On the surface, it seems Frankie Bridge has it all – she’s beautiful, rich, famous, has an equally famous footballer husband, and two lovely, healthy young children.
But don’t judge the Bridge book by its cover – because while the former Saturdays singer and now Loose Women presenter, who’s the wife of former Chelsea, Manchester City and England defender Wayne Bridge does indeed have a life many would envy, she has also struggled with mental health problems for most of her life.
But after suffering in silence with anxiety and depression for many years, the mother-of-two is now keen to share her experiences, and has written the book Grow, a brutally honest account of how hard it can be to grow babies and raise them while struggling with mental health issues.
The 32-year-old mother of Carter, aged six, and Parker, seven, says she hopes her book will help open up maternal mental health conversations, and reassure other mums that it’s ok not to feel ok all the time.
“We all cope in different ways and it doesn’t mean if you have depression and anxiety that you can’t have a happy family,” she stresses. “We need to not judge each other on how we all cope – we have this thing ingrained in us that we have to be able to do it all on our own, and that’s just not true.
“There’s always friends and family to help, whether that’s mentally or helping with the kids. There’s no shame in that – we all need our time, and a happy parent makes a happy baby.”
Here, a refreshingly honest, chatty and chirpy Bridge discusses her motherhood journey and how she became a happy parent for her happy babies.
Did you have mental health problems from an early age?
“Definitely. It was never recognised back then – I was just a deep thinker and a bit of a worrier. Had it been understood and nipped in the bud at an early age, maybe I would have had a better way of dealing with it all as I got older.”
When you were pregnant, were you worried you might get postnatal depression?
“Having children was the reason I decided to get on top of my mental health, because I knew I needed to be in a good place for my future children. That was my inspiration to understand myself more and take the time to get better.
“When I was thinking about being a parent I was definitely worried about postnatal depression, but I stayed on my antidepressants while I was pregnant, and still had therapy, and in the end I got more antenatal depression than postnatal depression.
“I think people forget that while you’re pregnant it can be really difficult, because we’re sold this dream that it’s the happiest time of your life and you’ll just enjoy it, when actually it’s not the same for everyone. I found being pregnant really difficult, and that’s why I thought it was important to talk about it, because it’s not something you really hear about.”
What did you find difficult about pregnancy?
“The change in my body and losing control of what my body was doing was really difficult. Being in a girl band and having always looked a certain way and that suddenly changing, and not being able to control it was really hard. I’d always wanted to be pregnant and I wanted to enjoy it, but actually I felt really sick and I didn’t feel like me.”
You had hyperemesis gravidarum (severe nausea and vomiting) during your second pregnancy – how bad was that?
“It’s just horrendous – people get PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) from it, and I’ve heard of women who’ve decided never to have another baby because of it.
“I was lucky because the medication I was on worked. I didn’t stop being sick, but I was able to get out of bed and be a parent to my eldest son, and after a few months I managed to go back to work, but I’d get back and be sick, and it got worse again nearer the end of the pregnancy. It never really went but it became copeable.
“People are talking about it a lot more now after Kate Middleton bless her, did us all a favour, almost, by having it.”
Was it a tough decision to keep taking antidepressants while you were pregnant?
“Luckily, I was on one I could stay on. I was already seeing a psychiatrist, and he said if you come off them you may not be in a position to be there for your newborn when it comes, and for me it wasn’t a difficult decision.
“Everyone’s situation’s different, and not every medication is safe, so it’s definitely something you have to talk with your GP about. We all have to do what we need to, to be the parent we need to be, and not feel ashamed.”
You had elective caesareans for both births – why?
“I was open to both birth options – in my head I thought both were going to suck, so choose one! I told my obstetrician to give me pros and cons of both, and I said ‘If I was your daughter, what would you do?’, and he said ‘C-section.’ So I thought OK, let’s book it.
“With work and with Wayne playing football, I wanted to make sure we were there together and that was really the only way I could do it. I never had any real burning desire to have a natural birth, but I wasn’t against it either.
“It felt like I had less control over it [a natural birth], that no-one could really tell me what was going to happen, and with my anxiety that was a really horrible situation to be in. And Wayne was very much like ‘If I was having a baby that’s what I’d do.’”
Did you breastfeed?
“Yes, I did both babies for a month. I did quite a lot of expressing at first, and then I slowly switched to formula. I went into it really open-minded, I wasn’t particularly passionate about either, but I wanted to give it a go.
“I really enjoyed it at first, it felt nice that I could have that time and give the babies what they needed, but after a while it felt like a really big pressure and responsibility to be the only person able to feed my child, and I found it really isolating because I wasn’t comfortable doing it in front of people. When I switched to formula, at first I felt really bad about it, but the babies were happy and Wayne was happy, and I could share the load a bit more.
“Fed is best. We all know the benefits of breast milk and how much better it is for the baby, and you can’t ignore that, which is why I tried it. I felt like I did as best as I could, but I don’t like the pressure and the guilt some women are made to feel. We’re always trying to do what’s best for our child, so as long as you’re doing that, you can’t really go wrong, and I don’t think there should be any shame around it.”
Did you have a nanny briefly?
“Yes – it was fine, but it just wasn’t for us. Wayne’s parents are both retired and they were happy to do it. They live with us, so it all fell into place. I felt it was important to include that [having a nanny] in the book – pretending you managed to do it all on your own, and you have your career and your kids and you can manage it all without any help, is making other women feel like they’re incapable because they’re struggling in some way.
“But sometimes if you say you’ve got help it’s the wrong thing to say, so you can’t really win. I just tried to be honest about it.
“But we’re really fortunate, the kids have great grandparents, so it’s great for us, we know who they’re with, and they’re happy and it’s consistent.”
Do you ever feel mum guilt?
“Yeah, all the time! I think it’s ingrained in us – we feel like we have to be able to do it all, and do it all perfectly the first time.
“I think I understand mum guilt more now – it’s quite different to anxiety. The anxiety is still there, separate from the mum guilt, but I’m able to control it more now – having the children made me realise I can’t control everything, and not everything can be perfect 24/7, 365 days a year.
“The kids really helped me to see that a bit clearer, so although I do still have anxiety, it’s not as bad.”
Grow: Motherhood, mental health & me, by Frankie Bridge is published by Brazen, priced £18.99. Available now.