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Why trust is more important than screening tools when supporting new parents - a personal viewpoint

A few years ago I asked my mum-friends "Hey, back when you had your babies, did you fill out those questionnaires honestly during your postnatal appointments?" No one did. Neither did I.

"Why do you think is that?" I asked my psychologist last year and he said in typical psych-manner "I am not sure. What do you think?" Here is what I think:

General Practitioners and Maternal and Child Health Care Nurses play a crucial role of support during the vulnerable postpartum time for the new family. Oftentimes health professionals are under the pump and don't have "the luxury" of truly connecting with the people they are seeing. We all know this and the sad and frustrating fact is: it doesn't do anyone justice. New families need so much more attention, support and care than what is available to them. And I am sure health professionals have a lot more humanity to offer if they were provided with the resources to do so.

In my particular case not being able to trust my MCHCN (because I often felt judged and unsafe with her) prevented me from honestly sharing how much I was struggling at home. I didn't feel like I could talk with her about it and I was scared of what might happen if I answered the screening questionnaire honestly. She didn't explain to me what it was for and what would happen if it indicated that I might be struggling. So my anxious brain (understandably) jumped to the worst case scenario "They are going to take my baby away from me!".

I tried to talk to my GP about how I was feeling and told him how hard I was finding it and how much my baby was screaming every day and asked him "Do you think I have postnatal depression?" and he simply said "No. You don't have that." His response shut the conversation down and I did not feel confident enough to put my foot down and say to him "Hey, listen to me...!" It is just not who I was.

Now looking back (I am not blaming myself or him) I wish I had been more assertive in demanding support. But I didn't know that I had the right to do that. In addition to that, I think, had the people involved in my postpartum care attentively listened to me and made me feel safe, I would have been able to share with them how bad things were and probably received more support.

Would I have taken the support if it was offered to me?

Again, this is a matter of trust for me. When the health professional (the human being) is taking their time to walk me through things and explain to me what is involved and what outcomes can be expected, then yes, I would be (and would have been) open to it.

Reality was I was like 75% of all other mums with PND - I had to get to breaking point to call the number of a support service. Unfortunately they were not able to offer me a spot straight away - they had a six week waiting period. After hanging up the phone I said to my husband "One of us is not going to make it and I honestly don't know who it is going to be. Something needs to change."

We organised for an Au-Pair to come live with us and help me at home with the kids so I could leave the house and go to work part-time. To get away from it all. This was a short-sighted solution for us. We needed so much more than "just an extra pair of hands" at home. And this whole thing obviously was not fostering a bond between me and my child, either.

What I needed was a person who I could trust.

As an expat I simply did not have a social network wrapped around me. I couldn't call on friends or family for help like others could. When I asked my MCHCN if I could join a local mother's group she said "No. This is your second baby. Mothers groups are for people who don't know what they are doing." I am a trauma informed counsellor and understand that she is carrying her own package and was not being spiteful. My explanation for her responses are "She mustn't have known any better". I haven't gotten into detail about all the things that happened and were said at the time, because that is not the point.

The point is: things went wrong for me and the link that was missing for me to get a timely diagnosis and support was TRUST. Trust within myself to firmly and assertively ask for help and a safe environment created by the health professional so I would have been given the chance to trust THEM to help me.

What stayed with me was isolation, shame, guilt, loneliness, desperation and a feeling of failing, not being good enough and not deserving more support. I carried all these feelings and beliefs (which we now define as PND and PTSD) for seven years, until my brilliant psychologist, who helped me trust him, treated my trauma by using EMDR, Neurofeedback and IFS.

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