Last week the Duchess of Cambridge announced the results from her landmark public survey on the early years, ‘5 Big Questions on the Under Fives’.
The 5 Big Question survey forms part of an extensive body of research commissioned by The Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
This was the first time in history that the public have been asked their opinion on early years and childhood and the response was overwhelming.
From the 5 Big Questions she has delivered to us the 5 Big Insights which are designed to ensure mental health and wellbeing for parents, carers, and children. They are also to be used to guide charities on how to set their priorities for the future of early childhood education and support.
Following the results of this research, I asked fellow sufferer Stefanie Sybens to write a blog about her experience with HG and mental health with the 5 Big Insights in mind.
The aftermath of HG and it’s impact on mental health
My battle with HG started 1 year ago at St Thomas hospital with countless bags of IV fluids, antiemetics and several hospital stays. Back then, I had no idea I would be sick for 9 months straight and needed to give birth during a global pandemic.
I have shared my HG story on different platforms, such as The Hyperemesis Files podcast, Pregnancy Sickness Support and Midwife Marley so sufferers could see for themselves that HG will end, because – let’s face it – there is nothing harder than being sick every single day while having to fight to get the right care (I was very lucky in that aspect) and none of your friends or family understanding how sick you actually are.
Despite the grueling sickness, I always wanted to write about the aftermath of HG; specifically the impact it has had on my mental health but I was never able to truly find the right words. It’s easy to mention the word “anxiety” or “feeling a bit down” but I noticed it was nearly impossible for me to say:
“I get panic attacks every single day out of nowhere and when I do, I want to run away as far as I can but I can’t because there’s a baby now that needs me to hold him.”
When I came across Kate Middleton’s research “5 Big Insights”, I was immediately drawn to the fact that “90% of people see parental mental health and wellbeing as critical to a child’s development but only 10% of parents mentioned taking the time to look after their own mental wellbeing […].” It’s true that once you have a baby, you take a step back from tending to your own needs and making sure that your baby is thriving. As a new mum myself, I find it so hard to look after my mental health even though I know I really need it. It’s when I came across a quote by Brené Brown that something just clicked:
“ The question isn’t so much, Are you parenting the right way? as it is: Are you the adult that you want your child to grow up to be?”
For one split second, I imagined my 4 month old son as a teenager hyperventilating in his room without knowing why and I couldn’t bear the thought that I would pass this on to him. I started trauma therapy, joined a book club and subscribed to a yoga class because I know these things make me feel better. I have not passed the storm yet, but I do feel proud that I was brave enough to take responsibility and get help and I think that’s the most important thing you can do. I believe now you can fulfil your baby’s needs AND choose you because by choosing you, you’re also setting up your baby for emotional success.
The study also mentions that “over a third of all parents (37%) expect the COVID-19 pandemic to have a negative impact on their long-term mental wellbeing” which rang true as the pandemic has made me feel even more isolated. I was craving to meet new parents and talk to them about how parenthood was going for them but instead I found myself scrolling online being bombarded with conflicted information and occasionally being mum-shamed for making choices that were best for my family.
I think it’s important to realise we are all in the same boat navigating the unknown waters. There are so many different angles to parenthood and not one is “the best” or “the ultimate solution”. I also have realised the importance of womanhood and finding your tribe. Mental health is a tricky subject as it affects everyone so differently, but I hope mums all over the world realize they are equally important once the baby is there. I withdrew from myself each day until the anxiety and panic disorder fully kicked in and it’s a long way to find yourself again. I truly believe, finding yourself, and fully showing up is the most beautiful gift you can give to your child because there is no one else they would want to mirror than you. By being the best version of you, you enable your child to become their best version too and that’s what the world desperately needs.
Thank you to Stefanie for sharing her story and her thoughts about mental health. Reading her words has brought up some intrusive feelings for me. When you have Hyperemesis the groundwork of “baby comes first”, is very much layed down by the health professionals and carers who surround us. Already what was best for me was dismissed as an afterthought, how was I supposed to separate my health and my babies, when the focus was always on them.
You might think this sounds selfish but as Stefanie said herself, its us as mothers who need to be well not just during pregnancy but afterwards, so that we can be the best parent we want to be.
If we want the next generation of parents to close that gap between knowing that their mental health is important and taking the time to nurture it, we need more than data, and there is only so much the charity sector can do.
As a campaigner I have fallen foul of the “raise awareness” bug. It is important, of course it is, but when do we stop just raising awareness and start action? And what happens when we do and our requests go unheard?
A case in point is the petition that received nearly 240,000 signatures to:
Extend maternity leave by 3 months with pay in light of COVID-19
“In light of the recent outbreak and lock down, those on maternity leave should be given 3 extra months paid leave, at least. This time is for bonding and social engaging with other parents and babies through baby groups which are vital for development and now everything has been cancelled.”
The governments response was quite simply no.
If we are to listen to these 5 Big Insights and start to take charge of our own mental health we as parents are going to need support from the government to legislate for and ring fence certain services that new parents rely on. COVID-19 has shone a light on how easily these services are disposable along with, so it seems, our mental health.