This Mother’s Day, I’m feeling particularly grateful to the NHS services who enabled me to carry on mothering my children through our darkest hour.
Last July, in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, I suffered from a hypomanic episode, which degenerated into psychosis as I became more and more deprived of sleep. A happy time it was not! But it definitely helped me to appreciate my own ability to look after my children – and the mothering skills of the fantastic team that took care of me.
I was fortunate to be admitted to the Coombe Wood mother and baby unit in Acton, one of only three wards in London where mothers can remain with their babies whilst in the midst of major psychological distress. With a breastfed baby who was no fan of weaning, it was a godsend to be able to stay with my daughter and have help looking after her – and to have some help looking after me too.
The team at Coombe Wood were amazing, and I find it hard to believe that there’s a mother of a young baby anywhere in the land who wouldn’t benefit from spending some time there. One of the special things about Coombe Wood is that the staff come from so many different disciplines.
There are psychiatrists, psychotherapists, occupational health workers, nurses and (perhaps most importantly) nursery nurses – who can support mothers and babies together from a holistic perspective. Some of the practical mothering skills they shared were critical: after eight months with a baby who only seemed capable of sleeping in my armpit, we finally got her sleeping on her own in a cot!
The other special thing about Coombe Wood was the opportunity to spend time with other women who were also in the midst of a mental health crisis. It was inspiring to be surrounded by these brave, strong women, coping with such difficult circumstances. It’s a community I feel very proud to be part of.
As a family, we have reflected a lot on what could have been done to prevent my illness. It was a possibility we had prepared for: I have a bipolar diagnosis and had been told that I had a one in three chance of becoming unwell when I had my baby.
In my case, the key factor seemed to be the underfunding of early intervention services, which were unable to respond when my husband and I first raised the alarm about my health. In the delay, a problem became a crisis and the crisis quickly spiralled out of control.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, and this Mother’s Day, I’m grateful to the team of people who supported me when motherhood got tough – and prevented a bad situation from becoming even worse. My baby daughter will never remember Coombe Wood, but my husband and I will never forget it.
A-Z Topic: Parenting and mental health
Being a parent with a mental illness can be hard. But with the right support, you can be a good parent while managing your mental health.
Programmes for families, children and young people
Forming a family and parenting is an important part of life, with many changes taking place. Both mothers’ and fathers’ mental health may be affected during this transition, which may influence their child’s mental health.