This week (1-7 May) is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, the theme is Strong Together. Today we are sharing an inspiring story told by our very own Rachel Gregory.
Rachel has experienced first-hand the devastating effects that maternal mental health problems can cause. She was a service user who received support from our incredible BSMHFT Community Mental Health team almost 20 years ago.Following her experience, she channelled her trauma and studied to become a qualified CBT and Infant Mental Health Therapist, working for the very Trust that supported her and her family.
Rachel’s story exemplifies how we are all stronger together, and with the right help and support, you can live a happy, fulfilling and successful life.
This is Rachel’s story…
“In 2003 my husband and I planned to try for our third baby. After growing up with three brothers and having two sons, I was ecstatic to discover I was expecting a baby girl. At 27 weeks pregnant I suddenly felt low, it was as if someone had flicked a switch.
“Over the next few weeks this feeling didn’t improve, and anxiety set in. I lost weight, I couldn’t eat or sleep, I was afraid of almost everything. I was referred to a community mental health team and supported by a Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN), Andy McGee. I lived for these appointments; they were my hope that something might change. I became scared of giving birth, I was scared about how I would be able to love and care for my baby feeling this way.
My boys were ages 10 and 6, so not as dependent on me as a baby would be. Somehow, I still managed to function and care for them, but I was like a robot, an empty shell.
“I began to receive additional support from Community Psychiatric Nurse, Steve Krzyskowski who supported me with my anxiety using mindfulness. This worked exceptionally well during labour, I arrived at the maternity unit delivering my baby and within nine minutes of being admitted my beautiful baby girl was born.
“Over the next few weeks, the depression and anxiety worsened. I was treated with medication, but this didn’t help improve my symptoms over the following months. I felt even more numb, and the anxiety heightened. I developed maternal Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and I began to have intrusive thoughts about harming my baby.
“I felt abhorrent – the worst mother that ever lived. I couldn’t tell anyone I was having these thoughts. I would ensure I was with people all the time, I exhausted myself being out the house all day. When my husband was home, I would ensure he would carry my baby up and down stairs, he would bath her. I hid everything that could cause her harm. Until one day feeling desperate and unable to go on, I contacted Andy and asked him to take my baby off me, she wasn’t safe with me. Andy recognised immediately what was happening. He reassured me I wasn’t going to harm my baby.
“The horror that was running through my mind led me to think Andy was the one with the problem, he wasn’t hearing me. I pleaded with him to take care of her. He said, “Rachel, everything you are doing is protecting your baby, she is safe. I know you, you wouldn’t harm a fly. I just need to help you see this.”
“He organised to see me the following Monday with the amazing Nurse Therapist, Paul Maloney. Paul was one of the only CBT therapists in Birmingham at the time. After suffering dreadfully for nine months, Paul helped me in three sessions to understand that my thoughts were wholly inaccurate. They came from a place of fear for the safety of my little girl. He began to give me my life back.
“As a result of my experience, I co-founded a charity, Acacia Family Support. I was involved in the IAPT agenda in 2010, project managing the implementation of perinatal CBT therapists in primary care, of which we had five. It was like all our Christmases had come at once! I was working alongside the amazing Terry Downes, Alison Roper Hall and Martin Preston from BSMHFT. Following the successful implementation of the therapists within primary care and the Acacia service, I was supported by BSMHFT and the University of Birmingham to clinically train in 2012. I continued to be an Operations Manager at Acacia and support people in primary care with CBT interventions. I completed further training with Forward Thinking Birmingham in Infant Mental Health with the University of Manchester, and I became a fully-fledged CBT therapist studying with the University of Coventry. I now work as a Perinatal CBT Therapist and VIG Practitioner in the East and North Perinatal Mental Health Team within BSMHFT.
“My passion for helping new mothers and their families has only continued to grow. No woman and their family should go through this alone.”
Published: 4 May 2023