Confessions of a chronically ill mum.

I stood on my mum’s drive yesterday morning, trying to make plans to go for a walk together like we had earlier in the week. As I walked away from her with a ‘provisional’ plan for the following week, I felt sadness, embarrassment and shame. My mum is my best friend. I needn’t feel any of these things in her presence, but the truth is, I feel it in everyone’s presence. Since the beginning of December my physical health has been increasingly hard to manage. I have spent days in bed. My husband has had to take days off from work, and my daughter has said the words ‘when you feel better, mummy’ on repeat. I missed a visit to Santa with her, and I didn’t get to spend Boxing Day with family as was planned. Then on top of that, we all, everyone in our house, caught covid.

I’ve cried in pain holding my son and I’ve listened to his cries when I’ve been physically unable to hold him any longer.

I’ve also had good days. I had friends round and we toasted marshmallows in the garden. I sat through a pantomime with my son on my lap and my daughter by my side. I spent a night in a hotel with my husband. Following those days though, I suffered immensely for the privilege. That’s when life can be really sucky, when your body (and mind) punishes you, just for living. In the last two years I’ve abstained from alcohol. I’ve had one night out since August 2020. I’ve tried to eat better and I’ve tried to get enough sleep (not an easy feat with a baby.)

And I can say with honesty and confidence that I have done my best to partake in activities with my family. I have done my best to limit my symptoms. I’ve done an incredible amount of work on my mental health and I’ve worked through a lot of what was previously, unresolved trauma. I’ve fucking tried. But the thing with your health is, you can do everything right and still be unwell. You can do everything in your power to manage your illnesses and still suffer flare ups. You can get eight hours sleep and still be bone weary fatigued as though someone has poured cement into your bones.

I’m writing this because it’s true. Not for sympathy, though I’ll be honest, more empathy is always welcome. I don’t gain anything from sharing my illness and it’s trials. It doesn’t serve me personally, but occasionally I’m told it helps other people. I’ve said before, but sympathy is in short supply when people realise your condition is long term but not life threatening. Not life threatening no, but it IS life limiting in some way, every single day.

I feel often as if managing my health is a full time job. Being a parent is a full time job. I have no time for my actual job, and no energy left for anything fun. For six months I have had medical appointments every week, often twice a week. I’ve been unable to walk, and then I’ve been able to walk, followed by days unable again.

I often write about holding onto the good days and I stand by that, but it does get tiresome when you feel like you’re always being punished for them. I’m not even talking always good days, sometimes it’s good hours followed by a migraine, or a surge of otherworldly fatigue so achingly exhausting that there’s nothing left to do but take to your bed. The trouble with taking to your bed when you have kids is, you rarely get the opportunity to do such a thing, and secondly, but probably more notably, you miss things.

My confession is, sometimes I find the responsibility of my illness on top of the responsibility of my kids so overwhelming I pray for oblivion. Sometimes I find time with my kids assaulting to my senses. And sometimes I feel so guilty for their plight having me as their mother that I wonder if they are better off without me. 

Thankfully, and going back to all of the ‘work’ I’ve done on my mental health this past year, I know this isn’t true. I know they love me including my flaws, health problems and weaknesses, not in spite of.

I guess the narrative for this blog was to get these feelings off my chest, and also remind myself that (and I’m sure I’ve used this quote before) but….

Bad days do not equal a bad life

It’s hard being a mum regardless of health, wealth or any of the other things that make life easier. Perinatal depression and anxiety do not discriminate, chronic illness, illnesses of any kind actually, do not discriminate. The world is a tough place to parent, and knowing this doesn’t make it easier, but it does remind me I’m not alone.

Sending love to anyone else feeling like they’re on their knees. Know this, better days are always coming.

Another new year

Last year I wrote a post titled Unhappy New Year and in short it was about what a shit show 2020 had been for us all. At the end of the blog I gave myself some small resolutions, to be less judgemental and apply less blame, find the positives etc. It wasn’t until I read back over the post that I realised I have achieved most of them. I think my mindset is definitely different these days. Whilst I won’t pretend I’m Lady Optimistic I am more optimistic than the me of previous years. I’m also, so much more self aware. Aware in general. I have therapy to thank for most of these changes.

The first half of 2021 was awful for us. Worse than 2020, tenfold. With me being in a wheelchair, trying to homeschool and work from home, a baby on the way that I wasn’t managing to care for as I’d hoped, gestational diabetes along with other complications made me so unwell. It all felt as though I was on a rapid decline. As Kaiser’s due date neared, my mental health worsened. Most of you know what happened next, but in case you don’t, I was hospitalised and my labour induced after psychiatric evaluation. It was decided that for the sake of my mental health and the health of our baby, he needed to be born.

I’m six months postpartum now and on my road to recovery of perinatal mental illness. I’m working hard to regain my mobility, manage my chronic illnesses, care for a newborn, and five year old, keep house and balance my hormones, oh and avoid covid, there have been many, many, bumps.

However, I believe despite the awful ordeals we have faced, the fact everyone in the house contracted covid over Christmas resulting in a real scare with Kaiser (currently all still positive and feeling really quite bad) as well as living with perpetual lack of sleep, we’ve smashed 2021. As a family we have worked harder than ever, there are broken pieces where we were once whole, and there have been rivers cried too. Our marriage has taken a hit, and parenting two children instead of one has been a huge change for us. But, having weekly therapy, finding a decent medication combination, owning my shit, being brave, digging deep, along with all that mindful bollocks previously discarded as useless information I’ll never need has been put to great, life changing use.

I don’t believe I made it through 2021 on luck or a wing and a prayer. No, I made it through this year with sheer determination, love, and hard mental graft.

Two days ago I was back in the hospital I birthed Kaiser in. I’ve been there only once since I had him, and that was recently to find out I had a tumour (benign) in my left breast. During that appointment I had my mum holding my hand. The second time was two nights ago, alone, with a baby who’d just tested positive for covid along with a husband at home who’d also tested positive so couldn’t be there to support me and our son.

I sat in the hospital room and cried alone, whilst the nurse told me my baby would need oxygen. I cried again when his levels were back up and we were told we could go home.

I’m still suffering anxiety six months postnatal, but most of the time it’s in response to ‘normal’ anxiety provoking situations, like hospitals and poor health. The rest of the time I’m using the tools it’s taken me six months to master, to manage it. I’m trying to show myself compassion and I’m working really fucking hard on gratitude too.

As I write this late at night after finally getting my kids to sleep, oscillating between shivering and sweating buckets with a fever. I decided to think about whether I have any resolutions for 2022, and the truth is I do, but my main and most important one is, I plan to continue to heal. For myself, and for my family. My kids deserve a mum who isn’t falling apart at the seams, and I deserve the love and care I so readily give to others.

If I could give my readers any advice for the new year, it would be that you treat yourself with more kindness.

Ok so I’ll throw in a few more for good measure… here goes

  • Love the people who treat you well
  • Have empathy for the ones that don’t (unless they’re just c*nts, then fuck them) but try the empathy first. It might surprise you.
  • Stay in your own lane. Comparison is the thief of joy.
  • Tell people you love them, tell them often.
  • Stay in the present, if it’s not happening right now, it’s not happening.
  • Get more fresh air.
  • You don’t need permission to rest.
  • Don’t look back, unless it’s to see how far you’ve come.
HAPPY NEW YEAR FROM ME AND MINE TO YOU AND YOURS XOXO

Is Elf On The Shelf making you feel like a crap mother?

Apparently, according to the world of social media, the answer for some is yes. But I’m gonna call bullshit on this one and say it’s likely not the elf but the comparison to other mums that’s making you feel inadequate.

Let me explain…. As someone who uses Instagram to share family life, and who chooses to celebrate and share both successes and failures, I am very aware of how seeing things online can impact your mental health.

There are a whole host of topics that could or should be banned from social media. Topics that in my opinion elicit trauma, and if it was up to me I would choose not to read or see the things that trigger me.

Oh wait, for the most part is IS up to me.

I am able to mute, unfollow, ask not to see this again, in order to clean up my news feed.

Hence why I find it just a little bit unnecessary when someone has a rant about how Elf on the Shelf is making mothers (them) feel inadequate.

People who have tidy houses, are hugely successful and look like supermodels make me feel inadequate, but it would take me one hundred years, most likely bitter years, to successfully call out all of these people on their pretentiousness, but why would I want to?

Don’t get me wrong, as a disabled mother on a low income, I know what it’s like to be hard up. I’ve experienced trauma and I know what it’s like to struggle with your mental health. We all have triggers. All of us. But we also need to take stock and stop blaming others for triggering us.

The mum posting her child’s toy elf prancing around on a plastic dinosaur is not doing so to make you feel inadequate.

Realistically, she is probably doing it to make herself feel better, a silent high five to having remembered that Fergus-Frosty-Pants the elf needed to move his matchstick body, to another part of the house after her kids were tucked up in bed.

Similarly, the mum who takes pride in her home and posts pictures of it, is not doing so to make you feel inadequate. She’s sharing something she’s proud of.

I’m not a big fan of sharing hauls, or how many presents my kids get, mainly because I’ve always been brought up not to place too much value on material things, but you know what? If I could afford to do all the things with my kids that I’d like, if I could afford to shower them with gifts that fill rooms, I probably would. Of course we need to educate our children not to place value on how much they receive, I had a conversation just yesterday with my daughter about being grateful for all that she has as opposed to being sad about the things she doesn’t. It started when she sulked walking back from the shop because they didn’t have the Christmas tree biscuits we usually buy to decorate this time of year. We had a good chat about all the lovely things we’ve done and the crafts we’ve made in the run up to Christmas and that sulking about not being able to decorate some chewy gingerbread, kind of pales into insignificance if we compare. We talked about how there will inevitably always be things we want that we can’t have. Things others have that may make us jealous or resentful, but this is part of life. It’s literally something we all, even us as adults (clearly) will experience often. Comparison is the thief of joy and if we focus on what everyone else is doing and allow it to make us feel shit about ourselves, we lose sight of all the great things we have and if I’ve learned anything in the last year (and I like to think I’ve learned a whole lot) it’s that gratitude is not only a healthier way to eradicate the feelings of inadequacy that comes with comparison, it also helps us to feel better about what we have.

I see posts all the time saying ‘it’s ok if you don’t have XYZ this Christmas’ and of course it is, but I’m nonplussed as to when anybody suggested it wasn’t.

I myself am guilty of previously following trends, especially with the kids. Always wanting to make sure my daughter has a birthday party as great those of her peers. Don’t forget the photo ops, balloon arches and all that. However, I’ve learned that actually she’s happy if there is food and dancing, and she doesn’t really give a shit if she has 100 balloons positioned into a giant rainbow at five years old. I’ll add as well that all of these things are available in DIY and don’t cost the earth if you’re prepared to graft yourself.

We’re all human, trying our best, wanting the best for our kids, and it’s hard enough to avoid the never ending guilt that is placed on us as mothers, without turning on each other for moving around a felt elf, two weeks a year.

Just do you. XOXO

All I want for Christmas, is you.

What a year. I can’t believe that just six months ago I felt as though my world had imploded without any real warning. I woke up one day and didn’t feel like me anymore. I was afraid for my sanity, for my mobility, for my family and our future.
I couldn’t see past six hours without having a panic attack let alone six months.
I led in my bed, day in day out for 7 months, unable to walk.
As my son’s due date approached my mental health declined.
I felt consumed by all consuming, claustrophobic, fear. Wracked with perinatal anxiety.
I was broken.
I guess that’s why they call it a breakdown.
But here we are now, a family of four, surviving interminable routine and carnage, poor health and therapy, work and parenthood simultaneously.
Loving each other through it all.
It’s not been easy, it’s been hard getting here, ridiculously fucking hard in fact, but it has paid dividends to keep going.

I’ve got everything I need this Christmas. Genuinely. I feel so content with my family. When I say this I mean content as in they are enough, not content as in getting loads of sleep or life being perfect, unfortunately! Ha! I know how blessed I am, I’ve always known it, but I really feel it this year. After everything we’ve been through I have a desire to keep them close and let them know how much I love them. The only thing I want for the big day is more of that contentment (as well as good health & freedom for all, world peace too, but I’ll refrain from getting too ambitious.)

I am not the same old me I was last Christmas. Granted, I’m still a stressy, messy, bitch with a foul mouth who is always exhausted…. but I am also different. I’m softer round the edges. More vulnerable I guess, if that’s possible, but stronger too. I believe that what doesn’t kill us can leave us with a lot of unhealthy coping mechanisms, and I by no means, have ditched all mine. I haven’t turned into a preacher or someone who promotes their new lifestyle as some big epiphany, desperate for people to follow. But I am interested in change, in finding fun and contentment in new places. That makes me further away from those unhealthy coping mechanisms than I once was and I’m proud of that. I suppose what I’m trying to say is, I’m more open to learning better ways to survive and enjoy the mundane in the everyday.

I’m less inclined to sweat the small stuff whilst simultaneously being more interested in the big stuff.
My tolerance for a lot of things is greater, but less for small talk. I’ve always struggled with chatting aimlessly about the weather and the like, I’m too nosy, too inquisitive, I want to meet people and know them, not skirt around edges with hollow pleasantries. Similarly I’d rather be quizzed on my life than have it glossed over, skipped or ignored. I’m over hanging on to dead end relationships and chasing things that don’t bring me joy. Whether that be friendships that are more effort than fulfilment, or doing things I don’t enjoy anymore, for example forcing myself to be somewhere I don’t want to be. This year I have no desire for big boozy nights feigning Christmas cheer. I mean obviously the pandemic has some impact on those kinda outings, but I honestly think even without the plague, I’d still just want to be snuggled up close with my nearest and dearest.

Transitioning from one child to two has been a lot. I’m already anxious about how I’m going to cope with a baby that hates sleep whilst I’m trying to eat my turkey dinner. However, I’m ok with those kind of anxieties, they’re normal, they make me feel normal, whatever ‘normal’ is.
The biggest change of all for us this year is of course the fact we have an extra person round the tree to love. And love him we do. ❤️🎄

Subtle break-throughs

If you suffer from anxiety, or the feeling of impending doom and inexplicable terror that comes with panic attacks, the debilitating calamity that is intrusive thoughts, the unrelenting personality shift before your menstrual cycle because of PMDD? I hear you. I see you. I am you.

If you suffer from one or all of the mental illnesses mentioned above, you will know that logic is about as far away from fear as is possible. You may as well fly a rocket to Mars and you’d be no closer to logical thoughts during a panic attack. I’ve been having therapy for five months. The single longest stint I’ve ever managed to stick at anything relating to my mental health that doesn’t come in a blister pack. Full disclosure I take the pills too, I need them, but therapy is a different level of healing. It’s eye opening, confronting and real hard graft.

During these five months I have had breakdowns, many breakdowns. I have also experienced breakthroughs. These tend to be subtler, less outwardly monumental, but I can tell you from experience they are transcendent and quite awe-inspiring when you become aware of them.

I’m going to give you an example of one of my recent breakthroughs.

I am currently waiting for several hospital appointments, one of them may end up being quite life defining so it’s pretty important. With anything of importance for me, almost always comes anxiety. Throw in a self diagnosed terminal illness via Dr Google and we’re talking full blown life limiting panic attacks. But, not this time. I got my appointment letter a few days after the referral was made, though supposed to be seen within two weeks the NHS backlog means the clinic are running two weeks behind. Where as this kind of delay would usually lead to more panic, endless overthinking and probable sleepless nights, something has shifted in me and I feel different.

My logical brain has always known that there is little point in worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet, but regardless of my knowledge I have never been able to stop myself from said worry.

Worrying about tomorrow, steals today’s joy.

After going through what I have in the last five months, being scared of my own brain and constantly coming up against new challenges in trying to change the way I think, I decided right at the beginning of my recovery that I no longer wanted to live in fear. Of course simply not wanting something isn’t usually enough to stop it from happening. But with subtle changes and a keen desire to get better, engaging and working hard during therapy sessions and opening up fully to my mental health team, I have noticed a shift. I still feel anxiety around the appointment of course, but anxiety itself is a normal healthy human response. It only becomes problematic when it interferes with our everyday lives. And in this instance, relating to this appointment….I’m so happy to say it’s not doing that.

I don’t want to waste time worrying about an outcome that I cannot predict or influence. I don’t want to fear the worst only to find out when the time comes that it’s not the worst, then look back regretfully that I had wasted precious moments living in fear.

What if it isn’t a tiger in the long grass? What if it’s just a fluffy little kitten?

I won’t bullshit you, I know I’m not always going to be able to rationalise in this way. So many factors contribute to my own personal experience with anxiety and panic, that there will inevitably be times when I falter, and times when I fall. But what I’m doing right now, today, is I’m saying no to worrying about things that aren’t within my control. Isn’t anxiety itself a deep rooted need to control our fears and possible catastrophes?

How did I get here?

  • I took on board the offerings of tips my therapist suggested, such as grounding and breathing techniques and practised them even when I didn’t believe in them.
  • I reminded myself that if there’s a possibility that my world might fall apart, there’s also a possibility, it won’t.
  • I take prescribed medication religiously and stick with it for the recommended amount of time.
  • I’m trying, I say trying because I don’t always succeed, to implement healthier lifestyle changes, such as getting more exercise and eating healthier.
  • I write my feelings. It’s a personal favourite in helping me to process them.
  • I try to stay more in the present moment.
  • I have an amazing mental health team that I talk to regularly, even when I don’t think I have anything to say.

I know these things aren’t easy to do, I know this because it’s taken me twenty years to even begin to start really healing. But along with the above list, I also believe that celebrating small wins is a great way to remind ourselves that even when we are not where we want to be, we are further forward than we once were.

Me this week on a particularly bad day. Reminding myself it’s just a bad day not a bad life.
Also me this week on a better day

Intrusive thoughts during the perinatal period

Some people when they hear the words intrusive thoughts automatically assume that the person experiencing said thoughts is hearing voices. Some people think OCD and others believe intrusive thoughts to be a sign that a person is bad and will act on their thoughts.

With the exception of possible OCD, none of the above tend to be true.

So what are intrusive thoughts?

Intrusive thoughts are unwanted and or distressing thoughts that are often reoccurring. They are likely to leave the thinker very upset, distressed, disgusted, confused and ashamed.

It is thought that 1 in 5 women and mothers will suffer perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, and 57% of those will have experienced intrusive thoughts. Mental health professionals are not entirely sure why more women in the perinatal period experience intrusive thoughts, but it’s believed to be related to a variety of hormonal, environmental, and emotional factors. That said it’s a common symptom of PMADS. Typically, the thoughts that occur in the PP (perinatal period) are fears that surround our children, ‘What if I harm the baby?’ But the thoughts don’t always stop at physical harm and can relate to sexual fears too.

To be clear before you read on, suffering from intrusive thoughts is NOT a reflection on a person’s character, desires or beliefs. The thoughts themselves go against all of our beliefs and natural instincts as mothers and do not align with our values hence the very word for them being ‘intrusive.’ We don’t want these thoughts, we can’t bear them and it’s the very reason we are left feeling as though they are ruining our life.

During pregnancy with my second child I became overwhelmed with intrusive thoughts, some of them too weird and harrowing for me to share —though in some ways I wish I felt I could share them all, then maybe they wouldn’t consume my brain— It got so bad that at just shy of 38 weeks I was hospitalised and my labour was induced, whilst I was medicated for my mental health.

After my son was born and I was again assessed by a psychiatrist, she told me thoughts that are harmful or as mentioned sexual in nature are the most common type of intrusive thoughts during the perinatal period. I asked her why this was, and she gave me a fantastic analogy.

You have this tiny human to care for. It’s your most important job, above any other. The thoughts that you are having are in direct conflict with your own anxieties about what could happen to your child. The thoughts are the very things you want less than anything in the world to happen.

But how do you know I’m not just a psychopath? I asked.

‘Because psychopaths don’t phone me up hysterical about upsetting thoughts, Steph. That’s how I know you pose absolutely no risk to your children.’

At this stage I felt so out of my mind I didn’t know if I posed a risk to my children. I felt like I couldn’t think straight. But Dr Pysch was adamant about this, and though it didn’t ease the thoughts initially it helped me to understand I wasn’t alone and other women and new mothers went through this too. She then went on to say (I feel like this is a big one…) the only person you pose a risk to, is yourself with your judgement about the thoughts.

I found that particular line about judgement really interesting because I realised quite quickly that it WAS the judgement that was keeping me in a cycle of constant fight or flight.

I was overthinking every single thought and if I dared speak out about my thoughts, rather than feel better all I did was worry about other people’s judgement instead. That was until I met the most wonderful community psychiatric nurse. For the purpose of this blog I’m going to refer to him as Neo (He will appreciate the reference.) Neo has changed the way I think about intrusive thoughts, but more importantly the way I feel toward opening up about them.

Maternal OCD is a mental illness that affects women in the perinatal period and includes intrusive and obsessive thoughts followed by compulsions completed in order to relieve some of the discomfort from the thought. Ironically for me, my most intrusive thoughts were about convincing myself I had, or was going to develop severe mental illness (the irony isn’t lost on me) I first believed I was developing psychosis and felt disassociated often, then I believed I was suffering from severe OCD despite not having any compulsions.

When I discussed this with Neo he went through a protocol of having me fill out an OCD assessment and we discovered that yes I have obsessive and at times disturbing thoughts, but I don’t have the compulsions in the same way a person with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder might. So why did I feel as though talking about my fears meant I was constantly reassurance seeking?

The truth was there may have been an element to seeking reassurance, but for the most part I was doing what I needed to do, engaging in therapy and discussing my fears.

Once I finally opened up and said aloud that one of my biggest fears was I didn’t want to be alone with my baby because I was terrified I would have a psychotic break and murder him whilst he slept, I was not only able to then unpack this thought and see it with clarity for what it was, just a thought. But I also learned that I’m not alone, not even a little bit.

The mind plays tricks on all of us occasionally and thoughts are the perfect segue into us believing we are not good people and therefore convincing us we’re unworthy of the love we so desperately NEED to give ourselves particularly in the early stages postpartum.

If we all talked about our deepest darkest thoughts we might be less bothered by them, but there is so much assumption and stigma attached to thoughts. People believe that if you think something you must feel it. With intrusive thoughts it’s the exact opposite.

The vulnerability of a woman who has just been through childbirth is like no other time in her life, the fear that we feel is immense. I know I personally believed if I told the truth about my thoughts immediately postpartum that my children would be taken away and I would have been sectioned.

You don’t have to open up about every thought in order to dismantle their hold on you though, you can put in to practise strategies and use them for all thoughts that cause you distress.

Neo recommended a book for me to read during the early stages of recovery and it’s called The Happiness Trap and is written by Australian doctor, Russ Harris.

In the pages of the happiness trap Harris provides tools to defuse yourself from negative thoughts and the book itself centres very much on acceptance. It took me a while to come round to the idea that I would ever accept distressing thoughts, but the idea is not to engage with them, just to accept them for what they are, random mental events and words. I won’t say I’m cured, because that would be a lie, but I’m working towards how to better manage intrusive thoughts and not allow them to take over my life.

Dr Russ Harris The Happiness Trap

If you’re suffering from intrusive thoughts in the perinatal period I would urge you to talk to your doctor. I know it’s hard, you may be feeling judged and terrified, but I promise you the road to recovery starts when you learn that you are not alone with these thoughts.

Other organisations that can provide help during the perinatal period are:

Included at the bottom of this page is a link to ‘Buy Me A Coffee’ (or book, in my case) please don’t be put off by this! 
Currently, Divamum makes no money, and whilst I love writing, in order to keep growing I have decided to accept donations.
Just to clarify you are in no way obligated to make a donation and at no point will this become mandatory, it’s just there as an optional extra for anyone who would like to and all information is available via the link.

https://www.buymeacoffee.com/Divamumsteph

Mothership Writers Workshop Review

I first heard about Mothership Writers when my daughter was around three years old. I’d been writing my blog for some time and was looking for inspiration as well as guidance in the form of a writing workshop. Mothership (unfortunately for me back then) caters to new mums with babies two and under, so I had initially missed the boat. However, I kept in touch with Emylia Hall, founder and novelist via Instagram and when I found out I was pregnant with my second baby I immediately sent her an email asking to be on the list for updates on the next available course. I joined Mothership Writers when my son was ten weeks old and I’ve just recently completed the eighth and final workshop.

What is Mothership Writers?

Essentially, it’s a creative writing course that walks the attendee through various writing styles, but in reality it’s so much more than that. Mothership caters to women in the early stages of motherhood creating a sense of solidarity and openness you can’t find in your standard baby group, or indeed creative writing course.

Emylia’s teaching style is encouraging and heartfelt, she creates a safe space for mums to pour over their experiences with words, evoking powerful emotions and allowing the attendee to experience a full and wholesome sense of catharsis. The course is made up of eight hour long sessions and a whole host of information you can’t get from simply Googling ‘how to be a good writer’…. Emylia instils a sense of pride and ownership in us mums during each workshop and it’s obvious from the very first session she’s fully invested in our individual stories and writing success.

During lockdown 2020 Emylia curated the book Born In Lockdown a fantastic collaboration of fragments from over 250 authors, all of which are women who experienced pregnancy or became new mothers during the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. The book is free to download with donations accepted for SANDS the leading stillborn and neonatal death charity.

All graphics and illustrations by Esther Curtis

Course layout

The hour long weekly workshops take place over zoom and are always initiated with a head emptying exercise AKA brain dump. An exercise which I have found so useful that I’ve continued to do it outside of the workshops. The session is then broken down into writing exercises and group discussion, always starting and ending with an influential poem. Some of the best poems I’ve ever heard have been introduced to me during a Mothership session!

Though the course is designed for mothers, writing craft is very much in focus during the workshops and Emylia delves into writing styles, including character creation and story structure. The hour always flew by, but I always came away feeling like I’d got loads of writing done and the sense of achievement coupled with inspiration after a session is great soul food.

The really great thing, (or rather one of them) about Mothership Writers is, you don’t need to have ever written before to benefit from the course. It’s designed for all writing abilities and I feel that anyone, with or without writing experience will benefit from the course and Emylia’s kindness and knowledge.

The level of insight Emylia gives regarding the various ways in which there are to write both creatively and expressively, is a true testament to her own writing success.

Emylia Hall, founder of Mothership Writers and Author of The Richard & Judy Bestseller, The Book Of Summers.

My Personal Experience

After being admitted to hospital at the end of my second pregnancy because of a rapid and terrifying decline in my mental well-being, I had zero desire to write. I’m a person that usually writes in order to ‘hear myself think’ and writing has many a time been a form of therapy for me, during pregnancy I often documented my honest, but not always positive, experiences. Once my son was born though, the intrusive thoughts I was experiencing felt too raw and too heinous to get on the page and I just didn’t have it in me to write, about anything. Mothership Writers gave me both inspiration and clarity over my thoughts. Listening to other mums express in their own words their personal experiences helped me to open up, it also gave me inspiration to write about the positives. It helped me articulate and put into words the tiny nuggets of joy that occur daily in motherhood. The joys that are so often overshadowed by our darkest times in the early stages of parenting. I am so humbled and grateful I was able to attend a Mothership Writers course during my recovery from perinatal mental illness, because I genuinely believe the course itself to have been a powerful recovery aid for me. I loved it so much, I’m deeply sad that it’s over, but I know I’ll stay in touch with Emylia and the Mothership crew via social media.

VerdictCannot recommend the course enough, for all mothers keen to explore their creativity through writing!

Image of my dog Frank and Son Kaiser during a Mothership session!
  • For more information on Emylia and her latest writing projects follow her author page Emylia Hall IG

104 days postpartum

It’s funny how days are marked by our worst memories and our great ones, are often lost in mind with no clearly accessible date and time attached to them.

At 5am on the 11th October I woke up, eyes barely even open before I was thrust deep into a panic attack. My body wracked by the sensations, my mind reeling from the racing thoughts. To say I was devastated is an understatement, this is the first acute anxiety attack I’ve had in just under three weeks. Three weeks isn’t very long to most people, but it felt joyous to be able to think clearly for a while without the feeling of dread hanging over me. Without ruminating and catastrophizing. Without the pain in my teeth from my clenched jaw. Without the fatigue that hits you after yet another night of insomnia. Sleep when the baby sleeps… haha, if only.

What I’ve noticed though, in the fifty something days since I last updated my postpartum progress, is how hard I’ve tried to implement grounding techniques. How dedicated I have been to my recovery. I started a new contraception eight weeks ago to try and eliminate my periods, ergo reducing symptoms of PMDD. I’ve been on similar contraceptives in the past for the same reason. In this instance I have bled non stop for eight weeks. I am so run down I have ulcers in my mouth and reoccurring shingles pain, requiring more medication to combat. Around the same time I started the new contraception, I also switched my migraine medication for a slow release version and this has helped immensely with preventing attacks.

My son is now fifteen weeks old, he can hold a toy in his hand, chatter and laugh. but he rarely sleeps. His charming little face is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen, that is when it’s not screwed up like a tomato that’s past it’s safe to eat stage, wrinkly in places and as red as hell.

In the last one hundred and four days I have felt every emotion to ever exist. My days are now spent trying to wrestle a screaming baby into a car seat I’m unable to lift, and reading books about Biff and Chip with the big kid. I don’t get any opportunity to rest, which is hard when you have an illness that requires it. I’m mortified to admit some weeks it takes me three attempts before I manage a shower, and even then it’s hurried.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I find it much easier to remember all of the hard bits, the downs, the panic and the tears and I’m very good at choosing to ignore the successes. Deeming them unworthy in their minutiae. Such as; getting the baby down for a nap on the first attempt. Watching his sister cuddle up to him or gently bounce him in his bouncer with her foot, whilst idly watching yet another episode of Bluey. The beauty in the pumpkin patch photoshoot we’d had recently, a windy autumn day surrounded by orange and forest green, the memory of the rain pelting down on our clothes afterwards, and rushing home to drink hot chocolate.

Watching my son grow, though hard, has not been wholly clouded by my poor health. It’s been beautiful in so many ways, and I’ve enjoyed very much time spent with him. I can feel my confidence as a mother returning somewhat. I have my first night out coming up and I’m anxious. When my daughter was a baby I couldn’t wait to get out, feeling more than ever that I needed to let off steam. Now the only steam I’m interested in, is the steam coming from a freshly boiled kettle and the piping hot tea that comes after the boil.

My pelvis hasn’t healed, I am still struggling with walking as with any physical activity. Unfortunately, it does seem this is likely to be yet another long term problem, but we knew that was a possibility.

I use the word progress to explain how far I’ve come and it’s the reason I’m utterly disappointed when I come up against relapses like that earlier panic attack. Im devastated when Im unable to rationalise my intrusive thoughts. Yet in spite of relapses, hard days, long nights and tragically cold cups of PG tips, I’m grateful. Grateful for the support I’ve received from an amazing perinatal mental health team, from my family, and from those few close friends who selflessly and with conviction, care enough to remind me I’m doing ok.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and there are many people whom have contributed to my progress. Thank you. And here’s hoping for another 100 days of progress to follow.

Please look but do not touch

Please look but do not touch…. Little me thanks you very much.

Late 2016 when my first born baby was not yet six months old, I had an altercation in Tesco with an older lady who, whilst my back was turned for a millisecond, approached my baby and started holding her hand. Pumping her little arm up and down, the lady in question was deeply offended when I asked her not to touch my baby.

Yes you read that right, she was offended.

She looked at me as though I had grown a second head, and shook her own in disbelief.

So why didn’t I want a stranger in the supermarket making hands at my vulnerable little girl? Well, in case it’s unclear the answer is in the question; babies are vulnerable. Our daughter was in NICU for ten days following her birth. She spent some of that time fighting to breathe on her own, this made her even more vulnerable than the average healthy baby, but the truth is ALL babies are vulnerable. Their immune systems are too immature to cope with exposure to certain viruses and germs. Germs that are passed onto them via other humans.

Fast forward 5 years and I’m having the same altercation, except this time, I’m sat having a meal with my family in a country pub. We are all engrossed in conversation, chewing mouthfuls in-between chatter, my son tucked up, snoozing in his carry cot next to the table. A snooze shade lazily thrown over the hood, covering part of his face, when along comes another lady, this time of unidentifiable age, she comes over and lifts the shade on his buggy. Instantly, I pull the pram back.

‘Oh what a beautiful baby’ she says, smiling as if approaching a stranger’s baby and rearranging their sleep space is completely normal.

I should note I’m early in my recovery from acute perinatal panic disorder and invasion of my personal space is indeed a trigger for me. However, that’s not the reason I snatched the buggy away and scowled at the strange woman infiltrating my child’s safe place. The reason, is because it’s unnecessary. It’s intrusive and honestly, I feel strongly about the fact it’s just inappropriate. This one looked at me as if I hadn’t just pulled my child away from her, and proceeded to ask me (whilst I’m in the middle of chewing a mouthful of calamari) ‘Is it, a boy or girl?’ At this point I asked her to step back, offering an explanation that since covid we preferred for strangers not to get too close. The truth is though, it has nothing to do with covid, well maybe a little, but definitely not entirely. The truth is, I don’t want to have to offer an explanation at all as to why I don’t want strangers touching my child. I don’t want the discomfort of having to worry I’m offending someone who’s all up in my kid’s grill. With the new guidelines that masks are no longer mandatory, this woman was freely breathing all over my child and I was trying to enjoy my quickly cooling food.

After realising my distaste for this kind of behaviour with our daughter, our son even has a tag on his pram – the words in bold white lettering

‘Please look, but do not touch, little me thanks you very much.’

Kaiser’s face when someone invades his personal space

I must say that I adore these tags, I love that they are a polite but clear message and usually they are enough of a deterrent, people have a little peek and move on, respecting the tag and it’s meaning. Unfortunately, it doesn’t deter the people that don’t bother to read them.

I love showing off my children, they are after all my biggest and proudest achievement. That said, maybe it’s because I’m not naturally drawn to other people’s kids myself that I find this particular act of feigning adoration and ogling, so…obtuse! I can honestly say I’ve never felt a need to sidle up to a pushchair and stick my face in to have a good gander at it’s occupant. Nor do I feel so inclined to question the parent on the baby’s gender, it amazes me that people still do this. There’s a lot more pressing things going on in the world I’m sure, but germ spreading, I think we can all agree, is a very real concern nowadays and a little more reservation and brushing up on your spatial awareness can go a long way with a baby’s parent.

Sure, comment how beautiful their baby is, everyone wants to hear that (though don’t interrupt their dinner to tell them) but be mindful that some of us are struggling mentally, some of us are struggling with our own physical health and at risk for infection, some of our babies are particularly vulnerable to germs, and all of us and our children, deserve courtesy and respect. If you wouldn’t go up to a beautiful adult and grab their hand (without asking) and tell them how cute they look, if you wouldn’t do this without feeling as if you’re imposing on their dinner, or invading their space – don’t assume it’s any different for their babies. Please.

Tags available to purchase at JillyTotsUk

Reasons not to have a second kid….

Huffing spectacularly in a bid for attention, my five year old turns up the volume on whichever device she’s glued to, whilst readjusting her headphones. Meanwhile the baby, who has just turned two months old, screams as though someone is pouring boiling water on his fluffy brown head (I can confirm this was definitely not the scene.) So shrill are his screams, I can still hear them even when he eventually falls silent, an eternal imprint in my echoic memory.

It’s funny really, because I remember so vividly his sister making the same sounds. The torturous cries of an inconsolable infant, a sure fire way to make you feel as though you are royally failing in the parenting game.

When my husband waltzes in from his 9-5 with a smile on his face ready to greet the family, I am already in tears. A red faced baby thrusts violently in my arms and the five year old looks as though she’s about to pack her shit and leave home. He takes the baby from me whilst the other one needs her tea cooking. Another drawback of levelling the numbers, is you get one kid each to look after. When you only have one to pass between you, the minutes in which the other parent takes over feel like a luxury spa treatment.

Your attention will constantly feel as though it’s paying mind to the wrong child at the wrong time. Because how can you know who needs you more when they both need you for differing reasons at the same time? One needs a hand because she got her head stuck in between the sofa and the wall, and the other has been waiting 30 seconds for their milk and their wails let you know…. It’s 30 seconds too long.

What’s that saying ‘If my first baby behaved like this, I’d never have another one’ I clearly didn’t get that memo. There’s also a saying which promises you never get two children the same, I cough when I hear this one now, but whilst pregnant with my second I prayed to god it was true. Turns out, the joke is on me.

Even the most stoic of mothers (that’s not me by the way) struggle at some point, but if your little gremlin has some digestive issues, colic & reflux mama’s I know you feel my pain. Not even touching on if you yourself are struggling, my chronic illness & relentless anxiety make this mountain a hard slog, that sometimes feels so overwhelming you wonder if you’re actually losing your mind.

So if you’ve read this far, you’ve probably been wondering who the hell writes this stuff and what kind of message am I sending? Where’s my positive outlook? My gratitude, for two healthy children? And you’ll be pleased to know it’s right here:

It’s true your kids will pull you in every direction, make you feel like you just can’t give enough of yourself, they’ll unintentionally make you feel guilty as hell – but they will also make you feel needed, whole, and complete.

They will push every button, overload your senses and make you wish they were born with built in pause and volume control. But, it’s that sensory invasion that will have you laughing until you cry, your heart swelling with pride, and have you sluicing tears of joy when you wave them off for their first day at school! Yay – someone else’s problem for the next ten years. (That was a joke, don’t @me)

The jealously you might notice from your older child will on occasion be replaced with an adorably primal sibling bond. Watching them teach their younger sibling, watching them do everything imaginable to make them smile for the first time -including cannon balls off the sofa- is priceless. Maybe they’ll grow up to hate each other, but maybe they’ll grow up to be the very best of friends, either way you’ll have fun watching them grow.

Your anxiety, will occasionally be replaced with minor worries, like have you got any bread for their packed lunch or the fact you forgot to pick up nappies on your weekly shop. It will of course also be redirected to your kids if they’re not the source already. I can’t promise you a reprieve because I know only too well, mental health doesn’t work like that…. But I can promise you a reason to live, or in the case of this blog, two reasons.

If you’re a chronic pain sufferer like me, you won’t get any relief, but what you will get is distraction. They will keep you so busy some days you’ll unknowingly forget about the pain for a while.

It won’t be easy, it won’t even always be fun, and some days you might wonder what the fuck you have done….. but you’ll never regret it. No matter how hard. For me, these kids have given meaning to a life that lacked direction. They’ve given hope to a pessimist. They’ve brought joy in my darkest moments and they’re my reasons for staying alive.

One last saying: The days are long but the years are short.

In other words – you’ll soon be sipping cocktails and eating tapas in Benidorm whilst your teenage kids are trashing the house in your absence and sleeping till noon.