to support him through this tough time.
I knew I wasn't right and self-referred myself for counselling via my midwife but the NHS waiting list was over 2 months. As I needed to see someone urgently to get me through to the 12-week scan, I started to research what perinatal health was available (which really wasn’t a lot!) and finally found a local pregnancy relaxation class using HypnoBirthing. I’d shied away from hypnobirthing in my first pregnancy as I thought I wasn’t ‘hippy’ enough – also, my ex-husband didn’t want me spending the money when we got two free antenatal classes at the hospital (if only I knew then how rubbish and uninformative they would be!).
The relaxation class at The Pregnancy Emporium with Doula Kelly Neale, was the perfect place to start. I attended class each week, and even after my first session I felt amazing and was able to sleep. I was able to feel relaxed and for that one hour a week, I honestly didn't feel any negative thoughts - only positive thoughts in caring for my baby.
Hypnobirthing aims to help a woman deal with any fear or anxiety she may have around birth. It involves various relaxation and self-hypnosis techniques to help relax the body before and during labour and birth. Learning grounding techniques, relaxation techniques breathing techniques and mindfulness helped me along my pregnancy journey, through to the birth and even afterwards. Even now, if I start to feel myself get anxious about anything I listen back to my relaxation recordings and use affirmations and mindfulness to help me refocus and reset my mind. It's really, really helped me to grow as a person and would recommend it to absolutely anybody.
Why Perinatal Counselling
Perinatal counselling can help parents cope with the emotional turmoil of having a baby. Most people have heard of Postnatal Depression (PND), but depression and/or anxiety can actually begin during as well as after pregnancy and, believe it or not, it can affect both men and women.
I found the counselling really tough but really beneficial. I’d go as far to say it was life-changing as although she was offering Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for my pregnancy-related anxiety and depression, I was diagnosed with suffering from tokophobia - scared of birth which led to me discovering that it wasn't PND I’d suffered with 8 years ago, it was in fact something called ‘birth trauma’. I’d never ever heard of before! I spent the rest of my pregnancy (4 months) in counselling sessions learning new CBT techniques to help me process the thoughts inside my mind and gradually both the anxiety and depression levels came back to normal. I was no longer scared of my impending birth.
Coping with anxiety during COVID-19
I had to wait almost 3 months to be seen by a specialist perinatal counsellor (the first counsellor I was offered was a man and I just didn’t feel I’d be able to fully open up to him and that he’d show empathy to my pain – I felt I needed a woman). Resources across the NHS are tight and Perinatal Counsellors are few and far between - but my god it was worth it!
Perinatal mental health is on the rise more and more women are having issues during pregnancy before pregnancy and after pregnancy, with 30% of women suffering mental health problems after birth. Today, charity Tommy’s has released a new report stating nearly 50% of new and expectant mums are feeling anxious or nervous about Covid-19 – only adding to the already over-stretched NHS resources.
There has been very limited support for new mums, with no health visitors checking up on you, no Midwives to support you and GP appointments are hard to come by. New mums’ mental health is severely under strain and new mums are under strain at the best of times feeling isolated lonely and completely out of her depth and without that support, perinatal mental health is only going to become more of an issue as we move into 2021 and beyond.
Although different types of treatment work for different people, both hypnotherapy and the specialist counselling are definitely a good place to start if you’re struggling as I was. Please, reach out and speak to your nearest and dearest and ask for help – it’s ok to not be ok and accept help. If needed, then go seek out help from your health visitor, GP or midwife team and don’t be afraid of standing your ground and insisting on further support if you know in yourself, you just don’t feel like you.
It honestly does work and can change your life!