Interview with Laura Wood – author of Love and the Loss of the Early Weeks

Hi Laura, and thank you so much for your piece on the difficulties of maternal bonding. What would you say to parents who feel that the bonding problems in the early days have caused irreparable damage to the relationship with their child?

 – You’re welcome. I hope it’s helpful to someone. I would say that it is never too late, and I would encourage them to find ways to have lovely moments with their child/children and build relationship now. Some ideas might be “love bombing”, which is essentially taking time out with your child to give them your undivided attention and allowing them to pick the activity, or having a think about the five “love languages” (words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, quality time, physical touch) as we all give and receive love in different ways. 

You talk about being unable to preserve the non-physical memories of your son; have you come up with any creative ways of keeping memories?

– I’m a bit of a hoarder by nature so have to be strict with myself but I’ll definitely keep some sentimental objects. I try to remember to video him occasionally. I recorded his laugh and created a waveform-style image which is now a tattoo on my wrist. Ultimately, though, some things are fleeting and irretrievable and we have to come to terms with that. I will lose my baby boy but hopefully I’ll get a nice young man in his place who will bring me breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day!

I know exactly what you mean when you say that you don’t know where he ends and you begin, but how do you go about distancing yourself when you need a bit of “me time”?

– I am fortunate to be able to hand him over to my husband or now to a childminder two days a week as I am back at work part-time. I do struggle, though, not to constantly supervise someone supervising my child! It helps to get far enough away that I can’t hear him.

What kind of support was offered to you after your son’s traumatic birth? Did you feel you got the help you needed?

– Not really. I was offered a birth debrief but it wasn’t very helpful because the notes were out of chronological order, giving a confused picture, because I was not in any mental state to absorb and process so much new information coming at me so quickly, and because it felt like a bit of an exercise in ensuring that I didn’t sue them! I am planning to go through the notes again more slowly and carefully with someone impartial so that I can put the whole thing to rest a bit.

How did your partner cope with bonding with your son?

He was also quite shell-shocked initially but they adore one another now. He’s a great dad, very hands-on, but their relationship is very different to my relationship with my son. I think he sees his dad as primarily for making him laugh and rough-and-tumble mucking about, while I’m the main source of comfort. Relationships are probably more simplistic when you’re thirteen months old!

And finally, what is you and your son’s favourite activity?

That’s a good question. Is cuddling an activity? We cuddle a lot. We build with Duplo. We go to the library. He grows and changes, and his preferences develop, so quickly that I find myself having to constantly adapt. I also find that our time is sort of dominated by household chores or by my being exhausted, which is far from ideal but I’m sure many PND mums will empathise. Bedtime is a very special time for us, though, as I unashamedly rock, cuddle, sing and feed him to sleep, and we have some beautiful moments then.

Love and the Loss of the Early Weeks – by Laura Wood

This post is a continuation of a post I wrote back in January: ‘A Rush of Love: Maternal Bonding in Difficult Times.’ I discussed the difficulties that birth trauma and postnatal depression can cause with bonding, and did cause for us, and how we overcame those difficulties. I also referred to the requirements for bonding as laid out by the theory of attachment parenting and how bonding is entirely possible without adhering to them. The post was intended to bring hope to those struggling with these issues. Now I would like to discuss the difficulties that can arise after bonding, when the mother-child relationship has previously been damaged by birth trauma and postnatal depression. Bonding is a part of recovery but it does not fix postnatal depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. In fact, it brings its own problems, but that does not make it less essential or less wonderful.

My son is 13 months old now and we are as thick as thieves. And the thing is: now I know. Now I know what we missed in those early months. Those months are irretrievable. We can’t do them again. I see photos of my son as a newborn and I don’t recognise him. He was so beautiful and I don’t know how I didn’t see it at the time. He is still beautiful. It makes what remains of babyhood – or toddlerhood – even more precious. I am always snapping photos of him but I cannot preserve the way his hair smells after a bath or the way he leans into me. I cannot keep him small.

I am his safety. The privilege of that takes my breath away. When he is distressed and I hold him in my arms, his whole body relaxes. When he is tired or ill or upset, no one else will do. There is a saying that having a child is like having your heart walking around outside your body, and it’s true. Sometimes I struggle to negotiate where he ends and I begin. I feel what he feels. I consider myself an empathetic person, but motherhood takes it to a whole new level.

I cannot help but weep for what it must have been like for him, both the birth itself and afterwards. How must it have felt to be wedged there inside me and slammed into my pelvis over and over as I pushed and pushed for hours on end. How those forceps gripped his little face and pulled him to no avail. The hurried caesarean, and his first moments: away from my smell and my warmth, medical staff in latex gloves and I don’t know what tests. He should have been snuggled on my chest. I should have been the one to feed him and dress him in his little hand-knits when we were done cuddling. It wasn’t as it should have been and he must have suffered.

I must have been aware on some level because, two days after his birth, I announced that I had read that skin-to-skin was a good thing and we were going to do skin-to-skin now. My husband closed the hospital curtains and I stripped our son to his nappy, and I held my baby on my chest. I felt nothing at all. I hope he didn’t pick up on that. I hope it helped him. In the following weeks, I hope he didn’t know that I was not really present as I went through the motions of caring for him. I will always feel the loss of those weeks but I hope that my physical presence was enough. I hope that my smiles sufficed and he didn’t see the deadness in my eyes.

The important thing, though, is now. Ultimately, the past is gone and we must make the best of the present. Even when my mental health is bad, on the days when I feel like hell, I do cherish every day.

You can read more about Laura’s experience by visiting her blog: http://www.keepingiteclectic.co.uk

Interview with Rachel Kowalski: author of Postnatal Anxiety – My Experience

Hi Rachel! Thank you for sharing your experience with us! It’s clear that your writing has already helped many women – what kind of feedback have you received regarding your blog about postnatal anxiety?

I have received some really lovely feedback. As we know, post natal anxiety and depression can still be a taboo subject so I think people are grateful to read about other peoples experiences. I know I am. I hope that people in the same position as me can take some comfort knowing they aren’t alone as it can all feel so isolating.

I’m a big advocate of meditation as a way of combating anxiety. Can you recommend any specific guided relaxation recordings to our readers?

I use the meditation recordings that came with the Charles Linden method pack that I used in the first stages of recovery. Those worked really well for me and I would really recommend his programme. I use a lot of relaxing music that is on YouTube too to help me to get to sleep.

You write that you like to log off from social media sites one night a week, how does it make you feel to do this?

As I am a blogger removing yourself from the Internet can be quite daunting, even before I blogged I think I would have found it a bit strange! However, it is really refreshing and helps to clear my mind a lot. I find if I look at social media before sleep that can also hinder a good night’s sleep. As I say, it is a bit strange but I would highly recommend.

What kind of negative impact do you think social media has on those suffering from anxiety, particularly postnatal anxiety?

I think social media can be great for people suffering from post natal anxiety because if you can find other people in the same position it can really help to feel less alone. There is a big ‘but’ though. When you log onto social media and are met with a feed full of perfect family photos, tantrum-less toddlers, blissful sleeping babies and happy smiley made up mums it can really get to you and I know it made me wonder what I was doing wrong and why we didn’t look like that on a daily basis. The important thing to remember is these photos are a tiny snapshot of someone’s day. That toddler could have had a complete melt down straight after the photo, that baby could have only been asleep for 5 minutes and that mum, well it’s probably 2 in the afternoon and she’s only just managed to shower. She’s probably put make up on to help her feel normal. Photos are a great way of catching memories and we all like to put them on our Facebook, Twitter & Instagram pages but we must never compare ourselves with these photos as they are not an accurate picture of parenthood.

Your “Recipe for Relaxation” sounds very similar to mine. How can our readers go about establishing their own “Rachel Night”?

Do what makes you happy. Forget what you think you should be doing or what other people tell you. If you enjoy reading, pick up a book. If you enjoy a bath, run one. Find that little bit of time for yourself each week and it really will help you relax and dampen the anxious thoughts.

And finally, tell us, what’s your favourite treat?

I think it would have to be, a relaxing night in my bedroom reading a good book with some chocolate. You can’t beat it.

Thank you Rachel for sharing your experience with us,  and also some words of wisdom for our readers.  Now, I’m off to find some choc… 🙂

Check out Rachel’s blog for more advice concerning postnatal anxiety: http://www.mummyintraining.co.uk

And for more information about perinatal illness, please take a look at the PANDAS website: http://www.pandasfoundation.org.uk

Postnatal Anxiety – My Experince by Rachel Kowalski

Before I start this post, I don’t claim to know anything about post-natal anxiety from a medical background, I just wanted to tell you about my experiences.

26th January 2012 was the day that I found out I was pregnant, the day I had been waiting for since marrying G in 2010. We had been trying for 2 years to have a baby and until that date nothing had happened. I have wanted to be a Mummy since I can remember, I loved having a career but in my heart of hearts having a family of my own was the most important thing to me. I enjoyed pregnancy (as much as you can) and like many other Mums had quite a difficult birth but we all came out of it okay and with a perfect baby boy who we named Sam.

We bought him home and I felt in total bliss. I had similar worries to a lot of new Mums; wondered why I couldn’t grasp this breastfeeding lark, over thought whether he was sleeping enough, eating enough but after a few weeks everything settled down and I loved my little bubble that I had with my newborn. It is important for me to say in this blog that G works away Monday to Thursday/Friday every week so when he finished his paternity leave, he didn’t just leave us for the day on that Monday morning he left us for a week. My Mum came and helped loads in the first few weeks, bringing me dinner and holding Sam so I could eat it. But as everyone (including me) settled down, Sam and I spent more and more time on our own as is normal in the day. It was the evenings that started to become difficult, G being away had never bothered me before we had Sam, I would go out and visit friends and relish evenings to myself in front of the TV in my pyjamas. Now things were different, once Sam was sleeping through there became this big period of time where I was on my own and then maybe a day of just me and him followed. I think this was where it all started.

When Sam was about 4 months old, I started to avoid going out with him on my own, it became a bit of a fear. Thoughts would race through my mind about what would I do if he cried or needed a nappy change or was sick everywhere. Even with good intentions I would have talked myself out of any outing by lunchtime. Then G would come home and I would feel OK. I brushed these feelings off as the baby blues. Bad idea. It escalated from there really, even going out with G and Sam started to make me feel anxious. Being on my own at home with Sam made me feel anxious. People coming over made me feel anxious. Everything made me anxious! The key thing here is I didn’t know then that I was feeling anxious, I didn’t understand it, I had periods of dizziness which I now know were from hyperventilating and horrendous headaches which I now know were tension headaches.For a while things really did get a bit out of control and we struggled to cope with what was happening to me.  By this time I was back at work too and would plough through a day at work feeling terrible and worrying about picking up Sam in time. I googled how I felt one night and all my symptoms seemed to match with anxiety so I finally plucked up the courage to go and see my GP, they put me on the list for CBT counselling but unfortunately it was a long waiting list. While I was waiting I decided that I could either let this beat me or fight it. I decided to fight. I looked up all sorts of ways to get it under control; breathing exercises, relaxation techniques but nothing really hit the spot until I stumbled over the Linden Method. I cannot recommend this method enough, I ordered all the resources and worked my way through it. Within weeks I felt I had it all under control. I learnt that I needed to change the way my brain was working. By this time my anxiety was more of a habit than anything else, I was much more confident taking Sam out and I enjoyed our days on our own but the anxiety was always there. The Linden Method taught me was how to face the anxiety feeling when it came over me, the more I faced it the more it sort of just disappeared.

All of this stretched over around an 18 month period and now I can safely say I have it under control. I’m not completely anxiety free but when it does come, I have it under control within seconds. I think it is safe to say things are on the up.

When starting my blog I felt it was very important to address this issue. There has been a lot in the media recently about post-natal depression but barely anything about post-natal anxiety and there is a difference. Any Mums out there who are feeling now like I was then please please go and see your GP or talk to your loved ones at least. I didn’t tell anyone except my husband and closest friends for a long time. I was ashamed that after all the talking I had done about wanting to be a Mum I wasn’t enjoying it one little bit and I was struggling. Slowly but surely we started to explain to people why I had been so quiet and although most people didn’t claim to understand it they were really supportive.The changes that we go through when we have a baby are huge and some of us just need a bit more time adjusting than others. I can honestly say I love being a Mummy now and it is exactly how I imagined. It does upset me to look back and realise how poorly I really was but I got through it and it is okay not to be okay all of the time. I hope that when the time comes that we decide to have a second child I will be equipped to notice any signs of the anxiety coming back before it can do any damage.

I am sorry that this is long but I wanted to tell my story, just in-case there is one Mummy out there that has stumbled upon this blog and feels the same as I did. Nip it in the bud, see your GP, talk to your loved ones, look up The Linden Method but above all face it. It doesn’t make you weak, a bad mum or many of the other things that I know went through my head at the time.

We all need a bit of help sometimes.

Have a great week!

Written by Rachel Kowalski – discover more by visiting her blog at http://mummyintraining.co.uk

Interview with Alex, author of Life After NICU: PTSD

Hi Alex, thanks for sharing such an honest and open account of your experience of pregnancy and childbirth.  It must have been so difficult to keep going when so much was happening to you and your family, what gave you the strength to carry on?
I found the strength to carry on because of the love I felt for both my partner and for my son. I could see that my struggles were having an impact on my partner, and he was unsure of what to do or say to help me. I knew that after all that my son had been through he needed his Mummy more than ever, and I needed to be as healthy as possible. And to be honest…I missed the old me. 
Aside from CBT and your thought diary, was there anything else you did for therapy? (I.e. art, online education courses, meditation)
Aside from CBT and my thought diary, my own personal form of therapy was writing poetry. I regularly sat down and just let my thoughts turn into scribbles on a paper about all sorts of topics involving my son, I.e little milestones be had reached in NICU. I also found that keeping his baby book as up to date as possible was a lovely way of cementing that bond if I was ever questioning it. 
What advice do you have for any of our PANDAs who are in the midst of PTSD?
The advice I would give to any PANDA member suffering with PTSD, would be to not punish yourself. It doesn’t make you weak. PTSD is usually as a result of an event that nobody should ever have to experience in their lifetime. It is a natural response. Don’t hate yourself, and believe that you will get past this. Set mini goals everyday….even if it is as simple as putting the bin out on your own or walking to the shops. Don’t try and run before you can walk. 
What advice would you give to someone who suspects they might be experiencing abnormal levels of anxiety?
If anyone suspects they are suffering from extreme anxiety, I advice them to make a note of when and where these episodes happen…in an attempt to find a pattern. Don’t think you are going crazy. Seek help, as its a lot more common than you might realise. Talk to your GP, that first step is a huge one but it will put you on the track to recovery. 
How did PANDAS help you?
The PANDAS online support group was of massive help to me. I had nowhere to turn, and like many others I didn’t want to burden my family and friends. I wanted to maintain that strong front I had mastered. I could speak to others going through the same ordeal as myself, without fear of judgement . The volunteers even took time out of their busy lives to message me privately if I was ever having a bad day. 
And finally, what positives, if any, have you and your partner taken from your experience?
The main positive that we have got from my experience is that we will never take for granted a single moment with our son, as we know how hard we all fought for this family unit. 
Many thanks Alex for sharing your story with us.  Your courage, strength and bravery truly is astounding.
If anyone would like any support or advice from the PANDAS Foundation, please take a look at the PANDAS website for the best way to get in touch: http://www.pandasfoundation.org.uk/how-we-can-help.html
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Life After NICU: PTSD by Alex

Pregnancy. Labour. Motherhood. Every word fills you with hopes, dreams and expectations of what your experience is going to be like. When plans go off the rails in a spectacular fashion, it will be a challenge ensuring that you don’t too.

November 13th 2013, the day that changed mine and my partners lives forever when we found out that we were expecting our first child. Like every Mummy and Daddy we were a mixture of excitement and terror all rolled into one! We stocked up on pregnancy books, vitamins and started thinking about baby names. But that all changed at 8 weeks pregnant…

I began bleeding heavily. Suddenly the questions of “would we have a boy or a girl/who would they look like”, were replaced with “was I miscarrying/was our baby going to survive?”. The hospital thought I had a uterine abnormality, which would subsequently significantly raise the chance of miscarriage, late miscarriage, still birth and premature birth. From that moment on, the fun and excitement of pregnancy was snatched away and would never come back…and was replaced with anxiety and fear. I will forever be bitter about that.

The pregnancy progressed slowly but surely, and it seemed that every appointment threw up another problem and worry to contend with. At 20 weeks I was diagnosed with hydroenpherosis , swelling of the kidneys. And at 26 weeks we were told that our baby was significantly smaller than he should be, and wasn’t even reading on the chart. Growth scans were arranged and we just hoped and prayed that our little one would grow bigger and stronger as time went on.

15th May 2014. At 29+6 weeks pregnant, our little man went quiet. I didn’t feel a single kick or movement for over 12 hours. I found myself in denial…he would be fine in another hour. The hours ticked by and by 11pm my partner was urging me to get checked out. So off to the hospital we went.

We can’t have been there any more than an hour and it soon became apparent that this was an emergency. Our little man’s heart rate was ominous, slowing down to virtually nothing, he had reduced liquor and was diagnosed as having IUGR. He was dying inside of me. We were rushed to theatre, where I was to have an emergency caesarean.

May 16th, at 1.49am our gorgeous little boy entered the world. I felt numb. This wasn’t how we had dreamt it. Daddy didn’t cut the cord, Mummy didn’t get first cuddles and first nurse. Instead we had the haunting silence. Our son was being rescuscitated. In those moments I prayed harder than I ever had in my life, to Jesus, Allah, Buddha…anyone who would listen to me. Our boy just couldn’t die.

After what felt like an eternity, we were able to have a glimpse of our little boy before he was whisked away to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). I was a broken woman. One moment I was pregnant and the next I had my baby ripped away from me, along with all of our hopes and dreams of our perfect delivery. I couldn’t keep him safe anymore, like his Mummy should be able to do.

I was taken to a ward full of mothers and their babies. All around me I watched as mothers nursed their little ones, when all I had was a breast pump- which I would chain myself to for the next four months. I felt as though others were looking at me, and judging…”what has she done wrong”. My arms were physically aching to hold our son, knowing that instead he was curled up in a little box all frightened and alone without his Mummy. I cried until I had no tears left.

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12 hours later we were able to see and hold our son properly for the first time in his life. My reaction shocked me to the core. All the bleeps and whistles, the heat from the incubators, the blue lights from the UV machines…it was overwhelming. I looked at our tiny 2lb 15oz son, tracking all the wires and tubes coming in and out of his fragile little body. His chest heaving for breath, his little face wincing in pain.

As the nurse placed our son on my chest I was petrified. My hand was the size of his tiny little torso, his eyes were almost fused shut. He should have still been inside of his Mummy, all safe and warm. What if he hated me? Or worse…what if he didn’t even know I was his Mummy anymore? I felt like I had failed before I had even begun, and that our Mother-Son bond was shattered beyond repair.

Looking back now, I know that subconsciously I was scared of becoming too close to our son out of fear of losing him in the early days. But at the time I felt like a monster. I felt like running away, pretending that none of this was happening , starting all over again…and this time I would do it right. I wanted to curl up in bed and shut out the world.

All I could do for our son was express breast milk for him, so I did this up to 10 times a day. It was the only thing that I could do that made me feel like a Mummy. Seeing doctors and nurses changing him, feeding him, looking after him, knocked my confidence as a mother. How was I supposed to be good enough to do all of these things? I had to ask permission to hold my own son.

It quickly became clear that I wasn’t coping at all. I was sad, I was angry, I was in denial…All in the same day most of the time. I looked at other families in envy of what they had. Walking out of the hospital doors with their babies, whilst we were camped out next to his incubator day after day. I dreaded going into that unit, it made me sick to my stomach just being there. I avoided holding my son, doing his cares and spent most of my time crying in the toilets.

Leaving our son every single night in that hospital full of strangers, has broken a piece of my heart to the point where it will never be the same again. Every night without fail I would hysterically break down in the car park, and felt physically ill thinking about him being all alone in pain wanting his Mummy and Daddy.

At home I would hear the sound of the monitors beeping and buzzing, I felt constantly on edge and unable to relax at all. I would lie in bed clutching my phone, petrified whenever the phone rang in case it was bad news.

My emotional heartbreak was also masking some serious physical problems I was experiencing post birth. With a dangerously high temperature and pulse I was rushed back into hospital, where I was diagnosed with a septic womb infection. If it had gone untreated for much longer I was told I would have experienced multiple organ failure. Another kick in the teeth for our family.

I had always suffered with low confidence for all of my life, but having an extremely premature baby rocked me to the core. After 7 long weeks our son was finally able to come home with us, and I thought that things would finally begin to get back to normal. With all of the free time now on my hands as a full time Mum, I began to process the enormity of what we had all been through as a family. How close we had come to losing him.

I knew almost straight away that things weren’t going to be as easy as I had hoped. I was constantly feeling sick with anxiety, having severe headaches, heart palpitations and was constantly sick with worry that our son was ill and that we could still lose him.

I was having horrible flashbacks and nightmares, and was constantly consumed and tortured by all of the what ifs? What if we hadn’t gone into hospital that night? Motherhood wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, all smiles and giggles like I thought it would be. I was hurting.

With the support of my partner, I sought help from my health visitor and GP. It was a massive step. As a new mother, like most, I had the pre conception that asking for help and admitting your struggling was a sign of weakness. That it made me a bad Mum. But now I know that it made me the best Mum I could be. My son, and my partner, deserved the best Mum and Fiancee possible, and at the time that was far from who I was.

I was referred for cognitive behavioural therapy, where I could talk through my thoughts and concerns with someone who wouldn’t judge me, and someone who would sympathise and understand. I kept a thought diary, a no holds barred account of my everyday life. I was diagnosed with post natal anxiety, low confidence and post traumatic stress disorder. It was by no means a quick fix, but was a massive step in the right direction.

Almost 10 months on from the birth of our son, I feel like pieces of the old me are coming back. I am by no means back to the old me, but I am slowly and surely accepting what happened to us all. I am now at peace with the premature arrival of our son, and accept that it was not as a result of a fault on my part. But, a piece of my heart will be broken forever at what we had to witness our son going through.

Worries about our Mother-Son have totally vanished. Our son is my little shadow, and he lights up my life every single day. I am so lucky that I had the inner strength and courage, and the support of my partner to seek help to ensure that I was the Mum that he deserved.

Motherhood is definitely not what I expected it to be. It is a massive rollercoaster, that I don’t think will ever end. If you are struggling, please speak out and seek help. No one will judge or think badly of you. Take time to heal, and regardless of what I once thought, super Mum just doesn’t exist and that’s ok. It is ok not to be ok.