Presenter, author and mum-of-two, Frankie Bridge is looking sun-kissed and well-rested after a holiday with her family visiting her sister in Bermuda. But despite appearances, we're here to talk about what can be an invisible illness for many and is a topic close to Frankie's heart, maternal mental health.
Frankie has written Grow: Motherhood, mental health & me (out now), a part narrative exploration, part first aid manual for mums that discusses the hidden growing pains which take place when you become a parent.
"I realised, especially through lockdown, that motherhood and mental health just isn't a subject that's really spoken about much. I feel like we've come such a long way with mental health in general but I think because we are made to believe and made to feel that being a parent is the be-all and end-all and it's gonna make you the happiest person alive, we feel like we can't talk about finding it hard.
"So I just wanted to write a book to say, 'Look, this is how my journey was, your journey might be completely different. But hopefully, this will help you to realise that and to be able to say, 'Hey, I'm not feeling great', or 'Actually, I don't like this part of being a parent'."
The book is an open and honest read, featuring Frankie's own raw experiences both during and after her pregnancies with sons Parker, seven and Carter, five, alongside explanations from psychiatrist Mal and Frankie's own children's paediatrician Ed, something that was incredibly important to her to include.
"I think that's what sets my book apart from other parenting books. Because that's what helped me in my journey with my mental health - having facts and having reasons why things are happening. So instead of thinking, 'Oh, I'm just a bad parent' or 'I'm just not good at this.' I could go 'Oh, actually, medically, this is why this is happening.' And that makes you feel so much better and it makes you feel less crazy."
Having suffered depression and anxiety most of her life, it was assumed that Frankie would get post-natal depression, however, she credits this not happening due to staying on her medication while she was pregnant.
"I thought 'you're pregnant, you're happy, it's the best time in your life, right?' Not necessarily"
"My depression was so much worse while I was pregnant," she explains. "I think that's because my body was changing so much and it was something I just was not ready for or used to, that feeling of being completely out of control.
"I just felt like I didn't really know who I was while I was pregnant. You're not quite a mum yet but you're not who you were before either. You're kind of in this middle ground and I found that really hard. And actually, my obstetrician at the time said, 'It's so common Frankie, antenatal depression is so common.' But I've never heard of it before! I didn't know it was a thing because I thought 'you're pregnant, you're happy, you're growing a human, it's the best time in your life, right?' Not necessarily."
While pregnant, Frankie also struggled with the fear that she wouldn't love her child. "Everyone tells you that you're going to love them from the moment they come out. And luckily, that did happen for me. But why do we have that expectation of loving a human from the minute we meet them? When that doesn't happen with anyone else in the world?" she muses. "I have this thing with like my depression and anxiety, where if there's an expectation on me to be happy or to be excited in a situation, then I almost sometimes go that other way because of that expectation."
As someone in the public eye who has always been honest about her experiences, it's something Frankie wants to encourage other parents to be too.
"My biggest thing is this whole, 'I love my children BUT.' Why do we think people are gonna think we don't love our children just because we don't like bath time, or we find it hard when they're laying on the floor in the middle of Marks and Spencers? It's so silly.
"I found that I'd bump into women and they'd gush about being pregnant. And then I'd say, 'Oh, actually, I'm not really enjoying it. I can't wait for the baby to be here, but this bit I'm not really enjoying." And then they'd go, 'Oh my god, yeah, me too! I hate this bit.' It was almost like I was given them permission to say those things," Frankie says.
"There are so many statistics that show that women don't get the help that they need. And I think a lot of that comes from the shame of not wanting to come forward and to say that you're finding it hard."
Opening up conversations around mental health
As well as her book, Frankie is also presenting the Sky Kids original series Clam Brain which will give kids tips and tricks to calm their minds and get their bodies active.
"I'm really proud of it. It's 20 episodes of five-minute episodes and it's all about teaching children ways to calm their brain and to find moments of distraction and teaching them how to feel their feelings and to meditate but in a way that children understand. I remember watching the first episodes, and I was like, 'Oh my god, it's great!'"
Equipping children with the tools they need to talk about mental health is something Frankie is incredibly passionate about.
"I was just classed as a worrier as a kid and then that was kind of it. I genuinely believe if I had been given some tools when I was younger, on how to deal with my feelings whatever that may be, they wouldn't have spiralled like they did as I became an adult."
"It's just finding the right way to talk to them about them. I'm someone that's had anxiety and depression for years, and I still don't really know how to approach that with my kids. So having things like Clam Brain and books is just so helpful.
"I just sit with my kids at night and ask them what's made them happy today, and what's made them sad, just to get them thinking about how they feel and for me to kind of find out what makes them tick and what doesn't. So it's just a way of getting them aware of feelings and being allowed to talk about them."
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