Pregnant and chronically ill.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What if, what if, what if…..

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

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

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

Baby 2.0 is coming!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For fibromyalgia resources it’s FMAUK

And for migraines it’s Migraine Trust

Therapy is not just for picking up broken pieces

A couple of weeks ago I had some news that really turned my world upside down a bit. I haven’t talked about it much because there is so much other stuff going on, but it’s been a struggle managing my emotions. I felt myself spiralling a bit, like I do every so often, usually when I’m due on. I decided to try and get ahead of this, so I called my GP who offered to refer me for talking therapies. I’ve had talk therapy before, many times actually, sometimes it’s helped other times not so much, but I’m never opposed to it, because I believe when you’re feeling mentally unwell you need to be open to trying things that might help. So I gratefully agreed to have a telephone appointment.

The lady I spoke to ran through a standard mental health questionnaire, then at the end she said I score mildly for depression and anxiety. I told her yes, it is mild at the moment, but I’m trying to intercept it before it gets moderate-severe. Her response was that I don’t meet the criteria at this stage for ongoing therapy. I’ve had this conversation before. I’ve written posts about it before too. I feel like this is the reason we are in the crisis we are in with mental health in this country, because we are waiting for people to be in their own full blown mental health crisis before offering them any support. I know that whilst the NHS is under so much pressure their resources might need to be elsewhere, but this isn’t a new thing; even before covid people were being turned away for not being depressed enough. Because I don’t want to die I’m not in crisis, because I’m not self harming or hurting anyone else I’m not in crisis. The sad thing is… I have wanted to die. I have self harmed and I have hurt people I love in the process of all of that. This time, this time I wanted to ask for help before I spiralled, before I lost control and needed to pick up the broken pieces of my life for the hundredth time.

Instead I got given some reading material and a thank you for my time.

This is not enough. Luckily for me. I am well aware of my triggers, I’m aware of my privilege and I have a great support network in my family. There is always the option to go private, but with my physical health being as rubbish as it is I usually need to top up care with massage or B12 injections, therapy is an added expense and when you’re down to the last penny you usually have to sacrifice one or the other. The trouble is with therapy is, it’s not just a one off cost. You have to pay this every week or every month sometimes forever and my fear is I’m one of those people that will need therapy forever. The thing with physical health is it affects our mental health too and so if I sacrifice the things that make me feel physically better, I’ll also be putting myself at a higher risk of feeling mentally worse. The struggle is real.

Life is hard right now for everyone and there will be people out there in worse situations than myself, probably not getting the help they need either. Learning to live through these times has been a colossal trek and we are all still hiking up cliffs hanging on for dear life. But mental health is not a new problem, it’s not a craze or a trend, it’s a continuous battle in the modern world, a battle that if not fought early and hard, can be and too often is, deadly. It’s a life threatening problem that we as a society have still not been able to tackle.

It’s great to post about mental health and raise awareness, open up and find solace in each other online but still this isn’t enough. Saying it’s ok to not be okay is one thing, telling people to reach out is another, neither are cures for a breakdown or social anxiety and sometimes they’re not even easy to do. I may know I’ll feel better if I reach out but doing it is a different matter all together.

So what can you do if you don’t meet the criteria for intervention but are still struggling? You can prioritise self care. You can access online support. You can reach out to family members or friends if you feel able. You can make time to read, write, do a course that makes you feel better about yourself. You can practice breathing and you can call any of the below numbers for professional support. If financially able you can look into finding private therapists that are able to support you long term. What you mustn’t do, is feel like the lack of free support available means you’re not worthy. You are. Whatever your next move is, please take this reminder that your struggles are valid. Your life still matters and you are going to make it.

Mum Guilt

I think I’ve definitely titled a previous blog mum guilt but I’m doing another one because these last weeks I’ve felt it. In the 4 and a half years I’ve been a parent I’d say it’s only the last year that I’ve managed to keep a tighter lid on the guilt. This is because most of the time, I know I’m doing my best and that has to be enough, doesn’t it?However every so often imposter syndrome will strike and I’ll have a wobble and feel like a shit mum. That happened last week. You may have read somewhere on my socials that I’ve been ill again (rolls eyes.) It’s been bad, I had a UTI that had me feverish for 8 days and kicked off a PEM flare like never before. On top of my day to day fibro symptoms and hormone fluctuations I have been sleeping the days away and Ciara my daughter, made a few comments about when I would be better. She said she was fed up because I’d been unwell since Halloween! She also said she had been wishing in her dreams for me to get better. It hurt my heart, because I try really hard to make an effort to be present in her life even when I’m feeling unwell, we do movie afternoons in my bed and make dens on the bedroom floor so she can feel close to me even when I’m laid up. Then I try desperately to make up for the flare days on the good days and we cram in activities when we can.

I have had to rely on my husband and my mum to do many of the school runs and activities these past weeks, so I’ve been feeling pretty redundant and guilty in return. Of course not everybody is in a position to lean on family for support and I know how lucky I am to have that option. With recent lockdowns and tier restrictions we’ve had those taken away from us somewhat and there are less people to lean on for support now, the bubble getting smaller. It feels as though I’m going backwards to the early days of parenthood where I felt like I was letting her down because I didn’t breast feed and I couldn’t establish a routine with a baby that screamed 15 hours a day. She woke up the other night after having a bad dream, thankfully a rare occurrence, but when I questioned her about it she said her dream was of me being cross. This really upset me because despite my constant state of being pissed off, it’s so rare for me to get cross with Ciara and that’s not a ploy to get you onside, it’s the truth. She is so rarely naughty she doesn’t have a lot of tellings off, but I have been more stressed than usual recently, and I’ve done some shouting at Shaun. I forget that she hears and understands everything now, she takes it all in. I don’t want her childhood memories to be of me in bed or me shouting at daddy but I feel powerless to prevent either somedays.

So whilst berating myself relentlessly about all the things I’m doing wrong I tried to tell myself that I also do a lot right. Shaun reminded me that Ciara remembers Halloween because I threw her a party and picnic with one of her friends. He reminded me how I never forget to be creative and go all out for school dress down days and elf of the shelf adventures. He reminded me that I never break promises and I don’t give her false hope and that whilst she is complaining about my being sick, it’s only because she wants more fun with mum.

I talked to a few of my friends that are mums recently to find out if they felt the same and they all said yes. They all said that this year has seen their patience wear thinner than ever, their ability to juggle the work/life/parenting quagmire has suffered and lines have been blurred. Self isolation and working from home with kids has seen to many mum meltdowns. One of my friends actually said to me: What would you say to me if I were you, Steph? Would you tell me I’m a shit mum for being unwell or losing my rag occasionally? And of course the answer is, no, I wouldn’t.

I feel like guilt is something we have to live with throughout our lives whether or not we’re parents, but as parents, every decision we make for our kids is based on assumption and guess work. There is never a right or wrong answer when parenting. There is consideration and gut instincts and pros and cons, but that’s pretty much it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there’s no handbook, there’s winging it, and there’s doing your best, do plenty of both, and you’re probably doing ok.

With Christmas comes a lot of pressure. In the world of parent bloggers there’s a whole heap of posts just waiting to press your mum guilt buttons, and there was a time when I would compare my parenting to perfect Instagram pictures on other mum accounts, but not anymore. I’ll keep it real and tell you, I still compare myself sometimes, how I look and what I’ve achieved, but I never compare my parenting, because I know that being a mum is as unique to me as my fingerprint. We all have morals, traditions and family values and they’re never the same as someone else’s. So if you too are feeling a bit overwhelmed with guilt, just remember you’re not alone and you’re not a shit mum! My mum once said to me that shit mum’s don’t worry about being shit, they just are, but good mums always worry about being good enough. How true is that!?

Your best is enough.

A shit load of reasons why you should not ask a woman when she’s having another baby…

Reasons why you should never ask a Mum when she’s having another baby….

I’ve updated this with extra points to reflect my current situation. I originally wrote this blog after Ciara was born in 2016. The minute people became aware that Ciara is starting school this year, they have been on me with the second kid question, like flies on shit, seagulls to a sandwich. It’s a throwaway question. It’s rarely asked with any intent to upset but there are so many reasons as to why you shouldn’t ask it. Most of my friends know my situation already, so they don’t ask. If they do ask it’s a conversation that is a two way, it’s a chance for me to talk about my hopes or reservations, but strangers? Strangers go straight for the jugular. Strangers need to back off. Auntie Aggy who you haven’t seen in 10 years but proceeds to tell you how bad an age gap is for children, she needs to shut the fuck up. Or Ethel next door giving you the third degree about your biological clock. So here’s my reasons newly extended as to why you should still not ask a mum when she’s having her next child!

1. She may not want anymore. She might be happy with her one beautiful child. Period.

2. She may not be able to have anymore. Your body goes through all sorts of changes after pregnancy and secondary infertility is a very real and very common problem. Please be mindful before you approach a woman you seldom know, with a loaded question like when she’s about to pop another human out.

3. She may have only just got her body back to a perfect 10. (Not me obvs) – but some women are passionate about returning to their pre baby bodies and that’s their choice. Just because you can’t think of anything worse than going on a diet or hitting the gym post pregnancy, remember we’re not all the same.

4. She may be suffering with her mental health and or PTSD from the trauma of her child’s relentless screaming, or her toddler throwing themselves on the floor screaming NOOOOO over and over again, she can’t yet bear the thought of having 2 irrational psychopaths living in her house. Jokes aside – these phases our children go through are not all roses and rainbows are they? Give the girl a break.

5. She may of had such a bad pregnancy that the thought of going through that trauma again, whilst also being a whale with a swollen fanny and fat ankles, just ain’t on the agenda for the foreseeable. If you’ve followed me for a while you’ll know my pregnancy story, I won’t bore you with it again, but pregnancy wasn’t enjoyable for me and no matter how many well wishers tell me it’ll be different with number 2, I still don’t get excited at the prospect.

6. Sex is so much better without another human inside of your abdomen. Ok so if you’ve just had a baby you might not be at it like rabbits, but maybe resurrecting your sex life is on the agenda. You go Goddess!!

7. Her and her partner/significant other only just survived the first baby, give them chance. Babies can have a negative impact on relationships as much as they can a positive one. The early stages can be particularly traumatic and resentment can fester. Maybe your girl isn’t ready for the second wave of hating her other half for his measly 2 weeks paternity leave, or the fact he gets to avoid night feeds whilst she’s breastfeeding.

8. Similar to the above, she may have found herself single, or be going through relationship difficulties, and therefore the next baby seems too far off to contemplate. You wouldn’t ask her when she’s getting her next boyfriend would you? So leave her be.

9. They like spending their money on holidays, date nights and stamp collections. The M Word. It’s a big one. Let’s not pretend money’s not a factor. Yes you will find the money and do your best to survive the financial toll of having a family, but some people want more than just survival.

9. They are just too tired. The first child is just about sleeping through the night at 2, let’s let them sleep a while eh?

10. Their child has disabilities, health problems or learning difficulties that they are navigating their way through and managing. The next baby hasn’t been thought of yet. Their first child needs all of their attention.

11. They had a traumatic birth experience. Birth trauma is very common but also very seldom talked about. Women who have negative pregnancy and birth experiences unsurprisingly might have their reservations about baby no 2. Don’t make them spell it out for you, it’s much kinder to just not ask.

12. Maternal mental illness is serious. It can become life threatening. I was suicidal during pregnancy and for a long while after too, that has had a big influence over my decision to not get pregnant again yet. Women who suffer ante and postnatally with their mental health will naturally be more anxious about going through that experience again or worsening their current symptoms.

13. My baby nearly died. Babies are rushed to NICU often. 44% of full term babies are taken in to special care and it’s scary, that’s without even looking at the premie stats. In fact for new parents, it’s terrifying. Nobody in their right mind would want to go through that twice and the thoughts surrounding the possibility of it happening a second time can influence a mum’s decision on whether to have a second child.

14. Mum has her own health problems and she doesn’t want to discuss them with Doris in the corner shop. So Doris if you’re reading. Drop it, Hun! Contrary to popular belief mums get sick too, and this might be affecting her ability to parent one child, let alone two.

15. It’s not the right time. Maybe the mum you’re questioning has gone back to work and got herself a promotion, or she’s decided to further her career by going back to college to learn a new skill. Maybe they’ve just bought a house and are doing it up. Maybe they’ve got a big birthday coming up and are waiting until after then so they can get suitably shitfaced for the occasion. Maybe it’s just not the right time. And that’s ok.

16. They’ve been trying and suffered baby loss. Imagine getting asked when you’re having another one if you’d just miscarried? 1 in 3 women miscarry. I’ll let that sink in.

17. Finally, my personal favourite: Because it’s none of your business. #justsaying.

Us women often share our thoughts with our friends, so it’s likely if she wants you to know, she’ll tell you. This question of ‘are you having another?’ Or ‘do you want more?’ is honestly I think the most personal question I’ve ever been asked.

It’s likely to get awkward real quick if I start reeling off the above reasons in answer to your questions, so to cut out this embarrassment for both of us, drop the question. We know you don’t mean anything by it. We know you’re just making conversation but you should know, it makes us uncomfortable. (It does me, anyway)

It’s not just the question either, it’s the unsolicited advice that naturally follows…. Why you mustn’t have an only child, or how you’ll regret not doing it sooner if you don’t start now. How no two pregnancies are the same.

We’re not listening. We don’t want to answer you anymore – Our bodies. Our minds. Our families. Our choice.