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.

PMDD and pregnancy

April is PMDD Awareness Month and it’s something I’ve not talked about much since becoming pregnant again. PMDD directly corresponds with your menstrual cycle so in theory you should gain relief during pregnancy. However, and this is not fact, merely my personal experience, since PMDD causes an abnormal reaction to normal hormonal changes, whilst you may receive some relief during pregnancy it’s possible you still have a sensitivity to hormone fluctuations. As has been the case for me. Some symptoms are worse than ever before, particularly migraine and feelings of hopelessness.

The first trimester is often the worst for lots of pregnant women even in the absence of PMDD, the severity in hormonal changes tend to happen early in pregnancy and level out as your body becomes accustomed. It’s also thought women who suffer perinatal/postnatal depression may be at further risk for developing PMDD, and I can concur that the dip in hormones post pregnancy deeply affected me the first time around. With PMDD age has been another factor which effects the severity in symptoms for me personally. The older I get the worse my symptoms become. Often it has been the case for me where hormonal therapy such as contraception will provide short term relief only to later stop working with no rhyme or reason. Antidepressant medication can also help manage symptoms but again, long term they often need changing and finding the right type and dosage is a lot of trial and error.

After menarche, my PMDD was prominent, but back then at the age of just eleven nobody took my severe mood fluctuations seriously. At thirteen after attempting suicide I was prescribed antidepressants. It was only later when I started diarising my depression and severe mood swings that often included rage and toxic outbursts that I made the connection between them and my periods. Growing up, soon after enrolling in infants school and before menstruation, I was diagnosed with the hormone imbalance premature adrenarche. Though there is no scientific connection between PA and PMDD I feel this was all part of the same affliction, sensitivity to hormone changes affect me in a major way.

PMDD shouldn’t impact pregnancy in the sense that it alone won’t impact your ability to conceive. However trying for a baby whilst managing PMDD can be difficult, especially if you’re taking contraceptives to manage your symptoms, and or antidepressants. Fluoxetine or Prozac as it’s also known, is one of the more favourable SSRI’s for PMDD treatment. However it’s not recommended for pregnant women and therefore you may be asked to switch to a safer antidepressant or come off of them all together. This in itself can be a life altering (and in some cases life threatening) change that could impact your mental health during pregnancy too.

If your PMDD is severe and not responsive to treatment you may have considered sterilisation, which of course can put added pressure on you if you want to conceive. You might feel like you’re running out of time or you might feel forced to make the decision not to have children at all in order to manage your condition.

Though classified as a mental illness PMDD has many physical symptoms including joint paint, migraine and profound fatigue, that can often be mistaken or overlap with other illnesses, in my case my fibromyalgia is much worse when PMDD strikes and I know many other sufferers often get diagnosed with secondary conditions as a result of living with PMDD too.

Looking after your mental health must alway be a priority including during pregnancy, but it’s scary when you’re offered conflicting information and promises of symptom relief aren’t helpful either. ‘At least you get a break from PMDD’ is one of the most useless reassurances I’ve ever heard. Surely we know by now that even those of us with the same diagnoses will experience symptoms differently and bodily changes will impact us all in different ways. Pregnancy is one of the most obvious examples of this. Some women barely know they’re pregnant at all and others (like myself) find the process insufferable.

What’s important when considering all factors is finding a healthcare practitioner that is aware of your diagnoses and if they aren’t up to speed on what it means. They need to be willing to learn. When I found out I was pregnant this time I specifically asked to be cared for by the perinatal mental health team, this has included regular discussions with a mental health consultant that specialises in reproductive health. It’s been invaluable for me to know that I have people on my healthcare team that understand and are knowledgeable in helping me look after myself during pregnancy. My most recent appointment with the consultant included discussions around further specialist referral for PMDD post pregnancy, and also the need for me to be prescribed antidepressants again post natal. Even if I don’t feel I need them I have a prescription ready and a doctor who is helping me monitor the impact.

Pregnancy is hard on our bodies, buts it’s equally as hard on our minds, and when you are prone to mental health problems or live with a mental illness already, specifically ones prone to intensify with hormone fluctuation, the need to receive the right healthcare is critical.

https://iapmd.org/ the international association for premenstrual disorders have a directory that can help you find doctors in your area that specialise in PMDD so do check them out.

26 weeks of growing you

Your movements have returned to normal, I cross my heart and thank god, that together we are surviving this.

My brain though, my mood, my feelings are still off kilter. I don’t know how I feel anymore but I think the word best to describe it is numb. I don’t feel despairingly depressed which can only be a good thing, but I don’t feel overjoyed either. I feel like all I do is complain, I feel like all I do is feel pain. I feel like I’m blaming pregnancy for a lot unintentionally. I don’t want you to be born from these feelings but it’s very hard, so hard to feel connected to you when I myself feel so disconnected from everything and everyone. This week I had a reactivation of an old shingles virus – it’s agony, it’s keeping me awake at night and it can be potentially dangerous for you, so I have to take more medication.

I’ve been so quiet, so distant, my friends have tried encouraging me, coaxing me, offering support and I’m so grateful but I have nothing to say. I’m acutely aware that I am becoming a negative person a person whose insular and reclusive, a person who brings the mood down, a fun sponge.

You are growing and I am growing with you, finding comfort in food because I can’t move so exercise is non existent. A man from the council came today to fit me a second stair rail, I’ll be getting a bath seat too apparently and I feel eighty five years old. I feel fat, not glowing. People’s kindness in their opinion that I glow is actually starting to annoy me. I look fine so I must be fine. (Rolls eyes)

I am conflicted. I’m so grateful for the people that have rallied round and tried to make me feel supported even though I haven’t been able to be supportive of them. I take my friendships seriously and it frustrates me if I can’t give back. I don’t think it’s expected but I want to be able to be supportive of friends of mine too. In reverse there are also people that I selfishly perhaps feel should care more and have been distant.

Then I have to be stern and remind myself that everyone has stuff going on and the world doesn’t revolve around me and my pregnancy. Except that’s all my world revolves around at the moment. I’m getting fomo again of everyone’s summer plans and I’m envious, I know it’s not cute to admit your jealousy, but I am nothing if not honest. You will learn that.

Your dad and I have been trying to write a will – well I have. Who would look after you and your sister if something happened to us both? Your sister has eight godparents. It was too many and the lesson has been learnt that giving someone a title will not make them an active participant in a child’s life.

I found this online about the role of a godparent – In general, a godparent’s role is to stay connected with the child in some manner throughout life. You will be at the baby’s christening and perhaps take part in the ceremony. Most importantly, you’ll serve as a mentor and take the symbolic place of the child’s parent of your gender if that parent passes away

Your sister sees approximately three of her eight godparents. Two she hasn’t seen since her christening four years ago, but less than she’s seen them, she doesn’t even know they exist. What will happen if we die? Who will step up to the role? I’m doubtful that I would include more than one, maybe two of them as a named person in my last will and testament to care for her, so who will care for you? Should I even bother to get you christened? My circle is smaller now. I’m fine with that, but I’m also a person who takes these things seriously so I find it sad that others don’t. Again maybe unfairly, but don’t sign up for a job you don’t want.

This is anxious rambling I know that. I know this is worse case scenario stuff, but someone has to think about it, don’t they? Someone has to consider what will happen in the event your dad and I can’t take care of you.

As I write this you are kicking up a storm in my tummy, active after my last cup of tea. I’m in bed now, it’s 13:00 so the middle of the day but after the guy came to fit the stair rail and I talked to my boss on the phone, I am once again drained of all energy and expenditure of said energy cannot recommence until I am recharged.

I’ve packed away some of your new clothes, tried to think again about what you need whilst also planning for your sisters birthday this weekend. She wants to be a mermaid, her wish is my command. I hope you two will love each other fiercely but I won’t pretend that she is always an amenable character, sometimes she’s feisty like me. On Sunday night she stayed at Nanny’s and got her head stuck in a dining chair. Everyone was too panicked to take a picture but it’s a story we’ll tell you in the future when reminding you what not to do – I laughed, she is fine. I will keep laughing because humour helps and you like the sound of my cackle, the witchy tones of my voice. My underpronounced T’s and over pronounced R’s. I know this because sometimes I talk to you and you move.

You’re on your way now, growth speeds up here, and I will continue to keep you safe. Please keep moving.

25 weeks of growing you

I had a bath on Monday and got out at 7pm. Most nights we read your sister a story in bed and you kick like crazy, her trying to catch them in between prolonged pronunciation and sounding of words like the, but your kicks were gone.

Your sister went to bed sad that she hadn’t gotten to feel them and I was starting to get concerned. I watched The Caroline Flack documentary with your Daddy and it was very sad, she reminded me a lot of myself and how I don’t have the capacity to cope well with heartbreak and complex emotions, but it didn’t serve to take my mind off of you. I ate some crisps, jiggled my still soft bump and your dad made me a sugary tea. Still you stayed still, I felt like I could physically hear your silence, deafeningly loud to me.

By bed time I was frantic, I called maternity but couldn’t get through the first 14 times. My call log looking like the days when your dad used to go out ‘for a few drinks’ and leave his phone unanswered. He doesn’t do that anymore thank goodness. I tried again and got through, they wanted to see me. Or at least told me they’d need to. I haven’t driven for almost two months. It’s dangerous for me because my mobility is so bad, but I didn’t have a choice, I had to go. Your sister in bed and nobody I felt able to call at 11pm at night to sit with her. My mum would of done it, your Nanny, but I didn’t want to wake her.

When I arrived I couldn’t get through to the team again, it was dark, scary in the poorly lit car park. Me trying to swivel out of the seat and lean over for my crutches. I hobbled to the door, a midwife waiting for me ‘you should of parked closer’ she said, and I felt guilty, I couldn’t risk another parking fine, we don’t have any money. But maybe I should of drove to the door, why was I thinking about money when all that mattered was you? My brain felt fried.

She asked me about my mental health and I bristled, feeling like I was waisting her time. I’m not crazy lady, I’m here because it says on my notes, don’t delay if you notice something off with your baby. My baby boy, you, I have felt your kicks thick and fast for weeks now. I count them.

‘You’re only 24 weeks + 5 days, still early to feel regular movements’ she was trying to be reassuring but she just began to annoy me, because I know you. I know when you don’t move.

After this dance she got me on the bed.

‘Heartbeat strong, oh wait there’s only one, but don’t worry it’s your baby’s’ What the fuck was this woman on? I gave myself a shake and listened in to you. If my heartbeat was gone, it didn’t matter because in that moment I knew I was alive, all I cared about was if you were.

I feel tired, so unbelievably tired. I feel like I have nothing to give to anything else. Nothing to give to the life around me because everything is focused on getting you out in one piece.

I’m not being a very good friend at the moment, I’m not being a very good wife either, because the dwindling energy I have is focused on being a good mother. I can’t give your sister everything she needs whilst I’m carrying you, but I’m trying, and if I can carry you to the end of this pregnancy and deliver you safely, we’ll all be together and hopefully more physically able to take life by the horns as a family of four. Hang in there boy. The kicks count.

Week 23 of pregnancy. Growing you.

Urgh little mate, our boy, you’re really making my life difficult. There is no hope for me on the mobility front until you are here and in my arms, but I know you’re worth it. I know this struggle will bring you to me.

Your sister and I have been reading and singing to you this week. Your dad and she still can’t feel your kicks, which I find so odd because they are bloody ferocious. I’ve finally started compiling an Amazon wish list of all the things you need. So much has been forgotten since your sister was small. The trivial things, like what toys to buy and whether to buy muslins or bibs. I remember all the other stuff though. I even remember labour. I remember being high on gas and air. I remember swearing a lot and refusing to push when your sisters head was crowning, I remember her being rushed to NICU and feeling like I couldn’t help her. I remember the trauma and the tears but I can’t remember what brand of nappies I preferred or how long I waited until I got the wet wipes out instead of cotton wool and boiled water to wipe her bum.

I’ve been growing increasingly frustrated this week. I feel like whenever I try to speak to a doctor or a midwife I’m being dismissed or considered a nuisance. I know the NHS are struggling and I am just one person but I’m still a person who is struggling too.

We know your name now, but your daddy won’t let me tell anyone. Your sister helped us choose it and funnily enough she hasn’t told anyone either. She is so funny and excited and I know she wants to meet you as desperately as we do.

I feel fragile and emotional but stronger because of you. I feel needy but content in being solitary. I have a great urge to protect you from the world and the mess that it’s in.

People have been sending us food and we have had some support from my mum, your nanny, but there’s no denying that a pandemic puts a very harsh limit on people we can ask for help during a time that we really need it.

We have a dog Frank who will be one just before you arrive and we have already started to play him baby cries. Though we hope you like sleep more than your sister did. I’m awake at 2am writing this. Your sister has been stirring she has a bit of a cold. I can feel you waking up with me. I hope we both manage to get back to sleep soon.

My baby boy. 💙

I think I’m failing but my kid still thinks I’m a superhero 🦸🏽‍♀️

It’s no secret that during pregnancy your hormones are all over the shop, one minute you’re chomping on cheese on toast and the next your crying into your cottage pie that your friend drove 25 miles to deliver. It’s a funny old game this growing a human malarkey.

Because my health has been on a steady decline since my daughter was born, this pregnancy though a lot like hers, has been overshadowed with worry and feeling unwell constantly. When I say constantly I mean it. It’s either not being able to walk, migraines, sickness, feeling faint, high blood pressure and the rest, it’s been bad, and not fun. Also those people who said you never get two the same, you were wrong.

That said the guilt of ‘wasting’ days in bed in an attempt to make the next one better and unable to do all of the things I want with my family has had a negative impact on my emotions. Team this with hormones and you have me, an unstable, anxious, dribbling mess.

This week said emotions have been on overdrive and I’ve spent countless hours in tears, I’m surprised there were any left after the first ten or so. My husband has looked at me with puppy dog eyes and a need to fix my broken spirit and my daughter has looked at me with longing and frustration. I haven’t been able to meet their demands, particularly those of the little person. She doesn’t get why mummy is always in bed and at one point I was worried she was going off the idea of having a brother because he’s been making her mum so poorly. It all hit a crescendo on Tuesday when Ciara wanted 5 things at once and I couldn’t even give her the simplest one, which was turn the volume up on the TV. I couldn’t do it because the bastard NowTV remote is a dodgy little fucker and it just would not work. Off she stomped whilst moaning at the dog and calling for her dad to come and fix the problem that mummy was incapable of rectifying.

Once I heard her footsteps on the stairs I burst into a fit of hysterics, threw the remote which bounced off the bed and smashed a photo on the bedroom wall. It wasn’t my finest moment because I couldn’t even roll myself off to pick up the glass before Shaun bursts in asking me WTF I was doing!?

Picture it, 5 month pregnant woman whose legs don’t work, rolling around on the bed with no bra on and crying inconsolably. It’s not a pretty image is it?

I don’t want to do this anymore I wailed, like an actual whale. To his credit, Shaun turns the tv off and shouts down to Ciara that they’re going to watch tele downstairs instead. I didn’t see them again that evening because I cried myself to sleep and woke up at 10pm and waddled into her room to give her a kiss goodnight, something I abhor to miss.

The next day I’m feeling full of shame and still in pain wondering how I’m going to get through the days for the next 4 months. But I needn’t of worried about the rest of the family because like clockwork they traipse in from school and work with smiles and cuddles for me and chat shit about their days as if the previous ones have been erased.

Ciara was pleased that I had finished colouring in her tiger costume with a sharpie for world book day and asked if she could come and snuggle in my bed.

This morning I got up at 7 after being awake from 2am with possibly the worst nerve pain ever. I say this because I can’t treat flare ups in the same way I would when I’m not pregnant ie with heavy drugs. The pain relief I’m taking at the moment just isn’t working to the same effect. Anyway up I get and by ‘up’ I mean sit up in my bed and paint my beautiful daughter’s face and send her off to school with a smile.

It doesn’t matter that I collapsed back in bed after and slept until lunchtime, because she was happy. When she got home she found me asleep in the bath because it’s the only place I don’t feel like my body is on fire and she poked me to tell me about her day. Including poo gate by another kid in class which we all found highly amusing.

I do feel like I’m failing life on the reg at the moment and somedays I can’t get on top of those crazy emotions and pretend I’m bossing it, because I’m not. But what I do know, with absolute clarity is that when it comes to my kids my best is good enough, and the need to be moving all the time and trying harder is born out of my own insecurities, not those of my five year old. She loves me on all of the days, even the really shitty ones. She loves me for all of the things I can do, not all of the things I can’t.

Week 22 of pregnancy, carrying you, baby #2

We didn’t know what you’d be. We weren’t sure you’d show up on a scan as healthy. Our twenty week scan was nearly two weeks late and it made us impatient and anxious. We still don’t know what the outcome will be or if you’re truly ok in there. All we know is that you’re wanted.

Now I can no longer walk again it’s difficult to associate pregnancy with positivity. It was the same with your sister, causing me pain so difficult to overcome that I never really know what each day will bring. We’ve been left to our own devices by the health care system. Lots of people told me it happens with second babies. You’re an assumed pro by number two, you don’t need any support. Except I do need support. I do need reassurance. I am not a pro.

You present me, your mum with symptoms similar to the ones your sister did, but it’s different this time. They keep telling us about the risks to you, but don’t really do anything to help us overcome them. Maybe there’s little they can do, or maybe they expect me to know, I don’t. Medication that I need to function, to care for your sibling too, means you might need help when you’re born.

They have offered me mental health support that has been good, but physically I’m in worse shape than ever and I still have to care for your sister, so it’s hard.

We weren’t amongst the chaos of a pandemic when she was on her way. This time our support has lacked and your sister has been home for most of it. Waiting for your arrival with baited breath. With hope, but also with boredom. She longs for a playmate but she doesn’t fully understand the implications of pregnancy and why her mummy has become less fun.

Me, your mum, I have a few health issues already. Ones that were present before you were even a thought in my mind, a seed in my belly. Ones that haven’t gone away, that never really will, but that we’re working hard to escape. We love you already. That much we know, but each and every day that we will you to grow, we are scared that you’ll have a hard start. That your life won’t begin with all of the joys of a hot July summer. We worry that I might not be strong enough to care for you. That the help we need might not be available or accessible. Maybe we should have been more prepared but you showed up with two lines three weeks after my last period and we weren’t prepared, all we knew is that we would keep you.

I’m off work at the moment. Pregnancy isn’t kind to my health or my mind. I was struggling to hold down a job before you came along, but I’m trying. I fall into a category of disabled that isn’t well recognised or even always believed. I don’t get financial help for my disability and your Daddy works very hard but we aren’t wealthy enough that I don’t have to work. We are looking at ways to accommodate my return, and we have to hope that I will be well after your birth. Well enough to care for you. The trouble is I get periods of wellness that don’t really last. They are usually days and not weeks or months. I hope you don’t grow up having to care for me. I hope that I will always be able to give you what you need.

I love you. I love your heartbeat and your tiny feet. I love your kicks and I hope that when you arrive you will know that whatever challenges we face, my love for you will continue to grow.

I hope that you and your sister will always know that Mummy tried. She will never stop trying to give you a good life and will always be there to share it with you.

A letter to myself.

I wrote this because I had to make sense of my thoughts as mother and an expectant one, one who is trying to find the strength to be both whilst battling the demons that are chronic illness and mental health.

Reach out they said, so you did, and it didn’t immediately help, and when it didn’t help people stopped reaching in. You are not their responsibility, this is not their fight, and they have their own shit going on. In the middle of a pandemic everyone has their own shit going on, some worse than yours. People can’t take on your shit too. They don’t want to, they shouldn’t have to, so what are you supposed to do now?

You have spoken to your doctor, you’ve got yourself in touch with organisations that can help support your mental health, but your physical health is declining further, your hormones are sending you crazy and you’re in limbo. You’ve requested help, but there’s no magic pill, no imminent cure for your troubles. So what happens next? You’ve written a thousand blogs, almost as many poems, you’ve cried, screamed and forced yourself to calm.

Keeping busy helps, keeping moving, except you can’t do anything because you’re immobile. Stay positive, think happy thoughts, so you try, really hard to do both but your mind is clouded in worry. You wonder sometimes if you have the strength to be the person everyone needs you to be. To get back some of your fire. You’re losing interest in the things that have previously brought you joy, like reading, and writing, you feel blocked. Getting outside is increasingly difficult and because you’re not going anywhere you’re not getting up and ‘ready’ because your whole body is racked with pain you’re not focusing on getting outside, it feels too hard.

You know you need to nourish your body to give your growing baby what it needs but even eating is becoming boring, a chore, you don’t have the ability to stand at a countertop and cook, you can’t be bothered to decide what to have next so takeaway’s are your go to, but they’re distorting the view of what you see in the mirror. Your need for medication increases with your pain and with that comes more guilt because it’s not just about you anymore.

You tried to do ‘yoga’ and got stuck on the floor for an hour with only your four year old home. You tried to shower but you can’t stand so even cleanliness is taking a backseat. You have to depend on your husband to help you in and out of the bath and you feel your self esteem being crushed further, your sense of humour no longer able to gloss over the hard parts with a funny anecdote.

People care, you know that, but they don’t know what to say, so they stop saying anything. You feel like a shit friend because you know your life is consumed by your disability and as much as they can’t take on your burdens you can’t take on theirs either, so thats another stick you can use to beat yourself with. You’re still trying to be everything everyone needs you to be but it’s draining. You feel like your lack of positivity confirms your worst fears – that you can’t be saved.

You feel more connected to strangers you talk to online than anyone you know in real life, because strangers can’t judge you in the same way friends can. They don’t expect you to man up, or try harder because your lack of effort doesn’t impact them.

You spend most days led down trying to find a focus, trying to be better, to do better, to find some joy in anything.

Glimmers of hope come from your loved ones. They carry on loving you despite your struggles and your children carry on depending on you. You know that without them, your life doesn’t mean all that much to you, but to them it’s everything it means everything, you are their everything and so you snatch the glimmers, you pocket them, and you remember that this period in time isn’t forever.

Your life isn’t what it used to be and you grieve it, desperately, sometimes so much that it physically hurts, but you’ve grieved it before and you’re still here, you still have a life. You still have a future. It’s a new version, and not everyone will walk your new journey with you, not because they don’t care (that’s just your brain telling you that) but maybe because they don’t understand and your own acceptance of the things you can’t change takes time.

Learning to live a newer life, a more conscious life, a life that has limitations, isn’t easy. Sometimes the grief will be daily and feel renewed, but someday, in your future you will look back on this time like you’ve looked back on all the other hard times, times you thought you couldn’t live through and you will know that you survived it. You survived it because you put one swollen foot in front of the other, because you held on when you thought there was no hope for you, and you found a way.

You know with certainty, that you have grown. This is a set back, this is not a failure, your health has declined as a result of you trying to do what’s best for your baby.

So Steph, the message is clear, when you really aren’t ok and you feel like you’re alone with your troubles, don’t take it day by day, don’t wait for tomorrow to be better, take it hour by hour, do the things that you feel able, even if that is nothing, because it won’t always be nothing. Each day that you wake up is you doing something. You’re surviving, and when you find a way to survive you can find a way to thrive.

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