Project Me by Hannah Tubb

My name is Hannah I suffered from post natal depression/anxiety and PTSD. My children are three and seven. I still suffer from anxiety. Sometimes I control it sometimes I can’t.
Sometimes I see a light at the end of the tunnel, sometimes I don’t.
I’ve had counselling- some has worked, some has not.
Sometimes I accept my life as it is and I’m grateful for what I have – sometimes I feel like I have a neon sign flashing over my head saying ‘crap mum’ ‘crap wife’ crap everything. This happens a lot. I wish it didn’t because I beat myself up for that as well!

Today I woke up with an overwhelming list of projects in my head that I have to complete or get started on.
My daughters birthday party and then a couple of days later her birthday,
A promotion at work and subsequent responsibilities.
A list of tasks that I need to get on top of in my various volunteering roles at PANDAS. And then there’s my ,ten-year-wedding-anniversary -spa-break-must-look-good-in-bikini’ stress!
The counselling course I’m planning for,
the yoga course I’d like to take,
the perfect organised housewife and baking, crafty, happy, stress-free mum I aspire to be.

My husband suggested I strip everything back to the absolute basics – but I want it all – so what are the basics?!
Besides, if I strip everything back won’t I just be failing at all the things I’ve dropped? I feel as though I’d be letting myself down and be seen as flaky – what is this obsession with wanting to be seen as someone who is busy all the time? because I might be busy but I’m spreading my self so thin that I don’t feel like I’m actually succeeding at any one thing!
So, today I’m starting a new project.  Project ME!
I’m going to strip everything back to the basics – my family, me and work (because I have to).
I need to work on my foundations again before I can start building on top of them.
I need to work out what makes ME happy, (and that means ME not what I do because I want to be seen in a certain way by others.)I have lived my life like that for so long I think it will be hard to prize the two apart.
So, that is my first task for project ME – make a list of things I love doing, and make time for those things!
What things would you add to your list?
To be continued . . .

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My Story by Carly Richardson

Before I start I have to say how happy but nervous..scared and emotional I was about sharing my story. Its something that has all been locked up in a box at the back of my head for so long now I almost don’t think about it anymore. But I think that if just one person can gain something from reading this, then it’s absolutely worth me emptying that box at the back of my head again and throwing it all onto paper. Here goes!

I guess I should start back in 2012 when I was pregnant with our 2nd son. It was a very straight forward pregnancy in most ways, I worked through it upto about 35 weeks when I planned to take maternity leave early to spend some time with our first son who was 2 at the time. My job had become everything prior to this, I had started a new job in late 2010 and had totally thrown myself into it working 5 days a week full time. When I went onto MAT leave though things just didn’t feel ‘right’. I suddenly didn’t feel any excitement about anything, whether it be preparing for the new baby or spending time with my son in the lead up to the birth. I also started to have trouble sleeping which really wound me up because I love my sleep! Things took a rough turn when I happened to read a news article about a lady who had developed psychosis and killed her 2 babies. I was absolubtly devastated by the story and before I knew it I had become obsessive about it. I was looking for it on the internet, watching the news stories about it and thinking about it all the time. All I could think was ‘what if that happens to me’? ‘she’s had her 2nd baby which I’m about to do, so its bound to happen to me too’.  Before I knew it I had totally become consumed by this poor lady’s nightmare and terrified myself with the thought it could happen to me too.

From here things deteriorated fast. I woke up one night from a nightmare in sheer panic, crying and sweating totally terrified I would lose my mind and kill my son. I woke my husband who was completely taken aback, as up to now I had hidden all of this from everyone and kept it to myself. I told him my fears and he tried his best to assure me I would not hurt my son or our unborn baby, it was just a nightmare that had really got to me. I went back to sleep for a while hoping I would wake up feeling better, which I did for a period. I woke up feeling okay and tried to do the day as normal, my husband went off to work and I set off to nursery with our son. All I could think though on the journey was ‘what if I deliberately crash the car to kill us both’, what if I lose my mind on the way to nursery’. I managed to drop him off, but on the way back home it got too much and i drove straight to our doctors surgery. I didn’t have an appointment, I was just desperate for a medical professional to tell me I was okay and I wasn’t crazy. I remember trying to keep calm but before I’d reached reception I broke down in tears. I said to the receptionist through my tears and snot that I needed to see a doctor as soon as possible, could she please help me. She looked me up and down (I was 37 weeks pregnant at this point) and said ‘come back in an hour and we will fit you in’. And that was it. No warmth, no compassion, nothing. I often think if I had been that receptionist could I have spoken to a clearly terrified heavily pregnant lady the way she did? No, never in a million years! So off I went back home for an hour, stupidly I didn’t even phone my hubby to tell him, I just led on the bed and cried until I had to go back to the surgery.

I was seen after about an hour of nervous nail biting and trying to keep the tears at bay in the waiting room. I sat down with the GP who was male locum doctor I had never met before. I immediately burst into tears and broke down in front of him. He just stared at me and didn’t say a word. He told me he thought I had depression, but because I wasn’t suicidal it wasn’t severe depression. I begged him to help me, I don’t know what kind of help I was really looking for I just wanted him to say it would be okay and possibly give me a magic pill to take the pain away. I also said I was not sleeping but his reply to that was ‘you’ll sleep eventually’. The only outcome was an appointment with the midwife as she may be able to suggest some relaxation techniques. He then went onto inform me that although he had dealt with depression and pregnancy before as separate things, he had never dealt with them together. Wow, thanks for that! That didn’t make me feel worse at all…

I told my hubby what had happened and he came home from work. He was totally bemused and angry at the way the GP had treated me. He came with me to the midwife appointment and explained to her what had been happening (I was so upset I couldn’t even speak). She came to the conclusion I was just experiencing some anxiety in the lead up to the birth and she would put me in touch with the Surestart Centre’s befriending team so they could help me once the baby arrived. Totally not what I wanted to hear, I just wanted her to say it would be okay too, but of course she didn’t. At this point I had not told anyone but my husband about the scary thoughts I had been having about my son. That night was another sleepless one, so the next day my hubby phoned the docs and told them we needed an appointment immediately. Off we went and saw Mr Compassionate again. This time I felt so much worse and was so much more sleep deprived that I told him about the scary thoughts and said I just wanted the baby out so he could be taken away from me and kept safe. He decided I needed to be seen by the emergency mental health team, so I should go home and wait for a phone call from them. I’m pretty sure that day was the longest day of my life. I wasn’t eating either so felt like utter crap. I remember my husband trying to take my mind off things so suggested we watch the Inbetweeners Movie on DVD…needless to say I couldn’t even stifle a laugh! No phone call came either so I was in total limbo and my anxiety became worse as I was convinced they would section me. I also asked my husband to never leave me alone with my son in case I hurt him. He tried his upmost to convince me that would never happen but I was not for listening.

Finally the next day a phone call came..but not that one I was waiting for. It was a social worker from the child protection team about a report from my GP over thoughts of harming my child. Her exact words to me on the phone were ‘do you have plans to kill your son’? I insisted that no i didn’t have any plans to do that, I was just terrified of the ‘what if’ that happened. She seemed satisfied and that was that. Until the next day a card was popped through the door saying ‘social services have visited. Please phone us urgently.’ Friday night; this was at 6pm. So I spent the full weekend in trauma over this horrible horrible card we had received. In the meantime the mental health team came out and helped me immensely. They were actually a little confused as to why they had been called, as they said it was clear i was suffering from severe anxiety. Just to be told what was happening to me was a huge relief. I got through the weekend pretty well, we went out for the day and I did feel an awful lot better, but still had the feeling of dread about the baby being born. They referred me to a psychiatrist who prescribed anti depressants and some diazepam for the really tough times. He also said id be referred for CBT.

When I spoke to social services they said they had called round to do a home visit due to the report from my gp. We arranged for them to come back the next day. Needless to say neither I or my hubby got any sleep that night. Although he didn’t say it, i could tell he was as frightened as I was at the mention of social services being involved. The social worker arrived 2 hours late for the appointment and said he was there just to follow up the report and see if they could offer me any support. He said he was very satisfied my son was happy and well cared for, he even apologised for any distress caused. What did piss me off though was his parting comment to me ‘you stopped watching the news now then after all this’? Yes, I had stopped watching the news, but was I still terrified that I would have the baby and possibly kill him too? Yes, absolutely.

Skip a day and unbelievably I had given birth to a healthy baby boy weighing 6 lb 4 oz. I had gone into labour spontaneously at 38weeks the day after the social workers visit. I absolutely believe that he came early to help his mummy out. I have a faith in God and I prayed everyday for it all to be over and in some ways my prayer was answered as he came early and very quickly, which was the best thing for me at that time I think, as a difficult delivery may have pushed me over the edge. I was only just on anti depressants at this point, so they had not kicked in fully when I delivered. I had hoped to go home straight away but they had to keep me for one night due to thick meconium during delivery. I was still very scared of being on my own, so to be left at hospital with our newborn was terrifying as my hubby wasn’t allowed to stay with me. I remember staying awake all night just sweating and panicking that we would get home and I would smother him. I don’t know where that came from but it was a very intense fear really scared me. We got home and the first few weeks were tough. I thought about packing my bags and leaving at one point. Just disappearing on my own and leaving the boys with my husband, as the scary thoughts were destroying me and I didn’t understand how I could have such thoughts regarding my own children. We muddled through, with me actually coping really well with hindsight. I was very emotional but I was getting through and slowly starting to feel a bit more like myself.

Before we knew it, our newborn was 10 months old and I was still taking the anti depressants, which had really taken the edge off the panic for me. As I had never experienced mental health problems before, I had no idea the length of time I should be taking them or when i should say i was ready to reduce the dose. I went for my review and saw a new gp. I told her I had been feeling okay so she told me to drop the dose. I remember being a bit wary but thinking well she knows best so i should do as she advises. Naive of me maybe, but I didn’t think it would get bad again, I thought I was ‘cured’. Obviously the reduced dose did nothing for me and I ended up back to square one with awful intrusive thoughts and just the feeling of sheer panic 24/7. Off my own back I went back upto 20mg of my tablets and went back to the gp to tell them I had done this. I saw yet another gp and he stressed the importance of going off my own feelings and listening to myself rather than others. By this point I had not yet heard anything regarding the CBT I had been referred for so I asked the GP only to be told there was no record of a referral on my file. He also asked me if I had been seen by the mental health team again about my postnatal depression. Postnatal depression?? I didn’t have that did I? This may be my own ignorance but I was genuinely taken aback as not one professional had told me i had PND. I thought that this was because i was put on the anti depressants before the baby was born, I was ‘safe’ from it and it wouldn’t occur. The gp told me i was always going to get it because I had prenatal depression. I was really taken aback, but at the same time relieved to have a name for how I was feeling rather than just being an anxious mother.

Not surprisingly I received a CBT referral letter within 2 days of that appointment. I was given a place in a fantastic group especially for mums with pnd. It was a 6 week cbt course with 2 other mums just like me. For the first time in a year i felt normal. The relief I felt from meeting other mums who also suffered with this awful illness was phenomenal. The therapist was an amazing lady who knew the subject of postnatal depression inside out. She was not phased at all by some of the irrational fears and thoughts I shared with her and made me feel like I could be myself again. I cannot recommend cbt enough, it gave me my life back.

That was 3 years ago and I have since had another baby in may 2015….ANOTHER boy! I still take my anti depressants and was so lucky to receive fantastic treatment this time under the care of the specialist mental health midwife. I have friends who understand me and a much greater knowledge about anxiety, depression and intrusive thoughts. They were my biggest battle and for so long made me think I was a bed person because I was having them. I now know that everyone had intrusive thoughts, even people who haven’t been diagnosed with a mental health problem. It was a lot to get my head around, but i now know that if i have a fleeting thought about throwing my son out of the window it DOES NOT mean I am going to do it. I am still on my journey to conquering my anxiety, but I am at peace with that now and try to control it without letting it control me. I want so much for womens mental health awareness to be given more attention. I know I have done a bit of GP bashing in this blog, but i now realise they only have a limited knowledge on mental health so are working with that they know. I just hope that if a woman walks into a GP surgery feeling how I felt, she will be given the information and resources to get on the road to recovery a lot quicker than i did. Never in a million years did i think i would now have 3 boys aged 5, 3 and 4 months and be muddling through as we are. We have some pretty crappy days (my middle son hid my car keys last week and I cried on the hallway floor out of sheer desperation to find them). Without the awful days I wouldn’t appreciate the great days where I’m feeling proud of myself for kicking PNDs arse and actually dropping my son to school on time. My husband is amazing and now seems to ‘get it’. He knows when im going through a bad spell and acts as the ears for listening to all my ‘what ifs’, which, don’t sound as scary when I say them out loud!

I hope you enjoyed reading this and gained some form of encouragement from it.

The Truth About Postnatal Depression and Anxiety by Sarah the Doula

Taken from https://sarahsdoulablog.wordpress.com/

I struggle with the concept of talking about my PND because I’m a doula, because there are a lot of people I’ve tried to hide it from, because I feel embarrassed, I feel guilty, and I don’t want to be that negative person everyone has on their friends list. But I’m human, and today is a bad day, so sometimes it’s refreshing to work with the raw emotions and go with it.
Today I sat in the bathroom with my partner after the school run and sobbed. I cried about the guilt, the hypothetical situations I might find myself in in the future, the double life I lead, the ‘what ifs?’, the heavy cloud that lives above my head and the realisation that the cloud is a part of me and it will always be there, weighing me down.

Nearly 7 years ago I was induced and gave birth to my son, then he turned 3. That’s all I remember. I missed 3 years. I remember parts, but I couldn’t tell you what his first words were, when he first rolled over, what his favourite food was, or what we did together. I feel guilty because when he asks me questions about his first few years I have to lie. I don’t have a book of firsts to show him and I don’t have pictures. I have a grey and hazy memory which seems like a dream, almost like life hadn’t started yet. The memories of nothing haunt me, they makes my gut ache and my throat tighten, I’m close to tears 90% of the time. My anxiety is still here, its a part of me now. I can’t function if there is a background noise, I am paranoid, I am delicate and I’m vulnerable. I need to take each day at a time, but so do most people right?

Somehow though, with the help of my family and my partner, I’ve managed to bring up a clever, inquisitive, confident young boy with an endearing and charismatic personality. He is loved by many, including myself, although it may not seem it some days. I would kill for that boy, I know I would. He is my boy, we just have to work a little harder together, which makes our relationship more special. He chose me to grow him and nurture him and thankfully, I haven’t broken him, which is a huge relief.
My blog hasn’t been published for self pity, or attention. It’s been published because PND and anxiety happens, because people need to talk about it, and because living with PND doesn’t mean you’re ‘mental’ or ‘unsafe’, it means the balance in your hormones aren’t quite right, or your circumstances aren’t easy. Go easy on yourself and reach out. You’ve ended up in the middle of nowhere and you don’t speak the language, but you’ll pick it up, it takes a while, but you’ll get there. So speak out, you won’t be the only one.

http://www.pandasfoundation.org.uk
http://www.pndsupport.co.uk
http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/postnatal-depression/

Bethany Smith on the Maternal Mental Health Conference 18/09/2015

On Friday 18th September I travelled to the University of Huddersfield to attend the Maternal Mental Health Conference. The audience was mainly made up of midwives, student midwives and people like myself who are interested in maternal mental health. I currently volunteer on the Pandas helpline and thought it would be a great opportunity to widen my knowledge of perinatal mental health and how it is approached from a healthcare professional’s point of view.

Although the conference was mainly aimed at healthcare professionals there were many points that I took away from the day that may be of interest to the lovely women and families who turn to Pandas for support. The following points are based on what I heard on the day and also from my own reflections.

Mia Scotland, clinical psychologist and author of ‘Why Perinatal Depression Matters’ made a number of really important points. She said that humans, unlike any other mammal, have a neocortex in the brain which allows us to have an imagination and facilitates conscious thoughts. As humans, we have the ability to think ahead and learn from the experiences of others which can be a good thing but it can also cause us complications. It can lead us to consider what could happen and ponder over the “what ifs?”, resulting in feelings of anxiety. We can often carry on stressful feelings even after the experience has passed, sometimes we don’t even have to experience anything to make us feel stressed.

Physical health and mental health are interconnected. Research in the past 10 years shows that physical health and mental health are linked. To improve mental health, you need to look after yourself physically. This can be done in a variety of ways such as being well rested, not just in terms of getting a good nights sleep but also recognise when you need time out. Go for a walk and get some fresh air or sit in a quiet room and read a book, whatever it is you enjoy doing for yourself then do it, even if it’s for 15-30 minutes a day. Click here to read Pandas information on self help.

Never feel like a failure. If you are currently suffering from a perinatal mental health illness, please understand that you are doing the best you can and it is not forever, it’s just something that you’re dealing with now. By being a part of a supportive community whether it is online or in person is a great way of meeting people who have shared similar experiences to you. 

Professional help is out there and you will not be judged in any way for confiding in a healthcare professional if you have concerns regarding your mental health. 

Change your language from negative to positive. Replace the impossible with the possible. We are programmed to be more receptive to negative thoughts than the positive ones but you have the ability to change this.

You know what your “normal” feels like better than anyone else, if you feel like you need additional support then don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Elaine Hanzak, author of ‘Another Twinkle in the Eye’ and ‘Eyes without Sparkle’ spoke about her experience of perinatal mental illness and how she survived it. Her book ‘Another Twinkle in the Eye’ addresses the challenges some women may feel when contemplating another pregnancy after having already suffered with postnatal depression. The book is released on 23rd September and may be an interesting read to those of you in a similar situation.

Overall the day was extremely insightful and it was inspiring to hear a number of brave women discuss their experiences of postnatal depression and other perinatal mental health illnesses. It was also reassuring to know that there are many healthcare professionals out there that are passionate about improving maternal mental health support and you are not alone in your journey.

Bethany Smith, student midwife (To-be hopefully!) and PANDAS volunteer.

The Great British…oh will you bugger off for one minute?? – by Catherine PANDAS

I’ve just sat down after a relatively lazy Sunday to find I have margarine smeared all over my jumper from the Sticky Marmalade Cake I’ve just baked.  I’ve baked a cake because V ate the last of the Wagon Wheels and L needs a packed lunch tomorrow; that matters because R doesn’t get paid until Tuesday and we are SKINTALICIOUS; margarine (see previous point); and Marmalade because R’s Mum gave us vats of it at Christmas.  I sit down and feel smug for a second, until I realise that I should have baked the cake earlier so M could have helped me (she loves baking).  Guilt.  Margarine smeared guilt with a fine-cut orange garnish.  Balls.

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The thing is, during the day, there are so many things that “need doing” that I don’t actually find I have the time or energy to make Pinterest biscuits with the children, or help them make bunting from things we found on our early-morning forest walk.  I’m so busy busy busy.  Busy making lists of things that need doing, busy wiping up wee off the floor, busy moaning at the kids for “accidentally falling down the side of the sofa”, or busy making excuses as to why we should do “wedding stuff” later/tomorrow/next Tuesday…  Hold the phone.  I’m so busy being busy that I don’t have time to spend a few minutes with the kids?  Who am I kidding?

My Mum said to me recently that I need to put my phone down (“for Christ’s sake Catherine, will you put that bloody phone down for five seconds????”) and spend some real time with my V.  Listening to her, playing with her, talking to her.  I feel sometimes that it’s all I ever do, but I’m so “busy” doing other things that the time I spend with her isn’t quality time at all.

The Mum-Guilt took us swimming last week, and as water+phone is a bad combination, I thought this was the perfect opportunity to give the whole quality time thing a bash.  I let her lead the way.  Down the steps and into the pool.  She wanted to jump in.  Anxiety, take a seat for a minute while I have a little fun with my baby girl.  I let her jump.  In she leapt with a giant splash.  She was temporarily submerged in the water, BUT she didn’t drown!  She did it again.  And again.  And again.  Until she saw the big floats and wanted to clamber all over them.  I nabbed us one, and helped her climb aboard what would quickly become our Pirate Ship!  “Captain Mummy!  Lead the way!”  I pushed her around the pool, my “partner” (she had proclaimed that she was the Cowgirl of the Ship), and we found treasure, golden coins and chocolate coins, buried deep beneath the waves.  V even got bitten by a crab!  We battled storms and sea monsters, high waves and bumpy oceans.  Until the lifeguard told us it was time to get out.  An hour and a half of role playing in a three foot deep swimming pool.

I’m posting this today because I actually considered it to be a very relaxing exercise, kind of like an active mindfulness.  Together we took on these roles, and our real environment became an imaginary world of senses.  The water splashing on our faces, whooshing noises, shrieking, different temperatures, it was delightful.

Today, why not try spending some quality time with your little ones?  Let them lead.  I quite often find myself tensely forcing a paintbrush into my daughter’s hand, “Come on darling, paint a picture for Daddy!”, but when you let them lead you to the things they enjoy it can be a really enjoyable experience.  So, put your phone away, turn the telly off and relax with your child.  And make sure you belly laugh at least once 😉

Can I Feel Good Now…? By Catherine PANDAS

I felt a bit odd writing this on Monday after binging on Michelin Star food at Arbutus and booze a plenty for my final blast of 30th birthday celebrations, so I’ve been mentally tracking things as this week has ticked by, and now I’m ready to write.

I’m getting married on 12th December. I’ve come through PND, a big fat break up, meeting the love of my life, dealing with ongoing mental health problems to end up here, squeezing into my size 16 clothes and enormous black comfy pants. Oh dear. As each Monday drifts by in a haze of “I definitely deserve this bottle of wine after today!” and “Darling, let’s treat ourselves to an Indian..” the pressure is kind of mounting now. The fact is, I don’t want to look like the Michelin Man on the school run, let alone on our Big Day SO it’s time to “cut the fat”.

I got gym membership for Christmas, which has been used intermittently as my energy came and went like the moon but the last two weeks I’ve been hitting it up like nobody’s business. It’s a shocker, but actually I feel f**king fantastic! Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a bit of a porker but I’m starting to feel definition in my muscles and my head feels clear. Focused. I feel indestructible.

I’m doing quite a bit of running, after nonchalantly signing up to a half marathon a couple of months ago I’m guessing I should be getting the mileage in, increasing my stamina. This morning I ran a 5k without stopping and it really made me realise how much of a mental exercise physical exercise really is. I wanted to stop after about ten minutes, but I knew I had a bit more in me. The time went by, song after song (each one strategically chosen to make me feel kick arse..), and eventually I smacked the “Cool Down” button at 5K. GET IN.

I got home, necked a protein shake and made myself a ham and egg salad. This is only a little example of what my life’s been like recently, but I’ve found my anxiety levels are lower, I’ve had more energy and patience with my daughter (even regular partaking in her role play games, “Arrr, here I am, Cap’n Mummy!”) My self esteem feels like it’s improved, I’m enjoying my life and excited about the progress I’m making.

If you haven’t already embarked on a healthy regime, I would definitely recommend it. I know it takes effort and time, but actually, for all we’ve endured already, I’m pretty sure it’s about time we gave something back to ourselves.

My Experience of Post Natal Depression and Post Natal Anxiety – by Rachel Hawkins

Before I begin, I want to make it clear, this blog is not another ‘Mum blog’, there’s plenty of decent ones out there and it’s not my style.  We all know the trials and tribulations of parenting, the funny stories (my son threw his dirty nappy across the room last week) and the tough days that almost leave us mentally scarred and grabbing for the wine.

This post, is for me to discuss my experience in the first days and weeks after giving birth and how in my opinion, more needs to be done to prepare women for the emotional and mental difficulties many new mums experience when they’ve had a baby.  I really feel we could do more.

Looking back to my pregnancy, I can’t recall ever discussing the emotional and mental turmoil you can experience after giving birth.  My pregnancy was a consultant led pregnancy as I’m a haemophilia carrier, so all attention was focussed around the implications for my baby, should he be a sufferer and the birth plan, as I had elected for a caesarean section for medical reasons.

I can recall being around 6 months pregnant and having a conversation with a friend of mine who has 2 children, she asked if I was nervous about the mental health side of things once I became a mum.  In my naivety, I told her I’d given it no thought and knew I would be OK because I’ve had anxiety etc. before so would know how to deal with it.  I was so wrong, so ignorant and so naïve.

My pregnancy had been relatively easy, aside from some SPD pain and worrying about the potential haemophilia status, it was in no way as bad as it could have been.  I was even looking forward to the caesarean section, I knew the day my baby would be born and had heard some very positive stories regarding C-sections.

Things didn’t quite go to plan however.

I won’t go into too much detail regarding the birth as 1) too much information and it’s quite gross a story and 2) probably quite boring for most. However, what I will say is the elected C-section became an emergency C-section a week prior to my scheduled operation. 
I’d gone into early (and very fast) labour and everything went from being relatively calm to anything but.  I was terrified.  Wes came to the hospital just as I was experiencing very painful, fast contractions and was getting prepped for surgery, he looked like he’d seen a ghost.

We were totally unprepared for this.

I remember going to an ante-natal class and switching off when they were discussing contractions and labour etc. – because let’s face it – I wasn’t going to be experiencing this. 
I actually felt like I was back in a Maths lesson in school, watching my concentration fly out the window.  My concentration only came back into the room when the midwife mentioned C-sections very briefly.  I probably rolled my eyes as I knew all the information she was providing already (misplaced arrogance).

After being on the operating table for over an hour and a half (I always thought it would only take 30 minutes) and being presented with my gorgeous son, not only did I feel absolute elation, I also felt totally and utterly struck with anxiety.

I recall being in the recovery room with my mum and my new-born son and being told I’d lost a lot of blood, genuinely asking the registrar what time I would be dying. 
No joke. 
I was petrified I was going to pass away, the same day I welcomed my baby.

It transpired I’d contracted an infection due to the complicated birth.  All sorts was going through my mind, am I going to die?  Am I going to have to have surgery again?  A blood transfusion?
I felt like I’d been hit by a double decker bus and was looking down on myself from above.  It was the most surreal, out of body experience I’ve ever known.

I felt utterly traumatised.

So much so, I refused to sleep the first night I became a mum, I made myself keep my eyes open the whole night, despite being exhausted from having no sleep for nearly 48 hours.  I was worried that if I closed my eyes, I wouldn’t wake up and my son would be without his mum.  Looking back, my heart aches for myself.

This had huge bonding implications, I remember looking at him in his cot next to my hospital bed, he was literally the most gorgeous thing I had ever laid my eyes on but I couldn’t allow myself to fall in love with him. 
I was so concerned that I wouldn’t be around to see him grow up.  The infection I had would kill me or I would have to have another operation and wouldn’t survive it.  I was literally on the edge.

Fast forward a few hours and I was moved to a different ward, it was hot, noisy and I felt like the walls were closing in on me.  Before I know it, I’ve got out of bed and hobbled out of the ward, crying hysterically, leaving Wes and our son next to my hospital bed.  I didn’t know where I was going, I didn’t even know what was going on in my head, but I sobbed so much I thought my surgery wound was going to split open.  Luckily a midwife found me and took me into an office and calmed me down.  I had a word going round and round in my head, it was psychosis. 
I was absolutely terrified I was suffering from it. 
The midwife assured me I wasn’t, I was suffering from severe anxiety and was having a terrible panic attack.  Some time later I calmed down and was moved to a private ward for my own wellbeing, I felt incredible relief at this and immediately felt better.  I could see my old self creeping back through.

But it wasn’t to last.

Recovery from a C-section is hard, especially an emergency one and because it had been a complicated operation, I was in a lot of pain.  Trying to breastfeed was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done and I was beginning to feel like a failure. 
I have to be honest, I can’t say I felt pressurised by the hospital midwives but there is certainly an element of expectation.  I had a total breakdown on the last night I was in hospital, I couldn’t feed him, I was struggling to change his nappy as I couldn’t bend over and he was crying, I literally didn’t know what to do.  I called Wes and told him he had to come back to the hospital even if the staff refused him entry.  I was losing it again.  I felt like the midwives were losing patience with me and they thought I needed to ‘man up’ and just get on with it.  I have never felt so alone in all my 27 years.  I then decided to give my son formula as he wasn’t latching on and I was exhausted from trying and worrying about his weight.  A lovely midwife came and sat with me and I remember us having a conversation, it took my mind off of how frightened I was feeling.  I managed to get a small amount of sleep that night and looked forward to going home the following day.  Everything will be OK once I’m in my own bed, with my family around me.  5 days in hospital was quite enough thank you!

Once I got home, the anxiety didn’t leave me, I felt totally and utterly on edge as soon as I got in the door.  I didn’t want to be left alone with my baby, I felt totally overwhelmed by responsibility and worried I was going to get things wrong.  My baby had lost over 10% of his birth weight because he wasn’t feeding properly and I was so panicked.  Suddenly, the support of the midwives and hospital staff had gone and the spotlight is on us now, to keep this tiny little human alive.

My mind was racing, I’d sit in the bathroom googling ‘post natal depression’ or ‘post natal anxiety’ and the worst word of all ‘psychosis’.  Convinced I was a danger to myself and I should be locked up.  The fear was real.  I lost over a stone in one week because I didn’t eat, I felt permanently sick.

I remember a community midwife visiting me at home for a check up and me being so worried about telling her I was abandoning the breastfeeding and going down the formula route.  I was so concerned my son wasn’t getting anything and I was totally and utterly exhausted.  The pain of trying to breastfeed was almost as bad as the contractions during labour.  My midwifes response? “I won’t give you a hard time as I know you’re struggling at the moment and you’ve had a rough ride”.  At the time, I was grateful for her somewhat curt response.  Looking back, my blood boils.  Actual steam could emanate off my keyboard right now where I’m typing so furiously.  Won’t give me a hard time?  What the hell does that mean?  Are midwives supposed to apply as much pressure to already exhausted and hormonal women just so they can promote the breast is best mantra?  I wondered if perhaps they’re performance targeted on how many new mums they can get to persevere with the breastfeeding.  Cynical I know, but I just couldn’t understand this approach.  We all know breast is best, but so the bloody hell is happy mum, happy baby.  You don’t need me to tell you of stories that have been in the press about new mums who have taken their life because they felt like failures as they were unable to breast feed their babies.  Tragic, totally and utterly tragic and it breaks my heart. 
My baby thrived on formula.

Because my anxieties lasted past the normal “baby blues” period (2 -3 weeks apparently) I was referred to a mental health team who came out to assess me just before Christmas 2013, it was determined that I was suffering from severe anxiety and would need support.  I tried to take anti depressants but they made me feel worse so I just got through Christmas as best I could and slowly but surely the overwhelming feeling of anxiety began to lift and I started to feel better.  Don’t get me wrong, I was still anxious and in dire need of some therapy but I didn’t feel permanently on edge.

I started some CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) from January 2014 onwards which really helped – I’d recommend it to anyone who has any anxiety issues.  This continued into June and by the Summer I was definitely feeling better, I wouldn’t say I was like my old self, I would get bad moods and still feel anxious but it wasn’t anything like the first few weeks post partum.

Once my CBT sessions finished I was told I would have to wait at least 6 months if I wanted to have any more therapy.  I was sure I’d be fine without and time would be a healer etc. so carried on with my life.  Finding weaning very hard work but I had a healthy, happy baby who slept through the night so I had it very easy compared to others.

Towards the end of the year I started a new job (part time), I felt totally overwhelmed again, I felt guilty for leaving my son after spending every day for the last 10 months with him.  I felt like I couldn’t do my job and that it was bigger than I was.  I could feel myself heading for disaster once again.  My son’s first birthday was only round the corner and we had lots of celebrations planned, not to mention Christmas too; I was determined to carry on as normal and forget about how unhappy I felt.  My son had started waking through the night screaming, it was a really hard time and I felt once again like I was losing all control and the walls were closing in on me.  I was trying to get to learn a new job, planning 1st birthday parties and keeping everyone around me happy.  I looked knackered, I felt knackered and my spark had well and truly left my body.  I didn’t know who I was anymore.

On the morning of my son’s 1st Birthday, I remember hearing a new mum had gone missing from the hospital I had given birth in, I didn’t give it a huge amount of thought.  I just hoped she was OK and thought she may have gone for a walk or something.  Come the evening, the news wasn’t looking good and I was obsessed with it, checking every few minutes for updates until the worst was confirmed.  They had found her body; I broke down.  It was a year to the day I’d been through what I had been through in the very same hospital.  I’m not saying I was suicidal, not for one second, but what I will say is I was terrified, I was walking around the hospital, not knowing who to turn to and feeling incredibly lost.  Perhaps not too dissimilar to what this poor woman was experiencing.  I couldn’t get it out of my head, I couldn’t stop crying about it.  I thought of what she must have been thinking in her final moments, or what her family must be going through.  I was angry that no one had stopped her from walking out of the hospital, or that the lovely midwife who had helped me exactly 12 months previous, hadn’t stopped her and given her a shoulder to cry on or some much needed support.

From then on the days merged into one and although relieved my son’s birthday was over and I didn’t have to persevere with ‘keeping up appearances’, I was getting exhausted and nervous about Christmas.  I wanted everything to be ‘normal’ – whatever that is.  I wanted the racing thoughts to stop and the constant worrying to diminish.  Christmas came and went, it was nice but hard work as we were hit with a seasonal cold, cue many sleepless nights and tensions running high.  My son was soon better and cold free and I looked forward to a night out with my closest friends for NYE, I’d not had a night out in so long. 
The following day (New Years Day), I felt uneasy, on edge, scared, frightened, worried, concerned – all sorts of anxious.  I wanted to either pace the floor or not get out of bed.  The thought of a new year petrified me, what would it bring?  What would I fail at?  My confidence was sub level and my nerves were shot to pieces.  I didn’t get out bed for days, I gave up caring about anything and everything.  I was non responsive, there in body but not in mind.  I was a shell basically.  I just wanted the racing thoughts to go away, I wanted to be in control of my thoughts again.  I remembered I had another type of anti-depressants in my drawer that had been prescribed to me some 2 months previous.  Because I’d had a bad experience with AD’s the year before I was too scared to try them but now I had nothing to lose.  I couldn’t carry on how I was, my mum was desolate, Wes was so concerned and I wanted to will myself to get better for my lovely son.  He deserved more. 
So I took the tablet and was determined.  I persevered and although the first week was tough, I took the week off work and just rested.  My head hurt, I was dizzy, I felt sick but for the first time in a long time, I was beginning to feel positive, I felt like I might be able to see the much needed light at the end of the tunnel.  I went to see the Dr to discuss my side effects, dosage etc and saw a new Dr I’d never seen before.  I opened up about how I’d felt and she was amazing.  She didn’t judge me, she took me seriously and wanted to refer me back to the Primary Care Team, she knew I needed more than tablets and wanted me to be seen by a Mental Health Nurse straight away.  The start of this year was very tough, we lost our beloved cat, we had a lot of bad news and many stressful situations to deal with that required a huge amount of strength.  But, with the help of the tablets and some counselling and therapy, I felt like I could deal with the issues.  I took time out from my friends and people around me, and chilled out, I would be kind to myself.  I wouldn’t apply pressure on myself.
I would talk A LOT to my mum or to Wes, instead of keeping everything in for fear of what they might say.  I learned to just keep putting one foot in front of the other and dealing with worries one at a time, weighing them up and thinking what is the worst that could happen?  I talked about the birth and about how I felt for the first few days and weeks after my son was born with my counsellor.  It felt like I’d put it to bed and had learnt to come to terms with it.  It didn’t frighten me anymore.

Today, I’m so much better.  I’m still on anti-depressants, mainly for my anxiety. I’ve been diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder, along with my OCD which was diagnosed when I was young.
My Dr has said I’ll probably be on the pills long term, but that’s fine with me, I’ve come to terms with that.  I’ve finished my counselling & therapy and I feel the most positive I have felt in years.  I feel confident and I feel very happy.  I’ve learnt a lot this year, a lot about myself and a lot about what I can deal with and how strong I am.  Above all, I’ve learnt to love being a mum, warts and all.  I’d fear that I would lose my individuality and see myself as being someone’s mum as opposed to being Rachel.  I’m still me, I’m still that annoying, loud, talkative, random, sometimes moody, up for a laugh person, just with the best gift of all.  My son.

This post was two fold.  Selfishly, I wanted to write my experience out for cathartic reasons (which believe me, it’s worked) but secondly I want to advocate mental health.  I want expectant mums to be slightly prepared for how hard it is emotionally after giving birth.  Yes, we need to be prepped for birth, breast feeding, changing nappies and all that shit (literally) but we need to be prepared for the hormonal changes.  The overwhelming emotions that we can experience shortly after birth, and not just for the first 2 or 3 weeks after.  The midwives need to be looking out for signs that women are struggling and be empathetic, perhaps referring them to support networks, therapists etc. that can help.  They should relieve pressure for new mums and provide up to date, accurate and helpful advice.  Yes, we all know breast is best, I mean it’s been rammed down our throats often enough, but it isn’t always as cut and shut as that.  And at what expense some times?

I just always hope that any new mum gets help straight away if they are struggling at all, be honest and open and not worry about people judging or what the Dr might or might not say.  Becoming a first time mum especially, is a frightening experience.  You’ve just gone through something that is quite traumatic, you ache in places you never knew existed and could be rather traumatised from the experience.  People need to be accepting and sympathetic to this.  I would encourage women to talk about a traumatic birth, I remember the first time I watched One Born Every Minute after having my son and actually recoiling and sweating whilst watching a caesarean section. I had to turn over.

Women need time to come to terms with what has happened and time to recover physically, mentally and emotionally.

Some links that may help, should you need them:

https://lift.awp.nhs.uk/ (they really helped me)
http://www.oasis-talk.org/
http://www.mind.org.uk
http://www.pandasfoundation.org.uk/

Please share this blog post, I really want to raise post & pre natal mental health awareness and if this post can help others, then it’s been totally worthwhile putting finger to keyboard.

To read more from Rachel, please see her blog here.