When a new mum gave birth to her first baby she didn’t expect to have postnatal mental health problems which left her suffering panic attacks and flashbacks.
Michelle Wyn Jones, from Anglesey, has now spoken out about her experience to raise awareness of the mental health problems that can affect new mums.
To mark Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, Michelle has joined North Wales healthcare professionals in calling for new and expectant mums to open up about their difficulties.
The mum-of-two is one of more than 450 women who have benefited from the specialist support provided by Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board’s Perinatal Mental Health Service in the last 12 months.
Michelle first developed flashbacks and panic attacks after the traumatic birth of her first child Caleb in February 2017, which left her “physically and mentally battered”.
“Straight away I started to have flashbacks, especially at night where I would play out the birth on repeat and in detail like a film,” she explained.
“Everything was super vivid – faces, voices, equipment, lighting, surroundings, and it would trigger feelings of panic in me.
“I struggled to talk about my birth, I avoided other people’s birth conversations, I hid my birthing books away and even hearing music from my labour would take me right back there.”
But twelve months later Michelle was forced to confront her fears after receiving the bittersweet news that she was pregnant with her second child, Caron.
“I couldn’t even talk about it without crying – and I mean lots of crying,” she said.
“I broke down in my initial appointment and I feel so grateful that I was taken seriously.”
Michelle was referred to BCUHB’s Perinatal Mental Health Service and offered an innovative therapy called ‘Rewind’, which helps women to overcome birth trauma.
“Talking my birth through with Emma from the perinatal mental health team during the first session really helped. Her midwifery experience was invaluable in starting to help me make sense of it.
“I started to understand that it wasn’t my fault and she got me to challenge the unhelpful beliefs I’d created in my mind.
“I can confidently say Rewind worked for me – how do I know? I was able to bring my birthing books out of hiding and read them! The songs that used to trigger my flashback thoughts and feelings no longer do.
“I can’t thank Emma and the Rewind service enough for helping me to deal with the trauma of my first birth, which then enabled me to confidently plan for and look forward to the arrival of my second.”
Caron Wyn Jones arrived safely via caesarean-section in November 2018, weighing at 9lbs 9oz.
Perinatal mental health problems affect up to 20% of women during pregnancy and the postnatal year.
They include a range of conditions which are specifically linked to pregnancy or childbirth, such as perinatal depression, perinatal anxiety, postpartum psychosis and postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder.
As well as having an adverse impact on new mums, these conditions have also been shown to compromise the long term emotional and physical health of their children.
Donnalee Rogerson, Team Manager of BCUHB’s Perinatal Mental Health Service says it’s vital that any women who are struggling during pregnancy or in the months following childbirth speak out, so they can start to receive the support they need.
She said: “It’s important that new and expectant mums know that it’s quite common to struggle with mental health problems and sharing how they’re feeling with their health visitor, GP or any health professional involved in their care can be the first step to getting the help they need.
“Our specialist Perinatal Mental Health Service has recently been expanded to enable us to intervene earlier, support more women and introduce new evidence based therapeutic interventions and psychological therapies.
“Michelle’s story shows that with the right support, women can overcome perinatal mental health problems and get on with living happy and fulfilling lives.”
Photos: Michelle Wyn Jones with her family.