Shortly after my mental health explosion, a close friend told me about an old school friend of hers, and how she was in the process of starting a PANDAS Foundation support group starting up in a town a half hours drive from us. Although both of us cannot drive, we managed to coerce our husbands into sharing lifts to enable us to attend the first ever session.
I took my son, although he had taken bottles of expressed milk with no problem, I figured he was breastfed, and breastfed babies go everywhere with their mums…right? There were six mums in total and I was the only mum to bring along a baby.
The other mums all had toddlers, and were in the ‘I have PND but am surviving’ team. I immediately felt anxious. All of the stories of their bad times and the past, were my reality. My now.
My son, who normally sleeps like a rock, was unsettled no matter how many times I fed him. Whilst others told their stories and struggles, I flustered over feeding him. Fully aware of the stares each time I did so. The mums each explained that they couldn’t breastfeed due to their depression, or that their struggle with breastfeeding caused them to be depressed. Each time they mentioned it, they stared in my direction.
I felt self conscious for the first and only time in my 2.5 years of breastfeeding. I felt uncomfortable and didn’t really feel I could take part in the conversation. Towards the end, one mum decided to corner me and ask me to tell my ‘story’. I stuttered. I wasn’t really sure what to say. In comparison to their revelations over the evening, I felt my problems didn’t really matter. Despite a lot of their comments ringing true to me, I wasn’t quite sure I was ‘ill’ enough to take part. Which thinking back is quite silly.
I decided it was my son that put me off, and returned to the following meeting leaving him at home with my husband and plenty of expressed milk bottles. This time it was only my friend, myself and the two organisers. I immediately felt more relaxed. I had had a particularly rough week, and being able to talk openly with like minded mums brought a mass of weight from my shoulders. Without my son there, I felt relaxed and was able to truly release some emotions I had held in due to his presence.
Myself and my friend desperately wanted to continue to attend the fortnightly meetings, however over the next few weeks we found for one reason or another one of us were unable to make it. The travel arrangements made things particularly hard. As we are both members of our local Children’s Centre ‘Parent Partner’ Committee, we decided to ask about the possibility of setting up a similar group in our area. We knew there was a desperate need, with so many new mums and no mental health facilities less than a half hours drive away.
The Children’s Centre were unable to support us with funding due to money constraints and as our local centre does not currently have an actual building, were not able to help us find a location either. After a lot of thinking, we decided to try it on our own. We were in touch with a local cafe, who told us that they wanted to help the local community so were more than happy to provide their premises, fortnightly in return for a small donation towards drinks. We were overjoyed and started promoting, spending our own money on marketing materials.
We held one meeting, which was attended by the two of us and one other friend, although we hadn’t met any ‘new mums’, we all left feeling that we had accomplished something and looked forward to the next meeting. Unfortunately the owner messaged us shortly after, stating that she felt that she would not profit from such low numbers and therefore would not be able to continue hosting us. We were devastated. We had explained that it would take time to build numbers, it’s such a taboo for most and takes a lot of bravery to even admit your problems, let alone attend a peer support group!
We used the Christmas break to regroup, and after discussing our situation to a local bistro, he kindly agreed to let us use his restaurant free of charge, for as long as we wish to. Although disheartened, we were determined to make a name from ourselves from the start this time. We created a Facebook page, appeared in our local paper and promoted all over our town. This in itself was terrifying, as this meant our actual names appeared next to the words ‘post partum mental health issues’. If we were in denial that no one knew our issues, they certainly knew now!
Our first meeting came round and we sat nervously waiting…it got about half an hour past our official start time, and no one had turned up. As we started to pack away, feeling hopeless, a mum came in! I nearly squealed I was so excited! Shortly after, another mum came and tried to look in the window from the other side of the road. We clocked her and smiled. She told us after she was just about to walk away, but we caught her eye just in time! We all had a moan, laughed over silly things our children did, and joked over what we had considered normal before our therapists told us otherwise. It was amazing to feel such a connection with these women we had never met before.
Towards the end, one of the mums stopped the conversation…
“Can I just say…YES! THANK YOU!…It is so amazing just to know that I am not alone in feeling this way” she teared up.
We all started to tear up. We had done it. It didn’t matter to us if no one ever turned up to a meeting again. We had helped just one person not feel alone. And selfishly, we had enabled ourselves to feel supported too.
Our group, Mum to Mum, Crediton, has been running a couple of months now, and our numbers are slowly growing. We have also started a day time meet up, for mums that are unable to get to our evening groups.
It’s fantastic. I’ve made some brilliant new friends, ones who understand when you’re an hour late as you just didn’t want to get out of bed that morning, or that you’re still wearing clothes from the night before or even if you’ve not showered in the last week.
If you’ve been thinking about going to a support group but are too nervous…DO IT! It may be completely overwhelming at first, but it will be worth it, promise!