As the coronavirus pandemic continues to run rife in the UK, we’re back in lockdown again. We’ve all been instructed to follow the same rules (more or less) - but how that actually looks from person-to-person is surprisingly unique. With so many different living, working, and personal situations at play, each week Cosmopolitan invites a different reader to share a glimpse into their life over a 24-hour period….
Catherine is a 29-year-old doggy-day care manager from Shropshire, and new mum to 10-month-old Charlotte. Her maternity leave was brought forward by two weeks as the UK headed into the first of its three lockdowns due to the pandemic. A lack of support from family and friends during the end of her pregnancy and the first few months of her daughter’s life due to restrictions led to Catherine suffering from poor perinatal mental health. Even though she turned to her own mum and sister for support during the day (as part of her support bubble), Catherine struggled to cope with the pandemic and motherhood, and sought the support of PANDAs charity to help manage her symptoms.
4:30am: And so, the day begins. My daughter Charlotte wakes up pretty much as soon as my husband wakes for work. If he’s working early, like he is today, it means we're all starting our day early! Because I've been waking up to soothe her colic and for feeds throughout the night, I stay in bed to feed and soothe her as I can’t muster the physical and emotional strength to get up yet. Nothing an episode of the latest Netflix show and a cup of tea can’t help, though.
8am: Between 4:30am and now, I can’t say I get much done. I give Charlotte another bottle and as she drinks it, she drifts off to sleep for 10 minutes. But when I try to slide away from her and leave her in her crib, she instantly wakes up and starts screaming. Because she's taken in so much air while crying, she then suffers from trapped air (colic), which only makes her cry more.
The feeling of hopelessness sets in, as I face another day alone with her. My husband Adam only had two weeks paternity leave, and due to the restrictions of the pandemic, I can’t turn to many other adults for help with coping with Charlotte’s colic and my own mental health.
9am: We’re both finally dressed for the day. This is by far one of my greatest achievements and it’s actually one of my favourite activities with Charlotte. I always put something beautiful and clean on my daughter, but I just end up with a plain t-shirt and leggings. I can never be bothered with myself since no one will see me.
10am: Now my daughter is dressed and fed, I can make breakfast and a cup of tea for myself. As usual, I don't get to drink it while it’s hot. Does it make any other new parents feel sad when another cup of tea goes to waste, or is it just me?!
10:30am: My little girl is fed again and has a sleep. The house goes quiet while she sleeps, and I suddenly start to feel very alone. It’s a strange and conflicting feeling when it’s time for Charlotte’s naps, because if she settles I feel anxious about being alone with my thoughts. But if she doesn’t settle, I feel anxious about trying to soothe her. It’s a lose-lose situation with my poor perinatal mental health.
12pm: By this time, my dog is practically begging to go for a walk. When I was at the height of my mental health issues, this part of my day was always the worst. I hated leaving the house and being outside, as it meant leaving home, where I felt was safe. It would take me ages to get myself ready to go out, but I'm lucky to live in a beautiful area with plenty of places to walk, so I always try to push myself and find a new route to explore.
2pm: Even though I fear leaving the house, being outside makes me feel better. Walking makes me feel free and seeing my dog run around and enjoying himself is wonderful feeling. I take a bottle with me as Charlotte needs to feed every two hours. Sometimes it increases my postnatal anxiety having to feed her outside, as she can get so hangry, but to help combat it I remind myself that all babies get like this. This calming affirmation helps my feelings subside a little.
4pm: After returning home from our walk, it’s another feed for the baby and I start to think about tea. Suffering with my mental health, I rarely find I have the energy to cook, which means dinner is usually something easy like a takeaway or something out of the freezer. Finding the balance between looking after my own wellbeing and the side effects of poor perinatal mental health is a constant struggle, but I try small perspective exercises every day. One thing that helps is to count what I’m grateful for in life, and to list the small things I’ve achieved in the day. Today, I am grateful for dressing Charlotte in a cute outfit and getting dressed myself. I am also proud of getting out of the house and walking the dog with her. Even if it was riddled with anxiety, I still pushed myself to get that all-important fresh air and it has paid off for the three of us.
6pm: Unfortunately, bedtime for my daughter is the worst time of the day and at around 6pm I start getting anxious about it as I start to prepare myself. We tried to establish a bed time routine from being days old, as the midwives advised, but this doesn’t always go to plan.
6:30pm: A great way to soothe bedtime anxiety is bath time. Charlotte and I absolutely love bath time and today’s is probably the best as she smiles at me for the first time ever! I can't believe it’s me she’s smiling at, and I start sobbing. I try to ring my husband to tell him but he must be driving, so I keep it in my back pocket to tell him when he gets home.
8pm: Despite our earlier success, this evening isn't a good night. Charlotte has already woken up twice and I’m struggling to get her back to sleep because of her colic. She writhes and reaches out her arms and legs in pain and, honestly, it is heart-breaking to see. I’ve never felt hopelessness like it. As my husband is a lorry driver, his shift pattern varies and he isn’t around this evening to help out, but I wish he was here. Sometimes I don’t even see him come home from work because I try to sleep when Charlotte’s asleep, so we pass like ships in the night.
9pm: We have a turnaround and Charlotte manages to settle. I’m left in a quiet house and my thoughts start to run away with me. Because of the pandemic, I'm not allowed to have other family members or friends over, but my mum rings me every night to see how the day has been. This time on the phone with my Mum is sacred to me, as I feel I’m letting out all the bad stuff and reflecting on all the good stuff.
After the call with my Mum I turn to trusty Netflix and attempt to wait up for Adam. I always try to make an effort to stay awake to see him if he’s working late, so we can share our day again. On a day like today, sharing the news of Charlotte’s first smile in the bath is top of the list.
Catherine is sharing her story to raise awareness of perinatal mental health, alongside Benenden Health and PANDAs. In a survey, Benenden Health found that a third of parents are struggling with poor perinatal mental health amid the COVID-19 restrictions. If you're looking for more information about the symptoms and issues surrounding perinatal mental health, and to find out what support is available, visit their website.
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