Theatre: ‘after birth’ is returning to the stage for a UK tour
‘after birth’ is a dark comedy deeply rooted in the testimonials of women who have experienced postpartum psychosis. Read on for dates and a review.
"A powerhouse story told with clarity, wit and integrity"
"At the centre of my play is Ann – razor-witted and indomitable – her character is rooted in the funny, resilient women who fearlessly shared their recovery stories with me"
Dates and tickets
LONDON, Omnibus Theatre 22 - 26 February 2022. Book tickets.
NORWICH, The Garage - 11 March 2022. Book tickets.
GRAVESEND, The Woodville - 16 March 2022. Book tickets.
WOLVERHAMPTON, Arena Theatre - 18 March 2022. Book tickets.
LYME REGIS, Marine Theatre - 24 March 2022. Book tickets.
Please note, the performances on the 15th March 2022 and 23rd March 2022 are closed performances for invited guests.
Watch the trailer
‘after birth’ review
In June 2021, two members of the APP team, Ellie and Jessie, and one of APP’s volunteers, went to see ‘after birth’ at the North Wall theatre, Oxford. ‘After birth’ is set in a Mother and Baby Unit: the main character, Ann, has a bipolar diagnosis and is experiencing postpartum psychosis.
Ellie writes: "‘After birth’ has been written by Zena Forster who worked with APP as part of her research, speaking to several members of APP staff and volunteers with lived experience. The play follows Ann in her experience of postpartum psychosis, and the action we witness on stage is through her eyes, starting in the middle of her paranoid and scary psychotic episode. It depicts her slow journey to recovery, her growing trust of the professionals helping her, her relationships with her mother and partner, and the grief and trauma she experiences. The play also shows her relationship with another patient in the unit, showing the importance of the connection between the two women with lived experience.
As we all know, the impact of experiencing postpartum psychosis is wide reaching and complex and affects so many parts of a person’s life – their self-esteem and well-being, identity, creativity, relationships, relationship with their baby and feelings about becoming a mother. Zena managed to weave all of this complexity, and more, into the play, at the same time creating a believable, likeable, and rounded character at its heart, who we were rooting and feeling for. The fact the audience was with Ann throughout her whole experience of PP and seeing everything through her eyes, meant that the play was a powerful tool for helping the audience to really understand, connect and empathise with the experience of postpartum psychosis, and to truly feel and understand what women go through.
‘after birth’ will tour in 2022, and we highly recommend that you take the opportunity to go and see it when it does. We found it a powerful, accurate and stigma-busting portrayal of PP.”
'after birth' grew out of a collaboration between playwright Zena Forster and researchers at the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit (NPEU), Oxford University.
Find out more and book tickets here: https://linktr.ee/afterbirth2022
Get in touch with APP
If you would like to talk to the APP team about ‘after birth’, please email email@example.com
New report commissioned by the Maternal Mental Health Alliance
A new report commissioned by the Maternal Mental Health Alliance shows that investing in training for midwives and health visitors, and recruiting more specialist perinatal mental health midwives and health visitors could save the NHS up to £52 million over the next 10 years by ensuring that women receive timely support. This investment could also improve the quality of life for women and their families with an estimated £437 million saving over 10 years on costs to society such as loss of employment due to poor mental health.
Luciana Berger, Chair of the MMHA, says: "It is vital that we make it easier for pregnant women and new mums to access mental health support during routine contacts with their midwives and health visitors."
Sarah Hughes, Chief Executive of Centre for Mental Health, says: "Supporting midwives and health visitors with the training and time to meet women’s mental health needs is a sound investment that could make a difference to many thousands of women and their families.”
At APP, we know how critical the role of midwives and health visitors can be in identifying postpartum psychosis and ensuring that women receive the support they need.
At APP, we know how critical the role of midwives and health visitors can be in identifying postpartum psychosis and ensuring that women receive the support they need.@mmhalliance @CPEC_LSE @CentreforMH #ASoundInvestment #MakeAllCareCount pic.twitter.com/nePr8yU5Pj
— Action on Postpartum Psychosis (@ActionOnPP) February 2, 2022
APP have delivered lived experience talks and training to over 13,500 midwives, health visitors and other health professionals, enabling them to have greater confidence in identifying and responding to postpartum psychosis.
APP have delivered lived experience talks & training to over 13,500 midwives, health visitors & health professionals, enabling them greater confidence in identifying & responding to postpartum psychosis: https://t.co/Qsz9BQcNDW@mmhalliance #ASoundInvestment #MakeAllCareCount pic.twitter.com/tMguBkAyit
— Action on Postpartum Psychosis (@ActionOnPP) February 2, 2022
APP fully support the recommendation to invest in more midwives and health visitors with specialist skills in perinatal mental health to improve access to timely support for women and families.
APP fully support the @mmhalliance @CPEC_LSE @CentreforMH recommendation to invest in more midwives and health visitors with specialist skills in perinatal mental health to improve access to timely support for women and families: https://t.co/M5uKX5lAjp #ASoundInvestment pic.twitter.com/UOFCQxfKNw
— Action on Postpartum Psychosis (@ActionOnPP) February 2, 2022
Read more about the report here >
Mother and Baby Unit Pamper Packs
A huge thank you to APP volunteer Gemma for organising pamper packs to be delivered to each of the UKs 22 Mother and Baby Units (MBUs). Gemma delivered pamper packs to the Derby, Nottingham and Stafford MBUs in December, and APPs Peer Support Facilitator Jo Derry helped to send pamper packs to the other MBUs in January.
The packs included make-up items from Boots UK and Soap & Glory to help mums feel special, and leaflets about APP’s peer support for women and families. Gemma organised the packs as a way of giving mums a little bit of “me time” to help their recovery, alongside the invaluable help and treatment the MBUs provide.
Gemma has been a volunteer with APP since 2018, and has also held fundraisers for us. She says “I suffered with postpartum psychosis in 2017. Through this I gained an understanding of severe anxiety and depression and wanted to train as a peer supporter in 2018 in order to support others through their recovery journey. I also support the Birmingham project through attending the cafe group and really enjoy making a positive impact on others’ recovery. At Christmas 2019 I returned to my own MBU in Stafford and was able to thank staff and provide a small amount of pamper packs. At Christmas 2020, and again in 2021/22 I wanted to reach every MBU in the UK. I feel this is such an important step for mums not only to promote relaxation and self-care, but more importantly to raise awareness of APP, the support available and the ways in which they can get in touch.”
We have received some lovely feedback from MBUs across the UK. The Nottingham MBU said: “Massive thankyou to APP for the very generous gifts for our mums at Christmas. It is very much appreciated.” The East London MBU said: “Thank you so much to APP for donating amazing pamper packs for our lovely mums on the ward”.
Thank you to Gemma and Jo for all your hard work in organising and delivering the packs to the MBUs.
Last year the Royal Horticultural Society joined forces with BBC’s The One Show to bring the ‘Garden of Hope’ to the world-famous Chelsea Flower Show (21st to 26th September 2021). The garden has now been donated to the Mother and Baby Unit (MBU) Rosewood (part of Kent and Medway NHS Social Care Partnership Trust). The beautiful blooms will help create a sanctuary and place of hope for the mothers and babies there. There are more details about the project in this article.
To tie in with this lovely idea, APP volunteer Gemma Vinter has been sourcing donations of bulbs to give to the UK’s 22 MBUs to help brighten up their grounds.
Gemma teamed up with APP’s Peer Support Facilitators Natalie Thompson and Joanne Derry in January to plant bulbs donated by J.Parker’s Dutch Bulbs in the ward gardens at Derby MBU.
Gemma says she hopes that spending time outside with lots of lovely plants and flowers will encourage a little bit of “me time” to help patients’ recovery, alongside the invaluable help and treatment that MBUs provide.
APP would like to thank Gemma, Natalie and Joanne for their hard work and support.
Would you like to fundraise for APP in 2022?
APP is fortunate to have an amazing group of supporters who raise money for the charity and awareness of postpartum psychosis (PP) through all sorts of fun activities. However, we always need more of you to ensure we can keep operating our vital information and peer support services.
Are you interested in fundraising for APP in 2022? Here are a few ideas of some of the fundraising activities and events you could take part in. It's easy to support us by organising your own activity - be as imaginative as you can!
- Organise a fundraising event in your local area - from Art sales to Zumba, every £ you raise helps us to help more people affected by PP.
- Skydive for APP! Would you like to enjoy the exhilarating and unforgettable feeling of a skydive; flying through the clouds from over 10,000 ft at up to 120 mph? Find out more here.
- Kiltwalk in Scotland! Take part in a fab walking event with three distances to choose from, suitable for walkers of all ages and experiences, in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee and Edinburgh. Find out more here.
- Get sporty! Run, walk, swim or cycle an event and raise sponsorship for APP. Tell us about it here and send us any photos and fundraising links.
- Are you a member of a club or society that could hold a fundraising event for APP or let us have a stall at an event where we could collect donations? Let us know.
- Having a clear out? Sell your unwanted items via Ebay for Charity and donate part or all of the proceeds to APP.
- Take part in our Miles for Mums and Babies Challenge. Walk, run or cycle 10 miles, 20 miles, 500 miles or even 1000 miles! Each mile reflects the journey mums, babies, partners and families travel to be together, whilst mums receive care in Mother and Baby Units. You can read a news article about the challenges that were completed in 2021 here, which included;
Katherine Paul and her son Harris who walked 3 miles in one day on 6thMay (during Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week).
The team from the MBU at Glasgow’s Leverndale Hospital and colleagues from the Community Perinatal Mental Health Team who challenged themselves to walk 10,000 steps a day throughout May.
Anna Grisedale who had PP in 2015 and 2018, challenged herself to walk 119 miles, which represents the journey she made from Leeds to the MBU in Morpeth with her first born.
Emma Charlton who works at Beadnell MBU in Morpeth. Along with her colleague Katie, Emma walked 161 miles over a 12 week period to raise money for APP.
The team from the new Perinatal Mental Health Service in Ayrshire and Arran challenged themselves to walk 1,400 miles throughout October.
Just a few of the amazing fundraising events that you could sign up for during 2022 are listed below:
Kiltwalks – Scotland
Mass participation walking events in Scottish cities - walks range from a 'Wee Wander' (3-6 miles), a 'Big Stroll' (11 miles) or a 'Mighty Stride' (25 miles) - and kids are welcome to take part too!
Kiltwalkers can raise funds for APP and thanks to the generosity of Sir Tom Hunter and The Hunter Foundation, all funds raised will be topped up by 50%. Sign up on the Kiltwalk website and select APP as your chosen charity!
Aberdeen - 29 May
Dundee - 21 August
Edinburgh - 18 September
Scotland’s Virtual Kiltwalk 7 - 9 October
Tough Mudder – Obstacle Races
London West – 21 and 22 May 2022
Scotland – 2 and 3 July 2022
Manchester – 23 and 24 July 2022
Yorkshire – 30 and 31 July 2022
South West – 20 and 21 August 2022
North West – 10 and 11 September 2022
London South – 24 and 25 September
– 14 to 15 May 2022
– 15 May 2022
– 28 May 2022 run 10k
– run a half marathon
– run a full marathon
– 29 May 2022
Great North Swim– Windermere 10-12 June 2022
Great North Swimrun – Windermere 11 June 2022
Great East Swim – Alton Water 18 June 2022
Great East Swimrun – Alton Water 18 June 2022
(National and Yorkshire) – anytime May to October
Great Manchester Run – 22 May 2022
Great North Run – 11 September 2022
Great Bristol Run – 25 September 2022
Great Scottish Run – 2nd October 2022
Great South Run – 15 and 16 October 2022
Royal Parks Half Marathon – 9 October 2022 London
We have filled our three charity places in the 2022 Royal Parks Half marathon which will take place on Sunday 9 October in London. The 13.1 mile route takes in the capital’s world-famous landmarks on closed roads, and four of London’s eight Royal Parks – Hyde Park, The Green Park, St James’s Park and Kensington Gardens. If you got a place in the ballot and would like to fundraise for APP, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Ballots have now closed for the 2022 London Marathon and we have a couple of amazing runners signed up. Keep an eye out for next year's event!
We do still have spaces available in the TCS Virtual London Marathon which takes place on the same day as the in person event (2nd October 2022) but you get 24 hours to complete the distance and people all over the world will be taking part at the same time. Contact us if you're interested in joining the APP London Marathon team this year!
Do you live in Northern Ireland? Here are some fundraising events you could sign up to;
Mourne Way 10K Night Walk – 21 June 2022 Kilbroney Park
Coast2Coast Multisport Challenge – 14 to 15 May 2022
Causeway Coast Marathon Events – 24 September 2022
The Original Mourne Seven Sevens Walk
– 2 August 2022
If you would like to get involved in fundraising, we'd love to hear from you! Please contact email@example.com for more information.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.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
Cradled: An interview with writer Nessah Muthy
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?
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.
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?
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.
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
The 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.