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.

Avulux Vs Migraine

Flashes in your peripheral vision that slowly etch their way into both eyes, overwhelming fatigue with nausea that fills your mouth and makes your stomach roll. Pain in the base of your skull, around your eyes, tingling in your face, maybe in other body parts too. Before you know it you are in bed with ice packs strapped across your eyes, the need to eradicate light from every source immediately is paramount.

Not again. Please not again. You took your meds. You’ve been taking preventive meds every day for years, onset medication like triptans may also be used, but sometimes leave you feeling worse, blood pressure sky rockets and the explosion in your head makes you contemplate heading to your nearest hospital. Are you having a stroke? There’s absolutely no way to continue your day, you can’t walk, you can’t see and the pain is making it hard to speak.

You know it’s a migraine you’ve had them for twenty years, but what if this time it’s not just a migraine? Why aren’t your pain killers working? Sleep is not forth coming. Sleeping through this kind of pain is impossible. Tomorrow you’ll call your doctor and ask for more meds and they’ll tell you there’s nothing more they can do.

Randomly you get offered to try some glasses that block out light known to trigger migraine. You roll your tired eyes and think it can’t be that easy. I’ve tried everything what are these glasses going to do? The skeptic in you isn’t sure about this, but the desperation to ease further attacks makes you relent.

This is my story and this is how I came to hear of avulux glasses.

Avulux reached out to me in January this year. They didn’t offer me free glasses instantly, they asked to meet with me online to find out my symptoms and if Avulux would be suitable for me personally. I explained that I think my migraine maybe related to hormonal changes because of the increase in frequency and severity during my pregnancy, but because all of my migraine attacks start with aura they were confident Avulux may be able to help.

After meeting with the Avulux team and learning a lot about the science behind the product I was intrigued and excited to try a pair for myself. Avulux lenses are like no other light blocking glasses on the market. If you’ve researched migraine treatment you will know you can pick up a pair of blue light blocking glasses from Amazon for around £25.

So what makes Avulux so special?

Avulux filters up to 97% of the most painful blue, amber, and red light that have been shown to incite migraine attacks and increase headache pain. Avulux actually let’s in soothing green light to ensure there’s a fair balance of light filtered vs passed through, thus it’s comfortable to wear them indoors or outdoors and they don’t cause further light sensitivity nor do they dark adapt one’s eyes. They don’t alter colours or vision and you can still see clearly wearing them. 

Avulux suggest that if you use the glasses at the first sign of migraine aura, or other migraine symptom onset, you get the best results. For those with more than 15 headache days per month, they suggest wearing them continuously as a preventative. And don’t just take their word for it, read here the experiences of Avulux users for yourself. Avulux Reviews

So, here begs the next question. Do they work for me?

I have suffered from migraine since aged thirteen, I am now thirty three, and over the years they have increased alarmingly in frequency and severity. I have been trying to manage migraine with preventative medicines for the last four years, accompanied by onset medication such as triptans and painkillers. Since becoming pregnant and having to drastically reduce and remove certain medications migraine has attacked me every 3-4 days and an attack usually lasts 2-3 days. This has been constant for the last twenty weeks. When my Avulux glasses arrived I was almost waiting for a migraine to strike, and like clockwork three days after their arrival it began.

I woke with a pounding in my head that accompanied visual disturbances and vomiting. As soon as I woke I was certain the day would be a total write off. My Avulux glasses went on at 8.30 am. By lunchtime I was still very nauseous, but the pain in my head had not increased at all almost unheard of during a migraine attack. Though I felt fragile all day, I was able to carry out activities that are usually forbidden during migraine, such as read a book and watch television, use my phone and communicate with my family.

I woke up the following morning feeling exactly the same. This isn’t unusual, as mentioned attacks usually last a minimum of 48 hours. Again I used my glasses upon waking, and again I was able to function, not feeling fantastic but not in the depths of despair with unimaginable pain either.

My husband was skeptical, maybe it was the placebo effect? But I am confident that had I not been wearing Avulux I would have been in the full throes of a severe attack. Avulux were very clear during discussion that their lenses are a migraine treatment and not a cure. They also advised some users suggest that wearing Avulux reduces symptoms enough for them to carry on their day. This tallies up with my experience. I didn’t feel cured, I didn’t feel amazing, but I also didn’t feel inexplicable pain. For me personally a reduction in severity is a monumental step in the right direction towards a better and more controlled life with migraine. The following week the same happened twice, I woke with head pain, eye pain, fragility and fatigue. This time I didn’t reach for pain medication instantly, I applied my glasses first. And low and behold it staved off the migraine pain again, and allowed me to celebrate upon finding out the gender of my baby that evening with my family.

For these mentioned reasons I highly recommend Avulux as a reliable and sustainable treatment for migraine that comes without side effect or risk to the user.

Further advice

If you suffer with chronic or ongoing migraine you will know that unfortunately a cure has yet to be found. If it’s a cure you are looking for, you won’t find it here, or in fact anywhere. What you will get from wearing Avulux is confidence that symptom severity will be reduced. They are a recognised migraine treatment in both the UK and Canada. They make no false claims and they are available to try completely free for sixty days. If that isn’t enough to tempt you to take the leap forward for a better life, you can relax in knowing you can pay for Avulux in payment plan instalments. The Avulux team have also kindly given me a code DIVAMUM to allow my followers to receive $25 USD off when purchasing you can purchase through my aff link here Divamum Money Off but ensure to also add the code at checkout

Avulux haven’t cured me of my illness but they have helped me find relief even on the really hard days.

Pregnant and chronically ill.

Some of you might know my story already. I married my husband in January 2020, we did it just the two of us and it was amazing, but since our wedding, lockdown and covid-19 have presented challenges, as it has for everyone, I’m not naïve enough to believe I’m alone with that and I know there are people everywhere that have it a lot worse than I do.

For me though, my health deteriorated again and baby making was not on the cards for us during lockdown…. or so we thought.

We had a baby in 2016, and she’s a healthy, sassy four year old, but her start in life was hard, on her and on me.

My pregnancy was not an enjoyable experience, I didn’t feel well for a single day of it. I was debilitated by hormonal migraines and nausea throughout, and by 16 weeks I was on crutches diagnosed with Symphis Pubis Dysfunction- a condition that causes your pelvic ligaments to become stretchy and relaxed, making walking painful, the same condition had me in a wheelchair by 25 weeks completely disabled. Later I had preeclampsia, I was admitted to hospital and after several attempts a doctor finally managed to break my waters, my contractions were then hormonally induced. I often refer to labour as the easy part after 9 months of what felt like torture, but honestly, none of it was easy for me.

I was taking antidepressants throughout my pregnancy to manage my mental health, and as a result my daughter was born with Neo Natal Abstinence Syndrome.

A condition where babies are born withdrawing from drugs they’re exposed to in utero. I wasn’t warned about this, I was told the medication I was taking was safe for my baby. Withdrawal was something I assumed only illicit drug using mothers experienced, I was wrong.

She was in NICU for 10 days and then she screamed for 15 hours a day for almost 10 months. I’ve since spoken to people who were on similar medicines and they’ve had different experiences so it’s important to note, I’m not trying to scaremonger here. I believe in looking after your mental health, but there is no dressing up that it was a very traumatic time for us. I think the consensus is not to force mums to stop medication that keeps them well, and of course this makes a lot of sense, I just wish I had been armed with facts sooner. I was peri and postnatally depressed, suicidal at times, and it hurt. It massively effected my pregnancy and birth experience, my early bond with my daughter, and I don’t consider it a positive time to reminisce about.

Given the story so far you’ll have probably read/heard me freak the fuck out at the thought of baby no 2. Yet here we are, we got bored in lockdown. We ran out of things to do, we also ran out of condoms. (That was a joke btw don’t @me) Shaun always wanted baby number two, and for the last year Ciara has asked for a sibling, but the truth is I never wanted to be pregnant again.

But I am, kind of by accident, almost certainly by fate.

In truth, I’m petrified. I haven’t acted happy about it, because I’m not about being pregnant, not really. I know how ungrateful that must sound, and let me be clear, I want the baby, I love being a mother, it’s my life’s biggest achievement. What I don’t love are the effects pregnancy has on my health and well-being.

I battle with guilt daily about my dislike for pregnancy, because I know I’m lucky to be able to birth children.

In an ideal world I would have weaned off all of my medication before conception this time, but I have a chronic illness, one that takes over much of my life. I am constantly met with new symptoms, making it impossible to imagine a life without medical intervention. You know when people say ‘you’re pregnant not ill‘ – Well in my case I’m both. Most of the time giving things up in pregnancy is par for the course but what about when you’re giving up drugs that have kept you well for years.

So, I’m withdrawing from several different types of medication at the moment, but I’m still not medication free and I might not ever be. It’s hard on me mentally, to know I could go through the same thing twice with NAS and having a baby in NICU.

In my dreams this pregnancy would be totally different, I’d be fitter and healthier, mentally stronger.

Unfortunately it hasn’t worked out that way. I’m not going to miraculously become well whilst living with a chronic illness, (chronic = ongoing) if anything it worsens as the years progress. I haven’t gotten better, and I feel as awful as I did in my first pregnancy if not worse, because there’s more to worry about – a lot more.

Midwives have classed my pregnancy as ‘high risk’ for preeclampsia and SPD again (I’m already struggling with this just 14 weeks in), and for diabetes, and that’s without accounting for my illnesses and the cretin that is Coronavirus robbing us all of joy.

I feel like somedays, even before pregnancy, I was barely hanging on to my ability to cope as a functional human being, do the fundamentals like washing and cooking meals, and yet I’m putting my body through this again and it already feels hard.

So what happens if I can’t look after a new baby?

What if they cry for 15 hours a day again and I have a breakdown?

What if Shaun leaves me for our skinny neighbour with muscular thighs and perky tits?

What if, what if, what if…..

It’s a redundant question, because what if I got ran over by a bus tomorrow?

I could cite an endless lists of what ifs, but to get hung up on them means I also need to think of the flip side, that being, what if things work out ok?

A pandemic is a big deal to the most hardened of us. So being pregnant with several illnesses and a penchant for going fucking mental at the first sign of a hormone shift feels ominous, but we’re doing it.

Baby 2.0 is coming!!

Aside from being terrified, feeling even more like shit than usual and eating everything in site, I’m optimistic, because despite ALL of that, this time I really do know it’s all worth it in the end.

I’m being seen by the maternal mental health team this time, an option I wasn’t (but definitely should have been) offered in my first pregnancy. And I have a plan for my physical health issues and medicines, it’s not a great plan, but it’s a plan that involves a lot of listening to my body.

On top of that, I have a family who have my back. We’re a team and we’ll get through it because we have each other and because we are lucky, and this, however hard it feels, is a blessing.

I wanted to write this, because there still feels much stigma around not loving every second of pregnancy and motherhood.

There is never a time when I feel unlucky in motherhood. But sometimes I feel unlucky in health, and pregnancy is hard on my health, it’s hard in general, as is parenting, at times, for all of us. And it’s ok to say that out loud.

Our journeys are different and we are forever a divided world on how to parent, because there’s no rule book and we all have our own unique way.

I wish I could flip a switch and love every tender second of motherhood, but my truth is, I don’t love pregnancy and my experience of newborns brings with it traumatic memories.

That doesn’t mean I don’t love being a mother, it just means it’s not straightforward. I didn’t want to announce my pregnancy without having explained how I feel because I’m sure there are other expectant mothers who feel similar to me that don’t have the confidence to say so aloud.

There’s so much pressure to say over and over again how much you love your kids, how blessed you are, and if god forbid you forget to mention that, obviously you don’t deserve to have them.

What I actually think is, all you can do in these times is YOUR best. There will always be people that are struggling for different reasons in every aspect of life.

When it comes to your baby though, I really feel, like your best is good enough and what works for you, what keeps you well and healthy is as important as protecting that newborn head.

We will delight in the birth of our second child as we did our first and we will get through the tough times because this time, we know they really don’t last forever and the long nights whiz by with painfully short years.

Motherhood is hands down the hardest, most rewarding job and my only goal is to be good at it (and to get to the end of this pregnancy with both of us in one piece)

NB: If you’re struggling with maternal mental health please visit Maternal Mental Health Alliance for support.

For fibromyalgia resources it’s FMAUK

And for migraines it’s Migraine Trust

Migraine – not just a headache

I have started writing this so many times. It’s a so hard to put into words the debility of a migraine, without it sounding like a bad headache. So I thought long and hard about how I would explain migraines in this blog. I really wanted you to be able to feel what I’m trying to say, so here goes.

It may start off fleeting, a small dot in your peripheral vision, a barely noticeable shadow that casts a darkness over tired eyes. Maybe it’s more aggressive with flashing lights, and in some cases temporary loss of vision. You might feel a sickening in the pit of your stomach, coming from nowhere and catching you unawares, making your mouth water. You may be struck down by overwhelming fatigue that leaves your body feeling laden as though immersed in treacle. Or maybe your jaw starts to hurt from clenching. Maybe you have a pain deep set behind your eye that trails up over your skull and down your neck. Maybe your period is due, maybe it isn’t. Maybe you ate cheese, forgetting it’s a possible trigger, or maybe you didn’t.

You take yourself off to bed with the view to recover within hours. Painkillers line your bedside table and you take each one in turn at the first sign of the migraine. You lie down, dizzy and unable to sleep from the pain which has now gotten so bad that all light and noise must be eradicated immediately. An ice pack lies across your forehead not quite reaching the parts that are pained. A few hours pass and you wake up, rush to the loo to be sick, or sit up and be so dizzy you need to lay back down. You’re shaking, you feel like you’re hungover from 10 JD & Cokes accept even a hangover from 10 JD and cokes would be preferable to this shit show of pain you’re feeling. You are unable to distract yourself. The only thing to do is lie there some more, phone in sick, cancel any plans you made by forcing yourself to pick up your phone even though it hurts your eyes as much as looking at direct sunlight. Rattle off a text of apologies for having to cancel again, only to get one back saying ‘you wouldn’t be on your phone if you had a real migraine, it must just be a bad headache.’

The day passes in a blur, you cannot eat, you cannot sleep, you cannot watch TV or read, and you genuinely wonder how much more of this you can take. What if it never ends? What if today is the day you don’t recover from this pain and have to live with it indefinitely? You feel shaky, your skin is greasy, and your heart rate has sped up to a rapid crescendo. Anxiety causing the pain in your head to worsen again. That hangover feeling leaves you exhausted, thirsty and drained, so drained. Your stomach feels as though you’re sea sick and the thought of leaving the house is too much effort.

Your doctor advised preventative migraine treatment, so you take 4 pills every night of your life in hope that it will prevent the migraine occurring at all. You get a piercing that promises a quick fix and for a month or so your migraines reduce, but they are not gone. Oh no, they are never gone. When you’re tired, when your period is due, when you drink too much caffeine and also when you don’t drink enough. If you miss a dose of those sacred pills. Just about anything can be a trigger to be honest and you wish fleetingly that someone else would feel this pain so they could understand it. It’s impact. The catalogue of symptoms that are so disabling, so soul crushing, so unpredictable, and so much more, than just a headache.

You can also read this blog here on The Mighty Site