Shaheda’s story: A foot spa on the MBU turned into a really powerful peer support session

While I was unwell and under the care of a Mother and Baby Unit (MBU), I accepted the offer of a foot spa from a lady on the ward. I thought it was just a pampering session to help me feel better but meeting her was to prove far more powerful than that.

Mental health isn’t talked about enough in the Bangladeshi community. I for one had no prior mental health problems and had never heard of postpartum psychosis (PP) until I was diagnosed with it in 2018. It came like a bolt out of the blue and, while my faith and spirituality has always got me through the tough times, I realised I needed more support than ever during that period.

My journey to giving birth wasn’t easy. I had two back-to-back miscarriages and was referred for investigations in 2017. However, the doctor advised us to keep trying, and I fell pregnant again at the start of 2018.

I felt really anxious about it, but Birmingham Women’s Hospital were great, really looking after me and the pregnancy seemed to progress really well. After the first trimester, I started to relax into it.


Photo of Shaheda looking out to sea with her pram


However, as the birth approached, things didn’t quite go as planned. Three days before my induction date they found signs of preeclampsia, and I was kept in for monitoring. I spent two nights on a labour ward and wasn’t able to sleep due to everything that was going on around me. Once the induction was started it did not progress well, so I ended up having a Caesarean and then my beautiful baby girl finally arrived.

By this point I hadn’t slept in over six days and, looking back, this is when I started to become unwell.

I remember the first morning in hospital after the birth the noises around me felt piercingly loud – cleaning, banging, bins clattering, mops and buckets. My senses were heightened and I couldn’t wait to get home. I was exhausted and completely overwhelmed with emotions.

I thought being at home would make everything OK, but I was still extremely emotional. I was unable to sleep, I struggled with breastfeeding and I felt like a failure.

One night in bed, my husband gave me a piece of Indian sweet that I usually love, but when I put it in my mouth it felt like superglue. I started thinking somebody was trying to poison me and I became really anxious and felt like I couldn’t breathe.

I don’t remember too much about what happened next but my family came round, and they were frantically checking my pulse, my blood pressure and my sugar levels. They then called an ambulance because I was acting so out of character and was in so much distress.

The first time the paramedics came out I was behaving quite normally again – this can happen with PP, where you have these episodes but your behaviours can seemingly return to normal in between. However, I must have got much worse after they left that first time because the next thing I remember is waking up in an ambulance as I was taken to A&E.

I remember feeling like I couldn’t trust anyone - I didn’t even trust my family with my baby and I believed the doctors were all fake.

At that point I was just sent home with medication, but things got much worse over the following days. I became obsessed with cleanliness, obsessed with prayer. I began feeling paranoid, thinking that someone was out to get me, and then I started thinking that my daughter was special and that I had the secret to the universe in my head.

So many things were going round and round in my mind, I felt scared all the time to the point I couldn’t go to the bathroom alone. I couldn’t eat because of weird tastes in my mouth. I kept trying to connect dots and draw special meanings from everything around me. I felt like my brain was firing on all cylinders; that I had a higher knowledge and special abilities.

I ended up going back to the GP but this time it was because my daughter had some gastric problems. But while I was there, I had another episode, throwing a cup of water on the floor and demanding to see a different GP.  The doctor realised I was really unwell and referred me to mental health services.

By the Monday, when my midwife and health visitor came, they found me dancing around, falling on the floor and trying to hide under the sofa. It was this episode that sparked the emergency admission to a general psych ward. It was awful – my thoughts were racing and it felt like the end of the world. I thought I was going to be locked away forever.

After two nights on the ward I was referred to a Mother and Baby Unit (MBU). It was Christmas Eve when I was admitted and most of the patients had gone home. This made my beliefs about the nurses and doctors not being real even more intense.

But slowly, I started to have this realisation that being in hospital was indeed real and just what I needed. I picked up a leaflet in the corridor that explained what PP was and I started googling it and reading about it on my phone. It was all starting to make sense.

At the MBU I was reunited with my daughter and my husband was able to come and help too. Although I was reluctant to interact with other patients, I bonded with some of the staff. I started journaling, noting down dates and times, setting things out chronologically. I started following a routine and this helped me to stay calm. Simple actions like waking up and showering, making breakfast, and keeping to a set pattern really helped my recovery.

Something truly wonderful also happened while I was staying on the MBU.

The lady who was there giving manicures and pedicures to patients treated me to a foot spa, and it was while we were chatting that she told me she also had experience of PP. This was the first time I heard somebody else talking about going through exactly what I had. I was blown away by how much we had in common. She was Greek so we shared some of our cultural experiences about mental health awareness in our communities too. Just talking about those paranoias and fears that went through my head was so helpful.

By the February, after a few days at home, I was discharged into the community team. By the September I went back to work. I was more or less fully recovered. I gave up my psychology sessions because I felt well enough but I do regret not talking about it more.

Thankfully, the lady I met on the MBU sent me some leaflets about APP and the support on offer. I didn’t reach out right away, but when I did, I met Natalie and had some great peer support sessions over a coffee. It was a while after that when APP’s CEO, Jess, asked me if I’d like to get involved in the charity’s diverse communities programme and I haven’t looked back.

I’m now a peer support worker helping other women and hosting the Muslim women’s café group, as well as raising more awareness of PP in Black and Asian communities. I really want to get people talking about PP. I, for one, believe if I had known about PP I could have got help sooner.

I think speaking to others is really important because you realise that you’re not alone. My husband and my family have been brilliant, especially my husband who bore the brunt of everything. I can’t thank him enough for all the support he gave me. But it’s also good to talk to someone who has been there. I urge anyone who has been through PP or is recovering from it to reach out for support. Don’t struggle on alone.