At Magpie, lived experiences and listening to those at the heart of the communities we work with, is at the very centre of what we do – it’s at the core of our solutions. It’s also what drives our own passion as individual members of the Magpie flock. Campaign consultant, Helena, talks about our recent insight and co-production work around maternity services and how her own experience has shaped a personal passion for the topic.

Helena’s story
This week (May 3rd – 9th) marks the 2021 Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, a week-long campaign run by Perinatal Mental Health Partnership UK (PMHP UK) dedicated to talking about mental health challenges that can be experienced during and after pregnancy. There are many awareness weeks throughout the year, but this is one I follow passionately as a subject very close to my heart.

In January 2019 I was diagnosed with post-natal depression (PND) and anxiety, four months after the birth of my son. Even as an advocate for mental health awareness prior to becoming a parent, I was in denial about having PND for a long time. I remember feeling low on and off from pretty much day one, but just brushed it aside as ‘baby blues’ and the impact of sleep deprivation and the demands of breastfeeding. The effort it took to make that first doctor’s appointment and to admit that I was struggling as much as I was, was overwhelming. I remember feeling an almost painful sense of guilt. How could I, the parent of the most wonderful and beautiful baby boy, someone who had suffered a miscarriage before and knew what a miracle this baby was, be depressed? I remember saying to my husband over and over, ‘please don’t think I can’t look after him’, ‘please don’t think I don’t love him’. I knew deep down I was unwell, but the truth is I was worried about what people would think of me.

This is why maternal mental health remains such a passion of mine to this day. Although mental health has been given more of a spotlight over recent years, maternal mental health remains one area where worries of stigma and judgement can particularly arise and prevent parents seeking support.

During my own journey, I was fortunate to receive professional help from my GP and the Leeds Mental Wellbeing Service. However a true life-saving offer of support was the incredible help that I received from a local volunteer group, set up by other mums who had experienced depression and anxiety.

Working at Magpie, I always knew the true value of grass-roots support and the importance of these communities. However here I was, experiencing their true value for myself and realising just how much we have to learn from others who have really been there.

Every week we would sit with our cups of coffee in one hand, baby in the other and talk passionately about the support we needed and what we could do to help each other or other parents. Change doesn’t always need a big campaign or political movement, but actual real-life impact can be made from those first conversations.

Maternity Conversations
I am delighted that here at Magpie we have been supporting a fantastic project which promises to help thousands of women and their families through accessing support during pregnancy and beyond. Working with West Yorkshire & Harrogate Local Maternity System, we have carried out a programme of insight with both healthcare professionals working with pregnant women and new parents, and crucially with women and their families themselves.

The heart of this work is to truly understand the maternity experience of these women, especially those in more vulnerable but often more seldom-heard groups. Crucially we wanted to hear about what support they really need and how that could be delivered so they could genuinely access it.

Our research explores the experiences of pregnancy journeys, support received (or not) and what they would have liked. As a result we have formed a picture of what maternity support looks and feels like to a broad range of women currently, but crucially how they’d like to see this shaped in the future to improve support services for women in the future.

The findings of this work will be published over the next few months and we look forward to sharing the outcomes as we continue to develop a new suite of support resources specifically developed to support pregnant women and their families.

Helena Hamilton kneeling on the grass next to her 3 year old son. She has sunglasses on her head and a backpack on. Her son is cradling his chin in his hands

Helena with her son