I have long been a supporter of the charity Mind, having been introduced to Redcar and Cleveland Mind, when I was the Parliamentary Candidate for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland.
This week I was invited to the Bromley, Lewisham and Greenwich Mind annual event, and I was delighted to take the opportunity to learn more about my new local Mind – particularly because the focus of the event was on parental mental health and two amazing local initiatives “Mindful Mums” and “Being Dad”.
As many of you know – the last three years of my life have been life-changing – as I gave birth to two amazing little boys – one right at the beginning of the pandemic, and the second just seven weeks before I was elected as a local councillor. The timing of both births could have been better (!) – but it is an oft-quoted truism that there is no perfect time to have a child.
The event’s key note speaker was the accomplished local actor Cush Jumbo OBE, who grew up locally (not far from the Mind’s Beckenham Centre). Cush was living in New York filming The Good Fight, when she gave birth to her son. She brought some of the attendees to tears (myself included) when she described the inner turmoil of having a baby – never quite feeling good enough and struggling to manage breastfeeding whilst under the pressure to get back into her costumes and back onto set just three weeks after giving birth.
Cush visited Mindful Mums when she moved back to London and has just become an ambassador for the charity – explaining how she feels that more peer-to-peer talking between parents, helping us understand that we are not alone in the emotions we feel, can make such a difference to so many people. This was underlined by more moving stories directly from Mums who have benefitted from the programmes (I’m not sure there was a dry eye at the event)!
The speakers’ stories resonated with me as I reflected upon my own experiences – of how I came to terms with my new life as a parent – and both the limitations and the sheer joy that those changes can bring.
My own story is similar to so many women whose plans flew out of the window with the arrival of COVID-19. My son was born at the beginning of April 2020. During the last month of my pregnancy, the world was trying to understand what coronavirus actually was and how it was spread (everyone was washing their groceries and putting parcels into quarantine) and all our plans for the birth and my maternity leave were gone - we were simply terrified of picking up the virus and something happening to our baby. We were “lucky” in that my husband was allowed to be there for my c-section, although he was banished from the hospital within the hour, and I was alone, unable to get out of bed, with a tiny crying baby that I couldn’t pick up and (amazing) midwives who were simply run off their feet.
At the time we “powered through”, we coped, we survived, because what else could we do? But now, I can’t think back to that time without welling up with tears. The fear of something happening to our baby. Taking him home and having no health visitors, no breastfeeding support, no walks in the park with other new Mums. Feeling so lonely and terrible at the job! My son had reflux and colic, and screamed for hours a day. He had a tongue tie, I was struggling with the pain of breastfeeding and I just didn’t know what I was doing wrong. It’s hard to look back and not feel robbed of the experience that I should have had with my firstborn.
But hearing the stories of the other women at the Mind event, really brought it home to me that nobody has the experience they feel they should have had – pandemic or no pandemic. Having a baby is hard. It’s lifechanging. Everyone says it should be a happy, magical time – because a baby is a blessing. But it is still hard! And it would be a little easier if we all were able to talk to other parents with lived experience of these struggles, if we didn’t feel alone, and if we could share how we felt without fear of judgement.
And there is a place we can do that locally - with Mind’s amazing “Mindful Mums” groups. These are free wellbeing groups that help pregnant women look after their mental and emotional wellbeing during pregnancy and their baby’s first year. There are online groups, in-person groups, groups for young mums, for LGBTQ+ parents, and groups for those from Black, Asian or Ethnic Minority backgrounds. There are also groups for Dads and male caregivers too (“Being Dad”).
If you are a new parent (or a soon-to-be parent) and need support, please do contact these services. According to the outcomes that Mind measures for 2022-23 – 92% of attendees felt less isolated after attending the groups, 94% felt better able to cope. So, what have you got to lose? I have put some useful links below:
Please also consider donating or raising money for this really worthy local charity - I know they would put it to good use!