Living with postnatal anxiety

This is a guest post by Tina from Adventures of Mummy and Me. Please check out her blog and follow her on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and/or Pinterest.

It’s 4am, and I’m laying in bed, staring at the ceiling. I’m physically exhausted, my head hurts, and my eyes sting – but I can’t sleep. I haven’t actually been to sleep yet tonight. Or is it this morning now? I don’t even know what day it is anymore.

I’ve just got up for possibly the 4th time in the last hour to check on Chase. Each time I’ve got up, it’s taken me around 6 minutes to walk the three steps back into bed. And now I’m back in bed, I’m worrying again.

Why might you ask? Because I suffer from postnatal depression and anxiety (PND/PNA).

These invisible illnesses make doing even the simplest things, such as checking on my 18-month-old son only a few feet away from me – seem as difficult as climbing Mount Everest.

I want to start out by saying that this has been a really tough post to write. Generally speaking, when I’m writing, the words just flow out of me. But this one post has taken over a month of writing, editing, erasing; then back again full circle. Namely because, if I’m honest, it’s a subject I don’t like to talk about out loud. I guess I have this naive conception that if nobody knows, then it can’t be true. I wish that were the case. When in reality, it’s a fear of perception and acceptance that stops me speaking. So I’ve decided it’s time to open up, and to share my story with you today.

Meeting the midwife

Scroll back to two years ago, and I’m sitting at my dining room table meeting my midwife for the first time.  She’s just finished completing my 16-week pregnancy health assessment, and is giving me “the talk” after the results flag me as high risk for postnatal depression and anxiety.

At the time, I remember thinking to myself: perfect. Once again, another healthcare professional looking at my history of depression and anxiety, and immediately thinking I’m unstable. My “history” spans out over 15 years, and generally speaking, I self-manage my mental health pretty well. But on the few occasions I’ve needed extra help, I’ve asked for it.

Although any new mother can develop postnatal anxiety, it’s been found that those with a personal or family history of either depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are particularly vulnerable. Which is why those with a history, like myself, are flagged up during the pregnancy health assessments as someone to keep an eye on during pregnancy and initial postnatal care.

Giving birth & going back to work 

Following quite a traumatic birth experience, I was surprised to find that I didn’t have any issues bonding with Chase. If anything, the only problem was my lack of mobility due to having an emergency c-section. After about four months, when I was fully mobile again, I started to feel a bit alienated being at home all day alone with my baby. I’ve never been girly, or one to have a lot of female friends, so I found the mum groups I attended overly feminine and cliquey. I realised I was struggling when some of my depression tendencies starting rearing their ugly heads. This prompted a long discussion with my husband, which resulted in me returning to work sooner than planned at six months post-birth.

At first, this all went really well, but after a few months in the office I started to struggle again. Whilst I was on maternity leave, there were some significant changes made within my company. Changes which, in the end, affected both my job role and the way I had been accustomed to working for the past few years. I trudged through for a long time, believing that it was just an adjustment period because I’d been away for so long. What I didn’t realise was that by compartmentalising the stress and anxiety I had at work, I was actually increasing my anxiety levels in other areas of my life. The main one being in relation to Chase.

Noticing a problem 

It was around five months after I went back to work that I realised I wasn’t getting better. If anything, I was getting worse. Chase was coming up to a year old, and I would constantly worry about him at night – getting up multiple times to check on him to ensure he was still breathing. My usual hobbies such as reading and watching films just bored me, and the closest I came to exercise was walking downstairs to the coffee machine and back again. I sought advice from my GP, who referred me to a local counselling service.

Despite numerous prompts from my husband, I had no intention of moving Chase from our bedroom. Everyone I spoke to told me I was being silly – a typical first-time parent overthinking it. But I genuinely felt terrified about his wellbeing if he wasn’t in the same room as me. During the day, when I was occupied with work, and he was with my husband (he’s a SAHP), I was completely fine. However as soon as nighttime came, and it was time for me to relax and sleep, the silence would kill me.

By the time I eventually saw a counsellor, I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Anxiety overdrive 

Every time I get into bed, I have flashes of Chase becoming ill or involved in an accident of some sort. I know now that these thoughts are common concerns that parents have. The only difference being that most parents have these thoughts as a fleeting moment. An errant thought, gone before it can be fully processed. But my over-anxious brain doesn’t work that way. It overcompensates, analyses, and looks for ways to make sense of the flashes. Even when they are, in reality, highly unlikely situations.

It’s then, when my brain can’t put the pieces together of “How?” and “Why”, that it overthinks the situation. And that’s when the thoughts of “Did I put him into that compromising position?” come to play.

Which is crazy. I would NEVER do anything to put my son into harm’s way.

But that’s not how the brain of someone with PND/PNA works.

It actively LOOKS for ways to make sense of the thoughts, and therefore puts the only “logical” response into your head. That you must have done something to cause it. And this feeling opens up a whole can of worms for me. Most notably, I have obsessive-compulsive (OCD) tendencies. Meaning that I have to do specific things, in a specific order – with the fear that if I don’t, something bad will happen.

All time low

That nervous breakdown I mentioned? Yea it happened. But in a way, it was a good thing. It made me realise that in order to get better, I needed to take action, and focus on me and my family.

My GP signed me off work with immediate effect, and my intention was to do my counselling sessions, and spend more time doing everyday things with my family – like going for a walk, playing in the garden, or building bricks in the playroom. This was actually a lot harder than I thought it would be. The colder and wetter weather didn’t help, but the main issue was my sleep. I had insomnia due to the anxiety, and would often have panic attacks in the middle of the night because of the OCD. My GP prescribed sleeping tablets, but unfortunately they didn’t help in sending me to sleep any earlier – they just made me sleep until midday the following day, and then sit on the sofa in a dazed state for the rest of the afternoon.

It took a few weeks being at home to start getting a balance back in my life. To become more involved in day-to-day activities, and to actually WANT to participate in them. After five weeks at home, I opted for a phased return to work. Being honest, I wasn’t completely ready. But with only one income, and minimal savings, that decision was unfortunately taken away from me.

Fighting back 

Now, two weeks into my phased return, I’m starting to feel better. I have good days and bad days. Bad days are still tipping the balance, but nowhere near as much as they were before. I’ve started doing housework again – forcing myself actually. I’ve found this can help manage the OCD better than just ignoring it. Think of it as refocusing the thoughts elsewhere – it does help.

The anxiety is still there. Very much so. But I’m not naive to think that it will disappear as quickly as it came. And I think that’s the difference now. I understand my illness better, and know that it is an illness, and not a fault.

I’m still not sleeping great, but on the upside, I’m not checking on Chase half as much as I did before. And I’m even thinking about the idea of moving him into his own room. Maybe. I have however, cleared his room out so that the idea COULD become reality when I’m ready.

I have a few sessions left with my counsellor, which I’m hoping will help me through the first few weeks of the New Year back at work. Then I guess I’m on my own. Well, not really. I have my happy, loving son and my devoted husband at home to help me through this. And at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.

The Pramshed
Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday
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Being kind to yourself at Christmas

Some of you might have seen the news around this time last year when people started talking about “emotional labour”. This is the concept that on top of the everyday work that women do – whether that is in or outside of the home – we do the extra work of looking after others emotionally. This Guardian article puts it better than I could:

We remember children’s allergies, we design the shopping list, we know where the spare set of keys is. We multi-task. We know when we’re almost out of Q-tips, and plan on buying more. We are just better at remembering birthdays.

I don’t like to make generalisations, but in many relationships, it is the woman that deals with all the admin for children’s schooling (parties, filling in the forms, getting the right outfits on the right day, baking the endless cakes).

I find at Christmas in particular, it is women who get it all sorted out. We figure out what to buy for whom and buy it before our partners have realised it’s December. We send Christmas cards, we arrange drinks or dinner with valued friends, we sort out travel arrangements, and we pack the bags if we’re going away.

Sometimes I think it would be utterly hilarious to let my husband pack the children’s things for a weekend away. Not to rag on him – he does all the cooking in our house and contributes a fair amount to other domestic chores – but he’s clueless at stuff like that. He’d remember to pack clothes but forget things like their cuddly toys to get them to sleep.

All of this remembering who needs what and when can be extremely tiring. This is why I’ve been thinking about how we can look after ourselves at Christmas while we’re usually so busy looking after everyone else. So I have compiled a little list of things I can choose NOT to do, to give myself a little break and be kind to myself this Christmas:

  • Christmas cards. I have duly purchased cards and planned to send them off to my carefully compiled list. But between real life and blogging life, I don’t know when I’m going to have the time or energy to sit down and write ‘Merry Christmas’ and an address 20 times over. My real friends will understand if I don’t get round to it. I will do it if I have time, and forgive myself if I don’t.
  • Sitting in front at the Nativity play. My school operates some sort of system where certain classes’ parents get priority seating on certain days of the Nativity play. I can only make the day where I will have to sit in the back. I’m not really sure what happened to good old “first come, first served”. But not everyone can sit in front. I refuse to feel guilty about this. I will be there, and that’s what counts.
  • Attending events that no one will notice you’ve missed. I felt incredibly guilty last week when work commitments meant I couldn’t attend my 2yo’s nursery Christmas party. I went last year. It was fun. I got to watch him do some party games, eat some party food, and then watch him cry when Father Christmas came to visit. I’m going to forgive myself for not watching him do this again this year. My husband went, so he did have someone there, and my son will never remember the occasion anyway.
  • Watching my weight. I have some weight loss goals. I’ve been doing okay with them. But December is not the time to keep losing weight. Or even to not gain a bit of weight. It’s all tiring enough without abstaining from food and drink when everyone else is indulging. I’m going to live it up and be miserable and boring in January just like everybody else.
  • Keeping up with the blog. I would like to vaguely keep posting until we properly break up for Christmas, but honestly I’m not really feeling it at the moment. Christmas is hard enough without churning out sparkling content. That’s why you’re getting this amazing list about what I’m not doing. I’m relatively confident that all my bloggy dreams will not be dashed by slacking off at Christmas.
  • Baking. Unless you luurve baking because it relaxes you. I like baking, but only when I have loads of time to spare. In previous years, I have always baked some Christmas biscuits to decorate and share with work colleagues, friends and/or family. Not this year. I will buy some boxes of Cadbury’s Roses and everyone will be equally happy (if less impressed by my domestic goddess-ness).
  • Skipping self-care. When I get busy, the first thing that goes is my self-care. Uncut hair, unpainted nails and no makeup for me! But not this Christmas. These things make me feel like me. They make me feel relaxed and happy. So I’m going to make time for them. Even if that means an extra episode of Twirlywoos on the iPad for the little ones.
  • Buying lots of presents. I’ve sorted out the presents, but I’ve not been as extravagant or creative as usual. Simple and thoughtful is good enough. People don’t have to gasp in wonder at their presents.
  • Worrying about how Christmas day is going to go down. Some of us have more responsibility for this than others. I’m lucky enough to NOT be responsible for making the dinner. But I have in previous years worried an awful lot about how much fun will be had by me and others, and gotten upset when things didn’t go well (cue my children having ALL the tantrums and me MISSING the Doctor Who Christmas Special). Well, unlike last year, I am no longer breastfeeding. So I’m just going to drink as much wine as I like and go with the flow. And I can catch up with The Doctor on iPlayer later.

Do you feel a bit burnt out in the run-up to Christmas? What do you do (or not do) to make it easier?

Tammymum

An exercise in thankfulness

This week it’s Thanksgiving in the USA, where I lived until I was 22. It’s a day every year where people come together to eat ridiculous amounts of food and then fall asleep in front of the TV. It’s sort of like an extra Christmas without the presents or the religion. I won’t go into the full history of it here, but if you want to know more, then this article in the Telegraph is pretty informative.

For some, Thanksgiving is just about having a good time and they don’t think much about what it really means. However, for many, we like to take a moment and think about what we are grateful for in our lives. And a cursory Google search on the term “being thankful” brought up numerous articles explaining how gratitude can actually make you healthier.

But it’s not always that easy, is it? Children need looking after, houses need cleaning, work needs doing, family members need help, you get health problems, you have a bad day, people are jerks … all of the things that happen in a normal life can pile on top of each other and weigh you down until you forget to look up and remember what’s good.

I’ve been feeling a bit weighed down lately myself – so much so that I’ve started having heart palpitations and even panic attacks. My doctor’s only suggestion was to “give up coffee”. Oh right, like that’s going to make me less stressed!

But I have decided that as it’s Thanksgiving, I’m going to make an effort. I don’t bother with the turkey and all the fixings now that I live in the UK (I get enough turkey at Christmas, thanks), but I do think taking time out to be grateful is time well spent. So here is my exercise in thankfulness. I’m going to tell you some of the things that are pissing me off, and then find something related for which I’m thankful. Some are serious – some less so – but hopefully some of you will get where I’m coming from.

I’m not happy about…

…the fact that my older son is still not getting on well at school. He screams at the teachers and runs aways down the halls. Yesterday the teacher actually called home to tell me what he’d been up to. His behaviour at home has gone downhill as well. This is despite a recent visit to a paediatrician who basically thought he was fine. I’m at a loss as to how to help him right now.

But I’m grateful for…

…my son. We are having these issues but he is still my child and we love each other. There’s nothing better when I hear him say “I love you” in his little voice. We can play and giggle and have a laugh. I am not the perfect parent and I need to learn how to work with him to improve his behaviour, but we will always be a team.

I’m not happy about…

…having lost a friend recently. He passed away and I’d not made the effort to see him for a while. And so I felt grief but also guilt. I messaged him just before I found out what had happened, but it was already too late.

But I’m grateful for…

…the fun times we had together. I’ve spent some time looking at old photos and remembering, and enjoyed a pint of Guinness (his favourite) in his honour. Remembering the good is the only way to move forward. I’m also grateful for the lesson I learned about keeping in touch with people. Next time I think of a friend, I will message them straight away, while I still have the chance.

I’m not happy about…

…being sore and weak while recovering from the hernia surgery I had recently. I haven’t been able to pick up my kids or even leave the house for the last week and a half.

But I’m grateful for…

…the prospect that this will improve my long-term health. Plus, the leaflet they sent me home with says I must not do the washing or hoovering for 6 weeks! It’s right there in black and white. I’ve shown it to my husband.

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I won’t be doing this for 6 long weeks!

I’m not happy about…

…my lack of interior design skills. My house is so cluttered, with my main decorating accents being brightly-coloured plastic toys. I look with envy at beautiful lifestyle blogs and their owners’ skilled arrangement of attractive scatter cushions. I have scatter cushions that my neighbour gave me after she bought some nicer ones. It was my house or the bin for them. Appropriate – since at my house they are often covered in cat hair and biscuit crumbs.

But I’m grateful for…

…the fact we’re nearly finished building an extension to our house. It’s been hard having builders around and everything in upheaval for the last 5 months, but soon we will have more living and storage space. Hopefully I will then be able to cut the clutter. I doubt I’ll get any better about scatter cushions though.

I’m not happy about…

…being rubbish at Instagram. This is a blogger gripe. I know good bloggers are expected to take fabulous photos and share them on Instagram. But I just don’t really “get” photography. To me, it’s what the picture makes you think about, rather than the aesthetics. And I hate the shallow “great feed” comments you get.

But I’m grateful for…

…the people who follow me anyway! Why anyone beyond my close friends are happy to look at a poorly-lit photograph of my dinner is beyond me. But they do. I even got 30-odd likes on a shot of my messy living room full of packages of laminate flooring and plaster dust. So I’ve decided to keep it real on Instagram. I’m going to post pics of my real life and just be happy with the followers who want to see it.

I’m not happy about…

…what I like to call the Christmas conundrum. I’ve been working hard to get fit and be happy with the way I look for a school reunion I have coming this summer (don’t we all want to be fabulous when we see the people we grew up with after a long time?). The surgery has set me back a bit, and now we’re getting into Christmas. How can I eat ALL the mince pies without compromising my fitness goals?

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I need to try all the different brands. Let’s call it blog research.

But I’m grateful for…

…the fact that I can choose to binge on pie or not. Some people can’t afford to buy all the pies, or can’t eat pies for other reasons. I’m thankful for the very existence of pie. And wine. Let’s not forget to mention wine.

But really, why bother?

Being thankful often gets a bad name. Insensitive people try to cheer up a person who is grieving or having a bad time by pointing out that they have things to be thankful for. But it doesn’t work that way. Everyone needs to talk about things that are making them unhappy, and being thankful can’t always fix things. It’s also important to be honest about our own feelings.

But forcing myself to write down some of the things that make me happy – thinking about what’s funny, what’s serious, what’s poignant and what I have learned – has already made me feel calmer and more in control. I’ve taken a break from exercising my body, but taking some time to flex my thankful muscles has helped me lose some of the weight I’ve been carrying on my shoulders.

What things are you stressed out about? What are you most thankful for? Let me know in the comments.

Tammymum
mumturnedmom
Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

Knowing the side effects of hormonal birth control could save your life

The birth control pill has been in widespread use since the 1960s and has been incredibly beneficial for both women and men. The ability to choose when to have children (for the most part), and avoid unwanted pregnancies is extremely valuable. So by no means is this post “anti-pill”.

However, two stories in the news recently have brought the side effects of birth control pills to the forefront. The first was a Danish study that showed a clear link between hormonal contraceptives and depression. While “mood changes” have been listed as a side effect of the pill for many years, this was the first large-scale study to investigate just how much the pill could affect women’s moods.

At the same time, a recent study into the side effects of a male birth control injection was cut short “due to side effects, particularly depression and other mood disorders“. So this may be oversimplifying things a bit, but it seems that it was simply unacceptable for male test subjects to experience the sort of mood effects from hormonal contraception that women have been experiencing for years.

My personal experience of hormonal contraceptives

My personal experience with hormonal contraception has been unpleasant at times. When I was 18, I started taking the injectable contraceptive, Depo Provera. It was sold to me as an excellent choice because I just needed a jab in my rear end once every 3 months. It was 99% effective and I wouldn’t have to remember to take it every day like a pill.

Although I’m sure I would have seen a leaflet listing the side effects, no one pointed them out to me. But I experienced just about all of them. Before starting the Depo shots, I was effortlessly thin. After starting it, I gained about 20 pounds which I have never been able to lose. I had headaches, extreme mood swings and completely lost my sex drive. No wonder it’s 99% effective … I didn’t feel like having sex!

Later, I switched to the combined pill. I was able to cope with this much better and mostly felt normal on it. However, when I stopped taking it years later in order to try for my first baby, I experienced a massive improvement in my general wellbeing. The sporadic feelings of dissatisfaction and insecurity that had plagued me for years suddenly disappeared, and I found it easier to lose weight.

After my second son, my GP encouraged me to take the mini-pill because I could be on it while breastfeeding. During the time I was on this pill, I had to seek treatment for postnatal depression, and when I forgot to refill my mini-pill prescription, my depression lifted.

Over the years, I have never been taken seriously by health professionals when I’ve mentioned how profoundly various types of hormonal birth control had been affecting me. The attitude has always been that all of these things were worth coping with in order to prevent pregnancy.

The side effects are not as rare as they say

I decided to ask some other female bloggers whether they had experienced bad side effects from the pill, and was surprised how many of them had, within a relatively small sample group (the Facebook group I asked contains just over 1000 people, not all of them women). Here are some of the comments I received:

I had increasingly bad side effects from the combined pill, which culminated in me being admitted as an emergency as I was suffering with a hemiplegic migraine. It was a very frightening experience as my whole left side went numb, my left cheek drooped and I had very bad light sensitivity. After undergoing extensive tests, including an MRI, CT contrast, etc., they determined it was the combined pill that was the cause, and immediately stopped me from taking it. I’ve since been told that hemiplegic migraines are a precursor to stroke, so I was incredibly lucky!

– Nathalie from The Intolerant Gourmand

I went on the pill; it gave me horrific mood swings – I mean like I could be laughing like it was the funniest thing going, and within 30 seconds be bawling my eyes out. It was genuinely a bit scary, like verbal diarrhoea, but rather than being that excited positive spewing, it was like horrible, hateful stuff that most of the time wasn’t even true, but just my brain having a freak out.

– Hannah from Han Plans

I had one which made me want to kill myself – right out of the blue. They put me on anti-depressants and then worked out it was the pill. Even though they knew it was the pill, it still flags up on my file: “depression”.

– Alice from Seaside Housewife

I haven’t been able to take the pill since I was 18 due to it making my depression worse.

– Lisa from Hollybobbs

I had to come off the combined pill because I had such a bad migraine one day I couldn’t feel my left side, and they suspected it was actually a TIA/mini stroke or if not, I was actually very close to having one. At that point I had been taking it for 5 years. I switched immediately to Cerazette (progesterone only) and was told that I must never take oestrogen again. I came off the pill altogether after I got married and it was a revelation – suddenly I felt “normal” – I hadn’t realised how different it had made me feel being on the pill because I’d taken it for such a long time. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was, and what had changed, but I knew I felt better in myself, like a fog had lifted. I will never ever go back on it, or any other hormonal contraceptives.

– Sarah from Arthurwears

I had to come off the combined contraceptive pill (Microgynon) because of the side effects. I had zero sex drive (making it pointless for me to take the pill anyway!) and put on weight, but worst of all was it gave me severe suicidal thoughts. Within days of coming off it I was back to normal again, but it was a horrendous experience.

– Maddy from The Speed Bump

So are you saying I shouldn’t take the pill?

Absolutely not. As I mentioned earlier, the pill has improved people’s lives massively, and if you are not experiencing any health problems while on the pill, then keep on taking it!

However, I do not think there is enough awareness of the side effects of hormonal birth control, so I am writing this to urge you to read that leaflet and talk to your doctor if you think your contraceptive is causing problems for you. Different forms of birth control can have different side effects, but here are a few things to look out for:

  • If you are having migraines or any severe headaches, particularly if you are using the combined pill, be sure to remind your doctor that you are on the pill. The combined pill can cause strokes.
  • If you are feeling continual low mood or depression, it could be worth trying to go off the pill for a short time. You should also talk to your doctor, but I’ve found that doctors won’t be quick to consider the pill as a cause of depression.
  • Hormonal contraception can also contribute to weight gain and changes in your sex drive.

Please note that I am not a medical professional and you should always speak to your doctor, and always use alternative contraception, such as condoms, if you’re not on the pill.

Here are some links to NHS information about different types of hormonal birth control:

Have you had issues with the side effects of contraception? Leave your story in the comments.

Petite Pudding

How to become something you never thought you would be

Does anyone else remember being about 18 years old (or even younger) and thinking they had the world all figured out?

Did anyone else think they were complete at that stage? “I’m an adult now and this is who I am.”

Maybe it was just me. But boy was I wrong. Now I’m in my late 30s, I’m finally starting to realise that I’m becoming a new person all the time – that I’m not complete and that it’s never too late to become something you never thought you would be.

I think at my age it’s easy to feel a bit discouraged about your prospects – like it’s getting too late to learn something new or succeed at something you never tried before. But then I need to remind myself of how much I’ve changed since I was 18. Since then I have:

  • Moved to a whole foreign country and learned to live happily in a different culture
  • Built a pretty decent career-like thing that I’m not ashamed to talk about at dinner parties (in case I ever go to any).
  • Grew two humans and learned how to keep them alive.

And those are just the really big things.

At the same time, a fear of failure has all too often kept me from success. I have a history of being a quitter. If anything seemed too hard – or the prospect of success too good to be true – or it seemed that failure was imminent, I would just give up while the giving up was good. It happened with just about every sport or hobby I ever tried. It also happened with a few career choices I pursued in my youth. I was going to be a star of screen or stage but I never even actually tried that.

I’ve told myself I enjoy being a jack of all trades, but really I’m afraid I can’t be the master of any of them. And fear never did me any favours (I have to remind myself when undergoing any medical procedure that fainting does not help). Strictly Ballroom had the best ever mantra:

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That’s why this blogging lark has become so important to me. I’m not going to give up on this one. Some weeks it’s hard. I can’t think of anything to write, or nobody is reading what I do write. Some days, being a mum and all, I’m just so tired and I want to stare into space and drink a glass of wine. Today is one of those days.

But I’m going to write instead. Because sometimes the feelings that make me feel like sitting around doing nothing are actually put to better use by writing. I can write it all down and put it to rest.

Writing is one of the things I’ve always loved but was too scared to properly pursue – especially fiction writing. The blog is teaching me that I can write and that writing isn’t always about who is going to read it, or whether I become famous or even recognised at all.

It is also teaching me that it’s never too late to reinvent yourself. I can be a mum, a wife, a friend, a blogger, and a writer. You can finally go and climb that mountain you’ve been looking at, or take steps towards changing your career to the one you really want.

You’re never too old (or too young) or not good enough.

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Have you given up on things you loved before? Is there something you always wanted to try?

Tammymum
Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

PND and believing you deserve to get help

Recognising the problem

I’ve been procrastinating over writing this post for a while. I’m hoping to publish a series of guest posts on parental mental health, which I’m kicking off with my own contributions. I’ve published my story of anxiety after having my first child, and a guest post on new mums and mental health generally.

But this post – the story of the PND I experienced after my second child – is the most difficult. World Mental Health day is on 10 October and it’s given me a kick up the rear end to share this story. I’m not sharing it to get sympathy, but because of the fact that I doubted myself. I doubted that I was sick enough to get help. I thought I ought to just get over it.

There is a huge problem in our society in which mental illness is not taken as seriously as other types of physical illness, including within the National Health Service. It is well known that there is not enough help for mental illness on the NHS. It is not clear what help is available and much of the help that is available sits at the top of a long waiting list.

On top of this, many still feel that admitting to struggling with mental illness carries a stigma. This is particularly a problem for women suffering with postnatal depression.

“What if they think I’m a bad mother?”

“What if they want to take my baby away?”

“What if the medication means I can’t breastfeed?”

My story

For me, I was not worried about the stigma, nor intimidated by the difficulties of getting help. It was taking myself seriously that was the problem. I didn’t even realise that I needed help.

I was over the moon at the birth of my second son. I had a natural birth – the thing that I’d wished for and had eluded me with my first. I was also happy that with the second child, I felt that my family was complete. I did not enjoy pregnancy and was incredibly happy to know it was finished and I never needed to do it again. And of course, my son was beautiful, as babies always are.

It’s hard to say if there were any number of factors that contributed to my PND. My baby spent time in special care for feeding problems. Some other things happened to friends and family that upset me, and then we had a house guest that came for a week and stayed for a month. My son was born in November, but by the time February rolled around – that darkest month of the year – I was in a dark place.

I spent every day on my sofa crying. I wasn’t even sure what I was crying about. I felt insecure. I didn’t want to leave the house. Also, I felt so incredibly angry. My older son, who was about 3 years old at the time, was having some difficulties getting used to having a baby brother and that was affecting his behaviour. So he was a little more challenging than usual and I was less equipped to deal with it. I used to bite my bottom lip so hard to stop myself from shouting and exploding with anger. It seemed like my bottom lip was permanently stuck under my teeth. I felt guilty for being angry with my son.

It took me a long time to take my feelings seriously. I blamed myself and my own lack of self-control for the feelings of anger. I called myself lazy and weak for not wanting to leave the house. I felt foolish for feeling sad so much of the time. I had everything I wanted, so what excuse did I have to be sad?

I didn’t think there was anything a doctor could do for me. I thought I just needed to grow up and deal with it. Having a baby and a young child is hard work. I thought it was par for the course. And I kept suffering.

And then one day a leaflet dropped through my door. It was for Ieso Digital Health, an NHS service that offers Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) via secure instant messaging on a computer, smartphone or table. It said that you could refer yourself to the service, and it didn’t matter if your symptoms were mild, moderate or severe.

The penny dropped. I realised I desperately wanted to talk to someone about how I was feeling.

So I took the leaflet to my doctor and asked her to refer me to the service. It turns out that was the wrong thing to do, and I could have just signed up online without even going to the doctor. In the end, she referred me to a different service that involved talking on the phone instead of online.

I found CBT difficult in a lot of ways, especially over the phone. I think I would have preferred hiding behind my laptop screen. The idea of CBT is that it helps you examine your patterns of thinking so that you can see how they’re being unhelpful to you, and this can empower you to change them.

In some ways I didn’t like it because I felt like I was being blamed for how I feel. But I made an effort to engage with the therapy, and it did help me channel some of my angry feelings when my son was winding me up. The therapy helped me remember logically that he wasn’t doing it on purpose – he was only a young child – and that I had the power to choose how I reacted to it.

The sad and insecure feelings were more stubborn. They hung around until I ran out of birth control pills and forgot to refill the prescription. Within a week of stopping the pill, I started to feel better. I decided to stop taking them altogether and I’ve felt better ever since. It may have been a coincidence, but recent research is showing that depression can be an adverse effect of hormonal contraceptives.

What I’ve learned

My story exemplifies a number of challenges we have around mental health, and maternal mental health specifically. These include:

  • Helping women to take their feelings seriously – to not to be ashamed or afraid to talk about how they’re feeling and to ask for help.
  • Taking mental health as seriously as physical health.
  • Raising awareness of the symptoms of PND and other maternal mental health problems so that people will be equipped to recognise when there is something wrong – not just in themselves but in their friends and family.
  • Increasing the availability of appropriate mental health services on the NHS.
  • Increasing awareness of how to get help on the NHS, and the range of services that are already available.

The leaflet that popped through my door saved me. It came at the right moment. But we shouldn’t have to rely on chance for people to receive the help they need.

If you are feeling down, angry or anxious, please speak to someone. The Mental Health Foundation has a useful list of some of your options for getting help. And if you see a friend or relative struggling, please don’t look the other way.

I would like to publish as many stories about maternal mental health as I can to spread awareness. If you would like to write a guest post with your own story or perspective, please email me: themumreviews (at) gmail.com.

Petite Pudding
Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

New mums and mental health

A guest post by Sally Hogg

I remember when my son was born, people kept asking ‘are you enjoying being a mum?’ The answer in the very early days, was probably ‘no’. It got better, but it wasn’t fun at first. Yes, he was absolutely amazing and wonderful. But I hurt. I kept crying for no reason. I was so very, very tired. I worried whether I was doing things right, and – to be honest – I missed my old life. This was a momentous time, but it wasn’t enjoyable at first.

But I never said ‘no’ to that question. It was loaded with expectation. Asked by grannies, aunts and older mums who look back at motherhood through rose-tinted glasses.

Are you enjoying being a mum? New mums & mental health

There are many reasons why it’s hard to admit that you’re not having a great time as a new mum. It seems as if everyone else is doing fine and having a magical time. It seems like everyone expects you to be on top of the world, and it feels like failing – and perhaps a betrayal of your baby – to say that you are struggling.

Yet most, if not all, mums will struggle at some time. And for a significant proportion, this struggle may not simply be the normal rollercoaster of new parenthood, but something more serious. Between 10 and 20% of new mums (and around 5-10% of new dads) experience a mental health problem during pregnancy or the first year after their baby is born. To put this in perspective, it means that in any typical antenatal class or baby group, there is likely to be at least one person in the room who has a mental health problem.

Whilst postnatal depression is well-known, mental health problems for new parents are not just postnatal. In fact, experts now suggest that depression is more common in pregnancy than postnatally. Problems go wider than depression too. They can include, for example, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, psychosis, and eating disorders. Some of these problems will occur for the first time when someone becomes a parent, others may be the recurrence of an existing problem – perhaps one that has been well-managed for many years. Some people with pre-existing conditions are particularly at risk: any woman who has ever experienced bipolar disorder, for example, has a 50% chance of mental illness in the weeks after birth, although this can be very effectively managed with specialist help in pregnancy. The severity of mental health problems varies too. Thankfully, most will be relatively mild, but this is not always the case: suicide is actually one of the leading causes of maternal death in the UK.

Mental health problems can be very effectively prevented or treated with the right help, which is why it is so important to speak out early if we think something is wrong in ourselves, our friends or partners. If you feel you or someone you know has a mental health problem, trust your instincts and talk about it. It may be that they are just having a few bad days, but they will still benefit from a supportive conversation and, if they are ill, the sooner they can receive help, the better.

There are a range of options available to prevent, reduce or treat mental health problems. These include support groups, counselling or other forms of psychological therapy, or medication. The best option will depend on the nature and severity of a mum’s illness and her own personality and preferences. Midwives, health visitors and GPs should ask all expectant and new mums regularly about their mental health, and should be able to signpost mums to different sources of support.

There are also things that we can do ourselves to improve our mental health. These may be enough to overcome mild mental health problems, but won’t be sufficient in themselves for women who are more seriously ill. Activities associated with reducing depression and anxiety include socialising, exercising, getting more sleep, and active relaxation (things like mindful mediation or having a massage). These can feel very hard to do when you have low mood and a new baby, which is why it’s good to talk to family and friends so that they can help you to take care of yourself.

Sadly, there are gaps in services in the UK, and some professionals don’t have the skills and knowledge they need to detect mental health problems and give women the support they need. You may need to be persistent and assertive in order to get help.

Things are improving though: the Maternal Mental Health Alliance (a coalition of over 80 charities and professional bodies) is doing a lot to raise awareness and improve services, and earlier this year, the Government announced over £350 million to fund new services.

Parenting is a rollercoaster, and it’s not one that we’ll always enjoy. For most new mums, the highs of this rollercoaster should far outnumber the lows, but a significant minority will be less fortunate. If you feel the balance isn’t right, don’t suffer in silence. You aren’t alone and things can get better.

Sally Hogg is chair of the Oxted & Caterham NCT branch. She also runs the Mums and Babies in Mind project for the Maternal Mental Health Alliance.  They offer some useful self-help guides about recognising and facing maternal mental health issues.

I would like to publish as many stories about maternal mental health as I can to spread awareness. If you would like to write a guest post with your own story or perspective, please email me: themumreviews (at) gmail.com.

Petite Pudding
Tammymum
Diary of an imperfect mum

Birthing babies is a messy business – my postnatal anxiety

I’ve mentioned before in my breastfeeding post about the traumatic birth I had with my first son. Without going into too much detail here, I was induced, I had an emergency c-section and he was in special care with pneumonia for 10 days after he was born.

This all threw me for a massive loop. I had planned a natural water birth with only gas and air in a midwife-led birthing centre. I’d been doing pregnancy yoga and was convinced my body was a childbearing temple and I could have the birth I wanted if only I thought positively about it.

What a load of bull!

I had a drip and was strapped to a foetal monitor which kept bleeping in alarming ways that made me think my baby was dying. I had an epidural after being pricked in the spine countless times, and finally was rushed to theatre (after 20 hours of labour). I was so scared and addled during the surgery that I sang all the songs from The Sound of Music to my anaesthetist. Apparently, that was a first for him – but he was quite young.

And I hadn’t even considered, nor had anyone mentioned to me, the possibility of my son going to special care and being in one of those plastic oxygen boxes. I thought that only happened if your baby was premature. Turns out, special care happens to loads of mums for all sorts of reasons. But nobody warns you ahead of time.

Birth trauma and its effects

By the time I finally brought my son home from hospital, I was seriously messed up. I was convinced he was going to spontaneously die. We couldn’t fit his cot in our bedroom, so I slept in the nursery with him (away from my husband). I lost so much sleep, staying awake listening to make sure he was still breathing.

I remember that every night I would go to sleep repeating to myself, “Please God let him be okay. Please God let him outlive me. Please let him grow to be an old man.” My anxiety about his survival was all consuming.

And other times, when he had colic and wouldn’t stop crying, I wanted to throw him out of the bloody window. And as soon as that thought crossed my mind, I would be overtaken with guilt.

When I think of myself back in those days, I see a woman walking around in a sleep-deprived haze of constant anxiety around my baby’s well-being. Who couldn’t go on a buggy walk without me stopping to check on him every couple of minutes. I hated his rear-facing car seat because I couldn’t see him – we had to buy a mirror.

When well-meaning people would try to hold him or feed him a bottle, I was liable to hover and even yell at them, criticising their techniques – even though these were people who had children of their own and knew what they were doing.

I wore the same clothes day and night – a nursing top and baggy elasticated-waistband trousers. They were inevitably covered in baby sick and the crumbs from my attempts to eat toast without putting the baby down.

I was lonely but I couldn’t maintain a conversation. The days and nights ran into one another. Each day it seemed like I’d be stuck forever in my dark living room, curtains drawn, trying to soothe my screaming baby. Each night was spent begging forgiveness to the universe for being such an ungrateful and unworthy mother.

When I look back at the woman I was in those early days of first-time motherhood, I almost don’t recognise her.

Getting better

I never sought any help for my condition. I didn’t realise it was a problem. I thought it must be normal. In retrospect, I know it wasn’t normal.

As time passed, the trauma of my birth and my son’s illness faded.  Eventually, my son started crawling. Seeing him be independent and robust relieved some of my anxiety. By the time he was 1, I was feeling more like myself.

I was lucky that I got better in my own time. But it would have been much better if I’d realised what a state I was in and that there was help out there for me.

That is why this is the first post in what I’m hoping will become a series on maternal mental health. My next post will deal with the PND I had after my second son. And then I’m hoping to commission guest posts on the topic. Not just on diagnosed PND or anxiety, but about any mental health challenges you might have faced as a new mum. These could be shared on my blog anonymously if you like, or you can put your name to it.

If you would like to contribute a post on maternal mental health, please email me at themumreviews (at) gmail.com.

If you are feeling down, anxious, lonely or depressed after having a baby, you are not alone.

You can find support and information on http://www.pandasfoundation.org.uk/. Please also consider speaking to your GP or health visitor, and seeking support from family and friends.

My Petit Canard
Tammymum
Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday