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Im MGW, the director of Mothers Uncovered. To explain why I set it up, let me paint a scene.

Imagine a mother having just given birth. The midwife places the newborn in her arms and she will
feel a mixture of exhaustion and ecstasy. This is the beginning of the rest of my life. Everythings going to
be wonderful, not, Wheres the exit? This is all too much. She may get the baby blues for a few days or
even weeks, but thats just normal and will go away in time. This is the received wisdom, trotted out to
first-time mothers. However, the reality for most women is somewhat different.

When I gave birth to my first child in London in 2004, I was staggered as to how extraordinarily
isolated I felt. I remember the sensation of being marooned in a big tunnel straight after his birth,
cocooned from reality by the effects of the epidural. The midwife said, Lets get Mum up to the ward and
I thought, my Mums not here, is she? I couldnt get my head round the fact that I was Mum. In the fog
of the first few weeks, I kept thinking how hard everything was I was conscious of being at odds with
myself, although Id give the impression that everything was fine. At any activities I found the focus was
always on the babies and all the conversation related to that.

Theres a form you fill out at your six-week check at the doctor that includes questions such as,
Have you ever felt like harming yourself or your baby? I didnt feel that, but who would want to tick yes
to this and have herself branded as an unfit mother? To admit that you are finding so difficult what many
thousands, including your own mother, have done before you. That this longed-for bundle of joy should
be so daunting. Add to this the stigma that still exists around mental health issues and its no wonder the
feeling of panic sets in. The phrase post-natal depression is itself depressing! It is more correctly known
as post-natal illness and its estimated that it affects between 70 and 100,000 women and their babies in
the UK every year. These are just the reported figures, the truth is many women suffer in silence.

Occasionally there is a high-profile case where the public can gasp at the horror of a woman who
has killed her own child. There is far less coverage for a mother who has taken her own life. More than
ten per cent of maternal deaths - that's deaths within one year of giving birth - are caused by suicide. This
doesn't even include suicides which come later, in some cases much later. In 2000 there was a mother
from Cheshire who lay down in front of a train because she had never recovered from the depression that
started with the birth of her 24-year-old son.

What do we do and how we do it?

I set up Mothers Uncovered in 2008 for Livestock the registered charity Im co-founder of. We have
helped hundreds of women with our creative peer support groups focused on the mother, rather than the
baby. Women meet weekly for five weeks in the same group, facilitated by mothers who are past
participants. We run 5 week courses, which combine facilitated discussion with art, writing, mindfulness
or drama. The groups are not drop-ins, because we believe it's important to build up a sense of
community and safety within the group, which can only be done if you know the others that will be coming
along. In addition to regular courses, weve also run 3 weekend events called Big Sunday and Mother
Nurture, exhibitions and performances and weve recently branched out into healthy eating groups called
SoulFood and a improvised drama group called Mothers Uncorked.

It helps hugely that those who are running the group are not present as experts or providing advice,
but as someone who is both a mother and has attended this very group. As it says on our publicity: We
are not perfect mothers. We certainly dont want to tell you how to be mothers. We are going through it all
too. In short, we are just like you. Participants quickly feel able to open up as they realise they are not
the only ones struggling, they begin to feel less isolated and start to take ownership of their lives and
decisions. In the words of a past participant, Mothers Uncovered fills a gap you didnt even know was
there.

We now have 6 facilitators in addition to myself. We believe it is essential that Mothers Uncovered
is present everywhere, but like many small organisations, keeping afloat is sometimes a challenge. All
that is required is a welcoming room and a facilitator to manage the sessions. And some tea and biscuits.
The facilitators need a small amount of training and ongoing support, which can be provided by their
peers. Its not exactly the moon on a stick, is it?! Ive set up a petition on Change.org addressed to the
NHS & Public Health England. Theres a link to it on our website www.mothersuncovered.com

What we value is womens health

My aim is for equal weight to be given to the post-natal period as to the pre-natal. It needs to be
realised that the mental health of a mother following a birth is as important as her physical health
beforehand. When the mothers needs are not met, nor are those of her family. Postnatal depression has
been associated with an increase in family conflict and has a detrimental impact on a partner's mental
health, as well as causing financial problems. The impacts of perinatal mental health problems on
children include emotional difficulties and behavioural problems. You may think if youre not a parent, this
doesnt affect you. It does. You might not be a mother, but we all have, or had, a mother and your
upbringing may affect you more than you realise.

You could well be thinking what will all this cost? Frankly, we can't afford NOT to take action.
According to the Maternal Mental Health Alliances report in October 2014, inadequate maternal care
costs the UK 8bn a year, with a comparatively modest 337m required to tackle it. EIGHT BILLION
POUNDS EVERY YEAR on trying to close the stable door once the horse has bolted. Why are we
playing catch-up instead of investing in preventative measures?

What we also value is a womans right to have the pregnancy, birth and post-natal care she needs

Why does the problem exist? It begins because women are not supported adequately around their
birth, often seeing several different professionals during their pregnancy and labour. A traumatic birth can
have a long-term impact on mental health. And once the baby is born, most women are signed off by
their health visitor after ten days and left to get on with it.

Then there is still an insistence on dividing mothers into those with baby blues (perceived as the
vast majority) from those with post-natal depression (perceived as a small proportion). The latter are
usually treated with medication and specialist counselling. These women are kept apart, in closed
groups at health clinics. I know this, because I have had a devil of a job infiltrating these groups to see if
any of the women would like to come to Mothers Uncovered. Its as if theres a fear that they might infect
the other mothers. To access a PND group you need to be referred by your doctor or health visitor. There
is a shaming stigma of not coping. It is imperative that this period, with its rollercoaster of emotions, is
reclassified as normal rather than extreme. Im not disputing the fact that PND exists and sufferers of it
may well need medication and counselling. However, every single mother I have spoken to in the last few
years has felt they couldnt find an adequate outlet for their feelings at the beginning. Were they all
suffering from depression? Additionally, on some days they wanted to celebrate how much they loved
being a mother and share that with others. They didnt want to describe themselves as depressed then.
Both the terminology and the attitude to this period of motherhood is wrong. Most women have 'new
motherhood syndrome' in which it is perfectly normal to be blissfully happy one moment and in the depths
of despair the next. If the right support were there in the first place, I firmly believe a lot of women would
not develop PND.

Many women also feel they have no one to talk to. People might say there are church halls up and
down the country packed with Mum & Baby groups, which is true. These are usually informal drop-ins
however, not suitable for discussing issues that might be difficult and painful. The last thing a vulnerable
new mother needs is to walk into a large room of chattering women who all seem to know each other.
Courses run in childrens centres for new parents can help, but these are usually run by a health
professional, creating an us and them atmosphere.

In my case, like for so many women, I gradually realised that rather than being a strange freak, I
was just a normal mother trying to cope with the enormity of the responsibility with inadequate
preparation. That in turn put the feelings in proportion. I had a relatively mild case of depression (I
suppose I was never diagnosed), which lifted in time, For most women, they do just get on with it and
the memories of that turbulent time fade. By the time they re-enter the fray, they may find it hard to even
remember that time clearly and may well not wish to, feeling thankful that they seem to have survived
relatively intact. This is why the problem still continues. Just because women do get on with it and seem
to be managing later on, doesnt mean they should have to. As a society we should offer more than that,
especially when the support is easily achievable? And for the women whose lives are permanently
blighted by their experiences of becoming a mother the situation must change.