Jo Leach hasn’t told anyone about her postnatale Depression. It came after their second child, Hayden, was born on Christmas Day 2011. With two children under the age of two, she sometimes did not leave the house for days. “I didn’t know what was happening to me,” says Leach, 41, who lives in Stroud, Gloucestershire. “There was this overwhelming feeling of being really scared and panicking.”
She hasn’t told anyone – not even her partner or her mother. “I was embarrassed,” says Leach. “I felt alone.” Postnatal depression (PND) is common and affects more than one in 10 women within a year of birth, but Leach didn’t know that at the time. Going to the supermarket or the park was hard work. She avoided crowds. “I just survived,” she says. “Getting through each day and keeping the kids alive and making sure they’re fed and happy. I struggled to take care of myself. I would not eat properly. It was all about her.” She’s lost a lot of weight.
Before she had children, Leach had always worked. She struggled with being at home full-time. “I had too much time to think,” she says. “I was alone with the children all day. I did nothing but take care of her. I would take care of everything.” If the children were sick, she would panic. She had gotten scared that something could happen to her and that she wouldn’t be able to take care of her. One kid hated going to her playgroup, so Leach felt terribly guilty every time she sent her there. She had always wanted children and couldn’t understand why she was so sad all the time.
In the spring of 2013, Leach broke down over an emotional phone call with her mother. “I told her everything.” Shortly thereafter, she told her husband. “It was a relief that people knew,” she says. “I didn’t have to keep apologizing for not wanting to travel, leaving early or canceling at the last minute.” Leach was referred to a local support group mothers in mind, operated by Home-Start, a community network that helps families with young children.
She remembers their first meeting in a boy scout hut. “I did not want to go. We all sat around and had to introduce ourselves. I broke down in tears and said, ‘I can’t do this.’” She struggled with guilt and shame: Many women with PND feel they have failed their children or failed to live up to society’s expectations of proper parenting will. “Before I had kids,” says Leach, “I thought a lot about how I couldn’t wait to quit work and stay home with my kids. And then there was this huge shock of being home and realizing I hated it.”
Over time, the support group became a lifeline. “It’s peer support. So many mothers come into the group, make friends and help each other,” she says. “Everyone makes you feel so comfortable.”
Leach is now a volunteer facilitator of the group and uses her experience to support other moms struggling with PND. She helps lead two groups a week and also assists with arts and crafts programs.
“She has supported so many mums online during lockdown,” says Home-Start’s Tracey Edwards, “as well as completed two mental health training courses and homeschooled three children. She is an inspiration to every mother in the group.”
Groups like this are a lifeline for women, especially at a time of ever tighter NHS budgets. Leach received 12 sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy for her PND. “It wasn’t enough,” she says. “They got me two more sessions but that was it. They said if you still need help you have to go back on the waiting list. But I didn’t feel any better. It would have been nice to do CBT until I felt better.”
In the group, Leach tells the women that there is always hope. “There are people out there who are like me,” she says. “I want them to know it’s okay, and they’re not going to feel like this forever.” After so many years of attending and then leading the group, Leach feels incredibly empowered by the power of community.
We can arrange a spa day at Leach’s request. “I’m never spoiled,” she says. The Greenway Hotel and Spa in Cheltenham you offer a free spa package. “I didn’t know what to do with myself when I got there,” says Leach. “Because I’m not used to this. But when I was relaxed, I enjoyed it.” She swam in the pool, sunned in the steam rooms, and had a facial and massage. “It’s bloody good for you, isn’t it?” says Leach. “I was very happy afterwards. It was a bit of me time.”
It’s a fitting treat, Leach says, because the importance of taking time away from the kids comes up often in her support groups: “We always tell moms to find time for themselves. That’s what the group is about: a place to sit and chat, some time for them.”
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