COVID-19 maternity restrictions left me with postnatal depression and PTSD: 'It's changed who I am'
Alys Peart has been battling post-traumatic stress disorder and postnatal depression since welcoming her first child last year.
The 34-year-old gave birth in June 2020, when extremely strict maternity restrictions were in place due to COVID-19. Sadly, complications arose that meant she had to stay in hospital for five days in the lead up to her son Freddie's birth. During that time, her husband was allowed to be by her side for just ten hours.
Now, seven months on, Alys tells me her mental health is a "daily struggle". Looking back, she tells me: "I don't feel like I got the birth I deserved."
Two days before she gave birth to Freddie on June 28, Alys was admitted to hospital with high blood pressure.
She thought she'd be there for a few hours. However, she stayed for two days, alone, as coronavirus regulations dictated that partners could not enter the hospital prior to their child's birth.
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Opening up about of the impact of the policy, Alys says: "It wasn't just my husband. It was my chosen person, the person who makes me feel safe.'
''I think I could have avoided a Caesarean if he was there, and I definitely wouldn't have found it as traumatic. To get the process of having a baby going, you need Oxytocin, and I had none of that in my body. I had no happiness, I was just beside myself.''
'No one was looking after my mental health'
Alys was re-admitted into hospital six days after her son's birth due to complications. Again, her husband had to leave her and their newborn at the doors of A&E.
She says that she became "so hysterical" during her two-day stay that doctors allowed her partner to return to the hospital for an hour.
Something that is a point of contention for Alys is the fact that her second stay in hospital came the same week that people in the UK were allowed back into pubs.
"I could have gone to the pub with my husband and baby, but my husband couldn’t come in and be in a private room with me, and look after me," she frustratingly points out.
Alys states that this was even more important as she was in the midst of recovering from major abdominal surgery. During that time, she had to call for a midwife every single time she wanted to pick up her son. This, of course, could have been avoided if her partner was present.
"Bells were ringing, constantly," she remembers. "I actually said to a midwife: 'No one is looking after my mental health'. I was so distraught, I nearly discharged myself."
Postnatal depression and PTSD have changed me
Now, seven months on from her traumatic birth, Alys asserts that she still struggles every day.
She started noticing issues around eight weeks after Freddie's birth, and in August, she started taking anti-depressants for the first time.
She upped her dosage in December, because – as she explains–- she's no longer in the "newborn haze" and is able to fully process what happened.
"I'm in the thick of it now," she tells me. "I feel like it has taken over my life and it’s changed who I am as a person."
Future fertility plans after postnatal depression battle
"It's not the fact that I had a cesarean," Alys explains. "It's the fact that my husband wasn't there during the time when I mentally needed him. I was alone."
Now, she is keen to advocate for greater understanding regarding the effects that Covid-19 are continuing to have on parents, and especially first-timers: "Everyone's pregnancy and birth is unique. So, with maternity care, you can’t be blanket about it. You can do it when it comes to the rules about going into shops, but you just can't do it with something so complex," she says.
As for Alys' fertility plans, whether she will have another child remains to be seen. As she explains, she is still unable to even return to the hospital where she gave birth as it's "too triggering".
"Should I be fortunate enough to have another baby [...] It's going to be a huge, huge struggle for me."
COVID-19 and the mental health of new parents
Research into parental mental health during the pandemic, conducted by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, has some worrying findings.
"[Becoming a new parent] is a time when we mentally struggle more than at any other time; it is also a time when the impact of those mental health difficulties is greater than at any other time in our lives," Dr Alain Gregoire says.
"Covid-19 has very likely had a very serious impact on parental mental health," he continues.
"We’ve heard extremely concerning evidence that a tsunami of mental health referrals could be on their way as a result."