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Your power is yours to keep

Huge thanks to this lovely birth worker who has shared her story with us as part of our focus on surviving domestic abuse.

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The end of June marks a year since I moved out of the home I shared with my abuser. Learning to be independent with two young children for the first time in my adult life has been incredibly hard, but choosing a life that meant I could feel free and in control has been the best decision I’ve ever made.

When a friend of mine first pointed out that she was seeing abusive behaviour in my relationship, I was shocked and speechless. Part of me wanted her to be wrong, after all he had never hit me, he didn’t threaten me or act aggressively towards me, he said he loved me and I loved him. The other part of me felt relieved. Relieved that there was someone who didn’t think I was crazy, someone who wanted to support me to finally voice my truth.

I met my ex when I was just 14. He was 21. Our age difference should have been the first red flag I saw, but at the time, I had a difficult relationship with my parents and had recently been sexually abused by my previous boyfriend. I was young and vulnerable and he took advantage of that at every opportunity. In the wise words of Maya Angelou,

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

I still wish that the people around me back then had helped me to see who he really was, because in hindsight it was plain to see.

The abuse I endured over the next 12 years was not overt. Instead it was subtle and insidious, and for the majority of the time I had no idea what he was doing to me. As an ardent feminist, I never imagined that I would find myself in an abusive relationship but he uncut any shred of confidence and self-love I had and replaced it with confusion about my value, self-worth and mental health.

He made me feel as though all the issues we had in our lives were my fault so I never even considered that he was the root cause of my pain. When he took loans out in my name and made me feel like I had to ask for permission to spend our money, I didn’t call it financial abuse. When his words made me doubt my own sanity, I didn’t call it gaslighting. When he silenced me by continually speaking over me and twisting my words, I didn’t call it manipulation. When I wasn’t able to work because his needs always took priority, I didn’t call it controlling.  When he coerced me into having sex, I didn’t call it rape. Choosing to finally give voice to my reality and accept that the man I loved had been continually hurting and manipulating me was so painful and terrifying but if I wanted things to be different, it was the first step I needed to take towards positive change.

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I knew that I had to leave but there were so many hurdles along the way. My children were just 2 and 4, I had no money of my own and at the time, my work as a birthworker was not providing enough money to sustain me independently. I struggled to find somewhere else to live that didn’t involve me and the children moving into a refuge and I was constantly scared that he would try to take them away from me. Sometimes I wondered if he could change. If things could be different wouldn’t it be easier to just stay with him? Deep down though I knew that people like him rarely change for good.

The key in being able to hold on to my truth and finally move out was finding the right support. I had some amazing friends who were there to remind me how strong and capable I was and what my life would looked like if I stayed. I had a counsellor who was an amazing emotional support throughout. I had family who were able to help me out financially and with the practical aspects of moving house. I reached out to Women’s Aid and saw my GP who referred me to a support worker with IRIS.

The last year has been challenging in so many ways; learning to be solely responsible for managing a household, learning to parent alone, learning to balance work and family life as a self employed single parent, learning to live with C-PTSD, learning to find healing, build my self worth and start loving myself again. Whilst it’s been a difficult journey, I am beginning to live the life I know I deserve, where I can keep hold of my power and feel safe and supported.

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To anyone who is walking this path, you are strong and worthy of so much more. You are a whole person who has the right to be heard and loved, just as you are. Right now you might feel trapped and out of options but your power is yours to keep and you have everything you need within yourself to live the life you deserve.

I write my story anonymously but if anyone reads this and wants to talk to someone who understands, I am here and happy to be contacted through Growing Families. I hope that by sharing my story, I can show women who might be in a similar position to where I was last year that there is light at the end of what seems like the darkest of tunnels.

Much love, L x

2018

 

Some charities that I found useful:

24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline
0808 2000 247
This is run by Women’s Aid and Refuge and was so helpful when I needed to speak to someone out of hours.

Women’s Aid Manchester
0161 660 7999 (Monday to Friday 9:30am – 4:30pm)
You are able to self-refer to Women’s Aid and get assigned a caseworker who can support you throughout.

Gingerbread
0808 802 0925
This charity works to support single parents and the information they give is super helpful. The have lots of factsheets on their website about everything from benefits to contact arrangements and the people that run their helpine are very knowledgeable.

How Slings helped me to recover from Postnatal Depression

Our thanks to Ellie Thouret of the Cheshire Parenting Collective for this piece on babywearing and perinatal mental health.  We didn’t get a chance to share this post during our month of focusing on PNMH in April, but felt it was an important perspective so are delighted to include it now.

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When my eldest son was born almost six years ago, I suddenly realised that I wasn’t cut out for motherhood. I had a traumatic birth experience and struggled with breastfeeding, and quite frankly I wanted to curl up and sleep for a week. It took a long time to ask for help and receive a diagnosis of postnatal depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, but looking back it’s clear that the signs were there very early on.

Our tiny baby wanted us to hold him all of the time. He was what some people call a ‘Velcro baby’ but in my experience it is just normal newborn behaviour. I didn’t bond with him for quite a long time, and that made me feel even less competent. Every time I looked at him, I felt a crushing pressure that seemed more and more difficult to live up to.

When my husband went back to work two weeks after our son was born, I felt like the walls were closing in. I knew I needed to get out and find some support, but my son seemed to really hate the pram and car seat. I couldn’t even brush my teeth without him screaming to be picked up. I felt like I was losing myself and my sanity along with it. I didn’t really want to be holding my baby all the time, as it just reminded me how incompetent I felt.

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I can pinpoint the exact moment that things started to change: my husband’s cousin asked me if I had thought about using a sling, and offered to lend me her stretchy wrap. Watching my sister-in-law demonstrate how to tie it, I was very sceptical and didn’t think I’d be able to do it, or enjoy holding my son so close. I was desperate, though, and after watching a few instructional videos I gave it a try. He calmed down immediately and snuggled into my chest. It was the first moment I felt like I might be able to mother him after all.

Carrying my son with me in a sling helped him to settle down, which in turn increased my confidence in my ability to meet his needs. I also started to bond with him, and as I looked down at his sleeping face I finally felt the rush of love I’d been waiting for.

Soon, I even ventured outside with the stretchy wrap and being able to walk to the local breastfeeding groups or just wander around helped me to feel better. I moved on from the stretchy to a gauze wrap, which was great in warm weather; then a buckled carrier; and more wraps. I also met other people who were interested in using slings and carriers, and some of us formed a group which eventually became a sling meet and lending library – my stepping stones on the way to setting up Cheshire Parenting Collective.

My recovery from postnatal depression was a long journey, and our rocky start has stayed with me as my son grows up. I still feel a lot of guilt about how I was during his early months, but I also know that even when I didn’t feel a connection with him, I made sure his needs were met.

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Carrying him in a sling allowed me to fulfil his need for closeness, while doing things for myself – luxuries like going to the loo, or making a cup of tea! Carrying meant that he thrived while I recovered, and this had such a strong effect on me that I trained to help other parents and carers to safely use slings and carriers. I believe that I deserved a better postnatal experience and that eventually led me to set up Cheshire Parenting Collective – now we work to improve other parents’ experiences and make sure they are supported in their children’s early days, and beyond!

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Ellie Thouret

2018

http://cheshireparentingcic.org.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/TheParentingCollectiveUK/

@CHSParentingCIC

 

Life isn’t always easy is it?

Our thanks to Aimee Mann, special needs parenting mentor and parent representative for SWAN UK, for her contribution to our Special Educational Needs blog series for May.

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Being a parent isn’t always easy either. I have found, over the past seven years, this has been even more apparent as a parent of three small children who include my oldest child, Freddie. Freddie has an extremely rare De Novo Genetic condition called TUBA 1A. We only received this diagnosis after more than four years via a genetic testing study. Up until this point, we had no answers at all.

We found out at my 20 week scan that his brain wasn’t developing as expected and that was the start of an awful lot of heartache and stress. Each week we would go to the hospital for scans and tests. None of them ever gave us any answers. The Doctors could only tell us what it wasn’t and not what it was. Due to the ever increasing list of issues presenting themselves with his irregular brain development, we were advised that we could still go to panel to decide if it was appropriate to terminate the pregnancy, up to 39 weeks.

Freddie was born spontaneously as 35 weeks.

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There was no real support for us, other than regular trips to the paediatrician. There was no signposting and there were no leaflets, even as a minimum. We were sent home to ‘wait and see’.

After the first six months of Freddie’s life, pretending to ourselves and the outside world that he was going to be fine, we finally had to admit he wasn’t. Freddie was delayed in every area. He was floppy, he hardly moved, he couldn’t sit, he didn’t babble, couldn’t hold his head up well and had terrible reflux to name just a few issues. He has microcephaly and as a result he had an extremely tiny fontanel. We were looking at the possibility of having to have his skull cracked open to allow his brain to grow. We managed to escape this horror by taking him for treatment with an amazing practitioner who works in the osteopathy arena with the Well Being Technique.

Although, I was and still am very lucky to have a loving and supportive family and group of friends, plus I found SWAN UK, the only charitable organisation to support families of children with Undiagnosed Genetic conditions, I have always been very aware this isn’t the case for everyone. I also recognised that even with that kind of support, something was missing. I needed support and coaching in how to manage this situation. This version of life that I wasn’t expecting. Not just the emotional side of grieving the child I thought I would have and the sadness over the challenges that lay ahead but practical support. I needed a way to deal with all of the appointments and meetings. The information I was receiving and the new knowledge I was having to learn and understand, which impacted the decisions we were making on Freddie’s treatment and therapy.

I became so stressed during the first few years of Freddie’s life that I ended up in the Neurologist’s office myself. I was suffering with excruciating head pains that lasted for days at a time. I was convinced I had a brain tumour. The end result was that it was the level of stress I was under that was causing my physical pain. At this point, I knew I needed to make some changes. For me, for Freddie, for our second child and for my marriage.

I have spent a lot of time with supportive friends, received coaching, read lots of books and worked hard little by little to build up my emotional resilience and put into practice some of the techniques I had learnt.

Towards the end of 2016, I launched my blog – Aimee Mann Mentoring, along with a plan for mentoring and supporting other SEND parents just like me. Then in February 2017, with the support of Lynne Barton at Entrust Care Partnership, I launched a set of workshops. I totally believe that anything is possible and that I can achieve whatever is needed for Freddie. I wanted to share the exact techniques that I use successfully, in the hope it would give others strength and progress.

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More than 100 people have attended Aimee Mann Mentoring workshops and this year we are running both the Getting Your Voice Heard – How To Be A Velvet Bulldozer and Building Your Emotional Resilience – The Ebb and Flow of a Special Needs Parent workshops. I also have a secret Facebook group for anyone who has attended one of my workshops. It is a totally safe space to chat, share challenges and successes and receive further mentoring support. Plus, I do a Facebook Live event once a month.

I am so delighted with how my workshops have been received. Feedback is positive and we have had some amazing success stories. One of my attendees, who came to her first workshop in November last year has turned things around so much. She was pretty broken when I met her and cried during the workshop. (We often get through quite a few tissues). She has now, using the strategies I shared, been able to take control of the situation and she has successfully secured the best educational setting for one of her sons, with full support and transport in place. She is on cloud 9. As am I. This is just one example of the power of empowering parents. I love being part of this tribe of empowered SEND parents.

I am running the two workshops, with the support of Lynne Barton at Entrust Care Partnership, throughout this year in Warwickshire. I have plans to widen this geographically in 2019 and I will be adding another one or two workshops to the series, plus some on-line courses.

The next set of workshops will be held in Stratford Upon Avon. Getting Your Voice Heard – How To Be A Velvet Bulldozer will be on June 15th and Building Your Emotional Resilience – The Ebb & Flow of a Special Needs Parent will be on July 5th.

You can read my blogs at www.aimeemannmentoring.com and sign up for my bi-monthly Mentoring newsletter here as well. You can also find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/aimeemannspecialneedsmentoring

“I attended Aimee’s recent workshop empowering parents in advocating for their special needs child ‘ how to be a velvet bulldozer’. It would be difficult to believe that Aimee didn’t know the audience prior to the meeting as she spoke so well and connected with every parent there. Such good advice and techniques to support as well as compassion and understanding. Thank you Aimee for sharing your journey with us and helping us take the next steps forward.” Julie

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Aimee Mann

2018

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Website: www.aimeemannmentoring.com

Facebook: /aimeemannspecialneedsmentoring

Twitter: @AimeeMannMentor

Email: aimeemannmentoring@gmail.com

Becoming an Autism Parent

Our thanks to mum of four, Hannah Edwards, for telling us her story as part of our focus on Special Education Needs this May.

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My journey with autism started about 2 years ago. Before that, I had heard of autism but presumed it was only very disabled people who had it, people who were wheelchair bound and required round the clock care, people who couldn’t communicate. I was extremely wrong, and very ignorant.

I have four beautiful children, two boys and two girls, aged 11, 9, 5 and 3. I consider myself to be incredibly blessed with my lot. My eldest children all have autism and in the past two years we’ve been on a very difficult journey of diagnosis and understanding.

When I became a mum I did not think I would struggle with being able to look after a child, after all I had had plenty of younger siblings, and nieces too. I could change a nappy and amuse a child, it was easy. However, as my eldest son got older and hit preschool age, and we had trouble with his toileting and meltdowns (I called them paddies back then) I questioned how good a parent I actually was. When my eldest son was age 5, we moved to a new area. He didn’t settle well into the school routine at all. Every morning he would scream and refuse to get ready, it was such a battle. We had to commute twenty minutes each day, which meant that we were always rushing so that we weren’t stuck in the traffic. I left him at a school with seventeen different languages, in a huge reception unit full of children, in a new city, with no one he knew. Every single day he soiled himself and I would be so angry with him for doing it over and over again. I thought he was being lazy and disgusting. At the time I believed his behaviour was bad because he was objecting to the move, but nothing improved. We were able to change schools within six months of being there to one round the corner and he was a different child within a week. The soiling stopped straight away and he enjoyed going to school. We thought our troubles were over.

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Eighteen months on we moved to another new town (my husband is a Methodist minister so we move around every five years or so) and a brand new school. My second son started school here as well, and everyone was much happier. Until a year later, the soiling started again and his behaviour got very extreme over things like having the wrong colour cup. He was eight, and I suddenly realised that his younger siblings didn’t react like that when they got a different cup to what they were expecting. I felt able to ask school if anything was going on because I presumed he must be being bullied or something, but they were really really surprised at his behaviour because he was no trouble in school.

A year previous to that initial conversation with teachers, his previous teacher mentioned his love for routine in class and his obsession with time on a day he had a violin lesson, and she said maybe he has Asperger’s. This wasn’t something I had heard of before and I didn’t really know what she was suggesting. It wasn’t until a year on that we remembered the name Asperger’s, and I began to do my research. The teachers and SENco helped me to gather information and we went to the GP as soon as we could. It felt such a blur. At the doctors, my son sat slouched in his chair and refused to look at her or answer her questions. He had a meltdown when I tried to touch him to get him to sit up and listen. She had seen enough and referred us to a paediatrician. It took six months until we saw a specialist in social communication disorders. He asked me lots of history, and my son sat there drawing a chequerboard pattern even though he was asked to draw his family. I realised that day that he had never once drawn a picture of his family. At the end of the appointment the doctor told me to look up autism and gave me a book list. I was dumbfounded and I cried. I said “so it’s not because I’m a rubbish mum then?” and he absolutely assured me that this was not because of any parenting good or bad and it was not my fault at all. It broke me hearing that my son had this disorder.

To get a diagnosis here in Wiltshire, there is quite a process. Firstly, a GP must refer to a paediatrician with the support of school teachers and SENco. Then a paediatrician carries out an initial consultation and refers to the speech and language team who come into school and observe your child all morning and do a special test with them, which gives them a score. Then without my son present we did a 3Di test which is a special laptop test a speech therapist does (created by Great Ormond street experts) which determines which kind of autism your child has based on how their behaviour presents. Our sons came out as Asperger’s syndrome, a high functioning form of autism.

In the time after the diagnosis, my husband and I felt relief that we weren’t failing at all aspects of parenting, but we also felt grief because our son was disabled now. The word ‘disabled’ is such a massive word to get your head round. Over the past two years he has had extra help in school and the staff know what he needs so he has a very positive school life. My husband and I have been on a course to learn about autism and how to tackle it which has helped us in our marriage and in our parenting as a whole. There are loads of things that we face each day with him that sometimes we fail at, for example, just this morning I asked my daughter to sit in his chair for breakfast because I had ironing on her chair but he completely fell apart at that one change and it took him about an hour to get over it. If I am organised I can pre-empt things like that, and we can avoid them. In our house we have rules for everything, and we have social stories up on the walls, lists and rotas. Our son doesn’t understand his feelings and emotions at any deep level and finds it hard to read body language, so we have been teaching him using various picture cards of faces, and trying to expand his vocabulary around different emotions. He starts secondary school soon, and I think he is ready to go and manage ok there, but I do think we have many challenges up ahead as he makes all the changes he will need to make.

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That diagnosis journey over, about a year ago when my third child was in reception, we noticed that she wasn’t coping at home. We felt as if when we spoke to her she didn’t fully comprehend what was being said. I felt as I had done when my eldest son had started school and I was battling to get him to school. I recognised that feeling of pure frustration because they just have no remorse when they are hurtful. My son once broke something special to me, and he made me so upset yet had no idea what it felt like to be in my shoes. I recognised this same feeling when my daughter did a similar thing and I told school at once. They thought she was getting on just fine in school and she was still so little, but over time things got worse and worse at home because of what was happening in school. I didn’t hesitate, and I took her to the doctors for that initial referral. She had no awareness of why she was there at all and spent her time climbing on the chairs and bed, and licking the walls. The doctor didn’t need telling twice, and she was soon seen by a paediatrician. He noticed straight away that she had autism too, but to be sure she had to have the speech and language therapist session in school too. She confirmed it as well and so next week we go back to the paediatrician to see if she needs any further tests before officially diagnosing it. She is far louder than my son in public. She isn’t anywhere near as understanding of her feelings as her big brother, so every emotion is highly charged. If she is worried, her feelings are off the scale and we have to try and calm her down from anxiety attacks. If she gets cross about something seeminly small, her anger is so extreme that she has to be held and told what has just happened to her and what she is feeling. She needs lots of things explaining to her still. Their autism is very similar, so I already have some tricks up my sleeves, which helps massively.

Meanwhile, my second son T had been having some trouble sleeping, and one night, age 8, he told us that he hated school so much that he would rather die. We felt that this was very extreme. He always struggled returning to school after holidays, but didn’t we all?! I spoke to the SENco about it because it did feel like his mental health was being affected by school and neither his teacher nor us could work out what was going on. The SENco took me aside and said that she thought that he too had autism. I went away from that meeting feeling like the world had gone mad! She was saying that my son T – who has never ever been any trouble, who had never screamed because of the colour of a cup, who had never laid of the floor sobbing because I announce that we are going out to the fun splash pool instead of going to the supermarket – had autism too. He has always been shy, but well behaved and thoughtful of other people’s feelings. She mentioned atypical autism, which I had never heard of. We sat down and made a list of the things he has always struggled with and found that there were quite a few autistic traits there, and he certainly wasn’t managing in school even though, again, the teachers didn’t see anything like that as yet again he’s the model student. Our weekends were becoming hellish because of his anxiety about returning to school on Monday. So somehow I found myself sat in the same doctors surgery whilst he referred my second child to the specialists. Last week he saw the speech and language therapist who found that he probably did have autism because he was so literal with her, he enjoys adult company and has massive anxieties. She had a whole list of observations that we haven’t seen at home, but she knows what to look for. Next week he sees the paediatrician who if he agrees with the speech therapist, he will be diagnosed as well. We are due to move areas again this summer, and so the health professionals together with the teachers, have fast tracked our appointments so that when we move, the new schools will be able to work with a diagnosis.

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The biggest thing about becoming an autism parent has been how varied the challenges are with each child. At school the children are model students, they are way above average for reading and maths, and yet struggle so much socially. Each of them brings us such joy through their wonderful sense of humour and brilliant creativity. They have special interests, which over the years has meant that we have all become experts in Bob the Builder, Noddy, coaches, Minecraft, Lego and microphones! It has been quite difficult at times to find support though, once diagnosed you have to do your own homework and although the council offers a course to go on, their waiting list was so long we had a years wait. Other support comes from mums at school who are going through the same stuff as us. Being an autism family is our normal. We don’t know any different. We have been kinder to ourselves, we have given up trying to make our children join in things they don’t want to join in, and we have committed ourselves to teaching them to be wonderful grown-ups. We have no doubt that their special skills and great intelligence and academia will help them go really far in life. Autism won’t set them back, and as parents, we will help them to live happy and fulfilling lives. The diagnosis is not the be all and end all; it is just the beginning of being something really amazing.

 

Hannah Edwards

2018

Better Biscuits Next Time Please

Our thanks to Sasha Barber for writing for us about multiagency training sessions on perinatal mental health.  Sasha is a mental health nurse with a background in health visiting and is a Fellow of the Institute of Health Visiting and Perinatal Mental Health trainer.

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In 2013 I trained as a perinatal mental health champion as part of the Institute of Health Visitors champion training, whilst working as a health visitor in Gloucestershire.  Fast forward 5 years and my training has been updated to encompass the latest research in perinatal and infant mental health and once again I have the opportunity to roll out the training to all agencies in the Bristol, South Gloucestershire and North Somerset area , as part of my role as the perinatal mental health nurse for Southmead maternity. With the support of NHSE, 10 multiagency training sessions have been delivered and 3 more are booked throughout the rest of the year.

When you teach on a subject that you feel passionate about the evaluations can stop you in your tracks, they can take you from a momentary  high to a chasm of despair but apart from the comment on my poor selection of biscuits, I have been lucky that the eclectic group of 200 have been forgiving enough (mostly) to look past not only this but the occasional dodgy teaching method, the IT fails, the poor quality photocopying  and badly stapled handouts (which I did at 2am as I juggled the demands of 4 children, full time work and the organisation involved in the training). What I found was a collective passion and thirst for knowledge around supporting families with perinatal mental health issues and a theme of “how can I make a difference” has resonated throughout each session.

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I have also been struck by the number of different agencies that have attended, health visitors, midwives, social workers , GPs (hurrah), psychologists, housing officers (I was overjoyed at this), probation staff, prison officers, mental health nurses, infant mental health workers, child minders, charities and the voluntary sectors,  nursery managers, obstetricians and nurses  This has added such a richness to the training and an opportunity to learn about others roles which is often a barrier to interagency working.

Through group work, films, role play (me, not them), discussions around infant mental health, epigenetics, research, medication, local services and the exploration of different mental health issues I have tried to convey not only the importance of identifying the signs of perinatal mental illness but also the importance of relationships, however fleeting, however inconsequential you feel the conversation was the power of validating someone’s  experience through empathy and compassion is powerful and life changing.

To tune in and listen to understand rather than respond can be a catalyst to meaningful change but what I have discovered over the years is that if those who are working with women in the perinatal period do not have an awareness or adequate knowledge they are unable to hear what is being said. I can prove this myself; If anyone asks  me about diabetes I go into full on internal melt down and listen to approx 3% of what somebody has said because  my  mind becomes full of what if’s “what if I don’t pick up what she is telling me, what if I miss something, what if what if what if”.  We are also more likely to go into our judgement and fixing mode.

“Well you didn’t attend your CBT session”  “have you tried doing this …”

If you feel confident in your knowledge you are more likely to ask meaningful questions and listen to the answer… Those panic, judging and fixing voices in your head also subside as well.

The part of the day that always stops everyone in their tracks are the women’s voices themselves, I have been so lucky to have Sara, Georgia and Jodie take time to come and tell their story. They have been brave, honest and so candid and it is a rare opportunity to ask questions face to face about what we could all be doing differently.  The feedback always highlights how their story will make a difference to their practice.

“I know after today I will be more confident, open and honest with mums who I have concerns about and may be suffering with poor mental health” – Health visitor

“I think my general practice will be better, I will take more time and more consideration with each patient contact” – GP

“I feel I know more about what is important to women and families” – Nursery Nurse

“I will make sure I will check in with fathers about how they are feeling” – Midwife

“I have more understanding and knowledge on recognising signs of illness and where to signpost” – Health visitor

“I feel much more aware of the distress mental ill health causes and the importance of ‘noticing’ and ‘holding’.”

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But, we need to be doing more, many of those attending identified that they felt out of their depth when assessing mental health, that there was a lack of knowledge around where to signpost and little knowledge about maternal OCD, intrusive thoughts, complex trauma and how this could impact on parenting.

But for those days when you are working with a family, when you don’t feel you are enough, when you feel out of your depth and those panic voices start to shout at you… Just being there to listen and be human can be enough to rip through the fear and allow you to truly hear what is being said and when that happens, it’s an absolute gift.

 

Sasha Barber

2018

A Holistic Approach to Perinatal Wellbeing

Our thanks to Gill Phillips and Florence Wilcock of the #MatExp (maternity experience) team for this blog post, part of our April series on Perinatal Mental Health.  For more information about the #MatExp campaign, please check out their website, Facebook group and the #MatExp hashtag on Twitter.

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Brilliant to see that the ‘Growing Families’ blog is kicking off with perinatal mental health, so we thought we would tell you a little bit about the new national #MatExp #MindNBody project, a holistic approach to perinatal wellbeing.

Our project is very timely as we are half way through a national maternity transformation programme following the publication of Better Births in 2016 when one of the seven specific areas that needed improvement was noted to be perinatal mental health. We are delighted to have links to both the national perinatal mental health team and the national maternity transformation team so that as the project progresses we will be able to help shape the future care women receive. One of our project aims is to not just improve care in the event of a mental health problem but in some instances perhaps even prevent a problem from happening in the first place.

We are currently crowdsourcing over 100 new Whose Shoes?® scenarios and poems exploring all aspects of perinatal mental health. We are looking to include a very wide range of topics, from prevention through to serious mental health problems, and similarly to touch upon everything from pre-conception through to growing families. A tall order indeed, but one which we are very honoured to accept and explore together. There is a dedicated page on the #MatExp website, so please take a look to find out  more: http://matexp.org.uk/matexp-mindnbody-a-holistic-approach-to-perinatal-mental-health/

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We are off to a cracking start, but there is still time to submit any scenarios that you would like us to consider for inclusion. It is proving to be a difficult process as there are so many issues and so many different perspectives, and we are trying to get a good mix and balance. It is all about coming up with really good conversation starters to help people take things forward locally, building their perinatal mental health networks and aiming to provide a comprehensive range of support for women and families, both informal and formal.

The main #MindNBody action is happening in London, the South-West and the West Midlands, as these regions have come together to fund the project. However, in total the new resources will be made available to nearly 50 trusts across the country who already had a #MatExp Whose Shoes? licence when we started the project and there will be lots of other ways for everyone to get involved. We are aiming to produce another booklet of case studies, so please let us know if you have any simple, transferable best practice examples that you would like to share.

We are delighted that Catherine MacLennan is our project administrator. Catherine runs the Pinks N Blues and played a big part in our previous ‘Nobody’s Patient’ Project, having initiated the work around second trimester loss, so we are thrilled she was able to join us. Please feel free to contact Catherine mindnbody@thepinksnblues.co.uk if you have any questions and please send her your ideas for scenarios as soon as possible, but no later than 30 April. We would love to hear from you.

We look forward to a truly collaborative project, making a real difference to mums and dads everywhere … and their growing families!

Gill and Flo

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Contact us on Twitter:

Gill Phillips: @WhoseShoes

Florence Wilcock: @fwmaternity

 

The birth of a mother; my journey through darkness

Our thanks to Sheryl Wynne of Simply Natal for this, the third of our April blog posts focusing on perinatal mental health.  For our full 2018 blog schedule please click here.

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There are no beginnings without endings.

I never imagined what that could mean when I set out to start a family. Being a mother was what I had always wanted. A dream I had had since I was a young child playing with her dolls; a dream that became all the more important after the loss of my own mother at the age of 19. I knew about endings; the sadness, the finality, the despair. Beginnings though, brought hope. Beginnings could only be good?

Our first much wanted pregnancy ended at 7 weeks. And there was my first bitter taste of a new beginning brought to an abrupt end. I had no idea that this loss of life would be a catalyst for much more heartache. Our second pregnancy was a healthy one, physically speaking, although the anxiety I thought was normal in pregnancy turned out to be more indicative of my own mental health struggles and fear of death. I suppose on reflection, the intrusive thoughts began in that pregnancy, at first, the vivid living out of an early miscarriage, then as the pregnancy progressed I imagined delivering a baby that had died in utero, I imagined being told there was no heartbeat, I began to grieve for the loss I felt so imminent, I couldn’t quite accept that this baby would arrive safely, if I did I would ‘jinx’ it and my world would fall apart. I didn’t share these thoughts, like I said, I thought they were normal. I was asked at antenatal appointments, and whenever I went in to be monitored for reduced foetal movements, whether I had a history of anxiety and depression (it said as much in my notes). I waited for the next question, or something that acknowledged what this might look like in pregnancy, but it never came, so my conclusion was that it was irrelevant, and the way I was feeling must be normal.

Without dwelling on the ‘what happened next’ (my birth story is already out there for anyone interested), my almost 42 week pregnancy riddled with anxiety ended in a long traumatic labour. This trauma was predominantly emotional, and as I realised much later, was very much influenced by my belief that my baby would die.

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And there it was my new beginning; a beginning that meant the end.

The beginning of my journey through Birth Trauma; the end of my life without it as a defining event.

The beginning of new intrusive thoughts; the end of sleeping soundly.

The beginning of hypervigilance; the end of my dream of motherhood.

The beginning of unbearable guilt and feelings of failure; the end of my self-confidence and trust.

The birth of a mother broken and bruised; the end of every positive expectation, because I got it so wrong.

I was ill prepared and I blamed myself. Despite the late night reading, the classes, the understanding of the process, nothing had prepared me mentally for such a brutal entrance into motherhood. I knew the Post-natal Depression questions, I anticipated them. I felt like screaming. I’m not depressed, I’m traumatised! And despite the lack of support I received, I persisted, I kept asking the questions, I kept asking for help. I accessed High Intensity CBT to help me deal with the persistent and painful memories. I wrote to the Head of Midwifery and finally my voice was heard.

The beginning of a healing journey; the end of the most intense pain.

The beginning of reaching out to others; the end of blaming myself.

The beginning of accepting events; the end of wanting to turn back time.

The beginning of validating others’ stories; the end of feeling so useless and alone.

The beginning of the feelings that I’d longed for; the end of the desperation to feel anything at all.

The beginning of the panic disorder; the end of the anxiety I had known how to cope with.

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I am 3 ½ years on now and I am still living with the effects of my experience. I began taking medication (anti-depressants that are also prescribed for anxiety) which, in time, helped me to cope better and another course of CBT helped me to get to a good place.

I had my second son, now 18 months old, in the midst of my darkest time, not least because the thought of another traumatic birth was a constant trigger. However, in this darkness I also found light, in the form of key people who helped me to believe in myself and gradually relinquish some of my pain and fear, guilt and shame. I was able to take control and planned my positive experience through emotional preparation, hypnobirthing and informed choice. As a result, I had a very positive, and emotionally healing, planned caesarean section and I can honestly say that every day since I have healed a little more, which is more than I could have wished for or believed possible.

I will continue to heal, and with each new beginning I will never be quite the same again, but that is because at the end of each new challenge I prove myself stronger than I ever thought I was.  And that’s the thing I want to share; the birth of a mother is much more complicated than the birth of a baby. It is not instant, it is a journey that means lots of endings too. It requires sacrifice and heartache and strength, so much strength. Strength that you didn’t even know you had.

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If your experience has left you feeling traumatised or you recognise any of the thoughts or feelings I have mentioned, please know that you are not alone. It is not your fault and you didn’t do anything to deserve it. It can get better, but it will take time. If you haven’t been offered the help that you need, keep asking until you are- because you matter, your experience matters, and what happens next matters.

The beginning of a meaningful purpose; the end of punishing myself.

The beginning of being the light for others; the end of the dark silence.

The beginning of accepting a different future; the end of clinging to what was expected.

The beginning of Simply Natal; the end of trying to prove myself to anyone other than myself.

Simply Natal

Simply Natal with KG Hypnobirthing

Empowering minds and enabling bodies through the power of positive thought.

I can’t change my past, but I can change the future for someone else.

My hope is that the people I teach will never know the pain that I have endured to get here.

 

Sheryl Wynne

2018