Abby Hollick is a producer and presenter. She has worked extensively for BBC Radio 4, producing the Woman’s Hour series ‘Bump, Birth and Beyond’, ‘The Chain’, ‘A Hot Cup of Tea with Hollie McNish’ and ‘Single Parents’, as well as 'Hooked' for Front Row. Her work focuses on the arts, parenting, sex, relationships and mental health. Abby currently hosts and produces the BBC Sounds podcast Duvet Days. She has three sons and lives in London.
Abby and I had our baby boys around the same time early 2018 and we connected immediately over our utter bewilderment at how little postnatal support exists for women. Abby is launching a new podcast Postnatal FAQ and I’m eternally grateful to her for the work she does. Here’s what Abby has to say…
Why did you decide to make the podcast Postnatal FAQ?
After my third son I was lying in the bath feeling so sore and tired and I was desperate for some kind of health professional to tell me everything I was feeling was normal and I was going to be ok. I knew it had to be a professional not my partner or mum! I started thinking that podcasts are such great free therapy and so many people can't afford to see a psychologist or osteopath. I decided to search for a postnatal podcast that would do this exact thing! All I could find was podcasts with celebrities/comedians laughing and joking about how hellish the early weeks are. Sometimes I love those podcasts but I was so not in the mood and did not have a sense of humour at that moment! I realized what a new mother needs in the first few weeks is so specific and I don’t know about anyone else but all I wanted was reassurance, kindness and someone to be really gentle and talk to me about me, not just the baby, but what was going on in my body, in my brain, in my uterus, hormones, breasts? Why is the postnatal phase a total mystery? I wasn't interested in some hokey wellness glossy thing, just some hardcore facts and understanding about what I was going through. I had found the book 'The first forty days' by Heng Ou totally revolutionary and it truly made me slow down and rest after my third birth but why should it take three kids to finally get that we need to stop, slow down and be kind to ourselves in the postnatal period? I realized that I had felt all this twice before after each of my kids but of course time passes and you move on and forget and I wanted to hold onto that feeling and make a podcast for the very beginning, when we can feel in pain, lost and confused.
How did you go about making it?
Well, I work in audio and have produced numerous items/series for BBC Woman’s Hour but obviously magazine programmes can only cover these topics for around 7 minutes and I wanted to go much deeper into the issues postnatal women experience. I started putting up flyers in GP surgeries, Children Centres, schools, maternity wards, facebook etc around London and Kent (where my researcher lives) and asked new mothers 3 simple questions:
How do you feel postnatally?
Do you feel you received enough mental and physical support?
What would have helped you?
I was inundated with responses and I turned them into ‘frequently asked questions’ and decided to call the podcast Postnatal FAQ and put these common questions to experts. The themes included anxiety issues, relationship issues, back ache, insomnia, feeling lost and like you don’t know who you are anymore. I interviewed a psychologist, a CBT therapist, an osteopath, a yoga teacher, a women’s health physio and a Birthrights campaigner and doula. It felt pretty crazy to do this for free on maternity leave but I am not sure I have ever been so passionate about anything, I just knew it had to exist and I forced my husband to make the website and I edited it at super speed like a ninja in half term every night from 7pm when the kids were asleep. I won't be doing that again but I am glad it's out in the world now! Listen here: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/id1464910286 or www.postnatalfaq.com
What did you learn?
That not a single woman feels like they got enough support after the birth! I don't want to be negative because midwives and health visitors do an extraordinary job but everyone is suffering from the cuts and postnatal support has been stripped back. So many of us can feel important and special when carrying the baby and then once it is out and you’ve gone through what is a huge, sometimes traumatic monumental event you can then feel ignored. Also, the experts really highlighted that some of the anxiety, stress and panic in the very early days is so normal, expected and actually the body’s very clever way of protecting the baby and coping with this massive transition. I always feel immediately calmer when someone says ‘this is normal’ – often that’s all it takes to breathe and feel a lot better. For some reason we hear it more when an expert says it not our neighbour or sister or someone on the bus!
What has been the response?
I think there has been a real need for this series as people seem so full of gratitude when they listen and contact me. New mothers are particularly responding to the first episode where the psychologist Julianne Boutaleb talks about matrescence and the brain changes after birth. Also, the interview about the shifting identity and asking for help with Rebecca Schiller has had a great response but to be honest there is something for everyone it depends what issue you're tackling - pelvic health is another big one.
Also I have in no way represented ALL new mothers yet and ALL postnatal issues yet - but that would be the goal! That and to get Meghan Markle and Stacey Solomon to listen and spread the word. You want to kick off the first 3 months with as much love, help, support from everywhere. And podcasts are just so good for 3am feeds or long walks with the buggy and a sleeping newborn.
Will you be making more?
That’s the plan but I am looking for sponsorship or partnering up with a charity or business. I am used to presenting and producing work for the BBC so marketing and brand sponsorship is a new area I need to explore. If anyone has any ideas do get in touch via the website and please tell any new mothers about the pod. We’re also on instagram if you want to hear audio clips. I am currently producing my BBC podcast Duvet Days but there is some crossover as my latest episode is with the children’s poet and author Laura Dockrill who speaks so openly about postpartum psychosis. She describes her brain being on fire and then she pieces it back together and is such a frigging superstar when it comes to raising awareness and being so open about her recovery and CBT therapy (cognitive behavioural therapy) – do check it out on itunes or BBC Sounds.
You can read the rest of the profiles here. If you’d like to nominate someone or yourself to be part of this interview series please tweet me @redjotter. I encourage people who identify as women and people of colour to nominate themselves and I’d love to feature people who aren’t based in London.