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.

Reasons not to have a second kid….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

34 weeks of growing you

Well what can I say, the change in me has been so good this week. Though it’s not remained plain sailing on the medical front. Last week I was called several times by the consultant and I felt reassured re the likelihood of a cesarian. Because of my fibromyalgia I don’t recover well from, well anything, and the idea of having major surgery, needing more rest and recovery time without the opportunity to get into rehab for my pelvis, really scares me. The reason being is, at the moment I cannot walk without crutches, and how the hell do I care for you on crutches after major surgery? However these concerns were countered by the consultant who reminded me it was after I had your sister via vaginal IOL that I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, so recovery for either isn’t likely to be great. Whilst this sounds ominous, it’s reassured me that neither is likely to be worse than the other, for me anyway. I will chat to them again on Wednesday to discuss where we go from here.

The reason I’ve been somewhat pissed off with them again this week, is after complaining about the lack of contact from my midwife I spoke to someone else who was really helpful and arranged a new referral to a physiotherapist- only for my original midwife to phone me on Friday to tell me I couldn’t have physio at the hospital because I’m an out of area patient, they’ve known this since the minute I found out I was pregnant, and I’ve been begging for physio since 16 weeks and was told over and over that I couldn’t be seen face to face because of the pandemic. I was given a glimmer of hope at being seen face to face finally at 34 weeks, only to now be told no, again! It’s frustrating, and I feel like the system in place doesn’t work for pregnant women in physical pain.

Irrespective of the setbacks I do feel more positive in general. As seems to be standard recently, your sister is boosting my mood every single day, making life feel more manageable. I’m still in pain, I’m still without my independence, but I’m not without my family and they, you, are all that matters. Your dad, your sister and I, all went away the weekend and it was amazing. The weather was abysmal, and we spent much of it in the caravan but the change in scenery, the togetherness, was so uplifting it was worth all the exhaustion that is now befalling me upon return. Despite the aftermath I’m so glad that I made the effort. Your sister rode a donkey for the first time, talked about you lots, and before we left for our trip on Friday she even drew on my bump writing baby Cullen I love you xxx

I feel stronger and less weighted by what everyone else might be thinking. Less embarrassed to admit what I need. Less guilty about how I’ve been feeling, more accepting of myself, my limitations and prognosis. We know our journey is tough, we also know some people have it a lot tougher. We know it’s worth it and we know we’ll face whatever challenges come our way together. It’s a startling shift that has taken so long to come I wonder why and how I’ve not been able to pull myself out of the fog sooner – but who cares? I’m here now and I’m thinking more clearly. I’m trusting myself and my ability to get through this, and I’m doing it for you, for us, all of us.

You will be here, before we know it, so soon and we are excited to meet you. Apprehension still resides, and there’s still uncertainty, but I’m trying to focus on the things within my control. Soon we’ll be taking trips as a family of four and we’ll be together, for those days, I cannot wait.

33 weeks of growing you

17 weeks of not being able to walk, using a makeshift commode for the many wee stops I need in between the kitchen and the lounge, but not being able to make it up the stairs. Weeks in bed, watching the room spin and change only with the fall of day and night, has been rough. I have felt tremendous guilt, panic, resentment and fear for so many months. I have spoken up, and I’ve clammed up. I’ve felt supported and let down equally, by both the system and people closer to me.

But, Master Cullen – this week I bring better vibes. Hallelujah, praise the fucking lord, mama is finding a way to move through the quagmire of the last eight months. And all it took, was a complaint, and someone to listen.

I am forever grateful to our NHS, I sympathise greatly with the challenges they face. However, after proactively trying to access support to stay on top of my mental and physical health during this pregnancy, I have felt let down.

I asked to be under the mental health team to ensure I didn’t spiral like I did with your sister, the idea of this meant I would be allocated a midwife that specialised in mental health and could manage the links between physical and mental health throughout this pregnancy. As promised, I was, and in the eight months I’ve been pregnant, I’ve seen that midwife twice and sent several dozen texts to her that have been completely ignored. I don’t mean answered late, I mean, completely ignored. Thankfully I am not in mental health crisis, but I’ve felt well on my way as my physical health has depleted so rapidly.

I didn’t want to complain, because despite feeling unheard, the maternity team are all lovely. They are just harried and overworked. But it paid, because as soon as I voiced my concerns I was listened to, and am now, finally, being given the support I’ve been lacking.

There have been so many worse case scenarios running through my head about you throughout these months, and on top of those, the impact of being immobile and in crippling pain has had my mood plummeting to the lows I’d been desperately trying to avoid. I felt like I had nowhere to turn, many, many times.

The positives throughout this pregnancy have been overshadowed by the many negatives, but finally I can see the end nearing with a clearer and less restricted view. Soon, you will be with us, and life will look different again, we’ll face new challenges but I aim to face them with hope and a positive mindset. I cannot promise you this mood will last, I cannot promise you my positive resolve won’t waver again. In fact I can probably guarantee you that it will, but I can promise you that I will do my best, for you and your sister, for our family, our future and our new life with you in it.

I promise you that I will try harder to practise gratitude and to speak up loudly again when things get rough, and they will.

The nature of my health means there will be days, sometimes weeks, during your life that I will fail you. Not intentionally, but because my body is failing me. During those times, as you age (obviously not when you’re a baby) you will need to learn empathy and compassion. Your sister is shining a light on that for all of us at the moment, radiating positivity and excitement at your pending arrival, whilst being the kind and compassionate kid that she is. So I know she’ll teach you the ropes. She will also probably force them down your throat, but we are a family of strong girls and you’ll have to get used to that.

As always your Dad is doing his bit and I think he’ll probably need a rest of his own when we’re out the other side. We are lucky, we are thankful and we will be ok, but sometimes when things are hard life seems like a mountain made of quicksand, impossible to climb. I will always try to teach you that nothing is impossible, but it takes time and we’ll need to be patient with each other, you and me.

Love you 💙

Best sister ever

32 weeks of growing you

TW: Perinatal anxiety & depressive thoughts.

Too many tears. Too many days in bed. I’m done now. I have nothing left. Except I’m not allowed to be done, because there is more time left, there is more to do, there are more weeks you must stay inside of me to keep you safe, and despite feeling like I am losing my fucking mind and having no control over my body, my goal is still to keep you safe. You’re still the most important thing.

It has been over four months now that I’ve not been able to walk, drive, leave the house alone, spend one on one alone time with your sister. Four months of being told over and over again ‘it’ll all be worth it’ and that ‘it’s not long now’ it is long, it feels like fucking forever. Every single day feels like ten years. My skin feels like it’s crawling with insects. I cannot move without feeling like I’m rolling around in glass. I have put on so much weight, because I can’t move. My anxiety is through the roof, I am getting no sleep, and I cry all the time. What will I do when you come? How will I cope?

Nobody will tell me what happens next, I still don’t know if I will regain mobility and if I do, how long it will take. I’m just waiting, and wading through treacle, with limbs that don’t work. I feel like I can’t plan anything, look forward to anything. I feel physical pain so acutely, but I’m mentally numb.

People message to ask me how I am and when I tell them, they don’t reply, because they don’t know what to say. I think it’d be easier if they stopped asking, because it’s worse to open up and be vulnerable, only to then get ignored.

Everywhere I turn I keep seeing messages of hope, speak out, don’t suffer in silence, etc etc…. it’s everywhere, but it doesn’t feel real, because when you do speak out, when you do open up, people judge you. People think you should be doing better, feeling a certain way, being more grateful. People give you their opinion on how you should treat your mood. They tell you what they think, they try and fix you, they tell you that someone else has it worse, and they aren’t really listening.

It’s the honest, ugly, truth that nobody wants to hear. Not really. They say they do, but they find it uncomfortable. People tell you how well you’ve done when you’re out the other side of something. When you’re in it, they don’t know what to say, and I do get it. I really do, I understand, because it’s hard to support someone whose in a negative place. But sometimes you don’t have to say anything, you definitely don’t have to ask questions or have answers, sometimes you just have to be available to listen.

I don’t want to feel like this. I don’t want to be ungrateful or feel like a burden. It’s not a choice, it’s a lot of self doubt, and it’s a reaction to a difficult situation.

With all this in mind, I’ve been working really hard to try and change my mindset today. I know it’s only me that can do it. I know I can’t expect to be rescued. After days in bed over the weekend, today I got up. I had a bath and washed my hair, it was an exhausting task, but I know it helps. I put on clean clothes, I had soup for lunch instead of binging on crisps and junk. I took painkillers, because I needed them and tried not to feel any guilt. I watched a comforting film that felt like a hug and downloaded a feel good book to read. I’ve drank plenty of water, and the cloud is lifting.

I know I can do this, I know I have to do this, I know I’m strong enough to do this, but sometimes I don’t feel like doing any of it.

I’m downstairs now, waiting for your sister to get home from school, with a smile plastered on my face. I will watch another film with her, talk to her about her day and she will give me the hope I need to keep going and do the same tomorrow. I won’t sleep today, because if I nap now, sleep will evade me again tonight, and I need sleep. I need it to allow my brain to switch off. I need it to keep going. I need to enable me to focus on the positives, and they are that we are lucky, we are lucky to have you and I want to feel that. I want to feel joy override all these other emotions. I want to feel better, excited.

The below pics were taken less than 24 hours apart. It’s hard to believe that the extremes can peak and trough so rapidly. But I have to remind myself that it doesn’t matter what other people think, I’m surviving a hard and long journey, and I’m doing it whilst keeping you safe. I’m doing my best. I’m going to be okay, and so are you. ❤️

Pregnancy Timeline

I use writing tools a lot to make sense of feelings, I always find it gives me clarity and as I’ve had very little actual support for my mental health this pregnancy, despite being under the perinatal mental health team, covid restrictions have played a huge part and the fact I can’t attend groups because of lack of mobility. That said, I’m pretty good at managing these phases if I let myself feel them. So I decided pulling out some old tools might help, and here started the pregnancy timeline.

I’ll explain at the end why this was such an important process for me.

4 weeks – Found out I was pregnant had to reduce and abstain from medications that had been keeping me well. Very anxious, unsure and not feeling excited.

5 weeks – withdrawal symptoms, migraine, nausea and vomiting, unable to get routine appointment with GP. Lots of tears.

6 weeks – Hormonal migraines started coming every 3-4 days and increased in severity and duration. Unable to reduce Migraine meds. Mental health sketchy, had to fight to be booked in with the perinatal mental health team.

7 weeks – High temperature, still sick, time off work, negative covid test, later confirmed UTI at emergency GP appt and course of antibiotics

8 weeks – Booking appointment with midwife. high BP and protien still present in urine. More antibiotics. Discussed medication benefit vs risks.

9 weeks- low mood, tearful and anxious. Migraines still severe. Several trips to maternity in the same week to check blood pressure.

10 weeks- pelvic pain present. ? SPD. Fibro flare up. More time off work.

12 Weeks – First scan. No physical abnormalities present with baby. Heart beat strong. Consultant advised go back up migraine medication. Blood thinners prescribed

14 weeks – Pelvic pain increased referred to physio, no appointments because of covid, sent exercises in the post.

16 weeks – Pelvic pain so severe can’t bear any weight, SPD confirmed, back on crutches again. Heard heartbeat at routine appointment.

17 weeks – Unable to drive, can’t do school runs, more time off work. Mood swings, hormonal allergies and itching.

18 weeks – Felt baby move for the first time.

19 weeks – Reactivation of shingles virus causing more pain & long fibro flare up, prescribed antivirals. Permanent exhaustion.

20 weeks – Start using Avulux glasses, migraines decrease and can reduce migraine medication further. praise be. Twenty week scan delayed.

21 weeks – Gender scan. It’s a boy 💙low lying placenta picked up but not mentioned to us. Warned not everything can be seen on a scan but all good so far with baby growth. 28 week scan booked.

22 weeks – crutches becoming unmanageable with fibro – mobility scooter purchased, gaining weight fast.

23 weeks – Spotting after sex. Reduced fetal movement monitoring. Feeling ashamed and embarrassed of my immobility, weight gain rapid.

24 weeks – mobility worsening, mental health struggling as a result. Feel like a shit mum. Social services agreed for adaptations made in the home, grab rails shower seat etc

26 weeks – Glucose tolerance test – came back negative. Praise be

27 weeks – Almost every day spent in bed, midwife doesn’t reply to message for 10 days. phoned doctor in agony and tears begging for pain relief – Shaun having to lift me from bed every morning before he goes to work.

28 weeks – Growth scan confirmed placenta previa – talks of early cesarian birth. Talks of baby needing to stay in hospital post birth. Talks of NICU and breathing difficulties. Must abstain from sex. 36 week scan booked. Consultant okayed using tens machine for pain.

30 weeks – shingles flared up again, back on antivirals, sitting on ice packs, barely moving from bed. Tens machine doesn’t reach nerve pain.

31 weeks – Not long now but still feeling uncertain – not much advice about mobility after birth specifically if needing cesarian birth. Midwife appointment moved for the 3rd time no support re reducing medication further for delivery to avoid withdrawal in the baby.

In 7 months I’ve had approximately 10 good days. That’s not an exaggeration. It’s the truth. I’ve been unable to work, drive, leave the house on my own, cook a meal, take my daughter to the park, walk our dog. In 31 weeks I’ve been told by people who have absolutely nothing to do with my medical care that I’m just depressed, I’ve been told ‘at least the baby is ok’ and I’ve been told to ‘wait and see.’ And to ‘stay positive’

I’ve been hit with statistics, risks, percentages and ‘can cause’ (‘s) at every appointment.

In 31 weeks my husband has gone from being my lover to my carer. My daughter has gone from having a mum who actively participates in her life, to one who just watches. She has spent more time with her Dad and Nanny than anyone else. She has been going to school for 10 hour days because I can’t do the school runs and I can’t care for her alone in my house when her dad isn’t home. I can’t care for myself alone in my house.

I have gained weight like a duck pending foi gras.

I’ve been told not to wish pregnancy away. To enjoy it. I’ve been told that I’ll forget all of my pain once he’s here.

Despite all of this, every single day all I do is think of the baby. All I do is wait and see. All I do is think of my family. I have lived the last 31 weeks in agony and begged for the pain of labour over how I feel daily – at least then I could have some decent pain relief without worrying it’s going to cause my baby long term developmental damage.

So the reason this timeline was helpful is because, actually, despite all of the shit I have dealt with in the last 7 months, I have kept going. I have made decisions for the sake of the baby and my family that have negatively impacted me but have been important in supporting them. I have survived. I have tried, and I have kept going. I have found ways to push on.

My friend told me about a quote the other day that says

Everyone wants to hold the baby, but who holds the mum’

And I have needing holding. I have needed reminding, though even when I have been reminded, I have failed to remind myself.

I have sacrificed a lot in hope, in knowing it’s worth it, in putting other people before myself. I’ve been in agonising pain, I’ve cried and screamed and complained but every single day I’ve still got through it. I’ve had a great support in my close family and friends and I’ve been lucky that people have taken the time to remind me how well I’m doing despite the challenges – but I wrote this to remind myself. It might seem like as long as the baby is ok everything is fine, but that’s so far from the truth when it comes to pregnancy and health. A healthy baby might be the most important thing. But it’s definitely not the only important thing.

And while I’ve been thanking everyone for their help, I’ve been condemning myself for needing help in the first place. I’ve been drilling myself every single day about how useless I am. When actually I’m not useless. I’m not redundant in this journey, I am the journey. And when we come out the other side whatever the outcome looks like, I plan to celebrate the fact that I made it.

31 Weeks of growing you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

30 weeks of growing you

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

Thirty weeks of uncertainty and stormy waters.

Thirty weeks of tests and tears.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

29 Weeks of growing you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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