Catherine Mousley shares her story of pregnancy and parenting after loss and reflects on the importance of self-care.
Pregnancy after loss
“Becoming pregnant and staying pregnant was the hardest thing I thought we would face.”
In the grieving period following our loss – a termination due to a rare chromosomal condition caused by Down’s syndrome and partial monosomy 21 –we were debating whether to try again. My greatest concern was developing and growing a healthy baby. I hadn’t given much thought to life beyond conception.
The anxiety of my rainbow pregnancy was all consuming. At every appointment I was convinced that this would be the one where we were told something was wrong and we’d have to make another heart-wrenching choice. I severely underestimated the fearfulness and how that would manifest itself, both physically and emotionally. My hands shook, I felt constantly sick and I couldn’t switch off. I struggled to concentrate at work, and I couldn’t sleep. The anxiety was overwhelming. In the end, I was induced at 39 weeks
Given my history of depression and anxiety stemming from previous eating disorders and self-harm, I should have perhaps been more aware that I needed to take extra care of my mental health during my subsequent pregnancy. I didn’t comprehend how much my anxiety following the loss would spill over into the birth and postnatal period.
A healthy living baby in my arms
”I felt a wave of immense failure when I didn’t achieve my expectations of motherhood. I’d been fed a fairy tale by society. My reality turned out to be wildly different and this meant my sense of inadequacy was vast”
Despite a traumatic birth, Jake arrived safely into the world with a loud wail. Relief washed over me instantly but that was soon replaced with a feeling of numbness. It was a surreal feeling of shock to have a healthy living baby in my arms.
I’d read about postnatal depression years ago. The article was accompanied by a picture of a woman clutching her head in her hands whilst her baby screamed beside her. Having this visual image to measure my postnatal depression against meant I never noticed the subtle symptoms at first. I slept a little less and would lie awake panicking about something happening to Jake. I started to skip meals due to the uneasiness I felt in the pit of my stomach about my new role.
As the days wore on, the anxiety that had been masked by shock returned with full force. My mood plummeted. One afternoon I became that woman in the picture. I sobbed as Jake bawled next to me on the sofa. Something was seriously wrong.
Adjusting to life with a new baby
“An essential part of caring for a baby is caring for yourself.”
Adjusting to life with a new baby can be difficult and overwhelming. In the first days and weeks after birth, we are at our most vulnerable. It is very important to take the time to acknowledge your own mental wellbeing. Postnatal depression can be on a spectrum; it may emerge so slowly at first that it’s easy to miss the subtle clues, or it may appear up to 6 months after the birth. It is good practice to familiarise yourself with all symptoms and seek support from your GP.
“You are your baby’s mum. Your wellbeing is vital for your family’s happiness.”
Be honest with yourself if you find that you are feeling overpowered by your emotions. Ask for help if you need it. The shift into motherhood is one of life’s most profound transitions, and there might be some outside assistance required.
If you can, take some time out. A short walk, a relaxing bath, an invigorating shower or lunch, away from the environment you are in.
Try to feed yourself nutritious food.
Don’t be afraid to delegate tasks. If anyone offers to help, say yes!
Leaning on social and peer support networks is the biggest act of self-care you could possibly give yourself.
You can follow Catherine's journey on her Instagram at @perinatalmentalhealthproject
Catherine shares her experience of postpartum depression and being part of the BBC documentary ‘Mothers on the Edge’.
I had postnatal depression after my first baby was born, but I chose to deal with it myself and didn’t ask for help. I was stubborn and assumed I’d be OK.
I have always been a worrier. But after I had a miscarriage and my Dad, Nan and Grandad passed away, I started having panic attacks and was diagnosed with anxiety.
Mark and I have two girls. We also had a son, Alexander, but he was stillborn at 36 weeks.