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  • Writer's pictureSarajane McCarthy

Maternal Mental Health Matters

Today I celebrate not just my birthday, in fairness the festivities kicked off last Thursday, but I also celebrate World Maternal Mental Health Day. Something that until recently I didn’t even know existed!

Through my volunteer work with the fabulous Paint Your Bump campaign I have spent the past few months thinking, reading, talking, remembering, exploring and analysing the importance of protecting, supporting and caring for ourselves,and each other, on this rollercoaster journey of motherhood!

My own maternal mental health journey began the minute I went off the pill! I think part of me expected to be pregnant by dinner time and when that didn’t happen I was faced with the reality that this most sought after role of mother might not be as easily attained as I had always imagined. Very quickly my life became a sea of negativity, no cycle, no smiley faces on sticks, “not pregnant” flashing at me from inside a little window time and time again! Every headache, every cramp, every mood swing was a false hope. Plus, suddenly everywhere I looked all I could see were pregnant women, people who didn’t deserve to be pregnant, people who didn’t want it as much as I did! My mind was a whirlwind of frustration, jealousy, anger and despair. When I finally discovered I was pregnant, I was already 12 weeks gone! I was ecstatic, I embraced pregnancy with open loving arms. I had plans for all the bump styles I would rock, a baby shower to end all baby showers, decorating babies room maybe even a naked photo shoot!! Then at 26 weeks a “better to be safe” trip to my Gyne revealed worryingly high BP and I was hospitalised. 2 weeks later my daughter Abigail was delivered by emergency section. She was 2lb 2oz. She was whisked off by the NICU team as soon as she was out. I didn’t get to hold her or even see her. I never had my “moment”, you know the one you’ve seen a million times in movies, that photo you’ve been sent or popped up on Facebook. It was a week before I could hold Abigail and eight weeks before we could bring her home. Friends and family were supportive and did what they thought was best but time and time again I would be told how “lucky” I was, how “all that matters is the baby is ok and you’re ok”. But No. That’s not all that matters. There was a day about 7 weeks into our NICU stay, and Abigail was off oxygen and out of the incubator, waiting for her discharge papers, when a mom was wheeled up with her baby. The baby, who looked enormous as all “normal” size babies did to me, needed a few hours under the jaundice lamps. On the grand scheme of a day in NICU and compared to the traumas we had encountered and the heartache we had witnessed this ranked fairly low on the scale. However, as I looked into that Mother’s tear stained face I realised that her pain was just like mine. When things don’t go the way we expected, the way we planned, the way we were promised, we all feel a loss. There is no gradient for suffering.

Thank God our superhero warrior princess Abigail has no long term effects from prematurity and is now an amazing all singing, all dancing, 8 and a half year old, with an incredibly inquisitive mind and bravery like no other I’ve known!

But things don’t have to go down the mega drama route to shake our maternal mental health. I absolutely adore being a mom and I am grateful for the privilege every single day. However, bumps and twists along my journey have included the fear of every having another child, guilt of enjoying Juliet's birth so much, worry about having enough love to share, failure when my child wouldn’t eat, isolation, loneliness, jealousy of my husband going to the office, inadequacy, resentment, frustration, confusion as to what happened my libido, crippling anxiety that I was pushing my luck having a third child, overwhelmed by the reality of being outnumbered, defensiveness when I feel my ability is questioned, disappointment when my body breaks and fails me, guilt, fear and a bit more guilt! The journey never ends, there’s always a new route, a diversion, a traffic jam, a hazard ahead.

Looking back I think how the hell did I do it! How am I still doing it! For one thing, I have amazing copilots in not only my wonderful husband but in my “village” of family and friends. But I know that I would not be the mom I am today, the woman I am today, if it weren’t for mindfulness! A chance purchase at a charity auction 13 years ago changed my life forever! I count myself so incredibly fortunate that I discovered mindfulness and had an established practice before embarking on my motherhood journey. I often say that mindfulness doesn’t stop the crazy but it makes us aware of it and helps us calm it before it runs away with us! We become more present during the good times and more compassionate to both ourselves and others during the not so good times!

Even before I qualified professionally I was constantly trying to introduce mindfulness into the lives of all those I loved, people I would meet and even random strangers in restrooms! I love all my workshops but I have to say my Mindfull Mama groups are a dream come true to host. Mama’s coming together, talking, listening, learning, laughing, crying, sharing and opening up so bravely, honestly and compassionately about their own journeys of motherhood!

So wherever you are on your journey, whoever you are with today I ask you to take a moment to check in with your breath, your body, your heart, bring a sense of compassion and loving kindness to your own maternal mental health journey and know that you are not travelling alone!

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