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The Pregnancy Conspiracy

I had a very interesting conversation with a friend last week who told me of her sister’s take on pregnancy & motherhood, having recently given birth. She called it the pregnancy conspiracy…

That is, the notion that being pregnant and welcoming a new little bundle of joy into your family is utterly wonderful and magical – when in reality, for many women, it can also be a pretty scary and overwhelming experience.

Of course, being pregnant and becoming a mother is wonderful – the thought that a new life, an actual person, is growing and developing inside you is amazing – but it can also be bloody terrifying, and a bit unsettling, and quite often it can be pretty uncomfortable too.

But there seems to be an expectation that an expecting mum should, almost by default, emit a warm, joyous pregnancy glow – delighted at the prospect of her new arrival.

And these social pressures, no doubt exacerbated by social media, mean that many mums feel unable to talk about the challenges that they may be facing; in particular where their mental and emotional health is concerned.

But according to the results of a study published by researchers at Kings College London, one in four women experience mental health issues during pregnancy. These range from anxiety and depression, to eating disorders and OCD, with many women experiencing multiple issues – and some just feeling stressed and exhausted.

So, if it is such a common experience, why are we so afraid to talk about this? It is certainly a very sensitive subject, but so are most health issues. What makes maternal mental health different?

In my view, one word covers it: expectations!

Remember the pregnancy conspiracy? The expectation that pregnancy and motherhood is going to be utterly wonderful…

“Yes, there may be some challenges, but for the most part it will be wonderful”…

And, because this expectation is the ‘norm’, those who struggle don’t feel able to speak out – because it should be wonderful, but it’s not, so it must be my fault, so I’ll keep quiet and hope that ‘wonderful’ kicks in soon.

Some women feel very ashamed they are experiencing these feelings. They’re concerned people will think they’re a bad mother, because everybody else seems to be coping – beaming with joy and pride… But the reality is, they’re probably thinking the exact same thing.

And therein lies the problem – it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“Yes, there may be some challenges, but for the most part it will be wonderful… ”

We know that approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year.[i] In England, 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression) in any given week[ii] – although we have much work to do as a society, we are starting to see a shift in attitudes towards acceptance of this growing public health problem.

But we need to do more.

Our focus at Juno is to ensure that the pace and scale of these changing attitudes not only accelerates but extends to more specific sub-populations such as – yes, you guessed – pregnant women and new mums.

1 in 4 women will experience perinatal mental health problems and we know that psychological therapies are a critical intervention in helping to reduce the adverse effects of maternal mental health conditions and in reducing depressive symptoms in mothers. We know that getting help and support early is the best way to address mental & emotional health challenges.

Which is why we are on a mission to transform women’s emotional healthcare using digital technology as an enabler, to ensure that pregnant women and new mums can access the help and support they need, when they need it.

[i] McManus, S., Meltzer, H., Brugha, T. S., Bebbington, P. E., & Jenkins, R. (2009). Adult psychiatric morbidity in England, 2007: results of a household survey. The NHS Information Centre for health and social care.

[ii] McManus S, Bebbington P, Jenkins R, Brugha T. (eds.) (2016). Mental health and wellbeing in England: Adult psychiatric morbidity survey 2014. Leeds: NHS digital.

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