Interview with Tam Mason – author of ‘Olivia: My Saving Grace’

Hi Tam!  Thank you so much for speaking so openly about your PND experience.  You speak about it feeling very natural because you worked with children, what kind of emotional pressure did that put on you during pregnancy?

I put an enormous amount of pressure on myself, maybe not so much during pregnancy or at least without perhaps being aware of it but certainly after having Olivia. I was the first in the family to have a child and I was desperate to do it well. I had worked with children for so many years, studied child development to degree level, everything up until then had been about children. I was never really career minded and was always the one who was going to have lots of children around me; having a family was so important to me. I guess I set myself up for being the ‘perfect’ mother and thought I would be able to do it easily, without really considering the realities of parenthood and all the emotional issues that come about with it and anything less than that would feel like I was failing. I still beat myself up at times that I’m not that ‘perfect’ mother I strive to be particularly when things feel a bit tough being a parent but I’m good enough in Olivia’s eyes, I’m the one she wants and that’s all that I need to be and is all that matters.

Looking back at quite clearly suffering from an iron deficiency post birth how do you feel now about the staff who ‘looked after you’?

To be totally honest, my feelings towards them are not particularly favourable. I feel let down, resentful and sometimes quite angry that my care was not properly managed. I understand the enormous pressure that midwives and hospital staff are put under and the time I was in the hospital during labour and post birth was a very busy time but I’m not sure I’m able to forgive them, not just yet at least, for what happened to me whilst under their care. Rightly or wrongly, I believe it was the catalyst in my whole experience of post natal illness. My newborn time with Olivia and my life now may have been very different had my care been better and I had got the treatment that I needed. It was only years later that I found out that anaemia can be a risk factor to an individual developing PND and can interfere with breastfeeding, something that I really struggled with and at the time I also wasn’t aware of the seriousness of severe anaemia and the debilitating effect it can have on your body, physically and emotionally. Perhaps if I had of been aware of these factors, my husband or I could have been more influential in the care I received.

It’s fantastic to hear you had a good health visitor, what qualities did she have that you would like to see replicated in health visitors across the UK?

She understood, she had been there herself and knew how I felt. She didn’t judge and would listen to me openly, not only about the worries I had but also my parenting concerns regarding Olivia. She was always positive about me, gave me encouragement and boosted my self confidence. She visited me weekly in the beginning and very rarely had to change her appointment time so I knew I was always going to see her and I would find myself during the week saving up my thoughts to tell her. I just felt at ease with her and felt she wanted to help. I don’t think I could have got through that first year without her and will always appreciate the support she gave me.

It’s a wonderful moment to get the all famous ‘rush of love’ especially after PND. Do you remember what you were doing at the time?

I do and I think I will always remember it! We were in the kitchen and I was preparing Olivia’s tea. Olivia was sat in her highchair which she loved. The radio was on and she was at that stage of ‘wiggling’ to music. I had listened to the song ‘Halo’ by Beyonce lots whilst I was pregnant and I know it sounds corny but sometimes I could feel Olivia moving around inside me when it came on. I turned the volume up and turned around to see if Olivia would react and she had stopped still and was listening and then she really ‘danced’ with a great big smile on her face, babbling away. And that’s when I felt it, simply amazing!

I’m so pleased to hear that you’re open with friends, what do you say to someone who you suspect might be struggling?

I haven’t always been and at times I’ve regretted my decision in doing so but I think it helped me. I hope it may have helped others too and go some way to breaking down the stigma that surrounds post natal illness and mental health in general. I was very touched when recently a friend told me that she admired my honesty and my ability to be open. To someone who is struggling, personally I would simply say to them that they are not on their own; I understand and will listen when they are ready without judgement.

What does your role of Support Groups Team Manager involve?

Basically I ensure the effective running of the PANDAS support groups team. The team is made up of myself and 3 other lovely ladies. Together we look after 50+ support groups around the country.  We advise and support them in the successful running of their support groups, help them to get started and ensure they have the relevant checks and policies in place to run their groups as well as helping them with advertising and promotion via the website. We also pass on to them referral s from people interested in joining their groups. We have an active Facebook page for support group leaders to enable to them to liaise with other group leaders for discussion and support. I totally admire each and every one of our support group leaders, they give up their time to provide such a valuable service to so many who are suffering in their local communities.

I would love to run my own support group one day. There is very little in the way of peer support in my area and I’d like to be able to change that.

How would you answer the question, ‘will this darkness ever leave me?’

I’d honestly like to hope that one day it really does leave and goes for good. I’m not quite at that place myself yet but I am working well towards it. Some days are still pretty hard and I wonder how I will ever get through but they do get less and less and on the better days, the skies do clear and the days are much brighter than they were in the beginning. The bad days tend to now be triggered by something that has happened or that has been said rather than being just ‘dark’ for no reason. I try as much as I can to live in the moment, accept the feelings I have, be kind to myself and think that ok today is not a good day and it’s ok to feel like this but tomorrow will be better. I try not to look to far ahead, day by day works for me.

What is CBT and how does it help you?

CBT is cognitive behavioural therapy. It’s a talking therapy that helps you to manage problems by changing the way you think and feel. It doesn’t get rid of those problems but helps you to deal with them in a more positive way. Thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions are all connected and negative thoughts and feelings can trap you in a vicious cycle. CBT helps you to break down this cycle by giving you the tools to change these negative patterns and therefore improving the way you feel.

 I recently referred myself again for more CBT and counselling therapy earlier in the year. I am currently on my 12 week break and starting again in July. My therapist is amazing. It really helps me to challenge my thinking, and make sense of it. It has really helped me to understand and almost accept the reasoning behind the feelings I have. I really value having the chance to offload my feelings and thoughts to someone who is outside of my situation. It really does help to talk!

Finally ‘Halo’ is Olivia’s song, what is yours?

Kelly Clarkson – Stronger (What doesn’t kill you).

I reckon if I can get through post natal illness, I can get through anything and come out still fighting!! J

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