Giving birth at any time is a difficult journey, but mum-of-three Kirsty Smillie experienced the lonely and isolated reality of raising a newborn in lockdown.
This experience has led Kirsty to help the Hampshire branch of PANDAS Foundation with its virtual support groups for parents, and she is taking on a fundraising challenge throughout half term.
Gosport resident Kirsty prematurely gave birth to her son Brody on January 11, 2020, and he spent a month in the neonatal intensive care unit before coming home into a national lockdown.
Kirsty, 38, said: ‘I really struggled with postnatal depression and anxiety through feelings of guilt because Brody was born early.
‘I didn’t get any support or help for a long time. I busied myself but underneath I was heartbroken and I felt that pain of guilt towards my baby.
‘I was feeling extremely out of touch with reality because it was lockdown. I’ve got a really close extended family who all help each other when someone has a baby, but I didn’t have that because it was lockdown.’
One night, Kirsty stumbled across an Instagram post from charity PANDAS Foundation, which helps parents to access a network of support.
The charity has seen a 240 per cent increase in parents accessing helplines and support groups in the past year, and Kirsty was one of the desperate parents reaching out for help.
She said: ‘PANDAS signposted me to the relevant agencies. They offer support through phone calls and Zoom calls they do weekly.
‘I do it every week now, they always put me in a really good mood. I have made friends through it that I now talk to every day. It’s so comforting and it’s really helped my recovery.
‘As soon as my family realised I wasn’t very well they looked after me but a lot of women don’t have that.’
Hampshire PANDAS aims to provide support and signposting to relevant agencies for parents suffering from perinatal mental health issues such as post natal depression, anxiety and birth trauma.
Throughout March, the group will be hosting free workshops alongside the virtual support groups.
These will include yoga, arts and crafts and self care workshops for any parents in Hampshire.
To raise funds for these services, which have been so vital to Kirsty’s own wellbeing, she is taking on 20km of walking throughout February half term.
Joined by Brody, who is now one, and Kirsty’s six-year-old daughter Maisy, Kirsty is hoping her efforts will raise awareness of these services.
She added: ‘We’re doing it to raise some funds for PANDAS but also to raise awareness for mums and dads to know what’s out there.
‘I’m really passionate about the fact that there needs to be more awareness about perinatal mental health issues and there needs to be much more support out there for women and men.’
Anyone that donates will be entered into a prize draw to win services and products from local businesses, including hair treatments, meal vouchers, a mindfulness course and more.