A Midwife’s Perspective
“You’re a midwife, you’ll be fine!”
I’d seen labour and birth over and over. I’d cared for the sickest and tiniest newborns. I educated on breastfeeding, postpartum care and spent my days sensitively supporting new mothers experiencing the baby blues with my well-rehearsed keynote. I always finished my spiel with “if the tears or symptoms last more than two weeks, we may need to consider extra supports, and that is okay.”
Never did I imagine it would be me needing the extra support.
After all, I was a midwife.
It wasn’t what I expected.
I wasn’t what I expected.
Societal expectations, along with the inevitable response to my subtle shout for anxiety support – “You’re a midwife, you’ll be fine!”, led me to believe I had to be okay.
I am a neonatal intensive care nurse and midwife. At 26 years young, fit and healthy, falling pregnant was a little more challenging than expected. 13 months on, countless blood tests, ultrasounds, a brain MRI and support from our fertility specialist, we were blessed to learn of our first pregnancy. It was here that my anxiety began.
As a NICU nurse and midwife. I’d seen it all. The blessings to the unimaginable. The survival and the farewells. From my daily exposure, I struggled to believe I would experience a healthy pregnancy, birth and baby.
My first was born at 38 weeks. A textbook birth, famously unusual for a midwife but just like that, I was a mother, unprepared for the biggest deviation I’d ever taken. Within 24 hours I was overwhelmed by visitors, gushing over how perfect our baby was. I saw it too, through eyes looking in, however, on the inside, I’d never felt so out of control. I bonded well and felt the feels, but the fear of successfully caring for him 24/7 stole my joy.
The first four weeks are both a foggy blur and clear as mud. I had never felt so lonely. I cried. Constantly, for what felt like four weeks straight. I couldn’t explain why. If an opportunity arose for anyone to hold or care for my new baby, I grabbed it. I believed anyone would do a better job of caring for him than me.
Enter my early childhood nurse, gentle and kind. Small talk quickly led her to learn I was a NICU nurse/midwife. She finished her assessment of bub and suddenly the spotlight was on me. Softly spoken, in a tone that captured me, she asked, “…and how are you?” with more genuine care than I’d ever felt. She treated me like a new mum, not a midwife. I suddenly felt safe. She didn’t care what I did for a job as my skillset had nothing to do with what was happening to my brain health. For her short time with me, she’d read me like a book.
I scored 13 on the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale and was deemed high risk.
The shame and failure weighed heavy, however, the relief that the feelings, thoughts, emotions and fears, not only weren’t “normal” but had a title and could be treated, far outweighed the shame.
My first appointment with the psychologist left me feeling judged. I refused to return. With one foot in front of the other, I learnt to mother, somehow suppressing the anxiety to a level that allowed me to function.
Fast forward 21 months and my second baby arrived. I still refused support, possibly an excuse and squashing of what I knew I really needed. Instead, I limited visitors and the overwhelm. My anxiety remained at bay until it came time to return to work. Night duty exhaustion, leaving one workplace, starting another, a toddler starting preschool and another I’d never left before, were triggers enough to cause the suppressed anxiety to be expelled at its greatest force.
The anxiety attacks came without warning. They felt suffocating.
This and the trajectory in my mindset and ability to overthink left me feeling as though I was spiralling.
I woke every morning with the same script in my head “I don’t want to do this today. I don’t want to be here.”
At this point, I knew I needed professional support. My fears and beliefs of therapy were quickly put to rest. My new psychologist was and still is, everything. Professional, non-judgemental, committed, passionate, incredible at her job, quietly supportive and safe. Shame dies in safe places.
However, it got harder before it got easier. Unpacking the years, I felt more out of control than ever and suddenly, almost without notice, all I was controlling was what I ate and how much I exercised. Undernourished, I was starving my brain of the nutrients it so desperately needed. Hitting rock bottom, I now see it as a new beginning.
I did the hard work. It was painful but I wouldn’t change it. I’m a new me. A stronger, happier, calmer, more resilient, ambitious, confident me. Forever growing. My husband has a happier, more present wife and my kids, a Mum who knows she is everything they need.
My greatest learnings…
1. Build a strong team around you. People who ensure you feel safe.
For me this included:
– My incredible husband
– My closest friends
– My indescribably supportive obstetrician who cared above and beyond
– The angel of a social worker from my hospital
– My amazing psychologist
2. I flipped my thinking. My vulnerability was now a strength, not a weakness.
3. I used to hear mental health and instantly felt the stigma. So, I changed it to brain health. I now saw my brain as an organ requiring nourishment, care and exercise for strength.
4. Commit to professional support as early as possible.
5. Carry a toolbox of strategies. Pull them out when needed. Journaling, meditation, hydration, breath work, sleep, medication, exercise to name a few.
Be brave but be patient.
As my psychologist tells me,
“When we do hard things, we grow.”