Category Archives: perinatal

Counselling by Catherine PANDAS

I’m on the train. It’s delayed. The rain falls relentlessly outside coating the windows in wet spidery patterns. I’m listening to a compilation of Klezmer music and feel very pessimistic about this, my first counselling session for eight years.

I’ve been sat on a waiting list with my local IAPT Service for longer than the ‘standard waiting time’ of 6-8 weeks. I took my daughter along with me to my initial session last week, needless to say it wasn’t very productive. I dropped her off with a very good friend this morning in order to attend this session on my own. I don’t really know what to expect from it as counsellors are all so different. From what I saw last week, he seemed like a nice bloke, but I have no idea if he’s capable of scooping the black treacley mess out of my brain and turning it into something I can deal with constructively. We’ll see.
****
Here I am in reception. There are two people with suits on, they look like salesmen. They made me feel really angry actually, I don’t know why. And there’s another lady in the corner. I’ve kept my headphones in because I don’t like the shite local radio. I’ve been to the loo, the Suits stared at me as I walked past them. I want to know why they’re here, what are they selling? One of them looks over-confident, the other looks nervous. I have half an hour to wait so I’m going to read my book for a little while.
****
I’m out.
image

It was good today. It’s mainly driven by myself I think, but he joins in and uses the same language as me, which is oddly comforting. We talked about past betrayals and past relationships. We talked about my current relationship and the problems I have living in Rugby. We talked about how I feel when I feel bad and how I take a lot on, probably to distract myself from my own feelings. We talked about the fact that I never talked about my own experience of postnatal depression with anyone, I never talked it through. We talked about isolation and reaching out, and talking about how I’m feeling. Like how I’m actually feeling, not just generic “sad”, “low”. It was good. I feel like I took something away from it at least.

I know it’s going to be hard, but I think I need to look back at my pregnancy and the first days of Motherhood and try to put them to rest in my head. It’s like they’re there in the background, and can be revived, but I need to soften them a little so that their revival isn’t so destructive to me emotionally.

Session booked in next week. Watch this space.

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A Recovery Story – by The Butterfly Mother

sprouting

“Postnatal Depression recovery stories.” These were the only words I typed into my browser for weeks. My anxiety was incredibly high, I genuinely thought I was losing my mind. Instead of cuddling my son or enjoying his first smiles, I was scouring the internet for undeniable proof that I wouldn’t feel this way forever.  
 
Despite what my damaged mind was telling me, things did get better. I don’t feel that way anymore. So I’m posting my own story for any other mums who might be searching for answers now. 
 
My son was born at 1am on 27 Apr 2013 after 12 hours labour, an epidural and finally an emergency section. They had given me so much anesthetic at the last moment I became “blocked,” meaning I couldn’t move or feel anything besides my head and neck. I couldn’t hold my son for several hours, and I couldn’t feel when he was feeding.  
 
Looking back, things weren’t right from that very first day. I wasn’t feeling anywhere near the post-birth euphoria I had been expecting. But it wasn’t until 8 weeks later the cracks finally began to show. 
 
My son had just begun sleeping better, only waking for one feed during the night, but while he slept soundly at last I lay wide awake. The less I was able to sleep, the more I panicked during the day. How can I take care of him when I haven’t slept? What if I drop him down the stairs because I’m so exhausted? What if I fall asleep on the sofa and suffocate him? Of course, with these anxieties running around my mind all day I was nowhere near relaxed enough to sleep when night came around, and so the vicious cycle continued. I was lying in bed for around six hours each night, my heart racing and my thoughts spinning, until my body eventually gave in and I slept fitfully for between 1-2 hours before I awoke with a jolt, feeling sick and panicked once more.  
 
After 6 days of sleeping only an hour or two a night I burst into tears during a group I was attending at my local children’s centre. The staff were incredible, they calmed me as much as possible and called my health visitor. For the next few days she came by to see how I was, she listened to my fears and heard how I still wasn’t sleeping. I took all the usual advice – bath before bed, fresh bedding, read a book etc – but this only made my sleep worse. The pressure to sleep increased my panic and continued the cycle.  
 
I was then referred to my local Perinatal Emotional Wellbeing Service (PEWS). This is a fantastic NHS service which, sadly, isn’t available in all Trusts. Fortunately for me, Essex has it and that small team of individuals probably saved my life. Or at least kept me out of hospital. 
 
After they assessed me I was diagnosed with Postnatal Depression. I had been desperately hoping there was another explanation but deep down I knew it wasn’t only insomnia, I wasn’t eating or able to think straight either, all triggered by horrendous anxiety. PEWS liaised with my doctor (who was fairly useless, more on that in a future post) and visited me at home twice a week. Under their guidance, I found the courage to begin taking a combination of medication (a sleeping aid, diazapam for short term anxiety relief and eventually, reluctantly, an antidepressant).  
 
The medication firstly helped to get my sleep back on track. I was terrified that the sleeping tablets wouldn’t work but 15 mins after taking my first one I succumbed to sleep on the sofa and my husband helped me to bed where I slept solidly for four hours – a vast improvement from how I was. Each night I would fear the tablet wouldn’t work and each night I slept, for an increasing length of time until my sleep patterns were fairly normal again.  
 
Despite the improvement in sleep and appetite I was still suffering from anxiety attacks almost constantly. I simply couldn’t function properly. Once the drugs took some effect PEWS sent round their Occupational Therapist who specialised in anxiety management. I still think of this amazing woman as an angel sent to save me. She gave me some basic, CBT-based tools for managing fear which, with lots of hard work and practice, began to improve my mood and functionality.
 
Eventually PEWS were able to discharge me when an appointment with an NHS therapist became available. Again, I was very lucky to see a CBT therapist who had a lot of experience with perinatal mood disorders.  
 
One of the most difficult things about this illness is the slow recovery time. In my opinion, medication goes a long way to take the edge off and kickstart your recovery but it can only do so much – therapy is a vital tool for long term recovery. Through therapy I was able to begin to reroute lots of damaging negative thought patterns.  
 
Recovery was definitely an accumulative process for me. Medication and therapy bore the brunt but there were many other aspects of “self-care” which were vital to me; good, regular sleep; a decent diet; fresh air and a walk every day if possible; supplements; support from family and friends; mindfulness; books and websites like Anxiety No More. And, critically, online support.Postpartum Progress and other blogs, and Facebook groups such as PPD Chat Support have been so valuable to me. Knowing you aren’t alone can help tremendously. 
 
Unfortunately, even with these tools, recovery takes time and patience, which is the biggest challenge of all. I remember being filled with despair when I read how long recovery can take for some people but the important thing to remember is even if full recovery takes months or longer you won’t be in that acute stage the entire time. The real hell was lessened in a matter of weeks for me. After that it becomes manageable, life becomes more bearable. You feel stronger and safer. You might not be thriving but you’re surviving. 
 
Parenting is hard and I still feel overwhelmed by it sometimes. I still wonder how I’ll cope. But then I remind myself that I’ve come through the last two years so there’s no reason I can’t keep going, keep striving, keep getting stronger. I also remind myself of all the things experiencing PND has taught me. I know how to deal with unhelpful thinking, I worry considerably less, I don’t sweat the small stuff and I have much more empathy for others. In some ways, I’m stronger. I think I’m probably a nicer, less selfish person. I’m not going to ever pretend PND is anything close to a gift, but there are certainly aspects to my personality and my life which have benefited. 
 
PND isn’t fair. It’s a cruel and terrible illness. But recovery is possible. If you’re reading this and thinking you’ll never get better try to remember that everyone who has ever recovered once thought they never would. And then they did.

To read more from The Butterfly Mother, please have a look at her blog here

I am a PANDAS Volunteer – by Catherine Pollard

Well, hello there!  If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may know me already as the young lady who badgers folk to share their stories, their experiences and their knowledge with you all here at the PANDAS Guest Blog.  I thought it would be natural to write about the PANDAS Conference on the following Monday, but here I am on Sunday evening without a post ready for tomorrow – eek…..

Most of you have probably already seen the photographs littering Facebook of speakers, people laughing (very loudly) and award winners, it was a great day and really well put together.  I watched Sally Llewellyn (PANDAS Safeguarding Team) give two talks, one on Self Harm and Intrusive Thoughts and the other on Challenging Misconceptions, both were exceptional and we all took away a lot of invaluable information.  I also watched a talk on Talking Therapies, which was so interesting that it over-ran into lunch and nobody complained!

Rachael, our beloved PANDAS Founder, gave a very moving talk which really challenged the way we speak to ourselves, it was horrifying to hear some of the quotes, particularly to hear mine (“I’m too selfish to be a good Mother”) among them.  It was a real eye-opener.

Then came the most shocking part of all.  I won a blooming prize.  I went and won PANDAS Volunteer of the Year!  Silly Cry Face

Stuart Dobson, Silly Cry Face and Rachael Jones

I was totally overwhelmed, I’m one of those people who never win anything.  Or the type of person who kind of thinks they’re doing a good job until they see someone else doing it better so they give up.  I was honoured, and a bit embarrassed that the photographer was taking a photo of my Silly Cry Face, but mostly just flat out amazed that I’d actually won something.  (Read back to Rachael’s speech on how we talk to ourselves, ahem…)  So, I thought that this week, I’d give you a little glimpse into my PANDAS Volunteering World so you can see what goes on behind the scenes 😀

My day usually begins with a hilarious message from our Online Co-Ordinator, Donna Swift.  She’ll have probably been up since about 4.30am with her beautiful little girl so it kicks me straight into PANDAS gear.  Still in bed, with maybe only one eye open, I’ll scan through my Google Alerts to see if there are any news stories relating to perinatal mental health, or PND, in my inbox.  If there are, they’ll be posted up on the main facebook pages.  I like that we stay up to date with everything going on out there and get very irritated if we miss something, so if you ever see something that we haven’t, get in touch!

Me and Donna

Donna “Queen of the North” Swift and myself

I’ll slope downstairs with my daughter, Violet, for an argument about cereal, or the telly, or toilet roll and when all is pacified, I’ll fire up the laptop ready to get my PANDAS hat on.  I run the Facebook show on a Monday so along with relevant news articles I’ll have a look for other blog posts (my favourite blogger is brummymummy, hilarious…), things going on nationally such as Volunteers Week and Mental Health Awareness Week etc etc, and anything else that I think you’d like to see up on the page.  I’m also on the admin team for PANDAS Closed Group so will make sure to keep up to date with approving posts and making sure you all know that we’re here for you.

The PANDAS Guest Blog will usually go up at about 9-10am.  I always get really excited to hear the response the articles get as I’m always on the lookout for new writers and try to make sure we’re always bringing you the very best.  I like to post the interview a little while later so that the article itself has settled down.

While this is going on, I’ll be flitting about across the PANDAS Facebook Groups doing little jobs for others like uploading pictures, scheduling interviews, designing certificates, all sorts really.  I LOVE getting creative so really like designing things and love doing the videos for the PANDAS TV YouTube channel but also enjoy getting my geek on and working out how to solve problems with computer-y type jobs.  I’m also working on a PANDAS Task Force to hopefully get some changes made within Primary Care settings to ensure we’re all getting the care we deserve.

If I get a minute, I’ll do some reading.  I hunt down journals, articles, books, anything I can get my hands on.  I’ve recently bought “Sad Dad – An Exploration of Postnatal Depression in Fathers” by Olivia Spencer.  I’m really passionate at raising awareness of male PND, Dads deserve support as much as us Mums and I suspect that PND in men is reaching a similar frequency level as with women.  I get quite excited if I find a television or radio programme that flags up mental health issues, so will spend half an hour or so watching/listening to see if it’s relevant to us here at PANDAS.

My daughter by this point will probably be going a little crazy and will have started climbing up my back shouting “PIGGY HEAD! PIGGY HEAD!” so I’ll take a break to do some play fighting or dancing and start thinking about lunch.  If we head out into town, I’ll have my phone close to hand in case there’s somebody who needs to talk, or needs me to do anything.  If it’s quiet in the afternoon, I’ll do some emailing/harassing 🙂  I’m setting up a PANDAS Support Group in Rugby at the moment so am emailing local parent groups and mental health campaigners, a whole range of different people, to try and get some publicity and also to seek out people with common interests and goals.

I’m also studying a Mental Health course, so if things are really, really quiet, and Violet is asleep, I’ll crack on and get ahead on that.  But to be honest, that really doesn’t happen very often.

In the evenings, with Homeland on in the background, I’ll sit and write up blog posts or interviews, or may even have some telephone interviews with prospective PANDAS volunteers.  There’ll probably be another hilarious message from Donna, and then it’s time to hit the hay.  I try to get to bed before midnight but since we’ve started watching Homeland, this has proved difficult.

Volunteering for PANDAS has given me a whole new lease of life.  I wake up excited to start my day.  If I’m struggling with relapse or just having an off-day, I take a day or two offline, just nipping in to help with admin bits and bobs.  I find the other volunteers are a huge support and don’t really know what I’d do without them now.  And I won’t stop.  I won’t stop until everyone has adequate, appropriate and excellent pre and postnatal mental health care and if this involves the bags under my eyes being a little larger than the other Mums in the playground, so be it!  I’m a PANDAS volunteer and I love it 🙂

Me

Violet and I after the PANDAS Conference ❤

#itsoknottobeok

Interview with Rachel – author of Post Natal Depression and Me

Hi Rachel! Thanks for taking the time to talk to us here at PANDAS Guest Blog!

Can you remember when you first thought that something wasn’t quite right with how you were feeling?

I think I started feeling a little down during my pregnancy but I had a very complicated one so I just assumed I was worried and stressed about that. I suppose it really hit with me with how hard I found everything in the early days. I knew I was suppose to be happy and in this bubble but somehow I just wasn’t quite there. It got progressively worse and late last year I went to the doctors to ask why I felt so bad, even though I really knew I was struggling deep down.

Why do you think that so many of us have this unrealistic image of “The Perfect Mother”?

I think there is a lot to do with the media, perfect bodies after babies perfect relationships the pictures of perfect family life. Then there’s tv and films, there is a lot to influence how we see normal life. The reality is no one is perfect we just try to be. I wish I knew why I had to be perfect all the time, the perfect mother and wife, but it’s just something you feel the need to do.

What do you think stops both men and women talking about how they’re feeling, or even just admitting that they’re struggling?

I think people are scared of being judged that you are not a fit mother. Or just war people think in general about you. My worst fear was being gossiped about, or disappointing my family.

How did your husband feel when you were diagnosed with PND?

He just said that we shouldn’t label at that, that he knew I was going through a hard phase, that we would get through it together. He is a hugely positive person and really believes in mindset having a lot to do with how we feel, act and what we do. Just talking to him made me realise that really it was just something I had to overcome.

Your piece is very positive and full of hope, can you remember a particular moment when you began to feel more optimistic?

It was the moment I went to the doctors. Even though she said I had symptoms of PND I always in my own my mind and on my blog just describe it as the baby blues. A phase in my life where I was feeling a little sad and lost. The moment someone told me was the moment I thought to myself “what am I doing, life is too short”. I also believe from my husbands influence a lot is about your mindset. I decided to be positive. I faked it a lot of the time and before I knew it it became a natural practise. This year has been my best year so far as a mum.

Finally, what makes you life perfect for you?

Life for me is perfect when I’m just with my family. We could be doing the food shop, a walk in the park or having an awesome day out. Family is what got me through this, family is what made me realise what I had. I’m a very lucky person to have a supportive husband, a cheeky step son and my adorable little boy. It’s just life right now, in the moment, and enjoying it.

Thank you so much for speaking to us here at the PANDAS Guest Blog, it’s so great to hear from someone with such a positive outlook on their PND experience and I know a lot of our readers will benefit from your hopeful piece.

Remember, if you want to read more about Rachel, please take a look at her blog: http://thelsmum.co.uk/

Post-Natal Depression and Me – by Rachel (The L’s Mum)

I have only ever been told once that how I was feeling was the signs of post-natal depression. It was last year and I definitely wasn’t feeling myself.

You see back in 2013 something life changing happened to me, I had a baby, the most joyous and happiest moment in my life and yet somehow I felt inadequate, that I wasn’t doing things right. I had a fair few complications during my pregnancy and labour and perhaps that had something to do with it, I don’t know. I just seemed to put myself on a pedestal of this perfect domestic housewife, with the perfect baby, the perfect house, the perfect life and yet life really isn’t perfect, not all the time.

I wasn’t sure why I felt so bad, like a failure each time my little boy cried, why I questioned each and every little thing I did because I was sure it wasn’t good enough. I was scared to talk to anyone and so I put on a brave face, a smile, in the hope that no one would ask, question me further, make me feel worse.

Had I have just spoken to my husband at the time, or just admitted I wasn’t feeling myself, maybe things would have been different.

Looking back now it seems like a blur and that makes me sad for a different reason. I don’t have many fond memories of my little boy being just a baby and enjoying those moments because I wasn’t enjoying my life back then.

It was like a dark cloud had descended upon me and everytime there was a glimmer of happiness the rain would pour down on my parade. The dark cloud followed me everywhere, even on the sunniest and warmest of days.

But now my little boy is nearly two and this year I made a change. I did go to the doctors and I heard the words and for some reason that seemed to be enough. I realized that for me, I was the only person who could make the change, and so I did.

Life shouldn’t be about adhering to dark clouds and feelings of failure, it should be about embracing the good things, the happy memories, the here and now. I can’t get back those snuggly baby days, and so now I don’t intend to keep on going down that road and missing out on the first words and the milestones ahead of us.

Life as a mummy is conflicting and confusing. It can be the loneliest place in the world and you can feel isolated. Life as a mummy is also exciting and challenging. It’s a new chapter in your life, a chance to do things differently. A moment in your life where you can climb around in the soft play area and no one thinks your being silly, who doesn’t love those big slides? It’s the smile on your little ones face when you just look at them, it’s the first time they call you mummy. You are everything to one little person, and the pair of you deserve happiness.

Feelings of failure still haunt me, and sometimes I can feel the dark cloud coming back. Now I know the signs I know to take myself away for a moment, I do something for me, I relax, I write a list to clear my mind, I take my little one out for a walk. There are so many things you can do. I don’t doubt for one minute that I have made mistakes, but they were mine to make and I own it. Each and every decision. No one is perfect, but life should be perfect for you.

To read more about Rachel, please visit her website: http://thelsmum.co.uk/

Interview with Emma Sasaru – author of ‘Beyond Trauma’

Hi Emma! Thank you for sharing your inspirational and hopeful blog with us. We all change after becoming parents, quite drastically, but how do you feel that going through a traumatic birth changed you?

Going through a traumatic birth completely changed me. Physically it took along time to recover but mentally the recovery has taken much longer. I went from being a confident, out-going person to being a shadow of my former self. I was consumed with fear for my baby and myself and suffered very bad flash backs, panic attacks and anxiety. Often doing normal activities was exhausting and going out became scary and difficult. I suffered with guilt and felt that I was no good to my family just a burden. Somedays were very dark.

What kind of breastfeeding support was offered to you in NNU?

While I was in NNU I didn’t receive any breastfeeding support at all, in fact I had to fight to breastfeed my baby and I was told I would never achieve exclusive breastfeeding. But I proved them wrong and breastfed my daughter for 15 months.

How do you think that a breastfeeding peer support worker helps new parents? What kind of things does your work encompass?

I think that a breastfeeding peer support worker helps a family by giving information and support that enables them to make an informed choice regarding feeding their baby thats right for them. A lot of my role involves providing emotional support, giving reassurance and helping women trust in their bodies to nurture their babies. My role encompasses seeing new parents antenatally, on the postnatal wards in hospital and in the community for as long as they need support. I personally work mostly in NNU and then with the families when they are discharged home. I also run a support group where families can drop in for support or just a chat. Ive had the privilege of supporting families from those early stressful days in NNU to being happy healthy families. I really cant begin to say how much joy it brings me, I feel so lucky.

What advice would you give to the partners out there currently caring for a woman who has physically experienced a traumatic birth?

To partners that are caring for a woman who has suffered birth trauma my advice would be to acknowledge what has happened to her and her feelings around it. Encourage her to talk about her feelings if she is able to. Reassure her that you are there for her and that you will help in anyway you can. Encourage, commend show compassion and empathy. Emotional support is invaluable, even if it’s just a listening ear or a hug. Realise that there may be things or activities that she may not yet feel ready to do, be patient and show understanding. But most of all listen to her.

What does a postnatal doula do?

A postnatal doula supports families after the birth of their baby with emotional and practical support. We can help with light household duties, running errands and helping care for other children in the house. We can give support with breastfeeding, and build confidence in a woman’s ability to care for her newborn.

Do you have any words of wisdom for anyone out there who cannot yet “see the light”?

One of my favourite sayings is “I wish I could show you when your in darkness or feeling alone, the astonishing light of your own being”. When darkness is all around you and you feel like it will swallow you up believe that the light will return. Inside us is the strength to overcome even the most traumatic things. We often cannot see our own beauty or the light we bring to the lives of those we love. Hang in there and take each day, be kind and gentle to yourself  and don’t expect to much of yourself. Better days will come honestly.

Thanks again Emma, your blog and honest words are sure to help many of our readers. If you would like to read more about Emma’s experiences, please visit her blog: http://www.lovingbaby.co.uk/

Beyond Trauma: You Can Make A Difference – by Emma Sasaru

We sometimes go through things in life that completely change us as a person. Sometimes it changes things for the better, sometimes the worst and sometimes its both!

For me this is certainly true, when  I had my first daughter and subsequent birth trauma it changed me, in fact it changed not only me but my life. While a lot of those changes were for the worse, my trauma has led me on a path to a place I feel I am meant to be.

One of the main things that kept me sane and anchored after my trauma was breastfeeding, while separated from my daughter in those early days expressing for her while she was in NNU gave me the fight to survive, to continue living and although I could do nothing else for her I could provide her my milk, it was my connection to her, my life- line.  I fought to feed her with every ounce in my body. When staff said that I would never produce enough milk due to my retained placenta and massive blood loss, I fought to prove them wrong. When doctors said I would never exclusively breastfeed her and she most likely would not latch when they removed her NG tube I fought to prove them wrong. Prove them wrong I did and for 15 glorious months my traumatised, weak, wreaked body nourished and provided my baby with everything she needed.

The fight I had to feed my baby with no support and then seeing others struggle again with no support drove me to wonder why, it lead me to finding the breastfeeding network, training with them, volunteering and then eventually working for the NHS as a paid breastfeeding peer support worker. To do my job I had to overcome a lot of my issues as I work on the ward and in the NNU where I had my trauma and where for a long time I couldn’t go. I love my job especially working in NNU. Being able to give moms and babies the support I never had means everything.  When I see the moms sat by their little ones incubators I remember those feelings well and how just a friendly face, a kind word and someone to talk to is often all thats needed and how it can make all the difference.

Without my trauma, without my time in NNU it would be an unknown world to me. Without my struggle, my fight to breastfeed, would I ever have trained to be a breastfeeding support worker? I just don’t know. Yet I do know it is where I am meant to be, it gives me so much, I feel so privileged to do my job to see the difference it makes to families, to support them and be part of their journey. Yes my struggle was painful in many ways but without it maybe I wouldn’t be doing my job and be reaping all the joy it brings me.

My trauma and subsequent struggle to get help for PTSD was very painful and a hard fight for many years.  When I reflect on the struggle I have realised with time that it has been a fight that has given, as well as taken away.  It has given me the determination to try to help others who have also had birth trauma, reaching out to offer support both in my work but with charities and through social media.

My experience drove me to train as a doula and postnatal doula which not only taught me that birth can be a positive experience and helped me in my healing but also how to support moms to help them understand how they can trust their bodies and work with it to make birth easier and more safe.

My trauma and struggle to get help also drives me to want to change things.  I feel that experiencing the bad has given me something special, a voice!

This voice is able to speak out and sometimes shout loud about the need for things to change, both in the culture of birth and postnatal care but also the need for more support for perinatal mental health.  I will always seek to use that voice to speak up for those that as yet are unable to speak up, to raise awareness of what trauma is and try to make sure things change and improve in the care of women in birth.  I will also use that voice to speak out about the importance of proper diagnosis and support for when things may go wrong. Recently I have been able to do this as part of the NHS maternity experience campaign that are striving to improve and change the care given to women at birth and also on twitter to raise awareness of birth trauma and perinatal mental health. I feel privileged to be a voice for those that need support and help health professionals see how they can improve their practice.

Yes I truly believe I am where I am meant to be!

Sometimes bad things happen to us yes, but we can turn those experiences into opportunities to help others, change and improve things and give a voice to those that need help and support. Yes even trauma can lead us to something good, it provides us with a chance to make a difference and in turn helps heal ourselves.

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