Eating Nutella straight from the jar, cat therapy and events involving the heady combination of puppies and Fizzy Haribo – Just some of the hilarious highlights from interviewing the quite frankly AWESOME Alexandra Clinton from the aptly named ‘The Awesome Mums’ Brunch Club’.
It never ceases to amaze me the incredible women I am lucky enough to meet through The Every Mum Movement. Women who bravely open up and share some of the darkest and most painful times of their lives with the aim of helping others who now find themselves in a similar situation. And it never ceases to amaze me that through some of these heart wrenching and most revealing of conversations we share, we also find ourselves sharing laughter, silly ideas (i.e. events where we get to eat Nutella whilst stroking kittens) and end up leaving the conversation feeling like long lost friends.
Thank you Alexandra for sharing so much of your story, your honesty and the fire in your belly to “do something” and as you so rightly put it to create an organisation to help other women and to “Ensure other mums know they are not alone”.
Over to you Alexandra…….
- First off please can you tell us a bit about your self
I’m Alexandra Clinton. I’m 35, I work part-time for the NHS as a Physiotherapist. I have one daughter, Roxy, who is 17months. My husband is Graham, he is a cricket coach. We don’t have any close family, so we always refer to ourselves as a ‘triangle family’, as a triangle is the strongest shape (according to my husband who is a maths/spatial awareness whizz!).
- What is the name of your organisation and what are the services it offers?
The Awesome Mums’ Brunch Club. We have an online facebook group, which is a closed group (so only members can see posts), which is a platform for people to ask questions or have a rant or post info about things they find helpful. To be fair, it’s mainly me posting musings about motherhood or advertising our events! We run semi-regular events. These consist of Awesome Mums’ Brunch Club; which is essentially a coffee morning type event. It’s usually £1-2 entry, and there is free tea, coffee, cake and biscuits. I always have a therapist attend who can provide relaxing hand massages for free. I, myself, always lead a Rhyme Time session. And then there is always another activity depending on the theme of the event. For example, we have run raffles with prizes donated from local businesses, we met santa and the babbas got a little present, we have had gift swaps for mums whereby people bring a wrapped gift to donate and you then choose something new for yourself, we’ve done community artwork- whereby we did a big hand-printing collage for the local children’s centre.
We also have recently started running Awesome Mums’ Big Night Out, which is an evening event for mums to come along to without kids! This was £5 entry, which included a glass of prosecco, I had two beauty therapists offering free massage or aromatherapy treatments, I did a mums version of pass the parcel, with choccy, beauty samples and then prosecco etc as the prizes. We also did ‘mum guilt bingo’ with some lovely prizes too.
All events are held at Unico Lounge, which is a café/bar in Wilmslow. For the Brunch club they let us run riot downstairs and are fabulously accommodating to mums and children. For the Big Night Out, we get to take over the upstairs and let the mums run riot with prosecco! 😉
Previously all money we have raised has gone to Smile Group, which is a local charity offering support to parents with emotional difficulties. This summer, AMBC founded as a small charitable organisation, so now we give a portion of the funds raised to Smile, and keep the rest to plough into future events for our community.
- How long has the organisation been running for?
I did the first AMBC event in November 2016. We have now run 6 events in total.
- What is the story behind its set up and the reasons the organisation was set up in the first place?
The first AMBC event I had planned just as a one off. I used to go to a regular mums & tots breakfast club at a local pub and I remember one week just loads of my friends were getting stressed by various things to do with their little ones. I just thought, this being a mum malarkey is really hard- even if you don’t have MHD like I do. So I spoke with the manager of the pub and explained I wanted to do an event but needed a venue and she very kindly agreed to let me host it there. The first event went really well- I was so surprised and we raised well over £100 which I donated to Smile Group. Then I found that people were asking me when I was going to do it again, and I thought ‘oh we’ll just do a Christmas one’. Then another one, then another….! I wanted a group that wasn’t just for people with mental health issues, as although im quite vocal about it, I know lots of people still don’t want to admit it. Also, I didn’t want to take away from the mums who were just having a tough time, as you don’t have to have a diagnosed MHD to find being a mum hard!! I think groups like Smile are hugely important- they have, and continue to, help me immensely. But I also think in the fight to reduce stigma, there needs to be groups where those with and without MHD are not segregated and this is where AMBC comes in.
When I was very poorly, I attended the group sessions that Smile ran. Basically I watched the women who ran Smile and saw how supportive they were for people and thought ‘I want to do that’! I’m a physio by trade, so its in my nature to try and help people. Also, I admit, im just very bossy and I like being in charge of things, so setting up AMBC helped me to re-gain a little bit of myself and what I was like before I was pole-axed by maternal anxiety.
- Have you got personal experience of a maternal mental health illness and if so, what services did you access when you were first diagnosed?
I had very severe post-natal anxiety when I had Roxy. Since the age of about 15yrs, I have suffered on and off with generalised anxiety disorder and depression. We originally got pregnant just after we got married, but sadly had a missed miscarriage. We found out we’d lost our baby a week before we were due to move across the country and set up a new life- I had lived in London for 15 years and my husband got a job in Cheshire, so we were moving up to buy a house and start a family. So arriving in Cheshire and having absolutely no close, physical support network and no job at this time meant I started to obsess a little about getting pregnant. When we did get pregnant (and we are lucky it didn’t take too long), I was so anxious about having another miscarriage I used to constantly worry about everything and had a fair few panic attacks. I spoke to my GP about this and he was brilliant; very understanding and he referred me to the consultant at the hospital for MH review. However, every time I went to see the consultant, Id actually end up seeing a registrar-which in itself is no problem, but it would be a different one every time and all they would do would be try and convince me to take medication and when I said no they washed their hands of me. When I actually saw the consultant himself late on in my pregnancy, he was great and spent a lot of time talking to me about the pros and cons of meds during pregnancy and discussed all my fears about dying during labour- at this point I started on a very low dose of sertraline.
I am told that on paper, my labour was bloody brilliant and quite short. Both my and my husbands view of this is quite the opposite! I was in the latent stage for quite a long time, but the maternity unit admitted me as I was very panicky. I think ive got a fairly good pain threshold but I found it unbearable and would break down in panicky tears because I just wasn’t dilating…so they broke my waters to offer me an epidural. They didn’t say that after having your waters broken everything goes super quick, so when the contractions came on so strong I really panicked. The anesthetist was delayed for over an hour and when he came he was completely non-empathetic- told me if I moved during the epidural procedure I could be paralysed (which I knew but telling this to someone already panicking isn’t helpful) and he completely slated my choice of labour music!! The epidural didn’t seem to take but Roxy finally arrived without assistance.
We stayed in hospital 2 nights and then the day we were to leave they found she had bad jaundice and she required a few days of double phototherapy and using a billi-blanket when out of the crib. I also got really bad mastitis straight away and a raging infection where I had torn during labour. So I was feeling pretty god damn awful and asked for a psych review. They came and put my meds up by 25mg and said that was all good.
When we finally got home 6 days after she was born, we had one night at home where she cluster fed and I lost my mind. The next morning some midwives Id never met came over and told me that there was no reason she wasn’t sleeping and that I needed to swaddle her and sent out my husband to buy formula. They said I should just top her up with formula (despite at this point that I was exclusively breastfeeding and wanted to do that). Then the cherubs lady came in the afternoon and at this point I couldn’t stop crying. She told me the midwives were wrong and proceeded to lecture me on my latch etc. I felt completely inept; all this professionals that I trusted were telling me different things and I felt I couldn’t do anything right. I remember telling my husband that I was terrified they would take Roxy away because I was unfit, but at the same time thinking someone else should have her because I couldn’t take care of her.
The cherubs lady actually called the maternity unit at the hospital and a midwife I liked called me and suggested I come back to hospital. So I was admitted through the psych team but back onto the maternity ward. The midwives were fab and helped me to get some sleep and we spent about 4 days trying to breastfeed and I ended up making the decision to swtich to formula as the breastfeeding was so painful and causing me so much anxiety.
When I finally was discharged again, the safeguarding midwife was assigned to me and she came out daily for weeks just to check on me. My HV also got very involved and between the two of them, I started to get better. I still consider myself to have post-natal anxiety, and I still have regular meetings with my GP and also my HV just to go over any anxieties I may have.
- Can you tell us a bit more about the mums and the families that your organisation helps
We have a Facebook Group, which is a closed group so that the posts on it are kept private, but anyone can join. So we have over 200 members and they are from all round the UK. In terms of the actual events we hold; they are based in Wilmslow, Cheshire, which is where I live. So the idea is these are something for the local community, as there seem to be a hell of a lot of young families in the area! But essentially anyone can come along to them if they want to travel!
Most of the mums who attend have very young babies, or toddlers up to around 3 years. We do have some awesome grandmas who attend too! Mums with adult kids who live away from the area are welcome to attend. And although we focus on mums, actually dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends and care-givers can attend.
Some quotes from our members:
“AMBC has given me opportunities to meet other mums, to admit openly how exhausting it is, that im not perfect and that’s ok. I’m not alone struggling, there are loads of us doing it and its ok to not feel ok. It’s a chance to pause, celebrate and commiserate!”
“I love that AMBC is open to everyone and recognises that maternal mental health is important whether we have a diagnosis or not. All mums know the responsibility, challenges and depth of love it takes to grow a small human. It’s so good to be surrounded by people who just get it. Feel so nutured having a chat, with a cup of tea, cake and a massage! My personal favourite is Alex’s Rhyme Time session with signs! I don’t know most of the people when I walk in but everyone’s always lovely and support each other so much. It’s like walking into a room full of love.”
- Why do you feel it is so important for organisations and services like yourselves to exist?
Because we are mums!! We are not a faceless organisation run by randoms. We are living the things we talk about. AMBC is staffed entirely by volunteers, so this is people who feel passionately about the subject, not people who are paid to turn up and do a job. As we actively advertise our services (and probably aggressively advertise in my case!!), we are making sure that people know there are services available and places to go if they have questions or want support. One of my main bug-bears about mental health services, both from a personal, family and professional viewpoint, is that often you need to be at breaking point before you can access services. As in my story above- I had to get to the point of having a full on breakdown before I got effective support, despite highlighting my concerns about my mental health from the first weeks of pregnancy! I’m hoping that AMBC helps mums get support when they need, and possibly even before they realise they need it! Also, I think its important that there are services to recognise the different mental health needs of mums- from those who have good mental wellbeing, to PND, PNA and psychosis. For example, I don’t know much about postpartum psychosis groups because I have not suffered with this. But I also feel that lots of people don’t realise that post-natal anxiety is in fact, very different to post-natal depression – well I think it is! For example, we are taught that those with Postnatal Depression may struggle to get out of bed or go out etc, and actually my issue was that (and still is) that I cant bear to be in the house with just Roxy for longer than a couple of hours because I don’t feel I can entertain her enough- I constantly have to be out and about and with people. So I seem very confident and happy, but actually im quite paranoid and nervous!
- What is your view at the moment on the services provided for mums across the UK and what changes would you like to see?
Depends on what you mean by services….I think there are lots more online support networks, such as yourself! And I think the presence of this on social media is great. But I feel there is a lack of practical support-as in places to go. I am lucky in that there is a very big Sure Start Children’s Centre near me, and it has a large range of classes and groups to attend for free. But I know lots of people don’t have access to this. Also, the children’s centres don’t seem to be that well advertised- im still amazed by the amount of local mums that don’t seem to know it exists. Then there are groups such as Smile, or PANDAs, but again, knowledge of these only seems to come once you’ve hit bottom… Also, I have been able to go and try these groups by myself, but I have plenty of friends who want support but are too scared to try something new on their own. Maybe a buddy system would work?!
Also, just as an aside whilst I think of it… I did NCT classes antenatally because everyone recommended these to me. I now am very close with one member of the group, but the others actually make me quite uncomfortable because I don’t feel good enough around them- I realise this is my issue, but I don’t feel NCT addresses maternal mental health- or even just maintaining mental wellbeing- enough! There was one exercise about PND when I did my NCT classes, but it was short and just about how to recognise the difference between PND and just ‘baby blues’. There is no recognition of post-natal anxiety or post-partnum psychosis or anything like this and I think these things should be addressed too.
- What would be on your wish list of “I wish I’d of known before I became a mum” with regards to your maternal mental health?
I was walking to my husband about this and he said in the early days we both quite strongly wish we had been told ‘there is no right or wrong way to do something’. For example, at NCT you are taught how to safely set up baby’s cot and position it in your room. In reality, we had to have her cot next to a radiator under a window because that is how our house is set up- I got so worked up about this because I thought she would potentially suffer cot death as a result. I had to get my midwife and my HV to come round and check the set up and both were fine with it. Again, we are told baby MUST be in your room for 6 months- Roxy moved into her room around 8 weeks, again for practical reasons.
I also feel that issues around feeding need to be addressed more. Yes, people blather on about how ‘its ok to bottle feed’, but its never actually reinforced that its ok to bottle feed. When I decided to formula feed Roxy, I realised I had no clue how to do it. All I was given was a sheet of written instructions by the hospital – for someone with intense anxiety this was awful as I was convinced I would interpret them wrong. So more active instruction on formula and breast feedind would have been nice, so I felt educated to make my choice.
Mainly I wish id known I wouldn’t be the only one feeling this way. That there would likely always be someone else crapping their pants about the same things I was!
- What is a message that you would like to give any mum currently going through their own battle with their maternal mental health?
It’s the same thing said a thousand times over by lovely ladies such as yourself- YOU ARE NOT ALONE! Having poor mental health does not make you a bad mum; you are doing a damned fine job and just take it one minute at a time. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for support; the likelihood is, that someone else will be really grateful you’ve said something because they are going through it too.
What are your plans for the future of your organisation and what do you feel the future looks like for maternal mental health awareness?
I’d like to think that AMBC will get more recognition and reach more people. I’d like for us to be able to work more with HV teams and Childrens Centres so people can signpost new mums to us and make sure they have access to support from the beginning of their parenting journey.
I think the future is looking more positive for maternal mental health awareness- certainly there seems to be a lot more talk about it on social media platforms. However, sometimes I wonder if it seems more prevalent to me just because I am involved in this arena- I wonder what is it like for mums who do not suffer with poor mental health or even for those who are not yet mums?
I know there is a big push to get PND more recognised, but as I said earlier, from a more personal perspective I find it hard that people don’t seem to be aware of PNA. It’s great that things like Eastenders are tackling big storylines like postpartum psychosis, but I think in the real day-to-day life there isn’t enough knowledge or support readily available.
Being an NHS employee, I know the issues the mental health service faces regarding funding for services. So I think that more needs to be given so more effective services can be offered. At present, post-natal mental wellbeing seems to be assessed by a tick box exercise and relies on the patient being truthful in their answers AND the overworked HV staff in being able to follow up on any concerns.
How can mums in need of support access the services of your organisation? If a mum is currently suffering or feels that she may be what would you advise her to do first with regards to getting the right help and support?
Mums can join our fb group– they can post straight to the group wall, or they can message me directly. They can attend one of our events and speak to other mums there, or grab me or one of the other lovely trustees and have a chat.
If a mum was struggling and wasn’t sure what to do, I would firstly ask if she knew someone she felt comfortable talking to and talk to them. I would advise her to speak with her GP, and with her HV. I would also give her the contact details for groups such as Smile, and give her the online links to bloggers, charities and groups that provide support.
If I felt she was at risk to herself or others, I would talk this through with her and ask her if its ok to let the children’s centre/safeguarding team know. I am lucky that I do things like this in my job, so I am fairly comfortable having these type of conversations.
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