Mothers across the country held their heads in their hands this week over the tragic case of 35 year old Felicia Boots; a sufferer of post-natal depression who killed her two babies in May. Many of us have suffered some form of post-natal depression or know someone who has. The reality of how bad it can be is deeply shocking.
A House of Commons debate on Mental Health turned into something of a group therapy session earlier this year when several MPs spoke openly about their own issues. One of them was Conservative MP for Totnes Sarah Wollaston who stood up and confessed to the house that she had suffered from post-natal depression.
Sarah: Yes. I did want to speak out about my experience, as I know that greater openness about a previous experience of mental illness is important if we are going to reduce the stigma people feel about this.
I genuinely felt that my family would be better off without me.
Q: What is your experience of post natal depression?
Sarah: My experience of post-natal depression was dreadful at the time. Although I would not wish to experience it again, I do not regret having been there, it made it easier for me to recognise it in others and to understand how they were feeling. As I said in the House of Commons, I genuinely felt that my family would be better off without me. PND, or any sort of depression, can strip people of their sense of self and leave them feeling worthless and powerless.
Q: What did you do about it?
Sarah: I went to see my GP, who set me on the path to recovery, as facing up to the reality of my condition made me realise that I had a problem and that it was OK to ask for help.
Q: You used to be a GP, how did this affect your outlook on PND? Did it help?
Sarah: My outlook on PND changed as a result of my own experience as I was more aware that help was out there and that I was not alone in experiencing it. Being a doctor made it oddly seem more difficult to seek help but once I had done so I did not regret it.
Q: What response did you get from your political peers and members of the public after the debate?
Sarah: In general the response I received was very positive. People tweeted me supportive messages and sent me letters thanking me for speaking out and sharing their own personal experiences. Experiencing mental health problems can leave people feeling very isolated and I think hearing from those who have overcome them can provide people with real hope.
Q: You have three children – have you always been a working mother?
Sarah: I have always been a working mother and I asked my children recently if they would have preferred it otherwise. Now they have left home they can be honest! They all feel that it was a good thing, although as I worked part time for much of their childhood they may have had the best of both worlds; not everyone can have that choice. I think it has to be accepted that in difficult economic times many parents are having to work and be away from their children; I do not think people should feel guilty about making these choices as every family is different.
Children don’t need perfect mums; we should be less hard on ourselves!
Q: Getting back to work is something lots of mums struggle with – either because of the cost of childcare, diminished confidence or lack of flexible roles. What do you think the government could do better to help the millions of women whose professional talents are being wasted at home?
Sarah: This is a complex area and there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to this problem. I think access to more affordable childcare is key to allowing mothers to return to work. Additionally, I think it would be beneficial if more employers embraced more flexibility in their attitudes toward working mothers. The point must be made that it makes more economic sense for companies to retain employees who have had children rather than pay the costs of having to recruit and retrain new staff.
Q: How do you manage your work/mum life balance? Do you ever feel that you struggle to do both well?
Sarah: I will be frank and say it is not always easy. The schedule of an MP can get pretty hectic with long hours away from home. So, I try to be organised, I set aside one clear day a week that is my family day to ensure that I spend time at home. I think every working mother feels at times that they are struggling to get this right. A lot of pressure is put on women now to be perfect in their work as well as being a perfect mother; they are encouraged to live up to a standard which is just not humanly attainable! Children don’t need perfect mums; we should be less hard on ourselves!
Q: How do you spend quality time with your children?
Sarah: Well, my children are all older teenagers now or in their early twenties so they are taking me out for the walks now! However, I do love to tandem and run but I am the one who has to try to keep up.
Q: How do you use your medical training in your role as a GP?
Sarah: Though I am no longer a practicing GP, I spend most of my time in Parliament talking about medical issues alongside those that are important for my constituency in South Devon. For example, having seen the destructive influence that alcohol abuse can have on so many lives, I have campaigned for minimum pricing and highlighted the issue of underage children being able to buy alcohol online. I’m also particularly interested in community hospitals and rural issues.
Q: Only a small percentage of women suffer from PND but many put their own wishes on the backburner after having children. Do you have any tips – medical or from personal experience – on how mums can rediscover their mojos after having kids?
Sarah: I do think it is important for mothers to take some time for themselves. Happy and relaxed mothers make for happy and relaxed children! Of course, this is easier said than done, but regardless I believe that all women should keep up their outside interests and value their friendships. I think it is important to retain your own goals and ambitions when you have children as they really do grow up faster than I had ever imagined possible.
Click here for more information on post-natal depression and how to get help.
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