Naomi and Zach's story
I grew up in the care system. Things had become so hard at home that I camped outside social services with a suitcase and demanded they take me. I was 14.
It was just me and my mum in the house arguing all the time. We were at war. I became very depressed, started self-harming, and tried to take an overdose. I never spoke to anybody about it. Nobody knew what was happening.
I wasn’t happy living with my first foster family. I ran away and lived on the streets for a few weeks until social services rehoused me. I liked the second family, but it was a long way from where I grew up and where I was going to school. So I stayed out late and missed curfew. But although I was depressed and self-harming, that was the happiest time of my childhood.
I was given temporary accommodation when I turned 18. That experience wasn’t good for me. For six months I was the victim of gang violence.
It was during that time that I met Zach’s father. He protected me from the gang, stopped them pepper-spraying my house. We pretended to be in a relationship so the gang would leave me alone, and over time that developed into a real relationship.
I felt rejected, felt my son didn't love me
I finally got permanent social housing when I was eight months pregnant. When we moved in there with no heating, no furniture and no carpet, just concrete floors. It was October.
The birth was very difficult, and I had to have an emergency caesarean. Zach was put on a different ward. When I finally saw him he was already being cup-fed. He didn’t take to breastfeeding. I felt rejected as a mother. I felt he didn’t love me.
I’d been working up to the birth but afterwards had to rely on grants. Most of my money went on travelling to the hospital to see my son. I had to feed three mouths on a two-person budget and pay the bills so I was getting into debt.
There were cracks in my relationship. I started realising my partner wasn’t very supportive. He wasn’t contributing financially, wasn’t helping with our son or the house. He was controlling, would stop me wearing make-up or certain clothes. I found out he had been cheating on me, and he became violent.
Will you give the most valuable gift of all, a brighter future for vulnerable young mums like Naomi?
I didn’t have anyone to talk to
My mum wasn’t talking to me at the time, and when I tried to talk to my partner he said he didn’t want to hear me talking that way. My depression showed through my home environment. Zach’s things were always clean and tidy, but the rest wasn’t. After I overdosed again the doctor reported me to social services and I started getting visits. Sometimes I wouldn’t let them in because I was afraid of what they’d think if they saw the house.
I felt the world would be better off without me, that Zach would be better off without me.
A third overdose and arrest
A friend found me when I overdosed a third time and called an ambulance. Zach was with his dad at the time. My friend called him but he refused to bring Zach to the hospital or bring him home. I discharged myself and called the police. I wanted them to check my son was ok.
Instead, at 3am, 20 officers came to my house and arrested me for child neglect. I spent the night in a cell. The next day I was let out but with bail conditions that prevented me seeing my son. I was told I had to have mental health evaluations. This was the first time I’d been diagnosed with long-term depression.
After four months Zach was returned to me, it was the happiest day of my life. The relief I felt when I could go into my room and see him in his cot... It makes me cry thinking of it.
What’s happening for me now?
I started taking Zach to nursery at 16 months. I met a young mum there who I became really good friends with. I’d lost quite a few of my friends after I had a child, and it was good to meet someone who was in similar situation and understood the responsibilities of motherhood. The nursery staff were also very supportive.
If I was depressed, if Zach’s behaviour was bad I could talk to them about it. They were the ones who introduced me to the Mental Health Foundation’s Young Mums Together group.
Young Mums Together
I really enjoyed going. It was when Zach was at nursery and it gave me respite, some time for myself, time to do things that were good for me. I got to meet other young mums. We’d do activities and speakers would visit. I learned about other support that was available, like a breastfeeding support group that I wish I’d known about when I was struggling to bond with Zach.
There was lots of peer support from other young mums and advice for training and getting back into work. We talk a lot about staying healthy and looking after yourself as parent. The idea is that a happy mum equals a happy child.
The way it works is that the Mental Health Foundation set up a group and run it for a while and then one of the mums takes it over so that it can keep going on its own. Because of what I’d learned and experienced I’m taking the lead in a group myself. My early experience of being a mum wasn’t a great one, it was hard, but knowing now the extra support that’s out there I wanted to help other mums who are going through a hard time.
Being part of the Young Mums Together group helped me rebuild my self-confidence. Just because I’d had my son at a young age it didn’t mean that mine or Zach’s futures couldn’t be bright. Before, I would walk into a room and be silent. No one would even know I was there. It’s very different now. I’m the one who introduces themselves and other people to the group, who makes them feel at ease.
Back in touch with mum and dad
I’m talking to my mum, who I had lost touch with, again now. Recently I also contacted my dad and have been getting to know him. We have a relationship now, and he has a relationship with his grandchild. Zach’s a happy child. He still has tantrums occasionally, but that’s a four-year-old for you.
I feel very optimistic about the future. I have this dream that I would work as a therapist and eventually own a house. It’s a big dream, but I’ve learnt that time can heal. And being a young mum and going through what I have doesn’t mean the future couldn’t be bright.
With your support, we could run more Young Mums Together groups that provide vital support when it is needed most for people like Naomi and Zach