Parents’ experiences of having a child with anorexia – Anna’s story

The mother of a 12-year-old who recently spent three months at Newbridge House for inpatient treatment describes the experience.

The route to diagnosis

It was about June when I noticed my daughter had lost weight. It was difficult to judge what to say and how to intervene because she has always been sporty and a healthy eater, with a tendency towards being a little anxious and obsessive. I remember my mother, who hadn’t seen her for a few months, was shocked by the weight loss, whereas for the parent, it is more gradual as you see your child every day. We were already in contact with my daughter’s school because she was struggling to settle into secondary school. I had a chat with the school nurse and she described her as being “fragile and delicate”. But there wasn’t really any guidance about what to do next.

We went to see the GP, who simply told her to put on weight. The GP was talking about eating full fat everything and I remember seeing the terrified look on my daughter’s face and realising how far things had gone. She promised to try and I believed we could manage as a family, but she went downhill very rapidly after that. At the end of August, our daughter was admitted to our local general hospital. I thought she would be coming home that day, but she ended up spending two weeks there. They were very concerned about her heart rate and her low blood pressure and she was also feeling constantly cold.

The search for treatment

She was in the general hospital for two weeks, which was an incredibly difficult, emotional time, I must have spent the whole time in tears. The staff didn’t know how to work with someone who had anorexia and I had to be with her 24/7 as I was the only one able to help her to eat. We were offered a bed in a NHS unit where young people with anorexia are treated alongside young people with many other psychiatric problems. I felt very strongly that I wanted her to be treated at a specialist eating disorder centre and we live close to Newbridge.

At first, we were told she couldn’t come to Newbridge because another NHS bed had been offered to us. But I then spoke to another person in the commissioning team who agreed an assessment could be carried out. Rachel Matthews, Newbridge’s nurse consultant came out on the August Bank Holiday to do the assessment and two days later, it was confirmed that she could come to Newbridge. It was the best thing I have ever done in my life. I was very pushy – and sadly I think parents often have to be pushy. But my daughter was only 12, still very much a child, and your instinct is very strong about where you want them to be.

Admission and early stages of treatment

The other girls being treated at Newbridge had made my daughter cards to welcome her. She would go on to have such supportive, understanding friendships with the girls at Newbridge, who were going through the same thing. Of course, the early days and first couple of weeks are difficult and there are a lot of tears. Living nearby, I visited every day and also phoned a lot, but was never made to feel like I was being a nuisance.

What worked well? What helped?

My daughter accepted meals and snacks from day one. She has a co-operative personality and gelled with the Newbridge staff very well from the start. From finding her own school quite threatening and difficult, Newbridge became a comfort zone for her, with other young people who understood her and the warmth and care from all the staff. She engaged well in her sessions with the psychologist – she has a logical, scientific mind and so she valued the sessions and found them interesting.

For me, the programme for parents was brilliant. The practical tips were very important, such as how to manage supporting your child with the eating disorder along with the needs of the other sibling and work too. I also found it really helpful the way that Newbridge staff helped and supported the whole family. I became very focused upon supporting my daughter, while members of the wider family found it hard to understand and wondered “why doesn’t she just eat.” On one occasion, when my father came to visit and my daughter didn’t want to see him, the staff were incredibly supportive and enabled him to better understand what was happening from her perspective.

Home leave during treatment

By about the six week stage, my daughter started to have some leave for short trips out and by two months, she was able to come home for an overnight stay. Although she was the youngest girl on the unit, she became a role model for others because she was so co-operative and was getting on really well with her treatment. It was wonderful to see how her confidence grew through her friendships at Newbridge, because she had found it hard to settle in secondary school.

Leaving Newbridge

My daughter spent three months at Newbridge house and came home in early December. We were all very excited knowing she would be home for Christmas but the day she left was very emotional because she had built up such great friendships. Newbridge had been a much needed comfort zone and now she was moving back into the ‘real world’.

Overall reflections

We were very, very fortunate and having pushed for treatment at Newbridge, my daughter has made a strong recovery within six months of starting treatment, having spent three months within inpatient care. I am so grateful for the treatment she received and also for the fact that because the treatment was so effective, she only needed to be an inpatient for three months, as I know it can be much longer.

I would say recovery is a different process for the child and the parent. I am still very watchful. My daughter’s weight is checked every week and she is very accepting of that. It is important for me, because if I find myself worrying that perhaps she isn’t eating at school, I know I have the fact that her weight is remaining stable. I know that my daughter’s personality means she is prone to anxiety and stress and that will always be the case. But I feel that her treatment at Newbridge has given her new skills and a level of maturity to cope with the things that she finds threatening and has really equipped her for what lies ahead in life.

* Names have been changed in order to protect parent and child’s identities.

“I know that my daughter’s personality means she is prone to anxiety and stress and that will always be the case. But I feel that her treatment at Newbridge has given her new skills and a level of maturity to cope with the things that she finds threatening and has really equipped her for what lies ahead in life.” - Anna*