‘Transformative’ NHS maternity mental health service helping new, expectant, and bereaved mums as one user says: ‘I can’t thank the service enough’
A FAREHAM mum of two has thanked a new NHS service after a traumatic birth and harrowing miscarriage left her with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Aileen Chick, 34, was one of the early patients for the pilot programme of the Maternity Mental Health Service.
Operated by Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust alongside maternity units, this service supports new, expectant and bereaved mothers across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.
Aileen, who lives with partner Philip Weber, suffered birth trauma when her son was born six years ago, and later had a miscarriage that left her hospitalised.
She said: ‘It was a complicated and very long labour with my son. It ended up with an emergency forceps delivery where he had shoulder dystocia, the cord was wrapped round his neck, and he was blue and floppy when he came out, he wasn’t with us.
‘I suffered as well, I haemorrhaged quite badly.’
Aileen’s son spent his first year in hospital, which made the situation harder.
She said: ‘My mental health after having him was not great, I struggled. I decided I was done, I couldn’t have any more children, I couldn’t go through that again.’
Aileen had some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy support but it wasn’t specific to maternity trauma.
She said: ‘It helped enough to the point where we decided to have another child.
‘We struggled to get pregnant, and when we eventually did get pregnant, all the fears and anxiety from his birth came back.
‘Throughout the pregnancy I was really anxious, just convinced something was going to go wrong.
‘We had multiple scans showing baby happy, healthy, thriving, heartbeat and everything.
‘When we got to our dating scan, it showed that baby had died quite a few weeks beforehand. We thought everything was fine.’
The miscarriage started about five days later, and Aileen says that had no idea what to expect.
She said: ‘My thoughts were, if there’s going to be a lot of blood, this is a rented house, and we’ve got cream carpets, so I decided to take a bath.
‘I sat in the bath for ages before things started happening. When you’re in water you can’t really tell how much blood is too much, so I called my other half and in the time it took us to have that conversation, the bath water had got thick with blood. You couldn’t even see my legs through the bathwater.
‘I got out of the bath to assess things, and I basically bled out on the bathroom floor. I could feel the blood pumping out of me, I could feel myself going into shock, breathing became laboured, lost feeling to my extremities, became cold and clammy.
‘We called the emergency services and I got blue lighted to hospital. That’s where I spent the best part of a week, I had to have blood transfusion.’
Aileen didn’t realise until she got home how badly she’d been affected by the miscarriage.
She said: ‘For the first couple of weeks I couldn’t even go upstairs, I was too scared, let alone go into the bathroom.
‘In the end, I didn’t even step foot into my bathroom for 19 weeks after it happened. I would walk past the room with my eyes closed.
‘It wasn’t until I got pregnant with my happy, bouncing, crazy 11-month-old, that I managed to get some help.’
Suffering with serious trauma and in desperate need of support, Aileen struggled to get an appointment with other services until she was contacted by the Maternity Mental Health team, who saw that she was struggling.
Preparing for the birth of her daughter, Aileen was dealing with high anxiety and PTSD flashbacks to her previous experiences.
However, after having specialist mental health treatment with the new service, Aileen says she is doing much better and is recovering well.
She said: ‘I can’t recommend the treatment highly enough - by about a month before my little one was born, the PTSD flashbacks had gone, the symptoms were greatly reduced. I was able to go in my bathroom!
‘If it wasn’t for the service, I don’t know how I would have got through pregnancy and labour with my daughter. It really, really helped.’
The service continued to support Aileen after the birth of her little girl.
Aileen added: ‘My labour with her was as straightforward as you can get, but because I was used to things going disastrously wrong, I was expecting that with her. I was constantly waiting for the hammer to drop, and because nothing did, I just didn’t get that overwhelming rush of love for her that everyone expects you to have.
‘It’s drilled into us that you automatically love your baby, and I didn’t get that feeling for her - I felt so, so guilty.
‘If it wasn’t for the service explaining to me that everything I was feeling was normal for what I’ve lived through, I don’t know how I would have got through those initial months with her.
‘With her now, I’m completely there, I love her more than I can describe, but if it wasn’t for the service helping me through those initial months, I don’t know where I’d be there. I can’t thank the service enough.’
Aileen is still working with her mental health carer, but she says: ‘My mental state is a heck of a lot better.’
Patients referred to the new service will meet with specialist mental health professionals who identify and assess moderate mental health difficulties.
These professionals work with new, expectant, and bereaved mothers experiencing difficulties such as birth trauma, anxiety, and baby loss.
Jenny Walsh is clinical lead for perinatal mental health, and has worked in perinatal care since 2000.
She said: ‘This new service has been transformative for some women.
‘I would urge all women who are suffering to come forward - I’d hate to think anyone was suffering in silence.’
Jenny was involved in the commissioning of the new service, which had long been a gap in local provision.
She said: ‘It’s wonderful that this gap in provision has now been met, the need for this service is enormous.
‘The number of women experiencing birth trauma has been exacerbated by Covid, where they didn’t have the birthing experience they wanted during the pandemic.
‘We’ve been really taken aback by the number of women coming forward with birth trauma and we’re working to catch up with the demand - referrals are coming in thick and fast.’
Since January 2020, the Maternity Mental Health Team has already received more than 150 referrals.
Currently, new, expectant or bereaved mothers can be referred to the Maternity Mental Health Service by their midwife, and in the future referrals will be made by GP and other healthcare professionals.
Jenny said: ‘Some of the women are helping us to continue shaping the service, which has been really useful.
‘I hope that by working collaboratively with maternity care, we can use our findings to reduce the things that cause birth trauma.
‘The more we can help people with therapy, they can bond with their babies better and enjoy their families.
‘The best outcome will be that it gives baby the best start.’
So far, the service has reported significant reductions in psychological distress and symptoms in their patients.
Aileen said: ‘Talking is so important - reach out, get the help you need. There are people out there who are willing to help you, you don’t have to do it by yourself.
‘Don’t be scared to get the help to live your life in the best way you can, and enjoy your baby.’