This year’s theme for the UK’s Maternal Mental Health Awareness week is ‘Journey to Recovery’ – a phenomenon, as a psychotherapist, that I often have the privilege to be a part of. I meet many women in my consulting room who struggle with mental health issues during their pregnancies, or after birth. Depression and anxiety are common, and I know that women can recover from such challenging times. It’s also heartening to know that public health initiatives support new mothers more than ever before. But I remain concerned for the many women who still don’t receive enough support for the fact they aren’t deemed ‘maternal’ – because they have suffered pregnancy loss.
I wrote The Brink of Being: talking about miscarriage for many reasons – personal, professional and political. After years of hearing stories from women – and couples – of the lack of cultural understanding and acceptance of the complex losses miscarriage can involve, I wanted to do my best to let people know. A miscarriage describes a pregnancy ending soon after conception – to the birth of a baby shy of twenty-four weeks gestation: so the idea of becoming a ‘mother’, or not, is a conceptually fraught one. I also know about miscarriage from my own gruelling experiences and I have shared with countless others in the feelings of isolation, profound grief and even anger and envy.
Another message in my book is that the loss – and losses of miscarriage – can precipitate serious mental health concerns: the experience isn’t one to be simply endured. ‘Maternal mental health’ has to include that of women with pregnancies that don’t end in a live birth. Earlier this year, a piece of significant research was published that highlighted the link between traumatic symptoms and early pregnancy loss. While of course a new and nursing mother and baby must be urgently treated with care and support if she’s unwell, it’s also crucial to pay similar attention to women who have no baby – not least because she may well go on to pregnant again, fraught with fears.
There have been some wonderful recent publications that chime with my desire to educate others about both the health of women, mothers, ‘nearly mothers’ and, of course, women who may choose to be maternal in ways that don’t involve becoming a mother:
- Emma Barnett’s Period rightfully calls to de-stigmatise menstruation, and she shares her own struggle with endometriosis – a potentially debilitating condition that can be ruinous of a normal life. Abby Norman’s Ask Me About My Uterus and Eleanor Thom’s Private Parts explicate this condition, while Lynn Enright’s Vagina – A re-education, Eleanor Morgan’s Hormonal and Milli Hill’s Give Birth Like A Feminist despair at the misinformation – and sometimes appalling treatment – of the female reproductive body.
- Catherine Cho’s stunning memoir Inferno conveys her terrifying experience of post-partum psychosis: a condition that happens to 0.1% of women after birth yet remains little understood
- Sarah DiGregorio’s Early is a vital education about the rising phenomenon of premature birth: its history, impact on the family and the impossible ethical issues it can throw up.
- On a much broader scale, we also have the vital polemic by Caroline Criado-Perez, Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men.