Krisha Davies, 35, a self-employed mum of two from Warwickshire, developed post-natal anxiety after her second child, just over three years ago. It left her with daily anxiety and health anxiety. This Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, Krisha shares her story and explains why she’s on a mission to encourage a growing number of mothers suffering from mental illness to find support.
‘Should I have spotted the signs?’ my mum said to me on the phone last week. We were discussing the early months of motherhood after the births of my two children, but more specifically, my second in 2017 after which I developed crippling post-natal anxiety and health anxiety. I looked ‘normal’ on the outside but I was mentally ill. And I had absolutely no idea it was about to get worse.
Of course I don’t blame my mum in the slightest. She wasn’t to know exactly how I was feeling or understand the negative voices whirring around my head at the time telling me I was a failure or making me feel guilty for not being a good mum. I could barely make out what was going on myself. Which is probably why I’m not surprised to learn that according to new research, seven in 10 women will hide or underplay the severity of their perinatal health. I was one of those women.
All I knew was that I was failing. Failing daily.
My focus was on my children, Mia, then two, and my newborn Lexi. I’d neglected myself and gone into survival mode. I had to - I had two humans to keep alive. I knew I didn’t have the severe symptoms of post-natal depression, but I struggled to label what I did have. All I knew was that I was failing. Failing daily. I wasn’t bonding with my second daughter like I did with Mia, my first, I wasn’t successfully breastfeeding like I had done the first time round, and I wasn’t present. This has become my narrative for the last three years.
It didn’t come from nowhere. I’d suffered panic attacks when I was a teenager. Whenever I was faced with change, it triggered an attack. Fortunately, I managed to get private care and after a few months of weekly EMDR (eye movement and desensitisation and processing) therapy, the panic attacks stopped.
I was able to spot the triggers due to the help I received and managed my anxiety which felt so liberating. So after meeting my husband Ryan in March 2013, and falling pregnant after our wedding the following year in October 2014, it never occurred to me to mention my history of anxiety to my midwife. It didn’t feel like part of my life any more. Even when I suffered a miscarriage early on in our relationship, I didn’t feel mentally ill. Obviously I was heartbroken and floored at the time, but we got through it together.
The pregnancy and the early days were truly exciting. I had a strong network of new mums, who’ve been my backbone these last few years, and my mum would stay to help, as did my in laws. I was lucky. Of course, like all new mothers, I would question whether my baby was breathing/sleeping/eating/pooing enough and I was on a hormone rollercoaster, but I would honestly say I was happy.
However my mindset was different with my second pregnancy. Cracks started to appear in my mental health when I became heavily pregnant in early 2015. One morning, two weeks before I was due on maternity leave, I was driving up the M1 to work as a skincare consultant at a department store in Milton Keynes when I hit a traffic jam. The road ahead was shut. As my car came to a stop, I could feel the anxiety brewing inside of me. Then my breath quickened. I felt a tingling sensation in my hands and feet. I thought I was going to be sick. Catastrophic thoughts raced through my head - Was I going to pass out? Was I going to go into labour? Who were all these strangers around me? Was someone going to hurt me? My mind spiralled with irrational thoughts. I had to get out of the car and call my dad to calm me down. I recognised this attack, like in my teens, and I knew it would subside within minutes.
There was a murmur about a self-referral to see a psychotherapist, but it didn’t go any further as we realised I would have given birth before I got the help.
A couple of weeks later, I woke up one morning and was hit with a suffocating tight chest feeling. It was unlike any other panic attack I’d experienced. This took hold of me. My husband had to take the day off so he could stay with me. I couldn’t get through it alone, with a toddler to look after too.
This was the beginning of a pattern of attacks that I still deal with today. I look back at my last midwife appointment and remember being brushed off when I mentioned my feelings - the checks were mainly focused on the baby and my physical health. I was told I was fine. Clearly in my mind, I wasn’t. There was a murmur about a self-referral to see a psychotherapist, but it didn’t go any further as we realised I would have given birth before I got the help.
As it turned out, I gave birth to Lexi, just two weeks later at home in the middle of the night. She was three weeks early. Ryan did a brilliant job at delivering her on the bathroom floor. But I struggled with what came after - the breast feeding and the sleeping - as Lexi was tongue-tied and suffered reflux. This is when the feelings of worthlessness crept in and triggered further anxiety attacks.
It helped me put a label on my mental illness and provided me with reasons why I felt the way I did.
I don’t recall any special care or check ups for myself - it was all about Lexi. I didn’t raise the alarm for help, because I couldn’t articulate what I was going through. Unlike my first baby, I didn’t go to any meet ups or baby groups because I felt like I couldn’t cope taking out two small children. But at the same time, I hated being by myself.
My heart goes out to all the new mothers who have given birth alone during the pandemic. Childbirth is traumatic and I think it’s wrong that women have had to do that alone - as well as having to navigate new motherhood in isolation. New pandemic research has seen a 40% increase in mothers who have substantial concerns around their mental health. And it’s no wonder why.
At times, I would stare at my two beautiful children, dazed and confused. Why was I feeling such deep sadness? I googled my feelings after months of suffering. It was easier than arranging appointments and juggling breastfeeding, sleep schedules and childcare. Besides I was incapable of that. I’d fallen off my health visitor’s radar months ago.
When I discovered the term ‘post-natal anxiety’ on the PANDAS website, I turned a corner. I knew I wasn’t miserable enough to be depressed or have PND, but there I found terms like post-natal anxiety, postpartum psychosis, and post-traumatic stress disorder. It helped me put a label on my mental illness and provided me with reasons why I felt the way I did. It also made me realise I could help myself - as can other women going through a similar situation.
The news that the NHS plan to open 26 new hubs in 44 areas in the UK this year to help women with perinatal mental health care is a step forward, but there’s help is only for women during pregnancy and up to one year after birth. This means if you are facing dark days during 14-18 months into motherhood, like I did, you don’t qualify. I count myself privileged to be able to have afforded private healthcare, and also childcare to enable me to attend my support sessions. I’m acutely aware I’m in the minority.
Having gone through my recovery journey over these last few years, I’m a passionate advocate for improving your mental wellbeing. I set up a business Super Mumma to help raise awareness of post-natal anxiety, but ironically it has been so instrumental in improving my own mental health. I’ve got a toolkit of 10mins videos on my @Supermummas platform from experts ranging from hypnotherapists to yoga teachers - I used the videos myself to shake myself out of an anxiety attack in January.
We’re sold the idea that life as a new mum is a joyous experience. But if I’m honest, the moment I gave birth the second time, I just felt a sense of relief. (Then immediately questioned my reaction because I wasn’t bursting with tears of joy.) We are less likely nowadays to have our close family around us when we become new parents, but help does need to come from somewhere. I guess we’re lucky to have apps and communities to guide us, but sometimes all you really want is someone to give you a hug and know you’re not alone.