It’s really common for Mums to feel a bit down and even teary for a few days after having a baby, but for Caroline it was more than that. She was really suffering when she brought her baby girl Violet to Plunket’s Meadowbank Family Centre for help. Caroline was in the grip of profound postnatal depression.
Nurse Penny Raybould says ‘The Family Centre is just a kitchen with the lounge and a tiny little nursery attached and bedrooms for mothers to get some sleep–but I really believe in the Family Centre. Ours has been going 38 years now.’
This part of Plunket’s work receives no government funding. We’ve had to reduce the services at the family centre because we just can’t afford to keep them running five days a week. The outcome could have been very different if we hadn’t been able to reach out to Caroline that day.
If you are a mother, you may be able to empathise with any mum who struggles with dark times, even sometimes depression. But postnatal depression like Caroline’s was something entirely different. It’s hard to imagine what a mum like Caroline is going through and it’s heartbreaking to hear Caroline describe what happened to her.
“I was crying all the time. Dreading to feed Violet because it hurt so much. Feeling like a bad mother because I didn’t have that ‘magical bond’. I was a new mum and I didn’t know what I was doing.” Many mums are familiar with those feelings, but Caroline’s misery was turned up to an unbearable volume of pain. “It just absolutely floored me. Sleep was just impossible. I was even lying there awake thinking ‘she’s going to wake up’. It was so stressful wondering how I would ever get back to sleep.”
Caroline had heard that Plunket in Meadowbank ran Family Centre services. Not knowing what to expect, she called up for an appointment, desperate for any kind of help or relief.
“They made me a scone and supported me while I fed Violet. Then the Plunket support and assessment, and what I would call magic dust happened. My baby’s behaviour settled straight away.” “They said ‘go upstairs and have a sleep’. And then a toasted sandwich when I came down. It was just the best meal I’ve had, EVER.”
Family Centres, such as MeadowBank, exist to support Mums like Caroline, but because of a lack of funding we’ve had to reduce the days it runs the intensive programs from five down to just two. This means that mothers, in times of desperation are having to wait for days to get help.
For many a mum, this first touch of magic dust and a day of support is the breakthrough she needs to gain confidence with her baby. But some women do need more. Penny says ‘In Caroline’s case I could see that things weren’t right. She’d been to see her GP, but Caroline was probably putting on her bravest face for the doctor. When I saw her, though, I realised she was really stressed and struggling to get through each day. A woman may think she’s just tired, but it can be a lot more serious than that.’
When a mum like that calls up, how can I possibly say to her “come in a week’s time”?
Speaking to Caroline that day, Plunket nurse Penny knew she couldn’t ask Caroline to wait. “Penny heard how upset I was. She said ‘come in’. When Penny saw how rough I was, she got straight on to my doctor.” Caroline was immediately referred for urgent maternal mental health care.
Postnatal depression is rife, yet because of lack of funds we are having to limit Family Centre services. “I honestly don’t know where I would be without the Family Centre,” says Caroline.
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