Is there adequate mental health support for mothers post natally?

Friday, 5 December 2014

This post is a bit different to my usual ones, in fact, its a post that I've uhmed and ah-ed about writing on a number of occasions after having Lily and the recent tragic story of Charlotte Bevan has now prompted me into doing so. 

In short and for anyone who isn't aware of the story Charlotte Bevan was a new mother from Bristol with a history of depression and schizophrenia. Charlotte left the hospital not long after giving birth, under the noses of oblivious hospital staff, and the body of her and her 4 day old baby girl were found yesterday. 

For me this story brings forward so many questions - why wasn't Charlotte given the adequate care she needed when having a known history of mental illness? Why was she so easily able to walk straight out of the hospital doors? I think the main question on everyone's lips since this story hit the news is was Charlotte Bevan badly let down & most importantly could more have been done? For me, the answer is an absolute unequivocal yes

I've never spoken much about my own hospital stay after having Lily except to briefly mention in passing that I hated the few days I spent there after Lilys birth. Its a time of my life that I choose to block out, which is sad because those first few days with your child are precious moments that I'd have liked to have remembered with fondness.

My PND started immediately in the hours after giving birth to Lily and I often think that if I'd had more help, or even someone to lend an ear, my PND may possibly have been avoided all together which makes me incredibly frustrated. That's not to say I blame my PND entirely on the actions and attitudes of the nurses on the after care ward, I already have a history and so of course this plays a part in the way I was feeling at the time but I truly feel that the over all lack of after care I received in those first few days contributed massively to what led on to become a massive struggle with PND.

In the hours after having Lily I was quite literally left to fend for myself. Maybe I was young and naive but I couldn't help but feel I'd been thrown in with the sharks and left to figure out whether I was to sink or swim. I was given one hour with James before he was told to go home (which we hadn't been told previously and so neither or us was expecting this) and then I was wheeled up to the after care ward, dumped unceremoniously in my bed and left to look after my baby for the night with zero help or advice. I was young and completely inexperienced and no-one showed me how to breastfeed, no-one showed me how to change a nappy, not one person asked how I was feeling when I got there - I was just left to get on with it.

I was mentally and physically exhausted after a long labour as we all are, and of course being a first time mum I had no idea how often babies were supposed to cry - was I supposed to pick her up and cuddle her all night? Was I supposed to put her in her basket next to me even though she cried every time I did, because I'd heard from a friend it was dangerous to co sleep? I remember not knowing whether I was supposed to stay awake whilst Lily slept just incase she woke up. I remember thinking I might be frowned upon by nurses and other mothers on the after care ward for trying to sleep and that I really ought to stay ridiculous is that! But I was a young first time mum, I didn't have a clue and I didn't have anyone to ask because all of the nurses were busy. 

One memory stands out of the first time Lily did a poo whilst I was on the ward - It was black and tar like as all newborn babies poo's are supposed to be - but of course I didn't know that and immediately panicked thinking something was wrong with her. I pushed the buzzer on the wall to get one of the nurses but of course no-one came so I managed to change her myself. Then I lay back on my bed and cuddled Lily whilst I cried - cried out of loneliness and out of terror that my baby had only been in the world a matter of hours and was already poorly. ( A nurse did eventually come...2.5 hours later and I was greeted with a 'oh did ya buzz love?') 

To be honest I have a hundred tales I could tell about the dozens of times I was let down in the 2 days I spent on that ward. The next morning when I couldn't get Lily to feed and my anxiety was through the roof I took her out into the corridor to the nurse on reception (knowing that if I buzzed I wouldnt get anyone) and tearfully told her that I couldn't get Lily to latch even though she was hungry. I was told to go back to bed and keep trying and she'd be along in 10 minutes but she never came and when I went to try and find her again she was gone. So I ended up hysterically ringing James and screaming at him to bring round a pump for visiting hours, even though a pump had never been in my original feeding plan.

All this anxiety and misery could have been avoided if I'd just had a little help. I know how over run the NHS is. I'm not selfish or daft. That was proven by the sheer lack of nurses to patients there was in the after care ward. And looking back I do feel for them, I'm sure they were doing the best they could, trying to get round everyone with such little time on their hands.. however to have just one of those nurses come when they said they would or for someone to just tell me 'your doing fine, everything your baby is doing is completely normal' would have made such a difference I know it would. 

And that brings me on to the original point of this post. As I said I understand that the NHS as a whole are generally under staffed but more attention desperately desperately needs to be given to the aftercare wards in the UK. I'm not talking about comfier beds and nicer looking wards (although that would help too ;)) I'm talking about an increase in ward staff so each person can be seen and not forgotten about,..specially trained compassionate staff...a mental health specialist on each ward..bottom line is someone to lend an ear. Whether you have a history of mental health problems or not, each and every maternity ward is filled with overwhelmed hormonal woman whose mind and body have just gone through a massive change and who I can guarantee will feel out of their depth at least one time whilst being on that ward. We shouldn't wait for outcomes of stories like Charlotte Bevans before we decide to stand up and try to make a change. PND can and does affect anyone and I really feel that more support in after care wards can help reduce that PND figure by substantial amounts. I really feel it would have done for me. 

Thanks for listening

Abigail Bryony xx 

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