Navigating the Ups and Downs of New Motherhood in the City

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A couple of weeks ago I stopped taking my antidepressant medication. I felt fine at the time, better than I had in a long while, and I guess I wanted to take back some sort of control in my life. However, I am currently on day three of taking them again. After a couple of difficult weeks that included severe lows, mood swings, rows and a very unsettled household I decided that taking the medication again was in fact a start of me taking back full control of my illness/of my life in general.

I decided that the long-term goal was to come off them but to do so I would have to be actively complicit`in my journey to wellbeing. I would have to engage with the resources around me: mental health agencies, practice a nutritionally supportive diet, exercise, mindfulness activities and always consult my doctor in this process of healing. 

Background

I gave birth to my daughter just over two years ago. Whilst pregnant I endured heavy bleeding and subsequent trips to the hospital for emergency scans, each time clutching to the hope that all was well. I was diagnosed with a Chronic Hematoma (a type of bleed) and no certainty that all would be well or why it was happening. The bleed lasted six weeks, continuously from week 12 through to week 18, and then again at week 30. I felt well within myself physically; however, my mental wellbeing was beginning to destabilise due to this. I was referred to see the mental health midwife (she was absolutely amazing and really got me through my pregnancy low points- like attempting to opt for a C-section because I was too scared of something happening if baby was late).

It was after giving birth, when all the fuss and excitement had calmed down, that I really started to struggle. I really felt alone. I felt overwhelmed with anxiety for my daughter’s safety and loved ones around me; I truly felt I had no control over the negative thoughts that popped into my head and thus experienced extreme lows.  Being on Maternity Leave eventually allowed me to escape my low moods. Even though most days were spent alone with my daughter, I was able to make plans, travel and visit family and friends. I started to adjust to my new rhythm and found enjoyment in simple things- even attempting to sew. I was able to manage my moods.

The London Factor

When I returned to work a year ago things started to dramatically change. Trying to juggle my normal family routine with working a full-time position (two days working from home with baby) and dealing with the added office stress of my work place all took its toll. I was seriously miserable, and the negative thoughts came back with a vengeance. I started slipping into periods of low and dark moods. I had no energy to do anything and slowly I felt my work performance and motivation was slipping. It just didn’t feel right, and I definitely wasn’t my normal self. I knew I needed things to change but for a long time I didn’t know what or how.

I plucked up the courage and went to see my doctor In May 2017. That initial visit was difficult as I felt ashamed having to disclose that I wasn’t coping very well with life, work and my family environment. I didn’t expect them to, but the tears just started to pour. My GP was very understanding. I was prescribed Sertraline, which I was reluctant to take but knew I needed to somehow kick start my recovery and didn’t have the energy to know how else to start.

My GP also advised that there has been an increase in mothers battling postnatal depression upon returning to work, especially if like me, they didn’t have their family network nearby to support them- that’s London living for many families these days I suppose. This certainly resonated with me. Childcare fees are a killer and they can affect you wherever you live. So many young couples move to London for employment and start a family, but often their own immediate families are quite far away and too far to call for help to ease the childcare cost burden.

Another factor that makes being in London difficult is when your young child becomes ill and is excluded from their nursery- Nightmare! Perhaps some employers are understanding when it comes to this but mine weren’t and I really felt that added pressure (unfortunately when a young baby first starts nursery because their immune system is still forming, sickness is generally a weekly occurrence- at least it was in our household).

Another ‘London factor’ was the grueling daily commute. I live in South East London but worked in North West London. My daily commute was 1.5 hours, or if doing the nursery drop, then around 2 hours. That makes things so much harder. Again, current London living means that due to the rise in rental prices you have to live further and further out from where you are working. London is so competitive that you would be silly to turn down a job offer based on location, and if you’re living in zone three it is pretty darn expensive.

And finally, I would say that because I am living in one of the fastest paced cites in the world, even though we have loads of amazing close friends that live nearby, we are all too busy to see each other on a regular basis. This coupled with high everyday living costs means London can be an extremely lonely and isolated city to live in for anyone and especially for new parents - it’s not just the mums that suffer.

Aim

I am writing for Balanced Garden so that I can share and pass on my experiences whilst based in London and share any research that I discover along the way.  I have just signed up to an eight-week Yoga course, so I hope to share that experience in relation to my mental health journey, I have stopped working and so am on the hunt for what London has to offer in terms of activities for toddlers and parents and I am on the Lewisham waiting list for CBT. I have also just shaved off all my hair and recommend that all women try and experience the exhilaration that follows from this cathartic act at least once in their lives!

I also want to share my experiences (sad or hilarious) on this platform so that at the very least others can feel that they too are not alone-parent or not. This was quite a lonely experience initially, but I soon realised that as soon as I spoke up and shared experiences with those around me that there were so many others going through or who had gone through a similar experience.

There has also been a lot more public awareness surrounding mental illness and campaigns to erase the social stigma that surrounds mental health issues- this too has enabled me to be more candid about my experience. I am still at the start of this process still but I would definitely suggest that the in order to get to ‘the start’  you need to be honest enough to admit to yourself what it is you are feeling, then ask for support from those around you or any medical professionals ( visiting your GP) and accept and find peace in your vulnerability, your honesty and strength.

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Shauna Lyttle is a mother, post-grad student and a lover of reading and attempting to write (when managing to find the time) based in London. She writes, when she feels compelled to, short poems and posts them up on her Instagram or you can find her attempt of yet another ‘Mummy Blog’ over at Rasingmimix.wordpress.com