Lowestoft mother who tried to take her own life thanks the nurse who helped her turn things around

Family nurse Cheryl Hale and Xanthia Woods, with her children Jackson and Xylia. Photo: ECCH

Family nurse Cheryl Hale and Xanthia Woods, with her children Jackson and Xylia. Photo: ECCH - Credit: ECCH

A young mother from Lowestoft who attempted suicide while suffering from postnatal depression has spoken out to thank the family nurse who she said saved her life.

Xanathia Woods took a potentially lethal concoction of drugs and alcohol when she felt at 'rock bottom' and, after surviving the overdose, said it was Cheryl Hale, a family nurse with East Coast Community Healthcare (ECCH), who helped her rebuild her life and realise the joys of motherhood.

Miss Woods was 19 when she fell pregnant and had just started her first job as a fitness instructor. She began to suffer anxiety attacks and was referred to ECCH's family nurse partnership (FNP) service for support by a midwife when she was eight weeks pregnant.

She said: 'I had prenatal and postnatal depression. I was one of the unlucky ones. When the midwife mentioned FNP I said 'sign me up' but at first I put a wall up and I didn't really want to let anyone in. Cheryl was lovely and warm and welcoming. I wasn't very open. I was pleading for her to step in and at the same time pushing her away. Sometimes I wouldn't answer the door but she kept coming round and phoning and wouldn't give up on me.'

ECCH's FNP service is a voluntary home visiting programme for first-time young mums, aged 19 and under. A specially-trained family nurse visits the young mother from early pregnancy until the child is two. They aim to enable young families to have a healthy pregnancy, improve their child's health and development and plan their futures so they can achieve their aspirations and goals.

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After the birth of her son Jackson, whose father has never met him, Miss Woods became increasingly depressed.

One night when Jackson was about five months old she asked her mother to babysit for an evening and attempted suicide.

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She said: 'I didn't feel good enough for him. I tried to go back to work to get on with life but it didn't work. Thankfully, not many people can say that they've been to their rock bottom but I did end up going to rock bottom. I don't really know what I was thinking. Amazingly I woke up. Someone obviously wanted me to stay here and I am so glad.

'Cheryl was quick to pick up on what was going on. She found out so many organisations to help me. She got a family support worker at the local children's centre to help me build my bond with my son. We did video interactive guidance and cognitive behavioural therapy and she got a mental health youth worker at Northgate Hospital to work with me as well. Plus it was just having that support when I was worried whether I was doing things right or wrong caring for Jackson.'

She also got funding for Jackson to go to nursery 15 hours a week to give Miss Woods some time to herself to recover.

Miss Woods added: 'Without Cheryl doing what she did I wouldn't be here and neither would my son. I can say hand on heart that I would be dead. She did save my life and I am eternally grateful to her. It was a long, slow process and a lot of stuff needed to be analysed so I could deal with it better. Mentally I'm fine now. I've been off medication for 18 months and still going strong. There have been hard days but I'm definitely able to deal with them better than I did.'

Miss Woods has since had a daughter Xylia. She is 18 months old and suffers from a heart defect and mitochondrial disease, a chronic illness that can cause debilitating physical and developmental disabilities. She has recently undergone an operation to remove cataracts from her eyes.

Miss Woods said: 'It's hard but all I have to do is look at them and it's all worth it. Having Cheryl while I was going through everything with Jackson has given me the tools to process things and it's helped me to deal with my daughter's conditions now. I love my children very much and wouldn't be without them. They're my world.

'There was a time when I did think of giving my son up for adoption because I thought he'd be better off with someone else but Cheryl ended up dragging me to the doctor and saying 'you're a great mum, don't be silly.' There aren't enough positive words to describe what I feel about the FNP service. I have my whole life to try and say thank you to them. I look at Jackson and I think I am a very, very, lucky, lucky girl.'

Ms Hale has been a family nurse for almost seven years and has supported many young mothers through the birth of their first children and beyond. She said: 'When I first met Xanathia she told me she had nobody else to talk to and that made me feel really moved. It made me feel sad for her situation but privileged to help her. A lot of these young parents feel very judged and isolated and I think the fact that, with the FNP, they've got somebody there for two and a half years to support them helps build up trust in that person and they can open up about things that they would never have talked to other people about.

'Xanathia had had a very traumatic birth, and breastfeeding Jackson didn't go well. But no matter how low she felt, she always managed to prioritise Jackson's and Xylia's needs and to put them before her own. It was a real struggle for her at times but she managed to find a huge determination to pick herself up and move forward. She just needed support to be the best mum she could be to Jackson and I'm delighted that she's coping so well now.'

Miss Woods wants to go back to work in the future. She has childcare and fitness diplomas and wants to combine her skills and the knowledge she has learned from looking after Xylia to organise outdoor activities for children with disabilities. But she said whatever the future holds she says she now knows she will be able to deal with it.

• You can contact ECCH's family nurse partnership service by emailing ECCH.fnp@nhs.net

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