Let Mum Speak - women need better treatment when they become mothers.

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At least one in ten mothers experiences post-natal depression (PND) according to research, and many more are suffering in silence. Too many women are falling through the cracks in maternal healthcare as their physical and emotional needs go unmet. It is a disgrace in 2019 that women are treated this way; that their wishes around pregnancy, birth and post-natally are often ignored or brushed aside.

Peer support projects such as Mothers Uncovered can stop the development of PND in its tracks. PND 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 includes emotional difficulties, behavioural problems and special educational needs (i). PND has 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. It does. You might not be a mother, but we all have, or had, a mother. This is a global concern.

You could well be thinking what will all this 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 their health visitor after ten days.

Second, there is still an insistence on dividing mothers into those with ‘baby blues’ (perceived as the vast majority) from those with post-natal depression (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’. Most women have 'new motherhood syndrome' in which it is perfectly normal to be blissfully happy one moment and in the depths of despair the next. It is imperative that this period, with its rollercoaster of emotions, is reclassified as normal rather than extreme.

Third, many women feel they have no one to talk to. Mothers 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 can help, but these are usually run by a health professional, creating an ‘us and them’ atmosphere.

So what else is there?

In Brighton and Hove, there is Mothers Uncovered started in 2008 by Maggie Gordon-Walker , set up as a project for her registered charity Livestock . We have helped hundreds of women with our creative support groups focused on the mother, rather than the baby. The facilitators are past participants. As it says on our publicity: ‘We are not perfect mothers.  We are going through it all too. In short, we are just like you.’ Participants quickly feel able to open up as they realise they are not the only ones struggling, they begin to feel less isolated and start to take ownership of their lives and decisions.

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 and were supported themselves, then the massive burden on the NHS would ease.

We believe it is essential that Mothers Uncovered (and groups like it) are present everywhere, but we need your support to prove it is needed. Like many small organisations, keeping afloat is sometimes a challenge. All that is required is a welcoming room and a facilitator to manage the sessions. And some tea and biscuits. The facilitators need a small amount of training and ongoing support, which can be provided by their peers. It’s not exactly the moon on a stick, is it?!

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: More appointments with professionals, to include debriefing about the birth and identify potential depression. The term ‘new motherhood syndrome’ to be recognised as this period, when it is normal rather than extreme to experience powerful emotions.
3. Investment into peer support groups such as Mothers Uncovered to build confidence and create a community. Less stigma in asking for help or castigating mothers as 'moaning'.

Show your support by signing. Remember, it is not just about mothers, it’s about everyone.

'The Secret Life of Mothers' written by Mothers Uncovered participants, is available to buy on Amazon The Secret Life of Mothers

Watch a video about Mothers Uncovered: https://vimeo.com/80274601

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

A testimonial for Mothers Uncovered from a past participant : https://vimeo.com/85605834

We would also like to highlight the work of other excellent organisations/services/groups & individuals working in this area. If you'd like to be added to this list, please mention this in the comments or contact Maggie via www.mothersuncovered.com or twitter @mothersuncoverd

1. Open House - Nottingham was founded by a group of Mums in 2012 to support those affected by any psychological and emotional condition which has developed during pregnancy or the postnatal period. Nottingham

2.Mamaheaven Specially tailored yoga retreats for mothers and babies under 18 months old. Sussex.

3. Atomised Mothers film A short film about isolation, 'austerity', and the politics of parenthood by Michal Nahman, an anthropologist and mother of two. Bristol.

4. Riga Forbes supports groups of women during pregnancy, through Birth Vision courses for birth-preparation. East Sussex.

 5. Butterflies PND support PND support group. Also support with birth trauma. Using mindfulness & yoga as healing tools plus Well Woman yoga for healing pelvic floor issues. Watford.

6. Cocoon Family Support Support for families affected by postnatal depression in north west London.

7. Lotus Petal PND Peer Support & Advice For Parents Suffering From Pre & Postnatal Mental Illness, Essex

8. SPIN Brighton Information network for single parents providing regular emails to members & support, advice, opportunities for meetups & events. Brighton & Hove

9.Poynton PANDAS Support Group for parents suffering pre and postnatal depression.Poynton

10.Pregnancy Sickness Support is the only UK based charity supporting women with this condition. In its extreme form it is known as Hyperemesis Gravidarum. Coventry.

11.Mums Aid A non-profit organisation providing free counselling for women experiencing mental health problems or emotional difficulties during pregnancy or postnatally. Greenwich, London.

12. Mothertime Claire Arnold-Baker - psychotherapist specialising in new mothers, offering individual sessions and groups, Reading.

13. Story of Mum Community to let go of guilt and rediscover the self in motherhood. Sharing gloss-free stories and carving out vital creative time for YOU. Cornwall

14. A Monster Ate My Mum 'Excuse me, but have you eaten my mum? I want her back, I want some fun.' Rhyming storybook for children, explaining PND from their perspective. Bristol/Bath

15. Lanarkshire PND - PND survivor actively campaigning to increase awareness and support for future mums and dads, Lanarkshire

16. Positive Birth Movement Brighton - free monthly meetings for pregnant women in the Brighton area to support one another, Brighton

17.Rapid Foundation Charity - Research & Awareness of PND. Working for improvement in maternity and mental health services, UK-wide

18. Aching Arms Bringing comfort after baby loss. Our charity aims to support the emotional and mental health needs of bereaved mothers, UK.

 19. Perinatal Mental Health Partnership  are coordinating the UK Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week 1-7th May 2017 because #maternalmhmatters, UK

20. Mother in the Mother A participatory arts project exploring our maternal lineage, UK


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