Maternal Mental Health Month - South Wales Family Photographer
The 1st of May marks the start of Maternal Mental Health Month, with this week being Maternal Mental Health Week. So far I’ve tried to stay away from other people’s blog and articles on it because I didn’t want this blog to be influenced by other people’s writing. I’m sure a lot of what you’ll read here will overlap with others’ and I didn’t want to be questioning whether these were my own thoughts or something I’d read from someone else. “But how can you not know what your own thoughts are?” I have a 3 year old and I’m constantly tired - that’s how. Sleep is so underrated when it comes to its health benefits, don’t you think? How much better are you able to tackle what life throws at you if you’ve had a decent night’s sleep? (That’s written after a whole 4 hours of sleep last night…)
Anyway, what I wanted to start by saying is that I am not, nor am I claming to be a health professional or an expert in Maternal Mental Health. (I almost put MMH then but decided against it because I think it’s such an important (and often taboo) topic that it deserves to have its full title.) Through this blog, all I’m trying to do is encourage anyone who’s not feeling 100% or who knows someone who isn’t to talk. It definitely won’t be as eloquent as others that you’ll read, but if it helps one person to know they’re not alone then I can deal with that.
So I’m not an expert by a long way, but my sister-in-law actually is and she works with people who need help with their mental health. One of the things that she’s said in the past (and it’s really stuck with me) it that “we all have mental health'“. And that’s just it isn’t it? We do. We all have physical health and we all have mental health. You might not be physically fit, you might be in the best shape of your life or you might have physical health issues that only flare up from time to time with certain triggers. You see where I’m going with this don’t you?! It’s the same with mental health - it’s not black and white and we all have days where we feel our mental health is better and others when it’s not so great. What I’d love is to live in a world where mums can honestly say to each other “I’m actually having a really anxious day'“ just as easily as saying “my neck is sore from sleeping funny last night”.
So why does Maternal Mental Health matter so much? Well for me, it’s that when you become a mum, everything changes and it’s easy to forget to look after yourself in the midst of the chaos. Becoming a mum will happen at different stages for different people - everyone has their own opinion on when that is. Is it when you see those 2 blue lines? Is it when you bring your baby home from hospital? Or maybe it’s the first time you see the photo and hear the name of the child you’ve been matched with. But at that point, a huge change happens and suddenly everything you thought you knew is re-evaluated. And I think that’s true whether you’re having your first baby, your fifth, adopting an older child, or sadly going from having more children to fewer. The thing is that you can’t know what this new life will be like before experiencing it - it’s such a huge learning curve - and it doesn’t matter how many books you’ve read or how many babies you’ve held, when it’s your own it is completely different. And it’s all consuming. And sometimes our bodies and minds just don’t catch up with the change for a while.
Knowing when something’s not right is so important, but often we’re the last people to recognise it in ourselves. That’s really where Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week is amazing - if we can raise awareness and get more people to understand the signs of things not being quite right, we’ll have more people equipped to spot the signs and ultimately more people being helped. When it comes to ‘spotting the signs’, I think that it’s important to know that what’s normal for one person won’t be normal for another, and it’s this change from being your ‘normal’ self that’s what we need to be on the lookout for. If you’re reading this and you feel that things aren’t quite right with your own mental health - please, talk to someone. I know how scary it is to open up to people about the way you’re feeling, all the thoughts of “what if they don’t believe me?” or “they’ll think I’m weird”. But what you’re probably more likely to find is that they say “I’ve noticed something’s up”, “that’s normal” or even “I felt the same way”.
I also think it’s so important that people know that they are doing a good job. Mum guilt is a real thing, and to a certain extent I think we’ll always feel like we’re not doing enough for our children. But when that feeling (or any other negative feeling) overwhelms us, it stops becoming a normal part of being a mum and something that we really need to get sorted - for our own sake and for our children’s. You are enough, you are doing a good job. If children are loved and cared for, they will feel secure, and that really is what our job as mums is all about. Instagram and Facebook will have you believe that it’s so much more than that - that it’s about having clutter free, perfect homes, children in matching outfits, healthy home cooked meals on the table every night, perfect partners who are always there, and never being anything other than okay. They’re lying. Well maybe not lying, just leaving out a MASSIVE part of real life, which is the other 23 hours and 59 minutes in every day that isn’t captured by that one photo posted. I purposefully haven’t used photos of mums in this blog because I think that if you are reading this and struggling, you need to know that photographs tell a story, but very rarely do they tell the whole story. I love being a newborn photographer and capturing the fleeting moments of baby’s first few weeks of life. But what you don’t see in my photos is that rest of the house is a sea of wipes, nappies and dirty muslins; that mum has just had an outfit change because baby was sick on her; or that half an hour earlier, baby was failing to latch or refusing his bottle. If you struggle with seeing other people’s (fake) ‘perfection’, please be kind to yourselves and come off social media for a while. People will understand and your actual friends will still keep in touch.
As with other subjects that are still fairly taboo, I think that the way to tackle the taboo is to talk (there are loads of Ts in the sentence!). It’s by being honest about what we’re going through that we’ll come to see just how many people struggle and that the emotions we have as mums are valid. If you really sat down and thought about everything our bodies and minds go through when we become mums, it’s really no wonder that we sometimes struggle. Lack of sleep, hormones, a new world order, pressure from others, pressure from ourselves… it is okay to not be okay.
And as much as it is okay to not be okay, it’s how we deal with not being okay that shapes us. If we’re overweight and do nothing about it, it will get worse. In the same way, if we’re struggling with our mental health and do nothing about it, it’s unlikely to get any better. So please talk to someone, tell them how you feel. And if you’re reading this and are worried about someone you know, please ask them how they are. Not on Facebook. Call them, ask them if they want to meet up, and please don’t chicken out of asking them how things are.
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Hi, I’m Clare, a South Wales family photographer who loves working outdoors with natural light. I cover Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan for maternity, newborn, child and family photoshoots. Get in touch if you’d like to book your family’s photoshoot.