This year there have been two major reports about maternal mental health. The first in summer reporting that the NHS care is patchy. The second in October commissioned by the Maternal Mental Health Alliance was more of the same. Inadequate care was costing the country around £8bn a year, with only a comparatively modest £337m needed to bring it up to satisfactory levels.
I have written variations on the ‘support for mothers theme’ for the last few years and wanted this opinion to be put out there. I know some people will dismiss it as middle class mothers moaning, but it’s not, it’s a cross-class problem and is more about how women are regarded full stop, which is an extremely hot topic (various debates raging about Page 3, online abuse, Everyday Sexism et al). Nor is it moaning. These women don’t want to be labelled as depressed – they want to share the highs as well as the lows. One of my new Mothers Uncovered facilitators Charlotte, works for Comment is Free and we approached The Guardian about using a piece. We had to wait for a suitable news item and the NHS report in the summer proved to be it. I don’t want to denigrate the NHS, I think they generally do a fantastic job, but they can’t be all things to all people and a different approach might be called for.
Mothers Uncovered is all about women reconnecting with the self behind the mother. It’s a mum group, more than a mum and baby group. Such things are rare – women, and especially mothers, repeatedly say something along the lines of, ‘the baby’s fine, I’m not really, but no, I mustn’t say that, yes, everything’s all fine…’ They are experts in self-neglect and yes, this does have a detrimental effect on the baby and everyone else around them. There is a desperate need for an environment where they can share the brave new world they are in. That’s why PND groups don’t always fit the bill. By and large, these women have ‘new motherhood syndrome’, not PND and people don’t want to feel they are being scrutinised and monitored, with notes being kept about them on medical files.
I had a meeting recently with health visitors, some of whom clearly felt more comfortable once they had pigeonholed Mothers Uncovered as a ‘creative group’, therefore probably a bit hippyish and insubstantial. Yes, there’s an arts element to what we do, but arts therapy is an extremely well established and respected tradition across a wide range of spheres. What we really offer is peer support and community building. Cameron yarps on about the Big Society, but this is hollow and insubstantial. Our poor NHS is being dismantled along with our education system. It breaks my heart that a few suits in Westminster can have such a detrimental effect on the rest of the country but they do. It’s time for mothers to get what they need. Not want. Need. A chance to be supported and listened to.
* Apologies to Helen Reddy for appropriating her ‘I am Woman, Hear me Roar’ title
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