Last week I was proud to help launch the new #MatExp campaign: #MindNBody.
I was proud to stand at the London Perinatal Mental Health Conference at the Royal College of Psychiatrists with dear friends, fellow empty-armed mother Catherine MacLennan and consultant obstetrician Florence Wilcock to talk about why this project is so important.
The campaign is about seeing women as whole human beings; about their mental health counting just as much as their physical health.
It is about helping women source the perinatal mental health support they need and in a timely fashion, whether or not they have their baby in their arms.
It is about raising awareness of this topic that is still very taboo.
It is about saving lives: suicide remains the leading cause of death for new mothers in the UK.
During my part of the presentation, I talked about my diagnosis of HELLP syndrome at just 24 weeks’ pregnant; being blue-lighted to a specialist hospital two hours away from my home; of my son Hugo being born the day afterwards; of being separated while I was in adult intensive care, and he in neonatal intensive care; of despite him receiving the best-possible care having to make the heartbreaking decision, 35 precious yet all-too-short days later, to withdraw his treatment.
I spoke about the awful journey back home without my much-loved, much-wanted son.
I told the audience that while I will be forever grateful to the staff for saving my life, my psychological wellbeing was affected by many incidences of poor communication, making an already stressful time worse. I explained that despite four massive life events in a six week period: a critical illness, spell in intensive care, being a neonatal parent, and the death of my son I wasn’t deemed a priority for emotional support.
I described having to source my own support: phoning grief counselling lines; seeking referrals through mental health pathways each time having to explain my lengthy, complicated story, attempting to explain what HELLP syndrome was, having to utter the words that my son had died – only for sympathetic people to tell me that they were sorry, but they were unable to help me.
I told of how I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and of the consultant psychiatrist who told me “God will give me another baby”.
I spoke of the very dark days where I questioned whether I would ever be well again, and whether I wanted my life to continue.
I read this poem.
Thankfully, mercifully, I at long last received the support I needed: eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR). I am now back in work and thriving, while of course life isn’t plain-sailing and I have to invest a lot of time and effort in keeping myself mentally well – and I know I am fortunate to have received that support.
Many other women are not so fortunate.
I spoke about Hugo’s Legacy, and campaigning to improve support for bereaved parents, and about my involvement with #MatExp – in particular the incredible Nobody’s Patient Workshop at St George’s Hospital.
MindNBody has been building for a very long time: it is a natural development from our #MatExp and ‘Nobody’s Patient‘ projects. We are co-producing new Whose Shoes?scenarios and poems. We have a fantastic collaboration of ‘just do it’ people.
The project is for anyone affected by perinatal mental health – certainly not limited to those who have experienced birth trauma or bereavement – perinatal mental ill health does not discriminate, and affects women and partners in myriad ways that can be equally devastating whether or not they take their baby home.
There is excellent support available in some areas, while in others it is left wanting. Women and families deserve better than the services and support currently available, and to have equity of support irrespective of where they live.
The formal partnership is across three regions: London, West Midlands and the South West. There is opportunity for everyone to get involved, so please watch out for further updates.