How Liptember is helping new and expectant mums thrive

The health and happiness of new and expectant mothers is at the heart of a campaign by women’s mental health foundation Liptember.

Julia* thought it would be just another routine scan.

Twenty weeks pregnant, the expectant mother was eagerly waiting to hear the ultrasound technician confirm whether she was carrying a boy or a girl.

Instead, the technician kept circling back to her unborn baby’s heart.

“Eventually she said that she couldn’t see what she was expecting, but that I should try not to worry, as I was having another scan with a specialist in two weeks,” Julia says.

“I wasn’t offered any counselling or support during that period.”

Anxious and uncertain, a cardiologist later confirmed the technician’s concerns — Julia’s baby had a heart defect.

Still trying to digest what she was being told, Julia says the response to her predicament felt clinical as opposed to caring.

“Some of the first options were for me to have an amniocentesis or a termination,” she says.

“It would have been much more helpful for the clinicians to explain the diagnosis and tell me that I had time to consider everything, as well as support options during this period.”

Why care is needed in healthcare

Julia believes her experience would have been far less isolating had the staff been better trained to support expectant mothers as they digest difficult news.

“As someone who works within the healthcare system, I can appreciate that everyone is juggling heavy caseloads and can become quite immune to the news they are expected to deliver on a day-to-day basis,” Julia says.

“However, as a consumer, I learned how crushing the news can be that there is something wrong with your baby.”

Julia’s experience is not as unusual as you might think — one in 22 pregnant women learn that their baby has a congenital defect.

This is why the Liptember Foundation has thrown its support behind Facing the Unexpected, a training program delivered by Through the Unexpected and designed to help clinicians better guide families left reeling by a prenatal diagnosis.

“It is imperative that women are met with empathetic, person-centred, trauma-informed care to limit their risk of perinatal mental illness and support them in informed decision-making,” Julia says.

“We need to upskill workers to be with women and their families during this period, so that they can experience the compassion and empathy they need to cope in the aftermath.

“The experiences, comments and attitudes of the healthcare worker after that news will always stay with me.”

Listen as Liptember Foundation chief executive and founder Luke Morris shares how the campaign raises awareness and funds for women’s mental health (The House of Wellness – August 6, 2023):

How Liptember helps fund better care

Liptember founder Luke Morris says Facing the Unexpected is just one program the foundation funds to provide better care for mothers.

Frustrated by the lack of female-focused mental health support, Luke started Liptember in 2010 and has since raised more than $14 million for services around the country.

“Pregnancy and the perinatal period can present various physical, social and emotional challenges that can place significant pressure on a woman’s mental health,” Luke says.

“Our 2023 women’s mental health research has identified the need for further support and investment within this space, which has led to the foundation including pregnancy and perinatal support in our national funding framework as a priority area of need.”

Royal Women’s Hospital senior clinical psychologist Julienne Kinna says social media, coupled with the pandemic, has made an already emotionally charged time for new mothers more complicated, placing more strain on services.

“Social media, for example, is full of pregnant people who look fantastic and are having a great time, and if you’re not having a great time you can feel like a failure,” Julienne says.

“Having a tribe where you can be honest and share your struggle is so important.

“Our challenge was escalating demand for psychology support, with women sometimes waiting up to six weeks to be seen.”

With the help of “game-changing” funding from Liptember, the hospital has been able to expand its antenatal psychology group.

Challenges faced by new mums

The Liptember Foundation has found 38 per cent of pregnant Australians will experience perinatal depression or anxiety.

Tracey Spohn hopes by sharing her experiences she will help others who may be struggling.

Sleep-deprived and overwhelmed by the physical and emotional upheaval that accompanies first-time motherhood, Tracey recalls being in floods of tears every night as she fed her baby daughter, Amelia.

“I’m usually pretty emotional when I’m tired anyway, and I have been all my life,” Tracey says as she reflects on her fraught start to motherhood a decade ago.

“So it definitely took me a little while to realise something further was going on.

“Obviously, I loved my baby to bits. I wanted her so badly.

“But once she was here, I found myself struggling to cope with the constant crying and the constant need for my attention.”

While she was initially concerned that she might be judged a “bad mother” for having these feelings, Tracey confided in her husband, Nick.

“When we were at the GP a few weeks later for a check-up for our daughter he dobbed me in that I had not been feeling too good and that opened the door to have a conversation,” she says.

At the urging of her GP, Tracey began seeing a psychologist who helped her to devise coping strategies.

“It wasn’t just feeling down in the dumps, my brain was catastrophising. I would worry about things like tripping down the stairs and killing my baby,” she says.

“Or that my husband might drown the baby when he was bathing her … I had to find ways to stop those thoughts in their tracks.”

Support among the Liptember community

Since taking part in Liptember’s annual fundraiser for women’s mental health, Tracey has realised that sharing her own journey could potentially help others.

“That first time I felt a lot of shame that I was struggling,” she says.

“Then I joined Liptember and started talking more about mental health. When my friends started having babies, I started talking more openly with them about my experiences.

“My priority with my friends has been to check in with them and see how they are doing and to support them if they need it.”

Show your support for this year’s Liptember campaign with a pop of lipstick. You can purchase a Liptember lipstick from any participating Chemist Warehouse store for $4.99.

*Name withheld for privacy

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Written by Siobhan Duck.