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The North Wall Arts Centre and Oxfordshire Theatre Makers announced today that a new play, developed in partnership with researchers from the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit (NPEU), has won this year’s Propeller programme, and will be staged from 4-6 June 2020 at the North Wall. 

The play, after birth, written by Oxford playwright Zena Forster, is rooted in the testimonies of women who have experienced psychosis after the birth of their babies and uses humour to offer a life-affirming portrait of women’s resilience and survival. It aims to reduce stigma and encourage women to talk as openly about the changes in their minds during and after pregnancy, as they would about changes in their bodies. 

The inspiration for the play came directly from the research evidence and key health messages produced by the MBRRACE-UK investigations into maternal deaths, based at the NPEU. Zena also worked closely with women from national charity Action on Postpartum Psychosis to develop the play, which is directed by Grace Duggan, produced by Emma Dolman, and part-funded by the University of Oxford’s TORCH Theatres Seed Fund.  

Rachel Rowe, Senior Health Services Researcher in the NPEU said, ‘We hope to engage audiences with research evidence about maternal mental health, to raise awareness, reduce stigma, encourage discussion and ultimately improve care and outcomes for women affected by postnatal mental illness.’ She added, ‘The play promotes some key public health messages about postnatal mental health, but importantly it’s also funny and full of hope – it should be a really good night out!’ 

Around 15-20% of women experience a mental health problem around the time of birth. Successive MBRRACE-UK “Saving Lives, Improving Mothers’ Care” reports have highlighted the role that maternal mental illness plays in contributing to maternal death in the first year after childbirth, and suicide remains the leading cause of maternal death between six weeks and one year after giving birth, accounting for one in seven deaths.