At MFT we love all things parenting and pregnancy. Even more so, we love the people who we can rely on and who helps us when we most need it. MFT Meets is our space where we chat to people we find extraordinary.
This time I'm talking to Tessa van der Vord, a specialist midwife passionate about our maternal pre- and postnatal mental health.
To learn more about Tessa head over to her Insta @mentalhealth_midwife.
MY FOURTH TRIMESTER: Hi Tessa! Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.
TESSA: Hello! I am an NHS specialist midwife. I specialise in maternal mental health, which involves supporting and caring for women and pregnant people with a variety of different mental health needs, mostly moderate-severe in nature. This could be someone who has a significant history of mental illness or has developed symptoms for the first time in their pregnancy. Pregnancy and parenthood is such a big life event, it's only natural that some people may face difficulties with their mental state during this time. I also support people with marked anxiety about labour and birth, or who may have had a previous negative birthing experience.
Did you always know you wanted to be a midwife, and did you decide to become a specialist very early on?
It took me a little while to decide on what to do as a career. I have an older sister who, at the age of 23, had my niece. I was 8 years old at the time and I distinctly remember being fascinated with her pregnancy (and with my baby niece when she was born!). My niece is now 25 years old, so it was a long time ago! I also had a friend at secondary school whose mother was a midwife. I remember going to her house for tea after school and listening intently to her mothers stories about, "delivering babies". I was fascinated. From then on, I knew that was the vocation I wanted to pursue.
Maternal mental health is really such a huge and important subject. How do we best reach out for support, and who do we contact to if we feel the need to talk to someone?
There is so much support available in the UK and a lot of work has been done over the past 5-6 years especially. Reaching out for support is the hardest part, but it's a big step closer to getting better. You should not feel worried or embarrassed about talking to anyone about how you are feeling. You can always confide in your partner, family or friends in the first instance - but for accessing help, the best person to approach is either your GP, Midwife or Health Visitor. These care providers are specially trained in having these conversations and arranging the best support depending on the need. They have these conversations every day, so nothing you say will come as a surprise to them. They are there to support you.
Pregnancy is a time for joy for many, but it can also be a time where we feel anxious and worried, for many different reasons. Do you have any tips on taking care of your mental health whilst pregnant?
Yes, engaging in daily mindfulness and meditation can be hugely helpful - especially if your thoughts and feelings are overwhelming you.
A few tips on easy things to incoporate into our daily routine:
🥬 Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet
🚰 Keeping hydrated
🧘 Gentle exercise
⏰ Make some time for yourself each day to relax, even if it's just 5 minutes!
🤗 Do things that make you happy
It might sound obvious, but it's easy to forget. Self care and Me time are real things, and can make the world of difference!
Most of us have heard about baby blues, and that is something to expect when we’ve given birth – but how do we know if it’s more than that?
Baby blues are extremely common and thought to affect around 80% of women/birthing people. It's purely a result of a big hormonal shift around day 3-5 post birth. You can feel low, tearful, anxious, emotional and may have feelings of estrangement from your baby or perhaps worrying a lot about your baby's health.
These feelings usually go as quickly as they come (lasting a few days, no more than 10-14 days post birth). If these feelings persist beyond this - then this could be the start of developing some form of postnatal depression.
If we think someone we know may experiencing postnatal depression, or postnatal anxiety, how can we best support them?
🧑🤝🧑 Encourage them to seek support
👂 Listen to them, don't try to problem solve or dismiss their feelings
👋 Keep them talking and checking in on them
🧹 Help with practical things such as cooking, cleaning, shopping to lighten the load
🍃 Help them to maintain a good diet, sleep and daily walk outside for some fresh air
💙 Ensure their partner is aware and helping too
I know you're a new parent yourself. How was it becoming a mum in the pandemic, and how did lockdown shape early parenthood for you?
It was really strange! It certainly hasn't been the maternity leave I have envisaged. The coronavirus was just a rumour around the time he was conceived! My son, Rupert (Roo) is almost 9months old now, and I have without a doubt learnt more in that time than in my whole 15 years of being in midwifery! He was born during the November 2020 lockdown, which was a blessing in some ways. It allowed us to settle in and adjust without the pressures of lots of visitors for example, but it was also a bit of a curse, as once my husband was back at work I felt very isolated.
Even though my husband was working at home (something I really did appreciate) learning how to care for a new life can be overwhelming and sometimes very lonely all the same. There were no meet-ups, play dates, checks or classes. Also being Winter, going for a walk was a mammoth task and seemed a bit of a chore. I always felt better for it though, of course. Fresh air helps in so many ways!
The third lockdown (Jan-Apr 2021) was probably the most challenging, I felt very resentful that my precious maternity leave was being spent in the house, with no plans. I worried that my son wouldn't be learning how to be around other people/children and that it would impact his development or health in some way. However, despite this, he is a very social and happy boy who does not seem phased by his early months indoors at all!
Head over to Tessa's instagram to discover more about her and what she does.
Maternal mental health is something very close to our hearts here at MFT 💙
If you feel like you need to talk to someone, don't hesitate to reach out to a friend, family member or a professional.
MMHA is a charity & coalition with a vision to see every woman in the UK get the right care and support for her mental health during pregnancy and postnatally.