Coombe Wood: Helping Mothers in Psychological Distress
Dr Amy Pollard was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2009. In 2016 she experienced an episode of psychosis and depression, and was admitted to the Coombe Wood Mother and Baby Unit in Acton, which supports mothers in psychological distress and enables them to stay with their babies while receiving treatment.
Amy, a senior policy officer at the Mental Health Foundation, was told when she got pregnant with her first daughter, that she had a one in three chance of becoming unwell with psychosis or depression during her pregnancy or in the year after giving birth.
"I was fortunate to stay well throughout this period, but with my second child I was not so lucky. I had another episode when my daughter was eight months old, and it took until around her first birthday for me to recover fully," she said.
Amy experienced an episode of psychosis and depression in 2016, and was admitted to the Coombe Wood unit with her baby. They stayed on and off for about four months.
"We were incredibly lucky to be admitted: Coombe Wood is one of only three wards in London where mothers can remain with their babies whilst in the midst of major psychological distress. With a breastfed baby who was no fan of weaning, it was a godsend to be able to stay with my daughter and have help looking after her - and to have some help looking after me too," she said.
"I'm proud of my own recovery, but I'm also proud to be part of a community of people who know that mental health problems can affect people from any walk of life, and that nobody should feel ashamed of. It was inspiring to be surrounded by these brave, strong women, coping in such difficult circumstances. It is a community I feel honoured to be part of."
Amy and Jennifer were cared for by a multi-disciplinary team that included psychiatrists, psychotherapists, an occupational health worker, nurses and nursery nurses.
"Some of the practical mothering skills they shared were critical: after eight months with a baby who only seemed capable of sleeping in my armpit, we finally got her sleeping on her own in a cot!"
During her family's "darkest hour" Amy said Coombe Wood shone a bright light.
"The best thing about it was that people really went above and beyond to make the experience as good for mothers and babies as they could. For example, we spent some time creating a community choir, enjoying coming together to sing as a group both of mothers, staff and visitors. One of the nursery nurses supported the choir and brought in Sister Act on DVD for us all to watch for inspiration. I'll never forget our theme song: "We are cool, we are calm, we are Coombe Wood Community Choir."
"The team were amazing, and I find it hard to believe that there's a mother of a young baby anywhere in the land who wouldn't benefit from spending some time there. One of the special things about Coombe Wood is that the staff come from so many different disciplines."
For 50 years the specialist unit has made it possible for mothers to stay with their babies during treatment at home or in its inpatient unit. New funding has now allowed us to extend these services to other boroughs, improving access for more mothers and babies. In May we launched a new perinatal service for residents of Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster, Hillingdon, Brent and Harrow.
"My baby daughter will never remember Coombe Wood, but my husband and I will never forget it."