Since having my first child, I have been heavily involved in the local Children’s Centre. From becoming a breastfeeding peer supporter and volunteering at the weekly support group to being a part of their Parent Partner committee, organising Family Fun Days and everything in between. I really thrive off being a part of something good. I love volunteering and being part of a community.
However once I realised just how ill I was, my son was around 4 months old, I started to close in on myself. I stopped going along to the weekly breastfeeding support group as I felt like everyone was watching me. I felt like they knew I was having difficulties, despite the happy smile I plastered on my face each week. (Even now, many people tell me they wouldn’t have a clue to my struggles, I hide them too easily). I felt I was a hypocrite, giving advice to others based on guidelines that I wasn’t able to follow myself.
Once I was in a better place (which I’ll write about in more detail in my ‘Where it all began…’ series) I decided to start up a support group along with a friend who had also experienced post natal depression and anxiety. We had only had two meetings when I received a call from the volunteer coordinator for the Children’s Centre, someone who I had quite a good relationship with until I got ill. She had heard about the support group and was inviting me to attend an Advisory Board Meeting for Mid Devon on the topic of Mental Health. They wanted to hear from real parents going through mental health issues to find out their experiences and how they can help support parents and their families cope during these difficult times.
I was very wary to go. I had been to these meetings before as a Parent Partner, so understood how they worked. This also meant I knew who would be there. There was a long list of ‘important people in suits’ including a local MP and my primary school head teacher. Did I really want to go and open my heart to a bunch of strangers?
Apparently I did…I talked it through with my husband and psychologist and decided to go for it. Once I confirmed with my cycling group that I wouldn’t be able to lead that week, I decided if I was going to be telling my story to a bunch of important people, why not finally take the leap I’d been thinking about for so long and start a blog? And here I am…
I traveled to the meeting with the volunteer coordinator and we caught up. I took my son whilst my daughter was in nursery. I was very nervous, and it seemed my son was too as just as we arrived, he projectile vomited all over himself and his car seat. This is when I realised I had forgotten to pack spare clothes and wet wipes, I assume out of nervousness! Luckily we managed to find him some spare clothes and clean him up.
Completely flustered and feeling like I’d made myself look like an even worse mother than I feel most days, I entered the meeting room. I was relieved to see my Health Visitor sitting right in front of me, this gave me a little confidence boost, to know she was there and had my back if I needed her. Another Mum I knew through the support group PANDAS Tiverton (find out more here) was also there to share her experiences. I kindly let her go first 😉
It was emotional to listen to, but in a way comforting to know we were in the same boat and supporting each other. A few people made comments, mainly apologetic that she had such a bad experience from the team of people that were supposed to help her. We learnt that Health Visitors, the professionals that are a mothers first point of contact during the first six weeks post partum, actually have no mental health training. Isn’t that in itself shocking? How are these professionals supposed to diagnose and support mothers without the correct training?
Although I had a bad experience with my initial Health Visitor, I feel immensely lucky that I agreed to see a student Health Visitor on short notice, who is now fully qualified and one of many in my support system. She is fantastic, mainly due to the fact she was previously a mental health nurse, but also as she is so personable. I wouldn’t have been able to open up to others in the way I did with her in the beginning and I can’t thank her enough for all she’s done to help and support me. Whenever people talk badly about Health Visitors now, I can’t help but stick up for her!
I told my story and what I felt needed changing. In particular I am having trouble at the moment finding childcare in order to start an intensive Cognitive Behavior Therapy course. It seems somewhat ironic that I need this therapy because I’ve had children, yet can’t receive the therapy, because I have children.
The room was opened for questions, mostly positive and I felt confident answering them. Then a man asked a question, I looked up to see my old primary school headteacher…”Let’s get to the bottom of this then, I think PND is caused from too much pressure to breastfeed!”
I felt awful, mainly because I knew the other Mum had felt an immense pressure to feed when she didn’t feel well enough to. I could see she was getting emotional but couldn’t help but stick up for myself. My hand shot up. Everyone turned to face me. I felt like I was in school again.
I explained that I had breastfed both of my children, one I had no experience of PND and the other I had quite an intense experience of PND. I explained that mothers needed support in feeding, not told to give up because they were depressed or anxious. That for me, breastfeeding was my only connection to my son in the early days. And if I hadn’t felt that need to feed him, I probably wouldn’t have held him at all.
Both with tears in our eyes, my Health Visitor confidently told the room that the discussion was over and the topic of conversation was changed.
Despite a negative ending, it was overall a positive experience. I gained a few contacts who are looking into the possibility of holding a creche for PND/A sufferers to attend therapy and have been asked to attend various other meetings to build more awareness in our area.
I am determined to support as many local mums as possible through our support group and awareness campaigns and help others, through this blog, feel less alone and slightly more normal. #1in4