As an employee maternity coaches, we have welcomed the media’s recent foray into talking about postpartum psychosis (described by the NHS as a “serious mental health illness that can affect a woman soon after she has a baby”).
That phrase “postpartum psychosis” sounds terrifying in itself, doesn’t it? It seems completely out-of-kilter with that lovely Hollywood vision of a beautiful baby being handed to an impossibly glowing new mum.
Yet when we really think about what comes with childbirth: seismic hormonal shifts, a raging whirlwind of emotions, changing bodies, and an overwhelming sense that you are no longer the centre of your own world, perhaps it’s not surprising that around one in five women will experience maternal mental health issues.
Vastly different from the “baby blues” – mild and temporary mood changes that the NHS reassures us is normal – symptoms of postpartum psychosis include hallucinations, depression, and wildly uncharacteristic behaviour.
Last year, the singer Adele shared an emotional story about her best friend, Laura Dockrill, who suffered from postpartum psychosis. After a difficult birth, Laura had had “suicidal thoughts”, and described feeling as though she had “pushed out my personality as well as a baby”. She had never experienced any mental health issues before, which must have made these feelings particularly horrifying.
Louis Theroux also recently filmed a hard-hitting documentary, ‘Mothers on the Edge’, in which painful stories were told about women whose mental health had deteriorated after giving birth, and who needed specialist care to help them recover.
(It might be worth noting that even Louis Theroux, an accomplished documentary-maker who has heard thousands of unusual stories, found it visibly difficult to believe that “a woman could be indifferent to her own child”. When a doctor confirms that it is possible, his unease nearly rips right through the screen).
So now we’ve established some of the overwhelming feelings new mothers experience, imagine how it feels to also have a job – and a looming return-to-work date.
Many companies worry that their female staff will decide not to return following maternity leave, losing valuable employees in the process. These fears are genuine; research from the National Childbirth Trust shows that “around half of new mothers were left with mixed feelings about their decision to return to work”.
In conjunction with NHS assistance, maternity coaching helps new mothers return more comfortably to their workplace, against a visible backdrop of care and support.
From an employer’s point of view, wouldn’t it be nice to welcome talented and engaged people back to the workplace…showing in the process that you are a caring and responsible company to work for?
Maternity coaching isn’t about simply “fitting back in” as though nothing had happened. Instead, it goes beyond policies and legal requirements, helping everybody to focus on the fact that giving birth is a life-changing event that affects every woman in a different way.
The NHS website sets out some useful information and guidance about postpartum psychosis. For more information about my employee coaching services at Beyond EAP, all you have to do is get in touch.