Opinion

We've had to pause our life-saving work helping new mums – we simply can't afford to keep going

Maggie Gordon-Walker has been recognised as a Big Issue Changemaker for her charitable project Mothers Uncovered. But it's not getting the funding to carry out its vital work

mother's uncovered

Maggie Gordon-Walker (far left) and the mums supported by Mothers Uncovered. Image: Supplied

This week I was honoured to be included in The Big Issue’s national 100 Changemakers 2024 list, for my work with the charity project I founded, Mothers Uncovered.

We empower women in matrescence, meaning the transition to motherhood. I also advocate nationally for investment into maternal mental health and for families, last year mounting a campaign around the increase in working hours for parents on universal credit, which has received huge traction.

But, at the same time as receiving this excellent recognition, we have had to take the heartbreaking decision to pause our life-saving work with mothers – over half being new, first-time parents, many of whom have suffered birth trauma. We simply can’t afford to keep going. 

To support Mothers Uncovered, donate here.

This really hurts, as we know too many women are suffering in silence. It seems almost every week there is a news item about a crisis in maternity care: unsafe hospital wards, shortage of midwives, over 11,500 new mothers unable to access mental health care. They are forced to deal alone with anxiety, loneliness and postnatal depression, and in more serious cases, postpartum psychosis that can emerge after the birth.

As an entirely peer-led network, since 2008 nearly 3,000 women have benefitted from our post-natal groups using facilitated discussion and guided arts activities at Mothers Uncovered. As well as combatting isolation, we help mothers understand that they matter in their own right as women. Our non-judgmental, supportive groups inspire the mothers to take ownership of their lives going forward, knowing they have a community they can rely on.

We operate on a shoestring, but we can’t exist on thin air. It’s not only the mothers we work with that suffer if we can’t operate, but the team of facilitators, who are all past participants and value the opportunity to do meaningful, life-enhancing work that fits in with their childcaring responsibilities.

My co-director and I have been working on an almost voluntary basis for the last two months, desperately trying to bring in extra funds. If they don’t come soon, we will both have to seek other employment. Our lack of money is not through want of trying. Last year, we applied for nearly 50 funding opportunities. We received just 10, and most of those were for just a couple of thousand pounds.

The feedback was that there was nothing wrong with our bids, it was just the competitive landscape. A funder told me once informally: “Unless there is a threat to the child’s life, mothers will never be the priority when it comes to funding.” And we are proof of that. The category of ‘mothers’ runs into the millions, a big amorphous mass of different needs and life circumstances.

The world has survived for generations, so they must be managing, goes the logic. There is always a strata of society seen as more deserving of money, and mothers often get short shrift on social media if they speak up about struggling. Be grateful, goes the mantra, or ‘in my day, we didn’t have all this help’. But if a mother isn’t supported properly, there is a very real risk to the health of the whole family and many studies conducted have proved this.

One of our five week groups, which supports eight mothers, costs about £1,500 to run. That is the cost of a hospital bed for one night. Many past participants say attending has stopped them needing to receive further help – pulling one mother from the brink of post-natal depression following the birth of her third child. Had her mental health deteriorated further, she might have needed medical intervention, maybe even a stay in a costly Mother and Baby unit.

Just this week, I was contacted by a health visitor asking if we had any of our birth trauma sessions scheduled. I explained our current position, which she was sorry to hear, saying: “I have had really good feedback from mums who attended this month and feel it would benefit many more.”

I was that panicky, lonely mother facing depression once. If the NHS is struggling to support women because of stretched resources and small charities like Mothers Uncovered aren’t able to help women like me, what will the cost be? Heidi, a participant in our very first group, who subsequently became a facilitator, said: “Mothers Uncovered saved me. There’s no other way of putting it.”

To support Mothers Uncovered, donate here.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

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