A rainbow drawn in crayon.

I spent my first night at home with my daughter when she was seven weeks old.

This isn’t how I thought it would happen. I pictured wrapping her in her blanket, popping her in her car seat, driving (slowly) from hospital to our home, and sharing those first precious moments together.

But when my daughter was two days old, I was detained to a psychiatric ward with, what I would later learn, was a post-partum adjustment, panic and depressive disorder.

I spent 47 of our first 50 nights away from my daughter, which is 47 too many.

Northern Ireland does not have a Mother and Baby Unit, unlike other parts of the UK, where mums with serious post-partum mental health issues can stay with their babies, while they receive the treatment they require.

Whilst in the midst of catastrophic delusions, emotionally distressing nightmares, panic attacks and invasive, disordered thinking; I was being expected to navigate our complex health and social care system, in order to see my daughter.

At the time, I required professional help, for my own and my daughter’s safety and wellbeing. And the psychiatrists, nurses and occupational therapists on the ward used their expertise to help treat my presenting mental health issues.

I am grateful that I got the help I needed almost immediately, moving straight from a post-natal ward to a psychiatric ward, however a psychiatric ward is not an appropriate place for a new mother. But it was at the time, and still is, the only available in-patient option.

  • New mothers should not have to schedule appointments to see their babies.
  • They should not have to throw pumped breast milk down the bathroom sink because there is no sterile equipment available.
  • They should not have to hunt for a bathroom with a bin in which they can appropriately dispose of their bloody maternity pads.
  • They should not have to swab their episiotomy stitches themselves, to check for infection, because no midwives are available to help.
  • They should not have to Google and guess if their medication will affect their breast milk, because no one has given a firm answer.
  • They should not have to have piles of ‘safe clothes’ to wear, because the only outside space to walk in is also the smoking area.
A picture of a hospital room.

The psychiatric ward room Laura stayed in was unsuitable for babies, forcing them to be separated.

It was a huge struggle to be the only new mum on the ward. To advocate for what I needed, to ensure staff understood why it was important, and to recover well after having a baby; one of the most life changing events a person can go through.

However, the hardest aspect of being separated from my daughter, was that this very act directly affected my recovery. It was almost impossible, to build up an emotional connection, to acquire practical parenting skills, and to navigate this new chapter of life as a family well. I felt like I didn’t know her at all, that I wasn’t fit to be her mother, and that someone else would be better placed to take care of her. At one point, I considered giving up my parental rights.

This is the antithesis of what is required to help new mums with mental health issues. Little babies need their mum’s, but mum’s also need their little babies. It is a completely abnormal situation to try and squeeze life as a parent in to an hour-long ward visit. To not see your child for days or weeks, and then be expected to know them, care for them and provide for them, and to do this well.

A Mother and Baby Unit would allow those who are acutely unwell, to get the professional help they need, but it would also directly assist their mental recovery. It would be safe, supported, appropriate environment; enabling parents the right to a family life.

Northern Ireland needs a Mother and Baby Unit, because separation is never the best option.

This blog post was submitted by Laura. 

How you can help

WRDA and the Mas project are members of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance and we are campaigning for a mother and baby unit in Northern Ireland. To support this campaign, contact your MLA and ask them to :

  • Ask the Health Minister: when is the deadline for the Belfast Trust to produce the business case for the mother and baby unit ?
  • Will the funding for a mother and baby unit in Northern Ireland be confirmed within the next 6 months?