Perinatal Mental Health Support: We Deserve Better

I am shaking as I type this. Shaking with emotion, with exhaustion. With relief.

The reason? I have finally spoken to a mental health professional who listened to me with compassion and empathy.

Someone who did not ask me to relive my experiences, unleash the trauma – and then leave me to pick up the pieces myself.

Someone who reassured me that I am not broken.

It should not be this way.

Since Hugo died at the end of March 2014 I have spoken to so many mental health professionals I have lost count.

I have been told my symptoms are a natural response to my birth trauma, to the death of my son.

I have been asked what kind of support I expect by a mental health nurse who knew nothing about HELLP syndrome, the pregnancy illness that nearly killed me and killed Hugo. She just did not, could not understand, and did not take me seriously.

I have been told by a locum GP the reason she got my referral to mental health services completely wrong was because she was ‘too busy’ to read my notes.

I have sensed the incredulity, the ‘oh my goodness’, the ‘where do we even start’ of the person on the other end of the phone. My ‘reward’ for having the courage to call the service for support.

I have been told by a psychiatrist “God will give me another baby”.

I have fled from that appointment in floods of tears with no one from the service bothered about my welfare.

I have been asked whether I really wanted a response to my formal complaint about that incident because the director concerned was rather busy.

I have been told that I will get help maybe, at some point, who knows when – but it will be quicker only if I am suicidal.

I have sat with a well-intentioned work counsellor tearfully explaining my story and after the first hour-long session hadn’t even reached the point of talking about Hugo’s birth. (I didn’t return).

I have been upset, offended and insulted by people who have not even tried to understand my issues reaching instead for assumptions and judgement (included within this number are those who claim to care for the needs of women in maternity services).

I have felt lost, isolated, alone, broken.

I have been delighted to find a book about Birth Trauma, only to get very cross when I realise the book is for women who gave birth at term, and who took their babies home (there is no better or worse of course, but it added to my isolation.)

I have tried to disconnect my brain from the worst of the trauma as a way of coping. The trouble with that is it creates an additional problem because sometimes I wonder whether it was all real and whether I am an awful fantasist.

I have explored all of these things with a psychotherapist at the beginning of this year. I understand, intellectually, why my brain does these things, which helps a bit. I have some coping mechanisms. But I needed more support, especially with returning to work.

I have put up defences for when I speak to people, I want to feel in control, venture only as far as I want to. Those defences are particularly strong when speaking to mental health professionals to the point of belligerence on my part because I got so very fed up and frustrated with everything – what was the point?

I have put up barriers and walls around myself. They are heavy to carry around.

I could feel those walls eroding. The structure was always precarious, built on unsteady ground.

Two months ago, those walls came crumbling down. A meltdown of epic proportions that terrified the hell out of me and my partner.

I am very fortunate to have a proper GP who cares and who listens and who referred me to a service that is helping me.

Finally it is being recognised as a perinatal mental health issue, and being dealt with appropriately.

There are therapy options. The person who I spoke to today will call me by the end of the week to let me know what is next, and how long I am likely to wait (the perinatal connection means it should hopefully be quicker).

I trust her. She listened, and she was sensible.

But it shouldn’t have to be this way. Finally being on the road to getting the emotional care and support I needed in the first place should not be a cause for celebration.

I (and my family and friends) have been through so much.

I want to be in the world, and making a positive contribution. I want to do that for me, for Hugo, for Martin, for everyone I love.

I know life will never be the same again, but I want to overcome it. I do not want post-traumatic stress disorder to rule my life the way it is now. I know there are no quick fixes, and the road ahead will be challenging.

But I am determined and tenacious. I have come this far.

I will get there.

If it feels anything like the relief I feel today, it will be worth it.

Because I – we all – deserve better.

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And then the fun began...

14 Comments on Perinatal Mental Health Support: We Deserve Better

  1. Sara | mumturnedmom
    December 9, 2015 at 2:45 pm (1 year ago)

    Oh Leigh, I am so pleased that you’ve finally seen someone that can help, I’m just so sorry that it’s taken so long for you to get there x #truthabout
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    Reply
    • Leigh
      December 9, 2015 at 6:15 pm (1 year ago)

      Thank you Sara it really has been a gruelling journey xxx

      Reply
  2. Sam
    December 8, 2015 at 10:33 pm (1 year ago)

    I have a very small experience of counselling – not full on psychotherapy or anything like that but I can see that my original expectations of such a person were a bit unrealistic. It isn’t always the right person for you and in your case – well just the sheer volume of people you’ve had to get through to finally feel like you’re being heard – it is a bit of an indictment really. Glad you have finally found someone who is listening though. Xx #thetruthabout
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    Reply
    • Leigh
      December 13, 2015 at 11:05 am (1 year ago)

      That’s right Sam – sometimes your counsellor just isn’t the right ‘fit’ for you – but the number of people I have seen is ridiculous. Thank you for your kind comment xxx

      Reply
  3. Maddy@writingbubble
    December 8, 2015 at 11:03 am (1 year ago)

    Oh Leigh, I had no idea you’d seen so many different professionals who failed to meet your needs so overwhelmingly. I’m so glad you’ve finally found someone who can properly help. You have shown such overwhelming strength in coming this far and creating Hugo’s legacy. You will get there, you will. #thetruthabout
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    Reply
    • Leigh
      December 13, 2015 at 11:06 am (1 year ago)

      Thanks for your kind comment, Maddy xxx

      Reply
  4. Betty and the Bumps
    December 8, 2015 at 10:46 am (1 year ago)

    Hi Leigh,

    I only have limited experience of mental health support structures and professionals, having undergone six months of CBT when I was 28.

    During my second session my counsellor seemed quite hostile and said something along the lines of “I’m just trying to work out why you’ve come here”, which – as you can imagine – didn’t exactly create an environment in which I felt totally comfortable to offload. It didn’t occur to me for a second that I could have asked to see somebody else or that there was anywhere that I could have registered my … I’m not sure complaint is the right word … my feeling of discomfort, maybe?

    I hope this time that you have found somebody who can be more helpful.

    x

    #thetruthabout
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    Reply
    • Leigh
      December 13, 2015 at 11:09 am (1 year ago)

      Blimey Beth what an unhelpful thing for that counsellor to say. Doesn’t exactly help in building rapport does it? Thank you I’m hopeful I will get someone who can really help me now. xxx

      Reply
  5. John Adams
    December 8, 2015 at 10:08 am (1 year ago)

    Wow, I hadn’t appreciated you’ve been seen by so many professionals and had such a tough time with so many of them. I am glad to hear you have at long last found someone who understands. I hope on this occasion you receive the help and support you want and need. Wishing you the very best for the future. #truthabout
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    Reply
    • Leigh
      December 13, 2015 at 11:08 am (1 year ago)

      Thank you, John x

      Reply
  6. Kylie Hodges
    December 8, 2015 at 8:57 am (1 year ago)

    It’s so wrong.

    I think the more “real” the trauma the less likely you are to get help, because no one knows what to do with us. My anxiety is all related to a) my health because like you my body tried to kill me. and b) separation from Joseph. These are both perinatal issues but now I’m 6 years on nobody will have a bar of me.

    I need to either be suicidal or have another baby to get help.

    It really should not be this way but I can’t see any systemic change happening anytime soon.

    Reply
    • Leigh
      December 13, 2015 at 11:07 am (1 year ago)

      Very wrong, Kylie. Yes I’ve long had a sense no one knows what to do with us – the services are geared up to deal with specifics, and if you don’t fit in to a certain box you’re in trouble. Needs to be a huge change xxx

      Reply
  7. Michelle
    December 7, 2015 at 11:34 pm (1 year ago)

    Leigh you are making such a positive contribution to this world and for many women living on it. You are an inspiration.
    I hope you find the support you need to continue to soar and heal.

    With much admiration. Michelle xx

    Reply
    • Leigh
      December 9, 2015 at 6:15 pm (1 year ago)

      That’s really kind Michelle, thank you very much xxx

      Reply

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