Below are case studies kindly shared by some of our services users. We hope this will bring hope and empathy to others, and to see that no one is alone. Thank you so much to all our service users shown for sharing your truly inspiring stories.
- Tell us a bit about yourself and your background
Hi, I’m Francine, I’m 35, I’ve been married for 15 years and am mum to two daughters – Juliette 4 and Georgia 2. I came to motherhood in my 30s after 10 years of trying to get pregnant. When I fell pregnant with Juliette, I was in the process of signing up to study for a Masters degree and looking into the possibility of adoption as we thought natural conception was not going to happen for us. There are two factors which made it difficult for us to conceive – firstly, I have PCOS which can make it difficult to conceive and secondly my husband had a very stressful job which he left a few months before we fell pregnant.
- When did you first realise you may be experiencing issues to do with mental health?
My pregnancy with Juliette could have been stressful as I had gestational diabetes (GD), which meant weekly hospital appointments and multiple scans. When Juliette was born, I did struggle to adjust to life with a baby, as many people do. At this point my husband and I had been married for 10 years and were used to our single life. Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t flying all around the world living a crazy life, but after lots of work we were settled in our relationship.
I struggled with breastfeeding and managed to do 6 weeks before moving to formula – it was at this point I really started to get into a rhythm with my new baby and we went from strength to strength. When Juliette was 14 months old, we decided to try for another baby as we absolutely loved our life as parents. We decided to try quite early on as we were worried it would take years again – we fell pregnant straight away! Up to this point I was unaware that you were so fertile after childbirth.
Apart from the usual exhaustion, the pregnancy with Georgia was easier as I did not have GD this time around. Throughout the 9 months Garry and I didn’t talk much about our impending arrival and hardly prepared for her at all. Looking back this was when it all started to fall apart. When Georgia was born a week before Christmas, we were ill prepared, and guilt ridden. Both of us. Our thoughts were with Juliette and making sure her life was unaffected by the birth of her sister. This guilt consumed me.
- What did you find the hardest part of your situation?
Immediately I felt the pressure of having two very demanding young children – a new-born and a 23-month-old. I hadn’t given a lot of thought to how that would play out in reality – I think it is impossible to know how big this adjustment would be. Although I have both my parents and my husband’s parents around me, they felt unable to support me, even though we both reached out on many occasions. I felt isolated, lonely and scared. In those first few months I changed – I became an angry person. The mother Juliette had had up to that point disappeared and I have many heart-breaking memories of situations where I was just not able to hold myself together.
At the time we were in the process of buying a house and moving from a two-bed rented terrace house. It was so important to us to move to a family home and we were sure that this would make everything easier. Needless to say, the stress of moving compounded my issues and one September afternoon, two months after moving to the new house, I found myself on the lounge floor unable to move with anxiety and fear. The prospect of looking after both my girls crippled me and I couldn’t move. Everything I was doing felt wrong which was a stark difference to how I had felt parenting one child. I call this my breakdown – I had never experienced anything like this. My husband came home from work early and took the girls from me.
- How did you begin to find help and support?
After that day we decided I needed to seek help. I had been to the Drs a few months prior as I had struggled with keeping the children safe. They said I had mild PND and prescribed anti-depressants, but I was caught up in the stigma of this and not wanting to be on them indefinitely as I couldn’t see my situation getting better – I felt like life with two children was going to be like this forever. Foolishly, I felt that I could do this on my own. That September, however, we decided that it was better to take the anti-depressants as I could not carry on. I had been having suicidal thoughts and my belief was that the girls would be better off being looked after by someone else as I, their mother, could not keep them safe. I started taking the tablets straight away and by Christmas I could see a little straighter and was a bit more able to cope. It wasn’t an immediate fix, but it was a step in the right direction.
I was acutely aware that I needed to put a support network in place to be able to come off the anti-depressants but found this extremely difficult having absolutely no time to myself with two young children. I started asking around at the Doctors and in my community for PND support but was told there wasn’t any – even though this was only as recent as 2018 no one had heard of PANDAS where I live, in Kent. I carried on until December 2019 when I had the resources to pay for a counsellor and have only just managed to wean off my tablets. Counselling has been great for me as I can talk without judgement, shame or guilt about the things that I am struggling with and breakdown assumed stigmas over parenting. Finding a counsellor was a process in itself and I did originally return to a counsellor I had seen in the past who dealt with couples, however, this was not a good fit for the issues I was having at the current time – even though this counsellor knew me very well.
I sought out a counsellor who specialised in maternal mental health and this definitely made a huge difference. I have found with counselling that you might not find the perfect fit right away but if you keep trying you will find that person you click with – much like in any other relationship in life.
- Why do you think it’s important to share your story?
Mental health awareness has come a long, long way since I was young, but the walls can only continue to be brought down if we share our stories. For me, sharing my story might help another person in my situation to feel OK. Being a mother can be a very isolating place – especially for those of us who have an introverted personality type. I have found from older generations there is a lot of judgment over what a mother should be, what a mother should do, what a mother looks like, how a mother behaves etc. Judgement in all factions of life is the most unhelpful behaviour – it achieves nothing and simply leaves the judged feeling like they are on the outside. Having a non-judgemental space to share your experiences is crucially important – if you are struggling, seek out a non-judgemental space wherever and however you can.
In 2017 I became a mummy for the first time to our little girl Isla. After having a c section due to her being breech and then struggling to breastfeed I started to realise I didn’t feel quite right. I cried a lot and often for no reason. I felt like I was failing when I couldn’t settle her, or something didn’t quite go to plan. I didn’t feel like me at all. I kept telling myself that things have changed, I’m a new me, I’m tired, I’m emotional and that it will all be fine. I didn’t feel like I could tell anyone as I didn’t think it was normal to feel like this and people would judge. But after a few weeks of feeling very low I decided it was time to go to the doctors.
It was a huge step going to the appointment. I cried and told him exactly how I felt. He reassured me that I could get support and said it was post-natal depression. I came away with the phone number for my local Mind and with a feeling of failure and embarrassment. I spoke to my husband who was amazing and cuddled me while I cried. Funnily enough even now 3 years on I remember what I was wearing and what I had for lunch that day! Over the course of the following 2 months I had weekly sessions with a wonderful therapist at Mind. She made me understand that it was nothing I had done wrong, helped me to turn my negatives to positive and see things more clearly. She also got me doing activities to help me feel more in control, less embarrassed and to realise that selfcare is also so important to maintain good mental and physical health. After these sessions I was beginning to feel a little better about the situation however a few more months in I dipped again so went back off to the doctor. This time he put me on antidepressants so again I came away happy he helped and understood but a bit embarrassed that I now needed tablets to help me feel like me.
After a few weeks on the tablets and trying to maintain the tips I had learnt with my therapist I suddenly felt like me again. I was back to feeling in control, happy, relaxed, and confident in my decisions. I then realised that I needed to start talking about my experience and not be ashamed. I started talking on social media and joined any campaigns about maternal mental health and it was amazing how many people said they suffered too, including friends who had kept it secret but decided to open up about it once I had. I then went on to create a positive wellbeing selfcare journal and have sold many and had great feedback. It really helped me focus and knowing something that I had created was helping others was amazing. Then jumping forward to 2020 pregnant with my second child i did worry about how I would be especially with Covid19 happening all through my pregnancy. I spoke to my doctor and we agreed for me to remain on the antidepressants which I am so thankful for as I really think it helped me get through this very tough time as we were shielded as a family due to my husband being very high risk.
Now we have another beautiful girl, Lara, 6 weeks old and I am feeling really positive about things. Don’t get me wrong, I have bad days and days I cry but I have learnt to just accept these and know it is temporary, so I slow down, cuddle girls and breath. It’s hard not having friends and family visit for cuddles but they are all there for us and are a great support. I’m now more than happy to talk about anything relating to my journey with PND as if it helps one person speak up or seek support then it’s worth it. Being a mum is hard work, full of emotions, challenging, amazing, and rewarding but it’s always okay to need some extra support. You are not failing. You are not a bad mum. You are amazing. You’ve got this.
1. A little bit about me
Hello! My names Kirsty, I’m a mum of 3 boys aged 8, 5 and 17 months. I have a fantastic husband; I’d be lost without him! I work part time as a playgroup manager, and I’ve been working with children for 10 years now. My favourite thing to do is sleep and watch Netflix! I love a daytime nap, sometimes it’s necessary. Otherwise, I like going out with my friends, dancing, singing, exploring outdoors and spending time with my family. I’ve been dealing with mental health issues for over 8 years now, varying from depression to anxiety to both. I currently take Citalopram to help me function and get through the day.
2. When did you first realise something wasn’t right with your mental health?
I had an inkling something wasn’t right when my eldest son was born, I didn’t feel a rush of love or overjoyed, I just felt absolutely terrified! Those first few weeks, I went through the motions, he was cared for, but still, I felt nothing. My mum had a wee word and said she felt like I wasn’t myself and it seemed like more than “baby blues”. There was lots of tears and hugs but with the support of my village I engaged with my health visitor and the GP and began getting support. I was and still am medicated, for both depression and anxiety. I knew with my next two births, it would worsen and it did, but I was more prepared. I felt able to be honest and open about how I was feeling and knew to get help.
3. What’s the hardest part of your situation?
The hardest part of my situation is the guilt and the realisation that life wasn’t going to be what I’d imagined or expected. I’m not an always happy mum, I’m not full of patience, sometimes I shout or overreact, I find being a mum hard most days. I constantly feel guilty for the things I’m not, I second guess and overthink everything and most days I feel like I’m doing everything wrong, like I’m a drain on my family. I find taking my medication difficult, I’d love for my brain to be “normal” and to function “normally” without chemical help.
4. How did you begin to find help and support?
As I’ve said before, I’m very lucky and grateful to have an amazing support system. My husband and mum especially, I’m not sure I’d be here without them, but they know how to give tough love as well. The health visitor and GP were my first port of call, but I hadn’t realised how much support there was online. PANDAS helped me by providing somewhere I could go and read, chat if I needed to and reassured me that I wasn’t alone. I also hadn’t realised how “normal’ I actually was and speaking to my friends that also had children made me realise that we really are all in this together.
5. Why is it important to share your story?
I wanted to share my story to normalise pre and post-natal mental health issues. If my story makes even one person think “that sounds just like me” and they feel less alone, I’ll be happy. Parenthood is a lonely place to be and I can guarantee that most of us feel the same. We need to be honest and open with how we’re feeling, it’s important to get the support, it’s important to make time for yourself and to remember your an individual, an important one, not just “a mum”. It is so important to look after ourselves and each other. Don’t be afraid to admit how you’re feeling, reach out to your friends, they may need you just as much as you need them, don’t let yourself be alone or struggle, the help is out there, please use it.
If you need urgent help….
If you need urgent help or are worried about a loved one, you can call The Samaritans on 116 123 or call 999.