Therapy, medication and pregnancy: Amy’s story By Amy Hardie I was quite poorly with my mental health already when I became pregnant. I had been on a waiting list for around 18 months to go to a non-residential therapeutic community. I had been in and out of mental health services since a teenager and feel that they really were at a loss as to what to do to help. My referral to the therapeutic community was everything to me as I was so desperate to get better. I attended the outreach groups weekly for the 18 months I had been on the waiting list. When I found out I was pregnant, I was close to starting the therapeutic community (TC), and even though I knew it would be much harder now, I was determined – after all, it wasn’t going to be just me anymore. I had a new reason to work hard. I was devastated to realise that I would not be allowed to start in the TC as they felt that it was too stressful. I was scared now and knew I needed help to get me through. My referral to the therapeutic community was everything to me as I was so desperate to get better. I was allowed to continue with my outreach group until I felt ready to start the TC in full. My group was incredibly helpful and my friend mentioned NICE guidelines. As soon as I got home, I was looking to NICE guidance to see what help was available. Although it was never quite as easy as just getting home: more often than not it would be a mental struggle to just get back to the car and then to feel able enough to drive home. I used to disassociate or get stuck in my thoughts a lot after therapy, I think because I had to experience emotions I spent most of my life avoiding. I had to kind of try and pull my head back together in a sense, and try to ground myself so I was aware (enough) of where I was and what I was doing. I was referred to Mother and Infant Mental Health Services (MIMHS); my main concern was when and how I should come off my psychiatric medicine. To my horror, they wanted me to stay on them, and did their best to reassure me that it was the safest way forward. I knew I needed to do what was best but I worried all the same. That’s one worry that has never lifted: what effect that may or may not have had on my child. MIMHS were extremely supportive and I had a specialist midwife who helped with my birth plan. Even though that may feel like a small thing, it was incredibly supportive to have someone who knew what some of my concerns were and who could go through all the different options that were available to allow me to remain as anxiety-free and safe as possible, without feeling judged. It was incredibly supportive to have someone who knew what some of my concerns were and who could go through all the different options that were available to allow me to remain as anxiety-free and safe as possible, without feeling judged. When I had my son, I was overcome with happiness and emotions so strong I did not even know they were possible. This being. So precious, so fully reliant on me, to nurture him and keep him safe. Me?! I didn’t feel I deserved him; it didn’t feel fair on him that he had been landed with a mum like me. I tried to keep the negative feelings at bay and do what I was supposed to do. That was made harder because he didn’t sleep and he constantly cried, and this felt like it proved that I wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t until about four weeks later that it was realised that he had a tongue-tie and wasn’t feeding well, and that’s why he was crying. Or was it because he was having withdrawal from my medication, or was it because I was a bad mother? I tried to keep the negative feelings at bay... That was made harder because he didn’t sleep and he constantly cried, and this felt like it proved that I wasn’t good enough. I got some specialist latex teats and put him onto formula, and he finally started feeding properly. This helped so much and I just wish I had figured it out sooner. I did try and seek help but I was treated like I was being silly and told “babies do cry”. It wasn’t until a visit from the MIMHS midwife that she realised that my baby was not settling and helped. I cannot thank her enough. Things stayed quite unpredictable with my mental health but I did everything I could to stay as level as possible. I went to see my care coordinator once a week, I went to my local Sure Start centre, I joined in with parent and baby groups, and I put myself onto parenting courses there too. Then it was time to start the therapeutic community. I think my son must have been about 9 months old by this point. It was hard leaving him but I figured that I would have been if I was a working mum, so guessed it must be a normal feeling. Things stayed quite unpredictable with my mental health but I did everything I could to stay as level as possible. Therapeutic community, three days a week of group psychotherapy for a year - it was tough. The hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life. Throughout my time there my attachment to it was shaky. Things would get tough; I would want to run away, deny that I had problems, kid myself I would be okay. But I didn’t. I completed my therapy, and even though it wasn’t exactly a magic wand like I wanted to believe all this time, I was in many ways better. It still took a bit longer to integrate back into society, and that’s when things really started to click. I could deal with this stuff like I hadn’t been able to consistently for a long time. The relationship I have with my son now is amazing, I have learnt to accept that I am the best thing for him and I will not give up on working hard to give him what he needs. I started studying when I left the therapeutic community to give me confidence to be able to work and get a good job. Four years later, here I am - I’ve nearly finished my degree, and hope to be able to give something back to the mental health sector while being a positive role model to my son. I have learnt to accept that I am the best thing for him and I will not give up on working hard to give him what he needs I feel very proud of my little family; my son is now 6 and an absolute delight. I am also proud of the person I have become, and incredibly grateful to all those who have helped my son and I along the way. It certainly is a journey, but I know I am far along enough now to ever have to revisit the really dark days. For more information on perinatal mental health problems, check out our research and the Maternal Mental Health Alliance. If you need support, our list of contacts may be able to help.