Falling pregnant aged just 14, Rachael Campey found herself battling self-doubt, shame and confidence issues.
With uncertainty over issues ranging from life after she gave birth to the future of her education, the young mum from East Leeds is among thousands who understandably feel the strain during one of the most life-changing chapters somebody can go through
Five years after giving birth and now studying in her third year at university, Rachael, 20, is sharing her emotional voyage, navigating through a perinatal mental health pathway, to mark World Mental Health Day.
“I had no other young mum friends at the time,” she told the YEP.
“I went to a young mums’ group but I felt I didn’t fit in. They were really proud of being a young parent. I had a lot of shame.
“I felt like I couldn’t be out and proud about it.
“I would get a lot of messages like ‘oh, you are so young’ and getting called different names.”
Her struggles came to the fore in the weeks after she gave birth to her healthy daughter, Lily-Rose.
“I was constantly questioning myself,” she said. “There was a lot of self-doubt.
“I felt like I didn’t deserve to be a mum: that I wasn’t doing it justice, that I was going to mess up somehow.
“I used to lie awake watching Lily breathing through the night, I was over-sterilising every bottle. It was an influx of self-doubt.
“Then my family made me go and get help.”
World Mental Health Day is themed this year on young people, and Rachael hopes that by sharing the support networks she managed to access, including group therapy, it will encourage other young mums to speak out and get the help they need.
She is also today highlighting the issue as part of the YEP’s #SpeakYourMind campaign, which aims to break down stigma surrounding mental health.
“Knowing you can get mental health help as a young parent was a big thing for me,” she said.
“I would definitely encourage young parents to speak to their family and friends, your midwife and to find out more about the support which you can get by looking [online].”
She has also backed the NHS Leeds Clinical Commissioning Group’s call for more young parents to seek out support if they are struggling with mental health issues.
The CCG is highlighting its perinatal mental health pathway, which brings together the support available during pregnancy and for the first 12 months after childbirth.
One thing Rachael worried about before giving birth was how she would restart and re-engage with her studies to forge her own career after becoming a young parent.
Five years on from giving birth, she is now studying counselling and psychology at university, while working as an ambassador for the MindMate young people’s mental health website, and she one day hopes to work in mental health herself.
“When I went back to college, I then became my own person again,” she said.
“I’d had it drilled into me that I was only going to be a mum for the rest of my life.
“I know a lot of other mums who have struggled and given up on their careers that are now starting to see there is so much out there.
“In the right environment, a young parent can flourish as their own person – you’ll always be a mum.”
Dr Jane Mischenko, lead commissioner for children and maternity at the CCG, said younger parents often face added stress when it comes to social and financial pressures.
“Being a parent is one of the most important jobs there is, you’re responsible for your baby’s future,” she said.
“For younger parents there can be additional social pressures as well as more stress because of financial issues and feeling isolated,” she said. “There’s so much support available, asking for help doesn’t make you a bad parent.
“Speaking to people that are close to you can help and speak to a healthcare professional like your midwife, GP or health visitor who will tell you what support is available across the city.”
A new short animation video, showing new mums from Leeds speaking about their emotional struggles during pregnancy and after birth, has been launched by the NHS.