Contemplating pregnancy after PND

I have recently announced my third pregnancy! I am due in the middle of February next year. From the outside, it looks like we’re just completing our little family, but those who’ve followed my Instagram account and blog, will know that the decision to try for a third child, wouldn’t have been an easy one to make.

Since my announcement, I have had many a request for a blog post on pregnancy after PND. So here’s a blog article for those who’ve experienced post natal depression, and whilst their heart would like another, their head is filled with anxiety about feeling like ‘that’ again. It’s a long one, but it’s jam-packed with tips and insights.

 

My experience

When I first became pregnant, I had a history of depression, and a number of years of therapy and Psychotherapy training under my belt. I guess my medical records were a reflag for risk of postnatal depression as I was automatically allocated a Mental Health Midwife. She was sweet, but pregnancy and the early hazy months passed with little more than a hint of the baby blues and some overtired meltdowns. I coped, I socialised, I drank coffee at softplay and chatted sleep issues with buddies. ‘I’ve got this’, I thought. ‘I was made for this’. I was quickly discharged from the mental health oversight team.

I was pregnant by Oscar’s first birthday. I had an inkling as he blew his candles out on his homemade (slightly wonky) monkey cake, that next year he might be celebrating with a younger sibling. I was right.

My second pregnancy was different, not that it contributed to PND, but it wasn’t an easy start. Acute morning sickness made parenting hard as I warmed retch-inducing wheatabix for Oscar between rushing to the loo to be sick. I also had appendicitis which required emergency surgery and a truck load of drugs into my incubating body (cue the maternal guilt already kicking in).

Charlie came into the world in the very same pool as Oscar. Another long labour with a short and sharp ending. Textbook.

In a nutshell, we experienced undiagnosed silent reflux, tongue tie (twice…it can regrow, who knew?!), chronic sleep deprivation, horrendous feeding issues that I stubbornly battled through despite family begging me to stop (I felt it was the only single thing I could do for Charlie and I couldn’t bear to let it go). Meanwhile we were enduring a long-drawn out house move that wasn’t happening, a smashed up car, and other things I like to forget! All these things formed a perfect foundation upon which PND could thrive.

I rebuffed all offers for help and support, of cooked meals and the opportunity to nap. I’M FINE. I felt like a failure, and people offering innocent help gave me the incorrect impression that they too, thought I was failing. I felt my baby hated me, I hated me. I didn’t deserve him, or anything else good. I could barely string a sentence together, I stopped being able to hide my sore, red-eyes, and the terrified, weeping phone calls to my husband at work became a common occurrence. I went from thinking I could cope, to pretending I could cope, to believing I never could (here’s an article I wrote in my dark days)

On my 31st Birthday, I threw my hands up in surrender. You know what? I haven’t ‘got this’ at all. I went to my GP and wept as he asked about my bond with my baby.

I don’t need to go into vast detail of my post natal depression as this blog article is more about helping the future look a little more hopeful and less about the suffocating debilitation that post natal depression can grip you with. If you’re reading this article, it’s oh so likely you know that feeling, and for that, I give you the warmest and most compassionate hug. You made it. You might have dragged yourself through with faltering steps, but you made it mama.

In time, things changed. The sun slowly came through.

 

What helped me

There were three predominant factors to my recovery from PND:

1 – I forced myself to be open to a select few (namely a couple of close friends, my husband, my mum, my health visitor and my GP) about how I was feeling. ‘Forced’ seems like a strong word. But I really did have to battle against the fibres of my being, in order to open up. I knew something had to change. I was scared. Most of them, who’d seen me slowly unravel, weren’t at all surprised. In fact they seemed more relieved that the dropping of my weak façade meant that they would finally be able to step in, instead of watching helplessly from the sidelines. It wasn’t easy, but once I started talking, the words tumbled out in relief and slowly the shame ebbed away.

2- I started to accept that I am simply not created to do motherhood myself. Nobody is. Nor are you. I seemed to think I was an exception to the rule. I began to believe that seeking and accepting support of any form (be it practical, emotional, mental, physical) was not personal failure, but was in fact VITAL to good mental health. Letting friends be friends and family be family. Letting those who love me, love me in the way that I love them. Taking steps to learn to say ‘yes please’ instead of ‘I’m fine thanks’.

3 – I worked relentlessly at my cruel, bullying internal voice that was keeping me in that dark place like a millstone settling in the bottom of a lake. The voice that told me I was useless, hopeless, worthless. I did what I train others to do as a day-job! I started to challenge this voice with kinder and compassionate words that felt like lies at first, but slowly began to gain volume and power. These words are now stronger for me than my inner critic, and that, well that has changed everything. That has changed my life.

We moved house, Charlie’s reflux was medicated and improving, sleep was more plentiful, life became more do-able. I was in the swing of parenting two and working part-time in a job that I adore. So what next?

 

The ‘Shall we have another?’ question

As time went on, and as Charlie’s first birthday rolled around, the topic of trying for a third child kept cropping up. We’d always dreamed of having three kids. Tarun was one of three, I was one of three. Despite losing my sister to cancer before her seventh birthday, despite the fact I’ve lived through more of my life without her than with her, I still feel like one of three.

But this topic was loaded with abject fear. How would I ever cope? What if we had another reflux baby? What if the baby blues weren’t a fleeting tear filled couple of days, but months of deep dark blackness? I was scared of tipping my very new life balance that was filling me with purpose and contentment. For a long while, both my husband and I agreed that I was still healing from the trauma of that long, dark year, and that I needed more time.

I can’t say I ever got to a point where I proclaimed ‘Right. I’m READYYY. Let’s do this!’. And neither may you.

Charlie was nearing his second birthday, when I realised that the ground I’d covered had changed me. I was much better at seeking and accepting support, stronger at saying ‘yes please’ and ‘no thank you’ without fearing what people thought. I had become more naturally open, and my friendships more two-way streets (rather than me gladly offering support but refusing theirs). I had grown used to the concept of childcare and comfortable with utilising nursery. I realised that self-care habits had become an ingrained part of my life instead of a vicious internal battle. Little realisations like this, that the things I’d tried so hard to instil, had become a comfortable new normal for me, reassured me that whatever might lie ahead, I was more equipped with support than ever before.

So now, I’m pregnant. Nervousness and trepidation are woven through my excitement, but that is okay. That is to be expected.

This time my determination is more ‘I’m ready to do what I need to do to make it through’. Not in terms of expending every single ounce of my waning energy to battle through alone, but to call in the reinforcements, to go out and find the support I need, and to accept the support I have. It takes a village, and I am not a village no matter how capable I feel after a large coffee and a good night’s sleep.

 

My advice to you

So, here is my advice to you as you read these words with your own journey sitting heavily on your chest:

1 – Think about how you are now. How are you coping? How do you feel? Do you have residual or active depression that has not been properly addressed? Perhaps you need to invest in some personal therapy via your GP, or via the Find a Therapist page of the Counselling Directory. If you’re often feeling low, you deserve to address this sooner rather than later. And if you’ve experienced any level of trauma whatsoever, from what you’ve been through, please seek therapy in order to safely address this and enable you some freedom.

2 – Ask yourself how you feel and what you need. It’s likely that this has been a challenge for you. It is a challenge to any mum who’s focus is on the needs and feelings of their children, but if you’re going to be attending more closely to your emotional, practical, mental and physical needs, you need to ask yourself what they are. Get familiar with your needs, wants and feelings so that you can begin to act on them.

3 – Practice asking for and accepting help. Be it the offer of childcare for an hour so you can get some jobs done, or asking for a glass of water at your friend’s house when she’s forgotten to offer. Grow confident in stepping out to get your needs met. This is a hugely vital tool in the armour to fight PND. It’s not a comfortable task, but as your confidence increases and your needs are more likely met, you’ll find it easier I promise. This is so important.

4 – Carefully review your support network. Who’s there on standby, who’s standing in the wings? Who are the friends or family members that offer support? Does your hospital have a mental health midwifery service you can access? What did you struggle most with in your postnatal phase? What support might you have benefitted from had you been in a place to ask for and accept it? Have you found good online support? Is there a nice friendly network of baby groups and classes locally? What is around you already and what might you have to seek out?

5 – Take steps to speak with close friends or family members who you trust (if you aren’t already). Start letting them know how you feel in the little, day-to-day ways. The ups, the downs, the frustrations. If your usual response is to ‘keep calm and carry on’, this isn’t going to serve you well, just as it didn’t last time. Vulnerability is uncomfortable at first but entirely necessary for good mental health. Entirely necessary. Those first faltering words I spoke to a close friend, felt like shards in my throat, but now I speak more freely about my feelings. It gets easier as you get the kind and compassionate response that you’ve been denying yourself.

6 – Address your internal dialogue. If your internal voice is critical and strict, you need to really start trying to introduce a more compassionate dialogue over time. That critical and strict voice is the kind of cruel that will hit a girl when she’s down, and you certainly don’t need that. No matter what you think you deserve, you don’t deserve a little bully on your shoulder berating you and throwing petrol on the embers of mum guilt. You have to speak back to this voice. It might feel like a relentless argument at first, but imagine you were speaking those critical words to someone you loved. They need to be challenged because they are damaging. Retorting with a kind response (in the way you would to someone you love), feels unnatural and a little ridiculous, but never underestimate the power of doing this. In time, with work, the critical voice will be chipped away at and will slowly lose power. You need self-compassion. It’s a very powerful tool in the battle against PND.

7 – Consider practicalities and timing. There is rarely a ‘right time’, to try for another child but there can be ‘better times’. For example, Charlie has just turned two and is going to be starting our local nursery with Oscar next month. Therefore, I will be able to climb back into bed with the baby after doing the nursery drop off. I will be able to get cosy in my dressing gown and put on a box set, and recoup some energy. Last time I had a busy 19 month old and never once got to luxuriate on the sofa, but was instead rushing out to playgroups and feeding on plastic chairs in cold halls. What timing might be kind for your family and enable you best to get snippets of rest?

8 – Be kind to yourself. Take the pressure off. If the conversation of having another child fills you with fear, make a decision to leave that conversation on standby for a few months (we left it for six months), and instead, focus on implementing some of these points instead. Regardless of what decision you make and when, you’ll benefit from investing in these things.

8 – Talk this through with your partner. You need to be in this together. You need to be able to lean on them a little, and get used to leaning. Ideally your partner would form part of this support network, and keeping them in the loop about your true feelings and thoughts around another baby, better enables them to do this. 

Final words

I hope this helps you. There is still so much more I could say. I feel a podcast coming on (I’ve never done one before so you’d have to bare with).

Whilst I feel a little anxious about experiencing PND again, I know that having learnt to be more open, both about how I’m feeling, and in accepting support, my next postnatal stage simply cannot be the same as my last one, and that I am confident of.

You’re worth investing in these things. Regardless of whether you believe that to be true.

Anna xx

Ps – Feel free to drop me a line to book a coaching session where we can chat about this in further depth. Or, you might benefit from my Nice Girls course where many of these qualities are worked upon.

 

 

Salty Tears on NYE

I wrote this as I spent New Years Eve of 2016 alone on the sofa. It’s a stark reminder of how things always move and change, even though during the tough times, you fear it may last forever. It wont.

As this year closes, I sit alone on the sofa, full of last night’s dinner reheated, and a miniature bottle of bubbles. Just because, you know, it’s ‘New Years Eve’. The clock will chime and I will be asleep. At least, I hope I will. My restless babe lies upstairs in his cot; our wanted child, our second.

I’ve eschewed a family get together because I am empty. I’ve spent myself. I have nothing left to offer besides tears held behind heavy eyelids. Maybe you can trace them down my cheeks; the little telltale tracks of makeup not yet reapplied. Those that escaped earlier, as a friend gave me a hug.

This year has been the hardest one thus far. I feel a pang of guilt as my fingers chase the keys of my laptop. My mind begins to verbalise what my heart has been feeling. The guilt settles like an unexpected snowfall. I’ve known death. I’ve known death of a sibling, as a child. Cancer. So, how can I call this year the hardest yet? It was not full of prognosis and CT scans. Nor final words of ‘I love you’ uttered down a hallway. How can I negate the loss of a loved one, for a year of tongue-tie and colic, of restless nights and reflux?

Because with grief, I had my ‘self’. I knew myself. With grief, there was a cause, a reason for escaping tears and guttural cries. Missed functions were excused, explained. My heartache had a name. It was understood.

My wanted second child and I, we’ve been on a journey this year. His birth bought with him a whirlwind of why’s and what’s. Why are you not feeding, or sleeping or seemingly content? What am I doing wrong, what do you need from me that I cannot seem to give? You can have my all, yet I am not enough for you.

Up and out of the house. I have two children. I am a ‘coper’. Makeup on. Sunglasses on. For they hide the fact that the smile on my lips is a lie that my eyes cannot sustain. I am tired. I am scared. I am drowning in pretence, desperation to hold together the very thing that I wished for. We wished for another baby. I brought this on myself. We made this happen.

You screamed and you cried. You clawed me. My thin-lipped smiles became increasingly translucent, as fat tears would escape beyond the rim of my wide framed sunglasses, no longer able to contain the swell of dew that lined my bottom eyelids. What else do you want from me? You want sustenance and comfort, yet you scratch my chest, now displaying scrawny, pink scratches at various stages of healing. Who are you? You do not know me nor like me, and you resent me for bringing you into this world that seemingly makes you so distressed and tormented.

My birthday is marked on a green prescription for antidepressants. Penned by a concerned GP who asked me to return to ‘check in’. I never took the tiny white pills. Promising a happier mind-set but a terrifying list of side effects. They still lie in their foil blisters, un-popped. It wasn’t the chemicals of my body that saddened me, just the fact that you seemed to fail to find your home in me; a simple sadness that my baby will not be loved nor comforted by the very one that grew him.

Tongue ties, snipped twice upon my living room floor. I held you tight. Blood shed. My desperation to encourage you to find comfort at my breast. I found myself taken aside by well-meaning friends and family. Try a bottle they said. But no, in my stubbornness, I sought to continue. I needed you to want me amidst the screams. I needed you to find solace in my arms. I needed you to feel like mine, and I, like yours.

So now, we find ourselves half a year in, at the year-end. Finally a diagnosis for your discomfort. Syringes of sweet, sickly liquid administered into your cheeks. Reflux. Seasons take no notice of the years. Desperate for this season to draw to an end, I know full well that I will wake tomorrow and again, you will scream at my breast and I will cry in exhausted despair as I spoon puree into your puckered mouth. They say it might help. But really, only time will.

Reflux is a bitch. Six months passed, undiagnosed. It has unknowingly taken me to the very edge of myself. Chipping away at my self-assuredness, my self-confidence. Never have I second-guessed myself so many times, so much so that the self-doubt is written upon my face each time you cry. The persistent discomfort, the screams of pain teemed with a whining two year old that have led to a splintered door and pummelled pillows paired with raucous roars of frustration. The roars of a mother who does not know how to comfort her child. A mother who is exhausted, and still seems to find something left to give despite claiming herself empty.

Your older brother was easy. Kisses fell from my lips, wonderment in my eyes. You, my precious, second child, are my labour of love.

I’ve never used such bad language. I’ve never felt despair and frustration so physically. I’ve never denied myself so much so that I regularly forget to eat. I’ve never loved so desperately and so furiously. We are growing together, you and I. We are finding each other and falling in love. One day, this will all be but a distant memory, and the months of screams and frantic Google searches, will be but echoes. But for now, I wish that the clock chime would usher in overnight relief. But no, the years take no notice of the season, and ours is not yet over, but it will be soon. And you will smile more easily, and you will laugh more readily. And the joy will come.

Eat For You

The way we eat is often a direct insight into our relationship with ourselves. Woah…that’s heavy Anna! Yup, yup it is.

Tonight I had a healthy dinner planned. A sweet potato and chickpea scenario. However, I had an argument in my mind (or on stories) because I just wanted to grab the emergency pizza out of the freezer and inhale the damn lot (Husband: HANDS OFF). Anyhow, it got me thinking about how self-care comes hand in hand with eating well. Spending the time planning, making and eating good, wholesome food is a statement of care for yourself. It’s saying ‘hey, I’m worth the effort. I value my body’. I’ve totally lost that recently. During the week, my ‘three meals a day’ become caffeine, snacks and toddler leftovers. Basically anything that keeps that hunger pang at bay, shuts it up as if it’s an inconvenience and not a basic bodily need. I’m not trying to loose weight, I simply can’t be bothered. Enough need comes my way from small people, so therefore I refuse to listen to the needs of my own. I make and serve dinner in the evening, but thats when my husband is coming home. I feel challenged. Why do I deem him ‘worth’ the effort to plan, chop and stir, but when it’s just me, it’s grabbed mouthfuls and sugary sustenance.

I know that it’s not this black and white. It’s complex! Food is as complex as we are! I’m saying that it’s worth thinking about a little more. I’ve not been loving myself in the way that I’ve been making food choices recently. Have you?

Eating is a form of loving, its an indulgence, it’s a way to celebrate happiness, and a way to devour down difficult emotion. It can be enjoyed, shared, created. It can be denied, abused. It can be a constant source of anxiety.

For one person, eating a pizza can be a treat. For another, a self destructive binge. For another, a painful battle. Oh do I know all of these angles.

Let’s take some time each day to mindfully prepare and eat something. To tell ourselves that we are worth the time, creativity, effort and enjoyment of sitting down to nourish and fill our bodies.

PS – we’re eating the healthy dinner. Chips due Friday (always)

Lean On

Needing help is a weakness. Asking for it is shameful. That’s our cultural lesson. Self sufficiency is king. If we can’t fix ourselves, we’ve failed. If we ‘need’ from another, we’ve lost something of ourselves.This is my constant battle. My raging self-sufficiency is both a blessing and a curse. It can make one driven and resourceful, but the pressure on yourself is layered so thick that it can be hard for others to see you struggle, knowing that any offer of support will be rebuffed with a sharp defensive ‘I’m okay thanks’. It’s as if an offer of help is a statement of failure, or evokes a fear that someone has seen a chink in the armour.

And then I look at my kids. So quick to ask for help, and accepting it without hesitation. The simple, childlike acknowledgement that we aren’t made to thrive or survive alone. My three year old doesn’t falter behind layers of shame and fear of failure. What broke? Why did it become so complicated? Why did we become so individualistic? It’s not just sad, it’s not just missing the point of relationship itself…it’s destructive.

We are NOT MADE to do life alone. Vulnerability does NOT equal failure. Fighting against these truths leads to burnout and a loneliness in feelings because nobody else has been involved in your processes.

I challenge clients (and myself) to start to say yes to the offer of help and support that comes their way, whether it be help with a buggy in a tight doorway, some luggage up some stairs, or childcare. No matter how big or how small, how much you feel you do or don’t need it, exercise grateful acceptance. In many countries, people are part of close-knit, enmeshed communities where energies and resources are shared, and the line between friends and families are blurred. Help and support are seen as forms of love to be given and accepted, and not statements of failure and shame.

You’re worth someone’s energy, someone’s time. You’re worth help and support. That is what community, friendship, relationship and love is about.

Say Yes to Kindness

On Wednesday we did our usual rush to football. My aim is aways to grab a coffee to sip whilst fielding Charlie as Oscar plays football. Time slips away at home and I always cast an eye into Costa to survey the queue. If it’s too busy, we dash on. If there’s no queue, it’s latte time.On Wednesday time was pushed. As my turn came, I glanced at the time…we were running too late.. and said not to worry and turned the buggy to leave.

The guy behind me, without drawing a breath said ‘I’ll pay for your coffee’. He thought it was money that was my issue, rather than time.

I thanked him profusely as I scrabbled my way out.

I felt emotional! That selfless, kind gesture stayed with me all day.

I’m historically horrendous at accepting kindness. Fabulous at giving it but, oh gosh, shufflingly, squirmingly awkward at receiving it. If it had been the lack of money, would I have accepted or would I have rushed out rosy cheeked and embarrassed?

What stops us accepting kindness? A sense that we are only worth giving, and not receiving? A fear that to accept kindness is some sort of defeat that we aren’t able to fulfil our own needs? A feeling that we will somehow be forever indebted to that person?

What if we made a decision to accept kindness when it came to us, and give it when we felt moved to do so? Maybe it would become a second nature? Maybe it would challenge and change our sense of self-worth and value (and my roaring sense of self-sufficiency). Maybe it would remind us that we aren’t alone, nor are we made to do this crazy old thing called ‘life’ from our own resources. Maybe it would be worth a try, to say ‘thank you’ instead of awkwardly murmur ‘no thanks’ next time kindness comes your way.