Of course, June is PRIDE month and has 3 international days focused on family: 1st June is Global Day of Parents, 13th June is International Children’s Day and 19th June is Father’s Day.
The last few years have shone a spotlight on birth trauma (“1 in 3 birthing [people] experienced an aspect of their birth and immediate postpartum as [emotionally] traumatic” Svanberg, 2019), perinatal anxiety being at an all-time high (“43% of the women met the criteria for clinically relevant depression and 61% met the criteria for anxiety” Fallon et al, 2021), the tragedy of the Ockenden Report (2022) and the horror of ongoing systemic racism in health services (Birthrights, 2022).
Most distressing is the stark reality that maternal suicide was the leading cause of death in the first year postpartum, in the UK and Ireland between 2016 and 2018 (MBBRACE, 2021).
We know that when a person feels that they, and their queries and concerns, are not acknowledged, validated and addressed this has a direct impact on their sense of autonomy and confidence in navigating the ever-changing landscape that is life – and includes gender identity, cultural identity, neurodiversity etc … this has an impact on our emotional wellbeing
The overwhelming evidence that spurred the Duchess of Cambridge to set up the Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood, and become a royal patron of Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA) – a UK charity supporting women and families affected by perinatal mental health speaks for itself
‘[Attachment theory is] a real passion of mine. Learning about babies’ brains, about how our adult brains develop and how our early childhood influences the adults we become’ (Kate Middleton, 2021).
The Department of Health and Social Care tells us that the first 1001 days are critical and that from conception until a child’s second birthday their brain is growing and developing at a rapid rate. For babies to grow up into adults who are emotionally healthy in their relationship with themselves and others, the foundation of a consistent and responsive primary care giver who is available to provide emotional regulation – until the part of the brain responsible for supporting that is fully developed – in the early years is key.
So how do we ensure the emotional health and wellbeing of our society, and the children and families within it? Focus on the birthing people, mothers and parents who are responsible for caring for their babies.
It goes without saying that being informed about the midwifery and obstetric services provided to expectant and new parents is crucial in protecting your birth rights and ensuring personalised care that is right for you and your family. This is even more important for marginalised communities and everyone who does not ‘fit neatly’ into the current provision for pregnant and birthing women and people.
Actively seeking out support from someone who is confident in advocating for you – if you don’t feel you have the headspace to advocate for yourself – is a very useful addition to your ‘birth and beyond’ team, too. Doulas are skilled professionals who have a specific interest in providing antenatal education, emotional support throughout the childbearing year, and can usually signpost to specific postnatal practitioners who can consult and provide their expertise if necessary.
When we can make evidence-based information rich decisions about our care and are supported in accessing the care that recognises all of our unique and individual needs, we can only feel empowered as we navigate the changes and challenges that come with becoming a parent – whether that’s for the first time or the fifth!
Feeling empowered and respected in your decisions are major factors in protecting your emotional wellbeing. The knock-on effect is seen in the ever-rising infant mental health crisis, and if you have one, your partner’s emotional wellbeing will be impacted too.
In the month of June, we celebrate diversity and inclusivity, royal festivities, family, child, and father’s days. Let us remember the importance of being informed, supported and empowered in caring for family.