Selina blogs about her experience of perinatal mental illness and working with EastEnders on Stacey’s storyline.
It was 4 years ago when my husband and I felt ready to start a family; time to say farewell to the partying and welcome a new being into our world. We were really lucky and got pregnant straight away, I couldn’t quite believe it.
However, soon after we’d done a million and one pregnancy tests and saw those lines I was rushed to A&E with a possible ectopic pregnancy. As each day passed my anxiety grew and I became sure that I was going to lose the baby.
Having spent most of my life battling mental illness - I was first diagnosed with depression when I was 17 - intrusive thoughts were never far away from any difficult situation. I believed that bad things always happened, so they were going to happen again. After a few weeks we found out that everything was going to be ok - physically it may well have been - but mentally I was in turmoil, and I was too scared to tell anyone.
"For many days after birth I felt high, on top of the world, but as the days went by the fear and dark fog started to reappear."
I spent the rest of the pregnancy suffering from antenatal depression/anxiety, which I didn’t even know was an actual condition back then. I somehow muddled my way through pregnancy and it wasn’t until after our gorgeous girl was born that I became more unwell and experienced postnatal depression/anxiety, OCD and PTSD over the following months.
As soon as our girl was born I felt this overwhelming love for her, it was almost unbearable. For many days after birth I felt high, on top of the world, but as the days went by the fear and dark fog started to reappear further fuelled by the sleep deprivation, difficulty breastfeeding and hormone changes.
I started to carry my daughter in a stretchy wrap like Stacey’s when she was a few weeks old. Carrying her in a sling has played a crucial part through my experiences and recovery from perinatal mental illness (along with treatment) and in my life as a parent. It was this difference that it made that led me to train as a Sling Consultant, set up a not-for-profit sling library to support other families and have ended up working with EastEnders consulting on slings for Stacey’s storyline to ensure safe and accurate babywearing.
"...I was never asked how I was feeling emotionally and I felt too ashamed to open up about struggling."
Stacey is experiencing a rare and serious perinatal mental illness called postpartum psychosis, which affects 1 in 1000 mothers. I didn’t hallucinate like Stacey, but I spent the first few months of my daughter’s life thinking that something was going to happen to her or that she would be taken away from me. My anxiety and intrusive thoughts were out of control by this point and I couldn’t think straight. When she was next to me in the sling I felt more in control and that we were both safe.
Using a sling has helped in many ways; it has helped to strengthen our bond and deepen our connection with each other. There were times when I felt so disconnected from everything and everyone – I felt numb, but when she was all cuddled up in the sling next to me I felt so much love and like I belonged somewhere. The closeness also supported our breastfeeding relationship, I really struggled to breastfeed at first, but having her in the sling really helped us get there. When she was wrapped up next to me she was always much calmer, we both were in fact, she would cry less and sleep, which made me feel less stressed especially when we were out.
"I felt stuck, like I was never going to get better."
Often weeks would go by when I couldn’t leave the house or even get dressed, I was barely functioning, all of my energy was going into caring for this tiny being who needed me. Using the sling made it easier to get out of the house, even if I could just walk to the end of the road and back, I felt a little better. It also meant that I could spend time doing things I enjoyed when I felt up to it – going for walks in nature, a bit of gardening or even just cooking a decent meal.
Despite my long history of depression, anxiety and OCD nothing was picked up antenatally or postnatally, I was never asked how I was feeling emotionally and I felt too ashamed to open up about struggling, that somehow I had failed as a mother and saying it out loud would make it real. I thought this was meant to be the happiest time of my life – so why was I finding it so hard? I felt like the only one who was feeling this way, which exasperated my feelings of isolation and loneliness.
"The black dog still visits now and again, but the main difference now is that I know it’s not going to last forever."
Even though I’ve been living with mental illness for 20 years, I still felt a huge amount of guilt and shame for the way I was feeling. I worried about what people would think, particularly at a time I was meant to be happy. There is still a huge amount of stigma around mental health in the Asian community and although my family are fairly liberal there is still a lack of understanding and the shame seems to be so deep and ingrained.
I started seeing a therapist through a local charity when my daughter was 12 weeks old, that along with mindfulness based Cognitive Therapy programmes and a good support network have supported my road to recovery. The black dog still visits now and again, but the main difference now is that I know it’s not going to last forever, I have survived and I can again.
"I had to fight so hard and sometimes it felt hopeless, but I am so glad I kept fighting."
It has been amazing being involved with such an important storyline and working with EastEnders and Lacey Turner; sharing my knowledge and experience regarding slings, something I am so passionate about that impacts my life in such wonderful ways.
It was this time 3 years ago that I was at my lowest point, I was scared, lonely and confused – I felt stuck, like I was never going to get better. There were days when I couldn’t even imagine making it through to the end of day let alone be at this point in my life right now. I had to fight so hard and sometimes it felt hopeless, but I am so glad I kept fighting. We all need to keep fighting.
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