Recently I was lucky enough to join Comic Relief in Powys where we met Stacey, a 28 year old mother of two whose life has been transformed thanks to Comic Relief.
Nine months ago Stacey became a mam for the second time, but unlike her first experience of motherhood in which she was cocooned in that lush little bubble of newness, she was hit by Postnatal depression.
Her story is one of harrowing mental illness and immense bravery.
Thanks to Mums Matter, a comic relief funded project, which runs from a wellness centre in Llandrindod Wells, she’s able to live life in a way she couldn’t imagine when her daughter was born.
Here’s Stacey’s story, in her own words.
Stacey: I met my husband Paul six years ago when we were in school together. We got together, built a house in the country and moved to the farm three years ago. It’s lovely, we’re in a really nice spot up on the side of the valley.
Paul looks after the farm and I’m a stay at home mum. Before that I was working for Wales Young Farmers as a training development officer but got made redundant when I was on maternity with my first daughter Nerys. It was ok though, because she was a newborn and I was in that lovely little bubble of baby heaven because I didn’t have depression after she was born. I was really well.
I had a history of depression though from my teens and I’d suffered really badly in school but I was referred for CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) when I was 16 which made me well enough to go to university which changed my life. Going through that phase in my life I really struggled with the thought of getting Postnatal depression because you naturally think, I’ve been a depressive person, so I’ll end up having it.
WGP: See I’ve always been worried that because I’m susceptible to anxiety and depression, that I’ll be 10 times more likely to get PND. (Postnatal depression)
Stacey: I’ve always been told by my midwives that you’re no more likely than anyone else to get PND because it’s a chemical imbalance and you either have it or you don’t.
I’ve had two pregnancies and had two completely different experiences of those hormones. The ‘baby blues’ as such.
WGP: ‘Baby blues’ that’s such a downplayed term isn’t it?
Stacey: I know. It really is.
My husband is really supportive of it all. He’s not a depressive at all which really balances me out, he’s a typical stoic Welsh farmer. When we got pregnant with Nerys I thought ‘oh my god, this is going to be horrendous. I’m not going to bond with the baby at all’. But when she was born, I was like ‘this is my reason for living.’ She really gave me that rush of everything people tell you get when you have a baby. It actually helped my depression because suddenly I had this purpose to get up in the morning.
Nerys was a ray of light in my life. I thought ‘this is amazing!’ I’d had a child, and coped. There were still good days and bad days but there was always that reason to get going.
Then I got pregnant with Ffion two and a half years later. She was born in the May of 2017 and I thought ‘I’ll be able to cope, it’ll be exactly the same’. But in all honestly I just fell apart. It hit me so hard. I kept thinking ‘I’ve done this before, there’s no initial shock of responsibility because I’ve been through all this before’.
But it hit me like a tonne of bricks.
WGP: How soon after giving birth did the PND hit?
Stacey: Instantly. Literally from the next day, for the following 3 weeks, I cried everyday to my husband, saying ‘why have we done this?
I knew I loved my new baby, because you do have this sense of like, she’s my baby. But I didn’t have the same sense that I had with Nerys and that made me feel so guilty.
It was difficult enough to accept let alone talk about because everyone assumed I was fine. No one was looking for the signs so it wasn’t until my 6 week visit, that the health visitor noticed I was putting on a front. I’d been telling everyone I was fine, but I broke down to her.
WGP: So it took 6 weeks for anyone to pick up on this?
Stacey: My husband just thought it was the baby blues and I’ve never been open with fiends and family about my mental health, and on the outside, I appeared fine.
Everyone thought ‘she’s just adjusting to having two’ but internally there was a hell of a battle going on that I couldn’t even tell my husband.
I was terrified about being left alone in the house with the two of them. Like physically terrified to the point where I was so anxious I couldn’t breathe. I kept thinking ‘what if one of them needs me and I’m with the other?’. I couldn’t be in the car alone with them because I had this irrational fear of crashing, and not knowing which one I’d save first. I felt like my soul had been split in two. I just couldn’t cope with the fact that I had two babies to look after. I know every mother comes up against that but my head was turning it into a completely irrational situation.
I’d breastfed Nerys very successfully but after 3 weeks, it was apparent that something I was eating wasn’t agreeing with Ffion and the fact I couldn’t breastfeed her was another incredible source of guilt. I think this is what everyone around me was focusing on in the first 6 weeks, this was a focal point that diverted attention away from how I was really feeling.
Looking back now, Ffion’s a happy, healthy gorgeous little child and it doesn’t make a difference. But at the time I felt so guilty.
WGP: I’m not a mother and I’ve never breastfed but this is so much pressure on women to breastfeed…
Stacey: Huge! Again it’s this feeling that, I’ve done this once, I should be able to do it again. But I have to keep reminding myself that every pregnancy and baby is different. Looking back it makes sense, because I wasn’t in a good head space and breastfeeding is such hard work mentally, because you’re the only one that can feed your child.
WGP: So what happened when your health visitor said, Stacey, something’s not right?
Stacey: During all my health visits she’d asked where I was on the scale, and I kept saying ‘I’m not at the top but I’m not near the bottom’ but on my 6 week visit I just opened up and told her ‘I’m not near the bottom, but I’m not far off’.
She said ‘we need to get you some help’.
She told me that Mums Matter, a support group funded by Comic Relief, had just started and I was part of the first group to trial it.
The first session started that afternoon. So she visited me in the morning, and a couple of hours later I was at the first pilot session. I had no idea what I was walking into, all my health visitor had said was that it was based around talking therapy and helping you cope with ‘mum guilt’.
WGP: What’s mum guilt?
Stacey: Mum guilt is beating yourself up for not being good enough. That feeling that as women, we should be able to do it all, whilst being superhuman, Earth Mothers.
Mums Matter address a lot of those feelings and the question I had, like why could I do it the first time but not now? It taught me that life is about being a good enough mum, and not a perfect mum.
WGP: And it’s a free 8 week course?
Stacey: Yeah. So the first 6 weeks are based around talking therapy, and you go through a different topic every week. Whether that’s self-esteem, day to Day management, the perception of ‘what makes the perfect mother’, then another look at medication, recovery and a look at support, like how your partners and family are having a negative or positive effect of you, in terms of your recovery. So the first 6 weeks cover those topics and in week 7 and week 8 you have socials, where we all got together with our babies and did nice things.
WGP: Was it helpful meeting like minded women?
Stacey: Amazing. I walked into my first session and recognised two women who I’d known for years. One was a really strong career woman and I kept thinking ‘what are you doing here?’ These were women I knew from groups and places and none of us knew that the other was dealing with PND.
WGP: God-forbid you tell another person you’re struggling hey?
Stacey: Oh my god, if you walked into a play group and said ‘this is really a bit shit isn’t it?’ You’d get executed. We talk about playgroups a lot in Mums Matter, about how they can be cliquey, and very detrimental because if you do open up, you’re not given any support.
Mums Matter was the first time I’d ever walked into a room and be honest, and not be judged for it.
WGP: Where you live must be quite remote? I guess just being around women in a group setting was beneficial?
Stacey: my neighbours are two miles away either side of us, so we don’t have that ‘popping in for a cup of tea and a chat’ culture, and nipping out to libraries or coffee shops just isn’t an option, especially because I had to drive to the nearest town or village and I couldn’t be alone in the car with the girls. So it was very very difficult. When you’re a depressive person living so remotely no matter how beautiful it is can be like a hell. You’ve essentially built a fortress of solitude.
I didn’t realise how isolated I was until I joined Mums Matter, and I hadn’t realised his much I missed adult conversations. My husband is a typical Welsh farmer in the sense that if I didn’t talk to him, he wouldn’t say anything.
When I walked into the room at Mums Matter, we all knew we weren’t ok, but it takes one person to open up. We had one woman who I knew from the Young Farmers circuit as this incredibly strong women with two children, who sat there and said, ‘I had Postnatal depression since my first, and I’ve never got over it’ and she just cried. We all looked at this very broken woman and all suddenly realises it was ok to be broken. She opened the conversation and after that, we all just felt like we could be honest about how it was we were really feeling. Her one act of bravery made us bond very quickly.
It takes brutal honesty to get better and make changes because you have to tell people just how bad things have gotten and I struggled with that, but after week 1 of the course I was starting to open up.
WGP: I guess Postnatal depression is so different to regular depression because the taboo of saying ‘I’m not ok’ is being broken down, whereas it still seems so scary to tell anyone ‘I don’t love my baby’ or ‘I can’t look after my children’ …
Stacey: This is why the safe space of Mums Matter was so vital to my recovery and has been the subsequent saviour of so many women. By week 3 / 4 of Mums Matter, things had really started to improve for me. I’d started to realise just how anxiety based a lot of my PND was, and recognising that allowed me to work on that separately.
WGP: What would life have been like without Mums Matter?
Stacey: I can’t imagine where I’d be without this group. Mums Matter has been detrimental to me and to so many other women in the area, who I’ve built real friendships with. This group created a closeness and a support network of like minded women who feel comfortable enough to open up when things aren’t going so well. We’re all part of a private Facebook group where we can post about how we’re doing and some days we can say ‘I’m not having a great day’ and suddenly you’ve got floods of messages from other women who are going through the same thing, or went through it yesterday.
WGP: Are you still involved with Mums Matter now that the 8 week course is over?
Stacey: When I walked into my first Mums Matter group, there was a volunteer there who’d been through PND and acted as support and she shared her story with us. I couldn’t even imagine opening up on day one, let alone being where she was. But now, I’m her! I’m in a good enough place mentally to volunteer as the Mums Matter support worker who shows women that no matter how unwell they are, it can and will get better.
WGP: That’s amazing Stacey! What are your plans for the future?
Stacey: Mums Matter was supposed to be a one off for me but then I got this opportunity to volunteer and I thought ‘that’s a really good way of keeping in touch with the programme’. But thinking longer term at career options, I’ve started looking at maybe doing a counselling course, because I’ve really enjoyed it. I never thought I’d be strong enough to help someone else but I’m at the stage in my life where I feel like I could really help somebody else long term know which is a massive thing. It would also be beneficial for me to have a few more counselling skills to impart at Mums Matter long term too. People have said to me ‘Stace, you need to think of this as a serous career option because you thrive doing it’ and it’s true.
The best kind of advice comes from someone whose been through it themselves.
I really can’t thank Tracey, our Mums Matter Co-ordinator enough. Her positive energy and outlook was one of the only things that got us through the tough sessions, she was such a huge support to me and has become such a dear friend I would hate to miss the opportunity to thank her for what she has done to help me change my life.
WGP: Stacey thank you so much, I really feel like your story of bravery and what you’ve been through could help so many women who are struggling in silence. Thank you x
For more information on Comic Relief, Sport Relief and the amazing work they do to head to https://www.comicrelief.com
For more information on Mums Matter and the Mind Charity click HERE