All posts by Lucy Nichol

A day in the life of…a fundraising assistant

Kelly Ashcroft has worked with APP as Office Administrator and Fundraising Assistant since September 2020, and prior to that she worked as a peer support volunteer. Kelly, who had no previous mental health problems, experienced PP in 2006, three months after the birth of her son. She had her second child in 2011 and no recurrence of PP, although she still lives with anxiety and depression during times of increased stress.

Here, Kelly shares a typical ‘day in the life’ of her role with APP.

9.30am

I usually start work around 9.30am after the school drop off. The main part of my role is helping people who want to fundraise for APP, whether this is an individual fundraiser or a group of people fundraising as a team. I provide help with setting up a fundraising page on platforms such as JustGiving, GoFundMe and Facebook, and I post out fundraising materials including APP branded running vests, t-shirts, loose change collectors and balloons.

As a charity, we sometimes purchase places in events such as the Royal Parks Half Marathon, so I also help to register our runners' details on the charity consoles.

11.00am

I often help to promote our fundraiser’s stories and campaigns by sharing them on the APP website, through our social media channels and our newsletter. So sometimes the latter part of the morning is spent writing up an inspirational story which is always lovely to do.

I also encourage our fundraisers to join the APP Events and Fundraising Teamspace, and the Running, Walking and Cycling groups on Facebook so that everyone feels supported and part of a community. I might also be sending out thank you emails, certificates and medals to anyone who has recently completed a fundraiser for us.

12.30pm

I usually eat my lunch in the  garden so I can get some fresh air, and read a magazine to help me switch off. After lunch on a Tuesday we always have a team meeting, where each member of the APP team updates on the work they have been doing and what they have coming up. During this meeting we can ask for guidance and support from our colleagues/managers.

1.30pm

I also like to check in on any current fundraising challenges to see how fundraisers are doing and cheer them on. We recently had a fundraiser (APP’s very own Partner Coordinator Simon O'Mara!) complete an epic 851 virtual mile cycle ride for APP, so I always checked in on his daily progress, updated the news article on the APP website and offered him words of encouragement.

We’ve been so lucky to have lots of amazing fundraisers getting involved recently. Amy Coutts-Britton took part in the Oswestry 10k and we had had four runners in the Royal Parks Half Marathon; Nicola Ball, Jeni Dibley-Rouse, Anneka Harry and Sally Hogg. We also had Steve Bushell run the Yorkshire Marathon, Abi France ran the Liverpool Rock n Roll Marathon and we had several runners in the London Marathon; Jason Sales and Andy Rolfe ran in the live event, and Dave Orridge, Sophie Raynor, Esther Land and Karen Lacey ran in the virtual event. The team from the Brockington Mother and Baby Unit even climbed Snowden for APP! We also still have some ‘Miles for Mums and Babies’ fundraising challenges ongoing. I am continually amazed and inspired by our brilliant fundraisers!

2.30pm

As part of my Office Administrator role I might also be answering the APP phone and monitoring the main APP email where I respond to queries or forward them onto relevant colleagues. The administrator role is really varied and can involve things like booking meetings on Zoom, posting out copies of our Insider Guides and leaflets, updating databases, and updating the APP website. Soon, I’ll be writing and sending out Christmas cards to this year's amazing fundraisers which is always a joy to do.

5.00pm

By 5pm I finish work and make a start on the tea for my two children and my husband. Working from home gives me a better work balance by not being stuck in the rush hour commute so life is always a bit more relaxed at teatime these days!

Anyone who is interesting in finding out more about fundraising for APP can contact Kelly by emailing fundraising@app-network.org

 

 

Simon completes 852 virtual miles raising awareness of support needed for partners during postpartum psychosis

We are absolutely thrilled that today, our brilliant partner peer support coordinator, Simon O’ Mara, completed his mammoth 852 mile journey raising awareness of postpartum psychosis, its impact on partners and the need for more Mother and Baby Units (MBUs) in the UK.

Marking the launch of a new support project for the partners of women who develop postpartum psychosis, Simon challenged himself to complete a virtual tour of all UK MBUs to highlight their importance in caring for the whole family unit at this critical time.

Simon, whose wife was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis 15 years ago, said: “As a partner, when all hell’s breaking loose and your wife and child have to go to an MBU, even though it’s the right thing, you feel like you’re losing them. But for some people, due to lack of services in their local areas, they have the added difficulty of travelling a really long way to see their loved ones.

“I initially planned to do the journey out on the road, but due to lockdown restrictions in the early stages of planning, I changed my plans to complete the cycle ride on my smart trainer.

“Doing a smart cycle ride of 852 miles felt like it might actually be a little easier – you don’t have to contend with the weather or road traffic. But it proved really hard at times, especially after a long day’s work when all you really want to do is relax and put your feet up with your family.

“Using the Zwift software and cycling virtually with others from all around the world was a real motivating factor though, as was meeting with some of the MBUs along the journey via Microfost Teams. It’s really kept me going and I’m delighted to have raised £800 for Action on Postpartum Psychosis.”

Simon added: “APP has been campaigning for more MBUs for many years now, and cycling the distances between these services felt like a really good way to show just how these gaps in provision can affect families.”

Dr Jess Heron, Chief Executive, Action on Postpartum Psychosis, said: “Families across the four UK nations are often faced with difficult decisions about receiving specialist MBU care many miles from home or being admitted to a general psychiatric ward. As women can expect hospital treatment to last 8 to 12 weeks, and full recovery to take many, many months, this distance can be an enormous pressure on new families. Families in Northern Ireland, North Wales and the North of Scotland do not yet have access an MBU in their region.

“While we know that experiencing a severe mental illness at this time can be devastating for women, our research shows that partners also describe the experience as the most traumatic of their lives. Many men describe long-term impacts on their own mental health. NHS England have made a commitment as part of the Long Term Plan to inform, signpost and support partners. We hope other regions of the UK will follow suit. MBUs play a vital role in supporting partners and entire family units at this time and have expertise that general psychiatric units do not have.

“We have been working with partners for a long time at APP to support them with information and signposting about postpartum psychosis and getting help, but we are delighted that we now have a dedicated peer support team who can provide email, telephone, forum and video call support for dads and partners. We work closely with all UK MBUs to ensure that all who need it have access to peer support when postpartum psychosis impacts their family.

”We are so grateful for Simon’s commitment to raising awareness of the support needs of partners and we’ve all been cheering him on from the ‘virtual’ sidelines! We are all incredibly proud of what he has achieved.”

APP delivers award-winning peer support services working in partnership with NHS Trusts around the UK, manages a thriving online national peer support forum and facilitates impactful research into postpartum psychosis.

To find out more about Simon’s story, or to add to his fundraising efforts, visit his JustGiving Page 

To support the petition for an MBU in North Wales click here

 

Ruth’s story: I was diagnosed with bipolar after my miscarriage

Many mothers fully recover from postpartum psychosis, but some face a long road to recovery. I am one of those mothers, and my journey has been long and hard. But today, my life as a mother is wonderful and fulfilling.

My story starts in the autumn of 2015 when I miscarried in the ninth week of pregnancy. The grief that followed my loss was engulfing. It consumed me. I found myself crying for over an hour at my work desk, at a Chinese takeaway and relentlessly at home. I was crying pretty much all the time.

Naturally, the loss of my baby left me shattered, but the depths of my despair went well beyond the pain of loss. I knew something was seriously wrong.

After several weeks of severe hopelessness I visited my GP. She stressed that the depression I was feeling was emotional rather than hormonal, and sent me away with a month’s supply of antidepressants. The tablets sadly had little effect, and my depression took a turn for the worse.

In December 2015, approximately 8 weeks after I miscarried, I became suicidal and floridly psychotic.  Convinced I had spread SARS across the UK, I believed I was on death row and facing execution by the electric chair.

Delusions of torture soon followed, along with hallucinations of flies flying around me. People’s faces would appear disfigured. Confused and clinically depressed, I was admitted to hospital for assessment, and would go on to spend three weeks as an informal patient on my local psychiatric ward.

This devastating experience had been my first episode of postpartum psychosis.

Despite making a full and speedy recovery, I went on to have two further psychotic episodes before the birth of my son in 2019.

One experience was so violent I had to be sectioned by the police. I was initially diagnosed with Acute and Transient Psychotic Disorder, and was advised by consultants that if I managed stress and sleep better I could prevent further episodes.

Managing stress and sleep was becoming easier, and in 2018 I found myself unexpectedly pregnant with my son. I was ecstatic. At 35, and with two failed pregnancies behind me my hopes of becoming a mother had been rapidly fading.

My son was my miracle baby. My rainbow baby. But my pregnancy was tough. Once again, I began bleeding heavily early on. Convinced I was going to lose another pregnancy I developed severe OCD. I would endlessly wash my hands, and avoided a wide range of foods – believing I would catch listeria. My anxiety peaked quickly and I becamepsychotic. Feeling very paranoid, delusions followed. I briefly believed sewage was leaking from the sink in my bathroom.

Concerned for my wellbeing, my Community Mental Health team linked me in with the newly established Perinatal team. I met with the Perinatal Consultant Psychiatrist early in February 2019 (2 months before my son was due). I was 31 weeks pregnant.

It was a devastating meeting. The consultant diagnosed me with Bipolar Type 1 disorder which she believed was triggered by the miscarriage in 2015. She went on to inform me that, as I had had a previous episode of postpartum psychosis, my chance of becoming acutely unwell after giving birth was 50%. I was urged to start antipsychotic medication immediately.

Because of my anxiety and previous failed pregnancies, I flatly refused, and hesitantly agreed to start medication immediately after my son was born. I went into labour a week later, and gave birth at 35 weeks. My son was tiny. Weighing only 5lb10oz…but he was healthy. And I had avoided a severe psychotic episode thanks to the amazing Perinatal and Maternity teams who had managed my labour like a military operation.

The perinatal team were concerned, however, that I was showing early signs of postpartum psychosis. I therefore spent a week on the labour ward and was admitted to the nearest MBU in the neighbouring county. I stayed at the MBU for three weeks.

Initially I was elated. I felt I had won the battle against postpartum psychosis, and I had a beautiful, healthy son. But later I struggled in the MBU, finding it a daunting experience. I was a new mother away from family and friends…and my hometown. It was not how I expected to spend the first weeks as a mother. But I found solace in the unit. I realised I was not alone, that other mothers had suffered like me, and that we had a huge support network to rely on.

As hard as it is to admit, I did struggle to bond with my son after birth. My traumatic pregnancy, combined with my shock diagnosis, had flawed me. I wondered how I would cope – if I could cope.

My elation at beating a full blown second postpartum episode was dashed last May. Psychosis had finally caught up with me. The anxiety of being a new mother, combined with fears relating to the Covid-19 outbreak tipped me over the edge. Fortunately, this time I was on medication. This meant the episode was less aggressive and slower to progress. It also meant I had a lot more insight – I knew I was unwell. I did not need to stay in hospital and was able to see my son (at my mum’s house) regularly. This was empowering for me as I realised I could now manage bipolar psychosis.

Happily, I am now in remission. The longest period of remission since 2015. I am aware however that medication does not eliminate the risk of relapse, and I accept I am on medication long-term.

Life has changed vastly for me since my miscarriage. I carefully manage my stress levels, and sleeping patterns. I no longer drink alcohol. My once fast-paced, chaotic life has almost ground to a halt. But in losing almost everything, I have found what is most important…health and motherhood.

For years I doubted my ability to move past my episode of postpartum psychosis. It had, at the time turned my life upside down. But I am often reminded of the Perinatal Consultant’s comforting words, “The illness”, she said, “will always be part of you, but doesn’t need to define you”. These words gave me hope, and Action on Postpartum Psychosis have connected me with mothers who have shown me that this is true.

I now see that it is possible to move on from postpartum psychosis. In fact, not only is it possible to move on from, but I now know that I can live a wonderfully fulfilling life. A life full of meaning and purpose. A life as a mother.

 

Cradled: An interview with writer Nessah Muthy

Ellora Torchia as Maia in Cradled

Part of Channel 4’s ‘On the Edge’ drama anthology, Cradled is a powerful portrayal of postpartum psychosis.

The writer of Cradled, Nessah Muthy, is an established TV and theatre writer, working as part of the Coronation Street script team, as well as juggling multiple solo TV and short film projects. Nessah talked to us about why Cradled was such a personal journey.

Please note both the film and the interview contain references to suicide and intrusive thoughts about babies. Please take care when reading/viewing.

APP: Many in our network have praised Cradled for being such a moving and powerful portrayal of postpartum psychosis. How did it come about?

Nessah: It’s actually about 90% autobiographical. Although my experience was/is of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) rather than postpartum psychosis (PP), many of the incidents leading to my crisis, and the outcomes from it, were similar. With OCD, the voices sometimes, to me, feel psychotic - but they’re not actually psychotic as they aren’t coming from an external place.

As I got more and more poorly with my second child however, it grew increasingly difficult to tell where exactly the thoughts were coming from and, truly scary to admit they might be manifesting inside my own brain.

With my first child, I had awful thoughts thinking I might hurt my baby. It became so bad that I couldn’t bathe her and I didn’t want to change her nappy. I was petrified of being alone with her so I was always taking her to the library, to playgroups, to parties, like Maia does in the film, just to be around other people. It was exhausting.

APP: In our network, many mothers had no prior experience of mental illness. However, we also know that past experiences of psychosis or being diagnosed with bipolar can also trigger PP. Had you experienced mental health problems prior to giving birth?

Ellora Torchia (Maia)

Nessah: Yes. My OCD was something I had lived with since I was a young kid. (Although I had no idea it was OCD or indeed what OCD even was.) Growing up in the 90s and early noughties, with no internet and not as many people talking about mental health, I basically thought I was some kind of monster. There’s a history of mental ill health in my family, but I had no idea that intrusive thoughts were a thing. So I remember being so ashamed and not being able to tell anybody the true extent of the thoughts I was experiencing. I may have tried once or twice but the look of horror on people’s faces made me feel unable to speak out about it.

I spent a lot of my childhood in church and looking back now, praying became one of my compulsions. I would pray for my family to stay safe and believed that if I didn’t do the prayers (and other things like getting to the lights before someone else) something really bad would happen.

As I got older, I became scared of having children because I thought I might hurt them. Of course, I felt there was no way I could tell my husband this, I was deeply ashamed and fearful of what he might think of me.

Overtime I ignored the thoughts as much as I possibly could and managed to bury my fears so deeply that I was able to have a baby. During this pregnancy however I experienced hyperemesis gravidarum  - basically prolonged and severe nausea and ended up losing a stone in weight. Looking back, this probably contributed to my ultimate crisis and certainly increased my anxiety.

When we brought my first new born home I distinctly remember saying that she was too good for me. You love this precious thing to the ends of the earth but you’re also utterly terrified of them.

Following her birth, the thoughts weren’t as intense as I thought they might be, however, they were definitely there. I remember having moments when I was sliding down the door, as Maia does, feeling overwhelmed by it. There was never a major kind of crisis point, I just tried to push through and push through, but, amongst the joy, there was a lot of intense anxiety and worry. With my second child, however, the birth was very traumatic and that really triggered my OCD.

Ellora Torchia (Maia), Damien Molony (Lenny)

APP: Many women in our network experienced traumatic birth prior to the onset of PP as well. What was your experience?

It was the most horrific birth, I essentially had a very high 3rd degree tear and spent two hours in theatre almost immediately after delivery.

A few days later I was back home and trying to settle in with a major significant injury. Then, my baby projectile vomited blood all over the wall, it was like something from a horror movie. It turned out to be residue from the birth canal, but was one of the worst things I’ve ever witnessed.

As my family of three tried to adjust to becoming a family of four, life was tricky. Juggling a two year old, as well as a new born who would vomit her milk after every feed, (due to lactose intolerance) and, then, as she grew older bang her head repeatedly against her wooden cot, things started to reach breaking point. With sleep deprivation thrown into the mix, my world began to spin and the intrusive thoughts increased during these stressful times. I felt like a monster had grown inside my head, that the monster was me, the worst Mum in the world.

APP: How did intrusive thoughts affect you?

Ellora Torchia (Maia)

Nessah: As a writer I was weirdly writing/analysing my own narrative - and it wasn’t a good one! I was also starting to self-harm. I became very suicidal because I was so scared of hurting my kids that I just thought I’d be better off not being here.

My husband was scared of going to work but he had to go to work, because I was on mat leave and we needed to pay the bills.

This is what I tried to show in the film - the fear of being left alone but having no choice as a family to be by each other’s side round the clock.

I also wanted to show ‘the fear’ of becoming unwell and how, in some ways, knowing that you are getting sick is more petrifying than succumbing to the illness itself. When I did finally say, out loud: “I am unwell, I need help” there was actually a sense of relief and release…but then came the challenge of trying to convince my family that I was poorly… At times it felt like everybody wanted me to get better, but nobody wanted to accept that I was ill… I remember trying to explain that will alone, as in, willing me to get better won’t get me better, this is going to be a long journey and you (my family) need to accept this. This again was something I wanted to show in Cradled, often it is the people around the person who is unwell, trying to convince them that they need help, for me, it was the other way around.

One day the façade finally fell, it all got too much and at a health visitor appointment I fully broke down. The health visitor was supportive as was my GP, but in the end I said I just think I need to go to A&E. From here my local mental health crisis team took over, they came out every day, twice a day, and they were amazing. Knowing that someone else was coming was so reassuring. Family members and friends were also hugely supportive, they sat with me, effectively on suicide watch.

I was given citalopram (an antidepressant), which helped, but they took a while to kick in and I could literally feel my brain adjusting to the drug.

A few weeks later I started to have CBT - (which I’d had before) but I was more honest than ever about the content of my thoughts and it really was time to face the fear. I had to do immersive stuff on my own - like going in the bath with the children, or changing a certain number of nappies every day.

I still have intrusive thoughts but in a weird way, the crisis was also the best thing that ever happened to me, because now I don’t live consumed with the weight and monstrosity of those thoughts. I don’t feel as desperately lonely, as desperately fearful. I’ve been able to tell others and I’m also able to tell myself/recognise that’s an intrusive thought, it’s not who I am.

It probably won’t ever fully go away but, as my husband said, we used to live from one panic to another, but the therapy and the tablets just stabilise things and prevent me from reaching crisis point.

APP: What made you decide to focus on PP rather than OCD for Cradled?

 Nessah: There are elements of my experience that were almost psychotic, like the mirror stuff that I showed Maia experiencing in the film. There were mini hallucinations that I started to develop, and it’s difficult to unravel whether they were indeed hallucinations or just really strong intrusive thoughts. As a child, I spent time around adults experiencing psychosis so I had personal experience of it to draw upon as well.

More technically, when you render, or portray, intrusive thoughts for dramatic purposes people will likely think that it is a form of psychosis. So it just made sense to me to portray PP and because my experiences were so close.

Other similarities between mine and Maia’s experiences include vividly imagining my babies drowned in the bath. With writing, you have to find the core image of that, the core emotional beat which is, I am responsible for my baby’s death. For me it’s the most powerful beat in the film, but it’s also the hardest moment to watch because I am right back there in the heart of my intrusive thoughts. I was so lucky to work with Chloe Wicks, the director, and the actor Ellora Torchia, who were/are both absolutely phenomenal, but of all the scenes that’s the most breath-taking and painful for me.

APP: It was so lovely seeing the ending where Maia and her partner, Lenny, were clearly in a supportive environment with their baby and a health professional, playing with toys. It reminded us of a Mother and Baby Unit. How did you come up with this ending?

Nessah: Maia and Lenny were indeed in an MBU at the end of the film. I didn’t personally go to an MBU, but I did a fair bit of research around MBUs. Watching Louis Theroux’s documentary, Mothers on the Edge, made me question that, if it wasn’t for MBU’s, and if I had been admitted to a unit, who would have looked after my children? How would my husband have coped? I really wanted to show the family together and I wanted that scene to be gentle and warm and, ultimately, for there to be hope.

Damien Molony (Lenny)

APP: Finally, why was it so important for you to write Cradled?

Nessah: My personal story is ultimately a survival story and Cradled is too. I wanted to show that there is hope but also to create a strong and authentic portrayal of mental illness. Before I was diagnosed with OCD I didn’t know what it was and felt so ashamed, so raising awareness was so important to me. I remember going to mother and toddler groups and meeting other mums who were like: “oh, I take that drug too” or “I felt that too” just knowing you’re not alone in your experiences is so powerful. I hope Cradled will make people feel less alone and that even if you are experiencing what Maia is experiencing, you can get help, that you can get better.

You can find out more and watch Cradled here

If you have been affected by anything in this article or in the film, need any support, or want to meet others, visit our Peer Support page.

 

 

 

 

 

APP fundraiser story: How cycling boosts my mental wellbeing

Our Partner Peer Support Co-ordinator,  Simon O’Mara, has been incredibly busy raising awareness of postpartum psychosis and raising lots of money for APP by cycling 851 virtual miles.

Here he talks about why cycling is so good for his mental health.

When I get on my mountain bike, riding through narrow tracks at speed, tree branches within an inch of each handlebar, I can’t afford to think of anything else. It’s impossible, in fact. Mountain biking for me, requires technical focus, care and attention, and to let my mind wander elsewhere would be dangerous.

It’s the same with motorcycling, another passion of mine. It’s so good for the soul because when you’re out on the road, you can’t focus on anything else. You need to be acutely aware of the conditions of the road, the weather, other traffic – and of course every move you’re making; it’s critical to keep you safe.

But this need for focus is also why it’s so good for my mental health. The escapism and mindfulness that cycling affords me is invaluable. The fact that it’s good for my physical fitness is merely a by-product for me because, first and foremost, I enjoy it – and that’s why it has such a positive impact on my life and my health – both mentally and physically.

Fifteen years ago, after the birth of our son, my wife was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis (PP) – a severe and debilitating postnatal mental illness. It was a frightening time for the whole family not least because, at the time, we had no real understanding as to what PP was.

It all started in the first couple of weeks after my wife gave birth, I had noticed subtle changes in her mood, but, as a first-time father, I didn’t really know what was ‘usual’ or ‘unusual’ after birth. A few weeks later and these changes took a sudden and dramatic turn for the worse, things became very scary, very quickly.

Over the next few days, she woke in the early hours ‘ghost like’, her mood had plummeted, she was anxious, confused, pacing around the house, having delusions and hallucinations, ultimately it all ended in a 999 call.  I found myself in complete turmoil and throughout our journey with PP, had times where I went through every emotion possible - from being terrified, to feeling isolated, worried about the future and even feeling guilt-ridden for decisions I’d had to take; with little sleep, the pressure I felt was enormous, however, the support we received from family, friends and eventually specialist health professionals treating my wife was vital.

Postpartum psychosis as a father or partner, feels very much like a journey with a number of possible stages, from the initial crisis, potential admission to hospital, returning home and recovery - all of which bring different feelings and concerns to the fore. Just holding it together, having to keep strong for your wife or family members can sometimes see you not considering or letting on how worried you are, which in turn can lead to fathers suffering with their own mental ill-health.

It goes without saying that, whilst in the midst of the illness, mountain biking wasn’t really an option. I did give it a go while my wife was in hospital, but I couldn’t concentrate and was too acutely aware of everything that was going on at that time, so I wasn’t able to give cycling all my attention and I wasn’t able to get the enjoyment and mental health benefits from it.

When my wife came home, as her partner, I still had real worries about whether she might relapse and how we would cope if she did. I wondered if things might be drastically different for us and how life might be in the future. So it wasn’t until she was firmly into her recovery journey that I was able to stop and think about how I was coping, how I was feeling. It was during this period of my wife’s recovery that mountain biking became a significant part of my own recovery from the stress and trauma that PP had on our family.

But it isn’t even just the time that I’m on my bike when I notice a change in how I’m feeling. Even when I’m putting the bike back on the car, ready to head home, I feel refreshed, ready to deal with anything that life throws at me. It not only gives me those moments of mindfulness, it re-sets everything and helps build longer-term resilience.

This is why I was so keen to combine my learnings from our family’s experience with my love of cycling to raise awareness and funds, and to campaign for specialist services for postpartum psychosis. Since October, I’ve been cycling a virtual route of 851 miles to demonstrate the gaps in service provision around the UK and the miles many families have to travel to access this care.

 

I’m cycling on behalf of APP. If you’d like to sponsor me, visit my JustGiving page for more information.

APP ambassador Laura Dockrill edits special edition of Mum Poet Club zine

Front over image from the Mum Poet Club ZineThe Mum Poet Club, which publishes a regular zine, is a supportive writing group for parents who write poetry.

"And How Is Mum" is Issue 5 of the Mum Poet Club zine and features beautiful illustrated poems on the theme of identity in motherhood. It was published on 19 November 2021.

These poems will make you cry, bring you comfort and bring you hope.

Each poem has been personally selected by APP Ambassador, award-winning writer and author of “What Have I Done”, Laura Dockrill.

On editing the collection Laura said:

“Guest editing this has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Why? Because not only is the standard exceptional; the writing is extraordinary, the courage is breath-taking – there is humour, there is real-talk and there is love by the bucketload- but truly because it was so hard to read poetry with so many tears in my eyes. I very quickly found myself sobbing and snotting over my marmite on toast, reading lines down the phone to my sister.

“These poems are a safe space. Reading this is a safe space that could open a conversation, a conversation that could even go on to save someone’s life.”

This zine is made with love by the Mum Poem Club and features a beautiful gold foiled cover by Ellamae Statham.

Watch this short film from Laura Dockrill about "And How Is Mum".

 

The Mum Poet Club kindly donated 22 copies of the zine to send onto each of the UKs 22 Mother and Baby Units.

APPs Chief Executive Dr Jess Heron, and Jessie Hunt APPs Marketing and Digital Communications Coordinator attended the official Launch Party for "And How Is Mum?" which was held online on Tuesday 14th December. Jessie said “I loved attending the poetry night. It was so moving and a really special experience. Thank you so much for inviting us to be part of it.”

The Mum Poet Club has donated all profits made from this issue to APP and has raised more than £1,000. We would like to say a huge thank you to The Mum Poet Club for supporting APP and to all who have bought copies of the zine.

If you have been inspired by the Mum Poet Club, we would love to support any fundraising ideas you have. Get in touch here.

POETRY: By Ruth Stacey

Ruth Stacey experienced postpartum psychosis in 2019 and spent time recovering at the Jasmine Lodge Mother and Baby Unit in Exeter. Here she shares two poems.


Is it weird when I'm ill?

Is it weird when I'm ill?

Do the family calls dry up like a lake desperate for water?

The dehydrated ground visible  - vulnerable

Or do the calls pile in, muddled and rushing like a river due to burst its banks?

Something must give eventually.

I have already 'given'

Entering my weird world of an altered reality, a fake truism, must disturb, peturb, frighten, confuse

The focus of our family pulled in - a black hole of queries and questions

Do we go along with her illness?

Do we challenge her new, temporary, fragile belief system?

No, you just tell her that she's right and everything will be alright:

Safe, safe, safe

Love, love, love

Desperate eyes, a heart beating so irratically that it doesn't know whether to feel excited or scared,

Whether to run or challenge or smile or laugh

Doing all perhaps, a simultaneous level of 'scare' to the time-shattered onlookers

No time for your own grief.

No time to shed your own harrowing tears

Not now although

It. Will. Come - I promise

Stick with me and my unpredictable beast-of-an-illness

Laugh when I'm crying and cuddle me like I was your baby again because this world is ultimate so new to me

I don't know what to do!

I don't know how to feel and I keep getting it so very wrong

Put your lives oh hold, onlookers - dry your precious tears and lend me your strength

Because I'll be back again

I just need your presence and love and hugs and reassurance to plug the terrible holes in my mental reality

My mental instability

I'll love you back forever

Is it weird when I'm ill?

Because, I'm so very sorry


MBU

MBU:
Distant yet near
Heart-renching, heart-healing
Confused-focus
Hair-pulling thanks
Deniable admission
Crazed sanity
Compelling kindness
Suffocating slowness
Halted healing
Psychosis revealing
Manic mothering
'Too tight' cuddling
Painted horizons
Hypermanic revelations
Doors closed, doors opened
Small world widened
Rosemary-scented serenity
Glass house hospital
So cared for yet utterly lonely
Feisty Independence
Utter dependence
Mouth fed, baby and me
Medication denial
Medication dependable
Sleep saviour
Clock-watching
Corner-cowering
Gritted teeth
forced smiles
Form filling
Mindfulness
Food hatred
Food lover
Baby carer - obsessor
Never neglector
Nightmare, daymare
Dream giver dream taker
Minutes rush
Days drag
Where even am I?
Where are you all?
Reflection redemption
Repeated affirmations
I can, I Will, I am...
MBU - how can what seemed a nightmare have been my saviour?
I felt like the unluckiest person alive,
Our baby doomed
A new reality of utter heartfelt appreciation, adoration
How time changes and heals
And a warmth glows fondly in the hole that was once was,
A year on reflection


 

Toni’s story: I know from experience that Mother and Baby Units are vital for recovery from PP

When I gave birth to my daughter in 2019 I experienced severe postnatal depression and ended up staying in a Mother and Baby Unit (MBU) for seven weeks. It was a long way from where we lived so I was grateful to be coming home with my baby girl when she was nine weeks old. I had a great couple of months and for a while everything seemed perfectly fine. Recovery was ongoing, but there didn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary.

Looking back, however, I can now see what the signs were, but it was hard to recognise them at the time.

For some reason, completely out of the blue, I tried to take my own life. I have no idea why I did it, I don’t know whether it was an impulse or a window of opportunity (I did it when I was alone in the house). I ended up in hospital for 24 hours, saw the crisis team and was sent home.

Soon after, my thinking became really distorted. I kept saying to my husband that perhaps I actually died when I tried to take my life. On reflection, I now believe this was the onset of postpartum psychosis (PP).

There are snapshots of things I remember, like not believing that colours were real. I was questioning the colour of everything – suggesting to my husband that we were seeing different things when we looked at a brown lampshade, for example. I also started believing that my baby daughter had been swapped and the baby I had at home wasn’t mine. And I remember seeing a nursery nurse walk into my neighbour’s house and thinking she was coming to take my baby away.

Strange fears and beliefs from when I was a child started to re-emerge as well. I remember telling my dad that he needed to lock the door before ‘Hammer Man’ came to get me (Hammer Man was a name we made up for someone we were scared of as kids – as you do when your imagination runs wild).

I still didn’t realise that there was anything wrong with me. However, I went to bed one night, feeling perfectly calm, woke up at 5.30am and got myself ready for a night out! I was doing my hair, makeup, putting evening clothes on and I was really high and full of energy.

Because my daughter was about six months old by this point, we weren’t really alert to the risk of any new potential mental health problems as so much time had passed. My husband thought I was unusually quite happy, but he put it down to exhaustion. Plus, he had to take our son to school that day so I was home alone with our baby girl.

I remember feeling really happy, singing and dancing around the house with a photo of my son in one hand and one of my daughter in the other. I couldn’t see that this wasn’t normal behaviour for me at the time.

Luckily, I had an appointment with the perinatal mental health team that day. A nurse came out to see me and she immediately spotted the signs that all was not well. I remember she told me that she had to nip to Morrison’s and she asked me if I wanted anything. Obviously, looking back, I can see that she was going to make some calls and arrange to get me to hospital, but at the time I just went along with it, thinking it was normal to nip out to a supermarket half way through a mental health appointment.

The nurse returned shortly afterwards with the dummies I had asked for, as well as some chocolate for me. She stayed with me and explained that I needed to go to Ward F at our local psychiatric hospital for an assessment.

Strangely, and probably because I was so high, I was over the moon about going to hospital. It didn’t register that it was because I was unwell, and I just felt excited about being able to talk to everyone there.

About a week after I was admitted my mood changed dramatically from being really elated and happy to feeling empty. Unfortunately, after thinking they’d be able to get me a bed back on the MBU I was in a few months earlier when I had PND, they weren’t able to secure me a place. We didn’t have an MBU in Wales which is why I was so far away from home the first time I was hospitalised, but now I couldn’t even get in there. I felt a strong sense of rejection, loss and emptiness at that point. My mania had dropped and depression was hitting me again.

After about four weeks I was thankfully able to go home full time under the care of my perinatal mental health team, who continued to support me throughout.

Hospital environments are very different to being in an MBU, and I really didn’t want my children visiting me on the ward. MBU’s have more of a homely, comforting environment, and the facilities are geared up for mums with young babies and visiting families. Hospitals, on the other hand, can feel much more clinical and hectic, with lots of people coming and going – different patients, doctors, nurses and visitors.

This is why I ploughed so much energy into the campaign to get an MBU in Wales, which we now thankfully have at Tonna Hospital in Swansea. It’s called Uned Gobaith – which means Unit of Hope. Whilst the one in Derby that I went to with depression before PP hit was comfortable, it was almost 300 miles from home. I will never forget the three-hour journey there on the minibus. It was dark, and I remember my husband waving me off - I was so anxious and upset to leave him there. It still upsets me now when I think about that night.

But being so far from home also made it really difficult for my husband to visit and, given the fact he was looking after our son, as well as working full time, I only saw him about once a fortnight.

Having your baby with you, regular visitors, toys for your children to play with and your own private room to bond with your child, combined with the specialist facilities that new mums and their babies need, makes a huge difference for those of us who experience PP. It can actually help us to recover more quickly from the devastating symptoms.

Seeing the new MBU open, and seeing the brilliant surroundings and facilities will hopefully mean that other new mums in my position will have a faster and more comfortable recovery from this awful illness. It’s a real step forward.

 

 

 

 

Alexandra’s story: A doctor said I was probably suffering from the ‘baby blues’

Sometimes, the worst things in life are the things you don’t expect. For me, unexpectedly suffering from postpartum psychosis and severe depression, and spending almost a whole year in a psychiatric mother and baby unit felt like the worst thing that could ever happen to me. However, in many ways, it has also been the best thing…

After getting married to my dream man, James, I was desperate to have a baby. Sadly, the first time I fell pregnant I had an ectopic pregnancy, which led to me losing one fallopian tube and having a severely damaged left ovary. Thankfully, just a few months later, this trauma was all but forgotten, as I found out I was pregnant with my little girl.

My pregnancy certainly wasn’t a breeze, however. I had problems with my back and hips, and now, looking back, I definitely suffered from antenatal depression and anxiety. I would visit a therapist and wonder why I didn’t have ‘the glow’ or why I felt angry and upset - nobody told me that being pregnant can bring on all sorts of mental health issues. The doctors would speak about gestational diabetes and placenta previa amongst other things, but they never mentioned depression to me. Because of this, I looked forward to my pregnancy being over and welcoming my baby girl into the world – thinking that, then, everything would be fine.

But it wasn’t fine.

When my daughter Elena, now five, came into the world, I became seriously unwell and was unable to bond with her.

Shortly after her birth, I began seeing things and hearing things that weren’t really there.

I would go into the bathroom and see blood pouring out of the tap. Then, as I would return to my bed, I would see thousands of cockroaches crawling out from beneath my bed. Spiders seemed to surround me and climbed up my walls. My world became very dark. Funnily enough, I didn’t really do anything about it. I spoke to a doctor friend, who said I was probably suffering from the ‘baby blues’. Baby blues my backside!

Twelve weeks into being a mum and things were still incredibly difficult. I remember it was 8th May 2016, a few days before my birthday. I am also sure it was a Sunday, because we went for Sunday lunch with my parents. It was a really normal day. We came home and I put Elena to bed. The next part of what happened is hazy. I came into our living room and removed my watch. I used the metal strap to scratch my arm. I remember my husband being horrified. James began asking what I was doing and things really escalated. Apparently I started throwing wine bottles around our living room, pulling anything and everything out of the drawers. Understandably, James was concerned and called my mother to come and help. When she came I began screaming at her calling her a whore. Please note that this is something I would never, ever do! Before I knew it, James was restraining me and there were police and paramedics surrounding me. I was taken to the Edinburgh Royal Psychiatric Hospital for assessment, where I was told that if I refused hospital treatment, I would be sectioned under the mental health act.

So, at 3 o’clock in the morning of the 9th May 2016, James drove myself and Elena to St John’s Mother and Baby Unit in Livingston. It was a locked unit for mothers with perinatal mental health disorders. I was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis and told that Elena and I would need to stay there together for a couple of weeks.

A couple of weeks turned into half a year. I believed that I needed to drown Elena and, as a result, I was not allowed to be alone with her. I had to have two people with me at all times. My door was never allowed to be closed and I tried to take my life several times. All very, very dramatic. Following my psychotic episode I went into a deep depression and required multiple sessions of electro convulsive therapy (ECT) to help bring me out of it. I was so depressed that I wouldn’t speak, and my family described me as having very dark eyes and just staring at a wall all day. I was catatonic.

With medication and incredible staff at the MBU, along with my gorgeous husband and super supportive family, I started getting better. Initially, I was too unwell for talking therapy, but slowly, I began to see a psychologist and learn about coping mechanisms such as ‘Decider Skills’ and my world opened up to mindfulness practice and meditation. After half a year, I finally came out of the hell that I was in. Unfortunately, after my second child, I became ill again but it wasn’t psychosis this time. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the incredible staff at St Johns and community support workers. And I don’t believe I’d be here at all if it wasn’t for my husband and loving family. Unfortunately, I only found out about APP and the peer support network after my illness, but I wish I had known about their support back then, because what they do is incredible.

Since my illness I have learnt so much about my wellbeing. Every woman’s experience is different, but for me, wellbeing is not just about health and fitness, something which I believed to be true in my twenties. Wellbeing is so much more; it’s life satisfaction, job satisfaction, having meaningful relationships, taking time for yourself to heal and reflect, having a sense of purpose and a sense of meaning. Whilst, as new mothers, we often hear about how amazing it is to be pregnant and how beautiful it is being a mother, we do not all feel this way all of the time. Unfortunately, not all women have a good start to motherhood – whether that’s because of depression or postpartum psychosis or any other reason. But one thing I really want women going through similar experiences to me to know is that it is TEMPORARY and there is support out there. As a woman, I feel that women supporting women is truly important - especially, when it comes to childbirth and parenting – which is why peer support is key.

My experience of postpartum psychosis literally nearly killed me. But to return to my first paragraph, it has also brought me so many good things too: I live a fuller, more whole and content life. I am resilient and stronger than anyone I know - that might sound cocky, but after everything I’ve been through, it’s true!

I am able to get through literally anything and I am no longer afraid.

One of the most important lessons I learnt is that you either get bitter or you get better. It’s that simple. You either take what has been dealt to you and you let yourself grow and become a better person, or you choose to let it tear you down. We cannot choose whether or not we experience postpartum psychosis, but we CAN choose how to get better with it. The choice doesn’t belong to fate; it belongs to you.

You are not alone. There are people out there. They are called APP. They can help you choose.

Charity’s story: I became obsessed by the idea that the doctors thought I couldn’t look after my babies

In May 2021 I was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis following the birth of our triplet baby girls. I had been hospitalised directly after the planned c-section and kept in hospital with my babies for twelve days. I had very little sleep as the babies were feeding on average every two hours by feeding tube. This resulted in me suffering with exhaustion - a dangerous level of exhaustion in my opinion! Looking back, I think my psychosis started not long after giving birth, as my consultant explained postpartum psychosis can come on soon after the placenta is removed. In my case I had not one, but three impressively sized placentas!

To begin with I was acting unusually elated, adrenaline-fuelled yet detached from the whole experience of childbirth. For the first eight days I was using social media in order to update everyone about the triplets and was hardly ever off my phone, even when I had three babies to admire. After this time I became withdrawn and absconded from social media, I failed to reply to messages and even rejected my family and friends. I became petrified and anxious every time my wife left me alone in the hospital, and I was fixated on being alone all the time. On one occasion, I became extremely tearful when my daughter had her feeding tube reinstated and I was crying constantly and focusing on the miscarriage we had the previous year.

Things started to get much worse however, and I became obsessed by the idea that the doctors and midwives thought I couldn’t look after my babies properly. I’d convinced myself they thought I was ‘mental’ and that they’d take the babies away from us.

On Easter Monday we were finally allowed home and, unlike me, I didn’t tell a soul. Sadly, what was supposed to be a joyous occasion turned to disaster. We were suddenly without the support of the hospital with three 4 lb babies equipped with feeding tubes and with very little sucking reflex. I was petrified. I had extreme anxiety, constantly worrying about the babies dying, how to feed them, how to get them in to a routine, and I was still obsessed about being left alone. I’d ask the same questions over and over, I’d run around the house panicking and doing tasks that didn't need to be done like writing down every tiny detail such as ‘shake bottle with lid on’. I simply couldn’t undertake simple tasks without my disorganised scribblings in front of me.

I became a shell of the strong woman Sarah had married.

At this point I asked the doctors for anxiety medication, presuming what I had was some sort of postpartum anxiety. As I rapidly went downhill I asked Sarah’s mum (a former nurse) to move in with us, but then became obsessed that she’d leave me on my own and, perhaps even more worrying, I started believing that her dog would eat my babies!

I just couldn’t switch off. At night time I barely slept, the babies’ cooing and lullabies going around and around my head. I was panicking about the babies nonstop - wondering if they’d die in the night.

I had paranoid thoughts about my medication, thinking it was being hidden one minute, then believing I was being drugged the next. I was obsessing over magpies and robins in the garden too, and would look out the window in order to find two magpies - because if I saw one, I’d assume death was coming. I would freak out when the babies were being bathed, I’d accuse them of bathing them without me then switch to saying they’d not bathed them.

I’d stopped eating and barely showered. The one time I managed a bath I tried to scald myself just to ‘feel something’, and I became fixated on Nirvana lyrics and Kurt Cobain’s famous quote “it’s better to burn out than fade away”. I’d wear my Nirvana hoodie constantly as I believed it was symbolic. I started telling my family about previous depressive states when I was young, self-harm and an assault - secrets I'd kept all my life were pouring out of my mouth and I was unable to stop it. I just wanted the pain to stop and to be me again.

As time went on I had contact with the perinatal mental health team who came to see me urgently after my family informed them that I had said I wanted to go out and ‘play with the traffic’. When the nurses came to assess me they could see just how paranoid I was. I told the nurses that I needed to go somewhere safe, and it was decided that this would be a mental health hospital as I didn’t want to go to a mother and baby unit (MBU) and take the babies away from Sarah, the closest MBU being many miles away. Sadly, there was no space for me at Longreach or Bodmin Hospital at the time so it was decided I’d remain at home on sleeping tablets as home was my ‘safe place’.

As the days wore on I was convinced everyone was talking in code and that they had a conspiracy against me. I thought people were talking to me through the babies and through animals. Then, I ran away from home and hid in the woods for a while, returning in floods of tears and telling Sarah that I needed help before I hurt myself. I was suicidal.

Sarah was straight on the phone to the out of hours team and my sister came to our home to try to calm me down.

Within hours I was sent two doctors and two Approved Mental Health Professionals (AMHPs).

They assessed me and finally found me a bed at Longreach Mental Health Hospital so I was driven there by the AMHPs that night, in the early hours and voluntarily admitted.

Hospital was scary and my paranoia was through the roof. I was put on antipsychotics and slept on and off for three days straight whilst meeting numerous doctors. I was also anaemic and lacking in folate, which in itself can cause confusion.

I was seriously ill but no-one I knew had heard of my diagnosis Postpartum Psychosis – and I had Postnatal Depression chucked in on top of that too just to complicate things. There were also discussions around possible PTSD from our miscarriage and from some previous bad experiences.

I remained at Longreach for two weeks, my visits with my wife and triplets had to be supervised, and I was given four meals a day to help me put on weight as I’d lost so much. My psychosis continued and, in addition to the paranoia, I had hallucinations, too.

Now, 13 weeks after going home on a week’s leave, and with the right support and medication, I’ve really turned a corner.

Postpartum psychosis is now something I accept and I know now that it isn’t a life sentence – although it does put me at higher chance of getting it again in pregnancy (not that I need any more kids!) and of relapse in the future.

I remain on medication for my diagnoses and am currently being supported by the wonderful Perinatal Mental Health team, the Early Intervention for Psychosis team and I undergo Cognitive Behavioural Therapy once a week.

Although there are still bits missing from my story, I hope that my experiences will help other people and one day I will explain to our three miracles what had happened to me. I just want them to know that I was there in their early days - even though I wasn’t all there.