Tess Askew is a co-founder of Juno, a perinatal support group, discussing her personal story and the importance of good mental health.
My first born Ethan – the boy who came along and healed many things in my life, stole my heart and made myself and Chris a family with so much to love for – was born in 2013. He turns 4 soon and this means that I have been accessing and then facilitating peer support for 3 years. My Juno anniversary if you will!
My labour and Ethan’s birth were what I would consider traumatic and the start of family life didn’t go too smoothly either. We slowly began adjusting to the magical, bewildering, terrifying, life-affirming job of being parents and becoming a family of three. The first weeks are a blur, marred by a painful c-section scar and bouts of sickness on my part. On top of all of this I found being a new mother perplexing, questioning every decision we made regarding our son. Looking back he was a perfect, happy boy but anxiety ruled me.
When our wee boy was only 5 weeks old I was taken to hospital in an ambulance. As previously mentioned, I had some ill physical health postpartum but was told and believed it was my body processing and adjusting to a traumatic labour and emergency c-section. After a blurry few days of tests, pain and medication in HDU I was eventually diagnosed with gallstone pancreatitis, which had been the source of my discomfort throughout pregnancy and in the 5 weeks postpartum.
Gallstone pancreatitis and associated illnesses consumed my whole life for a while and I was in hospital away from my beautiful newborn son, my partner and our home for the best part of 4 months. This experience was the single worst thing I have ever had to go through in my life and I feel so sad and robbed of the time I missed when we should have been bonding as a family. I try very hard to have a positive view and know how lucky I am to be in the position I am in now – in a family full of love where we have our health and much else in our life.
It took me some time to readjust to life outside of hospital and also to find my identity as a mother, all the while still battling with ill health. In April 2014 – on the week of my sons first birthday – I eventually decided to tackle my mental health face on after ignoring it for a number of months.
We luckily had a supportive Health Visitor who referred me to a fantastic GP who offered me so much more than just medication. The day I was diagnosed with postnatal depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress I was handed a leaflet of a peer support group. I was in a really awful place but felt determined that I would not become a victim of both the illnesses that had haunted my early experiences of motherhood and attended the group the following week. Those days passed in a sort of blur – I started medication and was on a waiting list for counselling. Peer support became an integral part of my recovery. I think that this may sound dramatic but I actually find it hard to explain how much of a positive impact peer support had on me – in a number of ways – and also don’t know what position my family and myself would be in by now had I not found the help I did to help me recover.
After some time when I felt the capacity to support others I became involved in volunteering. In 2015, with the other members of the committee, I was involved in the ‘birth’ of Juno. I believe so passionately in my heart in what we do because I am proof of just how much of an amazing impact peer support can have as part of recovery from perinatal mental illness. I now co-facilitate the Sighthill Juno group on a Tuesday at Gate 55. It’s so important to me to give something back given how positive my experience of peer support has been. Supporting our mums is a rewarding, emotional and cathartic experience that I love.
Tess Askew, Juno Co-Founder
This blog originally featured on the JUNO PMHS website.
Juno Perinatal Mental Health Support was founded in February 2015 by a group of mums in Edinburgh who all have personal experience of perinatal mental health difficulties. We support mums through
- Weekly peer support groups across the city where we offer advice and information
- One-to-one befriending through our outreach program
- Access a subsidised counselling service and therapies out with our groups with trained professionals
Our main aim as Juno is to help mums with perinatal mental health difficulties realise that they are not alone in how they feel and what they feel is indeed a very real illness. It is very common to think ‘why me?’ ‘why can everyone else cope?’ ‘will I ever feel normal again?’ ‘it’s not supposed to feel like this…is it?’