When I got pregnant I was scared.
Not just because creating a new life is kind of a big deal, or because it was unplanned, or because I had only been in a relationship with the baby’s dad for nine months - but because I was scared that I would fail at it.
I am one of those lucky mothers who have an abundance of mental health diagnoses - bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder and anxiety - and I had heard horror stories about mothers having their children taken away because they were suffering. Now, it turns out, for the most part, these stories weren’t actually true, but at the time it made me want to keep my mouth shut about my mental health.
My concerns were further encouraged when others told me that I absolutely should not tell my midwife about my mental health issues, because social services would become involved and I might lose the baby.
As a newly pregnant, first-time mother, this was terrifying. At 10 weeks, I hadn’t even got to the good bits of pregnancy yet, my days had been filled with morning sickness and fatigue, and here I was already panicking that someone would take my baby from me.
I remember feeling very nervous at my first midwife appointment. I was adamant I wasn’t going to talk about my mental health issues, but of course, I’d completely forgotten that I had to disclose the medication I was taking - of which are all for mental health reasons - and therefore, I was caught out. The midwife asked me about the medications and I had to explain myself, but I told her that I didn’t want to talk further about it because I didn’t want to risk losing my baby.
The midwife looked at me with a confused look on her face. She could see I was uncomfortable and nervous, and she asked me what was going on. I told her that I had heard horror stories about women suffering with mental health issues, and that they’re seen as bad mothers and they risk losing their children.
The midwife looked at me again, this time looking more concerned. She told me that a huge percentage of mothers suffer with a mental health issue, with more than one in 10 women suffering during their pregnancy. She went on to explain that mental illness is becoming more understood and accepted and that there was no way I would lose my baby simply for having a mental illness.
She explained that if anything, it is good to talk to her about my mental health because that way she can get me the appropriate support that I need, and therefore my pregnancy will be a lot easier and less stressful.
And so, even though I admittedly still had my reservations, I sat down and told her everything. Everything that I was thinking and feeling, all about my diagnoses, and my fears over being a new mother. She didn’t judge me, she didn’t ignore me, she listened and she did something about it.
Within one week I was referred to the antenatal mental health team, and I was also offered longer midwife appointments so that they could check in with me about how I was doing. I was amazed. I’d gone in thinking I’d be judged, dismissed, categorised as an unfit mother before I’d even given birth, but I was helped, listened to and understood. It was a relief.
Within a week I saw the antenatal mental health team, and there the psychiatrist explained that I am high-risk for post-natal depression due to my bipolar disorder. Of course, that is scary, but the team are now helping me prepare with frequent appointments, ongoing care, and most importantly honesty between us.
Though the appointment was scary, I came out with an amazing report, which stated they thought I was going to be a very good mother. Those words felt good to read.
The extra midwife appointments have also been very helpful, I feel like I am being supported really well, always have someone to talk to and most importantly, I have someone constantly checking in on the wellbeing of myself and my baby.
I’m glad I told my midwife about my mental health issues. I’m glad I told her about my fears. Because instead of being abandoned, rejected or judged, I have been prioritised and accepted. And I no longer feel ashamed. I realise that no matter what the horror stories, telling my midwife and accepting support already makes me a great mother - because I am prioritising the wellbeing of myself and my baby.
If you are an expectant mother and are suffering with mental health issues, I urge you to talk to your midwife about it and ask for some extra help. There is no shame in doing so, it does not make you a bad mum - in fact it makes you brave, and wonderful for putting yours and your baby’s needs first.
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