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.

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.

Brett Salako Photography ~ Review

On 3rd April we hired Brett to take some photographs at our daughter’s sixth birthday party. During my time blogging I’ve met some great photographers and all of them offer a different and individual vision. We hadn’t used Brett before. We’d never hired a professional to photograph a kid’s party before either. It’s safe to say though, we were more than a little thrilled with the final pics.

Those of you that have been reading my blogs for a while will know, I don’t often review products or services. But I felt it important to write a full review of Brett’s services and tell you why I think you should hire him for your next event.

  • Brett arrived early, managing to capture some fantastic, intimate, family photos before the carnage of 30 six year olds ensued.
  • Brett’s presence was non invasive. You can imagine lots of kids don’t want to be lined up for a hundred photographs when they could be partying, and Brett made sure that wasn’t necessary, whilst still managing to capture some perfect shots.
  • He has a very arty flair when it comes to captures, and he managed to make the otherwise plain background of the hall fit perfectly into each photograph.
  • He listened to what we asked for and delivered.
  • His efficacy of getting the finished edit to us was stellar.
Banksy style capture

Brett is Wiltshire based but also covers surrounding areas, he is available for family shoots, weddings, landscapes and a variety of other photography services.

Brett’s instagram showcases his versatility.

What I really liked about having Brett at our daughter’s party, was his patience. When you’re surrounded by children moving at speeds, for hours, it can be hard to capture the perfect shot, but that wasn’t an issue for Brett. He was dedicated to the cause and managed to capture our daughter, and us as a family, beautifully.

Action Shot
Family

So why would you hire Salako Photography for your event? Well, if you’re after a patient, punctual and interested photographer, who listens to your ideas and is speedy with his edits. I can’t see any reason why you wouldn’t want to hire Brett. His prices are competitive, he really cares about your vision and will work with you to achieve it whilst adding his own artistic flair. We now have a whole album of our daughter’s special day that we’ll be able to cherish forever. Her first birthday as a big sister, and her first surrounded by friends post covid-19.

I highly recommend Brett, he’s not just a great photographer, but a genuine and friendly guy, too!

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 #8

That chronic illness life is the gift that keeps on giving. Lots of things happening over here at DivamumHQ! Big and small changes being made and as ever, 100’s of appointments.

I started this week proud and feeling relatively ‘good’ I’ll tell you about it….

So you know I said last week that the cardiologist explained I’m showing signs of heart disease? Yeah well that’s still a thing, but I’d also had loads of blood tests taken in Jan and many of them came back abnormal. One of them, was my plasma viscosity or ‘inflammation in the blood’ I found this, like all of the others, stressful to take in. I have fibromyalgia as you know, and usually Fibro doesn’t show elevated inflammatory markers and so I couldn’t really understand what had changed. With the blood glucose also being high and everything else with my heart, it was a worry. The GP I spoke to suggested doing a repeat blood test once I’d got going with my healthy lifestyle changes. Now we all know, I don’t walk very good, and I think I’ve also mentioned I’m overweight. Well, since these findings I’ve been trying really hard to be healthier. Not so much even to lose weight, but put a little effort in to eat right (healthy), reduce portions, try and move more. Anyway I’ve managed to lose 9lbs now, and I had the repeat blood test this week and guess what my plasma viscosity is back within normal range! I’m so so so pleased, I honestly can’t even begin to tell you how rewarding it is to see tangible evidence that the work I’m putting in may well really improve my health. Of course there’s lots that can’t be done and in terms of heart disease, if I have that, it can’t be reversed BUT I can still prevent serious complications by sticking with healthy choices.

I’ve also been attending a group focused on diabetes prevention. It’s a national programme run by the NHS that has an 80% success rate. I’d gotten to a point where doing it on my own was only adding to my stress and stress itself is a factor that can increase your likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes. I’ve only had two course meetings so far but already I’m starting to understand my food intake better and the things that are within my control to be able to change. If you are reading this and considering the course, I would highly recommend it.

So that was all great… yeah? Yeah…. Until…. I went to my mum’s Thursday and when I came home and sat down, I couldn’t get back up. My pelvis has gone again. The trouble with this is, I don’t know why or how, so that means I also don’t know when or if my mobility will return to as it was. I can tell you, being immobile with a crawling baby is frightening & quite dangerous to be honest. It’s upset me because during pregnancy I was told often that my mobility would be limited postnatally, but it did improve and that gave me hope.
So now it’s poor again, it’s scary!
My health is forever fluctuating, I am learning to be more accepting and appreciative of my limitations, but it’s far from easy and acceptance isn’t linear. Some days I’m able to find gratitude in the smaller things, able to accept the things I cannot change, and others, I despair.

Confession: When my pelvis went I questioned if this was it. Is this when my body gives up? Will I walk again. Will I walk with aids again, maybe forever? 

But that aside, I have had a few positive take aways from this week, and I’ve included them below in an Instagram post I wrote this weekend.

I’m only four weeks away from the group therapy I’ve been involved in coming to an end. I really can’t describe in words how educational, enlightening and empowering attending the group has been. I want to do a whole blog post on group therapy, so I’ll save the ins and outs. One of the things we have been working on though, is radical acceptance. If you’ve not heard of this check out the link, as someone who lives with both physical and psychological illnesses that are not curable, this has been a really useful tool in my arsenal.

Confessions of a chronically ill mum #5

The difference two weeks make when you’re living your life around hormones, pain, kids and food…

Ok so some context, last week I was so irrational and some days inconsolable. I cried relentlessly and burst into a tearful rage when my husband told me roofers were coming to do some work on our roof.

I’ll go as far as confessing my embarrassment when I attended group therapy Friday and had to partake in an exercise. It went like this.. 
Group facilitator: Name a situation this week whereby you haven’t been able to contain your emotions. 
Me: My husband told me the roofers were coming and I don’t want them there, making noise, antagonising the dog, leaving their shit all over my driveway, waking the baby up with their clanking, etc etc etc. 
Group facilitator: Ok now strip away your interpretation and just give us the facts. What was the situation?
Me: My husband told me the roofers were coming. 

I can laugh about it now, because I realise how pathetic it is to get so emotional and behave so irrationally over something rather minor. However, to me and my perception, all I could think of was them invading my safe space and my peace, and my feelings felt really valid at the time. I know my hormones and the way I am living my life around them at the moment isn’t sustainable. My daily tracker consists of days feeling angry/anxious/flat/tearful to severe itchy skin/insomnia/nightsweats/cramps/bloating and more. But even with these hellish symptoms, likely as a result of taking progesterone, I’ll still take them over feeling suicidal every month and having migraine attacks that last a week at a time. Weighing it up with pros and cons isn’t the right thing for me to do, because in all honesty I have to accept that I will live with moderate to severe symptoms probably indefinitely, whilst praying that their severity is less.

In the last two weeks Ciara has been poorly, emotional and generally not herself. In the last few days she has perked up again and this brings me joy, I really struggle to regulate my own emotions when the kids are ill and I know they need me to master this better. For some reason I just seem to retain so much anxiety when one of them is not their usual selves. Kaiser has started flying around on his knees faster than our old Seat Leon, and climbing the walls quite literally, but still rarely sleeping. I’ve also spent a night alone in the house with Kaiser that I was petrified of doing, eradicated lots of foods from my diet and lost 6lbs despite the cravings those hazardous hormones bring! So it’s not been all bad.

It’s also noteworthy that whilst some symptoms have been tolerable, fibro fatigue and brain fog has been much worse, though physical pain in the more manageable stakes. We’ve gotten out and seen friends we’ve not seen for ages. I’ve all but organised everything for Ciara’s birthday party, and…life goes on. It’s up and down and yoyo’s persistently but some of it, is ‘just life’ I guess, and not everything is a catastrophe, as much as my brain would like to convince me otherwise!

Next week I have my first appointment with the diabetes team postpartum, and also an appointment with cardiology. Alongside these I have to collect my new laptop for my imminent return to work and arrange for Kaiser to meet his childminder. It’s all go for sure, but it’s not all bad. Shaun and I have a night off this weekend, his parents are having both children so we can lie in bed all day and binge watch all the TV we started the last time we didn’t have the kids home which was January!

Life is good and then it isn’t, it’s awful followed by magnificent, excruciating and liberating all at once. So far this week, I’m grateful for small wins, play dates, family and friendship.

Ps. The roofers haven’t even turned up yet!

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 #2

This week in our house everyone seems to be fully over the ‘Rona, except me, of course not me. My symptoms are lingering and have worsened whilst I’ve been in the luteal phase of my cycle. This isn’t unusual, I often get flare ups in all symptoms around this time of the month, and particularly symptoms stemming from viruses that weaken your immune system. I’ve had recurring shingles for a few years now and every single month without fail, despite being on antivirals indefinitely, I get a flare up in nerve pain at the outbreak site.

Having said that, this past week I’ve been busy! So busy, that I’ve had to be organised. I notice this organisation has had a positive impact on my mood despite being in luteal. It’s classic distraction I guess. Also my husband and I have a weekend away booked as it was our wedding anniversary this week and just knowing that I have three nights of child free sleep to look forward to, is undeniably liberating.

A few more things happened and one of them was, I saw a new GP. A big deal for me. I’ve had the same GP since before my Fibro diagnosis six years ago, and she’s been amazing. The idea of seeing a new one whilst she is on maternity leave has filled me with dread for months. But today I did it. It was ok. I went in with a list and ticked off all of this in 10 minutes….

  • ECG Booked
  • Fasting bloods booked
  • Referral to rapid cardiac clinic
  • Breast clinic follow up appointment booked
  • Chased up Lipid clinic referral
  • Discussed further gynae/endocrinology input re PMDD
  • Post covid obs done
  • Face to face appointment for Kaiser booked for post covid obs.

Why am I telling you all of this in a blog post?

Well there is a reason, and it’s this weeks confession. I have always been a person that actively advocates for myself and my health. After all if I don’t, who else is going to do it for me? I research everything, I connect dots and I track my symptoms. But for months now, I have been slacking. It took me two months to drum up the courage to get a referral to the breast clinic, even though I had a very visible lump in my left breast. I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t be bothered to argue the toss with the drs receptionist about why I needed a face to face appointment, and every time I spoke to a healthcare professional that wasn’t part of my mental health team, I cried. 

When you have chronic and mental illness you get used to being dismissed by doctors.

Can’t breathe, crushing chest pain? Probably just a Fibro flare up, I’m sure that’s a symptom! Or actually maybe it’s anxiety, have you been stressed lately?

Skull smashed open and brain hanging out? Sounds like a panic attack.

Gone blind? Sounds like a migraine.

And so on. I know I’m being glib, and I’m sorry if this exaggeration offends anyone, but seriously, sometimes visiting the doctor is like pulling fucking teeth. The issue with that is, the doctor’s the only person who can help you get the treatment you need, for the answers you had to figure out yourself.

And when you have kids it’s not even a case of whether or not you can cope with your symptoms. You don’t get a choice. I know it’s easy for me to say, and many people reading this may well think, well if it was that bad you wouldn’t be able to just cope. The truth is though, parents with their own health issues do just cope. Even the ones diagnosed with life threatening cancers still do the school run between scans and treatments. I personally have friends who have had to do this so I know that it’s true for some.

Big thing number 2.

Group therapy. I started it today. I want to write a whole blog post on the pros and cons once I’ve had a few more sessions so for now I’ll keep it brief. The session was two hours long. Two hours spent with a group in person might have felt quite nice, a chance to learn some new mindfulness skills and have a chat with others in a similar boat to myself, but two hours online was painstakingly long. Kaiser napped for just 15 minutes of it and trying to listen to other women speak over the top of crying baby heads felt strained. There were a few rules too, like we had to keep our camera on at all times so I couldn’t roll my eyes or go for a wee without having to let everyone know my reasons. I want to benefit from the group and I’m sure in time I’ll get used to it and maybe even bring some of my own value to it, but today I found it just made a stressful day with a baby, more stressful. The whole idea of this group is to be able to learn to regulate my emotions better, to deal with stress in a more productive way, and to feel more in control. So I’m going to stick it out, even if the first session did feel like it was an intrusion on my time. Therapy, I’ve learned is not supposed to be comfortable and it requires commitment so I feel I owe to myself to see this through.

Full time job

It has felt lately as though looking after my health and trying to juggle appointments and treatment is a full time job. Having a baby is also a full time job, both without annual leave or pay. I’m due back to work soon and no idea what I’m going to do about childcare or how to manage two full time jobs on top of a part time paid job. I want to be well in order to participate in my children’s lives, but I also need to earn money to be able to give them a decent life. The system is still fucked. It still penalises mothers who work or have partners. Childcare is still extortion, and I know I’m not alone in this plight. I just wish it was one of the ones I didn’t have to think about right now, but I know I do, as with the cost of living rising and wages becoming stagnant, it’s a very real threat to our livelihood and I guess lifestyle too.

Finally

Finally I’ve become more aware this week just how much I’ve let myself go, and I’ve set myself tiny goals of putting my makeup on more often and making sure I’m grooming myself! So far it’s going ok, but they do say it takes at least 3 weeks to form a habit so I’ll catch you up then.

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.

Is Elf On The Shelf making you feel like a crap mother?

Apparently, according to the world of social media, the answer for some is yes. But I’m gonna call bullshit on this one and say it’s likely not the elf but the comparison to other mums that’s making you feel inadequate.

Let me explain…. As someone who uses Instagram to share family life, and who chooses to celebrate and share both successes and failures, I am very aware of how seeing things online can impact your mental health.

There are a whole host of topics that could or should be banned from social media. Topics that in my opinion elicit trauma, and if it was up to me I would choose not to read or see the things that trigger me.

Oh wait, for the most part is IS up to me.

I am able to mute, unfollow, ask not to see this again, in order to clean up my news feed.

Hence why I find it just a little bit unnecessary when someone has a rant about how Elf on the Shelf is making mothers (them) feel inadequate.

People who have tidy houses, are hugely successful and look like supermodels make me feel inadequate, but it would take me one hundred years, most likely bitter years, to successfully call out all of these people on their pretentiousness, but why would I want to?

Don’t get me wrong, as a disabled mother on a low income, I know what it’s like to be hard up. I’ve experienced trauma and I know what it’s like to struggle with your mental health. We all have triggers. All of us. But we also need to take stock and stop blaming others for triggering us.

The mum posting her child’s toy elf prancing around on a plastic dinosaur is not doing so to make you feel inadequate.

Realistically, she is probably doing it to make herself feel better, a silent high five to having remembered that Fergus-Frosty-Pants the elf needed to move his matchstick body, to another part of the house after her kids were tucked up in bed.

Similarly, the mum who takes pride in her home and posts pictures of it, is not doing so to make you feel inadequate. She’s sharing something she’s proud of.

I’m not a big fan of sharing hauls, or how many presents my kids get, mainly because I’ve always been brought up not to place too much value on material things, but you know what? If I could afford to do all the things with my kids that I’d like, if I could afford to shower them with gifts that fill rooms, I probably would. Of course we need to educate our children not to place value on how much they receive, I had a conversation just yesterday with my daughter about being grateful for all that she has as opposed to being sad about the things she doesn’t. It started when she sulked walking back from the shop because they didn’t have the Christmas tree biscuits we usually buy to decorate this time of year. We had a good chat about all the lovely things we’ve done and the crafts we’ve made in the run up to Christmas and that sulking about not being able to decorate some chewy gingerbread, kind of pales into insignificance if we compare. We talked about how there will inevitably always be things we want that we can’t have. Things others have that may make us jealous or resentful, but this is part of life. It’s literally something we all, even us as adults (clearly) will experience often. Comparison is the thief of joy and if we focus on what everyone else is doing and allow it to make us feel shit about ourselves, we lose sight of all the great things we have and if I’ve learned anything in the last year (and I like to think I’ve learned a whole lot) it’s that gratitude is not only a healthier way to eradicate the feelings of inadequacy that comes with comparison, it also helps us to feel better about what we have.

I see posts all the time saying ‘it’s ok if you don’t have XYZ this Christmas’ and of course it is, but I’m nonplussed as to when anybody suggested it wasn’t.

I myself am guilty of previously following trends, especially with the kids. Always wanting to make sure my daughter has a birthday party as great those of her peers. Don’t forget the photo ops, balloon arches and all that. However, I’ve learned that actually she’s happy if there is food and dancing, and she doesn’t really give a shit if she has 100 balloons positioned into a giant rainbow at five years old. I’ll add as well that all of these things are available in DIY and don’t cost the earth if you’re prepared to graft yourself.

We’re all human, trying our best, wanting the best for our kids, and it’s hard enough to avoid the never ending guilt that is placed on us as mothers, without turning on each other for moving around a felt elf, two weeks a year.

Just do you. XOXO

All I want for Christmas, is you.

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

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

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

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

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

Intrusive thoughts during the perinatal period

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

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

So what are intrusive thoughts?

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

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

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

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

54 Days postpartum

23.08.21

My daughter was on her way to bed last night when out of nowhere panic hit me full force. My son, lying in the crook of my arm, suddenly started to spit milk out from the sides of his slow flow teat, and I realised, the hand that was holding his bottle was shaking. I felt hot, from the feet up, like a flush, my brain scrambling for grounding thoughts that just couldn’t make their way to the forefront of my mind. It’s coming I thought, knowingly.

My husband comes when I call, and holds me tight. Our son, bewildered at why he’s suddenly had his bottle snatched from his mouth, our daughter, obliviously cleaning her teeth in the bathroom above our heads. Breathe Shaun tells me. Why am I like this???? I sob, trying to catch my breath. You’re not like anything, Steph. It’s a panic attack and it will pass. He reassures me, never letting me go.

It’s been 54 days since I gave birth. Our son will be 8 weeks old on Thursday 26th August.

This isn’t a birth story, because my birth story is too long, the trauma that surrounds my pregnancy will not shrink into an Instagram caption or a rushed blog post. This is a progress report.

When my son Kaiser was born, and during the days preceding, I was in a constant state of panic. I would have moments of calm, but they were fleeting and hard to grab onto. I’ve plateaued at a panic attack approximately once a week now. I know that a large part of their occurrence is directly linked to hormone sensitivity, yet that gives me no control or reassurance regarding their assault on my life.

I’m currently under the care of the most amazing perinatal mental health team, they are some of the best medical professionals I have ever come across in my entire life and I’ve met a few. Sadly this support was massively lacking during my pregnancy – but that is a story I’ve semi already told and one that would take up the duration of the rest of this blog. The point, is that I have some amazing people in my life at the moment helping me heal from acute anxiety, intrusive thoughts and various states of panic. I genuinely don’t believe without their consistent support during the postpartum period, that I would have gotten these bastard attacks down to once a week on my own.

The trouble is, I’m still very much in a state of fight or flight. During the periods of calm, I am logical. In fact I am probably calmer than I’ve ever been in my life and generally laid back (a term probably not often used to describe me as a person) but I can’t stay there, because as quick as I’m calm, a storm cloud opens up the heavens on my head and I am ready to flee the country as though I’m being chased by a hungry tiger.

However, during those moments of calm I have reflected. I have corrected, and I have made changes to my mindset. Living with chronic illnesses as I do, migraine, fibromyalgia, PMDD etc it’s easy to become all consumed by pain and suffering. The shift in my mindset has been that I don’t want to be consumed by this suffering anymore. I know I am going to suffer, bad days, sometimes bad weeks and maybe even bad months, but I don’t want it to consume me. I want change.

My community nurse said to me this week you have to do different to feel different and so I’m doing different. Every day I’m fighting tiny fires of fear. For example, I’m frightened of being alone with my kids in case I have a panic attack, but I’m staying alone with them anyway, because I know if I avoid this fear it will only grow.

I was absolutely distraught about Shaun returning to work after paternity leave, but I knew if he delayed that process I would be as scared, if not more so, when he eventually did.

I’ve been avoiding books and television that might be triggering or that contain storylines of anyone with mental illness, but very slowly I’m reintroducing those things into my life.

I’ve been too afraid to walk or drive anywhere on my own because of how much pain I’m in. What if I get stuck with the kids? And then what if whilst I’m stuck, I panic?

I’ve been too scared to enjoy days out for fear of repercussions on my body, or to go places more than half an hour away from my house in case I panic and need to flee, but slowly I am doing both.

I’m making this sound easy, and yet it’s been the hardest most hellish experience ever, doing things I’m so desperate to avoid goes against the grain. But I’m using these examples to measure my progress, because it’s so easy to feel as though I’m making absolutely no progress at all when anxiety strikes.

I want change. I want my life back. And I have to do different to feel different. I have to be open to the idea there are positive outcomes in life, because if I don’t open myself up to this possibility, I will forever be living half a life.