This week has been Maternal Mental Health week. A week to try to focus on maternal mental health, and to make everyone more aware of the impact poor mental health can have on mothers. A week to raise awareness, and let mothers know that they’re not alone if they experience mental health difficulties. Actually, it’s quite normal to struggle mentally, and that its totally ok to seek some help and support if needed.
I think that it’s great that there is more awareness of maternal mental health, that can only be a good thing. If it means that mothers are better supported, I am delighted. I hate to think of women struggling on their own.
I was looking at some social media posts about maternal mental health this week, and was struck about how nearly all the posts were about mothers who had given birth to their children. Of course, there is nothing wrong with this, and of course women who have given birth experience mental health difficulties. However, I was saddened that women who have come to motherhood by other routes (eg step parents, fostering, adoption, family carers) seem to be missing or overlooked. Almost as if these mothers don’t experience mental health struggles, or that their mental health struggles are not as valid because they didn’t give birth to the child. I don’t think anyone has actually said any of these things, they’re just thoughts I’d had and wondered if any one else had too?
The type of motherhood that I know about is through adoption. I became a Mum just over two and half years ago when our little girl came home aged nearly two and half. It has been a roller coaster of emotions since then. I admit I think I did struggle with my mental health at times. Being a mum by any means is not easy. Being a mum by adoption brings all sorts of challenges that I don’t think some people are aware of or consider enough.
When our daughter came home I was delighted, I was finally a mum, which was something that I had dreamed I’d be for a long time. I couldn’t believe my dream had come true. I loved being a mum, I felt so so lucky. But, I struggled. I struggled with the sudden change of everything I knew. The change in routine, the change in roles. I went from working full time, to a full time carer of a toddler. A toddler who was also adjusting to a loss of everyone and everything she knew. If I struggled, my heart breaks for how she must have been feeling.
Of course any new mother experiences much of this, suddenly they have a brand new baby and a new life to get used to. But, I think that an adoptive mother has that extra bit of pressure that unless you’ve lived it yourself, I’m not sure you can get your head around it. The pressure I put myself under to be the perfect mum was immense. I felt like I’d failed her and let her down when things went wrong. She deserved better. I felt guilty for wishing my old life back, for wishing I could be carefree again. I felt ashamed I’d feel this way. I thought everyone was watching me, judging how I managed. There were frequent social worker visits and reviews. I think an admission I might have been struggling would come across as not coping, so I think I tended to keep quiet about how I really felt. Reflecting back on it all now I feel like I kept the people who cared away physically and emotionally, thinking it would be easier to just try and get on with life myself.
Before adopting I’d heard a little about Post Adoption Depression, but I guess it was something that I thought might happen to others and not myself. Looking back, I don’t think I fully had post adoption depression, but I do think that my mental health took a bit of a battering. I think it’s really important for adopters to be more aware of risks to their mental health, and to think about what might trigger comprised mental health, as well as what they can do to optimise their mental health. Also, to be aware that post adoption depression can be experienced by anyone, male or female. I do believe it’s real, and I do believe adopters need more support, especially in those early days.
Another aspect of maternal mental health and adoption that I think can be overlooked is that of birth mothers. Birth mothers are mothers whether their children are adopted or not, and their mental health is equally as important as any other mother. I wish that birth mothers (parents) got more support for their mental health. With proper support some might be able to turn their lives around, and for their children to stay with them. In some cases, they wouldn’t have subsequent children removed. The pattern of generational deprivation could be stopped. In cases when children are removed, this must cause massive distress, and must have an impact on mental health. I do wonder how many of these women have proper support when this happened. Think of the outcomes there would be if women were properly supported….
You’ll be pleased to know that for me, life got better, and my mental health did improve. As I bonded with my little girl and adjusted to the new life I had I was able to cope better. I realised that I was putting too much pressure on myself, and that vision to be a perfect mum was not achievable or realistic. As I stared to relax a little bit I felt better bout myself. I realised that I was actually doing a good job. I found that it’s vitally important to have a good support network. To have people to talk to about how you feel. To have people to help, and to keep offering to help, even if you push them away initially. To connect with other adopters who know how it is, and who can offer lived advice. To have supportive professionals who are there to support you as well as the child. One of the most helpful social workers I had contact with came to see me, and really just sat and listened to me. Listened to me talking about my feelings and let me talk, to get it all out. I wish there was more low level support for adopters. Someone who will just come to have a chat, without having to wait for weeks or go through a formal assessment process. Someone who is detached from the placement side of things, purely a support worker. Sometimes that listening ear is all that is needed to prevent small problems escalating into bigger and bigger ones.
So, to conclude, I’m glad that maternal mental health is being taken seriously. I feel passionately that all mothers’ mental health is important, and that we need to help all mothers to feel the very best that they can.