All posts by Amy Tubb

Abi’s story

It’s estimated that around 13% of expectant or new mums are living with an eating disorder.

Abi (Edinburgh)

In 2019, I was pregnant with my second child, feeling delighted, excited, and… utterly terrified. Why? Because since the birth of my first son, I had been battling an undiagnosed eating disorder that dominated every aspect of my life.

I remember thinking that because I was pregnant, my body and mind might somehow reset; that I’d manage to eat properly again and stop over-exercising. But, as the weeks passed and my baby grew inside me, that was far from the reality. I felt possessed, paralysed, and like the worst mother in the world.

A terrifying eating disorder

From early on in my pregnancy, I would tell my midwife at each appointment that it felt like a huge mental battle to eat enough and stop exercising too much. At six months pregnant, I was very clearly and firmly told by a consultant obstetrician that I had an eating disorder and needed help.

The responses I got from these healthcare professionals, as well as others, were totally inadequate, even detrimental. Not because of individual fault or a lack of dedication, but rather because of a complete lack of awareness, education and understanding. Eating disorders are simply not on the radar of most perinatal professionals.

Eventually, when I was nearly eight months pregnant, I reached a breaking point. I went to my GP and begged for help, having previously had my concerns dismissed. She weighed me, asked me what help I thought I needed, and since my weight and mental symptoms were clearly concerning, she referred me urgently to eating disorder services.

The treatment which followed was undoubtedly lifesaving, but juggling it with raising a newborn baby and an older child took its toll. So much so that when my baby was eight months old, I was admitted to a mother and baby unit (MBU) in a psychiatric crisis.

Making sure mums are supported

My baby is three now, and I’m in a much-improved place – both physically and mentally – thanks to my eating disorder team, family and friends. I’ve started delivering lived experience perinatal mental health and eating disorder training to healthcare professionals, on behalf of an eating disorders charity called Wednesday’s Child.

For professionals, we provide a wealth of practical guidance, resources and lived-experience insight to help them support a new or expectant parent who has an eating disorder. We’ve also developed e-learning modules and a free befriending programme to help expectant mums and new parents suffering from an eating disorder.

Eating disorders thrive in secrecy and shame, and it is vital that mums going through what I did receive specialist and compassionate support. It is high time that eating disorders during the perinatal period are brought out of the shadows, once and for all.

For more information, read Abi’s guest blog for Eating Disorders Awareness Week: ‘Eating disorders and the perinatal period

 


If the content of this story causes you to think of anything that has happened to you or someone you know and you feel upset, worried or uncomfortable, please see our support page for a list of services that may be able to help.

Toni’s story

It was horrific to have to travel 180 miles to the mother and baby unit and be so far away from my husband and son and everything and everybody I knew.

Toni (Port Talbot, Wales)

At around six months pregnant with my second child, I became severely depressed. Every day was a struggle to keep my head above water. And, eventually, I started to have suicidal thoughts.

I felt like a huge burden to my family and a rubbish mum to my four-year-old boy. I’d also been badly let down by services that were supposed to have provided me with the support I needed. It was like I was on a constant merry-go-round of torture and I didn’t know how to get off.

No place for a new mum

Thankfully, with support from my husband, my amazing midwife and my nearest perinatal mental health team, I managed to get through my pregnancy and give birth to a beautiful baby girl. But within two weeks of my daughter being born, my mental health deteriorated even further. So much so that I’d be awake at night, thinking about how I could end my life.

At absolute rock bottom, I managed to speak to a mental health crisis team with the support of my midwife. This led to me being admitted to an acute mental health ward without my daughter. But this was no place for a new mum like me. Being away from my daughter was having a serious effect on our mother-and-baby bond and my physical and mental health.

Too far away from home

After three days on the ward, we were told that a place had become available at a mother and baby unit (MBU) in Derby, 180 miles away from home. I ended up staying there for seven weeks. At first, it was extremely tough, with me hardly coming out of my room. But over time, I started to make friends and begin to trust the staff more and more.

However, I do believe my recovery would have been a lot smoother if an MBU had been closer to home. I felt horrifically isolated being so far away from my husband and son and everyone I knew.

This is why I was so pleased when Uned Gobaith, the first inpatient MBU, opened in Wales in April 2021. It will make a huge difference to expectant and new mums, and their families. It definitely would have made a huge difference to me.

 


If the content of this story causes you to think of anything that has happened to you or someone you know and you feel upset, worried or uncomfortable, please see our support page for a list of services that may be able to help.

Fatima’s story

“Explain more about what maternal mental health means because some people didn’t really care about their mental health until things started getting out of hand… I know most of us in our country, we don’t really care about mental health when you’re pregnant. So I think this is gonna be really helpful.”

In this series of audio clips, Fatima* shares how her living situation and a lack of respect for her autonomy impacted her maternal mental health as a newly single mother seeking asylum with a two-year-old and another baby on the way. Fatima also talks about her positive interactions with midwives, health visitors, and community support workers from Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA) member organisation, Refugee Women Connect.

Please note: It is vital that we listen to the experiences of women, babies, and families from across our society if we are to ensure the system works for all. However, these stories can be difficult to hear and listener discretion is advised. If the contents of Fatima’s audio clips cause you to think of anything that has happened to you or someone you know and you feel upset, worried or uncomfortable, please see our support page for a list of services that may be able to help.

What maternal mental health difficulties did you face during and after pregnancy?

Read transcript
The main challenge I had when I was pregnant was low mood, anxiety and depression because at that time I wasn’t together with my husband. We just kind of reconciled for two days and that is how I ended up pregnant and it didn’t work out with us. So at that time, I was living in a hostel with mixed men and women, which is really not good.

It’s gonna affect you, especially if you’re not used to that kind of situation and you’re pregnant and living with strangers. So it really affected my mood because at that time I was always in the room, I didn’t want to come out because they always invite men like them in the kitchen like two, four, seven. So sometimes you couldn’t be able to get that comfortable to come out to cook something and be comfortable because there are always people. Busy men all the time, in and out of the building.

So, yeah, it was really not good for me at that time but I kept going and whenever I felt my mood was low I took my Quran and read. So yeah at that time I was trying to do some activities with my daughter because I was thinking, “She doesn’t deserve that, to live in that kind of situation.” That was the worst experience I have ever had in my life. I don’t wish anybody to live in the situation that I lived in at the hostel.

So even just that, without your issues with your partner, and at last you just end up living on your own with no family. So apart from that, just the situation that you are in the hostel is something else. I was pregnant and we got the bunk. My daughter was two years at that time and we got the bunk, like up and down. So she can’t slip off she has to sleep down so I had to sleep on the floor at that time and the room was really dirty, smell everywhere. Even just that it can affect you mentally. So the situation of the accommodation with a mix of ladies and men, it’s really something terrible to live in.

It really affects me. Even now, if I remember what happened at those times I have to just sit down crying. I mean like whenever I remember I just sit down crying and my daughter says, “Mummy what happened?” But I know she’s not gonna understand what was the reason for the crying that I was doing but I know the thing that I’ve been through, the situation was not… I don’t even wanna remember it because I wasn’t happy at all.

What did your midwife do to support you?

Read transcript
My midwife was really an amazing lady and she did really an amazing job, especially when it came to my appointments.

Because I’m a single mum with no family in the UK, I was just alone with my daughter at that time and pregnant with the unborn baby. I couldn’t attend my hospital appointments at that time because they were not allowing kids in the hospital, so it was really hard for me to cope with the situation but I’m glad my midwife saw this and stuck by me and always help me out by sometimes visiting me at home to do some check-ups. And also she spoke to the hospital to give me a suitable time that is a bit quiet so that I can come with my daughter to my appointment. So it was really helpful. She was always asking me about my mood and my mental health.

Yeah it was really helpful because I knew at that time I was really affected and I needed help but at that time I didn’t want to take any medicine you know. I didn’t want any medication I just trusted in my God that everything was going to be okay and whenever I read my Quran, I found it really helpful and, so yeah, so that is how I coped with my mental health issues.

Did you find your health visitor helpful?

Read transcript
Yes. The health visiting service to me was positive to be honest because I got to know each and everything that I was supposed to know and I had that support from them. They used to call me to check on me, to help me out with the school… everything. They were really trying hard to help me out because of the situation they found me in, so their service was really helpful.

My health visitor did a really good job. She knew what she was doing.

What other support were you offered in your community?

Read transcript
The service that was offered to me was the phone call from Refugee Women Connect. There were some ladies that used to call me to comfort me. I had three different people that used to call me – Anna, Julia and Sarah – at that time. They were always trying to make me comfortable and trying to help me out if there was anything that I needed or that I didn’t know. They were trying to explain to me and to help me out, so that phone call was really helpful.

And the other things that I used to do is whenever I felt in a low mood I would read my Quran and try to be optimistic, to just hope for the best and to see the future.

What are the main challenges facing pregnant asylum seekers?

Read transcript
When it comes to understanding English, to communicate and understand people and also to be able to express their feelings, their mood. When it comes to that, it’s really hard for them, especially for those who don’t speak English like even a little bit of English. It’s really hard. I can tell because I used to live together with them, so I can tell how stressed they were especially when they are trying to explain what is happening to them, what kind of help they really need. They really found it so hard to explain, to express their feelings and to make people have that patience to listen to them because sometimes when you don’t speak you know you don’t need to be perfect to express yourself but sometimes when people are trying to express themselves and some people they really found it so annoying to be able to concentrate and to give them that attention to listen to them.

So it’s really hard for the asylum-seeking pregnant women because they have a lot to say about their situation and maybe they are not feeling good in their mental health but they aren’t able to explain. Sometimes they don’t even have people that are going to have the patience to listen to them and what they were saying, to have that patience to concentrate and give them that chance to try to understand what they were saying because sometimes they are always like trying to use this translator to try to make people understand their circumstances, their feelings. But sometimes with the translator, people found it really stressful and really hard to just sit down waiting you have to use translator to type and get the answers or to use the translator to speak. Sometimes what you said is not the exact thing that the translator is going to say to tell the person that you are communicating with so it’s really stressful for them.

And also I can really remember one of the pregnant ladies I know in our hostel she got around six appointments from the hospital that she never got a chance to attend because of the language barrier. So I had to help her to reschedule the appointment and also let my midwife know about the lady’s situation so that she can help her to speak to the doctors and help her with the translator whenever she had that appointment to be able to understand each other. For the lady and the nurses the doctor to be able to communicate and understand what is her problems.

How can maternal mental health support for asylum seekers be improved?

Read transcript
What I can say needs to improve maternal mental health for pregnant asylum seekers is maybe to have people that they can speak to and explain. Explain more about what maternal mental health means because some people didn’t really care about their mental health until things start getting out of hand. So that is when they realise they’re gonna need help. So if like you just keep advocating and making people aware of what maternal mental health means it’s gonna be really helpful for especially asylum seekers.

I know most of us in our country, we don’t really care about mental health when you’re pregnant. So I think this is gonna be really helpful. And to provide the interpreter so that the asylum seekers can be able to explain their situation, to understand and to be understandable. That’s it, thank you so much.

How could you have been better supported with your mental health?

Read transcript
What I can say could have been done differently to support me is respect the decision that I made. It was really complicated when I was pregnant.

I really wanted to try to have a VBAC (vaginal delivery after c-section) because I had a c-section before. I didn’t really get that support and encouragement and the respect for my decision that I made. It’s normal you can try so I wish they allowed me to try because I just kept being told: “You can’t since you already had one c-section you’re gonna have the second one.”

It was really complicated at that time. People were not letting me decide what I wanted to do, they just rather say, “Okay this is what we think. This is what you’re gonna do”. At that time, I was alone I didn’t have that support to just keep going to make sure that I made it a ‘normal’ delivery but I couldn’t get that support and it really affected me. In the end, I had no choice because there were not a lot of people encouraging me to go ahead with my ‘normal’ delivery. Everybody was talking about c-section, c-section, c-section. I was really confused at that time I didn’t know what to do, I was just like, “Okay… I’m just gonna go ahead with the c-section”. But it was really not what I planned at that time. I couldn’t do anything. If I got that encouragement and support from them I know I could have been able to make it a normal delivery but this is what I can say… maybe if they did it differently they can be able to help me with my decision that I already made.

The MMHA is hugely grateful to Fatima for sharing her unique experience to help raise awareness of perinatal mental health in the refugee and asylum-seeking community, reduce stigma and influence positive system change. We would also like to thank Refugee Women Connect for facilitating this conversation and for everything they do to support refugee and asylum-seeking women in the UK.

Read more about maternal mental health in the refugee and asylum seeker community.

 


*To protect her anonymity, Fatima is a pseudonym.

A safe space to talk about perinatal mental health

Guest blog by Tracey Stone, Head of Parent Supporters at Netmums

Netmums is clear that specialist support and services for perinatal mental health are essential.

As one of the UK’s most diverse, inclusive, and supportive parenting communities, attracting millions of unique users to the site every month, Netmums is acutely aware of how great perinatal mental health needs are. We engage with our community across social media as well as on the site, listening to parents’ worries, and signposting to appropriate and reliable support. Continue reading A safe space to talk about perinatal mental health

Infant Mental Health Awareness Week 2022

When is Infant Mental Health Awareness Week 2022?

Monday 13 – Sunday 19 June 2022

What is Infant Mental Health Awareness Week (IMHAW)?

IMHAW takes place in June every year, providing an opportunity for those working in the infant mental health sector to raise awareness of the importance of babies’ social and emotional development, and to share work they are doing.

Who is it organised by?

The week is organised and led by MMHA member the Parent-Infant Foundation, who bring together and support the infant mental health sector, provide clinical leadership and campaign for policy change.

What is this year’s theme?

The overall theme of IMHAW 2022 is ‘Understanding Early Trauma’. See Parent-Infant Foundation’s calendar for a list of planned activities.

Get involved

Visit the Parent-Infant Foundation website to find out how you can get involved and for examples of how parent-infant teams and organisations have marked IMHAW in the past.

 

Black women in the UK experience maternity discrimination and mixed care, according to a new report from Five X More

A new survey from campaigning organisation Five X More has found that Black women in the UK continue to experience discrimination and are receiving a mixed level of maternity care during the antenatal, labour, and postnatal period.

Studies, such as MBRRACE-UK’s annual Confidential Enquiry into Maternal Deaths, have consistently shown disparities between Black and white women’s maternal experiences and outcomes. However, the reasons for the differences remain unclear and under-researched. Continue reading Black women in the UK experience maternity discrimination and mixed care, according to a new report from Five X More

The Maternal Mental Health Alliance celebrates 10 years of creating change for women and families

On Thursday 19 May, staff and trustees came together with Members, Lived Experience Champions and Perinatal Mental Health professionals to celebrate MMHA’s belated 10th anniversary. It was incredibly special to share the same physical space, reflect on our collective achievements and look to the future of the Alliance. Continue reading The Maternal Mental Health Alliance celebrates 10 years of creating change for women and families

Flying Start pilot project: remote perinatal mental health screening

Last year, Sarah Witcombe-Hayes, Everyone’s Business Campaign Coordinator for Wales, spoke to Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN), Paula Donovan, to find out how the ‘Flying Start’ pilot project improved screening for perinatal mental health problems and women’s access to support in the South Wales Valleys.

This International Nurses Day 2022, the MMHA recognises Paula’s efforts and those of other nurses working in perinatal mental health. We thank them for all they do to support women and families.

Continue reading Flying Start pilot project: remote perinatal mental health screening

Why Health Visitors Matter: A new report from the First 1001 Days Movement

Why Health Visitors Matter A new report from the First 1001 Days Movement (1)Today, the First 1001 Days Movement has launched ‘Why Health Visitors Matter’. The report contains a compilation of short statements by parents, professionals and charity leaders showing the breadth and depth of health visitors’ work, and its importance in areas such as:

    • maternal mental health
    • infant mental health
    • bereavement support
    • safeguarding
    • and more.

Continue reading Why Health Visitors Matter: A new report from the First 1001 Days Movement

Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge becomes Royal Patron of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance

On behalf of the Board of Trustees and staff team, I am delighted to announce Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge as Royal Patron of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA).

The MMHA was founded in 2011, and in just over a decade we have celebrated significant and much-needed progress in the provision of specialist perinatal mental health services across the UK. Today, thanks to the extraordinary and sustained efforts of our members, supporters, and Lived Experience Champions, more mums than ever can access the right care at the right time. However, there is still work to be done to ensure this is a reality for every mum, baby, and family.

We are immensely honoured that The Duchess has recognised and chosen to support the MMHA’s work by becoming our Royal Patron. The Duchess’ longstanding dedication to the Early Years and keen interest in mental health marry beautifully with our aims; it is a perfect partnership.

The MMHA looks forward to working with The Duchess to ensure the needs of all women, babies, and families continue to be heard and met.

Luciana Berger

Chair of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance

WATCH: A message from The Duchess to mark Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week 2022