Clare’s story

I couldn’t sleep, even when the baby slept, and during my daughter’s ninth week of life I didn’t sleep for three nights in a row. At this point, my community psychiatric nurse suggested, “A wee stay in the mother and baby unit”.

Clare’s story (Glasgow)

During my pregnancy with my daughter, I felt very little – no excitement, no anticipation, no fear. I was mildly concerned about this, so I mentioned it to my midwife, who referred me to my local perinatal mental health service. There, a community psychiatric nurse (CPN) helped me understand that I didn’t have to be excited but made it clear that support would be available after the birth, if I needed it.

I felt no peace

My labour was long, and eventually I had an emergency caesarean. This experience, coupled with the total shock of being responsible for this little human, meant I quickly became very anxious and hypervigilant. As a result, I couldn’t sleep, even when the baby slept, and during my daughter’s ninth week of life I didn’t sleep for three nights in a row. At this point, my CPN suggested, “A wee stay in the mother and baby unit”.

At the unit, I lived from hour-to-hour, taking medicine, doing baby massage, going for walks and talking to the nurses about the journey I was on. I also had visits home, but I found these terrifying. Although I didn’t want to be in the unit, I didn’t want to be home too. I didn’t want to be anywhere. I felt peace nowhere.

Fabulous, ongoing support

After five weeks, I finally did go home, which was followed by a year of care from the community team at the perinatal mental health service. This involved weekly visits from a CPN, who offered me lots of reassurance and talked about what I wanted to talk about. All of these things allowed me to build a relationship with my daughter, which is so precious to me now.

Today, six years on, I’m extremely thankful for the fabulous care I received from the perinatal mental health team at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde. My positive experience is something I’d like to use to help other women and families because across Scotland there is a huge disparity in perinatal mental health services. I hope that the promised funding for perinatal and infant mental health services in Scotland will make a big difference to women and families.

 

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Elaine’s story

I ended up staying in a general psychiatric hospital for eight weeks…Being cared for without my son was not ideal.

Elaine’s story (Chester)

The birth of my son was very difficult. I had a retained placenta, which led to me haemorrhaging after he was born. A consequence of this traumatic experience was that I developed mild to severe postnatal depression, which eventually led to psychosis when my son was seven months old.

Given electroconvulsive therapy

Before my psychotic episode, I’d spoken to my GP, who prescribed me anti-depressants. I also joined a support group for six weeks. But things escalated and I ended up staying in a general psychiatric hospital for eight weeks. Being hospitalised without my baby was extremely difficult, and especially because I had to stop breastfeeding overnight. During my stay in the hospital, I was given ECT [electroconvulsive therapy] and worked with an occupational therapist. Following discharge, I was visited by a community psychiatric nurse.

More and better services

Being cared for without my son was not ideal. There needed to be more awareness then, as there needs to be more awareness now, of how perinatal mental health problems affect a woman and her family. We need to get more and even better specialist perinatal mental health services commissioned. If my feelings of shame had been effectively treated early on, and my family had been advised of ways to help me, I believe I would not have become so ill.

 

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.

Charlie’s story

We need to put pressure on CCGs to provide more funding for sustainable services that are fit for purpose.

Charlie’s story (Bridport)

With all three of my children I struggled with perinatal mental health problems, including postnatal depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. During these extremely difficult times, I received excellent support from a number of specialist perinatal mental health professionals. They included those working at my Mother and Baby Unit, midwives, community psychiatric nurses and health visitors. However, it was a struggle to get the help I needed; and the non-specialist support I was offered simply did not appreciate the intricacies of perinatal mental health.

Bonding activities

Something else that really helped me was a group called Growing Together at the children’s centre in Bridport. It was an intimate group of no more than eight families. Each week we went for an hour and a half and carried out a task to help us bond with our babies. We also made a scrap book, which we added to each week, reflecting on our activities and printing hand prints of our babies. The staff also took photos of us to put in it. It was great to be able to look back on and see how far we had come in terms of bonding and attachment and our mental health recovery.

More services needed

There are services out there which can help women suffering with perinatal mental health problems. But there simply aren’t enough of them; and if they are available, women are often struggling to access them. We need to put pressure on Clinical Commissioning Groups to provide more funding for sustainable services that are fit for purpose and which all women in need can access. I also think there’s an urgent need for greater help for the families of these women. My husband did not receive support from anyone, and that is a huge flaw in the system too.

 

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.

Kirsten’s story

I believe every mother is entitled to receive the level of support I received during my second pregnancy.

Kirsten’s story (Peterborough)

The symptoms I showed during the pregnancy of my first child included OCD, general anxiety and low mood. I spoke to 11 different professionals before I started to receive help. This left me feeling exhausted, and I couldn’t understand why I had to tell my story so many times, and why I was the one trying to organise and get help.

Life-changing care

When my baby was a week old I finally met a perinatal mental health nurse. Straightaway everything began to change for the better. And when I became pregnant with my second child, I had an amazing support experience.

I was referred to the perinatal mental health team at my first midwife appointment. The perinatal mental health nurse who began supporting me was the same one from my first pregnancy, so she understood the problems I was facing. She also arranged for me to have a specialist midwife, who worked closely with the perinatal nurse to coordinate my care.

The nurse also arranged for me to see a psychiatrist to do a medication check, and I worked with a psychologist for nine months. Overall, the care was seamless and they gave me the best help, support and advice.

Need equal access

Because of my experiences, I know how having access to the right services can be life changing for the whole family. I believe every mother is entitled to receive the level of support I received during my second pregnancy. There needs to be more awareness and understanding of the severity of the issue, and CCGs [clinical commissioning groups] and service commissioners need to recognise the role they can play in improving the situation.

 

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.

 

 

 

Kathryn’s story

It was through working with the MBU’s child psychologist that I finally started to see my son as a little person and a future where everything was going to be okay.

Kathryn’s story (London)

My pregnancy sailed by in a buzz of baby shopping, scans and antenatal classes. All this changed less than 24 hours after our son was born. We had a very long and difficult labour, followed by a petrifying emergency C-section. We were then placed in the High Dependency Unit, but a few hours later my husband was sent home in the middle of the night. This is when I had my first psychotic episode.

A cruel nightmare

In a medical sense, on that first night, I presented with catatonia. The midwives couldn’t rouse me and I was unresponsive. At first, the doctors thought I’d had a massive stroke. In my head, I had no idea who I was, where I was, or what was happening to me. I did not know whether I had had a baby, a husband, a family, or if this was all some cruel nightmare. I was convinced that I was about to die, that my heart was about to stop, my belly was going to explode.

After that first psychotic episode, my family and I managed to convince the hospital team that it was a one-off event, and that with a lot of family support we could manage better at home. Sadly, we were proven wrong. After just one very stressful and sleepless night, we went to the hospital’s A&E department and begged to see the kindly psychiatrist who had seen me earlier in the week. Thankfully, he swung into action and arranged a bed at our ‘localish’ Mother and Baby Unit [MBU].

Building confidence

At the MBU, things did get worse before they got better. But with the right sedatives and antipsychotics, and lots and lots of rest, I gradually improved. The MBU staff were also incredibly patient and supportive, and it was through working with the unit’s child psychologist that I finally started to see my son as a little person and a future where everything was going to be okay.

Eventually, after many weeks of confidence building in the unit I became well enough to be discharged home. Since then, life has got better and better. I’ve learned how to mother and love my son, and he has become the centre and light of my life.

 

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.

 

Laura’s story

I shudder to think how close we came to a very different outcome.

Laura’s story (Surrey/now in Southampton)

When I fell pregnant, I had pre-existing mental health difficulties and a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. I was known to be high risk for postnatal ill health, but I received little support and few preventative measures were put in place. It seemed that the community mental health team and the midwifery team each assumed it was the other’s responsibility.

My son’s birth was extremely traumatic; it left me physically unwell and I completely shut down emotionally and mentally. About a month later, I started to experience flashbacks, violent intrusive thoughts and suicidal impulses. I felt out of control and terrified.

No one understood

I had no idea what was wrong with me, and as there was no specialist perinatal mental health care where I lived at the time, the healthcare professionals I saw were ill-equipped to recognise what was happening or the danger I was in as I became increasingly determined to take my own life.

After presenting at A&E, and following a lengthy and complex referral process, I was admitted to a psychiatric Mother and Baby Unit. I shudder to think how close we came to a very different outcome.

Trauma-informed care

Having had horrendous previous experiences of inpatient wards, I was apprehensive about the unit, but equally I was thankful to be in a safe place and with my baby. The care we received was excellent, and it was there that I was diagnosed with complex PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder].

This was life-changing for me, as it was the first time that the role of childhood trauma, both in my ongoing difficulties and in my response to the birth, was acknowledged and understood. The perinatal period presents a unique opportunity to break cycles of intergenerational trauma, to radically improve parents’ lives, and to give the next generation the best possible start. We need specialist, comprehensive, trauma-informed perinatal care, accessible to every family.

 

You can follow Laura on Twitter @cooksferryqueen.

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.

Maria’s story

I still have no memories of the first year of my daughter’s life.

Maria’s story (Bristol)

My first son, William, was just one day old when he died in 2005. During and after my 11-year-old son’s and nine-year-old daughter’s pregnancies I struggled with a number of mental health problems. With Joel, I felt very anxious whilst pregnant with him, and then felt isolated and depressed following his birth. With Trinity, my postnatal depression was more severe; I also developed maternal OCD and post-traumatic stress disorder, and during her pregnancy I battled with anxiety and depression again.

Crucial peer support

Following Trinity’s birth, I attended my local Mother and Baby Unit [MBU]. It was day two there and I was very low – I felt ‘zombie like’ and disconnected from the world around me. A member of the MBU team came over and held my hand and explained that they understood what day two meant to me and that I wasn’t going to be on my own. I hadn’t joined up the dots of feeling disconnected with the acknowledgement that our first son had died on day two.

What also helped me enormously, and saved my life when I had suicidal thoughts, was peer support from women going through similar experiences. Person centred counselling didn’t necessarily help with my recovery, but it did help me manage intrusive thoughts. And I believe CBT [cognitive behavioural therapy] fast tracked the end of my recovery.

Need specialist care

I would like to use my experience to highlight the need for specialist services and individual care during pregnancy and following it. I think its really important that women have access to MBUs, and that MBUs support the whole family, especially when the mum has other children and may be feeling estranged from them whilst with her new baby.

I also believe it’s vital that women receive good advice about medication. This will help a woman suffering from anxiety or depression make more informed choices. In turn, this might help to reduce the severity of her illness and speed up her recovery, giving her a chance to enjoy early motherhood. I still have no memories of the first year of my daughter’s life.

 

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.

Jenny’s story

Admit how you are feeling, even if it is really hard.

Jenny’s story (Belfast)

Four years ago I had my second child, Isaac. After he was born, I felt differently to how I had felt when his older brother, Sam, had been born. Something wasn’t right.

I felt depressed and struggled to bond with Isaac. I also felt unable to look after Sam adequately. This put a great strain on my marriage, but I just found it too hard to talk about how I was feeling.

Feelings of helplessness

When I was really struggling to feed Isaac, it was assumed I’d be fine because I’d done it all before. But this increased my feelings of helplessness, inadequacy and being overwhelmed. I even started to resent Isaac for not feeding or sleeping as easily as Sam had.

Eventually, I spoke to my health visitor, who referred me to my GP, and soon I was taking medicine that made me feel much better. My health visitor also recommended a course provided by a mental health organisation local to me, which taught me tools that helped me leave my medication behind and take control of worries that bother me.

Early support for new mums

The most important thing I think you can do if you feel depressed after the birth of your child is to admit how you are feeling, even if it is really hard.

Mental health should also have the same status as other major illnesses to help raise awareness of symptoms and support. There is so much already out there to equip people to manage their emotions but not enough of us know about it.

 

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Raj’s story

My wife received little support from the hospital midwives.

Raj’s story (Berkshire)

My wife developed stress-induced psychosis when she was nearly 30 weeks pregnant. At the time, she saw me as an antagonist, and due to her condition I was subjected to mental and verbal abuse as my wife’s perception of reality was affected.

Our GP offered us no clear advice or counselling at a time where my wife was extremely anxious. The fact our daughter was an IVF conception also added to the stress she was feeling.

She was eventually sectioned and placed in a mental hospital before being transferred to a specialist mother and baby unit [MBU].

She attempted suicide

Following a traumatic birth, where she received little support from the hospital midwives, my wife suffered postnatal depression and 10 days later she attempted suicide. She jumped from a window and broke three bones in her back.

My wife later returned to the MBU, but her injuries meant I had to take a great deal of time off work to care for her and our baby. This had a massive impact on my career, and I also went on to suffer from depression.

Better support for partners

With better mental health training and understanding I feel our GP could have diagnosed her condition sooner. There needs to be improved education for community midwives as well, because the ones we dealt with struggled to cope with my wife’s deteriorating state.

In the future, I would also like to see more information and support available for fathers or partners. By raising awareness, and with greater investment, we can make sure everyone has access to superior local mental health services.

 

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.

Louise’s story

Money and resources need to be directed towards supporting women with mental health issues.

Louise’s story (Oxfordshire)

I suffer from bipolar disorder and was treated with lithium. For five years my husband and I had raised with my psychiatrist the issue of us trying for a family, but she kept failing to find out about what changes to medication would be advisable before conception.

Eventually, my husband did some research and found out about a perinatal psychiatrist in London. The hour we had with her meant such a lot after all those years of the issue of us wanting children being brushed aside. We felt empowered, and following her advice I gradually came off the lithium.

They were wholly unprepared

The following year I conceived but found my CMHT [community mental health team] wholly unprepared for issues that arose during pregnancy and the postpartum period.

Prevention better than cure

Despite our best efforts to minimise me becoming mentally unwell after birth, things still did go wrong. I had a difficult delivery and ended up in hospital for a week. This led to me not seeing a psychiatrist for 10 days, even though after five days I developed a very pronounced stress-related speech impediment and wasn’t sleeping.

I strongly believe the care you receive should not be decided by a postcode lottery and that prevention is better than cure. Money and resources need to be directed towards supporting women with mental health issues and their families throughout pregnancy and the first year after birth. I’m sure this would avoid many acute episodes of mental ill health.

 

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.