As part of our #BehindTheBump campaign we caught up with assistant editor of Who What Wear, Elinor Block. From PTSD and pregnancy mental health to planning a birth, Elinor speaks candidly about the up and downs of becoming a mother and why this time is more important than ever to keep on top of your mental health.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what your day to day looks like?
Currently I’m on maternity leave so my day to day is spent being a mum, however, my “normal” job is assistant editor for Who What Wear UK. That consists of writing, researching and pitching articles, editing, commissioning, interviewing celebs and influencers, working on shoots, as well as going to press days, having meetings with PR and going to events after work. Not to mention fashion week and awards seasons when things that really ramp up. It’s essentially completely the opposite of what my life is right now which consists of looking after a tiny human 24/7. That said, they’re both jobs that are pretty much non-stop the only difference with my actual job is that I can put my feet up at the end of the day – being a mum you’re “on” all the time.
Your life as an editor must be quite fast-paced and high-profile; some mothers suffer with loss of identity whilst pregnant, is this something that you felt?
I think this is a massive deal for many mothers, particularly first-time mums. After having worked in journalism for nearly a decade, it was how I defined myself. I’d love to say that my job isn’t and wasn’t everything to my identity, but becoming a mum has made me realise that this was absolutely the case.
I can only speak for other mums anecdotally, but this is definitely a problem for other mums I know. Becoming a mum is absolutely wonderful but it’s such a shift to who you were before you have to redefine yourself, and that can be very hard. For example, even getting dressed in the morning is completely different – instead of wearing my usual wardrobe of dresses, jeans and boots, I’m stuck wearing a weird mix of old maternity stuff as I lose the baby weight and tops that are easy to pull up or down for breastfeeding.
Do you feel as though your job influences you as a mother in anyway?
My job doesn’t really influence me directly as a mother but there are aspects of my job which I’ve found useful. For example, when I’ve worked overnight on awards shows (Oscars, Golden Globes), you just have to keep going through until the morning. Night feeds definitely have that kind of quality to them, except you can’t go to bed in the morning as you’ve got to get up and look after your baby.
You mentioned you had struggled with mental health prior to becoming pregnant with Noah. Could you tell us if this affected you at all throughout your pregnancy? Did you make your doctors aware of your previous challenges surrounding mental health and did this affect your pre-natal care?
I’ve suffered with anxiety and depression in the past however I’ve always used exercise to moderate my mood. I had planned on running throughout my pregnancy but I was unable to due to morning sickness (I checked with my doctor if I could still run being pregnant and she said it was fine).
That said, I knew that pregnancy and post-partum could mean I’d be at risk of developing postnatal depression. In the past when I’ve experienced mental health problems and have needed counselling or something like CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), it’s taken a long time (three to six months) to get appointments.
However, your mental health is considered a priority by the NHS when you’re pregnant or postpartum, so you’ll find you’ll get fast-tracked to the services you need. For any woman who is worried that they won’t get the help they need if they’re pregnant or struggling post-birth, I can’t stress enough how important it is to speak to your health visitor, GP or midwife about this as you’ll be able to get help almost immediately. And if you feel like you’re not being listened to – find someone else to speak to – there is always someone who will be able to help you get the help you need.
You had a 3-day long labour, that must have been difficult for you. Are you able to share with us more on this experience, what had been your original birthing plan and how did you feel throughout?
I knew that my first experience of being in labour would most likely be slow. In the end, I was in labour for over 50 hours. While the length itself wasn’t traumatic, it did get harder and harder as, understandably, I got more exhausted as time went on. Thankfully, I had done lots of pregnancy yoga and taken a hypnobirthing course which definitely helped me to feel more in control over the situation, even though there was little I could do to help the fact that I was in labour for so long. While I had planned to have a natural water birth with just gas and air for pain relief, in the end, due to it being such a long process I pretty much took all the drugs that were offered!
Do you feel there is a pressure on expectant mums to have a natural, pain-relief free birth? Talking to expectant mothers would you offer them any advice?
What I am pleased about is that I don’t feel like a failure for not being able to follow through with my planned birth. I’ve spoken to a few mums who’ve had a similar experience of things not going to plan and they very much felt like failures because they couldn’t give birth the way they wanted to. Thanks to hypnobirthing, I was given a lot of different scenarios in how birth doesn’t always go according to your plan and that’s OK. The best thing is to remain calm and I pretty much did the whole way through. However, post-birth I’ve found it harder to deal with it.
After the Birth of Noah, you spoke about being tested for PTSD. You sound like you’re very aware of your own emotions and how you’re handling things. Was this something you initiated and if so, were you able to find help and support easily?
I think PTSD is becoming something that more and more women are speaking about postpartum. My birth itself wasn’t exactly traumatic – we both made it through – but there were aspects that I found, and still find, stressful and can suddenly make me feel incredibly emotional when I think about them. I don’t think what I experienced was out of the ordinary, but due to the length of time I was in labour and how I felt after (especially with such a dramatic lack of sleep), I was unable to recover as quickly as I would have liked.
I spoke to a clinical psychologist about it after my mum suggested it might be something I was experiencing. I’m also lucky that the conversation about PTSD post-birth is becoming much more prevalent and as a result I don’t feel so embarrassed about coming forward about it. Other than your standard NHS mental health support, I’ve found Instagram a real source of help. There are plenty of accounts that discuss birthing trauma and show how other women are going through the same thing – it’s good to know that you’re not the only one who’s going through a tough time.
For new mothers unaware of PTSD, do you feel that there is enough aftercare or education on Maternal Mental Health for this to be recognised and for new mothers to be diagnosed quickly?
Although I know when I experience anxiety or depression and know the signs, I didn’t think that PTSD would be something that might affect me. But I do think it’s something that more and more women are realising they’re suffering from. I can see why it might take a while to realise it though – trying to work out why suddenly even three months on you can be sat in the car and burst into tears – is hard.
What has been you go to get you through – do you have any mantra’s or tips that new mothers can practise to get them through the sleepless nights?
There are no quick fixes. Time is really the key here. Everyday feels a little bit better. My body feels a bit stronger every day. But it does take time. You can’t expect to be running a marathon when your body has been going through much. My tip is to be as kind to yourself as possible. You can’t and won’t get much sleep but you can do things like buying a new pair of pyjamas, eat your favourite foods, watch as many escapist boxsets as possible (might I recommend Grey’s Anatomy) to get you through those nights feeds, and don’t underestimate the power of a therapeutic bath.
Many thanks to Elinor for being so open and honest with us about her pregnancy and birth. #BehindTheBump was launched to create a dialogue and safe space in which mamas and mamas-to-be could open up their mental health during pregnancy. We wanted to create a platform for mamas to share their stories and uplift each other during this nine-month s-t-r-e-t-c-h.
Catch up with #BehindTheBump
Interview by Hannah Sant.