Back Mumlink: to support women in matrescence (the transition to motherhood).
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The process of becoming a mother is known as matrescence. This term, coined nearly 50 years ago, covers all the variance of experience, giving dignity and meaning rather than limiting women to a diagnosis of post-natal depression (PND). With the birth of a baby, comes the birth of a mother. In matrescence, it is perfectly normal to be blissfully happy one moment and in the depths of despair the next. It is imperative that this is reclassified as normal rather than extreme and that the word matrescence is officially recognised as defining this point in a woman's life, in the same way that adolescence is acknowledged.
Millions of mothers are struggling and were before the Covid-19 crisis hit. Everyone has, or had, a mother. The entire worldwide fabric of society relies on them. Going forward from this crisis, it is essential that lasting change occurs to support mothers emotionally and mentally. At least 20% mothers experience PND, with some experencing the incredibly serious birth-related PTSD, and many suffer in silence. With suicide as the leading cause of maternal death, too many women are falling through the cracks as their physical and emotional needs go unmet. It is a disgrace in 2021 that women's needs around pregnancy, birth and afterwards are often ignored or brushed aside.
Peer support projects such as Mothers Uncovered can stop the development of PND in its tracks. This doesn't just affect the mother, it affects her family – and it affects you.
When the mother’s needs are not met, nor are those of her family. The impact on children of maternal depression may include emotional & behavioural problems and special educational needs (i). It can also have a detrimental impact on a partner's mental health, as well as causing financial problems (ii,iii).
If you are reading this and thinking this doesn't concern you because you are not a mother, you are wrong. Your upbringing may affect you more than you realise. This is a global concern.
You could well be thinking what will it cost? Frankly, we can't afford NOT to take action. Inadequate maternal care costs the UK £8bn [iv] a year, with a comparatively modest £337m required to tackle it. EIGHT BILLION POUNDS EVERY YEAR on trying to close the stable door once the horse has bolted. Why are we playing catch-up instead of investing in preventative measures?
Why does the problem exist? First, because women are not supported adequately around their birth, often seeing several different professionals during their pregnancy and labour. A traumatic birth can have a long-term impact on mental health. And once the baby is born, most women are signed off by health professionals after two weeks, as resources are too stretched to support those unless they are extreme cases.
Second, there is still an insistence on dividing mothers into those with ‘baby blues’ (perceived as the vast majority) from those with PND (perceived as a small proportion). The latter are usually treated with medication and specialist counselling. To access a PND group you need to be referred by your doctor or health visitor. There is a shaming stigma of ‘not coping’ and many women do not identify themselves as ‘depressed’. They are feeling and experiencing a wide range of emotions.
Third, many women feel they have no one to talk to. Women know how lucky they are to be mothers, so repeatedly deny any of their own needs to the point when they are in a desperate state. There are many mum and baby groups, but they are usually informal drop-ins in which other mothers may appear to be coping much better. Courses in Children’s Centres are usually run by a health professional, possibly creating an ‘us and them’ atmosphere. Family and friends can help, but often a woman needs to talk to someone outside of her immediate circle.
So what else is there?
In Brighton and Hove, there is Mothers Uncovered started in 2008 by Maggie Gordon-Walker, a project for her charity Livestock. We have helped hundreds of women with our creative support groups focused on the mother, rather than the baby. Peer support is simply when someone with a similar experience supports another person. All our facilitators are not only mothers, but past participants. Women realise they are not the only ones struggling, they feel less isolated and start to take ownership of their lives and decisions. Many women say we have quite literally, 'saved their lives.'
Of course it is essential to have the statutory services there; women are very grateful for the care that the NHS provides. However, a lot of women would never get to the stage of severe PND if the right support were there in the first place. If peer support services were given better prominence, the massive burden on the NHS would ease. Most peer support groups come from the third or voluntary sector, meaning health professionals are often not allowed to signpost women on. This needs to change. We need a national database of maternal peer support services.
In order not to be costing the country £8bn every year, here is what’s needed.
1. Greater investment into specialist birth centres & training more midwives so women can feel supported rather than scared and alone.
2. Give the same weight to the postnatal as the antenatal period. The term matrescence to be recognised as this transition period into motherhood, when it is normal rather than extreme to experience powerful emotions.
3. A national database of maternal peer support services called Mumlink (Twitter @mumlinkuk) to be set up, accessible to health professionals and the public. Less stigma in asking for help. Investment into peer support groups to build confidence and create a community.
Show your support by signing. Remember, it is not just about mothers, it’s about everyone. We are gathering a list of services to support mums. If you'd like to be added to this list, please mention this in the comments or contact Maggie via Mothers Uncovered or Twitter @mothersuncoverd
Find out about us: Mothers Uncovered video
Maggie Gordon-Walker’s article about post-natal support http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/08/health-system-failing-new-mothers-postnatal-depression-nhs
i. Boath EH, Pryce AJ, Cox JL. Postnatal depression: The impact on the family. Journal of Reproductive & Infant Psychology. 1998.
ii. Burke L. The impact of maternal depression on familial relationships. International Review of Psychiatry. 2003.
iii. Chew-Graham CA, Sharp D, Chamberlain E, Folkes L, Turner KM. Disclosure of symptoms of postnatal depression, the perspectives of health professionals & women. BMC Fam Pract. 2009.
iv. Maternal Mental Health Alliance, 2014 http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/oct/20/mental-health-care-new-mothers-cost-study
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