Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week.

MMHAW runs from 2nd-8th May 2022. It’s purpose is to raise awareness for mental illness and mood and anxiety disorders that occur during the perinatal space. The perinatal space is considered to be from pregnancy right up until your child is a year old, but in my personal experience this fluctuates for everyone. Last year during MMHAW, I was pregnant, and in a very dark place. I opted not to get involved in much awareness raising, though it was a decision that I found difficult, because spreading awareness of topics such as this, is so important to me. However, whilst these weeks/days/months are so important, they don’t come without triggers. So I want to let you know, if you’re in the perinatal space, just out of it, or five years postpartum, if spending too much time online is proving triggering for you right now, please take a break. Not feeling able to spread awareness is ok. Joining in for one day is ok. Wanting to get involved in the whole shebang is ok. Having good intentions and then changing your mind? Also ok.

Last year just before MMHAW and Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week Blog

Maternal mental health/illness is complex and the effects are different for everyone. We’re often warned of postnatal depression but maternal mental health is so much bigger than depression alone and definitely doesn’t just occur postnatally. I’ve had two babies and suffered with my mental health with both, throughout pregnancy and during the perinatal space. But the effects of each illness were very different. For example with my daughter I suffered low mood (depression) as more of a prominent symptom. I would want to be away from her a lot and I struggled with bonding and finding my identity as a mother. With my son, anxiety and intrusive thoughts were the overriding emotional responses to pregnancy and for a long time postpartum. I couldn’t be alone with the children for weeks after his birth, I felt as if something bad was going to happen whilst they were in my care. I had many intrusive thoughts and my main fear was of developing psychosis. Funny really, because the fear of this very nearly tipped me onto the scale of being psychotic.

Have you ever considered the language used in relation to maternal mental illness?

The reason I ask this, is because I have realised as a sufferer and survivor that we are still relatively behind in how we refer to maternal mental illness. Many people still only resonate with the term postnatal depression except we know that postnatal is just one period within the perinatal space. We know that depression is just one of the many perinatal mental illnesses that affect women during this time period.

Other types of maternal mental illness include

  • Maternal Anxiety
  • Maternal OCD
  • Peri and postpartum psychosis
  • Maternal suicide
  • Exacerbation of existing mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Development of menstrual disorders postnatally

Organisations such as PANDAS often now refer to mental illness that occurs during the perinatal space PMADS which stands for Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders. Others refer to postnatal depression as PND or PPD and some like myself who suffered both depression and anxiety refer to it as PNDA. Perinatal depression and Anxiety. The terminology might not seem overly important, but what is important is the level of understanding and knowledge, that maternal mental illness is not just one symptom, it can often include all of the above at the same time.

I’ve just finished ten months of medical and therapeutic intervention since giving birth to my son in July 2021. I am also medicated for both anxiety and PMDD. Having my children crippled me physically, it shattered my mental health and any equilibrium in my life disappeared. I love my kids, that’s not in question. Though I found growing, birthing, and caring for both of them during the perinatal period, traumatic in the extreme.

What really saddens me when I look back now is that I cried out for help, particularly in my second pregnancy. From just seven weeks pregnant I asked for mental health support. I was told I wasn’t anxious or depressed enough at that time. There was no preventative intervention, nobody to guide me. Particularly as I carried my son during the height of the 2020 pandemic. By the time I was admitted to hospital on the verge of psychosis, the damage had been done. Not only did I need to recover from the trauma of a debilitating pregnancy, I had to do so whilst mentally very unwell and with two children to look after. I still believe that if I had been referred to the perinatal mental health service earlier in my pregnancy my experience would have been very different. You can read more about my experience during my second pregnancy here. Pregnant and chronically ill.

I haven’t shared Kaiser’s birth story, because still to this day, ten months on, after much therapy and support, I find it a harrowing and destabilising time to reflect on. I can talk about it in conversations but I struggle when recalling the details and writing it all down. It causes me pain. And whilst I’ve worked through a whole heap of trauma and accepted my illness, delving into and sharing the true extent of my thoughts is not something I’m completely comfortable with yet.

What I am willing to do is share a quote from the day he was born. A quote that I wrote in the notes on my phone during our first night with Kaiser.

I feel scared of my baby, scared of what the responsibility of being his mum means. I’m missing my other baby, I can’t cope with this one too. Am I a bad mum? I don’t want to be here, in this room with the yellow light and the sound of feet moving and trollies rolling outside of its door. I don’t want to go home either. I just don’t want to be HERE at all.

12.10am 02.07.21

There is a lot of work being done by charitable organisations such as PANDAS as well as The Perinatal Mental Health Partnership to find out what’s causing huge hold ups for people waiting for mental health care during the perinatal period. NHS England are also working on extending the time you can be supported when suffering perinatal mental illness. It’s currently until your child is a year old, however many women find symptoms of mental illness might occur later in the perinatal period and need further or ongoing support.

If you are struggling with your mental health at all please reach out to your GP or one of the organisations listed below. You’re not alone. If you feel like you’re not getting anywhere with your GP ask to see someone else. If you or someone you know is suicidal please visit your nearest A&E department or call your maternity unit immediately. Mental health care is for women during the perinatal period is as essential as physical healthcare.

News

I’m delighted to announce I have been nominated for two categories in this years’ Mental Heath Blog Awards.

MHBA are a way to showcase patients and advocates in the mental health community and it’s an honour to have been nominated.

See full list of nominees and their categories here. Voting is open and it would mean the world to have your support. 💚

Please click here to vote. 🗳 🗳 🗳

It’s time…..

Confessions of a chronically ill mum #12

Three months I’ve been writing these, and they are basically just a way for me to brain dump, to offload and overshare. However, when I look back to number one, I can also see personal growth. Those confessions I wrote in the first few chapters of COACIM were so much bigger than the ones I’m bringing to you now, and that’s because things have changed.

So what’s been happening? A lot actually. But before I get into it, I have to admit that having Shaun off over Easter for a week was undeniably helpful. This week, I am feeling done in. My joints hurt, I have brain fog, migraine symptoms and generally feel under par. It’s only two weeks since I last felt like this which is proper shit as it means this menstrual cycle, PMDD and Fibro symptoms are massively overlapping, and ergo exacerbated. The last week of the Easter hols was just me and the kids, and surviving that after a week away and all of us contracting norovirus, along with my normal and new symptoms, was pretty tough going.

You know what though, I’m proud of me. I’ve been relentless with this PMD Awareness month stuff, now having raised over £500. I’ve had so much support, mostly from strangers online as per, and those IRL proper mates that show up for you whatever shit you’re spouting about on the gram. I also participated in two instagram lives, one with IAPMD and one with The PMDD Collective; you can check them out below.

LIVE with Brett from IAPMD
LIVE with Emily and Ally from
The PMDD Collective

I’ve finally got childcare sorted for going back to work. Kaiser has had his settling in sessions, he did really well, especially as it’s at two different settings. We’ve been together for such a long while now that I imagined him to be clingier, turns out if you have snacks and give him lots of attention, he’s anyones’

I have a few things going on health wise. Mentally, I’m trying to prepare for being discharged from the perinatal service, and it’ll come as no surprise that one of my confessions is that, I’m terrified. I’m worried of how I will measure up without a team of people supporting me and fighting my corner. Physically I’m still waiting on test results for a second diabetes check, and appointments for my heart issues as well as physio.

I’m due to return to my job in less than a week, so I’ll have to adjust to life back on the 9-5 for those two days. I’ll confess that I’m not looking forward to it. To say that I am would be a lie. In all honesty, it’s nothing to do with work, they’ve been great and supportive. It’s all to do with me! The reality is I don’t know how I’m going to fair as an increasingly disabled person, and mother of two other persons, back in the working world. With our financial situation as it is at the moment though, there is no other viable option and this makes me very stressed indeed. I feel like I am only just coming through my recovery journey of perinatal mental illness and regaining my mobility, whilst still managing an ever increasing list of health problems, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think work was going to upset the equilibrium I’ve finally established in my everyday life.

I’ve realised since being involved with IAPMD this month how much I love my advocacy work and I’d really love to be able to keep giving back, writing and making a difference but again, I don’t know how achievable that will be once I’m back doing what I have to, to put food on the table. That said I still really want to expand my blog, upload the fiction I’ve been working on and share that with you all. I also have a new interactive feature coming soon!

Dear Steph is a new agony aunt style feature where I’ll be answering your questions about almost anything! Just for fun. My friend Amy keeps on telling me how wise I am, and during my collaborative work with House21 I was often told I should cameo on their Dear Donna feature! So I thought fuck it, and decided to go for it.

I hope you’ll send in your problems or confessions for me to comment on to divamumsteph@hotmail.com adding Dear Steph in the subject line. It can be 100% anonymous if you so wish. Serious and funny/questions/problems welcome.

There are a few restrictions, mainly because I need to protect myself and make sure I’m offering support to anyone who writes in. (Knowing my luck nobody will -LOL)

Important to note, I’m not a professional so if your topic includes any of the following please seek professional support.

  • Sexual assault
  • Illegal activity
  • Health issues that require a medical opinion or further investigation.

I will happily give my advice, personal opinions and share my experience on mental health and or chronic illness, but if you require specific medical advice please seek support from a qualified practitioner.

I want to hear your most embarrassing moments and comment on them (no judgement here) I want to hear about your relationships, struggles, motherhood woes and workplace dramas. Is your mother in law driving you up the wall? Have you fallen out with your best friend? Maybe your partner is giving you the ick? Or are your kids’ as feral as mine and you need some reassurance that it gets easier? Basically I’m trying to fulfil one of my younger selfs’ dreams of having my own agony aunt column in the back of That’s Life magazine. So do me a solid and send in your woes and faux! Dear Steph will start as soon as your emails come in, and I’ll respond to one a week, once a week, on a Thursday.

Confessions of a chronically ill mum #11

I started out really unhappy writing this one. I’ll forewarn now that it includes some glumness! (Maybe a lot) As ever though, I keep it honest.

The beginning off the week was tough going because I was exhausted from Ciara’s party and already feeling a little run down. Then Wednesday night about midnight I started, (pretty much out of nowhere) vomiting. It was awful, and it went on for 3 days. When the vomiting finally subsided it started coming out of the other end. Vile. And I cried, a lot. It was my birthday Saturday and I spent it in bed, crying. Monday we were due to go on holiday with the kids to Dorset and Shaun began vomiting for over 24 hours, so we weren’t able to make the trip as planned.

Life: It’s just life. And it is! It’s one of those things that can’t be helped or avoided or unpacked, because it just happens, people get sick. But when you get sick on top of your everyday sick, I’m not gonna lie it kicks you a little harder in the kidneys. Vomiting always makes me feel quite heightened anxiety because it’s a involuntary action. I have no control over it, and no power to stop it. I’ll be honest it’s taken a lot from me this week. I’ve felt pissed off at a ruined birthday and genuine frustration at how long my body takes to recover from ‘everyday illness’ whilst managing its’ several chronic illnesses. Taking a bath at my mum’s yesterday to avoid sharing the only bathroom we have at home with Shaun, I felt sick and faint.

Kaiser gave me zero grace in my recovery. He woke up at midnight for 1.5 hours and then again 2-4am both nights whilst Shaun was ill. Again, just life stuff. I keep repeating the ‘it’s just life’ sentence, not because I’m minimising my experience. I’m not. It’s been awful. But because, I have spent many years battling out of the ordinary things. Things like having a baby and spending nine months in therapy because you believed with every ounce of your being that you were crazy, incapable, and unsafe. Things like getting pregnant and suddenly being unable to walk, driving around in a mobility scooter and eating your way to gestational diabetes. Things like never being able to show up because your illnesses’ block you at every turn. Those things are not just life, they’re my life, sure, but they’re not everybodies. Sickness bugs though – they are a free for all and one of the things I learned during my time in therapy, is that I have to give a certain level of acceptance to this everyday stuff and not let it consume me.

I confess that I have always been a person that reacts negatively to stress. Where some people might shrug off the everyday stuff, I take it and wrap it around me in layers. I’ll also go as far as confessing to having used it as excuses over the years. Yet, I’ve also felt the weight of it. Learning to accept certain scenarios doesn’t mean I’m ok with them. Nor does it mean I don’t have to work hard to live through them, it just means, simply - that I have to prioritise peace. 

Moving on from all the sickness, and bugs and life as a disabled mum, for a second…. If you’ve been following me on socials you’ll know that I’m fundraising for IAPMD by way of a raffle. It was my intention to make a fuss about this via my birthday weekend and really try and get some momentum going. Unfortunately, you know what, put paid to that! However I have managed to raise significant funds in the last few days and we’re now on a grand total of £308 smashing my self set target of £250 out of the park. I’m thrilled. And forever grateful to all the strangers on the internet that want to support a cause close to me. Of course my friends and family too, but strangers on the internet are definitely more frivolous with their cheering, that’s for sure! (Just stating an observation, don’t @ me!)

Today, we made it to Dorset. I am still expecting one of the kids to start vomming any second but I shan’t dwell! We drove down this afternoon, made it to the beach for a chippy tea and then holed up in the caravan and listened to the rain pelt it’s tin roof. I didn’t realise how much I needed this break until I arrived here and my shoulders dropped. Tension leaving my body, anxieties being swept up with the spume of the sea, literally. I don’t even apologise for my over the top description of just how sacred this trip is. I needed it, the kids needed it, Shaun, though still feeling fragile, needed it. I hope the bastard that is norovirus and his mate covid manage to stay the fuck away from us for the rest of the week and beyond.

Confessions of a chronically ill mum #9

Still horizontal. My pelvis has not improved. I still can’t drive and I still can’t get up and move around freely. What I have noticed though is how different my mindset has been this time being so disabled. I feel less…. Devastated. As if by some miracle I’m accepting the things that aren’t within my control and I’m just cracking on, regardless. I mean, let’s not pretend I’m not frustrated or upset at what I’m missing, the stress it causes and the worry being immobile brings, because of course, I am. But I’m not obsessing, ruminating, catastrophising or all of that other shit I’m so prone to doing when I can’t live the way I’d like. Maybe it’s therapy that has taught me to be more accepting, or maybe it’s the state of the world and my gratitude at having the life I do, even whilst it’s hard. Maybe it’s the spring weather. Maybe it’s because I’ve been bleeding for weeks and when I’m bleeding I’m at my best mentally. Maybe it’s just because luteal hasn’t punched me in the brain yet! Who knows, who cares, I’ll take this more ‘normal’ reaction to the situation and just be thankful for it.

What else is going on?

BIG NEWS. I’m fundraising for iapmd in April. The International Association for Premenstrual Disorders. I’ll be running a raffle and an auction and you can find details of both by visiting my Instagram page and tapping on PMDD raffle highlights. I’ve been blown away by the generosity from people donating prizes, especially in the current climate. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

But I’ll confess, I’ve also felt a bit disheartened that the buzz on my social media pages has dropped significantly since I started posting about the charity. I do understand that awareness posts will not land or resonate with everyone but it can be a bit of a kick in the guts when your friends don’t get on board to back you. The thing with socials is they are unfortunately slave to the algorithm and if people aren’t liking your posts, people aren’t seeing them, either. So remember even if you’re unable to donate, buy tickets or relate to the cause, a simple like or a share can make just as much difference and may reach people that are able to help. I also need to confess that whilst I’m coping better being so immobile I haven’t coped well with the atrocity that is our GP system. In fact I’ve coped so badly with it I lost my shit both with a receptionist and a pharmacist recently. And whilst I do believe both of them were antagonistic I still feel like my rage is sometimes something I have less control over. Firstly the physio I was referred to last October called me to say he’d never sent my referral to the hospital… he was apologetic and I thanked him for taking accountability, but I’ve been left without any physiotherapy for six months so some might argue it’s no wonder my mobility is worsening again. Anyway, then I requested medication and was told I’d have to wait 3 weeks to speak to a doctor to okay the meds. 3 weeks. They are psychiatric meds and I could of been on top of Clifton suspension bridge long before I got them. I’m not suicidal, but if I was in crisis this notion that we must just grin and bear it is, in my opinion not acceptable. The mental health crisis has long been a pandemic and with GP’s refusing to see people face to face the consequences are real for many. I feel both situations could have saved me a lot of stress and pain had I just been able to talk to a doctor there and then. 

Because of my limited mobility, I have been finding staying on track with the healthy eating harder, but I’m determined in whatever way I can to continue this journey of better nutrition. Though there have been days I’ve succumbed to a few treats, overall I’m still managing to reduce my portion intake and include more fruit and veg.

It’s Ciara’s birthday party next weekend and I’m really hoping I’m able to move better for that. However I know whatever happens she will have the best day. With the help of our families and support of all of her friends we’ll make sure it’s a good one. She’s such a beautiful, kind and sensitive soul, my daughter! She asked for a party this year INSTEAD of presents. What kind of amazing little kid offers to forfeit presents to spend the day with her friends. I mean it’s a good job she did because the party has cost an absolute fortune but we’ve still got her some gifts to open on the big day! She also lost another tooth, her third one, whilst her brother is just cutting his third. Speaking of Kaiser he now knows and responds to his name, nose, and Raa Raa (the noisy little lion) or Thomas (The tank engine) He still never sleeps though.

I guess for now that’s about all that’s new. I’m busy trying to manage my health before I’m due to go back to work in May, and I’m also soon to be discharged from the perinatal service so I just need to get my head around that. Bear with, and watch this space!

Love. Xxx

Confessions of a chronically ill mum. #4

It’s all been going on! Since last week’s news about my health, I’ve been determined to go full steam ahead with the diet change. For us, living on takeaways we can’t afford and binging on food instead of our pre kid vices like booze and fags, has been the norm for so, so long. Shaun set us a goal of no takeaways in February and I know we’re only 2 weeks in but for a couple who ate pizza and mail order brownies several times a week, we’re smashing it. I’ve signed up to do a diabetes prevention course which I’m keen, but also stressed about getting started on. Keen because I want to make the best changes possible, but stressed because it’s another thing to try and squeeze in to my ever full appointments calendar.

Kids

Kaiser has started crawling! At seven months old, Ciara was crawling at six months plus two weeks, so this didn’t come as a huge surprise. But how annoying are kids that move so soon?

Confession - This week Kaiser had to see a paediatrician. I won’t go into detail here but, we need to get a urine sample from him. Note I say need and not needed because after two hours of trying to catch his piss in a plastic tub, inside a waiting room on the children’s ward, I gave up. I also, and shoot me for being a terrible mother, wished they would just do a bastard heel prick blood test and let him scream! After failing in my attempts and wrestling him into a position that wasn’t comfortable for either of us, I left the appointment sweating profusely in unbearable pain and doing a lot of cussing. Nobody wants to see their baby in pain, but dear god I would of preferred the blood spot over that pantomime. Worse still I am going to have to endure the debacle all over again in my second attempt. Have googled whether it’s ok to wring out a nappy, but have been sadly informed it is not! Fucking Kids!! To top that, Ciara had an appointment at Bristol Eye Hospital and fainted! My second confession is that I was glad it was Shaun that was with her and not me. I know that sounds awful but I also know I would have panicked so badly I wouldn’t of been able to cope. Or maybe I would, maybe I’d have dealt with it on autopilot. Right now though, I’m just glad she’s safe and seems to be otherwise fine. She’s so desperate to go to school tomorrow for her non uniform day in aid of Childrens Mental Health Week that I’m letting her sleep with me tonight so I can monitor how she’s doing. 

Hormones

I’ve been struggling immensely with TMD and went to the dentist on Monday only for them to shave off half of one of my wisdom teeth and then tell me that probably won’t work. PSA, it didn’t! Unfortunately, hormones (those bastards) really flare up all of my pain and it’s not unusual for me to experience horrific TMD during ovulation and through luteal.

Speaking of hormones, I’ve been taking progesterone for around 4 months now, and whilst I am seeing some relief from the mental health symptoms, physically things are no better. In fact I may even go as far as to say they are a little worse. It’s hard because I have to weigh up what is worse, and realistically I know it’s the crippling anxiety and thoughts of suicide, along with inexplicable rage. But knowing this still doesn’t make the physical symptoms any easier to manage.

Breakthroughs

What I will say though, is that I am managing the mental symptoms I am experiencing, much, much better. And I think I have therapy to thank for that. It’s a slow burn, therapy! It makes you feel vulnerable with each session, but the more vulnerable you can allow yourself to be, the less that vulnerability is able to take hold. Then suddenly, seven months later, you realise you are doing better! You don’t always feel it, but you know it’s true. The feeling of drowning in quicksand every time you have a bad day gets less, and it starts to feel more as though you’ve just been inconveniently splashed by a car driving through a muddy puddle.

I’m not saying I’m cured, or that I will never have episodes of dread and impending doom again. But I feel right now, that if I do experience that again, I have more tools in my arsenal to help me fight it. I’ve another eight weeks of group therapy to get through before I can be discharged from the perinatal service. Discharge looms, like a black cloud really, because I’ve been helped in so many amazing ways by the team that I’d like to be able to talk to them about my trauma forever. At some point in the not so distant future, I’m going to have to hold my own hand.

Confessions of a chronically ill mum #3

Where to start. Good news or bad? I think I’ll start with the good. The weekend just passed, my husband and I went away for a cheeky, little, couple’s soirée. We travelled about an hour away from where we live in Bristol, to the Mendip hills and stayed in a holiday cottage. It was divine. The most exquisite bedroom complete with a roll top bath and Netflix, we spent most of our time in there catching up on….. you guessed it, sleep!

It also had a wood fired hot tub, we only successfully heated it up once, so the following day we had to cold dip instead! Suffice to say that ‘dip’ was much shorter in duration!

I’ve mentioned in previous blogs that I don’t really drink alcohol anymore. Only on very rare occasions, not because I’m a martyr or anything like that, just because my health doesn’t really allow for it these days. I was worried about how we would entertain ourselves without booze as this is the first time we’ve been away together since our wedding in Jan 2020! I needn’t of worried though, we had such a lovely relaxing time, chilled, acted stupid and just made the most of not having a child hanging off an arm each for three nights! I also managed to get through the weekend without any real flare issues. I did have hormonal cramps on one of the days but given the pain levels I’m used to, it was manageable and I’m so thankful for that.

Fast forward to Tuesday and I received a letter I wasn’t expecting. I’ve had a lot of tests recently because of a decline in my health and new unexplained symptoms. One of the tests was a standard blood glucose test and one of them was a cholesterol test. My cholesterol has been high for some time and I’m now, at aged just 33 being told I’m at serious risk of developing cardiovascular disease in the next five to ten years and will require lifelong medication to prevent the risk of heart attack and stroke. I had gestational diabetes in pregnancy and was prescribed both oral and injectable insulin. It was hell on earth to be honest, I became obsessed with my sugar levels and racked with anxiety and panic. My blood glucose result is high again and I read it and cried, my father has type two diabetes and because of having gestational diabetes I am high risk already. I believed immediately I had type2 and would need insulin again. It turns out after reading the results properly, I’m in pre-diabetes or borderline diabetic. Which means: I need a lifestyle overhaul immediately.

It’s safe to say despite not yet being diabetic I am still devastated by these findings. On top of, Fibromyalgia PMDD Migraine SPD and Post Herpetic Neuralgia (reoccurring shingles pain) and catching covid at Christmas and currently being screened for heart and breast problems, I’m already in a pretty bad way. If we add in the mental health stuff too, Panic disorder and Perinatal Anxiety you might be starting to understand, as to why this has devastated me so much. Or you might be thinking I’m a hypochondriac, I wish I was. But sadly, all of this is very real.

At the moment, I feel shrouded in guilt and shame around having so many health problems at 33 years old.

That might sound crazy, because I didn’t ask for any of this, but I haven’t always followed advice either. I haven’t always done the right thing when it comes to self care & I’m struggling with that, because now I’m having to live with real life consequences.

I’m struggling with it because I have two kids & I feel like they deserve better than what I’ve been able to give them. I can’t even get decent life insurance with a premium that I can afford because my health is in such a poor state.

I feel guilty when I can’t get to Kaiser fast enough because my body isn’t playing ball or when I can’t rock him to sleep or carry him upstairs. When Ciara sees me in bed for the 1000th time on a weekend (the only time I can get a break when my husband is home) and asks me when I’m going to feel better, it makes me feel like shit.

I mentioned last week that I’ve let myself go, particularly in reference to my weight and I know some people reading this will think, just lose weight then! But it IS hard when your body punishes you every time you exercise and your mobility is extremely limited.
It IS hard when you’ve given up lots of the things you used to enjoy, and now your main thing to look forward to is what you’re eating.
It’s hard when your hormones upturn your life every two weeks and your hunger is cloaked in rage and desperation. It’s hard when you have no energy to prepare food, and you can’t open the lid on a jar, or lift a pan without help. It’s embarrassing. I am embarrassed. I’m ashamed to admit these things, they are the things I keep hidden or try to do independently and pay for afterwards. I’m telling you now, because it’s the truth. And because I know I have to take some accountability for the state my health is in.

Confession: These are excuses, but (hear me out) in some cases they’re valid excuses, because they do affect my ability to live a healthy lifestyle. And on top of those excuses I have been making positive changes. I’ve made so many I can’t even tell you, especially in direct relation to my mental health. However, physically it’s not enough, there is no alternative. I have to start somewhere, I have to lose weight, I have to try and build on my fitness somehow, and I have to start now. 

I’m not wallowing in this latest health hit. I refuse to do that. I cannot be overcome with additional anxiety about my health. I cannot change these things overnight, but I may be able to limit some of the risks if I start now.
So here I am, baring it all. Starting where I am and working with what I have, now, today. (Well actually I started yesterday, as soon as I read the letter.) It’s not going to be easy, but I can’t waste anymore time on excuses. I can’t just wait and see. I have to take drastic action.

I have to take action, for my family.

If you or someone you know lives with any of the health conditions mentioned you can access information about where to get support via the hyperlinks. 

Confessions of a chronically ill mum.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad days do not equal a bad life

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

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

Another new year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All I want for Christmas, is you.

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

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

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

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

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

Subtle break-throughs

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worrying about tomorrow, steals today’s joy.

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

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

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

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

How did I get here?

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

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

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

Intrusive thoughts during the perinatal period

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

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

So what are intrusive thoughts?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Russ Harris The Happiness Trap

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

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

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

https://www.buymeacoffee.com/Divamumsteph

104 days postpartum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please look but do not touch

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

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

Yes you read that right, she was offended.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kaiser’s face when someone invades his personal space

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

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

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

Tags available to purchase at JillyTotsUk

Reasons not to have a second kid….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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