Doncaster mums helping others to beat post natal depression

Three Doncaster mums l-r Claire Baigent, Louise McArthur and Helen Kerr-Higginson, have joined forces to launch the first peer support group for parents suffering with pre and postnatal depression in South Yorkshire, in affiliation with the UK's leading postnatal depression charity. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP PANDAS MC 2 'Writer:
Three Doncaster mums l-r Claire Baigent, Louise McArthur and Helen Kerr-Higginson, have joined forces to launch the first peer support group for parents suffering with pre and postnatal depression in South Yorkshire, in affiliation with the UK's leading postnatal depression charity. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP PANDAS MC 2 'Writer:
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Having your first child is supposed to be a magical time.

But for Doncaster mums Helen Kerr-Higginson, Louise McArthur and Claire Baigent is was far from that.

For all three, if was a time which saw them in need of help for anxiety and depression - and they are not the only ones.

Helen, from Blaxton had her son Euan nearly two years ago - but struggled to deal with motherhood. At first she refused to admit she had a problem, until she was confronted by a worried friend 10 months after her son had been born.

The 37-year-old was diagnosed with post natal depression, and after help from the medical profession, she is now a happy mum getting on with the joys of parenthood.

"My son was 10 months old before I looked for help," she said. "In the beginning I just thought 'why am I feeling this way?' Why can't I do it? I beat myself up about it. I didn't want to say I was struggling, but as time went on I was getting more and more unwell.

"I was worried that my husband and my relatives were going to take my baby away - I was irrational. I went into autopilot and thought if I sought support the services would take him away. It was irrational but I thought I was a terrible mother.

"Eventually, my best friend confronted me, and said she didn't think I was all right. She asked me if I had considered I may be suffering from post natal depression. I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. I spoke to my husband and he came with me to the GPs. I was crying asking him not to take my baby away - but he was fantastic and advised me to get in touch with my health visitor."

She was put on medication and received counselling, and felt immense relief that the problem was out.

"It was not that I was a failure as a mum - it was an illness," said Helen. "As soon as I was able to open up, things started to turn around."

Six months later, she was better. She said what she thought was the tiredness of being a new mum was actually the tiredness of depression.

"Euan's 21 months old now," she added. "He is brilliant, he is fab and I love being with him now."

Though talking about the problems she had suffered, she started to realise that post natal depression is not uncommon. Between 15 and 20 per cent of women and 10 per cent of dads suffer postnatal depression, and through friends she met Louise and Claire - who had been through similar problems.

And their shared experience prompted them to set up South Yorkshire's first Post Natal Depression Advice Group. Doncaster PANDAS - Pre and Postnatal Depression and Advice and Support - meets every second Tuesday at the Rossington Family Hub on Grantham Street, Rossington.

Louise, aged 37, from Mattersey, suffered from post natal depression and anxiety, which she said arose from being an Australian with her family thousands of miles away from her in Australia.

"I felt immense loneliness after I had my daughter, Mary," she said. "That was even though I've got a great husband and a great bunch of friends. I struggled off and on for the first 10 months. My parents came out for three months, and after that I slumped into depression. I hit rock bottom and could not get out of bed. My head was so full of anxiety and worry that I physically could not look after Mary. My mother-in-law used to come in first thing thing in the morning and I would just sleep. I had the tiredness of depression, and the only way I could cope was being on my own and sleeping it off..

"I had an awful experience with my GP. He said 'you need to go on medication'. I said I was just not coping and wanted to be checked in somewhere. The doctor said 'do you think anyone enjoys looking after their baby?' It felt like I was being told I was making a mountain out of a molehill."

She said she got on with things as best she could until the medication kicked in. She was referred to Bassetlaw Talking Therapy, and five months later was almost back to 100 per cent.

"It is a tough time for a lot of women, and we want to support other people," she said.

Mum of three Claire. from Auckley, initially had problems when she struggled to breast feed her first child, Harry, seven years ago. She was living in Leeds at the time

The 34-year-old said she gave herself a hard time over the issue, which was important to her. On top of that, her husband was having to work away a lot of the time, which meant she was on her own with Harry.

She received support from the local mental health team , and was also referred to a peer support group which she found helpful.

By the time she had her second son, Leo, she was aware of the issue of post natal depression. But this time the issue was during her pregnancy.

She started to become concerned that she would not be fair on Harry because would not have enough time to spend with him. She also started to develop an irrational fear of water. If she was having a shower or bath, she would fear it overflowing, or that she would run out of water. If she was driving through rain, she would fear it was closing in on her. The doctors kept an eye on her while she was going through the issues.

By the time she had her third child, Rowan, she had moved to Doncaster. This time she suffered anxiety over how she would manage with three children.

She was sent to a self esteem workshop and a support group for people going through similar issues, which she said helped her. She was not happy with her GP, who told her she was not the only one who had more than one child, and that everyone found it difficult.

She said: "I had medication after Rowan, but I think it has to go hand in hand with talking therapy so people can open up and break the stigma that comes with post natal depression, You do feel ashamed. There is pressure to be the perfect mother.

"We want to be a really positive group for women to feel part of. Everyone's experience is different."

Helen said: "It'a amazing how many people you discover have been through this when you start talking about it."

Going forward, the group plans to have speakers from public health services, and to promote the mums' mental health and wellbeing, helping them get out of the house with walking groups and cafe trips.

The meetings at Rossington Children's Centre are from 1pm until 3pm. Dads suffering post natal depression can also attend.

For more information log onto Facebook.com/doncasterpandas.

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