6 May 2021

CNWL has been speaking with women who have used our perinatal services to help promote Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week.

This is a week-long campaign running from 3 to 9 May dedicated to talking about mental illness during pregnancy or after having a baby and signposting to support for all mums.

One of these is 35-year-old Grace, who started using our service in Milton Keynes in 2016 following the loss of two premature babies who both died within a month of their birth.

Grace is about to be discharged from our service.

She says: “Perinatal mental health, without sounding over dramatic, saved me. I don’t know what I would have done if it wasn’t for them.

“They’ve become like a little family and I’m going to really miss them because I’m being discharged from the service, finally, after five years, which will be upsetting, but I’m really grateful they were there for me.” 

This is Grace’s story of how she came to be referred to the Milton Keynes Perinatal Mental Health Service.

“In 2014 I had a premature baby. She was extremely premature. She was just 25 weeks gestation. The whole experience of being with her in NICU, the ups, the downs, the times that I felt positive and then the times where I was so unbelievably sad that my heart ached. I had never experienced anything like that. I felt like my world had come crashing down when she passed away in intensive care at 28 days old.

“But then I got pregnant again quite quickly and at that point the hospital didn’t realise I had issues with my cervix. We went nervously to my 20 week scan, told we were expecting a little boy, but we then got informed that due to my cervix being too open, they would need to operate on me to ensure that I didn’t lose my baby.

“I had to be put in a bed that was practically vertical. I had to have an elective stitch, stay on bed rest, attend the hospital for further tests. After all of that, my stitch failed in the end and I had another premature baby, in the same hospital and he was taken to the same NICU unit my daughter had passed away in just 9 months earlier. I tried to be as positive and as strong as I had been with my little girl, but my little boy passed away when he was 11 days old.

“I tried to continue with life after that but I wasn’t coping with anything. My mood was all over the place. I had such a rage in me, I was so sad that I cannot even find the words to explain it.  I felt very alone, even though I had a partner he dealt with his stuff in his way, and we just drifted apart. 

“Then in the beginning of 2016 I said I needed a break from work. I had been signposted to CBT, which wasn’t the right type of therapy for me and I went back to work a couple of months later. I knew I wasn’t well though, and my behaviour took a nose dive.

“I was drinking a lot, taking drugs, doing things that I wouldn’t usually do and I remember just feeling that my head was broken. That’s what I kept saying to people if they asked what was wrong, why was I acting the way I was acting. I would say to them that my head felt like it just broke one day and now I don’t know how to fix it.

“I was scared I was going to hurt myself. I was having flashbacks, nightmares, crazy thoughts inside my head.

“Then I found out I was pregnant with Rylee, my three-year-old, and I was referred to the Perinatal Mental Health Team and that’s when things started to finally get better for me. 

“I was ill but I knew there was someone there who wanted to help because it’s very difficult to explain your emotions to someone when you don’t know why. I knew I was upset because I was pregnant and every day I was thinking ‘Am I going to keep this one?’ 

“I had to have emergency stitches. I had to have constant scans. I had to be on bed rest. It was really awful and I didn’t know how I’d cope. I was just scared but Gloria Aldridge, [Perinatal Mental Health Nurse Manager] and Dr Shah (Psychiatrist) was there for me right up until I had my daughter and then about a year and a half after I had Rylee I finally got to see a psychotherapist – the amazing Emma Cross – and she and that little team of people fixed me – it makes me emotional – I was so mentally unwell and looking back it was quite scary because I was feeling suicidal, I made plans in my head of what I wanted to do so if it wasn’t for them I don’t know what I’d have done. I’m just really grateful to them.

“I started to recognize I was unwell by the way I was acting, my mood was deregulating so often through the day that I didn’t know how I was feeling in all honesty. If someone had said to me, ‘Are you OK?, I wouldn’t have known how to respond, I had no normal feelings in me anymore, I felt they were all to the extreme. 

“You see I felt very alone, but when I got to meet my therapist and we started the course of therapy things started to make more sense. It took a long time because I was so unstable. 

“I’d never want anyone else to feel like I did, especially when you’ve got kids. Being on your own with a mental illness is bad enough but with a child as well it’s scary. 

“Luckily, they recognised that I didn’t just have trauma, I got diagnosed with bi-polar type 2 and I’m on medication for this – hopefully not forever.

“I was relieved in a way when i got the diagnosis because at least it explains that it’s more than just being an angry little person! 

“So, I do feel better these days, I’ve been through therapy and it’s now about reclaiming my life and that’s what I’m doing now. It takes a little while but I’m getting there and the perinatal mental health team have helped me to figure out how to deal with things a bit better.

“My message to mums is this: If you feel you’re not right, speak to a family member or a close friend. For me it was my sister and she said, ‘You’re not well. You don’t even want to take a bath. That’s not like you. You want to take a shower twice a day. You’ve not worn make-up for a year. That’s not like you.’ So when the closest start to notice things that are out of character seek help.”

CNWL also runs perinatal mental health services in Hillingdon, Kensington and Chelsea, or Westminster.