Where did all the support go?

For mental health service user Kay Sheldon,
the joy of motherhood was blunted by the indifference of

Watching my two young children playing in the
autumn sunshine, I experience joy and pride as any mother would.
Yet I also know how easily my husband and I could have been denied
the fulfilment of parenthood.

I remember sitting in front of my psychiatrist
asking for guidance on taking medication during pregnancy as my
fianc‚ and I wanted to start a family. His response shocked
me: that we should not have children as we would be passing on
defective genes. My social worker offered us warnings rather than
solutions, namely that the child could be taken away, should I
become ill. My community mental health nurse thought that any
children we had would probably be quiet and withdrawn. Yet I have
to say that, as things have turned out, nothing could be further
from the truth.

I think I can understand the reservations that
the professionals presented us with. I spent most of my 20s in and
out of hospital, mostly detained under the Mental Health Act 1983.
Viewed as “insightless” and non-compliant, I was put on long-acting
depot injections and the future seemed bleak. Having lost my job,
my home and my friends I made a concerted attempt to kill

My husband suffered from a ME-type illness. He
was unable to work and was isolated. We were both at the nadir of
our lives when we first met. Our relationship together was a new
beginning for us both. I helped Nick regain his physical health and
he, in turn, supported me emotionally. Gradually, we rebuilt our
lives, eventually deciding we wanted to have a baby together. A
great deal of prejudice has come our way, such as applying for
jobs, obtaining a mortgage, getting various insurances, and the
desire to have children proved to be yet another such case.

As every parent knows, having a child is an
exciting but stressful time. We were indeed very excited but the
stress we felt was almost intolerable, with only sheer
determination outweighing our fear of failing as parents.

Fortunately, the pregnancy and birth went
well. Nick and I were amazed how natural looking after a small baby
seemed. The services were amazed at how well we managed, eventually
leaving us to enjoy parenthood in peace. Things went very smoothly
for a couple of years until I suffered a serious relapse. Because
Nick had to spend so much time looking after me, he reluctantly
rang social services to ask for some help in looking after our
toddler. We were told that we were no longer eligible for help and
even if we were, we probably couldn’t afford it.

Having exchanged views with other parents with
long-term mental health problems, there is still a lack of trust
and confidence in services; fear that our children will be taken
into care, or that our children will have to live with the “stigma”
of having social services involved. Yet if we actually ask for
help, we obviously don’t need it.

Both mental ill-health and parenting are
stressful experiences. Support services need to develop a more
accessible, parent-centred approach, helping parents with mental
health problems develop their own strategies for coping in a way
that is acceptable to them.

Kay Sheldon is a mental health service

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