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

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.

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.

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.

31 Weeks of growing you.

I’m tired. Tired of explaining why things are so hard. Tired of feeling stuck on a loop. Tired of the unknown. Tired of my body failing us. Tired of pain. I’m just so fucking tired.

I’m irritable, I’m fed up of people saying stupid shit to me, shit they don’t of course even know, is stupid – because how can anyone be expected to know what the right thing to say is, when I don’t even know? I’m just tired of all of it. I’m tired of feeling like I have to fight to have questions answered. I’m tired of having my situation dismissed or compared to that of so many others. I’m tired of feeling like I’m broken.

I have maintained the pretence that I’m not depressed throughout this pregnancy, because I don’t want to take more medication, it’s the first thing anyone says when I complain of low mood. Do you need to go back on your antidepressants? – and I feel like saying, please fuck off.

Because I know what depression feels like, and whilst I do feel very low many days, I also have a list of reasons as long as my arm as to why that is and a pill, unless it’s one that reignites my ability to walk, or makes me promises of a healthy baby isn’t going to change that at the moment.

So far I still feel like I have some grip on my mood and reality. However low I feel, I don’t feel like I’m fully depressed yet, but maybe I am and I’m in denial, who knows. I have gotten this far though and I can see it through until you’re born. We will then reassess my mental capacity, once we have a better understanding of my physical abilities.

I also feel like I’m becoming a social outcast – I can maintain a level of strength and resilience as long as I don’t have to talk to anyone. When I speak to people I feel like I either have to explain all the whys and what ifs or I have to appear strong and excited, whilst really feeling neither.

Feeling like I can’t hide myself wincing in pain, like I can’t hide the fact that I am in uncontrollable pain, every single day. Even before you existed I had to navigate a social life around pain and bad days, now I’m starting to feel as though I am incapable of a social life at all, where are the good days? Good hours pass by too quickly only to be met by flare ups of more uncontrollable pain. Most of my friends are amazing, they want to help and include me, they care, they check in, but I still feel like I am bringing the vibe down at every conversation. Like I’m just that person that people would rather avoid. I know I’m probably overthinking it, as you’ll learn, I do this a lot. It’s a work in progress.

We haven’t got long left – so it is exciting in lots of ways, but fear overrides. I don’t know what to expect this time despite having done this before. When I was pregnant with your sister the excitement was more pronounced because the outcome was completely unknown. This time the worry overtakes the excitement because we know how bad it can get. A pessimistic view I know, but in my head it’s also a realistic one. It’s a self preservation tactic, if I expect the worst I’ll be happy when better happens.

I’ve learned some things about you recently that do make me smile. Things like you hate me lying on my right side even though it’s the one I find most comfortable. You kick and kick and kick until I turn back. You don’t like loud noises. Your sister dropped a dumbbell the other day and you jumped with such force I thought you would jump right out of my body. You’re not bothered about baths even though everyone says babies go crazy in the water, neither you or your sister did. You protest after I indulge in too much sugar and you push back now when any one of us prod my bump.

I nearly didn’t write this, this week. It’s maternal mental health awareness week and my feeds are full of recovery stories, whilst I don’t feel like we are any closer to recovery. I know I will recover mentally, because I’ve been in much darker places than this before, but will I ever recover physically? Trauma, whether to the body or the mind comes with very real physical implications that filter into the everyday.

Mourning your old life is a daily battle when it comes to chronic illness and it’s why I find words of optimism so hollow, however well intended.

Still we move through the days, bringing us closer to you, and we hope that one day in the not so distant future these down days will be memories easily forgotten and better ones will replace them.

You could be here in a matter of weeks and I know I have to be strong for you, so I’ll keep fighting.

Baby Cullen number 2. Can’t wait to meet you. ❤️

Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week

A topic so close to my heart and one that I always feel needs highlighting, but also one that I myself am finding particularly triggering at the moment – if you’ve been following my second pregnancy journey you’ll understand why. If you haven’t I’ll explain in short, that I am finding this pregnancy, similar to the first, in that it’s detrimental to my mental health.

Whilst this time round I don’t feel utter desperation and despair, I do feel hopeless and flat. My physical pain has hugely contributed to my mental health during pregnancy. I am so pleased to see maternal mental health reach such heights with awareness, but I feel it’s important to understand how intrinsically linked our physical and mental well-being is. Something that I feel is often overlooked for women who are pregnant and managing illness and physical challenges as well as poor mental health and low mood.

This will be my only post on maternal mental health this week, and the reason for that is stated above – I’m finding it all a bit triggering. I feel so lucky to have come so far on my journey of regaining my strength and mental stability after the birth of my daughter, but equally I feel a strong pull back to that dark time, right now.

There are a few messages that I often shout about in my need to highlight, and want to again here:

You can dislike pregnancy and still want your baby. You can resent the process and it’s toll on you and your body and still feel a deep connection to the life you’re creating.

You can feel sadness and loss at your sense of self in motherhood and still love your children.

Maternal mental health isn’t just present postnatally. It doesn’t just occur during the process of pregnancy or immediately after. It can strike at any time. It can be dark and all consuming, during phases of exhaustion and sleep deprivation, but it can also be triggered during the quagmire of everyday life. When you feel like the old you has gone missing for a while and the responsibility of caring for others takes it’s toll on you emotionally. It can occur with setbacks and regressions in your child’s life, and sometimes it will pop up at any given time it likes.

Postnatal depression isn’t always intrusive thoughts and hiding from the world. Sometimes it’s high functioning anxiety that actually powers you through the days only to hit you like a tonne of bricks when things seem to be going ok.

Depression and anxiety are not always prompted by birth trauma, or tragedy. It can manifest in many ways, sometimes presenting as irritable or snappy, other times as rage, bouts of tearfulness and friction at home. And sometimes it can creep up on you with a dull flatness, you may not even realise you feel depressed at all until the things you used to look forward to in life start to lose their appeal. The things that used to excite you suddenly don’t anymore and everything just feels a bit grey.

When I was pregnant with my daughter six years ago there was no such thing in my area as a perinatal mental health team. It shows great progress that such teams are now in place across the UK helping women come to terms with difficult emotions during and after pregnancy. It has definitely provided me with some reassurance when going through the process again. The only thing I will say that I feel to still be somewhat lacking and this doesn’t just refer to perinatal mental health but mental health in general, is there still isn’t enough preventative measures in place to support people who have a history of depression but aren’t currently depressed.

When I found out I was pregnant this time my anxiety was in full force but when referred to talking therapies I was deemed to score low on the mood charts and therefore not particularly high risk or in need of additional support. Unfortunately this is all too common when seeking support for mental health. I believe I know myself best and after having come through many bouts of poor mental health I feel I’m the best judge of character to preempt spirals. It’s frustrating when you know you could go either way but the support is only in great supply when you are close to crisis.

I’ve found great support this time in grassroots organisations such as Bluebell Care probably even more so than I have in my midwifery team.

Maternal mental health has been highlighted even more in the last year because of the pandemic and if anything good was to come from that it would be that we’re shining a light on mother’s struggling.

There’s a long way left to go and it’s not easy to be candid on such topics – but one thing I do know is that however you’re feeling, you’re not alone. It takes a great strength to open up about parenting struggles because societal judgement is still placed so heavily on a mother. Speaking up is the first step, becoming aware is the next one.

For more information on maternal mental health support please visit Maternal Mental Health Alliance

30 weeks of growing you

With each week my mobility decreases, yours increases. You are kicking those feet like your life depends on it whilst my vagina feels (and looks) like a punched lasagne. (I hope you grow up with a sense of humour because if I stop making jokes I will die)

Thirty weeks of uncertainty and stormy waters.

Thirty weeks of tests and tears.

Of what ifs, of percentages. Of comparisons. Of risks.

Thirty weeks of unanswered questions, of time spent in survival mode, counting down and hope.

You are so precious. So physical. So big, so heavy. The excitement I’ve been holding back, too scared to make room for, is pushing it’s way through my fear. I won’t lie and say I’m not scared, because I want you to know it’s okay to be scared. I won’t lie and say it’s not been horrifically hard, because I won’t lie to you, ever. With the exception of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, maybe also that the ice cream van is out of stock, oh and superheroes are totally real too, your dad is mine.

What I will say is, it’s worth it, I know this every time I look at your sister. She is so worth it and her start was hard too. Carrying her felt hard too. It’s harder with you because we have already had a taste of what it feels like when nightmares happen, but we also know how it feels to pull through them.

I wonder sometimes how people manage to love all of their children equally when they love the first so much. With such visceral intensity. However, I know with certainty that I will love you as much. I might love you differently, but it won’t be less. I will love you as hard, and you will probably be as much of a pain in my ass as she was (occasionally still is) but none of that really matters. Nothing diminishes a mother’s love. It is unconditional. I didn’t really understand it before I became a mum. I love my own mum unconditionally, with forgiveness and without limits, but it’s different when you become the mum. I can’t explain it. I can’t make sense of it, I just know you’ll be loved as fiercely with the same primal instinct that is ever present in my love for your sister.

You’re not an accident, you’re not a mistake, you’re not unwanted. Just because I haven’t enjoyed carrying you, I haven’t loved the process, I just don’t love it. I don’t even like it, but I still know how much I will love you, because I already do.

I’m not a maternal person, I don’t brood over babies, I don’t love being surrounded by other people’s children and chaos. But I love my own children more than I have ever loved anything. With such ferocity, that it scares me sometimes.

Being a mum is scary generally, it’s always guessing what to do for the best with nobody able to give you a definitive answer. It’s always wondering if you could of done something differently. I wonder that about the last thirty weeks. I wonder if I had done anything differently would I feel differently, would I feel more able, less disabled? Sometimes I think I could of tried harder to fight through pain, fed you better foods, looked after myself better. I’ve done my best though, the best I know how with what I have.

I’ve tried, and if I’ve learned anything it’s that my best is all I’ve got, and it’s enough. I hope when and if you ever read these, you will know that despite hopelessness and despair, fear and pain, the goal never changed. The goal has always been to add you to our family someday, even before we knew about it. To love you, to bring you into this world. A world full of uncertainty, but one in which you will be loved with certainty.

The doctor has told us now that you might come early, they’ve told us you might have a hard start, they’ve told us a lot of things that we didn’t want to hear, lots of things that impact both you and I, but we can’t predict what will happen. So I’m holding out for the might nots, because with risk comes worse case scenarios, and we aren’t in control of those, but with hope comes dreams, and we have big dreams for you.

Thanks for sticking with me for these 30 long weeks. Reminding me that every sacrifice, every ailment, every ‘bump’ in the road, brings me closer to you.

29 Weeks of growing you

Every time I change position now I am reminded that I cannot move. Every time I am left alone with your sister I am frightened, because I don’t feel like I can care for her properly anymore. It’s scary, it’s upsetting and I wonder how I will ever care for you. The loss of power in my limbs makes me feel vulnerable. Insecure. I feel like if there was an accident or a fire how would I escape?

When we found out I might need a cesarian I cried more tears. I got frustrated with your dad and anyone else who shrugs off this very real concern of mine with a ‘everyone has them’ attitude. I am not everyone. A cesarian is just one thing on a list as long as my arm to worry about. When I was pregnant with your sister I begged for a section, I didn’t think my pelvis would withstand a vaginal birth, but it did, and I recovered, after a horrendous infection that was so gross the hospital room I was in, stank of blood. Still this goes no way to reassuring me this time, because I am so much sicker now. So much weaker. So little fight is left in my swollen body.

Then I remember that all of my concerns are irrelevant in comparison to keeping you safe and I know I will do whatever it takes. I know I will suffer the trauma on my body like I have for the past 29 weeks and I know I’ll do it, not without complaint, but with conviction.

I have been vague in my conversations with people because I am irritated at their optimism when I feel stuck in one place, with tunnel vision. Their kindness is both needed and hard to process at the same time. Nobody can say the right thing. I am snappy. I am blinkered and blinded by my own problems. I’m being unreasonable, I’m not making sense, I’m emotional. It’s not intentional, but I can’t control it. I feel angry. Angry that this is happening to me and my plans for an amazing second pregnancy that I would cherish have been snatched from me. I am also eternally grateful. Grateful that despite all of this you are still with me. Still showing up, still kicking and your heart still beating. Still waving for scan pics and defying the odds.

I don’t know what I will do if this all works out ok. I feel like I’m in survival mode and if I do survive, and I hope I will. Maybe then I’ll breathe a sigh of relief. Maybe then I’ll tell people thank you, I’ll share their optimism and have more faith. So many months of uncertainty have left me in fight mode. But fight mode isn’t a health place to be.

I’ve been avoiding people, then desperately seeking comfort in company. The weekend we had friends over and it was so lush even though I absolutely hated the idea of people seeing me as I am now, unable to move, fat (I know I’m pregnant but I’m still fat) your sister played all afternoon, laughed and reminded me, that I have to be strong. For her, as well as you. I have to fake it till I make it, somedays are easier than others but everyday I have to show up.

This morning another friend came and brought lots of baby clothes for you, we’ve ordered some new furniture and your grandad has promised to do some work for us before you arrive. We’re going to start nesting soon, so far your dad has done all of the housework (still a shit hole) but he is so busy and I feel so useless and lazy. I feel so stripped of my personality somedays that I don’t even know who I am, other than a sick person who also happens to be pregnant.

Now I’m at the end of this blog, I feel lighter, I feel as though I’ve offloaded and maybe tomorrow will start with the similar optimism of today, and maybe it’ll be better, maybe I’ll laugh a bit more.

Your sister is holding me up at the moment, she doesn’t know it, but her excitement and joy at your pending arrival is a tonic. Her asks for cuddles and little whispers into my bump are sacred. She loves you already, we all do. So let’s do this, don’t quit on us now – we’ve got this.