Forest Lake Mum Shares Her Journey of Recovery at Mater’s Catherine’s House

Grace Forbes, a new mum and a cancer nurse from Forest Lake, faced immense challenges following the birth of her daughter, Harriet. Battling severe postnatal depression and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), her life took a dramatic turn when she became the first in-patient at Mater’s Catherine’s House for Mothers, Babies and Families. 

The South Brisbane facility, which opened in March, saved the life of Ms Forbes, who was under the care of a multidisciplinary team during her stay.

Mrs Forbes is bravely speaking out ahead of Perinatal Mental Health Week (12-18 November) to raise awareness of perinatal mental health issues and spread the message that support is available.

“I was in a really deep dark hole before I came to Catherine’s House,” she said.

“I had had a miserable pregnancy – I didn’t enjoy being pregnant at all.”

Grace Forbes
Photo Credit: Quinn and Co Photography/Supplied

Grace’s journey was fraught with difficulties, starting from a painful and uncomfortable pregnancy due to Pubic Symphysis Dysfunction, a condition causing pain in the pelvic area. This led to severe sleep deprivation and an overwhelming sense of helplessness. The rapid labour and birth of her daughter on 5 October only intensified her emotional disconnect, leaving her feeling numb and detached from her newborn.

“I hadn’t slept properly since I was 20 weeks pregnant. I couldn’t walk 10 metres and had to use a wheelchair,” she said.

“I was taking truckloads of painkillers just not to cry, I was barely functional.

“I was 100 per cent depressed and felt helpless. I had socially withdrawn and thought that was my life now.”

“My labour was so fast, just three hours. I felt disconnected to Harriet just from the shock of such a rapid labour that I couldn’t process what was happening and that she was real.

“When Harriet was born, she was put on my chest and I felt no connection to her.”

The situation reached a critical point when Grace, struggling with sleepless nights due to Harriet’s colic and her own mental turmoil, contemplated suicide. Recognizing the severity of her condition, her husband, Riley, who is a doctor, sought urgent help. This led to her swift admission to Catherine’s House, where a new chapter in her life began.

“I loved Harriet a lot and I didn’t want to harm her. She had colic and screamed all day and all night, I hadn’t slept properly in months.

“There was a lot going on in my head.”

“I was having trouble finding a psychiatrist and I was running out of steam. My husband Riley, who is a doctor, was on high alert – something had to change,” she said.

The Forbes Family
Photo Credit: Quinn and Co Photography/Supplied

Her recovery involved receiving daily support from the team at Catherine’s House, including peer support workers, a psychologist and a child health nurse, as well as medication for OCD.

Mrs Forbes also attended ‘Together in Mind’ therapy sessions, which further assisted her post-partum mental health struggles, and she joined a mums’ and bubs’ group with other mums experiencing similar mental health issues.

“The peer support workers have lived experience, so they knew exactly what I was going through,” she said.

“It was reassuring to see that model of care. People tell you all the time that things will get better, but to talk to someone who understood and has been through that experience themselves gave me so much hope.

“One of the nurses took Harriet to the nursery for the first couple of nights, and for the first time in six months I had a full night’s sleep – my brain really needed that.”

Catherine’s House was established in Mater’s former convent thanks to $17.6 million in public donations raised by Mater Foundation.

Eight in-patient beds at the centre are available for public patients suffering acute perinatal mental health issues thanks to a funding agreement with Queensland Government.

Since opening in March, 45 new mums have received specialist support in the In-patient Unit.

Mater Young Adult Health Centre Senior Manager Greg McGahan said it was heart-warming to see the impact Catherine’s House had had on new mums and their families since opening.

Forest Lake mum Grace Forbes
Photo Credit: Quinn and Co Photography/Supplied

“One in five new mothers and one in 10 fathers experiences mental health problems in the weeks after their baby’s birth, and many struggle to find help, so we want parents to know we are here to help,” Mr McGahan said.

Seven months on from her stay at Catherine’s House, Mrs Forbes is urging other mums not to deal with their mental health issues alone.

“There are so many people willing and waiting to help you,” she said.

“I felt like a was in a bottom of a deep pit but my experience at Catherine’s House has changed me forever.”

Published 12-Nov-2023