Keeping mum!

Mum of two Emma Fox explains why she’s so passionate about ensuring pregnant women and new mothers have access to high quality and timely mental health services.

Emma and her two children

I was diagnosed with bipolar in my early twenties.

I’ve worked hard, with the support of many services, to understand my condition and gain stability in my life. I knew pregnancy and motherhood would be a risk and not a decision to be taken lightly. I wanted support to make an informed decision about my life, but getting expert advice on the implications of pregnancy on my mental health, and how to approach issues like medication and physical health proved difficult.

“I wanted support to make an informed decision about my life”

After much searching, I learnt of a pilot service running at my local hospital that could help me.

A perinatal* psychiatrist was able to support me and gave me information I needed. My pregnancy went well and after a pre-birth planning meeting, coordinated by my psychiatrist, midwife and local mental health trust, I was confident about the future.

The birth was difficult. We spent time within a special care baby unit and then were sent home. Like most new babies, mine brought exhaustion and disruption. I clung to my birth plan with its details of services and professionals identified to help me. When I organised myself to get out and ask for help, I was sent home and told that I should just give it time. I was left feeling really isolated. About six weeks after my baby was born I admitted to my husband that I thought we should consider putting the baby up for adoption.

“I was deeply unhappy, very lonely and overwhelmingly anxious”

Motherhood felt like a terrible mistake, I was deeply unhappy, very lonely and overwhelmingly anxious. In desperation, after trying and failing to access a number of services, I ended up under the care of the mental health trust. They provided a combination of talking therapies and medication, helping me get through this difficult period.

“Now it’s two years on and I really enjoy my son.”

Without a doubt, this has been made possible thanks to the care and support my family and I received from so many different professionals — perinatal psychiatry, the adult mental health trust, health visitors, my GP, IAPT and children’s centre staff.

My personal experience gives me a unique view of London’s perinatal mental health services. I’m endeavouring to use it to improve mental health experiences for Londoners. I have helped set up a specialist perinatal mental health service in west London and in 2015 became an active member of the London perinatal mental health work, now co-chairing the perinatal mental health task and finish group.

We have found that when all different services work together and focus on the needs of the woman, her partner, their baby and wider family, the results improve the outcome for the whole family.

“When all different services work together, the results improve the outcome for the whole family”

This week we are launching a perinatal mental health guide for the people who commission these services, so that London has standards to work towards. I hope this guide will help the NHS in London to improve services and help more women like me.

P.S. By the way I had a second baby in July this year (see photo for cuteness overload). I guess it goes to show how ok things are that we were prepared to go through it all again! We’ve moved to north London and I’ve experienced a much more proactive, joined-up service. Ruby just turned three months and I’m enjoying motherhood a lot more this time around. We’ve been really supported by the services in our area including health visiting and PIPS. Loving your work NHS!

About the author:

This blog is written by Emma Fox, Co-chair of the task and finish group for perinatal mental health commissioning. Emma lives with her husband and two children in North London. Having lived in London all her life she is passionate about improving the experience of mental health care for Londoners. When not working with the NHS or having babies she works as a project manager for a business school in Baker Street. Emma loves meeting with friends at her church in Green Park and hanging out at the playground with her family.

*Perinatal is the period from conception of your baby until he or she is one year old.

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