What New Mums Need to Know: Why Maternal Mental Health Matters
Maternal health advocate Clio Wood and counsellor Miriam Christie were both inspired by their pregnancy and birth experiences to support other mums
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"It just feels like a really easy win – if we could support women in a much more preventative way, particularly in the postnatal period or after a traumatic birth, it feels like it would reduce the burden so much further down the line." Maternal health advocate and founder of &Breathe Clio Wood was inspired by her own experience of a traumatic birth and mild PTSD to support other new mums: "I know if I had help earlier, it would have saved me years."
It took Clio Wood years to realise and accept that she needed help with her postnatal mental health; this delay to get help is something counsellor Miriam Christie, who specialises in supporting women through their fertility and motherhood journey, often sees in her practice: "As a society, where once upon a time we might have been able to rely on different people, somehow we've been led to believe now that we have to be self-sufficient and must do it all on our own. That leads to such a sense of failure, shame and guilt, that sometimes it takes a long time for women to say they need some help."
"I really admire the women who come to see me because there's a real sense of wanting to be 'better' for other people or feeling like they are letting other people down and actually it does start with you. It does start with the mother often – if you were OK, your partner will be better, your child will be better. So even focusing on yourself can be quite altruistic," encourages Christie. "But they often start outwards-in: 'how can I be better for someone else's sake? This isn't about me.' It's such a generous place they are starting from, even at their lowest ebb."
For Wood, both individual and couples counselling were key parts of her and her family's support: "I started by seeing a CBT counsellor and had a great number of sessions with him and they were super helpful," continues Wood. "Then at a later point we actually did couples therapy together which was incredibly helpful, in terms of providing a sense of relief and an objective space where we could both have our say but also feel heard."
While much of the conversation around maternal mental health focuses on more acute difficulties like recovery from birth trauma, the huge impact of simply becoming a mother is an absolutely valid reason to seek support as well. "I don't think anything prepares us for becoming a mother, because no one can really describe it; even if someone could, you might not believe it. And we all experience it in different ways anyway," shares Wood. "That identity piece is really hard, mentally and physically shifting into motherhood. Everything that you thought you were has suddenly changed. Motherhood might be the first time ever, or the first time in a long time, where you feel like you really don't know what you're doing, and that's really jarring."
And what advice would Miriam and Clio offer to new mums? Seek help when you need it. "A lot of my clients, what they share is this idea that asking for help is some kind of weakness," says Christie. "But being able to ask for help, and specifically what help you need and when, is a strength and a skill. So I would invite people to practise asking for help. Use the networks that you have to your advantage, because it all goes around in the end. They can support you, and then you can support them."
Clio Wood is the founder of &Breathe and the author of Get Your Mojo Back