Following the publication of the Next Steps on the Five Year Forward View, which detailed the work underway to expand perinatal mental health services with four new mother and baby units (MBU), mum Katy Chachou talks about her experience and the specialist support she received in a mother and baby unit in Birmingham.
I first experienced mental health problems after the birth of my daughter when I was 32. This was my first child, and after a straightforward pregnancy, I had a rather traumatic birth which meant I had to stay in hospital for three nights. When I got home I found I couldn’t sleep at all. My behaviour became obsessive – for example writing notes about my daughter’s feeding times, and I was calling people to chat all of the time which really wasn’t normal. I felt as though I went into my own world.
Through lack of sleep, my behaviour became more compulsive – one night for example, I made my husband drain all of the radiators in our house. He was increasingly worried by my behaviour and this came to a head the time he found me eating chocolate in the garage in the middle of the night. At this point our daughter was just eight days old. He took me to our GP, but I refused to go in and stayed in the car. The GP came out to see me and referred me to a community mental health clinic to be assessed. They sectioned me – but due to a lack of beds I was sent to a mixed psychiatric ward. This was within a short distance of my home and after a few days I was allowed one hour each day to go home and visit my baby.
I was in this ward for three weeks. Then we finally received the call to say there was MBU bed available – which would mean at last there was somewhere I could stay together with my daughter who was just a month old at this point. After moving to the Barberry MBU things slowly got better. We had the chance to bond, and having her with me gave me a focus. Finally, seven weeks after her birth I was feeling better and well enough to go home for two weeks at Christmas.
Unfortunately in early January, before they could discharge me, I had a horrible period of depression and was readmitted to the Barberry. They treated me with anti-depressants and soon after this I was diagnosed with rapid cycling bipolar disorder. This meant two-week cycles of highs and lows – so severe that I needed to stay for a further five months at the Barberry, where they closely monitored my condition until I was well enough to go home at the end of May.
The Barberry MBU provides a safe and learning environment. They give you the support you need for you and your new baby. In addition to the specialist psychiatric care, they give very specialised support for you as a new mum – with nursery nurses and paediatricians on hand to guide you. Also opportunities to take classes and learn skills, to give you a break away from being a mum that we all need from time to time. During this time I also bonded with the other mums in the MBU. This was really important, giving us the chance to share our experiences and support each other.
When I finally left the unit, my daughter was seven months old. I needed help to bridge the gap between being in hospital and to finally being a new mum in my own home and I was very lucky to receive support from the early intervention team who specialise in psychosis support, to do this. Every woman should have access to a mother and baby unit and specialist care when they need it. They are a lifeline to mums who go through experiences like mine.
Since my discharge, things have continued to improve. I feel very lucky and I am determined to give something back. I now work voluntarily at the MBU where I give the mums manicures and pedicures and am able to provide peer support, which gives them hope. I also give talks to medical audiences about my story. In some ways going back there feels like going home. They provided a safe, caring and learning environment for me and my daughter for the first months of her life – and we will always be grateful for this.