Hello! I’m Emily, and I’m one-third of the three women who founded The Motherkind Café in 2019. I was lucky enough to meet Guin Webster and Becca Knowles Bevis in 2018, both of whom are mums of young kids and clinical psychologists, and between us, we set up and ran the group last year. I’m not a psychologist, but I am a mum who found motherhood hard (understatement) and the idea for The Motherkind Café came out of my own experience of motherhood and struggling to find support when it felt like my brain was failing me.
My son was born in late 2017 and I just remember feeling so completely overwhelmed by the enormity and relentlessness of this new “job.” I had unexpectedly become a single parent, and as I tried to cope with the demands of a newborn baby on my own, I found my mental health crumbling rapidly. I became anxious and depressed, I stopped being able to sleep (even when he was asleep), and I struggled to eat. Nothing about this supposedly wonderful life experience brought me any joy. I was so exhausted, both mentally and emotionally, that I thought I might pass out. I missed my old life. I missed the freedom and autonomy, and most of all I missed sleep. I didn’t know any mums in real life who had struggled with their mental health after having a baby (and were prepared to admit it). Everyone I had ever met just seemed to be fine. More than fine – they looked like they were actually enjoying motherhood. What was wrong with me?
In the dark hours feeding my son at night, I read a lot about postnatal mental health online in blogs and on social media. I read stories of women who’d suffered badly with various forms of postnatal depression and then come out the other side, and those stories gave me hope. I started to recognise that some of the things I was thinking and feeling might not mean that I was a rubbish mum: some of them just made me normal, and some of them meant I probably needed some help with my mental health.
I decided I needed to find women who were struggling like me so I could talk honestly about how I was feeling. I asked my health visitor if there was a support group I could go to and take F with me, but she said she didn’t know of any. I phoned Oxfordshire Mind, but none of their support groups were for women with postnatal depression. I checked the PANDAS website. There were no groups in Oxford. I couldn’t believe that there was no demand for face-to-face support for women’s mental wellbeing after having a baby.
I was lucky, because with some heroic support from friends and family and some medication to help me sleep, I started to feel more positive about being a mum. But as I recovered, I wondered about how I might stop other women feeling as alone and isolated and scared as I did. I wanted to shout from the rooftops to new mums that it was alright if they found motherhood hard, or completely overwhelming and terrifying. Every time I opened up to mum-friends who had looked like they were coping, many of them talked about how hard they also had found motherhood, how they’d had similar thoughts to me, or how they’d spent most of the first six months in tears. It makes me so angry that there’s so much stigma attached to finding motherhood difficult, let alone also suffering with a mental illness. We’re all supposed to just float along on this fluffy cloud of inbuilt “maternal instinct,” chronically sleep-deprived, often recovering from the major physical and sometimes emotional trauma of giving birth, not near friends and family, completely unprepared for the realities of parenthood. That’s hard enough, without adding a broken brain into the mix. I desperately wanted a place where women could be truly honest about the challenges of motherhood and talk to other mums, without judgement, about how they were feeling.
Eventually, I mentioned an idea I’d had for a peer support group to someone on a Facebook group and she recommended I speak to Guin, firstly because she’s a psychologist with an interest in maternal mental health and also because she has been heavily involved with groups supporting new mums in Oxford, both professionally and voluntarily. So we agreed to meet for coffee in The Magic Café in May 2018. On the day, I was in a flap, running late, flustered and sweaty and lugging a sizeable eight-month-old baby along with me. Guin was so lovely and calm and understanding and it put me at ease straight away. I kept F occupied with a steady stream of blueberry wafers as I explained my idea for a postnatal support group. I had a number of specific requests:
1. It had to have a relaxed, drop-in format
2. Women had to be able to bring their babies
3. It would be run by “peer supporters” who’d either had a postnatal mental illness or who had found motherhood hard and were willing to be open and supportive to other mothers
4. It had to be very low-cost, ideally free
Guin was instantly enthused by the idea. She was already running things with similar themes and she clearly felt as passionately as I did about providing more support for women in the transition to motherhood. I knew she understood the intricacies of maternal mental health from her professional life, but I think she would agree that the idea resonated most with her as a mother – I remember her saying “I’ve always wanted to do something like this!” She asked if we could involve her friend and fellow psychologist Becca and I don’t think I could have asked to have met two more brilliant women to embark on this journey with.
Between the three of us, we brainstormed exactly how we thought it would work. It took months of meetings, consulting local practitioners, writing documents and chewing over ideas for best practice. There were more things to consider than I could ever have imagined, such as safeguarding processes, confidentiality agreements, and processes for recruiting volunteers safely. But we had so much support from everyone who heard about what we were doing that their enthusiasm kept us going. A special mention must go to Jayne Joyce and the team at Oxfordshire Breastfeeding Support, who provided us with lots of assistance with writing our policies and forms and shared their wealth of experience and knowledge with us for free. Then, we found a venue in the wonderful facilities at Flo’s in Florence Park and put up our recruitment advert for volunteer peer supporters all over Facebook.
We were totally stunned to have a huge response. Eventually, there were twelve women who came to Guin’s house one Saturday in November to sit and talk about their experience of motherhood. Guin and Becca ran a fantastic full day of training on supporting women in the postnatal period and some things we needed to be extra sensitive to. Some of the stories the volunteers told us on that day made me weep. But it was so empowering to feel how much support there was for the project and how much people wanted to help us make the idea a reality.
We first opened our doors on 11th January 2019 and we haven’t looked back! Since then, we’ve run 42 sessions, seen 93 mothers and 96 babies and children, and trained 17 peer supporters, and we’re looking forward to the future. Please follow us for more updates about what we’ll be up to in 2020 and beyond, and thanks to all those who have supported us so far!