This article was first published on the Croydon Citizen online on April 30th 2018.
When she is not presenting her show on Resonance FM or penning sitcoms, comedian Hatty Ashdown runs Screaming With Laughter, which allow parents to bring babies to daytime comedy gigs that are just like evening ones. From the adult-only content to the pub setting and alcohol on hand, they are a million miles away from regular baby groups. On Wednesday 2nd May, Hattie will open Croydon Cycle Theatre’s evening event for Maternal Mental Health Week.
Maternal Mental Health Week draws much-needed attention to the specific mental health needs associated with pregnancy and childbirth. A survey by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists revealed that 81% of women have had a mental-health issue arise during childbirth and the first year after birth, but only 7% of women who experienced maternal mental-health symptoms were referred to a specialist. In the period between six weeks and a year after birth, 25% of maternal deaths are caused by mental health issues, such as suicide.
With pregnancy can come depression. You think ‘my god, my life is going to change so much’
While some doctors are able to recommend support, service provision is unequal regionally, and advice from varied healthcare professionals can be inconsistent, creating uncertainty for parents, and for families and friends hoping to provide support. Coming together to talk, laugh and share mutual support and information could be the first step to repairing this hole in our healthcare, so Croydon Cycle Theatre has curated an entertaining evening of comedy, information and music, with informed healthcare experts and professional performers.
Hatty Ashdown talks to Croydon Cycle Theatre’s Vanessa Hammick about her maternal mental-health experiences and how laughter can help…
Hatty, you already have a two-and-a-half-year-old son and you are six months pregnant. How is your experience of pregnancy different the second time around?
I went for a massage recently and the masseuse said I seem to be holding a lot of tension about the second birth, and I thought, I am. The first time was a lot better. This time I’ve had some scares, but I got extra scans, so that was good. Since my first birth I’ve moved house – last time I went to my doctors and saw the midwife there, but now I have to go the local hospital. You can feel like paperwork, and you hear different things from different midwives. Maybe I’m looking back with rose-tinted glasses, but it’s all just been very different this time. I don’t feel so connected.
Do you feel that pregnancy has had an effect on your mental and emotional state?
I am worried about being able to cope with two children. The first time around I enjoyed gigging while I was pregnant, this time I’m much more tired with a toddler at home, but I forget all that when I’m on stage!
Actually, the first time round I’d lost my mojo before pregnancy and it came back with the pregnancy. I did my weekly pregnancy vlogs, I was given freebies – the first pregnancy gave me drive and fire. But with pregnancy can also come depression. You can think, ‘oh god, my life is going to change so much’. Before my first pregnancy a friend said that I would want to hibernate for the first two years and I said, “but I don’t want to hibernate for two years!”. I wish that I liked being pregnant more. I was sick for four months – I didn’t realise how much it would take over. You have to get through it with humour.
Did you talk about the birth on stage once you had your baby?
I was trying to get my head around it for a long time. I am quite an open person, so yes, I would talk about it.
If you’ve had a traumatic birth experience, it’s very important you talk about it with professionals, family or friends or whoever you feel comfortable with. It does need to be discussed and put out in the open that giving birth is not all hot towels and lovely private rooms. However, if the listener is heavily pregnant, maybe check that she wants to know such information. I did have women openly give me horrifying stories when I was pregnant first time round, and it didn’t prepare me – it only scared me. For me, fear is not good in birth. I guess that there are ways that you can share your knowledge that could maybe help others, but I think that it’s better to have a positive ride than a negative one.
Did you learn anything from your first pregnancy that you are using in your second?
I’m being optimistic again. And I’m using hypnobirthing. You have to write out your birth plan, and tell the doctors that you want to use positive words only. It calms women down in the hospital. I wish that I could be brave, and have a home birth. I’m really glad that I did hypnobirthing the first time – it meant that we knew what to do, and it also gives your partner something to do so that they can feel involved. But there came a point when I wanted an epidural.
Why do you think it is important to hold this event for Maternal Mental Health Week?
So that women know that they are not alone. It’s important to ask questions. I like to think that we’ve come a long way – my mum would never have talked over the garden fence about giving birth. I don’t know about my birth – she never told me. It was a long time ago, and she probably didn’t remember because she never talked about it. They always say that nature protects you so that you forget the pain of childbirth, but I think that that’s rubbish. My friends who have had traumatic births will never forget.
It can be a lottery, the healthcare that you get. I think that that’s why I’m feeling anxious now, because of the move. That’s why I’m doing hypnobirthing again, to gain a sense of control. But saying all this. I’ll still take drugs if I need to. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with that. Hypnobirthing sounds hippy, but it’s really about gaining control when you feel like you haven’t got any control.
Aside from hypnobirthing, was there anything else that helped with your first childbirth experience?
One really good thing was that I had a student midwife who was there the whole time, it was great to have that continuity. The main midwife was in and out, but the student was there the whole time, which was good. Because generally, it’s not exactly Call The Midwife, let’s say that.
The Village: Maternal Mental Healthcare Week comedy and music evening takes place at Matthews Yard, 7pm on Wednesday 2nd May. Ticket are £4 and £7.
You can catch Screaming with Laughter at Underbelly, Southbank, on 6th and 28th May at 1:15pm. Tickets are £11.50.