Nicola Flanagan is perinatal educator and mental health practitioner as well as an Army wife.
Having suffered from antenatal depression with each of her pregnancies, Nicola draws on her own experiences to support and motivate other new mums.
Her business helps other military spouses through pregnancy, labour, birth and after birth.
Using her expertise in educating, empowerment and health, Nicola teaches women and husbands to learn how to handle the challenges of having a baby and while living the transient life of the Armed Forces.
Living In ‘A Fog’ During Pregnancy
Nicola is married to her husband who is currently working at Army Headquarters in Tidworth.
Due to move on again soon, Nicola is familiar with the challenges being pregnant, giving birth and raising children in the military, and sees links between the mental health issues she’s previously experienced and the uncertainty that military life can bring.
The mum-of-three went through periods of severe depression during all of her pregnancies.
When she first went through it, Nicola didn’t understand what was going on despite feeling very low. Still in her old job and mainly based at home, she’d cope by “hiding away”.
However, when she had another two pregnancies close together, the feeling swept through her again, but this time she had younger children to care for.
As a result, hiding away was not an option.
Nicola says: “When you have other children to look after, you can't afford to not be great because it's not fair on them. You don't engage with them properly.
"When you don't want to spend time with your own children, who you love dearly, it's quite apparent that there's something wrong.”
After having her third baby, Nicola felt as if a “fog” had lifted – as if someone had turned the light back on. This was when she started looking for answers.
Nicola discovered she had been suffering with antenatal depression, which is a lesser-known pregnancy-related mental health issue.
“I think we're really good at recognising postnatal depression and everyone's kind of looking out for it because it's no longer taboo. It's out there, people are aware,” Nicola said.
“Whereas antenatal depression kind of sneaks up on you because you have lots of other things going on. You have lots of hormones cursing around, so you don't feel yourself.
"Your body's changing, you feel quite anxious, and before you know it, you don't feel yourself.”
Reflecting on her own experiences, Nicola has realised that since women are expected to get on with military life with its relocations, more serious issues can be masked by the frequent upheaval.
She said: “The first time I experienced antenatal depression it was easy not to notice. We were living in Germany, but my husband had been posted back to the UK on a three-month training.
"I was also due to move back, but I had a toddler and I was pregnant again. [The depression] was easy to sort of pass it off as feeling a bit stranded amongst boxes on my own.”
Nicola thinks her condition was exacerbated by the lack of an established support network around her. Although Nicola has made great friends in the military, she’s had to repeatedly start afresh, disrupting her friendship circles.
All of these factors, believes Nicola, make new mums in the military vulnerable to issues such as depression and anxiety, seriously impacting quality of life.
To help other women, Nicola re-trained as a perinatal educator and mental health practitioner.
Building on expertise from her previous career in healthcare and her degree in biomedical science, she set up Me and My Baby – or MAMBA – in 2019.
Nicola provides private antenatal and postnatal support for military couples, who choose not to attend group courses or for some reason can’t access local groups.
Working with clients at home, she offers support ranging from preparing for labour and hypnobirthing to weaning workshops and birth trauma therapy.
To reach more people, Nicola has also set up local groups through which she shares information, guidance and, of course, encouragement.
Finding A Local Group
Nicola is currently developing a directory of support services near military bases for parents-to-be. If they can’t find one close by, Nicola invites women to let her know, and she’ll set one up.
Find MAMBA here:
Nicola Flanagan will be one of our panel members during our Mind Kind BFBS Radio Facebook Live discussion on Friday 3rd July at 1pm (UK time).
This article features as part of Mind Kind - a week-long series of interviews, videos, case studies, and practical tips and information on mental health and forces families, across BFBS platforms.