Paint Your Bump for Maternal Mental Health Awareness #pyb2019

March 12, 2019

I’m Laura, the artist behind QuaintBaby Ultrasound Art (www.quaintbabyart.com), wife and mum of 3 young kids, living in Dublin. I’m proud to be a brand ambassador of the Paint Your Bump Campaign #pyb2019 to raise awareness of Maternal Mental Health and Wellness.  

 

#pyb2019 is such a creative and innovative idea to raise awareness of such an important and indeed serious issue for mothers. I'll be painting some baby ultrasounds onto bumps at as many #pyb2019 events as I can get to .. they're so much fun!  As an artist who paints baby ultrasounds on paper canvas, panting tummies is just like finding an exciting new medium to paint on!!

 

More seriously though, looking after my own maternal mental health during pregnancy and motherhood it's so so close to my own heart.  Here' my own story ......

 

I can completely relate to the reality that becoming pregnant, going through pregnancy, birth into motherhood is a hugely challenging transition, particularly in the first 18 months of each child’s life.

 

No matter who you are or where you’re at in life before getting pregnant, the journey into and through motherhood is a vulnerable time for us on so many levels.. It can be wonderful, but it’s undoubtedly tough, not least physically, mentally and emotionally. I found I’ve never been more tired and overwhelmed, yet grateful and content at the same time. The whole experience can lead to some serious self-doubt as we (women in particular I think) can tend to focus so much on our baby and less on ourselves.

 

I have painted baby ultrasounds for many many parents who have been through a vast range of emotions, adventures during pregnancy and parenthood (the good and bad), and capture it all as a beautiful piece of art.. It’s their experience, their baby and their masterpiece after all! I think we experience it all so differently, yet as parents we’ve all got so much in common but so much is not said day to day, even to our closest friends or family. Labels, stereotypes or Instagram-perfect myths can skew our perspectives. I find being honest, open to support and taking good care of ourselves as mums can really help someone to survive the transition from pregnancy through motherhood. And that’s what #pyb2019 is all about.

 

At first, I questioned a lot about whether I enough to be a mum, did I have enough and even into motherhood .was I doing enough? These thoughts are natural enough to experience, but when they rattle around in your mind a million times in isolation it’s not good. Finding my ‘village’, reaching out for support, and looking after my own self-care have been invaluable to get through it all… and still is. No one, no matter what their background, pregnancy or motherhood experience is

 

I found I had completely different experiences on each pregnancy, particularly when I zone in back on my mental health. For me, painting my baby’s ultrasounds was a way to connect with each pregnancy and capture that experience. I can see in each painting how different I felt on each one.

 

For example, on my first pregnancy, everything was so new.. It was exciting but equally daunting. In addition, there were reduced movements and growth so I was scanned regularly, riding a rollercoaster of anxiety and relief until she arrived safe in our arms. This was the experience that started me painting ultrasounds – capturing the joy in pregnancy, but equally the tough times, which then almost seemed to pale into insignificance as you then switch gears into motherhood.

 

Adelaide’s scan showing her leg was painted in bold bright pink .. to capture the joy of her little self kicking away despite the clinical and my own concerns.

 

 

 

Second time around it was entirely different. We were delighted to add to the family,  but the morning sickness in early pregnancy and struggles of parenting a toddler while pregnant, and with a colicky newborn after a traumatic birth, naturally took their toll.

 

Tiredness can make you want to hibernate to conserve energy, but this can be isolating. Yet Lila’s scan was painted with colourful dots like jellybeans.. She was nicknamed her our ‘little Lila bean’, and her painting symbolises our journey through pregnancy and the early years, dotted with tough and yet happy times as I came to grips with being a mother of two under 3 years old.

 

Support came from family and the “village” I built with other mums… friends and people who I met through crèche, mum and baby mornings that have now become friends for life. It can be as simple as a phone-call, being given a chance to rest, exercise away from it all, or just getting together with the kids, talking and being there for each other that can make the world of difference to maternal mental health.

 

I then knew better to mind myself and my mental health during pregnancy no.3.  During the pregnancy I was having a tough time at work, I knew I needed to boost my mental resilience for the coming months of pregnancy and arrival of our third child. My employer at the time offered 6 free and confidential counselling sessions with an external service – a really positive thing to offer all employees regardless of why they might need the support. We’re all expected to manage careers and family life effortlessly, but it is hard to, and that image of perfection can wear you down. It’s ok to not be ok, and taking that care of my mental health certainly helped me cope and make the transition to being a mum of three.

 

I think this relief shows in Eoghan’s scan painting.. To me it’s more peaceful and content and symbolic of the importance of reaching out for support. There’s his little hand reaching out (as he still does to chance his luck for a snack or bottle of milk) but I see myself in his gesture, feeling better about motherhood because I learned to reach out myself. There is no shame in this. The investment in participating in these counselling sessions in pregnancy and indeed investing in several more sessions thereafter at AnCuan was one of the more sensible self-care choices I have made in pregnancy & motherhood.

 

So often women prepare for birth with finding the ideal stroller, nursery room furniture, and equipment but we all often neglect number 1 (that’s you btw!). With these self-care sessions,  I found I coped better during pregnancy, birth, nurturing a newborn alongside parenting other children. As result, the birth of our son and parenting experience thereafter were more positive than before.  You might find this same sense of well-being from a relaxing break, frank and honest chat with friends, accepting help with childcare or making dinners, taking exercise, a mindfulness class or going for an amatsu or beauty treatment… whatever works for you is best. I wholeheartedly agree with the term ‘Happy Mum., Happy Baby’.

 

I’ve also learned that none of this preparation would guarantee I was immune from stress, anxiety or even pre or post-natal depression. But I feel stronger and my maternal mental health is the priority – the same way an airline advises guardians to place their own oxygen masks on themselves before placing on their children’s’ masks.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d never been more sleep deprived, busy, still having the ups and downs of daily life with a young family but I feel I’ve acquired the tools to cope, or at least know where to get support if it all feels too much at times.

 

There is so much more to my life and indeed my family’s life, than what I’ve recounted here. It’s a small but important part of my pregnancy and motherhood experience. Overall though it’s been amazing, albeit exhausting but coloured with great memories, happy kids, following dreams and living as fully as we can while a bit tired and giving it our all. There is no shame in talking about our vulnerabilities as mums and I’d love to see more women sharing their thoughts.

 

This last part is SO So important. In a nutshell, that’s why I’m proud to support the #pyb2019 campaign. We all need to talk to each other about these things.. Have the conversation and really mean it when we ask each other How Are You, Whats on Your Mind?  It’s all too easy to ask how ‘bump’ is or to coo over the baby once born.. But mamas need all the support and self-care they can get to survive the tough times and stay mentally, emotionally and physically strong too.  It does take a village after all.. And going to a #pyb2019 might just introduce you to yours.

 

You can check out the Paint Your Bump Campaign (#pyb2019) events, stories and support services available in Ireland at https://paintyourbumpday.wordpress.com/ and on facebook @Paintyourbumpday and instagram @maternalmhawareness. 

 

Laura Steerman

March 2019

 

 

 

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