Blog - Perinatal Mental Health: Pregnant in a Pandemic – Mother Fit

Perinatal Mental Health: Pregnant in a Pandemic

Mother Fit community mums share their pregnancy journeys during a pandemic and their experience with perinatal mental health.

Michelle Baynham

18 May 2021
I feel the emphasis on support for perinatal and maternal mental health has never been needed more for us mummies after this last year. For the life of me, I can’t begin to imagine how challenging it must have been for expectant mothers having to go for baby scans and dealing with the difficulty of childbirth utterly alone. Within this blog, I have case studied three amazing women from the Mother Fit community who have been kind enough to share their struggles with both maternal mental health and perinatal mental health problems and being pregnant during a pandemic. 

I hope the experiences shared can help other women when dealing with postnatal depression and mental health issues, you’re not alone.

Perinatal and Maternal Mental Health: How Exercise Can Help

Angela and her baby girl, Rosie
I thought the third time round was going to be considerably easier than my first two pregnancies – how wrong I was!

I felt very blessed to fall pregnant with Rosie last year and I tried to put the fact that a world pandemic was happening to the back of my mind. I was adamant by the time I was due to give birth, all would be fine. However, Christmas came and everything took a turn for the worse. I knew things were going to be very different this time.

I became increasingly anxious when I was told at 38 weeks, Rosie was still breeched. Having a cesarean terrified me and I felt very low. After having two natural births, I had no other choice as I didn’t want to risk a breech delivery. I know it is an incredibly common operation. But, for me personally, the thought of being operated on awake terrified me. I wanted to be there for my two boys and ‘get back to normal’ for them as soon as possible.

Going It Alone

I went solo to all my scans and appointments which was hard. Not only did I want to share these special moments with my husband, I also wanted him to listen to the information too and be there for me. All I wanted was for Rosie to be delivered safely and be OK. So, I kept focusing on that and trying not to freak out about the operation! I was booked into a cesarean at 39 weeks. I remember my husband walking me to the ward, passing me my bags and saying goodbye. All very strange. I called him when it was my turn to head to the theatre and he put his scrubs and mask on and it was all systems go.

The hospital team were great. We had an hour or so together on the recovery ward and then my husband was asked to leave. I was wheeled back to the ward alone. I stayed in hospital for 2 days and completely relied on the midwives to pass Rosie to me to feed, change her, get me out of bed etc. It was really hard at times but it’s amazing how strong we are!!

The First Days After Childbirth

The first 10 days were the hardest at home. The boys were home, I was homeschooling, looking after Rosie and recovering! My family were not able to come and help or have a cuddle. It all just didn’t feel real. Part of the emotional struggle with having a cesarean for me was also returning to exercise or beginning to feel active again. Before I was pregnant, I loved exercising to destress and feel positive. I remember thinking, this time last year I ran my first half marathon and now I can’t even walk round the block. It took me ages to look at my scar and I was terrified about returning to exercise.

However, having had personal training with Michelle in the past and attended her classes, I was thrilled when I saw her postnatal classes online. Before this, I was forever googling at random o’clock in the night. Searching for a recovery programme but most seemed to require a big payment upfront, with a trainer I didn’t know or trust. Taking part in the recorded sessions has been a life saver for me! It has built my confidence up again in terms of getting active. Even though I’m doing all the classes on catch up (and sometimes in my dressing gown), I feel like Michelle is in my living room egging me on.

The Mother Fit Community

As part of the community, I love being able to watch the videos from the specialists and the sense of belonging to a group. Especially during these strange times, its been really valuable. Being able to have that communication with other women in a similar position has been lovely. Michelle’s ‘don’t rush it’ is always at the back of my mind as I’m desperate to return to normal burpees again (something I never thought I’d say!). It’s so important after you’ve given birth, especially at the moment, to have a network of kind people around you. That you can talk to, laugh with or shed a tear! Michelle is incredibly supportive and always there to give you a boost if you need it!

Being part of a close network to support mental health

Vicky and baby Digby
This was my third pregnancy and it was very different to the others due to the pandemic. I am very lucky to have fab NCT friends, but I obviously couldn’t see them. Most didn’t even see me with a bump. It was strange, I didn’t feel isolated so to speak as my husband was working from home (which wasn’t the case before). I just missed being able to meet up with friends. I can’t imagine how hard it was for first-time mums. Having no idea what to expect and attending NCT online is not the same as in person.

Unfortunately, my husband wasn’t allowed to come to the first 12 week scan which was horrible. It’s a nerve-wracking event anyway. Having had miscarriages in the past you just want to know all is ok. Thankfully it was and the nurses were amazing! It was hard for my husband also, because until they see that baby in the scan it doesn’t really feel real for them.
Luckily the rules had changed by my 20-week scan and he could attend, which was amazing!

The Big Day

The birth was fairly straightforward. I was due to be induced on the Monday, which I didn’t want as my husband couldn’t come to any of the process. The thought of being on my own scared me. Luckily the contractions started on the Saturday, and we went into hospital at 4 a.m. Sunday morning. My pregnancy was simple with no complications, so we were both allowed straight into the midwife led unit. My husband was there for the whole thing. Baby Digby arrived by 7 a.m. born in the pool and in his amniotic sack. Which is meant to bring good luck!

I was determined to use the pool as I had both my other two that way and loved it. The labour was pretty quick so I only managed to get paracetamol and a bit of gas and air, which I’m sure wasn’t actually working!!

The whole birth experience was very similar to my other two. I wouldn’t have known there was a pandemic other than the midwives wearing masks. I didn’t have to go on the ward, we were allowed to stay in our room until we were discharged later that day.

More than just exercise

I think the biggest difference this time round is not having people come around after the baby was born, some friends still haven’t been able to meet Digby yet.

Having the online community through Mother Fit definitely helped me feel connected to the outside world and stay sane. During my pregnancy I tried to keep active, running until 28 weeks and doing Michelle’s online classes. I would adjust to lower options the bigger I got.

Being part of Mother Fit community is more than just exercise though, it’s a support network where you can chat to other mums and meet new people.

On days when I was feeling overwhelmed and could feel my mental health was struggling, I could join a class and feel so much better afterwards. I have been part of the community since having my first. I absolutely loved attending classes in person and meeting new people. To then have all of that available online when the pandemic hit was fab.

Treat your physical and mental health with exercise

Sarah and her boys Thomas and Freddie
The last few years have been quite the whirlwind. I’ve gone from busy London PR girl, with global wellness and beauty clients, to Knebworth dwelling mum of 2-under-one-and-a-half. Throw in soul-sapping hyperemesis gravidarum (that’s HG to those unfortunate enough to be in the know), a pandemic, 2 house moves and you’ve got yourself one FUN FILLED 18 months.

It still amazes me that mankind manages to flourish, despite the curveballs a mini human throws at you. Be it conception, pregnancy, labour, or the 4th trimester…the challenge will get you at some stage. Unless you’re Christine from Selling Sunset, but let’s move on. (Great mat leave watching if you’ve exhausted Below Deck).

Do you ‘pregnant’ well?

For me, I most definitely don’t ‘pregnant’ well. Come week 6 and BOOM it’s goodbye stomach lining. Then it’s hello to an intimate relationship with the inner workings of my toilet bowl. HG was a total unknown to me until my first pregnancy. It’s about as similar to morning sickness as Jedward is to Slipknot. And good god it knocks you over.
8 months of sick leave, 6 different prescriptions, A+E trips, styes, acid erosion of teeth…I’ve never felt sexier. Whilst it eased after 28wks with my first (allowing me to do some pregnancy-specific exercise), my second pregnancy gave no let up. Triggering sick leave due to pregnancy whilst already on mat leave is a great discussion to have with your HR team. But such was the sickness I couldn’t even do that, delegating it to my husband who could string sentences together without wretching in between. My promotion has never looked so likely (sarcasm intended).

How was lockdown for you?

There’s something mildly comforting about knowing the rest of the country aren’t exactly having a party whilst you’re feeling like the inside of a badger’s nostril. Lockdown for me involved having a toddler crawling over my face whilst I vomited into the nearest waterproof vessel.

When you feel so weak and useless, exercise is the one positive to get you back to both physical and mental strength. So now I’m 4 months post-pushing a ten pounder out, the mission begins. My core currently has all the strength of a wet slice of Hovis. I could also probably fit both children in the gap in my abs. Michelle’s postnatal programme is giving me the flexibility of fitting it around the little’uns, whilst retaining the community aspect with a separate members Facebook group. Whilst I’m currently keeping Tena lady afloat and doubting a future gold in trampoline jumping, I’m confident over the coming months -slowly but surely- I’ll get back to a bit more of the ‘old’ me. Although I’m quite a fan of the new chaos with the little people. The toilet bowl hugging was without doubt worth it (ask me in 6 months and I may disagree, but for now it’s really rather awesome).

Treat your body with kindness

I hope these stories have assured you to not beat yourself up about how you may be feeling. Above all else, treat your body with compassion and kindness. Make sure to have a read of the NHS resources and services info on the matter. But remember, when the time is right, reach out and ask for support on your maternal and perinatal mental health. I promise you will begin to feel better.

Love Michelle x💛