The case of Felicia Boots last week who was sent to psychiatric care after killing her babies because she had post-natal depression reminded me of the suicide awareness training I went on while I was still pregnant. It was for a work assignment and case study but I wasn’t expecting it to be quite as pertinent to me as it turned out to be.
In short, if you’re a working woman who goes on maternity leave, you enter a higher risk group of suicide. It’s all to do with isolation and loneliness, especially in these days where people are often settled far away from their families. It affects working women more because we’re used to a) knowing what we’re doing, b) being independent and getting on with things and c) being around other people all day. A baby blows all that out of the water.
I sat there and listened to the presentation appalled, yet somehow recognising that this made absolute sense.
Obviously this is the extreme, as was Felicia Boots, but clearly there’s a problem. For a start it’s got to be pretty difficult to diagnose, especially if you don’t seek help or even recognise that you need help. Midwives, doctors and health visitors have all asked me when I’ve gone for check ups if I’m feeling depressed or if there are any problems. The question is usually asked in a really cheery way which seems out of touch but what else are they supposed to do? They’ve not got time to find out more or see people more often. So it’s down to women themselves or their loved ones to recognise what’s going on. Which is where the suicide awareness training came in useful. There are similar schemes available to make depression and a range of mental health issues more recognisable but as a society we also need to make them more acceptable so people aren’t afraid to seek help.
I’m not saying anything new. But more people need to say this. I’m lucky not to have had PND and I’m also lucky as I don’t think I’ve had baby blues either. There’s a difference. I remember the weeks after E was born as mainly bewildering but apart from once (the time I cried at the Polo ad – the shame still haunts me) or twice, I wasn’t too teary or emotional either.
The flip side of this is that I’m still not sure that I realise what people mean when they talk about “the rush”. This is a MAJOR factor of motherhood. Everyone talks about it. That feeling of absolute love you get, or are supposed to get, when the baby is handed to you for the first time – I’ve heard people talk and talk about it. A friend reassured me at the time saying some people, herself included, don’t get it for weeks or months afterwards. But here I am, nearly six months in, and although I quite clearly love and adore my baby, I don’t know that I’ve ever had that big rush of emotion.
This pisses me off. I was looking forward to it. I wanted to know what it was like. I’m not the kind of person who falls in love like they do in the movies, I tend to do it slowly and quietly. From all the hype I was kind of hoping that having a baby would be different – that I’d get to experience the thunderbolt. Nope.
But perhaps this is part of the problem. We’re told so much about the emotions we’re supposed to have that we don’t know how to deal with the ones we actually have. Perhaps new mums would benefit all round from having fewer expectations about “the rush” and more about how to manage, especially when your family are far away. One in four people have a mental health problem at some point in their life. Let’s look at being supportive and not burdensome.