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World Mental Health Day: Mums invited to informal chat with counsellor over hot drink and cake

Mothers are invited to a chat over a hot drink and a slice of cake in a Bishop's Stortford café as part of World Mental Health Day on Thursday (October 10).

Compassionate counsellor Nicola Webb will be ready to speak informally to any mums who need to air their worries in a safe space, in South Street coffee shop Penny & Lou.

Run by mother and daughter Penny Rogers and Louise Wickens, they hope their child-friendly café will give mothers with young children a haven; there is a 'kids corner' with plenty of toys and a pop-up tent to keep tots entertained.

Penny & Lou cafe co-owner Louise Wickens and counsellor Nicola Webb (17561528)
Penny & Lou cafe co-owner Louise Wickens and counsellor Nicola Webb (17561528)

Mums who go along and speak to Nicola on Thursday between 9am and 3pm can relax and get advice on ways to deal with anxiety, depression and mum guilt while their little ones play to their hearts' content.

"It's hard to be a mum, it's really hard. I always say it's the best and hardest thing I've ever done," Nicola said.

She lives in Manuden with her film-maker husband Tom and daughter Lucy, who is about to celebrate her third birthday. "She took 12 years to conceive so becoming a mum was quite a big thing for me," Nicola said.

Penny & Lou cafe co-owner Louise Wickens and counsellor Nicola Webb (17561520)
Penny & Lou cafe co-owner Louise Wickens and counsellor Nicola Webb (17561520)

The couple have been together for 17 years and married for 11. The year before their wedding, they started trying for a baby but, for reasons that remain unknown, they struggled to conceive.

They had two rounds of IVF (in vitro fertilisation). Eventually, the couple wound up at the privately-owned Rivers Hospital in Sawbridgeworth, where Nicola underwent a couple of fertility procedures.

The Webbs had almost given up hope, but then Nicola fell pregnant naturally during the first month. She was excited but also had feelings of distress. "During the whole pregnancy, I was so anxious, we couldn't relax. We had a lot of private scans," she said.

At 38, Nicola gave birth to her 'miracle baby', but found that this only added to the weight of expectation. The couple felt that they had to be the perfect parents.

Nicola started experiencing postnatal anxiety and difficulty breastfeeding, but there was not a wealth of support available to her.

While Lucy was still a baby, Nicola was taken to A&E with a panic attack. She was given Diazepam to alleviate the symptoms, but received no help to treat the cause of the problem.

The more she spoke to other mums, she realised she was not alone.

"I realised a lot feel very isolated. They feel if they talk about mental health, their children are going to get taken away," she said.

"Mum guilt is a real problem. They think if they're working they're not doing the right thing, but if they're at home they're not doing the right thing. Mums rarely put themselves first and you feel guilty if you do."

Nicola said that some mothers find it difficult to make friends or to permeate certain cliques.

Her words chimed with café owner Louise, who said: "I've been here [in Stortford] nearly four years and I've struggled to make friends, so having a newborn baby must be really hard in these small towns. People have their friends and networks and it can be really hard to infiltrate that.

"I want to support [Nicola's event] because I think it's a great cause. The issue is close to my heart and I want to support other mums in the community."

Any women who reach out to Nicola for help during her drop-in session on Thursday will be given cards to take away which contain hints and tips on how to practise self-compassion. She will also have her diary in case anyone wants to book a full session, but there is no obligation to do so.

Initially, Nicola did a degree in psychology then worked in publishing while she saved money to fund the next step of her education. After she had counselling of her own, she retrained as a psychotherapist and went on to specialise in CFT: compassion-focused therapy.

She has been counselling privately for seven years and, because she is open about her previous problems with her own mental health – her website homepage cites her struggles with anxiety, depression, infertility problems and compulsive overeating – she is able to offer clients her own experience of recovery.

"My style is pretty informal. Some counsellors can be quite cold, but I've learned from experience," she said.

* To find out more, visit www.compassionatefocusedtherapy.com

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