“IT’S still taboo in Ireland to talk about post- natal depression and talking about maternal depression is even more taboo.”
So said Cynthia Roche, a project worker at Anew, an organisation that supports women during pregnancy, among other services.
A number of pregnant women gathered at Anew’s Washington Street premises in Cork city in the past week, to mark International Maternal Mental Health Awareness Day, during which expectant mothers had their bumps painted and posted photographs of them on social media.
The Cork-based women had their bumps painted by local artists.
Ms Roche said: “It’s an important topic that’s not really discussed that often. We are seeing an increasing amount of women coming in, experiencing maternal mental health issues. This could be a denied pregnancy, a concealed pregnancy, severe anxiety during pregnancy and substance abuse. There can be separation and family breakdown.
“All this creates strong emotions and issues for pregnant women.”
Cynthia, who is Canadian, said that it is taboo to talk about maternal depression and post-natal depression.
“This ‘Paint Your Bump’ event is about raising awareness and breaking down isolation,” she said.
Irish women have among the highest levels of depression during pregnancy in the western world. According to a study published last year by the department of psychiatry at Trinity College, one in six women is at “probable risk of depression” during pregnancy.
Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH) refers anxious pregnant women to Anew where they are helped to prepare for birth and are given support. If they have serious mental health issues, they are referred to the counselling services.
“I worked with one girl who didn’t present (to a doctor or hospital) throughout her pregnancy. She only presented to CUMH when she was in labour.”
Cynthia says that some women go through pregnancy without feeling any attachment towards their baby. Issues such as this are raised at Anew.
We spoke to three women who took part in the Paint Your Bump initiative.
A BREECH BABY
Bee Hegewald McElroy, whose first child is due in a month’s time, had her bump painted in blue, depicting a baby in the womb in the breech position. This German expectant mother is hopeful that the baby will resume the birth position, and she is hoping for a natural birth “if possible.”
Bee came to Ireland 15 years ago as an au pair. She has been living in Cork for seven years.
“I fell in love and married Eddie McElroy,” she says.
“While there’s a lot of positivity with my pregnancy, there are definitely days when I’m going ‘oh, my god, this is so hard.’ It’s a mixed bag, just like normal life is. But it can be difficult to let people know there might be issues. Everyone expects you to be this glowing, fantastic, happy person. You can talk to doctors and health professionals about how you feel, but when it comes to your family and friends, they retreat when you say you’re not feeling so well. That can be quite hard.”
Bee says “the touching thing” definitely annoys her, referring to people placing their hands on her bump.
“The other day, a complete stranger came up to me and touched my bump. But in general, people are helpful and friendly. They notice that you’re pregnant and open doors for you. But there needs to be more awareness that pregnant women could be experiencing issues.”
IT’S TOUGH GOING
While Emer Sheehan — mother to 14 month old Pippa Gilmore and expecting her second child at the end of June — had a happy face painted onto her bump, she admits her pregnancy “is tough going”.
“I’ve had some physical issues such as pelvic pain and feeling very tired. I find myself getting stressed so I look for support from family. My partner, Noel Gilmore, is very supportive. But it’s good to have another place to go. If I need to refocus my thoughts, I can come to Anew and see that what I’m feeling is normal.”
Emer, who is working part-time at the moment in sales at Apple, recalls a really good pregnancy with Pippa.
“I don’t remember anything negative about it. This time around, it’s slightly different because it’s double the amount of work. That’s why it’s good to get out and talk.”
Emer suffered a bout of depression following the death of her father and was on medication for two or three months.
“It wasn’t anything to do with babies. But I am aware of what depression involves. Noel is good at spotting the signs when I’m feeling overwhelmed.”
A healthy work/life balance is particularly necessary during pregnancy, says Emer.
“You can’t be superwoman. You can’t cook, clean, work and mind the children all by yourself and have a picture perfect life. We have an awful social media epidemic. People strive to have the image of a perfect life but it’s just not the case. What people show online is probably 10% of their actual daily life.”
Having her bump painted at Anew was a great idea, says Emer.
“It’s great to have support. I can come here and not be judged.”
As for people touching her bump, Emer remarks that “it’s a small bit of invasion of your privacy. I don’t mind so much when people ask. I can say ‘yes’ or ‘no’.”
IT’S IMPORTANT TO REST
Asked if she misses her mother, who lives in Poland, Izabela Sznapka, due to give birth to her first child (a boy) on July 8, is quite pragmatic.
“She’s there. I’m here. I have my boyfriend here. I love my mother. I miss home. But it’s not a problem.”
Izabela has been living in Cork for nine years and works as a deputy manager at Aldi. She is currently out on illness benefit.
She decided to have her bump painted for the experience. As well as attending Anew, she goes to yoga classes.
“I feel brilliant compared to other women who feel sick during their pregnancy. I had maybe two days when I just felt out of power but most days, I feel really good. I rest enough and I sleep enough. I focus on myself.
“When a woman is pregnant, I think the most important thing she needs is a lot of free time. A lot of women work until they’re eight months pregnant. OK. We are strong. We can do a lot, but the most important time is the three or four months before labour. Women should have time off work (before birth) and just focus on the baby. You have to listen to your body. It’s a very important time.”
Izabela is planning on having a home birth, using a pool.
“It’s interesting for me. I said ‘why not?’ I’ve read a lot of books about home births. I saw a documentary about it and I met a midwife. We decided to do it. If you can choose, why not try?”
To contact Anew see http://anew.ie/ or call 021 4270445. For more about the event see www.facebook.com/painthyourbumpday/