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. ❤️🎄

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, under psychiatric care, my labour was induced and 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, I’d 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, I was sure I would start to hear voices telling me to kill or harm my children. This made me feel disassociated often. Despite not actually hearing voices I was convinced they were coming and I would be sat in my bedroom listening for them. I later googled intrusive thoughts which convinced me I was suffering from severe OCD, despite not having any compulsions. Another common thought for me was passive suicidality, such as thinking I could just walk out in front of a lorry. Or consume all of the insulin in my possession.

When I discussed this with Neo my fear of OCD 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.

54 Days postpartum

23.08.21

My daughter was on her way to bed last night when out of nowhere panic hit me full force. My son, lying in the crook of my arm, suddenly started to spit milk out from the sides of his slow flow teat, and I realised, the hand that was holding his bottle was shaking. I felt hot, from the feet up, like a flush, my brain scrambling for grounding thoughts that just couldn’t make their way to the forefront of my mind. It’s coming I thought, knowingly.

My husband comes when I call, and holds me tight. Our son, bewildered at why he’s suddenly had his bottle snatched from his mouth, our daughter, obliviously cleaning her teeth in the bathroom above our heads. Breathe Shaun tells me. Why am I like this???? I sob, trying to catch my breath. You’re not like anything, Steph. It’s a panic attack and it will pass. He reassures me, never letting me go.

It’s been 54 days since I gave birth. Our son will be 8 weeks old on Thursday 26th August.

This isn’t a birth story, because my birth story is too long, the trauma that surrounds my pregnancy will not shrink into an Instagram caption or a rushed blog post. This is a progress report.

When my son Kaiser was born, and during the days preceding, I was in a constant state of panic. I would have moments of calm, but they were fleeting and hard to grab onto. I’ve plateaued at a panic attack approximately once a week now. I know that a large part of their occurrence is directly linked to hormone sensitivity, yet that gives me no control or reassurance regarding their assault on my life.

I’m currently under the care of the most amazing perinatal mental health team, they are some of the best medical professionals I have ever come across in my entire life and I’ve met a few. Sadly this support was massively lacking during my pregnancy – but that is a story I’ve semi already told and one that would take up the duration of the rest of this blog. The point, is that I have some amazing people in my life at the moment helping me heal from acute anxiety, intrusive thoughts and various states of panic. I genuinely don’t believe without their consistent support during the postpartum period, that I would have gotten these bastard attacks down to once a week on my own.

The trouble is, I’m still very much in a state of fight or flight. During the periods of calm, I am logical. In fact I am probably calmer than I’ve ever been in my life and generally laid back (a term probably not often used to describe me as a person) but I can’t stay there, because as quick as I’m calm, a storm cloud opens up the heavens on my head and I am ready to flee the country as though I’m being chased by a hungry tiger.

However, during those moments of calm I have reflected. I have corrected, and I have made changes to my mindset. Living with chronic illnesses as I do, migraine, fibromyalgia, PMDD etc it’s easy to become all consumed by pain and suffering. The shift in my mindset has been that I don’t want to be consumed by this suffering anymore. I know I am going to suffer, bad days, sometimes bad weeks and maybe even bad months, but I don’t want it to consume me. I want change.

My community nurse said to me this week you have to do different to feel different and so I’m doing different. Every day I’m fighting tiny fires of fear. For example, I’m frightened of being alone with my kids in case I have a panic attack, but I’m staying alone with them anyway, because I know if I avoid this fear it will only grow.

I was absolutely distraught about Shaun returning to work after paternity leave, but I knew if he delayed that process I would be as scared, if not more so, when he eventually did.

I’ve been avoiding books and television that might be triggering or that contain storylines of anyone with mental illness, but very slowly I’m reintroducing those things into my life.

I’ve been too afraid to walk or drive anywhere on my own because of how much pain I’m in. What if I get stuck with the kids? And then what if whilst I’m stuck, I panic?

I’ve been too scared to enjoy days out for fear of repercussions on my body, or to go places more than half an hour away from my house in case I panic and need to flee, but slowly I am doing both.

I’m making this sound easy, and yet it’s been the hardest most hellish experience ever, doing things I’m so desperate to avoid goes against the grain. But I’m using these examples to measure my progress, because it’s so easy to feel as though I’m making absolutely no progress at all when anxiety strikes.

I want change. I want my life back. And I have to do different to feel different. I have to be open to the idea there are positive outcomes in life, because if I don’t open myself up to this possibility, I will forever be living half a life.

Life after secondary Symphis Pubis Dysfunction.

For those of you that follow my blog you’ll know that for the last 7 months I’ve been using crutches and a mobility scooter because for the second time in my lifetime I developed Symphis Pubis Dysfunction during pregnancy, rendering me unable to walk unaided.

Symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD) is a condition that causes excessive movement of the pubic symphysis, either anterior or lateral, as well as associated pain in the legs, hips lower back and groin area, possibly because of a misalignment of the pelvis. Most commonly associated with pregnancy and childbirth, it is diagnosed in approximately 1 in 300 pregnancies, although some estimates of incidence are as high as 1 in 50.

After the birth of my first child my mobility returned almost instantly requiring no further treatment and little associated pain. Professionals tend to believe SPD worsens with each pregnancy and the likelihood of developing it in subsequent pregnancies is extremely high. Many women experience pelvic pain in pregnancy and the severity of SPD varies from person to person, loss of mobility and need for walking aids is generally rare. It’s onset usually occurs in the latter part of pregnancy in the second and third trimesters. For me, I had developed symptoms during both pregnancies, at the end of the first trimester and required crutches by sixteen weeks. In my first pregnancy I needed to use a wheelchair at around 25 weeks and in my second this was sooner, at around 20 weeks. Highlighting to me the very real and tragic reality that society isn’t accessible.

Since giving birth four weeks ago the question on everybody’s lips is ‘can you walk again now?’ And the answer is yes, I am able to walk unaided now, but my symptoms have NOT disappeared, far from it.

I’ve lost a lot of weight in a short space of time and I believe this to have provided significant relief on the pelvic joint, thus I am able to walk a thousand(ish) steps at present, but it’s not without pain. I’m currently unable to walk around holding my son and rocking him and swaying in a standing position is agonising. Same goes for carrying anything, including the car seat, along with bending and sitting for prolonged periods. I spent almost 4 of those 7 months pretty much horizontal in my bed and so getting used to different positions causes increased aches and pains.

I’m so relieved to have some mobility back at all though, as it was suggested I may need crutches postpartum and that would have made life with a newborn and an older child even more challenging. After the first two weeks following birth I started trying to go for walks everyday with my mum or husband. Short walks that lasted around thirty ish minutes, however this seems to have aggravated pain and I’ve had to reduce the amount of exercise again and pace myself. I’m still trying hard to keep moving I just need to be mindful not to overdo it. Some of you will know I also have fibromyalgia and so pacing is important for me anyway.

During pregnancy I was unable to see a physio, constantly being fobbed off with covid being a reason for not treating in person my very real and very debilitating pain. However I do plan to chase them again as soon as I’ve had my postnatal check.

It’s definitely not easy having a newborn and limited mobility, but I’m humble in that I’m able to move around at all after so long without any freedom. I feel positive that with the right strengthening exercises I can increase the time and distance I’m able to walk but whether I’ll ever be able to move like my prenatal self is still an enigma. I’m desperate to get back to the woods and explore with my daughter, but I know uneven ground is a no no at the moment. I’m also not able to carry my son in a sling. The great thing about buggies is they provide a stand in crutch, giving added support, but it’s really important to remember to do simple things like bend your knees when lifting and stretch often etc.

I’m used to being in pain everyday and whilst it’s not fair or fun I do feel extremely grateful. Losing my mobility to the extent I did in my second pregnancy has really made me value my abilities so much more than I ever did before. It’s also opened my eyes to how other disabled people manage (or not) in a world that isn’t designed for us, even things like high stools in restaurants and benches without backs can cause excruciating pain!! Crutches were a constant trigger for flare ups of fibro symptoms, causing fatigue from too much effort lugging about a baby bump on your arms, being unable to participate in days out with my family was soul crushing, and whilst I’m a long way from climbing round soft play or going for a run I’m closer than I was just weeks ago.

My advice to pregnant women experiencing pelvic pain is to act fast, don’t ignore it, keep moving but don’t do anything that hurts and if that means walking, try to exercise seated or led down. Learn to pace and rest often. Take the weight off of the pelvic joint whenever possible. Goes without saying but don’t do any heavy lifting either. DEMAND to speak to a women’s health physio and look up your own safe exercises for pelvic pain in pregnancy. Weightless exercises like swimming are recommended but be careful of over doing it with the legs.

Something I didn’t do but would also recommend, is try and keep within a healthy weight, it’s nearly impossible when you can’t move around but the extra weight causes more strain on those joints.

Life after SPD isn’t the same as life before but it’s better than life in the peak of it. The world needs more awareness about the impact pregnancy can have on our health and information about how to lessen that impact going forward.

36 weeks of growing you.

This might be my last ‘growing you post’ because in a day or two we will know (hopefully) when you’ll arrive and how. I am excited, terrified, anxious, and desperate for you to be here with us, healthy and safe in my arms.

We made it this far and we fought back hard, and when people told us about risks we questioned them. When people ignored us, we spoke louder. When people dismissed our struggle we learned to challenge them or leave them behind. We made it this far because we were determined to get you here safely. You and I, endured this god awful journey together – you floating around in amniotic fluid, thumping and rolling inside me, a space that feels cramped now. We have endured it with the help of our friends and family, cheering us on, telling us we can. Convincing me I am strong, and despite having possibly never felt worse or physically weaker, in my life. I know I am strong, and now we’re finally here, just weeks away from your arrival.

On Saturday night I did the dreaded trip to maternity again after not feeling you move for hours. When I got there, alone in the dark dragging myself across the forecourt on crutches with your notes in a backpack, I was really scared. Scared because you never stop moving now, and scared because when she hooked me up to the NST your heart rate was high and we didn’t know why. Scared and whispering silent prayers. We are so close that nothing, nothing else must go wrong now.

On Sunday my friend Amy and your Nanny Sandra, organised me a little baby shower. It was intimate, because of coronavirus we couldn’t have loads of people anyway, and I was grateful for the intimacy. It was cosy, and relaxed and full of swearing, laughter and love. There were people we would of liked to invite but sadly couldn’t, and I always feel a bit awkward in these situations. However I’m feeling very lucky and ‘blessed’ (for want of a less cringeworthy word) to have such wonderful friends. I know I’ve talked a lot about friendships when writing to you, and that’s because I still, as an adult find them so hard to navigate and the more reclusive I’ve become the harder they seem to keep up with, so I am eternally grateful for those forever friends whom make it effortless.

I also got some amazing gifts and Becky, your sister’s godmother who will 100% be yours too, made me the Guinness cake of dreams as she always does.

We had afternoon tea, and played games whilst your dad took your sister to the fair. Your wonderful dad who has walked every step I couldn’t, washed every dish, cooked some of the worst meals I’ve ever tasted, but ate with gratitude anyway. Your daddy whom your sister loves ferociously and whom I couldn’t live a day without.

When I got home I told her all about the shower and she beamed for you, and said ‘Is that for our baby?’ Smiling her infectiously brilliant smile.

She’s started abbreviating your name and coming up with many versions, which is hilarious and yet she’s still managed to keep it a surprise, nobody has guessed it since one friend did.

I just want you here now. ‘They’ say nothing else matters and whilst I’ve found that hard to get on board with during a difficult pregnancy, I know ‘they’ are right. I am petrified, because I know how responsibility can lay heavy on a parent’s shoulders, but I also know it’s my favourite job.

Us four, your dad, sister, you and I, as long as we have each other we will be ok. We will get through the challenges and try our best like we always do, and when we have those blissful good days, we’ll try our best make them gloriously great.

35 weeks of growing you

It was going much better until your dad and I went out the weekend and it threw me into a flare up. Again. We were only out for 2 hours.

So whilst Saturday was a good day Sunday was not.

You know that sleep is evading me, I know you know, because you’re awake with me – it’s not unusual for that to happen this late in pregnancy, some might even argue it’s par for the course and being tired now is some kind of subconscious way of prepping me for your arrival. Maybe, except it’s now making me really unwell again. I’m getting about 2 hours broken sleep a night. I’m having flare ups of fibromyalgia symptoms that I can’t treat. I’ve started getting the skin crawling sensation again, from head to foot – it lasts hours, sometimes days. I have been desperate for cold showers at 4am and I’m scratching so much my skin is bleeding and marked.
I’m also feeling rage viscerally, like I could actually start caving your dad’s head in if his foot touches mine in the middle of the night, because the slightest touch sets my whole body off with paresthesia.
Itching, numbness and tingling are common symptoms of fibromyalgia, except that usually they would be treated with heavy duty drugs. They’re also not uncommon symptoms of pregnancy, but you can’t take heavy duty anything, when you’re up the duff.
I phoned maternity Sunday who wanted to see me urgently to rule out intrehapatic cholestasis…. so we did the 80 minute round trip to the hospital again to wait and see if you have to come out even earlier than your planned early delivery.
The sun is not a helpful addition for me at the moment. It’s making my symptoms worse. It’s nice for my mood, but as much as I’d like that to be enough, as much as someone might tell me it’s enough, feeling better mentally doesn’t provide a cure for a physical problem.

Next week we find out hopefully how you’ll be making your entrance. I’m excited and plagued with anxiety at the same time. We know we have to stay in hospital for a couple of days minimum, and that’s bothering me because now we have your sister, your dad won’t be able to be with me every second. I don’t feel confident about doing any of this alone. I’m frightened now that things have taken another turn and that’s how quickly it happens. One minute we’re loving life and trying to move forward with positivity and the next it all comes crashing down in an instant. I have hope that if it can change this quickly, the positives can also come as quick and we can be pleasantly surprised too.

I’ve been solely focused on you and the few people that have been present on this hellish journey with us. Whilst trying hard to give less thought to the people who haven’t shown an interest. I don’t blame people for not wanting to jump into our hell, I know they have their own. But recently, I really have needed to remind myself that everyone has their own shit going on and I shouldn’t take it personally. I am mindful of this and I am giving people the benefit of the doubt, and accepting my journey isn’t someone else’s to bear, but sometimes I find that it still stings and I get hung on up on thinking about it. It’s still hurtful that people I consider close friends, people who I’ve involved in all big life events like your sister’s christening and our wedding have just stopped bothering. I know as a 33 year old woman, mother and person who can be totally overwhelmed with her own life, how hard it is to sometimes connect with people, so I am conscious of this, and the older I get the better I am at empathising with other people’s struggles. Occasionally though, I still, rightly or wrongly, feel their absence like rejection. I’m human at the end of the day, and maybe too honest about this stuff. When you grow up, you’ll go through all sorts of life trials and hurdles, but you never really stop needing people in your corner. Luckily for me I have my mum and your dad always. And luckily for you, you’ll have all of us.

Things are easier now restrictions have eased and people are helping us keep your sister busy again. She is happiest when she is busy and that has taken some of the pressure off your dad, which makes me feel less like a burden on him. I worry sometimes if one day he will wake up and feel like we’re a full time job, but he’s a good man, I hope you’ll end up just like him.

I’m not ready for your arrival if I’m being honest. People keep asking me if I’m ready but I’m not really, because it still feels like there’s so much we don’t know. Is anyone ever really ready though? I do know it will all fall into place when you’re here as life often has a way of working out.

Can’t wait to finally announce your name either! See you soon little chief. 💚

34 weeks of growing you

Well what can I say, the change in me has been so good this week. Though it’s not remained plain sailing on the medical front. Last week I was called several times by the consultant and I felt reassured re the likelihood of a cesarian. Because of my fibromyalgia I don’t recover well from, well anything, and the idea of having major surgery, needing more rest and recovery time without the opportunity to get into rehab for my pelvis, really scares me. The reason being is, at the moment I cannot walk without crutches, and how the hell do I care for you on crutches after major surgery? However these concerns were countered by the consultant who reminded me it was after I had your sister via vaginal IOL that I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, so recovery for either isn’t likely to be great. Whilst this sounds ominous, it’s reassured me that neither is likely to be worse than the other, for me anyway. I will chat to them again on Wednesday to discuss where we go from here.

The reason I’ve been somewhat pissed off with them again this week, is after complaining about the lack of contact from my midwife I spoke to someone else who was really helpful and arranged a new referral to a physiotherapist- only for my original midwife to phone me on Friday to tell me I couldn’t have physio at the hospital because I’m an out of area patient, they’ve known this since the minute I found out I was pregnant, and I’ve been begging for physio since 16 weeks and was told over and over that I couldn’t be seen face to face because of the pandemic. I was given a glimmer of hope at being seen face to face finally at 34 weeks, only to now be told no, again! It’s frustrating, and I feel like the system in place doesn’t work for pregnant women in physical pain.

Irrespective of the setbacks I do feel more positive in general. As seems to be standard recently, your sister is boosting my mood every single day, making life feel more manageable. I’m still in pain, I’m still without my independence, but I’m not without my family and they, you, are all that matters. Your dad, your sister and I, all went away the weekend and it was amazing. The weather was abysmal, and we spent much of it in the caravan but the change in scenery, the togetherness, was so uplifting it was worth all the exhaustion that is now befalling me upon return. Despite the aftermath I’m so glad that I made the effort. Your sister rode a donkey for the first time, talked about you lots, and before we left for our trip on Friday she even drew on my bump writing baby Cullen I love you xxx

I feel stronger and less weighted by what everyone else might be thinking. Less embarrassed to admit what I need. Less guilty about how I’ve been feeling, more accepting of myself, my limitations and prognosis. We know our journey is tough, we also know some people have it a lot tougher. We know it’s worth it and we know we’ll face whatever challenges come our way together. It’s a startling shift that has taken so long to come I wonder why and how I’ve not been able to pull myself out of the fog sooner – but who cares? I’m here now and I’m thinking more clearly. I’m trusting myself and my ability to get through this, and I’m doing it for you, for us, all of us.

You will be here, before we know it, so soon and we are excited to meet you. Apprehension still resides, and there’s still uncertainty, but I’m trying to focus on the things within my control. Soon we’ll be taking trips as a family of four and we’ll be together, for those days, I cannot wait.

33 weeks of growing you

17 weeks of not being able to walk, using a makeshift commode for the many wee stops I need in between the kitchen and the lounge, but not being able to make it up the stairs. Weeks in bed, watching the room spin and change only with the fall of day and night, has been rough. I have felt tremendous guilt, panic, resentment and fear for so many months. I have spoken up, and I’ve clammed up. I’ve felt supported and let down equally, by both the system and people closer to me.

But, Master Cullen – this week I bring better vibes. Hallelujah, praise the fucking lord, mama is finding a way to move through the quagmire of the last eight months. And all it took, was a complaint, and someone to listen.

I am forever grateful to our NHS, I sympathise greatly with the challenges they face. However, after proactively trying to access support to stay on top of my mental and physical health during this pregnancy, I have felt let down.

I asked to be under the mental health team to ensure I didn’t spiral like I did with your sister, the idea of this meant I would be allocated a midwife that specialised in mental health and could manage the links between physical and mental health throughout this pregnancy. As promised, I was, and in the eight months I’ve been pregnant, I’ve seen that midwife twice and sent several dozen texts to her that have been completely ignored. I don’t mean answered late, I mean, completely ignored. Thankfully I am not in mental health crisis, but I’ve felt well on my way as my physical health has depleted so rapidly.

I didn’t want to complain, because despite feeling unheard, the maternity team are all lovely. They are just harried and overworked. But it paid, because as soon as I voiced my concerns I was listened to, and am now, finally, being given the support I’ve been lacking.

There have been so many worse case scenarios running through my head about you throughout these months, and on top of those, the impact of being immobile and in crippling pain has had my mood plummeting to the lows I’d been desperately trying to avoid. I felt like I had nowhere to turn, many, many times.

The positives throughout this pregnancy have been overshadowed by the many negatives, but finally I can see the end nearing with a clearer and less restricted view. Soon, you will be with us, and life will look different again, we’ll face new challenges but I aim to face them with hope and a positive mindset. I cannot promise you this mood will last, I cannot promise you my positive resolve won’t waver again. In fact I can probably guarantee you that it will, but I can promise you that I will do my best, for you and your sister, for our family, our future and our new life with you in it.

I promise you that I will try harder to practise gratitude and to speak up loudly again when things get rough, and they will.

The nature of my health means there will be days, sometimes weeks, during your life that I will fail you. Not intentionally, but because my body is failing me. During those times, as you age (obviously not when you’re a baby) you will need to learn empathy and compassion. Your sister is shining a light on that for all of us at the moment, radiating positivity and excitement at your pending arrival, whilst being the kind and compassionate kid that she is. So I know she’ll teach you the ropes. She will also probably force them down your throat, but we are a family of strong girls and you’ll have to get used to that.

As always your Dad is doing his bit and I think he’ll probably need a rest of his own when we’re out the other side. We are lucky, we are thankful and we will be ok, but sometimes when things are hard life seems like a mountain made of quicksand, impossible to climb. I will always try to teach you that nothing is impossible, but it takes time and we’ll need to be patient with each other, you and me.

Love you 💙

Best sister ever

32 weeks of growing you

TW: Perinatal anxiety & depressive thoughts.

Too many tears. Too many days in bed. I’m done now. I have nothing left. Except I’m not allowed to be done, because there is more time left, there is more to do, there are more weeks you must stay inside of me to keep you safe, and despite feeling like I am losing my fucking mind and having no control over my body, my goal is still to keep you safe. You’re still the most important thing.

It has been over four months now that I’ve not been able to walk, drive, leave the house alone, spend one on one alone time with your sister. Four months of being told over and over again ‘it’ll all be worth it’ and that ‘it’s not long now’ it is long, it feels like fucking forever. Every single day feels like ten years. My skin feels like it’s crawling with insects. I cannot move without feeling like I’m rolling around in glass. I have put on so much weight, because I can’t move. My anxiety is through the roof, I am getting no sleep, and I cry all the time. What will I do when you come? How will I cope?

Nobody will tell me what happens next, I still don’t know if I will regain mobility and if I do, how long it will take. I’m just waiting, and wading through treacle, with limbs that don’t work. I feel like I can’t plan anything, look forward to anything. I feel physical pain so acutely, but I’m mentally numb.

People message to ask me how I am and when I tell them, they don’t reply, because they don’t know what to say. I think it’d be easier if they stopped asking, because it’s worse to open up and be vulnerable, only to then get ignored.

Everywhere I turn I keep seeing messages of hope, speak out, don’t suffer in silence, etc etc…. it’s everywhere, but it doesn’t feel real, because when you do speak out, when you do open up, people judge you. People think you should be doing better, feeling a certain way, being more grateful. People give you their opinion on how you should treat your mood. They tell you what they think, they try and fix you, they tell you that someone else has it worse, and they aren’t really listening.

It’s the honest, ugly, truth that nobody wants to hear. Not really. They say they do, but they find it uncomfortable. People tell you how well you’ve done when you’re out the other side of something. When you’re in it, they don’t know what to say, and I do get it. I really do, I understand, because it’s hard to support someone whose in a negative place. But sometimes you don’t have to say anything, you definitely don’t have to ask questions or have answers, sometimes you just have to be available to listen.

I don’t want to feel like this. I don’t want to be ungrateful or feel like a burden. It’s not a choice, it’s a lot of self doubt, and it’s a reaction to a difficult situation.

With all this in mind, I’ve been working really hard to try and change my mindset today. I know it’s only me that can do it. I know I can’t expect to be rescued. After days in bed over the weekend, today I got up. I had a bath and washed my hair, it was an exhausting task, but I know it helps. I put on clean clothes, I had soup for lunch instead of binging on crisps and junk. I took painkillers, because I needed them and tried not to feel any guilt. I watched a comforting film that felt like a hug and downloaded a feel good book to read. I’ve drank plenty of water, and the cloud is lifting.

I know I can do this, I know I have to do this, I know I’m strong enough to do this, but sometimes I don’t feel like doing any of it.

I’m downstairs now, waiting for your sister to get home from school, with a smile plastered on my face. I will watch another film with her, talk to her about her day and she will give me the hope I need to keep going and do the same tomorrow. I won’t sleep today, because if I nap now, sleep will evade me again tonight, and I need sleep. I need it to allow my brain to switch off. I need it to keep going. I need to enable me to focus on the positives, and they are that we are lucky, we are lucky to have you and I want to feel that. I want to feel joy override all these other emotions. I want to feel better, excited.

The below pics were taken less than 24 hours apart. It’s hard to believe that the extremes can peak and trough so rapidly. But I have to remind myself that it doesn’t matter what other people think, I’m surviving a hard and long journey, and I’m doing it whilst keeping you safe. I’m doing my best. I’m going to be okay, and so are you. ❤️

Pregnancy Timeline

I use writing tools a lot to make sense of feelings, I always find it gives me clarity and as I’ve had very little actual support for my mental health this pregnancy, despite being under the perinatal mental health team, covid restrictions have played a huge part and the fact I can’t attend groups because of lack of mobility. That said, I’m pretty good at managing these phases if I let myself feel them. So I decided pulling out some old tools might help, and here started the pregnancy timeline.

I’ll explain at the end why this was such an important process for me.

4 weeks – Found out I was pregnant had to reduce and abstain from medications that had been keeping me well. Very anxious, unsure and not feeling excited.

5 weeks – withdrawal symptoms, migraine, nausea and vomiting, unable to get routine appointment with GP. Lots of tears.

6 weeks – Hormonal migraines started coming every 3-4 days and increased in severity and duration. Unable to reduce Migraine meds. Mental health sketchy, had to fight to be booked in with the perinatal mental health team.

7 weeks – High temperature, still sick, time off work, negative covid test, later confirmed UTI at emergency GP appt and course of antibiotics

8 weeks – Booking appointment with midwife. high BP and protien still present in urine. More antibiotics. Discussed medication benefit vs risks.

9 weeks- low mood, tearful and anxious. Migraines still severe. Several trips to maternity in the same week to check blood pressure.

10 weeks- pelvic pain present. ? SPD. Fibro flare up. More time off work.

12 Weeks – First scan. No physical abnormalities present with baby. Heart beat strong. Consultant advised go back up migraine medication. Blood thinners prescribed

14 weeks – Pelvic pain increased referred to physio, no appointments because of covid, sent exercises in the post.

16 weeks – Pelvic pain so severe can’t bear any weight, SPD confirmed, back on crutches again. Heard heartbeat at routine appointment.

17 weeks – Unable to drive, can’t do school runs, more time off work. Mood swings, hormonal allergies and itching.

18 weeks – Felt baby move for the first time.

19 weeks – Reactivation of shingles virus causing more pain & long fibro flare up, prescribed antivirals. Permanent exhaustion.

20 weeks – Start using Avulux glasses, migraines decrease and can reduce migraine medication further. praise be. Twenty week scan delayed.

21 weeks – Gender scan. It’s a boy 💙low lying placenta picked up but not mentioned to us. Warned not everything can be seen on a scan but all good so far with baby growth. 28 week scan booked.

22 weeks – crutches becoming unmanageable with fibro – mobility scooter purchased, gaining weight fast.

23 weeks – Spotting after sex. Reduced fetal movement monitoring. Feeling ashamed and embarrassed of my immobility, weight gain rapid.

24 weeks – mobility worsening, mental health struggling as a result. Feel like a shit mum. Social services agreed for adaptations made in the home, grab rails shower seat etc

26 weeks – Glucose tolerance test – came back negative. Praise be

27 weeks – Almost every day spent in bed, midwife doesn’t reply to message for 10 days. phoned doctor in agony and tears begging for pain relief – Shaun having to lift me from bed every morning before he goes to work.

28 weeks – Growth scan confirmed placenta previa – talks of early cesarian birth. Talks of baby needing to stay in hospital post birth. Talks of NICU and breathing difficulties. Must abstain from sex. 36 week scan booked. Consultant okayed using tens machine for pain.

30 weeks – shingles flared up again, back on antivirals, sitting on ice packs, barely moving from bed. Tens machine doesn’t reach nerve pain.

31 weeks – Not long now but still feeling uncertain – not much advice about mobility after birth specifically if needing cesarian birth. Midwife appointment moved for the 3rd time no support re reducing medication further for delivery to avoid withdrawal in the baby.

In 7 months I’ve had approximately 10 good days. That’s not an exaggeration. It’s the truth. I’ve been unable to work, drive, leave the house on my own, cook a meal, take my daughter to the park, walk our dog. In 31 weeks I’ve been told by people who have absolutely nothing to do with my medical care that I’m just depressed, I’ve been told ‘at least the baby is ok’ and I’ve been told to ‘wait and see.’ And to ‘stay positive’

I’ve been hit with statistics, risks, percentages and ‘can cause’ (‘s) at every appointment.

In 31 weeks my husband has gone from being my lover to my carer. My daughter has gone from having a mum who actively participates in her life, to one who just watches. She has spent more time with her Dad and Nanny than anyone else. She has been going to school for 10 hour days because I can’t do the school runs and I can’t care for her alone in my house when her dad isn’t home. I can’t care for myself alone in my house.

I have gained weight like a duck pending foi gras.

I’ve been told not to wish pregnancy away. To enjoy it. I’ve been told that I’ll forget all of my pain once he’s here.

Despite all of this, every single day all I do is think of the baby. All I do is wait and see. All I do is think of my family. I have lived the last 31 weeks in agony and begged for the pain of labour over how I feel daily – at least then I could have some decent pain relief without worrying it’s going to cause my baby long term developmental damage.

So the reason this timeline was helpful is because, actually, despite all of the shit I have dealt with in the last 7 months, I have kept going. I have made decisions for the sake of the baby and my family that have negatively impacted me but have been important in supporting them. I have survived. I have tried, and I have kept going. I have found ways to push on.

My friend told me about a quote the other day that says

Everyone wants to hold the baby, but who holds the mum’

And I have needing holding. I have needed reminding, though even when I have been reminded, I have failed to remind myself.

I have sacrificed a lot in hope, in knowing it’s worth it, in putting other people before myself. I’ve been in agonising pain, I’ve cried and screamed and complained but every single day I’ve still got through it. I’ve had a great support in my close family and friends and I’ve been lucky that people have taken the time to remind me how well I’m doing despite the challenges – but I wrote this to remind myself. It might seem like as long as the baby is ok everything is fine, but that’s so far from the truth when it comes to pregnancy and health. A healthy baby might be the most important thing. But it’s definitely not the only important thing.

And while I’ve been thanking everyone for their help, I’ve been condemning myself for needing help in the first place. I’ve been drilling myself every single day about how useless I am. When actually I’m not useless. I’m not redundant in this journey, I am the journey. And when we come out the other side whatever the outcome looks like, I plan to celebrate the fact that I made it.