While we prepare ourselves practically, acquiring cots, car seats and prams of the most sophisticated spec, how much attention do we pay to the emotional impact of such a dramatic reinvention of our sense of self?
Somebody once said that becoming a parent is like climbing Everest without a guide or any opportunity to adapt to drastic altitude changes. It might sound dramatic, but then so is creating a tiny new person. And for all the miraculous aspects of introducing new life into the world, there are an array of overwhelming moments. Some of us start our journey into parenthood so scared that we feel numb and this disconnect with expectations can make us feel very lonely, as if separated from the rest of society. But, imagine on top of that sense of confusion and getting to grips with a 24hr role, a feeling that you are not understood by those closest to you.
Partners, siblings, relatives or friends are a vital support for any mum or dad experiencing perinatal mental illness. Our family (in whatever form that takes) can be invaluable to recovery, but what happens if those who are meant to be supporting us, don’t know how? What if they don’t understand what’s going on, or they want to help but have no idea where to start?
In a community, it’s the sense of shared experiences that bind people together through tough times. But communities only thrive if support is readily available and it’s attuned to people’s needs. In order for support to evolve in line with this, we need to take time to listen, understand and go beneath the surface to explore what’s really going on. That means understanding symptoms and behaviours and creating transparent, meaningful conversations. ‘I’m fine’ masks a thousand unspoken words, yet if you find a way to navigate through that conversation with kindness, you may find people start opening up.
We need to ensure that perinatal mental health is not only addressed appropriately and honestly in the antenatal journey, but that it’s more of an ‘everyday conversation’ in the wider world – free from stigma and judgement – to enable supporters as well as sufferers to fully understand what they are experiencing.
Vulnerability is frightening but there is real strength within when people can step into courage and seek help. The same applies to partners and other supporters..there needs to be a legitimate space for them to seek advice, whether it’s virtually or face-to-face (ideally both) to make sense of their reality.
At Smile Group we’re passionate about peer support because it recreates that sense of a natural, open and honest community that is imbued with warmth, understanding and kindness. But it can’t work independently from the rest of society. Communities become fragmented and disparate when they aren’t held within the fabric of a wider whole. Only by challenging the accepted and keeping the conversation going, can we create a greater understanding that will support thousands of families to make sense of their experiences and go on to truly thrive.
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