Women Bravely Speak Out On Pregnancy And Mental Health In New BBC Doc
When Anna Williamson was pregnant with her first child back in 2016, there were times where she felt completely helpless.
The Celebs Go Dating coach, 38, was already living with Generalised Anxiety Disorder, but impending motherhood caused her mental health to nosedive, and at her worst she found herself housebound, withdrawn from her friends and family and living in fear that she wasn't going to be a good parent to her son, Enzo.
In reality, all Anna needed was the right mental health care. However, it's only this year that the NHS has made these facilities available nationwide - offering a designated peri-natal support team made up of doctors, health visitors, midwives and volunteers to help women through every step of their pregnancy journeys.
Anna isn't the only woman to fall victim to this lack of assistance in the past. Five years ago, a shocking 40 per cent of new mothers had no access to specialist mental health care.
And worryingly, new research carried out by the NCT and Netmums shows that nearly half (47 per cent) of mothers who've recently given birth are given less than three minutes to discuss their mental health at a postnatal check.
In her new documentary for Inside Out London - which is set to air tonight on BBC One - Anna looks at just how these new nationwide peri-natal support facilities are going to benefit hundreds of women, powerfully reflects on her own previous mental health struggles and meets other mothers who have been rescued from rock bottom by the NHS.
Speaking to Tyla, the TV star, who was pregnant with her second child while filming the show, recalled: "I had peri-natal anxiety when I was pregnant with my son thee years ago, and it was a horrible time for me, because I didn't know what I was experiencing.
"It was linked to my mental health because I had Generalised Anxiety Disorder, but despite this, I was ill advised by medical professionals, and was not giving the correct support - meaning I essentially went through a pregnancy where I felt highly anxious, had a traumatic birth and subsequently struggled to bond with my child."
Describing her symptoms, she added: "I was just catastrophizing everything and I was just an overall mess by the time I was giving birth. It was constant worry and angst. It was a very upsetting, very dark time for me and my family.
"Having your first child is supposed to be this incredible thing, I felt embarrassed to admit to people how I was feeling... to say I wasn't coping. Feeling that low is a very exhausting, very scary place to be."
This shame, grief and general despair is echoed by many of the women Anna speaks to.
One such woman is Claire Bibby, who suffered from severe depression while pregnant with her son.
In the show, during an interview with Anna - author of Breaking Mad: The Insider's Guide To Conquering Anxiety - Claire remembers: "At eight weeks pregnant, it just hit me like a ton a bricks, I felt incredibly anxious that my baby was going to die.
"Because I had previous miscarriages, I felt in a very very dark place. I felt so anxious that I couldn't even eat. I just became absolutely paranoid. I couldn't cope, I couldn't function and I was just terribly, terribly frightened.
"I remember my husband taking me to hospital and just begging them: 'Please don't let her go home'".
While Claire wasn't kept in hospital, it was at this point she was assigned a designated peri-natal team, who gave her medication and kept a watchful eye on her up to birth, and in the early stages of motherhood.
Unfortunately, Claire still ended up in a mother and baby unit when her son was 10 months old, after failing to take her medication regularly. But during the show, she goes on to tell Anna that the assistance the peri-natal team provided her was nonetheless absolutely essential.
"The nurses that came to see me and the medication that was provided saved my life and my baby's life," she says.
For Anna, asking for help is the very reason the recent birth of her daughter went so smoothly in comparison to Enzo's.
"I reached out when I first got pregnant and self referred to a perinatal mental health team, as I was highly anxious when I got pregnant with my daughter, but I spoke to the team and they couldn't have been more of a support to me," she told us.
"They had interventions in place. They looked at giving me medication, talking therapy, support to address how I was feeling, and they supported me throughout the pregnancy, helping to be an advocate over my choices and make a decision on the result I wanted."
Thankfully, as of 2020, all women in the UK now have access to these designated support teams; and not only that, NHS England plans to double capacity of mother and baby units (like the one used by Claire) to 160 beds over the next five years.
"Speaking to women who had been through the same as me was very emotional and very cathartic," she said. "We were all different and yet all the same.
"There was nothing extraordinary about us, we were all regular women going through birth but having these horrible feelings associated with it.
"I wanted to reach out and let everyone know, you know what? You're doing alright. You're okay and you're not alone in this.
"I don't want them to feel inadequate, because that's just their experience. This documentary is to show that there's loads of help out there, and with that help the storm will pass."
This sounds like an absolutely essential watch for all mums-to-be.
Inside Out London airs on February 3rd on BBC One at 7.30pm. You can catch up and watch the full episode on BBC iPlayer.
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