Laura-Rose’s story

“With the right care, there will be more positive experiences and LGBT+ people will be more likely to reach out if they are struggling with their perinatal mental health.”

Laura-Rose’s story (London)

When my wife and I first started on our path towards parenthood, we struggled to find any LGBT+ women, people or organisations that could offer us guidance and support. This resulted in our journey being a difficult one and left us feeling very isolated.

We had no one to talk to and share similar experiences with when our fertility treatment failed or when Stacey had a miscarriage and we lost our baby; something that deeply affected my mental health. As the non-biological (non-bio) mother I was merely treated as a bystander.

Struggling with mental health

When our eldest child was born, things didn’t get any easier. Like many LGBT+ parents, we experienced a lack of understanding and outright discrimination. For example, the day after our daughter arrived, I tried to speak to the doctor, but she refused to deal with me and said, “Get her out. I don’t want her. I want the ‘real’ mum.”

This incident, and other frequent microaggressions, deeply affected me. I felt anxious and stressed because I consistently felt I was being judged and needed to validate myself as a mother and partner in many situations.

Creating our own community

LGBT Mummies Tribe logo featuring illustrated mothers, parents, children and babies standing together in a row

It was this lack of support and prejudice that inspired us to set up The LGBT Mummies Tribe. It’s a global organisation that supports LGBT+ women and people on the path to parenthood and works with the government, NHS and other medical organisations to improve policies and mental health support for biological and non-bio mothers and parents.

We believe it’s crucial that healthcare professionals receive mandatory education and training to support LGBT+ parents, mentally and physically. The LGBT+ community needs well-informed people caring for them who understand their journeys and what they may be experiencing. With the right care, there will be more positive experiences and LGBT+ people will be more likely to reach out if they are struggling with their perinatal mental health.

The LGBT Mummies Tribe

For more information about The LGBT Mummies Tribe, visit their website or follow them on Instagram and Facebook.

 

 


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Sandra’s story

“Black women are more likely to have postnatal depression but are less likely to access care or to be referred for follow-up treatment.”

Sandra’s story (London)

When I had my first daughter, I thought it was going to be the happiest time of my life, but I just felt this huge pressure to be the perfect mum. I cried a lot, obsessed over keeping the house immaculate and became increasingly anxious.

Then with the birth of my second daughter, I had a very poor experience with the healthcare staff who were supposed to be looking after me. I just didn’t feel like I was treated with the care and respect that I deserved. I didn’t feel like they listened to my words. Staff dismissed my views, and my pain wasn’t taken seriously.

Black women feel judged

It was these personal experiences and the reading of a shocking report about the care given to pregnant women and new mothers from ethnic minority backgrounds that led to me setting up The Motherhood Group. I wanted to create a network for women of colour so they could easily connect with each other and talk freely about mental health and motherhood.

Another important reason for setting it up was that I wanted to help give women of colour a voice in maternal mental health. Because many black women do feel judged by the colour of their skin when accessing healthcare services and often feel they have had a second-class experience.

We are the solution

So far, this has led to The Motherhood Group starting to work with some professionals and our members’ inputting into research projects around maternal mental health. But this is still very much the beginning of the journey.

As well as continuing to support each other and raise awareness of the issues women of colour face, we need to make sure we are an integral part of the solution. The many women who have suffered in the past must be at the heart of addressing racial disparities in pre and postnatal healthcare as soon as possible.

 


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Leanne’s story

To the mum who puts on a brave face day after day when inside you are falling apart — please seek support. You are amazing and you deserve to be happy.

Leanne’s story (Warwick)

Before I had my son, I had a really naive view of mental illness, and I think I believed I was immune to it. I had managed a stressful job as a solicitor for years. How hard could it be to raise a baby?

But things started to go wrong after a 46-hour labour which ended with my son being whisked away from me to be checked if he was okay. Everyone had seen him but me. This was meant to be the happiest moment of my life and yet I’d never felt so alone.

The stigma was too great

Over the following weeks, I pretended to the world that I was fine and enjoying motherhood. But in reality, I was confused and depressed. This was eventually picked up by a midwife who referred me to my local perinatal mental health team. However, I really struggled to engage with the psychological support being offered to me. They wanted me to go on antidepressants, try talking therapies, see a psychiatrist and community psychiatric nurse, but I refused them all.

For me, the stigma was too great and the terms of the help too intimidating. So I continued to suffer. The pain inside me getting so bad that I just wanted to die. But then, one day, at around six months after my son’s birth, I realised enough was enough and I called the perinatal health team and told them all about my suicidal thoughts.

Using my experience to help others

Provided with the time, support and medication I needed, I slowly began to recover, with plenty of bad days as well as good days along the way. By the time my son was one and a half I was discharged from the perinatal mental health team, and by the time he was two I had come off all my medication.

Now, I look back and wish that I, as well as some of the professionals I saw during those first six months, had done things very differently. That’s why I’m retraining to be a mental health nurse, working in co-production and have set up a local charity for parents experiencing perinatal mental illness. I hope all of this will truly help people through their difficult journeys because I know I nearly didn’t come through mine and my son very nearly lost his mummy.

Leanne’s response to the Impact of Covid-19 report

The MMHA commissioned Centre for Mental Health to explore just how much of a challenge the pandemic has placed on maternal mental health and the services that support women and families. Leanne responded to the report findings by saying:

The parents with maternal mental health problems that we support, have missed vital in-person contact and found this exceptionally hard – whether it’s family, friends, wider support networks or baby groups. Also, not having face to face appointments with professionals and the challenges that brings – especially the impact of communication on the phone that you don’t get face to face – has been really difficult and can make recovery much harder for some.

Read the report > 

Further reflections from parents with lived experience

 


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Michelle’s story

To anyone suffering alone, I open the door and welcome you to our group. You need never be alone.

Michelle’s story (Belfast)

Following the birth of my daughter, I had frequent and often crippling panic attacks. They would hit me out of the blue, lead to shortness of breath and I would think, “Oh my God, this is it, I’m dying!”

To find a solution, I spoke to my doctor, learned CBT techniques and desperately researched all aspects of my physiology, from nutrient deficiency to thyroid problems. But deep down I knew the answer. I needed to speak to others who had been where I was. People who could guide me out of this darkness.

The support I needed was not there

Without a doubt, my family and friends had been incredibly supportive. But unless you’ve been there yourself, it’s a very difficult thing to understand and help someone with postnatal depression, anxiety, PTSD, psychosis. They’re all illnesses very specific to each person and their circumstances.

I started looking for support groups for women going through a similar experience. There had to be someone out there just like me, right? Well, unfortunately, my search showed there wasn’t. There just weren’t any groups, websites or local services that I felt could offer me the peer support I needed.

A safe and supportive haven now exists

As a result, I set up We are Pangs [Post and Antenatal Group Support] in Northern Ireland on Facebook and shared it around some of the parenting groups I was part of. Soon there were five members, then 19, then 40, then 98. The numbers kept rising and currently, we’re up to nearly 700 members. We are now a registered charity and support families in the community through peer support and wellbeing programs.

Now, when I read through our members’ posts, I’m so proud of the warmth and sisterhood that exists there, because it genuinely has been life-saving at times. Our members are also coming together to raise awareness of the mental health issues pregnant and new mums face. And we’re campaigning with friends and partners to fight for better services for parents. The future feels so much brighter now.

Michelle’s response to the Impact of Covid-19 report

The MMHA commissioned Centre for Mental Health to explore just how much of a challenge the pandemic has placed on perinatal mental health and the services that support women and families. Michelle responded to the report findings by saying:

Isolation and loneliness are two of the biggest factors affecting mental health and we are now in a perfect storm of increasing pressures, reduced social contact and ever-growing feelings of loneliness. Our charity, We Are Pangs, has seen a dramatic increase in the number of referrals to our peer support service and we are fast reaching capacity.

We need to invest heavily in mental health services, particularly those at grassroots level who are supporting parents through this difficult time to ensure that they have immediate access to mental health support, particularly as our health service continues to struggle. The effects of mental illness on the whole family is well documented which is why it’s more important than ever that we protect future generations by putting in place robust support for parents now. The help can’t come quickly enough.

Read the report > 

Further reflections from parents with lived experience

 

 


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Michaela’s story

It’s vital perinatal healthcare becomes a priority on a national level.

Michaela’s story (Belfast)

Following the birth of my eldest daughter, who’s now six, I suffered with severe postnatal depression, psychosis and anxiety. Thankfully, I received support from the perinatal team including a psychiatrist, a mental health home treatment team, a psychologist at my local hospital and mental health nurses.

I benefited greatly from this network of support; and I want women and their husbands and partners to know that often help and hope is out there, if they are going through a difficult time.

We need to do more

However, there is still much more that needs to be done to provide every woman with the mental health services they need before, during and after having a baby. In particular, I wanted to speak to other women going through similar circumstances, but there was no support group for women with postnatal depression in my area.

This is why I wholeheartedly support the Everyone’s Business campaign and have spoken at events such as the Northern Ireland Maternal Mental Health conference, where I was on the Parents Panel. It’s vital perinatal mental health care becomes a priority on a national level and professionals who care for women during and after pregnancy receive appropriate mental health care training.

No depression now

If we can achieve these aims, there’s a far greater chance that more pregnant women and new mothers will receive the network of support they need, like I did. As well as making a huge difference during dark and difficult times, this specialist help can make women more prepared for the future. During my second pregnancy and postnatally, because I had a history of perinatal mental health problems, I was under the specialist perinatal mental health team

Now, I have zero depression and a second daughter. I didn’t suffer with any mental health problems.

 


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Jillian’s story

I have no doubt that my recovery would have been quicker and my husband’s experience less traumatic if I’d been under specialist perinatal mental health care.

Jillian’s story (West Lothian, previously County Antrim)

Whilst living in County Antrim in Northern Ireland, I gave birth to a healthy baby boy in February 2007. Because breastfeeding took a while to establish, we didn’t go home until four days after my son’s arrival. But everything seemed normal, perfect even, when we did return home.

That was until I started to think my dead grandparents were talking to me, telling me my baby was sent from God. I obviously knew something wasn’t right and frantically read through books to understand what was going on. I self-diagnosed postpartum psychosis to my midwife the next morning, who advised me that my husband and I needed time to adjust to parenthood.

A terrifying time

On day seven after the birth, things had escalated to such a point that on the evening I growled at my husband, “If you don’t listen to me, I’m going to shake your baby!” Words that still haunt him today. After this incident, an ambulance was called and I was taken to a general psychiatric ward, because there was no Mother and Baby Unit (MBU) in Northern Ireland.

My husband had no idea what was happening to me, and was hysterical, but he had to return home for our son. Thankfully, my mum flew over from Scotland the next morning. She was his stand-in mum for 12 weeks, as this is how long I stayed in hospital for. These 12 weeks were a rollercoaster ride for everyone and the impact of being separated from my baby can’t really be put into words.

I started making progress after receiving Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT) and was discharged home after 12 sessions. Our journey after discharge was long and challenging but we got there.

We’re still affected today

Missing out on so many of my son’s firsts is difficult to think about. And although I’ve been fully recovered for many years now, my husband still struggles with his mental health because of post-traumatic stress caused by my psychosis and the lack of support he received.

I have no doubt that my recovery would have been quicker, and my partner’s experience less traumatic, if I’d been under specialist perinatal mental health care. That hurts so, so much, as does the thought that our son is now 13 years old and there is still no MBU in Northern Ireland.

 

Visit MMHA member Have you seen that girl?‘s website to read more about Jillian’s journey.

 


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Catherine’s story

What the staff at the mother and baby unit did was help me pick up the pieces of my life and put them back together.

Catherine’s story (Scotland)

I didn’t realise I was ill. I put things down to sleep deprivation, the shock of becoming a new mum and an infection I’d developed after the C-section. I thought all these things together probably explained why I felt a little bit off.

But things started to get a lot worse. I truly believed my baby had been swapped at birth. And I even believed road signs were tailored messages for me. I saw a sign which said, “Please observe at all times”, and I thought it was telling everybody else they should be observing me.

Putting my life back together

Five months after the birth of Beatrix I was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis. This led to me being treated for six weeks at the mother and baby psychiatric unit (MBU) at St John’s hospital, Livingston. After which I was admitted one more time.

What the staff at the MBU did was help me pick up the pieces of my life and put them back together. I’d completely lost my confidence as a mother and felt like I couldn’t be trusted to be alone with Bea. But they helped to rebuild my confidence, and so did my mum and husband after I was discharged.

Treatable with the right support

I think it’s really easy for mums to think everything is their fault when things don’t go to plan following the birth of a child. You think you must be a bad mum in some way, but obviously that’s not true at all when someone is struggling with postpartum psychosis.

It’s a treatable illness like any other – like diabetes. People just need to be supported through it. They need access to mother and baby units; and they need to feel okay about seeking out this support, which means tackling the stigma still associated with maternal mental health problems.

 


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Gill’s story

I want to let other mums know that they’re not alone in how they feel, that they and their mental health matter, and they deserve to be well and happy.

Gill’s story (Aberdeenshire)

Postnatal post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is under recognised and under discussed. Many women find childbirth traumatic but have few outlets for these feelings and little opportunity to talk about their experiences, as the prevailing opinion seems to be “a healthy baby is all that matters”.

I want to let other mums know that they’re not alone in how they feel, that they and their mental health matter, and they deserve to be well and happy.

Finally diagnosed correctly

It was five months after the birth of my daughter that I finally admitted that I needed help. Originally, I was misdiagnosed with postnatal depression and prescribed anti-depressant medication. As I disagreed with the diagnosis, I did not take the medication and pressed for a second opinion.

After the subsequent assessment, I was told I had a complex PTSD and referred to a psychologist. It was only then, more than one year after giving birth to my daughter, that I started to receive the specialist perinatal mental health support I needed.

Rural location creates challenges

My psychological treatment was incredibly helpful. I took part in talking therapy, had EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing) and Schema therapy. But I do despair that it took so long to access the right support for me.

In part, I think this is due to living in rural Aberdeenshire. As well as NHS services being stretched, we are also underserved by the third sector and in addition can’t easily connect with peer support services.   

I’m lucky, I eventually received the right perinatal treatment, but some women aren’t even being diagnosed. This is why I share my story; to raise awareness that perinatal mental health problems can happen to anyone and call for better specialist support.

 

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Lucie’s story

Emma’s death should not be in vain.

Lucie’s story (Surrey)

There are no words to describe losing a sibling at such a young age; and this loss is even more tragic because I know with the right support my big sister’s passing could have been avoided. If she’d received the perinatal mental care she needed after her son’s birth, she would still be here today.

But in the UK, the sad reality is that many new mums are suffering with perinatal mental health issues on their own. Statistically, depression and anxiety affects 15 to 20% of women in the first year after childbirth, but many cases of perinatal depression and anxiety still go undetected.

Mental health is still taboo

As a young mum, I’ve witnessed this prevalence first hand. A few weeks ago, I looked around the small toddler group I attend and realised there were at least three mums who had spoken to me about their perinatal mental health issues, and they were just the ones who had confided in me.

Unfortunately, in our culture, mental health remains a taboo that we feel the need to hide and often have secret internal battles with. But if the mums I meet every week didn’t have to put on a brave face and knew they weren’t the only person in the room struggling, they’d all have an immediate support network.

We must push for change

As well as getting more people to talk about mental health before and after birth, it’s vital all women in the UK who experience perinatal mental illness receive the care they and their families need. I know if it was me who had died, Emma would have tirelessly pushed for this change.

That’s why I wanted to share my story and wholeheartedly support the Everyone’s Business campaign. For me, Emma’s death should not be in vain. We owe it to her and her son to prevent the mental ill health of other pregnant and postnatal women going unrecognised, undiagnosed and untreated.

 

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 who may be able to help.

Dani’s story

I was very fortunate that I was able to get the support that I needed.

Dani’s story (Belfast)

I felt great at the start of my first pregnancy. But at six to seven months I developed a liver problem and my blood pressure started to go up. I was put on tablets and believed, maybe naively, that everything was okay.

Then, during the birth of my daughter, I had an eclamptic seizure. I can remember the midwife pressing the red button, lots of shouting, the blue spinal board, and then waking up coughing, because of the tube in my throat.

“What I don’t remember are my first moments with my baby.”

Crippling anxiety

One month after I gave birth, I started to have flashbacks and recurring dreams about the seizure. I told my community midwife which led to me being monitored through watchful waiting. I then lost sensation down my right side and felt breathless, which led to me being admitted to hospital one week before Christmas. I was now separated from my 10-week-old daughter, which meant her breastfeeding was abruptly stopped.

“It was the worst Christmas ever.”

In A&E and on the ward I felt terrified and very anxious, but I assumed everything would settle down once I got home. It didn’t. I had crippling anxiety; my chest felt tight; I felt shaky and vomited; I didn’t want to be left on my own; and I continued to have flashbacks. I just didn’t feel like me and all my confidence was gone. Eventually, during the Christmas holidays, I contacted my midwife for help. Thankfully, I was referred quickly to a specialist perinatal mental health community team clinical psychologist who diagnosed me with PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder].

Taking back control

With the perinatal psychologist I started CBT [cognitive behavioural therapy], which involved doing mindfulness and breathing exercises, and using visualisation techniques. This helped me to rationalise my anxiety and break the cycle of negativity. It was the biggest part of my recovery, giving me back a sense of control.

Over time, my physical symptoms started to ease and the good days gradually increased. I then had a couple of appointments with my psychologist during my second pregnancy, which me helped a lot. But unfortunately, I did have another traumatic experience during the birth of my third child.

Once again, I turned to my perinatal psychologist for help. This time it was a lot easier to manage my symptoms because of what I’d learnt previously, and because I knew support was available.

“Sadly, though, I know my experience is the exception, not the norm.”

In 80% of Northern Ireland, women and their families cannot access specialist perinatal mental health services and we also don’t have a Mother and Baby Unit. I believe this must change, because I don’t know how I would have coped without the support I received.

 

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 who may be able to help.