Perinatal Mental Health – A Partners Role

Becoming a mother is a beautiful and life changing experience…you go from thinking about one person to thinking about a tiny, new little life. You know things are going to be tough, you think you are ready… you have watched read ‘what to expect when you are expecting’ and even bought and flicked through Conception, Pregnancy and Birth: The Childbirth Bible for Today’s Parents by Miriam Stoppard, yet nothing prepared you for perinatal mental health difficulties.

By perinatal mental health difficulties I mean pregnancy or postnatal depression, anxiety or postpartum psychosis. Although I developed postpartum psychosis after the birth of my first child, for the purposes of this blog I am relating the my experience of postnatal anxiety.

After the birth¬† of my second child I felt pretty good all things considered. The birth of my child was quick and straight forward, I felt an instant bond and I was not experiencing psychosis…bonus!!

However, I was to experience perinatal mental health difficulties once again…

Postnatal anxiety is crippling, it can take someone who is happy, outgoing and turn them into a nervous wreck…it can makes the simplest of tasks almost impossible to achieve but to those around you, you look fine and capable so all must be good.

For me the anxiety was intense, I had suffered with agoraphobia for sometime as an adolescent so I felt I was back to square one. I could not take a foot outside my front door alone for fear that I would have a panic attack and die. I could not be left alone either as for the same fear that I would have a dizzy spell…faint and my children would be alone in the home.

The anxiety had its hold of me from the day I arrived home from hospital and within two weeks of giving birth I weighed less in body weight than I did before I fell pregnant! This rapid weight loss from extreme anxiety was so bad that the doctors were concerned and sent me for all kinds of tests…this only added to my anxiety and then I found I was now scared and anxious that I was seriously ill and I wouldn’t be around for my boys.

In all this was my husband…my rock and my voice of reason.

Dads/partners play a vital role in a mothers recovery from perinatal mental health difficulties. When feeling lost, alone and anxious a partner can be the calm that is needed to help a mother see things differently. A partners role in a mums recovery is top of the agenda, they can be more beneficial to mum than professionals at times.

My husband had to stop working when I had postnatal anxiety, I was so nervous that even something simple like him going to our local shop would start me off.¬† I would hang around our front door or by our living room window waiting for him. I would pace back and fourth from window to door waiting anxiously. If he was taking a little longer than usual I would start to cry…my head would start spinning and I would hyperventilate, I would then be violently sick.

This behaviour of mine was awful and I would feel guilty that I was making him stay home with me, he never made me feel bad for it. My partner would try to help in anyway he could. He would take the bus with me to meet my friend in a coffee shop and then hang around the local shops just so I would feel a little independence. i would feel safe knowing that he was close enough if I needed him. Some might say I depended on him to much but when you are feeling this anxious who else but a partner are you to lean upon.

Although my husband had to give up his work he still continued with his university night course and we would get family members to babysit keep an eye on me when he was not home.

When I felt this way my husband would remind me daily that it would pass, that I was a good mum, wife and that we had been though worse. He didn’t once make me feel guilty that he had to stop work to take care of me and that it was impossible for him to have any sort of social life. He was there to care for me and even when our finances become strained he didn’t want to worry me further so took it upon himself to deal with it all. I feel this affected his mood and although he would disagree with me I believe he became depressed for a while.

I look back now and I know that my recovery would not have been possible without the support of my caring partner, the way he would rationalise every crazy thought I’d have or be there when I felt like giving up.

I often think back to our appointments and home visits from professionals and I think once someone asked how my husband was coping. Now that’s crazy when you consider everything my partner had to give up to support a nervous wreck of a wife and with no professional training either. I believe partners are key to a mums recovery and they need support just as much as mothers do. When will people see that…food for thought eh…

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