Giving birth seemed to spell disaster for my mental health. Were my anxieties unfounded?

I feared isolation, sleep deprivation and an end to the activities that had been keeping me well. I never expected to be filled with such love and wonder

I hadn’t expected to have a baby. But when I turned out to be wrong about that, I found myself expecting the whole thing to be a disaster. It wasn’t just that people tend to be rather negative about what early parenthood entails, focusing on the sleepless nights and endless nappy changes. It was also because I had a mental illness that I thought would make it impossible for me to cope at all, let alone enjoy motherhood. Neither had I expected to be giving birth in the middle of a pandemic, in which I would be cut off from much of my support network.

In the three years since I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, as a result of a serious trauma in my personal life, I had spent a great deal of time trying to work out how to manage my illness. I planned my weeks around activities that research told me would help mend my mind a little. I knew that cold-water swimming, for instance, appears to help us control the fight-or-flight instinct that often goes so awry in mental illness. I knew that running could encourage the body to produce chemicals that lift the mood. I had discovered that birdwatching and looking for wild flowers were much more effective for me than mindfulness apps, with their calls to sit in silence in a room. I had just written a book about the healing power of outdoor pursuits and was starting to feel mildly in control of my life.

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