I’m going to be honest before we even get into what I felt antenatal didn’t prepare me for. I only went to one NHS Antenatal class. This was for a variety of reasons but mostly because if I had not already done the Hypobirthing course or paid for a private antenatal class because my husband couldn’t attend the NHS ones because of the time) I would have been left scared about giving birth. The midwife delivering the sessions, although I am sure she was very lovely, did nothing to fill me full of confidence or positivity about birth. She really didn’t talk about the journey of birth at all, apart from how much it was going to hurt and what the pain relief options were. I also left feeling very much like the decisions I had made for my birth and postnatally were frowned upon (hypnobirthing and placenta encapsulation) but these were my decisions, it was after all my child’s birth.
So I never went back. Perhaps I should have but leaving that first session filled me with dread and anxiety and I had to spend a lot of time re-focusing my thoughts on the birth back to being positive, which is exactly what the hynpnobirthing course had taught me. Throughout pregnancy and post-natally you have so many questions. What happens when? What if this happens? How do I do this? Is this right? And most of the information given I found was through leaflets, which is totally fine if you have the time to read them and if they are up to date but just handing a mum to be or new mum a pile of leaflets really isn’t going to help her tackle the never ending lists of questions she may have.
My experiences of the support given at antenatal classes are obviously very personal but I know a great deal of mums who struggled with the fourth trimester who like me, if they had been given the right information may have found it a little easier. I was definitely not prepared for the overwhelming emotions post-birth, the post-birth bleeding, my post-birth body and the struggles I had to successfully breastfeed my daughter.
One of the major things I feel let down on is recognising the signs of PND. At every appointment they ask are you feeling okay and I mostly said ‘yes’ and I probably was feeling okay on that day, but the previous week had probably been tough. But the questions never extended beyond are you feeling okay. There was also never any helpful information about how to recognise if how you are feeling aren't just the baby blues. I knew something was wrong from very early on after giving birth as I struggled to bond with my daughter but what I didn’t realise was that the way I was feeling was a massive indicator to PND.
Being diagnosed with PND 5 months after giving birth and now being able to recognise that the warning signs of me being depressed were already present in my pregnancy really does make me feel let down by my experiences. I had had a tough pregnancy with constant sickness throughout but although I asked for support I was never given any. Following a build up of events and struggles post-natally and 5 months later I am finally on the road to recovery with help from my GP.
From my own experiences and from speaking to other mums I think the biggest let down with some antenatal care and antenatal classes is they emphasise on birth and not enough on the emotional wellbeing of parents following birth and the importance of rest and recuperation in the fourth trimester. Maternal mental health has come to the forefront very recently and steps are being taken to help improve the services offered. But there does seem to be an emphasis socially on new mums being back up and out just hours after giving birth and returning to their pre-baby life. I don’t know about you but this put immense pressure on me and I never rested properly after giving birth. I was up cleaning the house at 7am just 24 hours after giving birth.
For me there are a great deal of things that antennal didn’t prepare me for but equally I am not sure how you can ever truly prepare to become a parent. There is no manual, no rulebook and no baby is the same. You are basically winging it each step of the way. However, the major let down is emotional wellbeing support, but hopefully through maternal mental health being brought to the forefront and through mums talking about their experiences other mums will be better prepared for their experience of motherhood.
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