after birth’ opens at London’s Omnibus Theatre and will be featuring as part of the VAULT Festival transfer season from February 22nd to 26th, it will then set off to tour various locations around the country such as Norwich, Graves End, Wolverhampton, and Lyme Regis throughout March.

Written by Zena Forster, and directed by Grace Duggan, the two have worked closely with women who have lived experience of PP to create a sensitive portrayal, with a hint of dark comedy, resulting in an entertaining but informative experience.

Those working with APP had the chance to see ‘after birth’ at the show’s first outing in 2021. Speaking to this initial viewing, Ellie Ware, National Peer Support Coordinator for APP said:

“Zena worked closely with professional experts and women with lived experience to ensure the work was authentic and compelling. And the end result is just that! It’s so important to look beyond traditional forms of awareness-raising – such as media pieces and case studies – and to use the creative arts to engage many more people. We’re delighted that after birth is now enjoying an extended run and taking its important message around the country.”

Representation matters

So often, accurate and nuanced portrayals of mental health conditions that are misunderstood or underrepresented can do vital work to raise awareness, acknowledging this Ellie Ware said:

“Seeing characters brought to life who are going through something you have experienced really does make you feel less alone. And keeping humour and entertainment at its heart introduces audiences who wouldn’t normally seek out information about postpartum psychosis. But you never know when you might just need an awareness relating to your own health, or that of a friend or family member. That’s why this show is invaluable.”

Around 15-20% of women will experience a mental health problem during pregnancy or around the time of birth

The play explores PP through the strange world of central character, Ann, as she navigates through motherhood, mental health and medication. At its inception, ‘after birth’ grew out of a collaboration between Zena Forster and researchers at Oxford University’s National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit (NPEU).

Through this collaboration with NPEU, who have been leading experts in the field for 40 years, ‘after birth’ has been vitally informed by the real lived experiences of women who have dealt with PP. This spotlight, being shone on an area of women’s mental health that many know little to nothing about, is made all the more pertinent by how much the pandemic has both exacerbated and exposed the crisis in maternal mental health.

In many ways, the character of Ann, in ‘after birth’ is a representation of many of these women. Playwright Zena Forster spoke to this fondly, saying:

“At the centre of my play is Ann – razor-witted and indomitable – she’s a reflection of the many resilient, funny women who experienced psychosis after the birth of their babies, and fearlessly shared their stories with me.”

NPEU have consistently produced essential research into perinatal mental health. Recent research indicates that suicide remains the number one cause of maternal death in the first year after giving birth. NPEU have also found that women from ethnically diverse communities are up to five times more likely to die in the first year after giving birth than white women.

Once on tour after it’s initial run in London, ‘after birth’ will also be performed for midwifery students and academics, the creators hope that this will give those who work with women and pregnant people the necessary insight into how PP can manifest and to increase awareness around it.

If you need support, guidance or help with the issues discussed in this article, you can contact Action on Postpartum Psychosis here.