I am still in shock – I still cannot believe Mums & Families UK is the winner of the Families Included Challenge Prize. The organisation will receive £10,000 to further develop and expand on the work we have been doing over the past few months, with our immediate plans to expand our programme to Rayleigh and Chelmsford and that’s just for starters! We were asked by so many people on the awards event night whether we thought we were going to win, or if it was a complete shock. We believed we could win; we tried to maintain an element of self-belief but there were times that belief waned when we acknowledged the amazing other finalists and as cliché as it sounds, every finalist in that room were worthy winners. To win it, is the most amazing accolade for the work we do with so many families and the fact that we can now reach even more is just amazing.
Throughout the past year there have been amazing highs but at the same time it has been hard. When I have been tired or run down, the shadows of anxiety and depression can sometimes feel like they are creeping in again, but I tell them to do one (well I’m not quite as polite as that, but I’m sure you can fill in the blanks), and yes there have been many times when I have thought of giving up.
Up until recently, and really recently, I had so much self-doubt and was constantly questioning, can I really do this? Can I really make a difference? The answer to that has been yes, but it’s a bigger YES because I now have a team of trustees who believe in what we are doing as much as I do, are so unbelievably supportive becoming great friends and without which we never would have got as far as we have. We have helped nearly 50 families and through testimonials and feedback we have received, we know we have already saved lives - which to me is just astonishing and so very humbling! As we continue to grow, being part of the challenge prized has resulted in being contacted by investors wanting to invest in us and we have leaders within Essex County Council really interested in what we are doing and have expressed an interest in being involved in the development and expansion of Mums & Families UK across Essex. Our programme is something that hasn’t been done before- in the words of the Chairman’s Announcement & Communications at Essex County Council’s Full Meeting last week- we have written and developed a “ground-breaking peer support programme…that addresses the issue of loneliness and isolation amongst mums and families with children aged 0-5”. As such, Mums and Families UK can now say that we offer a programme that is not only unique in concept and content, but that it is now also a programme that is AWARD WINNING!
I have to pinch myself when I think about how far I have come personally and how far Mums & Families UK has come as an organisation. Only two years ago I was literally on my knees battling (and it did feel like a constant battle) and fighting serious postnatal mental illness. Part of the poem I wrote in my first blog said: “I will not hide in the shadows or submit to pain and shame, as after all I battled through and got my life back again!” No matter how hard life gets – NEVER GIVE UP! I wanted to and nearly did, but I got through it, eventually the darkness subsided and I could see sunshine in my life again!
My message to anyone who is going through any kind of challenge, battle or storm, never EVER give up! There really is light at the end of the tunnel and sometimes when you reach that light, it’s so bright you have no choice but to share it with others, and that’s exactly what Mums & Families UK intend to do.
Today I am feeling very anxious. When my anxiety feels like its creeping back in, I start to have a little internal freak out that I am going backwards – I’m not, it’s just that I am relating those bubbles of anxiety to a very sad and traumatic time.
When something ‘bad’ happens, even if it has been dealt with, there are still the memories and emotions that run deep, in the same way when something good and amazing happens.
When I smell the perfume I wore on my wedding day, all those wonderful memories and emotions come flooding back – it’s the same with not so good memories. When I feel that little pang of anxiety bubbling just under my ribcage making it difficult to catch my breath - I associate it with probably what was the worst time of my life. So I have two ways of looking at it/approaching it:
OR I COULD:.........
2. LOOK AT THE EVIDENCE: I have a BIG presentation on Tuesday, something me and Heather have been working so hard on, months of hard work, preparation, and life changing work with one final shot to convince 10 judges to make us the winners of the #familiesincluded challenge prize.
So why am I feeling anxious – number 2! Of course this is why I am feeling anxious! The weird thing is, the minute I can evidence how and why I am feeling the way I am, I can see it from a different perspective and am able to sit with the discomfort until it passes.When I received my specialist counselling 2 years ago, I was told to LOOK FOR THE EVIDENCE! This is something I tell to the mums and families we work with; all mums/families (everyone!) have good and bad days and hard days regardless of whether they suffer with any kind of emotional well-being issue. Some days are harder than others, but it was like that before children – LOOK FOR THE EVIDENCE.
So, today, yes I feel anxious and even a little bit panicky – but it’s all because on Tuesday I am going to be presenting with Heather to a panel of 10 judges with the hope of winning the challenge prize - because if we do - everything we have been planning and dreaming of with regards to expansion and helping more families will come true!
Keep your fingers crossed for us, keep us in your prayers and who knows – maybe on 8th February (results day!) we’ll be able to say “we are Mums & Families UK - winners of the first families included challenge prize!” and then the real journey begins!
I am sitting here at my computer feeling overwhelmed, and completely inspired. Being January, I think it’s normal to sit and reflect on the year previous and to look forward to the year ahead, not knowing what the year has in store. 2016 was a successful and challenging year for us, we launched our programme in February and it has gone from strength to strength. Growing from a team of two (me and my lovely hubby Pete), to now a team of 5, we have started our charity application since becoming a FINALIST for the Families Included Challenge Prize.
As a result of being involved in such an amazing initiative we have developed our programme and now have solid relationships with external services and networks helping us to provide our pivotal and staple service to our community and beyond. Our website went live with great feedback and success and has given us more credibility than we ever imagined with waiting lists forming to join our programme! We held a focus group just before Christmas and it was wonderful. We asked the mums to tell us what came to mind when we said to them “Mums & Families” or “Mums & Families programme” the reaction we received bowled me over – we are making a real difference to our community and are proud of what we have been able to achieve in such a short space of time and we are beyond proud of the families who join us and allow us to be a part of their recovery.
Whilst we continue to deliver and develop our programme, we will be presenting our business plan for the Families Included Challenge Prize to a panel of 10 judges on 31st January. We are nervous but extremely excited and thank you all for you continuous words of support and encouragement. We really believe we have a good chance of winning the prize, which would be transformational for us as an organisation and for the families we help. Keep your fingers crossed for us!
Although there are exciting things afoot for us, on reflection of the past year, one of the consistent themes we see in our work is of grief and feeling of loss.
Over the Christmas period, my Auntie Jan came to stay with us, and we were enjoying a programme about Judi Dench and at one point in the programme, Ms Dench was talking about the death of her husband and the grief she felt and how she dealt with it – she carried on working, without taking a single day off. This wasn’t something to be congratulated as she made it clear that everyone deals with grief in different ways, but for her, this was what she had to do to survive. She said something about grief which stopped me in my tracks, I had to pause the programme, rewind and write it down, what she said was this:
“Grieving of any kind generates a huge energy in you, you can use that energy like petrol, that energy can be used to tell another story.”
In that single sentence, I had goose bumps as it explained perfectly, the grief I felt from losing ‘me’ during my suffering from perinatal mental health problems and the energy it generated to recover and to then help other mums and their families.
This quote was ever present in my mind as we began the first session on Monday (9th Jan) of the first programme of 2017. All of us grieve at some point in our lives, whether it’s for the loss of a loved one, for the loss of ourselves – our identities, our esteem, and our lives before babies but as sad as it may be – it is a normal part of life, but once we acknowledge it, we can begin to heal.
I say it every time and to the amazing women who join us for our peer support programme, I am in awe of them and their strength. They don’t realise how strong they actually are, I feel honoured that they put their trust in us and allow us to be part of their journey to recovery.
In January last year, I was lying on my bed and began to write a poem, I was in two minds of whether to share it, but given the powerful stories I hear from women who contact me on a daily basis, I feel like my first blog post on behalf of Mums & Families UK is the perfect time.
Inside I’m Crying – Claire Hawtree (copyright 2017)
Some days I was so sad, too numb to notice streaming tears
My body soaked with every moment of every mental pain and fear
Inside I cried so loudly but no one could hear a sound
Or see the suffering inside my heart just yearning to be found
A reason, a resolution, that I was not alone
That someone out there saw me feeling useless and unknown
I felt unlike a mum or what a good person should be
I would look inside the mirror searching, question -who is she?
A broken shell left of a person who had slowly lost her smile
When even getting out of bed felt like she'd run for miles
Sunshine was blocked away by grey; the clouds fell round her head
She would see people speaking, but she heard not what they said
Her body and soul aching to feel anything but numb
Yearning to be a fighter and the strong woman she'd soon become
She clung on to surviving with every fibre of her being
To clear the clouds with sunshine to keep her heart still beating
The days were dark and long, I wanted it all to end,
I battle through I soldiered on, my heart began to mend
Although sometimes I'm shattered I won't let this ever break me
Dark days have gone and all that's left are good times with my baby
A love that's unconditional, a bond that won't be broken
My reason to love and be a stronger mum, I'm proud that I have spoken.
I will not hide in the shadows or submit to pain and shame
As after all I battled through and got my life back again.
Postnatal depression, anxiety, stress, OCD, PTSD, loneliness and/or social isolation; any and all of which can be endured and suffered by many. May 2017 be a kind year to all and for those who need a helping hand – we are here to help – all you need to do, is reach out and we’ll hold your hand the rest of the way!