What it’s like to Love Someone with PMDD: Two Sides of the Same Coin.

Trigger warning ⚠️ contains references to suicidal ideation. Severe mental health health and Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. 

‘I used to shout at times of frustration, ask him what the fuck he’s playing at, but this new level of suppression required to stop me exploding in front of my kids, often leads to tears instead.’

Me

We’re supposed to be going out. I don’t really feel like it, actually that’s an understatement, I don’t feel at all like it. I’m trying to put on a brave face for them. It’s futile. I’m waiting for him to get our youngest child dressed but it feels slow, as though he’s not doing it fast enough, on purpose, maybe to annoy me. So the tears prick the back of my eyes and before I know it, I’m shaking with sobs. I used to shout at times of frustration, ask him what the fuck he’s playing at, but this new level of suppression required to stop me exploding in front of my kids, often leads to tears instead. Deep down I know this is irrational behaviour. I even say aloud “I’m sorry, I don’t know why I’m like this.” But they’re just words aren’t they? I’m still like it.

It’s not his fault, and it’s certainly not the children’s fault. Some would argue it isn’t even my fault, because Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder is physiological. It’s not a behavioural choice. I don’t choose to want to run the-fuck-away or open the flood gates to save myself from screaming the house down every-time I feel overwhelmed.

Some would also argue that there lies the choice. But there’s a stigma attached to a woman’s reproductive system that fuels societal norms and tells me I should be able to control this. I wish people didn’t really believe that. Sadly, many do.

I can feel my senses screaming, the hair on my scalp feels sore, the streams of noise I can hear, the kids to-ing and fro-ing around the house, collectively chattering, the sound of toys clattering and zips being pulled on coats, all feels as though it’s taking place inside of my head. The sounds are amplified and terrifying, because it doesn’t feel normal. I wonder if maybe I’ve finally reached a level of mentally ill that is beyond reparation. But even if that was true, what would I do?

I think about suicide and the perfect ideal of disappearing into an anonymous abyss. I think about not blowing up my life on a two week roster. I think about it against my will. I think about not disappointing more of my loved ones. I think about it, but I can’t do anything with the thoughts, because doing so would harm them irreparably too, and then I wouldn’t even be here to say I’m sorry. And I am sorry. I’m so sorry they have to put up with this. With me.

‘I’m frustrated, yes. Who wouldn’t be. I’m frustrated with the situation.’

Him

Of course I’m sick of walking on eggshells. I know she’s going to kick off in a minute and it’ll be my fault. It’s always my fault. The octaves are increasing and I can sense her anguish. I’m frustrated, yes. Who wouldn’t be. I’m frustrated with the situation. It’s definitely gotten worse since the second pregnancy, and the birth of our son. Or maybe I was just more able to tolerate it before we had two kids. Having children makes the situation harder. I’m running around back and forth trying to get the kids ready and make sure she’s ok. I can’t do everything. I know she’s spoiling for a row. I can feel her distress and it’s grating, because it’s really tough not to take it personally. I know she doesn’t mean it. I know she’s hurting. I don’t put up with this shit for the sake of it. I put up with it because I know her, and this isn’t her.

I try to preempt stressful situations and get ahead of them. Sometimes I don’t listen to the nagging, if I’m honest I don’t always listen to how bad she feels. It’s not because I don’t care, I think we all (men) do this to some degree. We’re just trying to keep our head above water too. Trying to fix it. I hate seeing her in pain. I know it’s real, but I don’t know how to help.

‘I know I’m useless. I guess this need to be useless alone makes me feel noble.’

Me

He’s going to leave me soon. I push him away cyclically because I think it’ll be easier, easier for him, not for me. I know I’m useless. I guess this need to be useless alone makes me feel noble. If I am not around to hurt them with my lack of energy, my anger or my tears, surely that’ll make me a better person? I’ll disappear for them.

Who would want to put up with a hormonal, angry, anxious, and constantly unwell, wife? I’m the mother of his kids but I’m not a great one, am I? How could I be when I can barely keep up with our children? I struggle to walk very far, I’m always tired and I dare say, my pelvic floor ain’t what it used to be. I’m overweight because I’m pumped full of hormones, and I crave sugar in the middle of the night. I’m not the woman he fell in love with. I know that much. I was a skinnier, funner, possibly sexier, but still angry, bitch back then.

I often wonder how we’ll survive this. How we keep coming back from it every month.

Him

I love her. We get through it because the good days keep us going. She is a great mum. I know she doesn’t think she is but I’m proud of her, and I trust her parenting implicitly. Our kids are kind because she’s taught them to be. I know she worries about our daughter picking up on things, but the way I see it is different. I see her doing her best. Our kids are lucky they have what they need, and we have fun. Yes it’s hard, but it’s not just hard. It’s amazing too.

Me

I know everyone fucks their kids up a little bit. With the best intentions our actions impact them. I worry. No, worry isn’t a strong enough word. I am petrified that my kids will remember my dysfunction and forget all the times I tried. Equally, I don’t want them to shoulder the burden of believing I fought only for them. I want to find the strength to do it for me, but it’s hard. I’ve been doing it for too long. I don’t sleep. My brain is a cacophony of clashing thoughts. For two weeks out of every four, I hold on white-knuckle, in an attempt to get to the next phase. It feels like a game of Street Fighter except for the fact that completing a level isn’t victorious. The end is never the end. When the mental torture subsides, I am left with acute physical symptoms. Pain that takes weeks to disappear. Debilitating migraine attacks, chronic and all encumbering fatigue. Dense brain fog, mouth ulcers, and chest pain. Even my face hurts. I might do a small task and need to sleep for the rest of the day. It’s a lot of pressure on him. A lot.

‘Sometimes I say the wrong thing, like “it’s in your head” but I don’t mean it’s not real.’

Him

She says I don’t communicate with her but sometimes it’s easier just to push through. Because there is an end. She sees it as forever, but it’s not all the time. I’m not making excuses for her, but I don’t see it as constant. Maybe I have more hope, but it’s life factors that make life hard, not just her illnesses. Life would be easier if we had more childcare, she got more rest, we had more money. Maybe if I could work less, and so on. Even if we had those things and the gift of hindsight, none of them would cure her health, or eliminate all of our problems, because there’s no such thing as no problems. Families aren’t perfect. Our bests’ might sometimes look different but we’re both doing the very best we can. Everybody I know is dealing with something, and I don’t say that to minimise how she feels, I say it because it’s true. I say it to reassure her, that whatever the problems are, nothing is so bad that I’d give up on her. We’re a family. I don’t dwell on things in the same way she does. I know from living with her that being able to not dwell is a luxury. She doesn’t switch off because she can’t. Sometimes I say the wrong thing, like “it’s in your head” but I don’t mean it’s not real. How she feels. I don’t mean I don’t believe it. I know it’s real. I just want her to know that I don’t worry about us in the same way she does, because I know we’ll be okay.

Chronically misunderstood- My personal experience with shame.

Content warning! Severe Mental Health chat.

I wanted to write this post – no scrap that actually, I NEEDED to write it. Not for sympathy.
Not for ‘attention’ well for attention to the topic maybe, but for my truth.
The need to share my truth of this awful rollercoaster I’m on with my health.

To the outside world my life has never looked less complicated. I’m married to the best man I’ve ever known. I have two beautiful kids. I’m writing and advocating – two of the things that set my soul on fire.

So what have I got to be so hysterical about? This week is the 4th week I’ve not been able to stay up for longer than 3 hours a day. My body is not working as it should. My mum, husband and two of my best friends have all looked after my kids during half term: a week when I should be making memories with them. 3 weeks ago I caught a common cold that left me in bed for 5 days at my mum’s house.
Off the back off that came a Fibro flare, my joints seized and neuropathy took over my extremities. This week I had some blood tests which show my inflammatory markers are high again.

The pain I’ve been trying to hide has left me angry and ashamed. I’m angry because I’m tired of having to explain that I’m sick, even though I don’t ‘look’ it. The physical and mental toll of being unwell is too much.

  • I’m angry at the world for not understanding my needs.
  • I’m angry that the sound of two people talking at once now cause visceral reactions in me, that make me want to run into oncoming traffic.
  • I’m angry because I’m ashamed that once a month during PMDD I am hysterical and I’m ashamed that I can’t look after my own children without help.
  • I’m ashamed at the way I respond to stress and stimuli.
  • I’m ashamed at myself for not being more grateful on the hard days.
  • I’m ashamed that I can’t cope with life in an admirable and inspiring way; because society deems that’s the way disabled people should cope.
  • That I’m not thriving despite anything – I’m surviving at best.

“I’m scared to be around them, in case I fuck them up with my very existence”

Yesterday I walked the dog in the rain and thought about throwing myself in the river. I don’t want to do that, but it’s a thought that niggles for 10-15 days a month, sometimes grows arms & legs & tells me my life, my wonderful life, with my beautiful family isn’t worth sticking around for.

I could and would never intentionally leave my kids, but this knowledge terrifies me too, because sometimes I’m overwhelmed by it. I’m scared to be around them, in case I unintentionally fuck them up with my very existence.

That word again: SHAME in my opinion parents are shamed for their struggles. Especially mothers.

She’s not doing enough her kids are acting out.

She’s doing too much her kids are neglected.

She needs help – those poor kids.

And on it goes, the shame cycle.

For example: usually, after a post like this I get an influx of messages from kind strangers, telling me they’re sending love, and solitary one or two messages from people I know in person. My real life friends. It’s a tough one because whilst we absolutely should not rely on external validation as a coping mechanism, it can still be difficult to tell your brain that. With social media now being our go to resource for almost everything, you think your friends and family have seen it, you think they’re rolling their eyes. And because of those insecurities, it’s hard to dismiss the notion that these feelings, intrusive thoughts and so on, are feelings we indeed should be ashamed of.

I wish she’d keep it to herself because it makes me uncomfortable!

I dunno why she writes all that stuff there’s no need it’s so cringe.

She doesn’t know how lucky she is.

If she were really feeling that bad she wouldn’t be posting about it.

And it got me thinking, is this what we want our children growing up to believe? That when they feel bad about their life they must keep quiet? That if it’s so bad they’re even possibly thinking of ending it, nobody wants to hear about it. They should only tell a doctor or someone close to them because other people, the rest of the world, might feel uncomfortable if the whole truth is shared with them? Should we be teaching our kids that their feelings don’t matter because they’re cringe to read about, silly to other people who might not understand them? Attention seeking.

It’s not about attention, but even if it is – so what? Don’t people who might be feeling suicidal, or so unwell they’re struggling to keep themselves safe, deserve attention?

Aren’t we all – just trying our best to survive, with some of us finding it easier or harder than others at different times. It’s not about comparison, who has it worse, or wanting a pat on the back for speaking out…. It’s about acceptance on a grand scale. It’s about making small changes that will lead to larger societal shifts in how we relate to each other.

For me personally, the problem isn’t with recognising feelings of shame. I’m aware of them I’m aware of behaviours that stem from them. No, for me it’s about self compassion, that’s the one thing I can’t seem to grasp and it’s a major road block in helping me execute strategies to deal with shame and all of its associated emotions.

I made some decisions this week that I hope will help me tackle this moving forward.

Blacklisted for Having Kids.

I read an article this week written for Stylist. and it boiled my blood a little. I’m hormonal (cycle day 26) and so this may have been a slight overreaction on my part…. But let me explain.

The article which first caught my attention via a quote on instagram, was displayed with the words….

“So many times I’ve wanted to say, stop sending me unsolicited pictures of your children. I’m sick of being cancelled on at the last minute.”

@Stylistmagazine

Now we all know media pulls quotes for attention, writers – including myself – do too! The reason this got me going wasn’t because it’s written by someone who doesn’t have children and therefore they cannot comprehend the incessant need as a parent, to snap cute pictures of your kids during all stages, at all times… Instead, it was the ‘I’m sick of being cancelled at the last minute’ comment that got my knickers in a knot. This, because sure, it’s shit being cancelled on, but if the excuse is the kids, then someone whom doesn’t have children (especially small ones) can’t relate to the magnitude of their needs, and the ever present fear as a mother, that you might indeed need to cancel plans at the very last minute because your child has yet another temperature that’s just a modicum too high for your liking. A snotty nose that needs constant wiping, or God-forbid they randomly vomited up the dinner you cooked them just hours ago, before you dressed to go out.

Secondary to the above, I saw a tweet referencing parents which read….

‘Remote working = even more excuses for parents to claim ‘sick’ kids for their lack of productivity.’

Misogynistic Corporate Type – Twitter

I mean, WHAT THE ACTUAL?? Last I checked, we were about to enter 2023 but here I found myself trawling the dark ages of Twitter.

Not only does the tweet make little sense, given that remote working has proven parents in particular to have increased levels of productivity, it was written by a man whom also doesn’t have children.

The generalisation that all parents, though let’s be honest – we’re talking predominantly mothers here – use any excuse to a) bail on their friends at the last minute and 2) skive off work all day, is perhaps not surprising but alarming nonetheless. It suggests that we (mothers) are literally at the bottom of everybody’s reliability list. Which is ridiculous if you consider how committed the majority of us are when it comes to parenting our children.

What maybe bothered me the most, is the realisation that I used to be one of these presumptuous, and unashamedly judgemental, people. Eye rolling at every new upload of somebody’s kid eating their first broccoli. NGL I still eye-roll at this on occasion but in my defence, the eye-roll is inward and I’m far less frivolous with my judgement. To think I may have been somebody whom put parents in a specific and wrongly undervalued category, now makes me cringe!!

My best friend had birthed three children before I’d had any and I’m ashamed to admit that I used to be a person who assumed her absence from events was down to fabricated childhood illness. Now, as a mother of two and someone that has more health issues than Katie Hopkins has haters, I’ve had to make peace with becoming the unreliable and often-absent, friend.

However, I’d like to be clear, my excuses for bailing on my mates at the last minute, aren’t in fact excuses at all. They are instead justifiable reasons. As would be one of my child-free friends cancelling because their cat was on its’ last paws. If anything, rather than giving me an endless list of get-out-of-jail-free excuses, it was actually motherhood that opened my eyes to all possible eventualities. And it was both that and disability which provided me with the eye-opening, and painfully stark dose of reality, that life can and does change at the drop of the proverbial hat.

It would seem our unreliability as parents, through no fault of our own, has black-listed us to our own unique and increasingly lonely, club.

If your friends are sending you ‘unsolicited’ pics of their children, for fuck’s sake, have a conversation with them. I know myself, as a mother and a friend, I would hate for my pals to be in receipt of pictures from me which they felt strongly enough to complain about. Whether those pictures are of unfunny memes, plates of food I have no desire to recreate, or even cute (or not cute) kids doing boring shit. If my friend was constantly filling my WhatsApp feed with photos that left me feeling drained, or gave me the ick, I can assure you – I’d be ribbing her about it. Thankfully, I can say with confidence that the pictures I get from my mates are usually hilarious, cute or relevant. Even if they’re none of those things though, I can still appreciate the joy such a picture may have brought to the sender and go about my day without feeling personally affronted by it. Unless, for obvious reasons, it’s an unsolicited dick pic from a man… in which case… friend or no friend = B L O C K E D.

To my friends, the parents and the pet parents and the single, and the child-free, you’re good! Keep uploading those pics of your cute kids and your dinner to Instagram. I promise the ones I’m uninterested in I’ll just mind my business and scroll past. And whatever you do, don’t feel guilty for needing to rearrange your working day because one of your kids is sick. Being a working parent is stressful enough without adding in an extra dose of guilt. Your kids may not yet appreciate your sacrifice, but believe once they enter adulthood themselves they’ll be grateful for the days you changed sick bowls and soiled sheets instead of answering phone calls.

My Secret Recipe for the perfect Burnout.

Yes you read that right – it’s not a recipe passed down via generations of familial cooks. It’s not a recipe for the perfect ‘loaf’ though I did try to implement my copywriting skills and include ‘loaf’ in the title, as you can see, it didn’t work!

So what do you add when you’re trying to drive yourself over the proverbial edge?

First, let’s add some flavour and really get this course of self destruction cooking on gas.

Starter – Fuck This Shit

  • To start I like to include a heavy dose of listening to the kids scream from the minute they wake. The youngest starts by demanding milk, the biggest already irritated before her eyes are fully open at the sound of his shrillness.
  • Forget whether or not your took your medication already.
  • Then to ensure full discord is achieved before 8am, add in a few shakes of them both refusing to get dressed or eat their breakfast. Not a morsel passes tightly pressed lips.
  • The starter is almost ready but don’t forget to find PE kit, £1 coin for Christmas jumper day, the Christmas jumper that was dirty last night – sniff test says it’s musty but passable.
  • Drive to the end of the street and realise you’ve forgotten lunch boxes or gloves – insert other casual but necessary items here (such as waterproofs coat) to season.
  • Go home and retrieve forgotten property and return it to school before you’ve even sipped a cup of tea. Remember to order your online shop to stir things up a bit.
  • Shopping makes you hungry so eat a handful of biscuits and fuck the diet right out the window.
  • Finally, to serve garnish with a text message from school telling you PE is tomorrow.

Main course – Straw, Camel and a Broken Back.

  • For the main course, start by going to the park. Then watch one hundred and fifty episodes of Paddington Bear.
  • Yawn for a full thirty minutes because you’re exhausted. Take some painkillers and fight like hell with your toddler to take a nap.
  • Continue fight until you can no longer tolerate the sound of their objections.
  • Stand on a musical toy on your way out of the room to really amp up the frustration.
  • Add a dash of washing, a sprinkle of life admin and a few sneezes. The latter is as a result of tries and tested germ passing between members of your household. A cough to the eyes, a sneeze to the face, etc etc.
  • Squeeze a juice of ‘I have only one hour to get four hours worth of work done’ and stir.
  • Add in your mum popping in with some bits for you and ever so slightly wincing at the state of your house.
  • Then add a cup of the baby getting woken up by the dog barking at the sound of your mum at the door.
  • Finally, to garnish, try for another hour to get the baby back to sleep. Take some painkillers, make another cup of tea you won’t get to drink and pay every single bill and fill out the calendar with forest school dates for the next term. Delicious!

Dessert – Brain Fog, Chronic Pain and Tears.

  • You’ve been looking forward to this all day. It’s your favourite dish. It’s super easy to make. You just hand both of your kids to your husband as he walks through the door at 5.30pm and enjoy.
  • Haha just kidding, first you must do homework with child number 1 whilst child number 2 screams in the background.
  • You’re in pain. You’re exhausted and your husband tuts around you wiping down surfaces and complaining the house is a mess.
  • Pour in a bath, for them, not you, and don’t even think about relaxing because you still haven’t tidied up the toys that are about to boil over and saturate the last of available space in your overcrowded two bedroom terrace.
  • Read three stories, complain about how much more exhausted you are than your husband. Ignore your messages whilst scrolling instagram.
  • Add a kiss goodnight and thirty-five cups of ‘Wake the fuck up’ before morning.

Chef’s tips – for full flavour!

Don’t ask for help, it’s unlikely you’ll get it even though at least five people have said ‘Let me know if you need anything’ they don’t mean it, they aren’t really listening.

Make sure you run out of your medicines on a Friday so you’re fucked for the weekend.

Book a babysitter and be grateful when you have to cancel that it’s because you’re sick and not one (or both) of the kids.

Work until at least ten o’clock every night because it’s the only time you’ll have to do anything without a screaming commentary.

Treat yourself to a takeaway and then wonder where all your money goes and why you haven’t lost your two year old baby weight.

More scrolling comparing yourself to people you’ve never met, online.

If you like things really spicy, let the washing pile up, eat another takeaway instead, and run yourself a bath. Or better still, go to bed when the kids go to bed and enjoy the extra thirty-five minutes of sleep you’ll get.

Bon Appetite!! 👩🏻‍🍳

In all seriousness now – Obviously (I hope it’s obvious) the above text is meant in jest. Nobody should follow this recipe. If anything – please take this as a reminder to TAKE A BREAK. Motherhood is hard. Your children adore you. You’re doing great. 💕

Be Weird Be Wild Be Wonderful ~ Review

Got a preschooler who loves to explore? A baby under six months that is fascinated by their surroundings but still limited with movement? A tornado crawler? A toddler? If you answered yes to any of the above BWBWBW will surpass your play expectations. Situated in East Bristol’s Longwell Green suburb, occupying an old shop space with free parking, it’s a play hub like no other.

The hub is open plan so wherever you are you can see your little person playing safely

If like me you dread soft play and get jittery just thinking about joining a baby group Be Weird Be Wild Be Wonderful is the perfect alternative to both. Roomy, open plan interiors and infinite open ended play resources, even an indoor sandpit, the play hub offers an ideal space for your little ones to roam free and explore safely. Possibly what’s even more special about this place is that they offer proper coffee in childsafe cups! That’s right, you can crawl about with your little ones and get your caffeine hit whilst it’s still hot. Teas and coffees are served in flasks with closed lids, making it much harder for your little one to come into contact with any hot liquid, yet miles easier for you to be able to enjoy a hot beverage. The perfect place for a Mother’s meeting too, aka a catch up with your bestie, where you can chat away freely whilst your babies safely enjoy all the hub has to offer. And there’s a lot on offer. Areas of imaginative play include a dress up station full of vintage treasures. An outside space to enjoy the summer months. A corner den lit up with twinkling fairy lights with hanging shower loofahs posing as pom poms. Giant teddy bears and a monochrome section, sure to peak your child’s imagination whatever their age.

Kaiser is a huge fan of the metallics and spends ages with the sensory bottles

Down the middle of the hub is a huge tube ready and waiting to have wooden cars and balls launched down its innards, enticing laughter and repetitive delight from the little people.

In our favourite corner – the black and white area

The hub also sports a café so you can grab a cake with your coffee, or feed your little’n lunch so they’re nice and full in time for a nap on the way home.

The hub is designed for children aged under five, from tiny babies and beyond.

To access the play hub, booking is essential and can be done quickly and easily online via the website. Also on offer are classes including mother and baby fitness, and creative Little Pumpkins Play Time along with scheduled events for all of the family. The hub is run by early years specialists and all staff have the passion and knowledge required to bring out creativity, and inspire imagination in tiny brains. And if all of that isn’t enough to prompt a visit, they also have a range of items available to purchase from local small businesses. All products on offer -which include clothing, toys and child essentials- have been tried and tested by the hub’s staff.

Kaiser and I have recently purchased a membership which allows us to visit the hub for everyday play sessions as many times as we like, for just £18 a month. Usual pricing for everyday play is £4 per child and £2 per adult, so even if you only manage to go once a week, you’re still saving a tidy £6 a month with a membership.

Give the hub a follow on Instagram to stay up to date with all their latest goings on.

Dear Steph – I’m unhappily married and feel trapped.

I am in my 40’s and have been married for a long time and have 2 kids with a man that I don’t think I’ve ever really been in love with. I was treated badly in previous relationships and my self esteem and mental health had hit rock bottom when I met my husband. He was the first person in a long time who openly adored me and didn’t hide me away like a dirty little secret. I didn’t particularly reciprocate his feelings but it felt nice to have someone who I knew would be loyal to me. It was comfortable and easy…but never passionate or electric. We ended up getting married and having kids and my husband has become more and more lazy over the years and I am at my wits end with him. I have to pay for everything and he never wants to do anything with us as a family. If he does come out with us, he just moans and makes the experience un-enjoyable. His temper is awful and he often shouts at the kids and calls them stupid or idiots. He is very rough with them too which is upsetting. I cook, I clean, I take care of the kids and I pay for absolutely everything whilst he sits on his ass doing nothing. He also gaslights me and makes me feel like I’m a bad Mum.
It’s safe to say, I’m not in love with him and I feel extremely trapped. It’s not as easy as just leaving as we have debt and the kids love him to death despite his temper.
We haven’t had sex for over 6 years and if he touches me I get the ick really bad!
Despite all of this, I feel dreadful and guilty for even thinking of leaving.
I don’t feel in a very good place at the moment if I’m honest, which just makes me really alone and sad and even more suffocated within my marriage.

Please help Steph! – Anon Somerset Uk

Dear Anon,

Your situation sounds really hard. I can relate to a lot of what you mentioned about past relationships and feelings of low self esteem. In my experience, it is all too easy when feeling this way, to get entangled in relationships that offer us even snippets of what we have previously been missing. It seems a shame to me that it went as far with this man as getting married and having kids, but you can’t turn back time. And you’re definitely not alone. I know people in ‘real life’ who too, have married for convenience or particularly comfort, especially as we get older and crave the quieter life. The issues are many for you, but the main one I’ve noted is this marriage is no longer making you feel comfortable, nor is it convenient. You mentioned that you pay for everything and I wonder in reality if you might actually SAVE money from not being with your husband. However, I do understand that it’s not as simple as that, when houses, children and debt are involved. I wonder have you ever had this conversation with your husband directly? Does he know you don’t hold any feelings for him anymore? It doesn’t sound as though he’s doing much to change that in any case. Maybe he too is feeling unhappy or unwanted and that’s fuelling his laziness and shitty behaviour. The trouble is though, if you’re not interested in igniting the fire (reigniting seems inappropriate in this case) Then what would your ideal solution be? In relation to the children, it’s really awful to hear that your husband treats them quite badly. You didn’t say how old they were but I’m assuming school age. What’s most concerning is the fact you said he’s rough with them. Without more information I can’t be sure what you mean, but I’m going to assume that you mean physically. This I’m sure, is a major concern for you. The thing on my mind right now when I read this is, firstly, the impact this will have on them long term. By you staying in a marriage with a man who treats your children badly, despite how amazing a mother you might be, there is a small possibility that as the kids grow up and see for themselves what their dad is like (and they likely will, unless he makes any major changes, despite adoring him presently) that they may one day think by remaining in this relationship, that you were complicit in his treatment of them. Forgive me if I have this all wrong but it sounds like you could be struggling to admit how bad your husband’s behaviour is. I say this, because you have already told me all of the reasons why you SHOULD leave. Your husband is lazy, and somewhat abusive to you and your children, he criticises your parenting and makes you feel like a shit mum. I understand you feel trapped, but I can promise you, if you see this through with no intention of pursuing a loving relationship with him, you’ll will only grow arms and legs for the reasons you can’t leave. There is never a right time. Financially there may be organisations that can help. You say you feel guilty, and obviously, I’m only getting one picture here… but it sounds to me like your husband gives you many reasons to leave and NOT feel guilty. I think in this case, aside from his initial enamour of you, he’s not given you much reason TO love him. Do you feel guilt because he took you under his wing at a time you felt vulnerable? If so – that time has passed and it sounds like you’ve definitely paid your ‘debt’ to him. I would first and foremost tell your husband how you feel, who knows he might make the decision for you! That way guilt can be evaded. I wish you every luck in finding the courage to do what is best for you and your children.

I’ve listed below a charity I found that can help you manage debt upon separation. StepChange.org along with this page on Citizens Advice both have some advice for people whom are in similar situations to yourself, I hope they are useful.

Love and luck, Steph xx

Send your questions or confessions to divamumsteph@hotmail.com and include ‘Dear Steph’ in the subject line. Can be 100% anonymous if requested. Otherwise first name and region will be shared.  

Sometimes mummy forgets.

‘When you say you’re going to do something it takes a really long time sometimes, and sometimes you just forget all together.’

My six year old said to me tonight as we thought up new ways for her to learn her spellings. I spent ages cutting up letters so she could arrange them correctly. The traditional practising aloud was becoming tiresome for her and I could see her frustration. ‘Mummy doesn’t ever mind you getting something wrong, it’s how we learn’ I said to her, face screwed up in confusion at why she’s so upset. I want to prod but not too hard. I want to ask her why her emotional reaction is so major to something so minor. My brain working overtime, wondering whether someone has ever made her feel inferior for making a mistake, hoping that someone has never been me.

‘We still haven’t done my homework, you said we’d do it last night’

I did say that, but last night I was in bed, a migraine attack had me so sick, I couldn’t see, mid-cycle bleeding, cramps, along with feelings of anxiety and guilt all throbbing at my temples. I’d discussed with her how we were going to do her homework, we’d talked it through and even thought of different mediums to use for a collage. Then, like she said, I forgot. I had to work today, her brother up every two hours in the night, I can’t remember the last time I managed to watch a tv show all the way through with my husband without being interrupted by ‘I need a drink’ or ‘Waaah waaah waaaah, cough, cough, cough’ from the baby. The car was in for MOT today. I forgot to check out my online food shop too, and when it didn’t arrive as I expected today at 12 noon, I had a few choice words for the Asda customer service lady. That was until, I realised my error, apologised profusely and cried into a cold cup of tea.

‘You said we were going to put my picture in a frame’

I have no idea which out of the twenty seven pictures she’s drawn this week she’s referring to. I’ve forgotten. I love her artwork, but they’re not always memorable and some of them are awfully samey. I still love them, but not enough to frame each and every one. My hormone addled brain cannot hold on to another memory of felt tip hearts and swirls, or colouring pencil sketches of trees and mermaids.

‘You said I could have a balloon at the food festival, but we didn’t get one’

She’s right, I did say that, not wanting to get it on arrival in case she let go and the six pound foil dolphin flew up into the sky, never to be seen again. I had meant to get it for her before we left, but it was busy, the throng of bodies distracting me, exacerbating the heat from the sun. All of us tired from being amongst so many people. Her brother on his fifth suncream application. A desperate bid to get us all to the car before he woke up and terrorised us with post danger nap screams, on the ride home. I forgot. I just forgot.

And you know what? I feel bad. Of course I do. Every time I forget and she remembers, I feel terrible. But she forgets too. She’s forgotten that mummy took her to Little pink café on Saturday and the food festival Sunday. She’s forgotten that I tuck her in every single night and make sure she has clean clothes and her spellings are done, her books read, her PE kit ready, clothes for forest school too. I make sure she has money for whatever mufty day is occurring this week. That breakfast club is booked, and nanny’s picking her up. I’m also pretty good at whipping up a costume or two for the seemingly constant dress up days and Easter bonnet parades. She forgets to brush her teeth but I remind her. I clean her eyeglasses every night before she goes to sleep, and when she’s finally spent, I creep into her room and make sure she’s tucked in. I stroke her hair back from her face and tell her again (because I’ve already told her 100 times that day) how much I love her. She doesn’t know the impact of a mother’s load. To her it’s promises broken and forgotten moments.

Sometimes I forget things, but I remember a lot too. I remember without fail to remind her just how adored she and her brother are. Every day, of every week, of every year and I’ll continue to do that until it embarrasses her in front of her first crush, I’ll do it when they’re thirty and maybe have their own children to love. I’ll never stop. Because every word I say and every promise I make, is true, and yes I might forget, but when I’m reminded, I try my best to follow through. And our best is all we’ve got, right!?

If you’re a mummy that sometimes forgets and feels bad. Know this, it’s not just you. You’re not doing it wrong, it’s just hard. And if you’re worrying about being a good mum, the chances are, you already are one.

Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week.

MMHAW runs from 2nd-8th May 2022. It’s purpose is to raise awareness for mental illness and mood and anxiety disorders that occur during the perinatal space. The perinatal space is considered to be from pregnancy right up until your child is a year old, but in my personal experience this fluctuates for everyone. Last year during MMHAW, I was pregnant, and in a very dark place. I opted not to get involved in much awareness raising, though it was a decision that I found difficult, because spreading awareness of topics such as this, is so important to me. However, whilst these weeks/days/months are so important, they don’t come without triggers. So I want to let you know, if you’re in the perinatal space, just out of it, or five years postpartum, if spending too much time online is proving triggering for you right now, please take a break. Not feeling able to spread awareness is ok. Joining in for one day is ok. Wanting to get involved in the whole shebang is ok. Having good intentions and then changing your mind? Also ok.

Maternal mental health/illness is complex and the effects are different for everyone. We’re often warned of postnatal depression but maternal mental health is so much bigger than depression alone and definitely doesn’t just occur postnatally. I’ve had two babies and suffered with my mental health with both, throughout pregnancy and during the perinatal space. But the effects of each illness were very different. For example with my daughter I suffered low mood (depression) as more of a prominent symptom. I would want to be away from her a lot and I struggled with bonding and finding my identity as a mother. With my son, anxiety, OCD and the fear of ‘going mad’ was so severe that I ended up having a psychotic episode. I couldn’t be alone with my children for weeks after his birth. I felt as if something bad was going to happen whilst they were in my care.

Have you ever considered the language used in relation to maternal mental illness?

The reason I ask this, is because I have realised as a sufferer and survivor that we are still relatively behind in how we refer to maternal mental illness. Many people still only resonate with the term postnatal depression except we know that postnatal is just one period within the perinatal space. We know that depression is just one of the many perinatal mental illnesses that affect women during this time period.

Other types of maternal mental illness include

  • Maternal Anxiety
  • Maternal OCD
  • Peri and postpartum psychosis
  • Maternal suicide
  • Exacerbation of existing mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Development of menstrual disorders postnatally

Organisations such as PANDAS often now refer to mental illness that occurs during the perinatal space PMADS which stands for Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders. Others refer to postnatal depression as PND or PPD and some like myself who suffered both depression and anxiety refer to it as PNDA. Perinatal depression and Anxiety. The terminology might not seem overly important, but what is important is the level of understanding and knowledge, that maternal mental illness is not just one symptom, it can often include all of the above at the same time.

I’ve just finished ten months of medical and therapeutic intervention since giving birth to my son in July 2021. I am also medicated for both anxiety and PMDD. Having my children crippled me physically, it shattered my mental health and any equilibrium in my life disappeared. I love my kids, that’s not in question. Though I found growing, birthing, and caring for both of them during the perinatal period, traumatic in the extreme.

What really saddens me when I look back now is that I cried out for help, particularly in my second pregnancy. From just seven weeks pregnant I asked for mental health support. I was told I wasn’t anxious or depressed enough at that time. There was no preventative intervention, nobody to guide me. Particularly as I carried my son during the height of the 2020 pandemic. By the time I was admitted to hospital on the verge of psychosis, the damage had been done. Not only did I need to recover from the trauma of a debilitating pregnancy, I had to do so whilst mentally very unwell and with two children to look after. I still believe that if I had been referred to the perinatal mental health service earlier in my pregnancy my experience would have been very different. You can read more about my experience during my second pregnancy here. Pregnant and chronically ill.

I haven’t shared Kaiser’s birth story, because still to this day, ten months on, after much therapy and support, I find it a harrowing and destabilising time to reflect on. I can talk about it in conversations but I struggle when recalling the details and writing it all down. It causes me pain. And whilst I’ve worked through a whole heap of trauma and accepted my illness, delving into and sharing the true extent of my thoughts is not something I’m completely comfortable with yet.

What I am willing to do is share a quote from the day he was born. A quote that I wrote in the notes on my phone during our first night with Kaiser.

I feel scared of my baby, scared of what the responsibility of being his mum means. I’m missing my other baby, I can’t cope with this one too. Am I a bad mum? I don’t want to be here, in this room with the yellow light and the sound of feet moving and trollies rolling outside of its door. I don’t want to go home either. I just don’t want to be HERE at all.

12.10am 02.07.21

There is a lot of work being done by charitable organisations such as PANDAS as well as The Perinatal Mental Health Partnership to find out what’s causing huge hold ups for people waiting for mental health care during the perinatal period. NHS England are also working on extending the time you can be supported when suffering perinatal mental illness. It’s currently until your child is a year old, however many women find symptoms of mental illness might occur later in the perinatal period and need further or ongoing support.

If you are struggling with your mental health at all please reach out to your GP or one of the organisations listed below. You’re not alone. If you feel like you’re not getting anywhere with your GP ask to see someone else. If you or someone you know is suicidal please visit your nearest A&E department or call your maternity unit immediately. Mental health care is for women during the perinatal period is as essential as physical healthcare.

Brett Salako Photography ~ Review

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

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

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

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

Brett’s instagram showcases his versatility.

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

Action Shot
Family

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

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

All I want for Christmas, is you.

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

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

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

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

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

Intrusive thoughts during the perinatal period

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

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 be of any distressing nature, including 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 ruling and ruining our lives.

During pregnancy with my second child, I became overwhelmed with intrusive thoughts; some of them too abhorrent for me to share —though in some ways, I wish I felt I could share them all, then maybe they wouldn’t have consumed my brain! It got so bad that at just shy of 38 weeks I was hospitalised, under psychiatric care, my labour was induced and 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 violent/harmful or as mentioned, occasionally sexual in nature, are the most common types 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, you pose absolutely no risk to your children. These thoughts are only hurting you.’

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 M was adamant in her statistics in relation to harm caused by intrusive thoughts. Athough 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 and inciting suicidal ideation. I felt as though my family would be better off without me.

I was overthinking every single thought and if I dared speak out about my thoughts, rather than feel better, I’d 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, I was sure I would go on to hear voices telling me to kill or harm my children. This made me feel disassociated often. Despite not actually hearing voices I was convinced they were coming and I would be sat in my bedroom listening for them. I later googled intrusive thoughts which convinced me I was suffering from severe OCD, despite not having any compulsions. Another common thought for me, was passive suicidality, such as thinking I could just walk out in front of a lorry. Or consume all of the insulin in my possession. These thoughts would come to me during calm activities such as crafting or cooking tea.

When I discussed how I was feeling with Neo, he followed the protocol of having me fill out an OCD assessment, and we discovered that yes I was having obsessive and disturbing thoughts, but I didn’t have the compulsions in that were traditional in a person with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I’ve since learned not everybody with OCD experiences compulsions.

Looking back I can see the fear of speaking up about the intrusions was what held me back in my recovery and I would then worry that I was constantly reassurance seeking.

The truth was, there was an element to seeking reassurance, but for the most part I was doing what I needed to do, engaging in therapy and opening up in a safe space.

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 and compassion we so desperately NEED to give ourselves, particularly in the early stages postpartum when you wonder if you’re doing anything right.

Once I finally 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 harm him whilst he slept. I was only then able to unpack the thought and see it with clarity for what it was, ‘just’ a thought.

If we all talked about our deepest darkest thoughts, we might be less bothered by them, but even today 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 personally (and wrongly) believed if I told the truth about my thoughts in the early stages postpartum, my children would have been 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 my 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.

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 in how you feel.

Organisations that can provide support during the perinatal period are:

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.

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.

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