‘The help that I got was just fantastic...’

Christie Hynes (37) with her daughter Caliana Wilmott
Christie Hynes (37) with her daughter Caliana Wilmott
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Caring for your newborn baby is paramount to any mother, and Christie Hynes wanted to make sure no-one ever pointed the finger at her for being a bad parent.

Recognising how vulnerable her daughter Caliana, two, was, Christie made sure her home was kept clean and bug-free.

Christie, a part-time project manager says: ‘I was ironing Caliana’s bibs and sterilising her toys each evening.

‘I didn’t want to go out in public in case people judged me for being a bad parent because I hadn’t ironed her bibs properly.

‘This didn’t feel right and I realised what I was doing wasn’t normal.

‘I’m the sort of person who thinks everything is fine and deals with things myself.

‘But on this I went to see my GP and I had a perinatal assessment.’

Perinatal is the time shortly before or after childbirth.

Christie’s assessment led to the diagnosis of puerperal psychosis – a severe episode of mental illness which begins suddenly in the days or weeks after having a baby.

Symptoms vary and can change rapidly, and can include mood swings, depression, confusion, hallucinations and delusions.

Christie, of Wicor Mill Lane, Portchester, was referred to the Perinatal Service, which is run by Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust.

It is often known as the mother and baby mental health service, and provides a combination of community and inpatient help for Hampshire.

The service has a 10-bed inpatient unit called Melbury Lodge, in the grounds of the Royal Hampshire County Hospital in Winchester, as well as community support.

Christie stayed in the lodge for three months between May and August in 2012.

The 37-year-old says: ‘I thought someone would judge me, but instead I was made to feel at home right away, which was really good.

‘The lodge was good because you do a mixture of things, and you can do as much or as little as you like.

‘There’s sessions with a psychiatrist and psychologist and there’s group sessions, with other mothers and babies. The best thing is you are kept with your baby.’

There are about 80 pregnant women and 180 postnatal mums on the books, with about 140 on the telephone clinic list.

The mother and baby unit has 10 beds – with about six of seven in use at any one time.

Alain Gregoire is a consultant perinatal psychiatrist for the trust.

He says: ‘Being a parent is difficult at the best of times and you need your mind to be working in tip-top form.

‘If you’re not completely mentally well it makes being a parent even harder, so supporting women in their role as a mother is an important focus for our work.

‘We provide a comprehensive service for women with significant mental health problems in pregnancy and the first year after birth.

‘We do our very best to provide a holistic approach, helping women to function as the mothers that they want to be and giving them and their families a chance of the best possible future.

‘As well as receiving support in the community, some women may also require highly specialised in-patient help at our mother and baby unit in Winchester.

‘We understand the importance of keeping mother and baby together during this critical time.

‘Our experience across the country in specialist units is that women get better quicker when kept with their babies and are remarkably able to look after them with the right support, which we endeavour to provide.’

Help can come in the form of the following:

n Advice and support over the telephone.

n Out-patient consultations in clinics, your GP surgery or at home.

n Support and guidance for your family (if you’re happy for them to be involved).

n Medication

n Psychological ‘talking’ therapies.

n Group and individual therapy sessions.

Dr Gregoire adds: ‘We know that fewer than 50 per cent of women who experience depression during pregnancy and after birth come forward to get help.

‘I would like to encourage those who haven’t come forward to ask for help from their midwife, health visitor or GP and to talk openly about how they feel. It’s not a disgrace and it doesn’t mean they’re a bad mum.

‘Most women won’t need specialist care, but those who do should be accessing these services as quickly as possible to stop things getting out of control and so severe that they might need admission to hospital.’

It’s a message backed by Christie, who is now back at home with Caliana.

She says: ‘My relationship with Caliana has always been really strong, but now I can go out and about with her more.

‘I’m still a bit hesitant in group situations, but it’s getting better.

‘New mums can be quick to say how wonderful it is being a mother, but for others it’s not so easy.

‘And not many are quick to say if they are experiencing any problems.

‘This service was fantastic, and if you are struggling then please speak to someone.’

In order to show her gratitude, Christie raised £1,000 to buy pamper products for mums and babies at the unit.

ADMITTING you need help sometimes is no bad thing.

And when Tiffany Lacey needed help with her then-newborn baby Jacob, now a year old, she turned to the Perinatal Service.

Tiffany, 22, of Renown House, The Anchorage, Gosport, suffers from borderline personality disorder, and finds it very hard to deal with emotions.

She says: ‘I was diagnosed when I was 20, and then I ended up pregnant with Jacob, so decided to come off my medication.

‘I found that quite hard to deal with, and after I had him I went back on to the medication.’

But six months in, and Tiffany knew she was still struggling and decided to ask for help.

‘I was referred to the Perinatal Service by my mental health team, and the support I had was brilliant.

‘I was given support in the community, and I stayed in the mother and baby unit in Winchester.

‘The support in Melbury Lodge was brilliant, and when I came home I had a community nurse help me.

‘They helped with my relationship with Jacob. I can recognise and sense when my mood is low, and can deal with it better.

‘While I don’t have help from the mother and baby mental health service, I still have my mental health team.

‘Anyone who is struggling, I would say find out more about this service because it really helped me.’

THE key is to ensure mother and baby are together while women receive help and treatment.

That’s why the Perinatal Service has a specialist inpatient unit called Melbury Lodge at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital in Winchester.

The unit has been designed especially for mothers and babies, with the aim of making the surroundings as pleasant and relaxing as possible.

During a stay, mothers will be given their own room with a bed, wardrobe, armchair and cot for the baby.

Most rooms have an en-suite bathroom with bath and shower, and there is also a lounge, dining room with highchairs, a nursery room with toys, laundry and ironing room and an enclosed garden with play area.

Most mothers and babies come to the unit to receive professional care from a specialist team 24/7 until they’re well enough to be at home.

If you would like to find out more about the unit, then contact your GP to request a referral to the service.

Mothers can also ask other health professionals, such as a midwife, health visitor or mental health worker to make a referral.