Why COPE and what’s this Guide all about?

Posted by Dr. Nicole Highet on September 15, 2016

I hope you have enjoyed your first edition of the Ready to COPE Guide this month. I thought you might find it interesting to understand a little more in this edition about COPE, why the charity was established, and how we can be here to support you along the way through motherhood.

I established COPE in 2013 in order to put the spotlight on pre and postnatal (also called perinatal) emotional and mental health. After doing many, many interviews with aspiring, expectant and new parents it was very clear to me that people’s perceptions are often far from the reality – a reality that no one was talking about. This is leaving thousands of women each year feeling like they are the only ones having a tough time or worrying constantly if they are doing everything ‘right’.

You only have to look at any ad in a magazine or on TV about pregnancy or motherhood to see where hope and expectations come from. In our COPE research with over 1,200 mums who did struggle through motherhood, most (87%) agree with the statement that ‘the way mums are shown in the media makes it look like everyone should be a perfect and happy new mum’.

This portrayal of parenthood perfection is not only influencing our expectations of what pregnancy and parenthood should and will be like, but also whether we talk openly about what we are really going through – for fear of how we may be viewed or judged by others.

Half of women (50%) in our study who had antenatal depression or anxiety said that they ‘hid their true feelings from family and friends whilst pregnant’. Whilst many women reported that they initially hoped that the symptoms would go away on their own, many reported not telling others as they felt ashamed. Further, over half of women (52%) described themselves as ‘a failure as a mother’, and 62% indicated that ‘feelings of guilt’ still remained with them – often many years later.

This shame, stigma and guilt increase isolation and reduce self-esteem. The silence surrounding these issues leaves individuals believing that they are the only one struggling to cope – making mental health problems even more severe and long lasting.

Shame and stigma, is also delaying help seeking. Almost three-quarters (74%) of women stated that they ‘did not seek help for depression or anxiety until they reached the point that they could no longer cope’. Even though pregnancy and the postnatal period is a time where women are in regular contact with health professionals, this opportunity is completely missed as shame and fear of judgement prevents women from talking openly and honestly with their health professional. Forty four per cent (44%) of pregnant women did not feel confident to tell their obstetrician/midwife how they truly felt during the pregnancy, and rates in the postnatal period are even higher.

It is time to do things differently.

It is time to present information in a way that is relevant, safe and acceptable. We need to challenge the portrayal of parenthood – at least in our own minds, and be mindful of the expectations we develop – as these may be unrealistic and even setting us up for failure.

It is important that we acknowledge that the journey to parenthood is easier for some than others – it is not a competition.

Finally, we all need to accept that this can be a challenging time, and it is no one’s fault if difficulties are faced along the way, nor is this a reflection you as a person or as a parent.

I hope this COPE Guide provides you with information and important insights along your journey throughout your pregnancy and your first year as a mother. It’s great to be with you on your journey…we welcome your feedback along the way.   Dr Nicole Highet Founder and Executive Director