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5 things… that may enhance your recovery and help connect with your c-section scar

A note from Anna: It has been wonderful to see people sharing more on social media about their c-section scars and recovery!  It is a privilege to invite Hannah Poulton, an experienced physiotherapist and scar specialist to share her tips on recovery. Her knowledge is fuelled by a passion that mums would be equipped and encouraged with the helpful and holistic information they need most.


Hello all. My name is Hannah Poulton and I’m a Senior Physiotherapist, Scar Specialist, Acupuncturist and Women’s Health Practitioner. I own HLP Therapy and have over 2 decades of experience within Physiotherapy. 

My passion has always been to see individuals recover well, not just from the physical effects of an accident, surgery or trauma, but to acknowledge and heal from the emotional aspects too.

That is why I built HLP Therapy. A beautiful place where I can combine a multitude of skills to listen and treat every individual in a truly holistic and tailored way. I’ve always had an interest and bias towards women’s health and especially postnatal care. I believe the postnatal care for mums in the UK is sub-standard, and more needs to be done to care for mums after they have given birth and especially if they have suffered a traumatic birth or c-section birth. After the difficult birth of my two children, (one vaginal, one c-section birth) I explored further into c-sections and c-section recovery. My professional education and personal experience, allows me to understand and empathise with postnatal mums, which only seeks to enhance the treatment I provide.

My main speciality is c section recovery and all that includes. The next few tips may enhance your recovery and help connect with your c section scar.

  1. Be gentle on yourself: After your c section you are told very little about how to recover well. You are given this 6 week “time frame” in which you should recover in. But for some this is only the start of their recovery journey. Of course, your scar will do it’s best healing within this time period, but a scar takes up to 2 years to reach maturity (which means it’s constantly changing within this time). There seems to be such pressure and a rush to heal, but my best piece of advice to start with is “be kind to yourself.” Allow yourself time to reflect on your birth, time to heal well, don’t overload yourself with “a never ending list of tasks to complete.” You have been through major abdominal surgery and this needs to be recognised and acknowledged. Give yourself permission to say “no” to other peoples demands and ideas on your recovery. This is your journey in your time and your way. Don’t compare your recovery to others. It won’t help you on a physical or emotional level.
  2. Looking after your scar: In the early stages there are some simple ways in which you can look after your scar: pat dry your scar, don’t rub with a towel after a shower. Instead, use a muslin cloth to gently dry over your scar. Allow the scar to breathe. This means wearing loose cotton fibre clothing and allowing the air to get to the scar as much as possible. This could mean laying on the bed or sofa with your baby next to you and having no clothing over your scar. 10 mins a day is all you need. Your scar may feel numb. This is because nerves have been disrupted during your c section birth. Gentle sweeping hands over your tummy in the first few weeks, pat drying your scar and looking at your scar (even if it’s in the mirror) will all start to help you “engage “with your scar. There is also no rush to do these things. If you can’t bear to touch your scar in the early stages, then this is perfectly normal. Take your time. There is no rush.
  3. Six weeks after your c section (only if you are ready) you can start self-scar massage. Have a look at my videos on Instagram and YouTube on the best ways to massage your scar. Get a good scar cream (check out my online shop for the ones i recommend). Start light. Use “feather light” sweeping motions with your hands over your tummy and scar. If you can’t touch your scar at this point, then that’s ok. Take your time. Gently work on your tummy, bringing the tissues into the middle (where your belly button is). Do this after a warm shower or warm bath, so you are relaxed and comfortable. If touching your scar and skin is something you are not comfortable with, try using either really thick cream on your fingers (to act as a barrier between your fingers and scar) or use a soft towel or cloth to sweep over your tummy and scar. Use self-scar massage for 5-10mins a day when you are relaxed. Take this time out for you.
  4. To aid in scar recovery and also your overall postnatal recovery, it’s important to feed yourself well. Now I know chocolate and coffee are important (!!), but perhaps try some of these foods too. Strawberries, oranges, nuts, pulses and seeds. Oats and yoghurt, protein shakes, oily fish and leafy greens. You will need to put back in and feed your body with the good stuff in order to accelerate your recovery. Protein is really important for healing and also keeps you filled up! So make sure you are getting plenty of this in your diet. As we are over 60% water it’s important that we replenish this daily. Make a flask of water in the morning and carry this around with you and keep sipping throughout the morning. Refill at lunchtime and repeat. Keep reminding yourself to drink and flush your body with clear water. This also aids in scar recovery as the tissues under the skin are well hydrated and heal so much quicker.
  5. When you feel ready you may want to start moving your body. You may want to join a class (always look for “postnatal trained” instructors) who really understand what postnatal c section mums need. You may want to see a specialist physiotherapist before you return to exercise. My advice is start off slowly and build up. You’ve been through pregnancy, abdominal surgery and birth and probably sleep deprived too. So start off with gentle breath work, coupled with pelvic floor work. You may also want to try some basis exercise such as: knee slides, bridge, cat and cow, childs pose, wall planks and side clams. Listen to your body: it will tell you what you can do. There is no rush and no race.

I really hope you have enjoyed reading this blog. For more information on my c section recovery kits and to see the courses I am currently running for new c-section mums and professionals in c section recovery, check out HLP Therapy and look under “Positive-C-Section. ”

Keep going mama…you’re doing a great job! ✨

Calming the Mother Rage

Calming the Mother Rage

It was 5pm, in the kitchen on a Tuesday afternoon. I emitted a roar so thunderous that my toddler wailed and my sons abandoned the television’s glare to investigate. Next appeared my husband, clutching an open laptop whilst swiftly cutting off a colleague mid-sentence.

Eyes watched in confusion as I visibly shook next to a mound of pesto pasta that seconds before I’d envisioned hurling against the wall. I’d decided against it. The clear up wouldn’t justify the release. Heart galloping and adrenaline searing through my veins, I left the room and sank into the sofa crying shoulder-shuddering tears of failure.

I like to think of myself as a rational and nurturing individual. Yet this last year I’ve encountered rage like never before. It’s visceral, gaining momentum emotionally and physically until I am out of energy to tether it. If I’m not able to diffuse it, it erupts, leaving collateral debris of tears and shame in its wake.

I am not alone. ‘I have never had as short a fuse as in this past year’ shares a social media follower wishing to remain anonymous. The internet is awash with humorous motherhood memes about losing our rag, our minds and our willpower ‘not to drink tonight because I just can’t parent’. Whilst we laugh because it resonates, are we choosing to normalise rage and overwhelm because even in this age of ‘it’s okay not to be okay’ talking about the stark, messy reality of it feels too taboo? Perhaps, the true veil isn’t humour, but bitter shame and heavy guilt.

I’m lifting the veil, because what we don’t need more of as mothers is shame and guilt. And in a recent social media poll of 700 respondents, 93% mothers said they’d felt more rage and irritability in the last year than pre-pandemic. So, for the sake of our mental health, it’s time to start taking rage seriously and arming ourselves with tools to diffuse rather than repress it.

Rage as a symptom of burnout

There are many types of rage. Rage may be violent, destructive, compassionate, or motivating. There’s the rage against injustice that rises up when watching the news. Should my children witness an outburst, it provides a moment to educate, imparting something valuable. How disruptive or damaging rage can be rests on both the context and the safety in its delivery. The type of rage I am focussing on, is the rage that comes with the depletion of burnout.  One mother shared with me the physical nature of her rage: ‘I feel the irritability and rage coming up my throat and if I don’t compose myself, it floods out like fire’

We are a burnt-out nation of mothers who praise one another for being strong yet sit behind the closed doors of our ‘game faces’ feeling anything but. Burnout develops when we are forced to (or choose to) chronically deny our human-ness. We demote our own needs and overlook feelings in order to reserve what energy we can to keep calm and carry on for those depending on us to function. And us mothers, we tend to be skilled at looking like ‘we’ve got this’ as a member of my community admitted –  ‘I do such a good job of looking like I’ve got it together, that nobody asks if I’m okay’.

Often, I ask my Psychotherapy clients one deceptively simple question: ‘what do you need?’. After a moment’s thought, and commonly tears, the needs that arise are along the lines of ‘space, support and rest’. With those three things hard to come by, especially during the past year, burnout isn’t failure, it’s a human response to the circumstances. And it’s those very three things that will provide the antidote.

Much like a filling bladder or an old student loan, needs and feelings do not dissipate when ignored, they grow in size and urgency ‘I ignored my grief this past year, there just wasn’t time to cry. I ended up with this heaviness in my chest that felt suffocating. I broke and spent three days in bed unable to function’ – anonymous. Feelings and needs are energy in motion, they rise up like waves, and when we shove them deftly aside, they do not slink into nothingness.

Consider how physically you experience different emotions and needs, you may feel butterflies in your stomach, a need for connection as longing your heart, anxiety in your chests. So, when these physical forms of energy are chronically pushed down and repressed, the pressure builds and builds mounting, when unaddressed, to an explosive release.

The curse of the mother caricature

Rage is often portrayed in films as a masculine emotion. Whereas, the caricature of a mother is of the loving, kind, patient nurturer. She may be reduced to sobbing, but rarely do we witness red-raw rage. This depiction dangerously overlooks the complexity of human guilt and shame. And what do we often do in response? We pledge to try harder at being better, further shunting aside our needs, our feelings and, well, ourselves.

I am noticing, both in myself and other mothers, the strong drive to caveat anger and difficult emotions. An admission of rage, or finding something excruciatingly challenging is swiftly followed by a cascade of proclamations of love and gratitude for children. ‘It’s overwhelming, but I wouldn’t change it for the world/but I love them/but it’s good too’.

There is fear that the presence of anger drags love into immediate question. Thus a need to reassure whoever listening that we love our children. Love and anger can co-exist. So many times have I spoken to women who’ve concealed the truth of their post-partum anxiety, the extent of their low moods, and the reality of their intrusive thoughts out of fear that their ability to love and mother would be questioned, that their child might be removed from their care. One mother disclosed ‘I was sleep deprived and fantasised about being hospitalised just so I could sleep. I didn’t tell anyone as I was terrified, they’d think I didn’t love my kids’. So much of what we feel is a human response to the circumstances we are in, and in no way a reflection of how strongly our heart beats in love to our child.

I wonder perhaps, though we are long past the days of overtly emotional women being branded clinically ‘hysterical’, there is a deeply running unease in communicating the messier emotions of womanhood and motherhood out of fear of being gaslit by the very people we turn to for support. As these emotions are swept under the metaphorical rug, they build, they get lumpy and then one day, we trip over them, in the kitchen on a Tuesday afternoon. We have surely come along way, but we have a long old way to go.

Know your flags

With practice and reprioritising, it’s possible to avoid burnout before you find yourself sliding down the fridge, ending up on the cold tiles wondering how things got so bad.

Consider your red flags. One member of my community recognised ‘My burnout flag is that I just can’t be bothered to eat proper food. I snack all day on sugar, which doesn’t help’. It may be apathy, exhaustion or irritability. Perhaps it’s in the moments you proclaim ‘I can’t do this’ and then continue to do it anyway. You might struggle to make simple decisions or rationalise thoughts. Motivation slips away, taking with it the sparkle in your eye and the ease of your laughter. Perhaps they are a lack of desire to run a route you love, resentment for a family member who rests with ease, or feeling frozen as you open the laptop for work. Perhaps your flag is those nights adrenaline chases sleep out of reach, or a hypersensitivity to the normal sounds of your home.

To ignore burnout, is to fuel the very issue itself. Unmet needs do not slink away when ignored, they become more pressing. Rage is an adrenaline filled, reactive state in which rationality is hard to grasp. Whilst the other symptoms of burnout silently chip away at the sense of self, rage conflicts with how we see ourselves.

Your emotional and physical resources are a currency that you spend on your family for the benefit of their collective wellbeing. I am coming to realise that, for my own sanity’s sake, the replenishing of that very currency in order to spend it on them again, needs to be a collective family aim! Plan, strategies and diarise periods of space, rest and refuelling, whatever that may look like for you. Use what resources and support you have available to facilitate these things. And remember, small things, whilst they may never feel ‘enough’, are always better than nothing. They might enable you to find the strength to breathe your way through the next tantrum or curveball.

Dealing with the moment of rage and the collateral damage

If you feel the rage building, urgently prioritise calming your mind and body. Use a simple breathing exercise, step out of the room if appropriate. Switch on the TV for the children or hand out iPads like frisbees, delay dinner. Scroll, call, text, read, stretch, pummel a pillow, walk; do whatever you need to in order to calm your nervous system so that you can re-access your rational brain again.

If rage has erupted, take a moment to recalibrate whilst offering yourself words of gentleness. When rage is followed with self-criticism and shame, you are less likely to attend to the overlooked needs that led to it. Claim responsibility and talk the episode through with your family or child in a way that allays any resulting fear or confusion.

I recently apologised to my four-year-old for rage fuelled snapping. ‘It’s okay’ said his little voice in reassurance. ‘Being tired and grumpy is okay’ I said. ‘But shouting at you like that isn’t okay. I am very tired and I am going to find a way to help me try and be patient next time’. We can affirm the validity of feelings whilst acknowledging that how you communicated it wasn’t helpful. Just as I would let him know that the jealousy he feels at his brother having a toy he wants is acceptable, but hitting him isn’t a good way to outwork that feeling and perhaps next time he might stomp his feet instead.

Playing the long game

Acknowledging your needs isn’t guilt-worthy indulgence, instead it forms the foundations upon everything you love and enjoy can stand firm. Taking what you need to fend off burnout is not ‘me first’ it’s ‘me too’. Rest and seeking space often trigger feelings of guilt and inefficiency, yet it is the antidote to burnout and a building block to good mental health.

Prioritise these things as if your mental health depends on it, and as if your family depend on your mental health. Because, both are true.

Welcome the small things. One fellow mother shared ‘I need to see my mum. We speak online, it’s not the same but It gives me something’. Whilst you may fantasise about a week on a sandy beach devoid of all responsibility, an evening out might not cut the mustard, but it’s something. And when it comes to staving off burnout, something is always better than nothing. Cut corners, delegate, make space and lessen perfectionist standards where possible. Take your foot off the gas in whichever way possible and acknowledge that just like fuelling the car the more asking of yourself, the more you need to input.

Seek friendship and support. Whilst someone may not be able to relieve you of stress, they can validate your feelings and offer vital compassion, lessening burnout-fuelling feelings of self-sufficiency. If you recognise that you spend life firmly sat on a seat of the burnout rollercoaster, seek professional support, because where there is help, there is hope.

Compassion ends the cycle

Just as those you care for; you are equally deserving of a life well lived.

Us mothers need mothering, and where we cannot be mothered we must learn to mother ourselves. We must coax ourselves to bed at a good time, encourage ourselves to pick up the phone to a listening ear, to walk, to breathe deeply. We must offer ourselves compassion for the moments we fall apart, gentleness as we brush our knees down and guidance as we seek ways to grow.

Sometimes I wonder if the raging mother-me who fantasises about throwing the pasta against the wall, is simply the acting out of my inner child, who is angered and hurt at the injustice of being so chronically overlooked.

Ruby in the Rubble – We shouldn’t judge what we are not, but we do.

Ruby in the Rubble submission by Lauren Kaighan

A note from Anna: Pleasing others and ensuring they think I’m a good person has been a driver for so much in my life, and also the reason I’ve held back. Address this (I’ve written a course called The People Pleasing Course to help guide you in doing so too), continues to change my life in the most healthy and freeing way! I loved reading Lauren’s reflections and realisations as she comes to terms with the fact that her needs and feelings are just as valid and valuable as those of others.

We shouldn’t judge what we are not. But we do. It’s so difficult, it’s a natural reaction to form an unconscious bias, at least. So even when we try not to judge, I’m certain that most people will do it, even if it is unconsciously and as much as we try not to. What really irks me though is when people think it’s appropriate to portray that judgement though it was fact. Or use it to try and pull down another person. Or to shame another person.

But, we do all do it, judge things that we are not, I suppose it’s a natural reaction.

‘Her house is so clean’, ‘Her house is so messy’. ‘He eats too much’, ‘He doesn’t eat enough’. ‘Did you see what so and so did/said’…

Her house might be clean because it helps with her anxiety. He might not eat enough because he has an eating disorder. There is so much judgement, more so right now.

At the beginning of the pandemic I was so guilty of it. ‘They aren’t from the same household’, ‘They shouldn’t have travelled that far’ and then one day I realised that actually they were from the same household, they just went to and from their other parents’ house (which was within the rules) and actually travelling to the countryside for a walk wasn’t a terrible breach of the rules either and something that later saved my mental health. And I also realised then, we shouldn’t judge what we are not, particularly when we don’t know the circumstances. These judgements, I realised, came from a place of fear.

I think that’s important to acknowledge that judgement does often come from a place of fear, the unknown or jealousy. In my experience anyway.

I had a baby during the pandemic, the week before the U.K. went into what we now know as ‘Lockdown 1.0’. I was petrified. For my family, the world, but most importantly my newborn baby. I spent weeks inside the house, scared to go outside, making excuses to not go for our daily walk. When I finally agreed to be dragged out for a walk, I was navigating my baby in her pram away from lampposts, cars and walls. I was that scared of touching anything around me in case I caught the virus, forgetting that actually, I could quite easily have gotten run over by a car when I was avoiding people by walking in the middle of the road. I was so focused on not getting the virus, I wasn’t enjoying my newborn baby. One night, mid breakdown, I knew I had to get better, to be better. I focused on my daily routine and the things we could do and enjoy as a family. Most importantly I stopped judging other people and what they were doing. I stopped worrying about whether people around me were following or not following the rules, that didn’t need my headspace. I needed to focus on my mental health and my family. I prioritised the things I enjoyed and switched off from the noise of the media and looked only at the facts. I also realised you have to focus on what you can control, not what you can’t and that until you know someone’s individual circumstances, have walked in their shoes, you cannot judge someone else and what they do.

It was this particular lightbulb moment for me that made me sit back and realise all of the things I’d not done for fear of judgement. The things I’d not said in case it was misconstrued or somebody didn’t agree. For some reason, I have an opinion that when I meet people that they won’t like me, and that I have to work for their approval. It’s a basic setting for me and I don’t know why. That probably will take a whole lot more than just writing to understand. But what I’ve realised is I now ask myself; ‘do I care?’ and ‘of what consequence is it?’. Am I so worried to be judged that I won’t do or say something that I want to? So, in the same way that unconsciously we may judge other people, we’ve got to accept that people may also judge us. But does it matter?

We shouldn’t judge what we don’t know. But we do. Why do we judge people on how they raise their children? Unless there is harm coming to that child, what does it have to do with us? Why do we judge people on what they do for a living? If it’s not stopping our bills getting paid, what does it have to do with us? Why do we judge people that either wear too much make up or not enough? If you were truly happy in your own skin would it bother you as much?  Why do we judge those that breastfeed, as well as those that don’t or can’t? A baby needs to be fed, no matter how you choose or need to do it. True, we all have our own opinions, and that is fine. But the minute you project that opinion to become a judgement onto a person or the minute you cast doubt over someone’s integrity with your judgement, it becomes unfair.

As I’ve said, of course, it’s natural to judge, and I’m not saying it’s wrong to have those thoughts and opinions (obviously!) but it’s just being mindful about what you put out into the world. Especially right now. It’s all such a learning curve and I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been there, I’ve done it. And I still do it. But now I’m a lot more mindful and do you know what? I actually feel like a weight has been lifted. Why should I be worrying about what other people are doing if I feel like I’m doing enough?

I’m hopeful that this realisation is helping me on my way to not caring as much as what people think about me, to an extent. I’ll always care about some things and that can be a good thing too. I guess this realisation started for me when I finally started writing my blog (thirtyandfabulous.blog) I’d wanted to do it for so long and I put it off because I worried about what people would think or say. But so what. I enjoy writing and it’s like a version of therapy for me. This realisation has evolved so much over the last year, since having a baby, your priorities change, and through lockdown I realised going forward my energy needs to only go on things that I want to do. I’ve been so focused on what other people were doing and how they were living their lives, I forgot to enjoy my own (I say enjoy lightly there – we were/are in the middle of a pandemic after all!).

I’m working on letting go of things that no longer serve me and focus on the things you can control, and that certainly isn’t how other people will judge you.

I want to shout less. I want to drink less.

‘I shouted at Charlie. Like, really shouted at him. He cried. I cried, and now I feel bad’

Oh Anna, we all do that.
Don’t worry about it.
It’s tough.
Everyone loses it sometimes.
It’s not like it’s all the time.

‘I can’t remember the last day I didn’t have a drink. Just one the evening, but I need to have more booze free days’

Don’t worry about that.

Everyone is doing it.
It’s necessary, it’s needed.
You deserve it. What else do you have to look forward to?
It’s not like it’s a bottle.

I’ve uttered both of these things over the last few months, many times in varying ways. To friends on walks, on the phone.

Both are normalised, the shouting, the losing your rag. Oh those days when I gaze at the small, sleeping form of my child, stroke a cheek and promise to do better the next day. To be more present. Oh the days I climb into bed, my body softened by wine, promising to replace the next day’s pouring of a glass with the rolling out of a yoga mat.

But it’s all hard. Because it’s hard. And whilst my heart knows what I need, my mind and body are challenged by the upheaval of time, support, friendship, change in context, and adventures beyond my postcode.

So I swallow down emotions. I ignore a need for space because it’s not easy to find it, practically, logistically. I hold it all in, my edges taught and stretched like an overstuffed bin-bag. But sometimes it all comes pouring out, a broken damn, spilling everywhere, causing flood damage in its wake.

But those things require intention and intention requires discipline.
And discipline requires energy.
So I sink into habit, because it requires so little of either.
I continue. I fill up, I spill out.

Oh the release. Oh the guilt.

I flop onto the sofa. Knowing I need to talk, to be heard, to process. Knowing I need to rest, not scroll, talk not stare at yet another episode of a programme who’s plotline I have long lost. I need to wind down, to slow down, to calm my wired mind.

But those things require intention and intention requires discipline.
And discipline requires energy.
So I sink into habit, because it requires so little of either.
I pour a glass, I sigh, my shoulders drop.

Oh the release. Oh the guilt.

But in reaching out to friends, I get support. It all gets normalised. I am not alone, we are not alone. In the shouting, in the pouring of a glass. In all of the things.

Yet the guilt never softened with the utterances of ‘we’re all doing it’.

Because, underneath, whilst I know I am not alone, I also know we need to be gentle on ourselves, I am stepping beyond my own sense of what is okay for me. I do not want to let loose on my kids, I do not want to join them in their tantrums. I do not want to be reaching for daily wine as a means to a chaotic end.

In the normalising of things that deep down, I know aren’t right for me, I’m not falling to meet an unreachable bar, I’m lowering a valid one.

Sometimes, our minds want to hear ‘It’s fine’ whilst our hearts are whispering ‘will you stand with me as I seek better?’.

When we are full, and tired, and stretched and wired, it’s easier to spill out and fall into our own cracks.

I spoke to my husband about my overstuffed bin-bag. And we planned and we juggled, and I battled with the guilt that rose when he pledged to take the toddler for a daily walk so we could focus on home learning. I coach myself to accept the offer of an extra ten minutes in bed, or head up for an early night even though we’re half way through an episode.

And I fight the guilt, and do it anyway, because half an hour’s reading in bed can be the difference between having a messy meltdown, and the ability to breathe through the stress instead.

And as for the daily wine, I found a couple of friends who said ‘me too’, who echoed my ‘it’s understandable but it’s not what I want either’. And we’ve been doing a month of consistent booze free weekdays and it feels good.

But it’s a dance, a dalliance between what I want and what I need. Where compassion and care collide with, zig zag and cross over ease and gentleness. But it’s a dance I’m glad I’m dancing, all the same.

If the relief of normalising no longer hits the sweet spot that silences guilt, then perhaps your heart is whispering ‘will you stand with me as I seek better for myself?’.

Sometimes our yearning for ‘better’ isn’t driven by perfectionism.

It’s driven by a deep desire for freedom from the things that keep the flames of guilt alight
And for someone to stand beside you as you reach for it.

A different way of seeing self-care

I think I’ve changed my mind about self-care.

Self-care is not a shower. It’s not peeing when you need to. It’s not hydrating or going to bed instead of doing another load of washing.

That is self-respect.

Does my husband think he’s engaging in ‘a little self care’ when he hops into the shower to wash the day away? Or pours a quenching glass of tap water? (I can’t imagine that the thought even passes his mind to de-prioritise those basic rights anyway).

Yet we approach them with the indulgence and logistics of a spa-day.

Self-respect is meeting your basic needs.

They bring me to some kind of base level.

The over-and-above are the things that are more likely to relieve us from teetering on the edge of overwhelm. The extra. The things that bring us back to ourselves.

It’s not the speedy shower, but the long bath with a page-turner novel

It’s not the gulped down cuppa, but the coffee catching up with a friend

It’s not the ‘gimme a minute’ it’s the ‘please help me work out how I can get an hour or two’

It’s not the message reply ‘yeah I’m having a hard time’, it’s the ‘can we talk?’

It’s not the grab’ n go lunch but the one prepared and enjoyed sat down.

But perhaps we can find small ways to offer ourselves more than just the bare minimum. Upping our standards for what we deem a treat.

If I promised my kids a special day out and took them to the supermarket, they’d be solely disappointed.

If we pledge to work on our sense of worth and then ‘treat’ ourselves with a glass of water or a wee, then….some part of us learns to believe that‘a the limit of our deservedness, and that everything else is a guilt-ridden indulgence.

Self-respect should be the very basic, non negotiable level. And then everything else goes on top, the extras, the nice stuff. Because….*sits on hands trying not to type ‘you’re worth it*….well, because.

Just a thought.

Maybe it’s hard because it’s hard

If you’re finding life, the struggle with the juggle, the rollercoaster… hard, it’s so easy to slip into a feeling of failure. To be blaming yourself for not keeping all of the balls in the air, shaming yourself for finding it tough when in many ways you feel very lucky.

I wanted to share with you a lightbulb moment (you know I love a lightbulb moment) I had at the beginning of the first UK pandemic lockdown in March 2020. It feels so relevant, and is something I keep returning to:

Something clicked last night. I cried tears that I knew would sting in the morning. Trying to work out why even though my home is FULL of the things I love, my family, my job, I felt so…needing.

Life has become stripped back. What has remained here, in my home is my family and my work.

Both require me. Lots of me. All the time.

I look into their faces and I want to see them, to hear them. But it’s like wearing headphones with the radio stuck on. My mind is busy and fast, and loud. I’m there but I’m not.

I answer questions on autopilot. Realising seconds later that I’ve agreed to chocolate as I serve dinner. Charlie, my son, calls my name 5 times. I hear him but I don’t.

I want to be here, yet my mind leaps like a confused frog, from present to future. The weight of the to-do list, food shopping, emails, people I need to check in on, sits on my shoulders and in my heart.

And then I realised what I was hungry for. Lazy discussion about everything and nothing. Being with those who don’t care whether or not you provide a snack or an email.

I miss the 23-second conversations had whilst leaning against a friend’s washing machine, interrupted by fights over toys. I miss the presence of a friend.

I know we have phones and zoom. It’s something. But it’s like being served a softening poppadum when you’re hungry for the full curry shebang.

I miss just BEING with. Just being me, with no expectation, request or agenda.

Those playdate half-conversations never felt long enough. The kid free supermarket dashes never felt quite enough space. But they clearly gave me more than I realised. And I miss them. Little mini respites from the intensity. Little things that fuelled and refilled us more than we knew at the time.

 I took a lone walk, called a couple of friends, and came home feeling so refreshed, and known. It helps.

Maybe it’s just hard because it’s hard. I know some people have it ‘harder’. But this is MY hard’

If this feeling resonates, here are some tips that might help:

  • Make time for yourself. Be it a snatched ten minutes here, an early retreat to bed with a book instead of a phone, a bath over a speedy shower. You might have to fiddle with logistics, to ask for support in facilitating those moments of space, but prioritise them as if your family depend on you being refilled and refuelled.
  • Try to avoid the temptation to invalidate your feelings with gratitude and positivity. They are powerful tools, but ensure that you’re bringing them ALONGSIDE your feelings, rather than forcing yourself to feel grateful INSTEAD of overwhelmed. You can feel both.
  • Breathe. Literally. When we are stressed, we our breath is impacted. You might breathe more shallower, higher in your chest, you might clench your jaw or skip a breath all together. Become mindful of your breath, slow it down and deepen it. It helps calm your nervous system.
  • Bin all the ‘should’s right now. I ‘should’ be doing more, I ‘should’ be better. Right now the focus needs to be on surviving and nurturing your mental health.
  • Adopt a mantra to help ground you. When I realise I’m slipping into a sense of failure I repeat ‘It’s hard because it’s hard’. It introduces a little compassion into my mindset! We all need more of that.
  • Seek support in whatever way you can. I spent many years of life fearing being a burden, but I’m realising that sharing the burden with the right people doesn’t mean I am one.
  • Work on your self-esteem. Often the reasons we find it so challenging to reprioritise ourselves is because, deep down, we don’t believe we are worthy of kindness, from ourselves or from others. Have a look at my Week on Worth Course as a great first step into sending your self-esteem on an upward spiral.
  • Check your inner dialogue. If you’re critical and bullying, try and imagine what a kind, compassionate friend would say. Introduce a kinder voice where you can to counteract the critic.

 

Dear Charlie – Letters on Motherhood

I’m sharing this letter in honour of Gi Fletcher and her beautiful book, Letters on Motherhood.

I wrote this to my son Charlie, when he was 5 months old. It was typed through tears 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. You, my restless babe lie upstairs in your 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.

You, my wanted second child and I, we’ve been on a journey this year. Your birth bought with you 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.

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.

And you’re teaching me that. The wild, ferociousness of love. My heart will never be the same again.
Charlie, this is just the beginning of you and I.
You are worth it all.

Tips for the parenthood-rollercoaster ride

(Sponsored post by Waterwipes)

What a rollercoaster parenthood is! However, a quick scroll through social media would often have us believe that we’re the only ones sitting on this hair-raising ride. It seems like comparison is king and we often feel like we’re the only ones winging it. I’m going to share my top parenting tips, both as a Psychotherapist and as mum of three.

In May, I was honoured to be asked to host and talk at a parents breakfast organised by WaterWipes for its new #ThisIsParenthood global project. Not only have I used WaterWipes’ super pure wipes for all three of my children (bye cotton wool and water), but I was really touched by the #ThisIsParenthood documentary, produced by the talented BAFTA nominated Lucy Cohen. Have you watched it? Here’s the link if you haven’t – grab a cuppa and a spare 15 minutes. The documentary shows a rare and candid insight into the realities of family life with a newborn, detailing some of the challenges that punctuate this crazy, special and map-less time. When WaterWipes showed us parents the footage during the breakfast, there wasn’t a single dry eye…I think due to the fact that, ultimately, we are all just trying to do our best! Sometimes we feel like we are scrambling around in the dark, sometimes we’re winging it, sometimes we’re smashing it (momentarily for me at least), but #ThisisParenthood.

WaterWipes yearns to shift the conversation around parenthood by encouraging us parents to be more open about the highs and lows that come with it. As a Psychotherapist, I am hugely supportive of this initiative as openness and honesty are the turning points to every single one of my clients’ stories.

A global study by WaterWipes revealed:

  • 55% of parents feel like they are failing within the first year (British parents being the second highest country (62%)
  • Almost a quarter (24%) feel like film, TV and advertising contribute to this
  • Nearly half (42%) of UK parents feel the pressure to be a ‘perfect parent’ on social media
  • Nearly half (41%) of UK parents feel they can’t be honest about their struggles due to fear of judgment
  • A huge 50% of parents admit to putting a brave face on rather than being honest about their experience
  • UK mums are twice more likely than dads to feel pressure to be a perfect parent from social media (51% vs 27%)
  • 49% of UK parents feel as though they cannot relate to the parenting images they see on social media
  • Across the world. 68% of parents wish there were more honest representations of parenting on social media

If only these results could shock me…but sadly, they didn’t. I receive messages on social media from 200-400 parents a day who feel like they are failing, or like they are alone in their struggles. Like WaterWipes, I am desperate for us to call a truce on this whole pretence. Yes, of course we will continue to share the highs, the smiles and the cute snaps. However, in order to shift this culture of toxic comparison, we all need to be a little more mindful that what we see, isn’t all there is.

Working with WaterWipes for #ThisIsParenthood was such a pleasure, and for those of you who couldn’t join us on the Instagram live, I thought I’d share the words I spoke:

 

My story

After my textbook pregnancy, birth and then newborn experience with my first little boy, I enjoyed the coffees and the relatively calm play dates. We laughed about our incessant Googling (ps. Dr Google is NOT your friend) and shared our thoughts on routines, and our moans about lack of sleep.

However, my experience with my second was vastly different. He came hurtling into the world wailing, and didn’t stop for a solid nine months. Undiagnosed silent reflux, tongue-tie, and less sleep at night than a nocturnal mouse – I fell into a messy post-natal depression. As a therapist myself, it challenged me greatly that despite all of my training, I couldn’t seem to find the strength to pull myself out of the black hole. It was at this time, during our largely wakeful nights, that I downloaded Instagram. I scrolled mindlessly through images of happy mothers, seemingly thriving newborns with scrumptious chubby legs. I compared their lives to my grey eyed, constantly crying (him and me), chronically sleep deprived (him and me) existence, and the sense of failure felt even greater. With my first, I felt like I was winging it. With my second, I felt like I couldn’t put a single, faltering step right.

I made it through, and the key to that was the moment that I couldn’t hold up the pretence any longer. It was the moment I put my hands up and said #ThisIsParenthood for me. This is MY parenthood. And I found that my openness inspired the openness of others, and suddenly, I wasn’t alone anymore. And that changed everything.

So, I’ll share the words I shared at the breakfast. Why do we often feel like we’re failing? And what do we do about it?

 

Why?

Why do we often feel like we’re not enough? Why do we get so drawn into the half-stories of other people’s portrayal of their parenting experiences and feel led to believe that in comparison, we’re not doing quite so well?

From the conversations we had around the breakfast table at the brunch, I was so reminded of the truth that we’re all just trying to do our best at this parenthood lark, yet we all feel like we’re failing. Why? Expressions like ‘I hated myself for working’, ‘mum guilt’, ‘mummy fail’, ‘helpless’ were thrown around under pictures of our plates of pancakes and greek yogurt, as if they were permanent fixtures of our vocabulary. Are we really failing? Or are we just trying our best but being insanely hard on ourselves?

We are hardwired to compare ourselves with what we see in others. If we don’t have an inbuilt belief that we are ‘enough’ as parents, then we will naturally look outside of ourselves to get a measure of how we are doing. The issue is, what we see around us is often isn’t the full truth. We compare our behind the scenes, with what other people curate and share of their lives. If I compare my wobbly morning with someone’s #blessed photo of a serene breakfast with spotless kids, of course I’m going to find myself lacking. We so easily see other people’s snapshots and assume that that’s how their life is.

I remember that during one of my hardest parenting times, I strolled down the street pushing a double buggy towards a playgroup, wearing super-sized sunglasses in the blazing July heat. Any onlooker might have thought ‘Wow, look at that mum of two small children. She’s smashing it!’ The reality was that my glasses hid my tear-stained eyes, and nobody witnessed the conversation I’d had with my husband moments before. As I sat on my kitchen floor with two screaming children, I told him that ‘I can’t do this’. I meant it.

If we’re all in the same boat, how can we make sure that we stop feeling like we’re sailing alone? I’m going to share three tips that could shift this for ourselves. Because, really #ThisIsParenthood. It’s brilliant, and hard, and messy and wonderful.

 

What now?

Openness

Openness inspires openness. I remember meeting with my antenatal friends. The first time someone said that they were finding it hard, or arguing with their husbands over night feeds, or finding the bonding a struggle…it opened up a conversation. Sometimes there was an actual visible air of relief as people started to talk about the not-so-fun, challenging parts of parenting. One person’s disclosure gave the rest of us permission to share our true experiences.

Take little risks of openness. Be the conversation starter if you can. I always encourage my therapy clients to engage with at least two friends, family members or professionals who understand the reality of their circumstances. Talk to those who have a history of being kind and understanding towards you. It can feel challenging to start the conversation at first, but it gets easier, and often it inspires others to open up too.

 

So often, we fear that if we portray anything other than the highlights, we’d become a burden to people. Think of how honoured and how much closer to someone you feel when they open up to you! It’s an acceptance of love and friendship, and you’re just as worthy of the support of others as they are of yours.

 

Accepting support

Ask for help where you need it. Whether it’s practical, emotional, professional, online, offline, paid, unpaid. Asking for and accepting support is a statement of worth. You have to believe that you’re worth the support of others, which is why I encourage people to take little steps with this. It gets easier. It’s vital to thriving. Sometimes it really does take a village.

 

Self-care

Self-care is important. It’s not always about the huge gestures – the manicures, the long workouts, the massages. It’s also about attending to and meeting your basic needs. Listen to your body, look after it when you’re hungry. Drink water, get an early night when you can. It’s the little gestures that build up your self-worth. You wouldn’t let your child go hungry or thirsty, because you value their needs. You also need to value yours.

Self-care isn’t selfish. It’s about fuelling the car and respecting that it can’t function if it’s empty. Neither can you. I used to feel that self-care was indulgent and I didn’t feel worth it. Now I can clearly see how my family fully benefits from me not being burnt out and resentful of anyone who gets to pee alone!

 

So.

#ThisIsParenthood: it’s a wild ride, but we’re in it together. We really are. Sometimes it might feel like we aren’t and it might look like we’re the only ones covered in baby goo, with bags under our eyes, but we are not alone. The more shoulders we find to lean on, people that we can share the highs and the lows with regardless of how different their experience may be, and the more we talk openly about the realities of OUR parenthood journey, the more we will start feeling part of something bigger.

I’ve shared my #ThisIsParenthood story on Instagram. Have a search of the hashtag on Facebook and Instagram, and join in the project!

“I don’t want a boy” – The secret shame of gender preference

I met a girl in the park on a lunch-break walk one day during my first pregnancy. I was feeling the wrath of the hormones and was wrapped up in a straining coat. She was pushing a double buggy, looking a bit knackered around the edges. She made some friendly small talk. ‘When are you due? Is it your first? Are you hoping for a boy or a girl?’

‘I don’t want a boy’. My mood stripped me of the ability to spit out a more socially acceptable response. Her eyes widened and I held my breath in shock of what I’d just said. We chatted awkwardly and then parted ways. How dare I want a girl, when so many people don’t even get a baby at all?

Whether you were or are hoping for a certain gender like me, or didn’t mind at all, gender disappointment is common. A quick Internet search reveals anonymous forum threads on the ‘secret shame’ of gender preference, and even sonographers and midwives will admit they’ve seen tears shed over gender reveals.

I’m so aware of the devastating stories of friends who have lost babies. So, of course, a healthy baby is what we yearn for above all else, right? However, this often means that any hint of gender preference get cast as ‘selfish and shameful’. It’s good to seek perspective, but it’s not good to silence feelings with comparison because then they will never be understood. It’s far more useful to explore where feelings of gender disappointment are rooted, as they are attached to real stories and explanations.

As a Psychotherapist with a passion for tacking taboo topics around motherhood, I made it a mission to get to the bottom of this shameful gender preference I felt. I wanted to understand why I had this aching desire for a girl. If I’m honest, many of my close male family relationships have been somewhat dysfunctional. I think I had a deep-seated fear that if I were to have a son, there would be a painful disconnection and that when he grew old enough, he would reject me too. In addition, my relationship with my mum has been one of the most positive ones in my life. So, I feared that I would fail to relate to a boy in the way that I would a girl.

I realised that in my mind, I had assumed that a daughter would enjoy the same things I did. But when glancing back at my childhood, I recall how my sister played ‘army’ with my brother in the woods, dressed in my Uncle’s old military camouflage, Meanwhile I played with dolls and covered the carpet with glitter glue in the company of Mum. Perhaps my heart yearned for a mini-me, but no girl would replicate the relationship I had with my mum.

Weeks later I went for my scan to be told that we were having a boy! We watched his little thumb sucking, alien like form. My heart sunk into my flip-flops with a huge, guilty kerplunk. I stuck on a smile, you know the one where your eyes don’t quite get the memo? I wanted to prove to the sonographer and my husband that I was a good, happy Mum. Slowly, my disappointment ebbed away and I began to daydream again, with a cheeky boy in place of the girl I’d longed for. By the time I swept Oscar out of the birthing pool, the sense of disappointment felt nothing but a shameful memory, replaced by adoration.

The second time around, crippling morning sickness led everyone to proclaim ‘it must be a girl this time’. However, back in the sonographer’s room covered in cold jelly, she pointed out the very clear boy parts. We laughed so much in shock that she struggled to continue her checks. I grinned at the joy of another healthy baby, but on arriving at a friend’s house, she gave me a huge hug and my eyes welled up. I flicked the tears away and stole a look in the mirror to ensure no mascara trail would give away that flash of grief. I may never have a daughter.

So now I have my two boys and my house is littered with miniature drills and footballs. I thought I knew what I wanted, but I got what I needed. These budding relationships have been healing in ways they will never understand

If you have a gender preference, consider the assumptions or fears that you might be harbouring as it helps so much to acknowledge them. Sometimes it’s necessary to have a grieving process for what may not be. This is okay and it is healthy! We can live out a life in our mind, projecting ourselves ahead to certain scenarios, painting an elaborate picture coloured with a desire to relive a past we loved, or a wish to do something differently to our own childhood experience.

Often, gender disappointment fades away quickly, at first sight of your wrinkled tot, or maybe as bonding deepens. But if there are continuing feelings that would benefit from some further thinking, then do so in therapy or with someone supportive. It might just be that you need to do a little more gentle exploration of the root cause of these feelings (like I did) in order to break free from that unnecessary feeling of shame or guilt.

Before I finish, I want to highlight in neon orange streaks the fact that it’s normal to have a gender preference. It’s the silence and the taboo that balloon it into a guilty secret. We all have our stories, histories and reasons, and some of them just take a little more making sense of than others. You’re not bad or mad you’re normal.

And you know what the funny thing is? As I write this, I’m currently pregnant with a girl! I was fully expecting to be a mum of boys. That’s my comfort zone now! I’m heading into unknown territory!

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.

 

 

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