I don’t know if you know what I’ve been up to. I don’t know if I said it enough. My mouth that can fit my entire fist in it ( party trick life goals right there eh ?) has been working overtime telling anyone who dares to be my friend , sell me my copy of the National Enquirer, comes to my desk to stare at my acrylic nails colours of the week or who reads my political rants about what I’ve been up to for the last 18 months. Aside from attempting to lose 87 stone whilst eating considerably more than a gust of wind and a glass of air, weeping at the Brexit result , stamping my little heeled feet in horror that a orange pancaked make up face man with a multi colored hair piece , wandering knob and the inability to run his own Twitter account has been voted to run the most powerful country on earth , I have been , as ever , on my mental health soapbox.
My son is soon to be seven. My dear sweet , wild boy with more personality in his leather jacket than your old anorak with a beer stain down it. My little love who is truly the best thing that has ever happened to me. Nearly seven years ago , I gave birth to him in a medicated c section haze, he was held up and looked like he was Jesus surrounded by a beacon of light and then instead of feeling like Mother Earth, I began hallucinating about climbing out of the hospital barred windows, was found crawling around the postnatal ward on on my hands and knees and then became so terrified of my own child, that I couldn’t look at or be in the same room on my own with him.
Six long , torturous weeks past. My hair fell out in clumps, I tried to scrub my skin off in the hope I would be like a snake and shedding a layer would get rid of my angst and I began chanting , going up and down stairs over and over . Bang on six weeks, I hit catastrophic meltdown point where I got on my in laws bed on all fours like a dog and screamed so hard my mouth bled at the sides, I smacked my head into a wall and then locked myself in a bathroom and spent a fair while staring at the razor thinking it looked pretty when the sun hit it. When I emerged , after my terrified husband attempted to break the door down , I collapsed in a heap , sobbing , screaming and shaking. I was in my pants , having not been able to work out how to put my clothes on and I didn’t want to be near my baby.
I was broken. I was a shell of my former self. I was unwell. I was suffering from postpartum psychosis.
I was admitted to a psychiatric mother and baby unit that morning . 200 miles from our home. I walked in , rambling , crying , my mind blown. I had no idea who I was anymore. Six weeks prior, I had been pregnant, vibrant , smiling , the girl who walked around showing people how her fist can for almost down her throat, full of joy about becoming a mother. I had had parties for the baby in my tummy , made from our love and growing with mine. But within an hour of my sons birth, I wasn’t hit by the gush of love you hear about. No. I was hit , with brute force , by an uncontrollable psychotic train. It knocked me off my tracks, and took me off on an unplanned tangent on the journey of motherhood I had planned. I spent six weeks in terror. Lights flashed in front of my eyes, I thought I was floating in the corner of the room looking down on myself,I was convinced the duvet cover was dancing , I closed my eyes and thought my head was In a vice and at my worst, I thought I was buried alive in a coffin. I felt trapped in my body, my life, in my role as a mum to a child who was here forever and I wanted to escape. Not just to Ibiza for a mad weekend but the world. I sat and thought about how I could unzip clouds and climb through them and then had blind panic when I realized I would then be trapped in space. And the fear of what would I do then!?
Since getting better, I have wanted to help other mums. I write my blog, I speak at new mum groups, I am members of online mums groups and am alerted if a mum appear to be showing symptoms so I can signpost her to safe help and support. I never just wanted to be a campaigner . I wanted to provide real help to real mums and provide an in your face awareness of perinatal mental illnesses to a wide range of people. To tell people about it who normally wouldn’t be targeted . So , I don’t know if you do know , but in May 2015, that opportunity came , when a TV soap decided to run a storyline on Postpartum Psychosis and asked my friend Kathryn Grant and I for input, as survivors of the illness. We were personally supported by the charity Mind and the wonderful Jenni Regan worked her socks off , along with APP and Bipolar UK, to ensure the portrayal was safe and accurate. Take a look at Jenni’s blog on the Mind site which gives an insight into how they did this http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/your-stories/eastenders-staceys-postpartum-psychosis/#.WEciNUrfWrU .
So along came Eastenders and like it or not, soaps can get a message across and I think that’s a brilliant thing. Antenatal classes cost more than some people’s monthly salary and not everyone is able to jog along to these to find out about what happens when you lose your mind after dropping your sproglet. We need to cater to the masses as it’s not only millionaires have children. Real people have babies and real people watch soaps. Bar the fact that in soaps someone’s dad is also their second cousins thrice re moved dog and unless you are on Jeremy Kyle, this doesn’t happen in real life often, soaps do go some way to portray real life and in real life women get postpartum psychosis. .The positive effect is a brilliant thing.
When we were was asked by mind to help Eastenders with their postpartum psychosis storyline, Kathryn and I admit we were was pensive. Mental health is so often portrayed in a negative light in the media that I thought, oh god, what if I get involved as someone who suffered and it goes horribly wrong, the character kills her baby and a week later everyone is in the Vic drinking a gin and tonic before throwing chips at each other outside Ian’s chippy. Awareness won’t be achieved and the general public would yet again be fed an awful sensationalised version of an illness that can be devastatingly awful but one that is entirely treatable. Thankfully, Eastenders, with the support of Mind and other charities like Bipolar UK and APP, created a storyline that is so realistic in its portrayal, within a couple of short weeks of it launching, postpartum psychosis was at the forefront of everyone’s mind.
I’ve been mapping social media over the last few months , picking up perceptions of the programme,the portrayal and its impact. In this blog, I will use this anecdotal evidence to show how responsible media portrayals of mental illness can be incredible at opening up conversations about mental health and inform people about conditions they have never heard of , but that could happen to them.
Why is Stacey on her hands and needs scrubbing the oven , which no one ever wants to do and thinks that her baby is the Second Coming ?
Every mums group I am in on Facebook was talking about it – why is Stacey hiding in corners ,why is she turning all the lights off , why is she on the roof of the Vic , why is she smashing all those glasses? Mick will invoice her for them .Is she off her meds and most importantly, what the dickens is wrong with her ? Surely this can’t happen after you have a baby as no one appears to have ever heard of it? Women are happy when they have a baby aren’t they ?
The comments about what on earth was wrong with Stacey were widespread. They ranged from total and utter disbelief ” I think Eastenders have stepped over the line with this crazy storyline . The moment she said Arthur is God, I couldn’t stop laughing” to sadness and sorrow.
Some people have babies and its glorious . And that’s amazing. Some people have babies and its not glorious straight away. They may be sad, tearful and exhausted but after a few weeks this lifts. It’s awful while it lasts but it goes and motherhood starts to work out for them. Others have babies and feel even more sad , even more tearful, even more exhausted and this doesn’t lift easily and motherhood is more of a struggle. It might take them more than a rest to feel better. They might need some medication , some therapy, some help from a charity while their feelings and the muddles in their mind work themselves out. And then some mothers give birth and feel manic. They hear and see things that other people don’t and believe things to be real when they are as unrealistic as could be. Did you give birth and think you were in charge of North Korea? What about thinking you were being buried alive while you were lying in bed? Or think you were locked in a room about to be attacked while trying to find a panic button? Or think that your baby was the son of God? No? Well some people do. People like me.
I manically cleaned. I once spent two hours standing still in the kitchen in fear . I forgot how to get dressed and would stare at my clothes , confused what to do with them. I thought I was on The Truman Show . I tried to climb out of a window to escape my fear. I ordered eight juice extractors and then threw them in the garden. I was afraid of my own baby and ‘I have made a terrible mistake ‘ became my mantra . I had awful visions , thoughts that would pop into my head and I was paranoid of anyone and everyone.
Postpartum Psychosis is a serious illness with dramatic symptoms , so perhaps perfect fodder for a soap opera. What became very clear though , is that Eastenders didn’t have to overdramatize any of Stacey’s symptoms , as the characteristics of the illness are enough. One comment I had about the storyline from a mum was this – ” “You have really changed my opinion on this storyline. Knowing it really does happen and is this extreme , I didn’t know”.
Stacey’s symptoms to PP sufferers was incredibly accurate. The belief that your baby is God is a real symptom, that has affected real life women. When Kathryn and I met Lacey, the actress who plays Stacey, she was really interested in how these symptoms feel completely real to the sufferer. I remember Kathryn saying her visions of being on a gurney felt as real as us being in that room that day. It’s the reality of the mum suffering. It may seem extreme but it’s real. Kathryn’s thoughts on the portrayal are here http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/your-stories/eastenders-my-postpartum-psychosis/#.WEciv0rfWrU.
For details on PP symptoms , please have a look at this from the charity Action On Postpartum Psychosis who are the experts on the illness and are a fountain of information and support for women and their families http://www.app-network.org/what-is-pp/ .
If a mum thinks her baby is flying around the living room, doesn’t that mean she could harm it?
In a word, no.
One of the things that was so great about the first few episodes of the storyline in particular was how showed how much Stacey loves her baby. There is an untrue notion that women with perinatal mental health problems want to harm their baby. Yes, people can get intrusive thoughts and visions but developing postpartum psychosis doesn’t suddenly mean you are a danger to your child and the programme went to great lengths to show this. There was an unfortunate article printed last year about intrusive thoughts with the title ‘ I want to drown my baby’ which of course is not what women who suffer intrusive thoughts want to do. Intrusive thoughts about drowning your baby may pop into your head and they are horrific and very distressing and the reason they are as it’s what you don’t want to do . The title should have been something like ‘ I had intrusive thoughts about drowning my baby’ but of course, it would have got less clicks. And hence , intrusive thoughts are not talked about which they need to be as they are very common , horrendous to suffer and absolutely do not mean the mum wants to carry out any of the things that have shot into her head.
Some of the comments that cropped up on social media were about the fact that Stacey could be a danger to her child such as ” her condition will make her harm her baby” and the ” the reason she has gone into a normal psych ward is people who are psychotic can harm their baby. That baby isn’t safe with her. It’s my opinion and I don’t care what you think”. Said the person with no medical training who uses Google as a diagnostic tool while using Twitter as the second opinion back up service. These comments were based on no real evidence but are a common misconception – mew mum thinks baby is flying around living room while bleaching the net curtains= she wants to hurt the baby.
One person , who wasn’t watching the programme said ” Bipolar is very serious. She could harm her baby” which was responded to by another person saying ” I have Bipolar , I would never harm my children. This storyline is great for raising awareness of postpartum psychosis , which is a different illness to Bipolar.”
As the programme went on , I saw this comment :
“There is a shortage of mother and baby units beds. I’m in a mums group with one of the mums who is working with eastenders as a case study. She says very few mums actually cause harm to their babies”.
Let me be clear. Yes, there are times where terrible things have happened and have done so because someone has a mental health condition. However , this doesn’t mean it’s a blanket rule and eastenders went someway to show how Stacey loved her baby and how she had no desires to hurt or was a threat to him. And she wanted to protect him and be with him. The episode where Martin went away with Arthur had people across the country in tears. It was devastating. Mums who have and had PP, we love our babies. We aren’t monsters and we want to be a mum like everyone else.
Don’t people who are already not right in themselves get this thing?
Again , in a word , no.
Well this was one that made the Internet get into a right old ants in pants tantrum. The episode aired where ( and the programme did this brilliantly ) a psychiatrist explained about PP and how anyone can get it but Stacey was at a higher risk because of her Bipolar.
The National Centre for Mental HEalt and APP have produced this very helpful leaflet https://www.bipolaruk.org/information-on-postpartum-psychosis via Bipolar UK , explaining the relationship between Bipolar and PP :
” Women with bipolar disorder may become unwell during pregnancy but are at a particularly high risk of becoming ill following childbirth. Episodes of postpartum psychosis occur after approximately 25% of births to women with bipolar disorder.
This is several hundred times higher than for women who have not had previous psychiatric illness. Postnatal depression follows a further 25% of births. Therefore, about half of women with bipolar disorder (50 in 100) stay well after having a baby and about half may have an episode of illness.”
I had lots of comments sent to me about this ranging from ” eastenders have got it all wrong. You can’t get postpartum psychosis unless you have bipolar” to someone responding with ” well the doctor on eastenders just stated the fact that anyone can get it”. And the doctor on Eastenders was right.
And what was so good about these debates as they inspired many media stories about PP- Kathryn and I featured in many of them – and they worked to diminish the myths of the illness and to inform people about the real facts.
I don’t have Bipolar and I got PP so the doctor on the soap was totally correct!
This would never happen in real life would it ?
There was lots of talk about whether the storyline was realistic or not.
Reading the storyline before it was screened had me very emotional when I read scripts but then when it was on screen, it was so powerful that I cried for many reasons. Crying because it was so realistic, crying when Stacey looked to the sky as if she was searching for an answer she couldn’t find anywhere else which I would when at my lowest. As she paced the square, her eyes looked sunken with fear as she looked for something or someone she could trust. The scene on top of the Vic with Martin when he told Stacey he would look after her resonated me with me so much – I remember telling the researchers at how I only felt safe with John. I would scream and shout, crying in emotional pain that he had to look after me. One day we were walking down the street and I stopped and looked at the sky. I sensed a danger but I didn’t know what off. I grabbed John and said I need an ambulance, something catastrophic is about to happen, something is coming, I can feel it. John held me, cuddled me and kissed my head. He told me I wasn’t in danger and that he would always look after me and that he loved me. The episode on top of the Vic resembled that fear, that idea that something was about to happen and Martins attempt to gain Stacey’s trust so he could keep her and Arthur’s safe.
On social media, women who have experienced PP came out to thank the programme :
” The programme has been spot on in terms of psychosis . Lacey is always fantastic at these story lines”
” The hallucinations have been filmed brilliantly. The blurred screens, seeing them from the characters viewpoint is very realistic. It’s obvious this has been researched well” .
Some people who had experienced hallucinations said the blurring didn’t work well as when experiencing a hallucination , it’s totally real to the sufferer which is true . I guess the programme needed to find a way where the viewer would be able to differentiate when Stacey was experiencing a hallucination and the blurring enabled that to happen. I thought it was good but it’s personal preference isn’t it? One scene that was absolutely incredible was when she thought her Uncle Charlie was driving her cab. It was extraordinary.
Health Care Professionals came out on Twitter in force to say they felt it’s not an accurate portrayal. Lots of things are being said such as ‘where is the health visitor, where is the midwife/this wouldn’t happen in real life/she has bipolar, a doctor would have told her family about pp when she was pregnant and have said ‘I guess if they show how hcps do get things right, it would be less dramatic wouldn’t it? ‘ Yes it would, as would the real life cases that are left hanging by lack of care from HCPs. This storyline hasn’t just been dreamed up – everyday women are struggling and begging for help and it’s not given. The reality of mums alarming symptoms being picked up is not the utopia some think it is. I get phone calls from gps saying ‘Eve, I have a woman who seems unwell with postnatal sadness, what can I do with her? ‘‘. I am not a medical professional!!!! I’ve spoken to GPs, midwives and health visitors who have told me there is no such thing as a perinatal psychiatrist. HEAD.BANG.OM.TABLE. I went to a perinatal conference last year and someone from a London MBU said ‘we always have spare beds, I’m baffled how women are struggling for help’. I spoke to him afterwards about two women who had been told they were on a waiting list for beds in the unit he worked in. No liaison , no clue.
Health professionals – don’t take Eastenders lack of you as an insult. Some of you are truly wonderful, you have fantastic pathways to care that work, mums se the same midwife all through their pregnancy, health visitors notice that mum doesn’t seem right and she is fast tracked to get help. Hurrah. However, this isn’t always the case . I am on hundreds of mums groups on Facebook, some of them specific perinatal groups where there are countless ‘ I have bi-polar and I am 8 months pregnant and no one has mentioned postpartum psychosis to me / I have told my health visitor I don’t like looking at my baby and she said she knows 16 yr. olds who have babies who are coping so I should as well/ my gp said PND is a modern illness that didn’t exist when he had children and that I should be grateful I have a child as she had a woman in surgery this morning who wants IVF/ I told the midwife I thought I saw my baby inside the pillow moving around when she was actually in her cot and she said to get some sleep / when should the midwife come ? I had a baby two weeks ago and keep phoning the clinic and they say I need to request a visit ? I have and she didn’t show up/ I had my 6 week check and read that I would have to fill in a questionnaire on my feelings and I was so relieved as I have been having scary thoughts of seeing my baby fall down the stairs and I’m scared . but at the six week check there was nothing to fill in and they only saw me for 3 minutes’.
HCPS – use Eastenders as a learning experience , a learning objective even . sling out an email to all your health visitors and say ‘ when you visit a new mum , remember she may be emotionally unwell and may feel like she can’t say. Look out for these symptoms ( List them ) and ensure you tell her you are there to help her if she is feeling overwhelmed or is becoming unwell’. I keep reading tweets saying ‘I’m a HCP and I’m screaming at the TV , where is the Health visitor’ but dont scream at the TV . This storyline is based on real life experiences and heavily lends itself to mine – john recalls how , when Joe was five weeks old our hv said ‘ to be honest, there is nothing we can do. Go to Nottingham , they can probably help you there’. However , the researchers did their work – it’s not just me who was forgotten about , lots of women have been . and I hope the storyline helps to jog the minds of commissioners to even out the postcode lottery of perinatal mental health support so that we can end the scenario of in one area a mum goes into a mother and baby unit the day after her baby arrives after her psychosis is picked up on the postnatal ward by a perinatal psychiatrist, and in the other , another mum is discharged from hospital while her mind is whirling in the air and every HCP she sees says , oh its fine , how much does the baby weigh though ?
Lots of comments I had come through said what this one does – ” I hope this storyline raises awareness amongst doctor, nurses, midwives and health visitors as well’.
Surely if you get PP, Social Services will take your baby away ?
One of the biggest fears about divulging your perinatal mental illness symptoms to doctors is that mums think they will take your baby away. I will say that when Stacey went into the adult without Arthur, I got lots of messages saying this will stop women coming forward because they think it means their baby will be taken from them.
This isn’t what happened with Stacey. Her baby wasn’t removed from her by social services – it went home with its dad so she could go into a ward where babies aren’t allowed and when a place opened up for her in a unit, she went into it with her baby. At no point in the storyline was there a mention of Arthur being removed from her for having PP.
The fear of a baby being taken is undoubtably one of the biggest reason mums don’t divulge their symptoms. It is beyond terrifying to think that by opening up to not feeling like you are in a rose petal covered bubble , that a doctor will say, right then, here take these pills, make yourself a cup of tea and pack the babies bag because Social Services will come and swoop them away at any moment. Without explanation and with a fear that they will never see them again. Health care professionals, need to do all they can to reassure mums what will and won’t likely happen, point them to guidance that explains procedures and also explain that Social Services, if they do ever become involved, actually want to support . A doctor friend of mine pointed me to this page that she shares with her patients when they say they are scared to be honest about their feelings because they are scared their precious baby will be removed from their care – http://childprotectionresource.online/reporting-post-natal-depression/ .
We know that very few mothers are a real risk to their baby but there may be times of course where extra help , support and intervention is needed. But, by helping to soothe the very real fears of mums would undoubtedly mean we would have more of them coming forward early on in their illness and getting help more quickly.
I never knew this could happen. Eastenders has opened my eyes.
Well it’s certainly raised awareness hasn’t it ? Where do I start???!!! It has been beyond the realms of anything we as perinatal mental health survivors , campaigners and supporters could have wished for. It enabled spin off programmers such as the moving ‘ My baby, psychosis and me’ documentary ( https://www.maternalmentalhealth.org.uk/my-baby-psychosis-and-me/) featuring my brave friend Hannah to be filmed which gave an insight into mother and baby units and the treatments offered in them.
Below are some of the comments I had about the programme and a major theme is a thanks to the BBC for researching it so well , the charities involved and bringing in real life case studies like Kathryn and I in to tell a realistic tale.
” Fantastic informative storyline”
” This whole storyline has been handled amazingly. I can’t keep my eyes off the screen”
” Eve , this storyline has really opened my eyes , thank you to all involved. The BBC , you and Kathryn, the lady Jenni you mention , the charities involved and the actors”.
“The bbc should be applauded , and mind and you and your friend. Your input into this is helping society understand my more and specifically in new mums. Thank you so much”
” My sister was talking about the storyline and she is in awe of it”
” This storyline is so educational and will help lots of parents everywhere.
” I was telling my husband how impressed I was with the storyline this evening and how sad I was for the characters involved . It’s good to know the producers/writers take their roles so seriously and get people with first hand experience involved to help them share such an important thing.”
“Well done for this.i didn’t even know this was a condition and naively put it down to her bipolar”
” The eastenders storyline has brought me to tears and now knowing the involvement of real mums, it has me even more”
” Before eastenders, I had never heard of this illness before and education really is about losing the stigma attached.
” I have been watching eastenders and although this storyline is upsetting, it has been done amazingly. It makes sense they have consulted with real life women. It will raise awareness and probably win them awards”
” It was heartbreaking to watch , my heart goes out to anyone who finds the self in that situation. It’s good that it’s being highlighted by the bbc , it’s more common than we think” .
” I am hooked on the storyline and it will help so many”
” I had honestly never heard of this until eastenders started doing to storyline. Well done for raising awareness”
Stacey needs to be with her baby – the need for mother and baby units
Perhaps the most incredible thing to happen from the storyline is the awareness of specialized psychiatric mother and baby units. There are less than twenty across the UK and there are a million more times of women who need a bed in one. The night that Stacey went to to the normal psych ward without her baby, mums groups on Facebook erupted in horror. I had been sure to tell admin to tag me in any threads so I could explain things and I shared my blog on why units are so essential.
The outpouring of disbelief and desire to help change this was phenomenal. A woman is 33 times more likely to be admitted to a psychiatric ward after having a bay more than any other time in her life and the NICE guidelines are clear that women should be placed in a specialized psychiatric mother and baby unit. But there is one fairly big problem – we don’t have a lot of them. There are around 700,000 babies born every year in the UK. More than every one in ten mums develop postnatal depression, and 1-2 in every thousand mums develop postpartum psychosis. So , there appears to be a far amount of unwell mums but we only have 17 units across the whole of the UK.
Everyone in the medical world knows there aren’t enough units or beds in the ones that exist. And even though this is the case, units are still closing down . There are no units in Wales or Northern Ireland and it’s been said that overall , about 80 more beds are needed across the UK to support mums and babies during recovery. This means that my story of having to trek millions of miles to get into a unit is not a one-off. There are lots of women with stories similar to mine or even worse, having to take a place in a normal psych unit without their baby,which is ridiculous as it defeats the entire object of everything. Dr Liz McDonald, one of the country’s leading perinatal psychiatrists, calls this“the bleakest of all postcode lotteries” .
One person who messaged me said ” why couldn’t they just send her to one of those was where she can take the baby with her? ” and the point was , they could have , if the was a space , but there wasn’t , just like in real life. If a woman can’t get a place in a mother and baby unit and she can’t be treated at home, she can be admitted to an adult ward , without her baby. And this is what happened to Stacey in Eastenders. And the soap did this well and knew what they were doing when they wrote this part in but I am not sure they realized how powerful this story insertion would be when watched by the public, when watched by mums at home . I saw it unwind on social media and the response was nothing short of incredible . Incredible in the sense that they realized how awful this was and wanted to know how they could help change this.
A main area for concern was the fact that Stacey went into a psychiatric unit without her baby. The programmers had showed her breastfeeding in her sling so mums in these groups knew she was feeding her baby. There was horror when Martin went home with the baby and despair that she couldn’t go into somewhere with him . To put it into context, within an hour of this episode being shown , my blog on mother and baby units had been read 12,000 times.
Below are some of the comments sent to me on Facebook from people I don’t know.
” I know it’s only a programme but eastenders- can they really say Stacey’s breastfed baby cannot stay with her? I know she is suffering from her illness but she doesn’t pose a threat to her son either”
” Eve, have shared the link to your blog about mother and baby units so many times since the Stacey storyline. Seeing people discuss the storyline on Facebook and them not quite getting the reason behind it means it’s essential for them to know why it’s running”
” I know it’s just a programme but surely they can’t take Arthur away from Stacey ?” .
” I had goose bumps and cried during last nights episode . Completely heartbreaking for Stacey. Mental health in general needs to be taken more seriously in this country.
” is anyone else really affected by Stacey on eastenders tonight ? Is it correct that if a newborn is breastfed, it’s still not allowed to stay with you in the hospital? So upsetting”.
The feeling then switched to desire to help mums. The ‘what can we do’ feeling was apparent across the whole of the social media pages I am on. See some of the quotes I had sent to me below:
” this is an amazing thing you are doing with Eastenders Eve.and your friend Jenni and Kathryn and the charities involved you have mentioned. Is there a specific charity people could support through just giving or similar to help women with PP or help fund more mother and baby units?’
” wouldn’t it be time to start a petition to ensure there are enough psychiatric mother and baby units in more places around the country?”
” eastenders is tough going tonight, mum and baby should never be separated . I had no idea this went on. This is awful. How can we raise money for this Eve ? Any specific charities ‘”
In all the groups I am in and across public pages , I posted links to Open House Nottingham , a group run by former patients star of the Nottingham Mother and Baby Unit I was in, who provide peer support to current patients https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/openhouse and Action On Postpartm Psychosis, who started the #realstaceys campaign http://www.app-network.org/realstaceys/ .
There was a brilliant tweet one night which said ” ohh, eastenders just got political in the postpartum psychosis storyline” when Martin told another character about the lack of units across the country and they were right. Yes, this is the extreme end of what can happen but it’s exactly that – if there is no room at the mother and baby inn, the mum can go to a normal ward and her little baby goes home without her. Which is not what should be happening.
If you watched Eastenders you will know that as soon as Martin found out about Mother and Baby Units, he desperately tried to get Stacey a bed in one , calling them up and down the country to try and nab a space as soon as one became free. It was hard watching these scene because this is exactly what John did while trying to get me a bed- we were in London and no one knew of any units, no one knew of any beds and then John, after finding out where units were located thanks to Dr Google, sat and called them , begging and pleading to get me in. His mum then mentioned her friend had told her there was one in the hospital near them and as soon as he heard this , we packed up and got the train thee , me like a zombie on the train, staring into space. A 200 mile journey to get the help I so desperately needed ,a 200 mile journey to keep me alive.
After numerous doctor appointments , locums losing notes and doctors telling me unless I had planned my own suicide I was classed as low risk, I was assessed and went into the unit to begin my recovery. As we walked down the hallway and I saw the signs saying psychiatric wards, I was crying. John held my hand tightly and kissed my forehead. He told me he would never leave me, that he would love me forever and that I was going to get better.
When we arrived in the mother and baby unit, the nurse gave me a hug and told me everything would be ok.they were there to help me , I was safe , Joe was safe and I was going to get better. There were bedrooms, a family room, a living room it’s toys and books,a bathroom with bubble bath and a kitchen with cupboards full of chocolate biscuits,which I took full advantage off and stuffed my face. It was lovely and nothing like I had assumed a psychiatric ward would be. I was shown to my room and saw a cot in there for Joe. He obviously slept in our room at home but john was with me then. No no no he isn’t going to be in he with me is he I thought. I knew john couldn’t stay with me and the realisation that I was going to be in a bedroom on my own with joe was terrifying. I had a massive meltdown. I pushed a chair into the middle of my room and decided I felt safe in it and sat in it screaming . John got the nurse who came in and sat on the arm of the chair and cuddled me. She kept saying it’s ok eve you can do this , we will help you ok? I promise you and kissed me on the forehead.
I was in such a state , I was given some meds which I only knew as magic blue pills to calm me. Once they had , I sat on the bed with john and the nurse talked to me. John explained my terror at being with Joe on my own and she explained that in order for me to recover, I needed Joe with me. Yes, it would be hard but essentially I needed to , with safe support, feel the fear, do it, and work through the problems with the help of the unit. They said I needed exposure therapy meaning I needed to be in the unit recovering but while getting used to Joe’s presence in a safe calm environment and doing things for him on my own.
I was petrified but the nurses knew exactly what they were doing. They were clear Joe would be in the room with me , I was no danger to him but they would gently support me . So , for the first week , I slept in the bedroom next to the nurses office , with Joe in the cot ,with my bedroom door open. The nurses would sit there on a chair and when I woke up screaming , they would come and sit with me and rock me back to sleep stroking my hair telling me I was ok. They would say , Joe needs a feed and stand next to me reassuringly while I lifted him from the cot and would sit on the chair by the door , not crowding me on the bed, but not so far away that I would feel so scared that I couldn’t function.
The first week was long, hard and terrifying. John would be waiting outside the unit doors to open at 9am every morning and stayed until the doors closed at night . He would lay on my bed with me and every so often , I would feel ok to have Joe lay with us . One day, the nurses said , why don’t you have a bath. Joe was asleep and john washed me. At the time I don’t think I appreciated it but now I see what a lovely thing that was and as I came out of the bathroom the nurse said Joe needs a feed mummy and would you like a hot chocolate or something ? Gently gently, I was being guided to start accepting Joe into my life, the thing that would be a constant but what I was so scared off.
The nurses gave me hugs and promised me things would get better. One of them gave me a folder to read which contained letters from women who had been in the unit and recovered. The stories gave me hope. And they had got better.
There were nurses on duty 24 hours a day but in the unit, you are encouraged to spend time with your baby and bond. I washed Joe’s clothes, sat with him in the day, looking out of the window and reading to him and when I woke up in the night having meltdowns, feelings of being out of my body or panic attacks (which were very frequent), I could go to the lounge and talk to a nurse to calm down. My time there was very difficult – I had debilitating moments and felt scared but the help and support of doctors and nurses who understood the illness helped me on my road to recovery.
At the end of the first week there, I did something I hadn’t been able to do since the day Joe was born – I sat on my bed with my door , which had been open for a week , closed. I peered at Joe, I felt nervous but this was massive. With the support of john , the nurses, everyone in the unit, I was on my own in a room with Joe, with the door closed. It was the biggest turning point in my illness and when I emerged from my room , the nurses hugged me. My mum turned up and the nurses told her what I had done and she cried, john told me he was so proud of me. And I was proud of myself. For me , if I had been in a normal psych ward I wouldn’t have experienced that moment. It was my first big personal step to recovery and the biggest turning point in my illness.
My time in the mother and baby unit saved me. It was safe , warm , kind and caring. The staff treated me like a real person and understood my symptoms. They knew I wasn’t a monster and they knew how scared I was. And my fear was of being alive. Being alive and being mother to a child that was here forever , a child I thought was a mistake. I was cared for and nurtured. I was cuddled and given confidence. I had people looking after me who knew how to make me better and my goodness, they did. And the programme showing Stacey experiencing similar showed viewers just how important the units are :
” it’s hard to watch but totally agree there should be more facilities for mother and baby. It’s not fair to rip them apart like that’
” babies should be allowed to be with their mums at all times. Why couldn’t they get a cot in from labour ward for the baby and put it next to her”
” I work on mental health wards and they aren’t the right environment for a baby. Hence why more special mother and baby ones are needed. I think the actress deserves a medal for her acting and I believe if we keep watching it , it will highlight the need for mother mother and baby units in the UK”
My time in the unit was fairly short but my absolute recovery was far longer. I still have and always will now suffer from anxiety but it’s an after effect I can and do manage. Sometimes it’s hard , most of the time , I control it and not the other way around. But the unit kickstarted my re-introduction to being me again , into being well and I to being the mum I had dreamed of being. Because of the unit I got better and I am alive to be mummy to the best boy I the whole world ever.
If you watched Eastenders, my story might be familiar to you. Stacey got a place in a unit, she was pensive about having the baby back in with her but the staff gently encouraged it. They gave her a folder of recovery stories and the staff were kind and supportive. I saw one comment on Twitter saying ” while the action was good during the postpartum psychosis storyline , the hospital was hugely unrealistic”. The team spent an awful lot of time researching units . They visited them and Kathryn and I would get emails from the Eastenders team and the lovely people at Mind and phone calls about positions of furniture and whether flowers were allowed on units. They built a specific set and it looked very like the unit I was in and the ones I have visited.
There was a quote on Twitter that has stuck in my mind. It talked about ” the incredible power of soaps as an agent of socialization. Postpartum psychosis in our living rooms” and it’s so true. This very serious but unknown about illness ,was being played into the homes of millions in real time. It focused on many different aspects – the symptoms, the treatment and the recovery and great care was taken to ensure this was portrayed responsibly and accurately.
I don’t know if the eastenders postpartum psychosis storyline will lead to bette healthcare provision for those suffering but what I do know is that it’s informed millions of women and their families about the condition so should it bolt them out of the blue, they at least know something about it. They at least know there are specific places for them to go to get better and they know that recovery is truly possible. It may not bring us the 80 or so more beds in the units , which it has been determined we need to support those women who are unwell and bring them to a recoverable point but it has served to inform and for that , I and the other #realstaceys are truly grateful.