Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week.

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

Last year just before MMHAW and Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week Blog

Maternal mental health/illness is complex and the effects are different for everyone. We’re often warned of postnatal depression but maternal mental health is so much bigger than depression alone and definitely doesn’t just occur postnatally. I’ve had two babies and suffered with my mental health with both, throughout pregnancy and during the perinatal space. But the effects of each illness were very different. For example with my daughter I suffered low mood (depression) as more of a prominent symptom. I would want to be away from her a lot and I struggled with bonding and finding my identity as a mother. With my son, anxiety and intrusive thoughts were the overriding emotional responses to pregnancy and for a long time postpartum. I couldn’t be alone with the children for weeks after his birth, I felt as if something bad was going to happen whilst they were in my care. I had many intrusive thoughts and my main fear was of developing psychosis. Funny really, because the fear of this very nearly tipped me onto the scale of being psychotic.

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

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

Other types of maternal mental illness include

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12.10am 02.07.21

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

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

Subtle break-throughs

If you suffer from anxiety, or the feeling of impending doom and inexplicable terror that comes with panic attacks, the debilitating calamity that is intrusive thoughts, the unrelenting personality shift before your menstrual cycle because of PMDD? I hear you. I see you. I am you.

If you suffer from one or all of the mental illnesses mentioned above, you will know that logic is about as far away from fear as is possible. You may as well fly a rocket to Mars and you’d be no closer to logical thoughts during a panic attack. I’ve been having therapy for five months. The single longest stint I’ve ever managed to stick at anything relating to my mental health that doesn’t come in a blister pack. Full disclosure I take the pills too, I need them, but therapy is a different level of healing. It’s eye opening, confronting and real hard graft.

During these five months I have had breakdowns, many breakdowns. I have also experienced breakthroughs. These tend to be subtler, less outwardly monumental, but I can tell you from experience they are transcendent and quite awe-inspiring when you become aware of them.

I’m going to give you an example of one of my recent breakthroughs.

I am currently waiting for several hospital appointments, one of them may end up being quite life defining so it’s pretty important. With anything of importance for me, almost always comes anxiety. Throw in a self diagnosed terminal illness via Dr Google and we’re talking full blown life limiting panic attacks. But, not this time. I got my appointment letter a few days after the referral was made, though supposed to be seen within two weeks the NHS backlog means the clinic are running two weeks behind. Where as this kind of delay would usually lead to more panic, endless overthinking and probable sleepless nights, something has shifted in me and I feel different.

My logical brain has always known that there is little point in worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet, but regardless of my knowledge I have never been able to stop myself from said worry.

Worrying about tomorrow, steals today’s joy.

After going through what I have in the last five months, being scared of my own brain and constantly coming up against new challenges in trying to change the way I think, I decided right at the beginning of my recovery that I no longer wanted to live in fear. Of course simply not wanting something isn’t usually enough to stop it from happening. But with subtle changes and a keen desire to get better, engaging and working hard during therapy sessions and opening up fully to my mental health team, I have noticed a shift. I still feel anxiety around the appointment of course, but anxiety itself is a normal healthy human response. It only becomes problematic when it interferes with our everyday lives. And in this instance, relating to this appointment….I’m so happy to say it’s not doing that.

I don’t want to waste time worrying about an outcome that I cannot predict or influence. I don’t want to fear the worst only to find out when the time comes that it’s not the worst, then look back regretfully that I had wasted precious moments living in fear.

What if it isn’t a tiger in the long grass? What if it’s just a fluffy little kitten?

I won’t bullshit you, I know I’m not always going to be able to rationalise in this way. So many factors contribute to my own personal experience with anxiety and panic, that there will inevitably be times when I falter, and times when I fall. But what I’m doing right now, today, is I’m saying no to worrying about things that aren’t within my control. Isn’t anxiety itself a deep rooted need to control our fears and possible catastrophes?

How did I get here?

  • I took on board the offerings of tips my therapist suggested, such as grounding and breathing techniques and practised them even when I didn’t believe in them.
  • I reminded myself that if there’s a possibility that my world might fall apart, there’s also a possibility, it won’t.
  • I take prescribed medication religiously and stick with it for the recommended amount of time.
  • I’m trying, I say trying because I don’t always succeed, to implement healthier lifestyle changes, such as getting more exercise and eating healthier.
  • I write my feelings. It’s a personal favourite in helping me to process them.
  • I try to stay more in the present moment.
  • I have an amazing mental health team that I talk to regularly, even when I don’t think I have anything to say.

I know these things aren’t easy to do, I know this because it’s taken me twenty years to even begin to start really healing. But along with the above list, I also believe that celebrating small wins is a great way to remind ourselves that even when we are not where we want to be, we are further forward than we once were.

Me this week on a particularly bad day. Reminding myself it’s just a bad day not a bad life.
Also me this week on a better day

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

54 Days postpartum

23.08.21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perinatal anxiety and me

I’ve written a lot about this in the past, in my first pregnancy it became crippling and really took over my everyday. This time round I’ve had so many physical complications that although this doesn’t help anxiety, it’s actually been a distraction in lots of ways from worrying about all the other stuff that flits into my head when it feels like it. Sounds confusing, I know.

But whilst I’ve had so much to think about, different appointments every week and new ‘diagnoses’ popping up all over the shop I’ve not been left thinking about what will happen when the baby comes too much. Mainly because I’ve been too focused on getting him here in one piece just getting through the weeks. Now that’s coming to an imminent end, doubts are creeping in.

Can I really do this again?

What if I don’t enjoy it, what if I don’t bond with him?

We have no money and have accrued some debt trying to manage my disability this pregnancy. How will I afford a new baby?

What if all of the challenges I’ve been facing hit me after birth and I struggle with my mental health?

What if I have a break down?

What if my body doesn’t recover and I can’t physically care for these children?

What if I mess them up, and I’m just not good enough?

I shared my experience of severe SPD recently on another platform – not even going to link it because the article has been republished with false information and generally isn’t very accurate. That wasn’t the worst of it though, the comments section. WOW. Those things should be banned. One woman commented that I ‘couldn’t value my mobility or my children very much seeing as I chose to have another one even though I’d suffered in my first pregnancy and knew what was coming.’ Another said I ‘should have adopted.’ Another said my ‘husband looks depressed.’

Brutal, but senseless comments from people that know nothing about my life or what led to us having a second baby and the choices we had to make or the mental turmoil we deliberated over. But words once spoken or written can’t be undone. It hurts and it is something I’ve thought about myself often, questioned myself and agonised over in detail, even more so in recent weeks. Some of you may argue if you share online you automatically allow yourself to be subject to negativity and public scrutiny by default, but I counter that with – this is my personal journey we don’t get to question or invalidate people’s own experiences, their trauma, or their choices.

I’m not sleeping – I would say I’m not sleeping well, but I’m barely sleeping at all, having piled on an obscene amount of weight from being so immobile I seem to have developed sleep apnea and that in itself is anxiety provoking so I’m awake at night torturing myself with what ifs and worse case scenarios.

When the baby is born we have to stay in hospital for a minimum of a week, and the thought of being parted from Ciara for that long makes me emotional. The idea that my little girl won’t get to meet and hold her brother straight away, won’t get to cuddle her mum whilst she goes through the biggest change of her life, saddens me. I know and understand the reasoning, though I don’t agree that she isn’t allowed to visit. I get that it’s just a week in the grand scheme of things but I’m still sad about it. I still feel sad about lots of things. I feel sad because I haven’t enjoyed a minute of this pregnancy and at every opportunity I’ve wished it away, and now it’s coming to an end and I didn’t get to even like it.

After last week and me sharing good news that we’d hit a milestone – this week we had some conflicting information and not so great news again. My health hasn’t improved or stayed the same as we’d hope and is now deteriorating again at the final hurdle. It feels like one step forward and ten back as it has throughout this whole journey. Constantly. It’s draining. Some days I feel empowered to stay positive and I do try, but most I just feel physically and emotionally done.

I really wanted to like it this time.

I know with anxiety the whole concept is a bit ridiculous, (I don’t mean that in a critical way) what I mean is it’s a lot of worrying about things we can’t change, things we aren’t in control of, and things that haven’t even happened yet. But it’s also very real. It’s the thief of so much joy and it takes a lot of strength to overcome. Sometimes the battle is long, and other times we are better at controlling it. With parenting comes more anxiety, and it really is a never ending worry, hitting us all differently but equally at times.

I promise to always share the good and bad, and I do fear that maybe I share too much bad sometimes, but I’m just trying to keep it real during a time when I feel so up and down.

It’s like that; my life. It’s a rollercoaster of juggling my health, looking after my babies and trying to get some semblance of living a good life, enjoying it. And sometimes it really is a case of ‘well you were fine yesterday’ I know, crazy right? And today I’m losing my shit and that’s just me.

Anxiety is something that presents in strange ways. I find it really hard to communicate how anxiety effects me to people, even those who know me well. Most of them probably just think I’m a stressy, moaning old bitch (not wrong) but the reality is very different inside my head. For me, anxiety is often restlessness, sometimes accompanied by rage and anger, sometimes tears and fear. My natural instinct used to always be attack first, now it’s always defend, so I’m defensive when I feel attacked. I don’t even mean attacked by people, I also mean when I’m in a place or a situation that overwhelms me. This is another reason I’m worried about being in hospital, staying over night on a ward full of other people and noise, when these are real triggers for me. I don’t like being forced into situations, I like being solitary and if I want to have a cry or a scream I like do it in private. Being surrounded by other mums who’s babies need similar care post partum may be reassuring for many, but for me, it’s my idea of hell. I want to birth my baby, bring him home, lock all the doors and collapse into a heap so that I can process all the overriding emotions I’ve felt whilst carrying him.

Obviously hormones are factoring into my anxiety at the moment but even in general and pre pregnancy – when I feel anxious it can present in any of the three ‘fight, flight or freeze’ responses. It’s not linear. It’s not something that ever really leaves me, and there are times in my life when I’m really good at managing it, and other times when I just don’t feel like I can regain that control.

Luckily for me, I guess, is I’m good at recognising its onset so I am able to at least minimise its effects by surrounding myself with things that comfort me.

It’s all very well being under the mental health team, it’s all well and good reaching out to our GP’s but as far as I’ve found the last 9 months not a single one has listened to anything I’ve said. And whilst I hugely advocate for speaking out when you are struggling, sometimes you just don’t have the energy to force people to hear you, and sometimes you just don’t want to. So getting through in whichever way works is so important.

32 weeks of growing you

TW: Perinatal anxiety & depressive thoughts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s it like to be half way through a high risk pregnancy?

Lonely. Because everyone experiences pregnancy differently and when you’re more worried than you are excited, people think you’re being negative.

Hopeful. Because hope is all you really have. We can’t change the future or the past but we can hope for better.

To get excited could mean to jinx it. I don’t want to rave about how excited I am when I still can’t fully envisage a happy ending.

Only another 4.5 months to go, I can do this.

Oh shit another 4.5 months left of this, I can’t do it anymore.

What does high risk mean?

Different things for different people, even pregnancies for mums without underlying health issues come with environmental risks. Sometimes the risk will be more prominent for the mother and sometimes for the baby. But risk factors can be present for both.

What does in mean in my case?

For me, it’s meant the risk of long term immobility because my Symphis Pubis is at risk of rupture and I can no longer walk. It means another 4.5 months minimum of immobility to go. If the SP ruptures it could mean further more extreme long term disability, loss of mobility, incontinence and need for surgical intervention.

Preeclampsia. You are more at risk of preeclampsia if you had it during a previous pregnancy, which I did. I have had also high blood pressure throughout this pregnancy along with chronic migraine. Migraine can be an indicator of preeclampsia and I’ve had one every 3-4 days for the last 22 weeks. So you can imagine the worry is ongoing, and the risk of early onset preeclampsia is higher. Survival rates for babies increase significantly if preeclampsia is developed later in the pregnancy.

Withdrawal. 1 in 3 babies exposed to medication in utero are at risk of being born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. Ciara was born with NAS from antidepressant medication. I no longer take antidepressants but I still take medicines that I need to be able function medication that I will be on for the rest of my life in all probability. I take more medicines than I was taking when pregnant with Ciara so our risk is already much higher this time.

Underlying health conditions. Though Fibromyalgia & Migraine don’t directly impact the baby during pregnancy, the reduction in medication along with hormonal changes exacerbate symptoms drastically, and I have spent the last 22 weeks in pain, every second of every day. There are no ‘good days’ we are getting good hours and that is the best we can hope for. We know pregnancy is impacting my health, but we don’t know what it means long term.

When you tell me it’s not forever I am reminded of how long I have left to go being unable to walk, dress myself and cook, and that actually as a functional human being I was already struggling. A positive mindset is very difficult to hang onto when you lose your sense of self through physical disability. Your mind knows what’s going on but your body doesn’t do what you want it to.

When you tell me you’re excited for me I’m reminded of how scared I am. I’m reminded that I too should be excited, instead I’m fearful.

When you ask how’s the baby? I’m reminded that I’m their house and I don’t know really how they’re doing, not really, because until they are here and in my arms I won’t know if all of the above risks have impacted their development. I wish you would ask me how I am instead because that’s a question I can answer. But when you do and I’m honest I feel like it’s the wrong answer and I’m a burden, so again I feel forced to stay optimistic about something that scares me.

It’s been 22 weeks of anxiety, worry and physical disablement for me and though we have hope, hope is still all we have.

Nobody knows what to say so they stop saying anything at all and some might question why I even bothered to get pregnant in the first place if all I am going to do is complain. But my complaints are not born out of a dislike for pregnancy. They aren’t because I don’t want my baby. They are born out of fear and worry and the inability to fix a broken body. They are born from exhaustion, and guilt and trauma.

I do need help, but I won’t ask family and friends for it because it makes me feel like more of a failure and because I know that every single person in the world right now needs something. I know that people are all going through stuff, maybe worse stuff like dying and losing loved ones and everybody’s mental health is in a state of decline, so what makes me special? Nothing.

So why am I speaking up? Why don’t I do my wallowing in private? Because I still want to feel connected. Because I don’t want to be the person who suffers in silence anymore. Because if it was my daughter going through this I would want her to feel able to open up in whatever form that helped her, and incase you’re new here. Writing is what helps me.

Today we found out the gender of our baby, and all I could think was at least they’re alive. Grief does not only come from loss, I am grieving the excitement I want to feel, I’m grieving the process, and I’m grieving past pregnancy and birth trauma that still haunt me vividly whilst I wait for the arrival of my second child and hope that when they get here I will be strong enough to keep them safe. I am grateful that we have gotten this far, and I am hopeful that will can get to the end.

I’m grateful for a little girl who can’t wait to find out if she’s having a brother or sister and who has enough hope and excitement for all of us.