Grace* is a 28 year old Nanny from Colchester. She and her partner had been together for 10 years when their daughter Erin* arrived. Grace enjoyed a very easy pregnancy but the birth was traumatic, she was in labour for 3 days before Erin arrived by emergency caesarean section.
Grace had no previous history of a mental health problem and was looking forward to becoming a mum, however within a few days of having Erin her mental health began to deteriorate.
Grace began to feel withdrawn, low and extremely anxious, she felt trapped and began to worry excessively about small things like how tidy her house was when the health visitor arrived. She was also anxious about accidently causing harm to Erin, or by visitors spreading germs when visiting despite many year’s experience as a Nanny. Grace has an extremely close relationship with her mum, a Nurse, and went to stay with her for a few days. At this point Grace had not slept since she went into labour, despite having a wonderful partner she felt that knowing her mum was looking after the baby would help her sleep, but she was still unable to relax or sleep at all. Looking back Grace feels it was likely that her lack of sleep was a big contributing factor to the deterioration in her mental health.
Grace went back home but when Erin was 10 days old the Health Visitor noticed a sharp decline in her mental health. Grace remembers feeling ’manic’ she was talking constantly and unable to relax at all. She was hyper-vigilant and began to lose a lot of weight so much so she was advised to stop breast-feeding. Back at her mum’s she felt the comfort of her family home and support of her mum helping with Erin would help her to feel better. Graces mum lived in different area therefore had to register with a new GP and was given a new Health Visitor. At this point she was prescribed Citalopram, but it was felt this made her anxiety worse, and was referred to the NHS Increasing Access to Psychological Therapies service called Health in Mind.
She was offered an initial assessment and, following this, some telephone counselling and the opportunity to visit a mental health drop in; neither Grace nor her family felt this was sufficient, through her nursing experience Grace’s mum knew of the Crisis Team and contacted them to support her.
Grace cannot praise this team highly enough. At this point she was given a diagnosis of Postnatal Depression and Postpartum Psychosis. Grace was offered more medication but initially felt unsure. As a tee-total non-smoker she was not keen to take any medication; the concept was very uncomfortable for her but on the doctor’s advice she started taking an anti-psychotic and an anti-depressant and medication to help anxiety. Grace was also offered a bed in a mother and baby in-patient unit but felt she had enough support from her mum and partner, and she was frightened about not having her mum close by and that Erin might be taken away from her. She felt completely bereft, she was so desperate that she had thoughts of putting Erin up for adoption convinced she would never recover, and wanted to sell her house so she didn’t have to return there. Grace loved her home, these were all irrational thoughts due to her illness.
A couple of months on, Grace felt she was able to return home while Erin stayed with her mum and by this time she had been on her medication for 6 weeks and was starting to feel better as a result. Her and her mum looked after Erin on alternate nights; one day Erin was due to stay with Grace’s mum and she decided she didn’t want to be away from her and was ready to have Erin full time by herself.
Erin is now 15 months and a very happy, healthy toddler. Grace is now gradually lowering the dose of the antidepressant and is enjoying life as a mum and she found that keeping busy with her friends and family in the early stages of recovery helped keep her well. Grace describes Erin as her closest friend and is enjoying motherhood more than she had ever imagined.
Grace feels as though the media, films and social networking puts pressure on mums as everyone seems to be coping; she feels there is not enough information out there about the realities of early motherhood. She would encourage all new mums, dads, family or friends to seek help as soon as they feel things aren’t right. She highlighted the importance of working alongside a midwife throughout the course or pregnancy so they get to know each mum well and can spot the signs of a mental health problem. She’s feels midwives need to highlight the signs of the illness at antenatal appointments, and be given information on how to assess the right help. She urges new mums not to be ashamed of having problems with their mental health after having a child and encourages family and friends of new mums to look out for them. Grace has made the decision not to return to work but to be home with Erin for as long as possible to watch her flourish. Grace is hoping to become part of a group in the future which supports new mothers.
*names have been changed