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

Please look but do not touch

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

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

Yes you read that right, she was offended.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kaiser’s face when someone invades his personal space

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

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

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

Tags available to purchase at JillyTotsUk

Reasons not to have a second kid….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

36 weeks of growing you.

This might be my last ‘growing you post’ because in a day or two we will know (hopefully) when you’ll arrive and how. I am excited, terrified, anxious, and desperate for you to be here with us, healthy and safe in my arms.

We made it this far and we fought back hard, and when people told us about risks we questioned them. When people ignored us, we spoke louder. When people dismissed our struggle we learned to challenge them or leave them behind. We made it this far because we were determined to get you here safely. You and I, endured this god awful journey together – you floating around in amniotic fluid, thumping and rolling inside me, a space that feels cramped now. We have endured it with the help of our friends and family, cheering us on, telling us we can. Convincing me I am strong, and despite having possibly never felt worse or physically weaker, in my life. I know I am strong, and now we’re finally here, just weeks away from your arrival.

On Saturday night I did the dreaded trip to maternity again after not feeling you move for hours. When I got there, alone in the dark dragging myself across the forecourt on crutches with your notes in a backpack, I was really scared. Scared because you never stop moving now, and scared because when she hooked me up to the NST your heart rate was high and we didn’t know why. Scared and whispering silent prayers. We are so close that nothing, nothing else must go wrong now.

On Sunday my friend Amy and your Nanny Sandra, organised me a little baby shower. It was intimate, because of coronavirus we couldn’t have loads of people anyway, and I was grateful for the intimacy. It was cosy, and relaxed and full of swearing, laughter and love. There were people we would of liked to invite but sadly couldn’t, and I always feel a bit awkward in these situations. However I’m feeling very lucky and ‘blessed’ (for want of a less cringeworthy word) to have such wonderful friends. I know I’ve talked a lot about friendships when writing to you, and that’s because I still, as an adult find them so hard to navigate and the more reclusive I’ve become the harder they seem to keep up with, so I am eternally grateful for those forever friends whom make it effortless.

I also got some amazing gifts and Becky, your sister’s godmother who will 100% be yours too, made me the Guinness cake of dreams as she always does.

We had afternoon tea, and played games whilst your dad took your sister to the fair. Your wonderful dad who has walked every step I couldn’t, washed every dish, cooked some of the worst meals I’ve ever tasted, but ate with gratitude anyway. Your daddy whom your sister loves ferociously and whom I couldn’t live a day without.

When I got home I told her all about the shower and she beamed for you, and said ‘Is that for our baby?’ Smiling her infectiously brilliant smile.

She’s started abbreviating your name and coming up with many versions, which is hilarious and yet she’s still managed to keep it a surprise, nobody has guessed it since one friend did.

I just want you here now. ‘They’ say nothing else matters and whilst I’ve found that hard to get on board with during a difficult pregnancy, I know ‘they’ are right. I am petrified, because I know how responsibility can lay heavy on a parent’s shoulders, but I also know it’s my favourite job.

Us four, your dad, sister, you and I, as long as we have each other we will be ok. We will get through the challenges and try our best like we always do, and when we have those blissful good days, we’ll try our best make them gloriously great.

35 weeks of growing you

It was going much better until your dad and I went out the weekend and it threw me into a flare up. Again. We were only out for 2 hours.

So whilst Saturday was a good day Sunday was not.

You know that sleep is evading me, I know you know, because you’re awake with me – it’s not unusual for that to happen this late in pregnancy, some might even argue it’s par for the course and being tired now is some kind of subconscious way of prepping me for your arrival. Maybe, except it’s now making me really unwell again. I’m getting about 2 hours broken sleep a night. I’m having flare ups of fibromyalgia symptoms that I can’t treat. I’ve started getting the skin crawling sensation again, from head to foot – it lasts hours, sometimes days. I have been desperate for cold showers at 4am and I’m scratching so much my skin is bleeding and marked.
I’m also feeling rage viscerally, like I could actually start caving your dad’s head in if his foot touches mine in the middle of the night, because the slightest touch sets my whole body off with paresthesia.
Itching, numbness and tingling are common symptoms of fibromyalgia, except that usually they would be treated with heavy duty drugs. They’re also not uncommon symptoms of pregnancy, but you can’t take heavy duty anything, when you’re up the duff.
I phoned maternity Sunday who wanted to see me urgently to rule out intrehapatic cholestasis…. so we did the 80 minute round trip to the hospital again to wait and see if you have to come out even earlier than your planned early delivery.
The sun is not a helpful addition for me at the moment. It’s making my symptoms worse. It’s nice for my mood, but as much as I’d like that to be enough, as much as someone might tell me it’s enough, feeling better mentally doesn’t provide a cure for a physical problem.

Next week we find out hopefully how you’ll be making your entrance. I’m excited and plagued with anxiety at the same time. We know we have to stay in hospital for a couple of days minimum, and that’s bothering me because now we have your sister, your dad won’t be able to be with me every second. I don’t feel confident about doing any of this alone. I’m frightened now that things have taken another turn and that’s how quickly it happens. One minute we’re loving life and trying to move forward with positivity and the next it all comes crashing down in an instant. I have hope that if it can change this quickly, the positives can also come as quick and we can be pleasantly surprised too.

I’ve been solely focused on you and the few people that have been present on this hellish journey with us. Whilst trying hard to give less thought to the people who haven’t shown an interest. I don’t blame people for not wanting to jump into our hell, I know they have their own. But recently, I really have needed to remind myself that everyone has their own shit going on and I shouldn’t take it personally. I am mindful of this and I am giving people the benefit of the doubt, and accepting my journey isn’t someone else’s to bear, but sometimes I find that it still stings and I get hung on up on thinking about it. It’s still hurtful that people I consider close friends, people who I’ve involved in all big life events like your sister’s christening and our wedding have just stopped bothering. I know as a 33 year old woman, mother and person who can be totally overwhelmed with her own life, how hard it is to sometimes connect with people, so I am conscious of this, and the older I get the better I am at empathising with other people’s struggles. Occasionally though, I still, rightly or wrongly, feel their absence like rejection. I’m human at the end of the day, and maybe too honest about this stuff. When you grow up, you’ll go through all sorts of life trials and hurdles, but you never really stop needing people in your corner. Luckily for me I have my mum and your dad always. And luckily for you, you’ll have all of us.

Things are easier now restrictions have eased and people are helping us keep your sister busy again. She is happiest when she is busy and that has taken some of the pressure off your dad, which makes me feel less like a burden on him. I worry sometimes if one day he will wake up and feel like we’re a full time job, but he’s a good man, I hope you’ll end up just like him.

I’m not ready for your arrival if I’m being honest. People keep asking me if I’m ready but I’m not really, because it still feels like there’s so much we don’t know. Is anyone ever really ready though? I do know it will all fall into place when you’re here as life often has a way of working out.

Can’t wait to finally announce your name either! See you soon little chief. 💚

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.

What does family mean to me?

It’s no secret that I was abandoned by the man who fathered me, whilst I was still a tiny mass of cells in the womb. When my mum gave birth at 28 weeks with me weighing just 2lb 10oz, she did it alone.

My father has at least 3 other children, two he had with a wife, and another one of me, born out of wedlock and cast aside as a mistake.

I never really respected (I say respected as opposed to understood, because I still don’t understand) the magnitude of what it must be like to be a single mother, until I became a mother myself. I became a mother with a solid partner, I’m becoming a mother of two with a husband. I have no idea what it’s like to parent solo, and hopefully I’ll never have to find out but I have nothing but admiration for my mum and the many other mothers that have no choice but to face the challenges parenting brings on their own as well as the ones who choose to.

We can be a bit of a dysfunctional family to be honest. In a conventional way. For whatever reason I’ve drifted from extended family over the years. I don’t have close relationships with my aunt and uncle, and very few of my cousins. My sister and I couldn’t be more different. There’s ten years between us and she had a different upbringing to that of my own, but we are close and I love her to bits. My mum and I are best friends but we do clash occasionally, when we do it’s a head on collision. That said I don’t know what I would do without her. We communicate with each other very well and have a mutual respect, as well as a deep and unconditional bond.

My husband is quite a quiet man, unless he’s had a drink (which isn’t often) when he becomes a bit of a clown. He doesn’t stress about lack of closeness to family or friends, where as I keep mine really close and feel absence like it’s abandonment. He is reserved with his feelings, but doesn’t worry about what other people think of us ever, where as I worry about everything. Not necessarily perception, but I worry about accuracy, I want people to know the real me, the truth, and I get frustrated when opinions are formed based on inaccuracies. Where as Shaun, my husband, doesn’t care – and it’s a quality in him that I envy.

It’s true that despite not having a large close knit family, I love family life. I love being a mum, I love being a wife, I love having my mum a constant in my life and can’t go a whole day without having texted her.

When I did meet my biological father, it didn’t bring me anything, not closure, not peace, nothing. I believe family are the people you can count on, the people that support you, know you and actively make an effort to be in your life and I don’t believe they have to share your DNA – he did none of those things, my dad, and therefore has no place in my life. I don’t hate him, because I don’t really know him, I just know he’s not the man he was supposed to be for me and I’m ok with that now.

My daughter is the backbone of our family, she brings everyone together and shares all of her personality with everyone she meets. She unites us when we’d sometimes struggle to find reasons to come together. She looks like her Daddy but she has my openness and lack of filter. She has my fire and sensitivity and her Daddy’s kindness, humour and carefree attitude. She is the perfect mix of both of us and I love her with such ferocity it scares me.

She has grandparents and stepgrandparents and she has never asked who my daddy is, (in fact it took me ages to convince her that her nanny is my mummy) but that day may one day arrive, when it does this is what I will tell her:

I will tell her and her brother (who’s not yet born) that families are a beautiful mass of complexity that never look the same, some people have two mummies or two daddy’s and some have only one of either. Some, like hers, have one of each. Some have siblings and some have none. Families are sometimes of different ethnicities and not all mummy’s grew their babies in their tummies.

I want her to know that family doesn’t have to mean inseparable, but it can if you want it to. Family doesn’t have to mean best friends, but it’s great when they are the best friends you’ve chosen.

It’s an ancient idea (IMO) that you must bond with someone who’s a blood relative, but it’s lovely to do so if you’re able. I don’t want her to feel forced to bond with someone just because she’s related to them, but I will encourage the bond if it’s what she wants. Family can be friends you’ve chosen, it can be in-laws, god’ and step parents, and it can look different for everyone.

Family to me simply means, the people you love. The people you want to show up for. The people you can rely on, but also the people you choose to support. Family means a mixed blend of give and take and respect and kindness. Family means traditions and memories. Friends and pets. I don’t like cutting people off, ever, not family or friends, but the older I get, the more I notice lack of effort. I don’t mean forgetting to wish someone a happy birthday, I mean not attempting to connect, and when I feel it, the less likely I am to put effort in in return. I’ve always been a person that organises people, I arrange gatherings, I’ve always hosted and I always encourage communication, because I’m a good communicator – but the older I get I realise you can’t force people to be in your life, so if they’re not, it’s likely because they don’t really want to be and as much as it stings sometimes, we have to let it go. Ciara has 8 godparents, approximately four of them interact with her. I have family that have never met her, and maybe never will. It’s not my job to force myself or my kids on people. If they want to be involved they will. If you want contact with someone you’ll request it, irrespective of being asked. Life is busy and time passes quickly even when it feels slow. To me it’s not about grand gestures, it’s just about showing an interest. Family are the people you laugh with, trust, spend time with because you want to, and they are the people that check in to see if you’re ok. They’re also the people you remember to check in on, because you want to know they’re ok. They are the people who fill our hearts with fun and love and are the shoulders we cry on. They are not always or only the people that created us or the people that are related to us.

My family, plus one in utero

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.

28 Weeks of growing you

After your sisters birthday it was my own. An event that used to have such a big place in my life but that has dwindled in importance over the years and many are now spent in recovery after the buzz of your sister’s celebrations.

We have been out a few days, me on my scooter and had some fun with it too. There’s no denying that it takes it out of me so significantly now, just popping out for a few hours leaves me feeling like I’ve ran a marathon. The SPD is worsening as you grow, and for the last few days I have been completely unable to get myself up in the mornings. Your dad is having to lift me from bed and before I’ve even got my feet on the ground I am crying in pain and it’s hard. It’s not in my nature to be this dependent on another person it’s also scary and feels like another string in my bow of can’ts at the moment.

On the plus side, and there have been pluses, mentally I feel a little less erratic and panicked and more prepared for the worst in terms of my health and mobility. We have had some changes made to the house which is enabling my independence whilst you’re inside me, and will hopefully continue once you are here. Grab rails are appearing everywhere and though cosmetically unsightly, they are providing me with much needed independence.

We will see you again this week, on a scan and talk to the consultant about your arrival. I hope we’ll be able to avoid going overdue with a planned induction rather than a cesarian, just because my recovery is already a worry, but what will be will be. Now things are opening up again and restrictions continue to ease, I hope extended family will make more effort to be involved and help with your sister if only to take the onus off of your dad. He returns to work this week after a week off, being without him will impact me again. He has been so hands on and it’s fair to say I don’t know what I would do without him how I would of gotten through these months without his undivided support. Your sister is going into holiday club for a few days this week to take the edge off and we’re lucky that she is a sociable little darling who’s happy to make new friends.

She went quiet for a while asking about you but her interest has piqued again and we are getting back to our daily chats and cuddles, though your kicks don’t seem as exciting to her at the moment, your pending arrival definitely still is. Onwards we move through the quagmire of a loose routine and no real structure, getting by on a wing and a prayer, but getting by we are with a lot of love and a little help from our friends. 💙