A mother with lived experience of perinatal mental health problems reflects on her work coproducing Ribblemere Mother and Baby Unit, outreach and community service at Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust:
I am a mum to two beautiful children, Bethany-Elle, 3, and Josiah, 2, whom I love with all my heart.
Born just 20 months apart, my experiences in the perinatal period were drastically different.
With Bethany-Elle my pregnancy was relatively uneventful, the arrival was a joyous occasion and I would say I took to motherhood quite naturally. So much so, that when she was 10 months old we were delighted to be expecting again.
This time things were different. I experienced anxiety and depression from around 20 weeks, and when Josiah was born I deteriorated. I didn’t want to hold him except when necessary. I would breastfeed him but then hand him over to someone else to be winded. I never felt suicidal, but I did experience thoughts of harming both of my children, which were obviously completely out of character.
Thanks to my wonderful health visitor Zoe Dowbiggin I was diagnosed with postnatal depression (PND) at one week postpartum and my treatment began there.
After further deterioration a few months down the line, my psychiatrist suggested that I would benefit from a stay in a mother and baby unit (MBU). At that time my nearest MBU was at Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester, about 75 minutes from my house on a clear day, two hours on a Friday afternoon.
The unit was the perfect space for me to focus on my recovery and, most importantly, Josiah. I no longer needed to put on a happy face and I was meeting other mums with similar illnesses and bonding problems. We were able to spur each other on and empathise with each other in a way that I didn’t think was possible.
The huge downfall was that the unit was so far away. It would have meant a huge difference to me if my family could have visited more and if I could have potentially gone home on leave for the day when I had improved. The new Ribblemere unit in Chorley is going to provide a much needed service to families in Cumbria and Lancashire.
The outreach service that goes alongside Ribblemere will also be a fantastic tool that will keep mums with their families whilst receiving the specialist perinatal care that was previously only possible as an inpatient.
I am proud that something so amazing – my involvement with Ribblemere – has come out of such a dark time in my life.
From sitting on interview panels, to interior design, to discussing the ward name and the wording on brochures, it has been incredible to have a say and to see this grow from some ideas on a board, to an amazing team with a highly impressive all singing all dancing homely space.
By enabling those of us with lived experience to influence decision making, they aim to keep mums at the heart of Ribblemere. I am very excited that all this work will help thousands of women just like me.
Bekki’s husband, Colin Bowman, proudly takes up the story:
The birth of a child causes different emotions and feelings to come to the surface. On the one hand it can be very exciting, thinking about how this little life will impact your family as they grow up. On the other it can be very unsettling with changes to established routines, financial pressures and questions such as ‘how will we manage?’
As a dad I have always seen myself as the provider and protector of my family, so when I heard Bekki had been diagnosed with PND I automatically went into ‘fix it’ mode. On reflection, I can now pinpoint some of the symptoms before the birth – low mood, increase in anxiety, both are early warning signs. Before she became ill, my knowledge of her condition was limited. I certainly had not heard of an MBU at this point.
What is really important about Ribblemere is the reduced travel it means for many families within Lancashire and Cumbria who wish to visit loved ones. Having family and friends who are able to visit and provide practical and emotional support really can speed up recovery – and a shorter journey would certainly have helped us.
The new services mean that mums and their families will be able to engage with activities on the ward, which will have a huge impact on the bonding and attachment for everybody. They will also meet other families also going through similar circumstances, providing much valued peer support.
Ribblemere has huge potential, and that is more than exciting for all of those who are involved.