That saucepan is just looking to be lobbed across the living room…. the symptoms of maternal mental illness that we don’t talk about.

A few weeks ago I hosted #PNDHour while @pndandme had a well deserved rest. I scratched my head with my stick on nails and wondered what the subject could be. I am almost 10 years on from the mummy madness that walloped me on the head so I often talk about recovery, moving on from the illness, allowing yourself to heal, to not feel guilty and so wanted to look at something different. I wanted to talk about something not usually talked about and … and then it hit me like a broken boomerang as my mind went back and forth – why not dedicate a whole hour to the symptoms of Maternal Mental Illness that no one talks about. We often hear on daytime talk shows with a nodding tv doctor saying “mummy might feel quite teary and overwhelmed” but there is such a huge list of symptoms that women can suffer from once baby has been evicted from the vagina or the stomach that quite teary doesn’t really cover it.

So here goes .

Sex. Please go away from me with your trouble inducing bell-end. 

Now. I had a c section. I don’t care what the rags say, just because my vagina wasn’t stretched to planet size proportions, doesn’t mean I was capable of doing the conga after birth. No way lady. No one told me that I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed, move half a centimeter, do anything more than be bent double or breathe for the few weeks after birth. Combine being bent in half in pain with a red river flowing out of my fandango held together by a maternity pad the size of my sofa , boobs that looked like a bicycle pump had gone rogue on them and 2 weeks worth of poo in me for fear of going to the loo in case I burst the bum grapes that had taken over my arse ,along with the fairly terrifying reality that I had actually completely lost my mind and was in the midst of a full psychotic breakdown, you must forgive me when I say the idea of a genital stretch and tone with the husband was the last thing on my mind.

You bring your little delight home from the hospital , place it in its cot , look for the baby instruction manual and realize that you are it. This gurgling then screaming ball before you is your responsibility for the rest of your life and as the terror of that hits you, so does a pint of regurgitated baby sick. You are stood there for three hours holding your baby upright so the reflux exorcist doesn’t make another appearance, while in your pants with matted hair stuck to your head. You are swaying back and forth to calm said child while thinking you have made the biggest mistake of your life and feel like your legs, back, boobs and brain simply cannot take it anymore.

And then your fella leaves a trail of roses and tells you he loves you more than ever and wants to caress you with kisses. Or flushes the loo and asks you if you fancy a shag . Regardless of the approach…..

No. No you do not. You have not slept for days on end. Earlier , you put the kettle in the fridge and the cat in a drawer. You think it might be Monday but it could be Thursday but you actually don’t want the days to start and can’t wait for them to end. It’s all a blur and your heart feel like it is pounding so hard with anxiety that it might actually explode out of you and the idea of climbing back on the horse and performing the reverse cowgirl is so incredibly far from your mind that you think you may never ever want to do it ever again.

You may have wanted it four times a day or someone who loved having it once a month before baby arrived and now find yourself so in the midst of a maternal breakdown that the desires you once had have vanished. Some mums say they feel so utterly touched out with a cluster feeding baby on them all day or with being the one that baby gets handed back to if they so much as make a tiny moan, that the idea of then being touched or touching someone else is absolutely horrific. Some of the mums I support have said that this is when they knew something wasn’t right – they previously may loved sex, and / or had a high sex drive, enjoyed being touched. To feel like those desires , those emotions have been drained from you , can be awful. One mum said she told her gp this and was told no one feels like doing it after giving birth and sex drive would return shortly and she felt like this symptom was brushed off. They felt it might not sound as worthy as “I feel sad all the time /nothing gives me joy” but we all experience different symptoms. I always say , we all know our own normal and know if something is making us feel like we aren’t ourselves. I read a blog once where a woman said her lack of sex drive made her feel ‘numb’ and that for her , it was like a limb losing feeling. When her husband touched her , she felt nothing. Not because he had lost his magic touch but because her illness taken her feelings away.

And then there is the fear that doing the horizontal dance might result in another baby. Which is terrifying if you feel like the kid you have now has resulted in you having postnatal depression. So you actively avoid anything where your partners party in his pants is anywhere near you which then makes you worry that your partner will think you don’t fancy them anymore.

There is a great article on this here so do take a look https://postpartumprogress.com/postpartum-depression-affects -sex-drive

Rage . Against all the machines. And all the people. 

This bad boy appears to be super common – but rarely talked about. I posted an article on this last week and it got thousands of views with comments such  as” Oh my god, thank you for this , now I see what was happening to me”. I am talking about overwhelming anger while in the postnatal period. Ever had a baby and opened the cupboard to see the saucepan and think , I would much better if I lobbed that across the living room?

You know the rage you feel when your partner grants the kids their wish of pancakes and gravy for breakfast and so every pan ever purchased is used and you find yourself slipping over on congealed lumps of powered beef fat whilst muttering things about how much of a ballsack is someone to make gravy at 8.30 am for a pack of 3 year olds armed with paw patrol toys and lego swords.  Imagine that that feeling doesn’t ease when you get in the tube because it can’t . This is an anger which needs its own title because it isn’t fleeting or goes away fairly easily . Its an anger you feel while being more exhausted than you have ever felt . You are doing the hero job of being a mother and this rage has knocked you sideways.

Women who experience it in the postnatal period says it creep up on you like a stranger you don’t know and tap you on the shoulder with a fright. It is unexpected and terrifying and you don’t want it. You feel like a pan of rice that has bubbled over and grains go all over the floor and things start melting and turning red and you have no idea how it happened as you were certain you had kept a lid on it . But as things get hotter and hotter and more furious looking, the lid can fly off and emotions pour out. I have always been shit at cooking rice and it always sticks or bloops or overboils so much the flame under the pan goes out. And this is how postnatal rage feels – like it has blown your light out and replaced it with a black smoke of doom.

There was a research study that showed anger in the period after having your baby can be incredibly common and also caused by things that others not suffering don’t see as problematic. When I said I felt overwhelmed by the fact my baby was here forever and I was absolutely full of terror, one person said that I had wanted a baby and that 15 year olds have them and coped so I should be able to and let out a laugh . Head. Bang. Table and and a rising of fury in me like a vulva volcano. I felt like my lava was about to spew out and that nothing could stop it happening. Women have said the volume in the TV while they were trying to settle the baby would infuriate them so much they would think furiously about snatching the remote control and putting in the blender. And it isnt because they are over reactionary females – but because this anger is a symptom they can’t control at the moment and we need to pay attention to it.

Some of the comments during the hour focused on self anger – the feeling of being utterly furious at yourself because you aren’t experiencing motherhood as you expected. White jeans , flowers in hair, an almond latte in that little organic cafe and a baby that has to be woken up because it loves sleep is sold to you by people who have never had babies yet claim to be experts . So when you have your child and it stays awake for 23 hours and 45 minutes a day, you turn your knickers inside out as you haven’t been able to get to the washing machine for days on end due to your boobs being needed every 5 seconds and you aren’t finding weeing in the shower and sitting on a rubber ring and a bag of Tescos frozen peas an absolute ball, it’s quite hard to enjoy it like the guru said you would. Its hard. Its bloody bloody hard. Every waking and sleeping moment , you are on duty. Its like the dream job you applied for but appears to be a horror show. You don’t have a lunch break. You can’t take annual leave. The new staff member you are managing constantly needs your help and attention and you can’t say , think I might go back to my old job as this one isn’t quite the right fit for me because this job is forever.

And then you feel very very cross with yourself because you chose this life. You are lucky – you have a baby so why can’t you enjoy it you think ? Why why why? Stupid me, I am so bloody anger at myself for all of this and just want to scream and shout and let it all out.

And when you do, someone tells you to calm down. And I was watching Khloe Kardashians Instagram today and she placed a quote saying no one ever in the world calmed down because they were told so and she is right. And this is key. Saying calm down to a mum experiencing anger as a symptom of a Maternal Mental Illness is the same as “pull yourself together “ . They would do if they could but they can’t because it is an illness that needs the right help and support to get better. We haven’t told Angela down the road to get on with baking those cakes even though she has broken both her arms do we ? Because we know she needs time to heal. So we go and help Angela stir the bowl and put the cakes in the oven . We need to do this with mums.

Feeling like this does not make you awful. It does not make you ungrateful. It means you are doing the hardest job in the world and are experiencing a symptom that needs help and support. With the right help and support , the saucepan can stay in the cupboard and most importantly, you will feel better. Always remember that this isn’t your fault – it is an illness that will get better.

Take a look at the article I posted which had so many comments. It is super informative and you will see you are most definitely  not alone https://www.mother.ly/life/we-need-to-talk-about-postpartum-rageand-why-it-happens

I don’t like it , I don’t love it , I don’t want anymore of it

Now. This is one people don’t like to admit.

Admitting you don’t think you like or love your baby.

WHAT?? How can a woman not love her baby some wail. She made it , she wanted it , it’s so helpless , how ungrateful of her , are just some of the comments I have heard when a very distressed and unwell mum bravely says she doesn’t think she feel anything for her child.

You may have read comments from mums that say they are in the awful mist that is postnatal depression and they feel so terrible suffering because they love their baby . But there are also mums that don’t have this feeling and they are so scared to admit it. It can start when you give birth – you wait for that moment that everyone talks about , the moment when your new child is placed on your chest and the birds sing, you experience a feeling of bliss and contentment you have never felt before and life feels complete . But you wait and wait and wait and it doesn’t happen. You can’t hear any tweets , the hills don’t feel alive and the sound of music isn’t playing from your heart. Instead you think , why in gods name have I done. I don’t like this . I have made a terrible mistake. I feel scared . I don’t love my baby.

Then you go home and the days go on and you think the tiredness will pass and as it does, the wave of love will float in. But this doesn’t happen and instead you feel like you can never imagine having this baby in your life forever. And what makes it worse if your partner is in awe , the amazon delivery person melts into a puddle as they deliver next doors new juice extractor and see your baby yawning and the checkout girl in Aldi goes ga ga with stars in her eyes when she sees a tiny glimpse of baby toes. And your mother in law cries all the time. Like you. You are crying all the time but she is crying as she is besotted whereas you are because you can’t feel any other emotions. It’s a numbness where you thought a huge pang of love would be . You knew what love was  – you loved your parents , you loved your husband. I am pretty convinced I spent about 5 years in love with Jamie Dornan even though I have never met him, so loving a baby that was made by me would have been absolutely easy.

My friend Kate wrote this a brilliant blog on this very subject and I urge you to read it if you feel this way . For she not only talks about the terrifying feeling of not loving your baby but how this feeling , though it may feel like it , will go. Kate talks about feeling detached, feeling like an alien, feeling like she was playing mummies and daddies as a child. A game of pretend so no one knew what her real feelings were.

And then she talks about the day she felt a pang, but not of fear or panic, but of love and how this grew to a deep bond that knocked her for six . You may feel like this day wont come and are in fear at what you feel now. You may feel like you feel nothing at the moment but it will lift. You will love and PLEASE remember you are loved by your baby and the numbness you feel will not be felt by them. You are not ruining them for life for feeling like this – they know your sound and your smell. They know mummy and that is enough. You are enough .

Here is Kate’s blog https://the-motherload.co.uk/i-didnt-love-baby/

INTRUSIVE THOUGHTS.

I have put this in big old letters as these thoughts plague LOADS OF MUMS BUT NO ONE TALKS ABOUT THEM. These are basically thoughts or images that keep coming into your mind. These are sometimes called obsessions by docs. They can be very upsetting and you can visualize things you don’t want to see. These are more common than people realize and when I spoke of mine, I found others had them also. Remember, however distressing the thoughts or visions, please don’t hold back from telling medical professionals about them. To treat you properly, they need to know your thoughts and feelings. And I guarantee, you won’t be the first to talk about these kind of symptoms to them.

TRIGGER WARNING

So – let’s talk about intrusive thoughts. This may be triggering, so if you need to stop reading, stop. This blog is for info to help you but if you feel like you can’t read anymore, then put your phone down and stop reading. You can always come back to this when you feel ready.

Ever had that feeling, as you are stood waiting for the 17.58 train to Brighton, eating a Mars bar and reading about how to contour your cheeks like Kim Kardashian, that you want to jump in front of a train as it zooms past? Yep? And you think, that’s a bit weird, of course I won’t jump in front of the train, and you finish said mars bar and the thought leaves your brain in a second.

When I was younger, I had thoughts of grabbing scissors and hacking my hair off. If I HAD DONE, I WOULD HAVE CRIED FOR 27 YEARS, but I found it hard to shake the feelings. I once chucked the scissors up in the air to put them on top of the cupboard but they just fell down on my head and then I got my husband to put them away as I was convinced if I had them, I would perform a bob on myself reminiscent of a 3 year old cutting out shapes – one side short, the other down to my knees and a fringe that is half way up my head performing the conga.

Well, imagine having these thoughts all the time. About your baby. ARGH. Scary isn’t it?

When you are pregnant, people throw advice at you – the random lady in Costa tells you that you shouldn’t be eating a caramel shortbread if you want to have a boy for example. No one tells you however, that when you give birth, it is possible that your mind can fill with terrifying thoughts that will cover you like a black cloak and refuse to go.

I know of one woman who developed a deep fear of batteries being near her baby. She could not stop the thoughts of them exploding near her baby’s face and so she went around the house and took the batteries out of everything. Her mind was filled with horrible thoughts of her baby’s face being burned by batteries and this impacted on her life in so many ways – she didn’t accept toys from well-wishers that were battery operated, the remote controls were rendered useless and clocks stood at a standstill around the house. Her husband told her it was complete and utter madness to march around the house opening up radios and emptying batteries into the outside bin and her mother in law told everyone her grandsons mother wasn’t right in the head. How nice.

Some mums have visions of hurting their baby and refuse to pick up knives or go in the kitchen. They visualise dropping the baby on its head so avoid holding their baby.

The one that NO ONE DARES TO MENTION are the thoughts of a sexual nature. Mums I have supported or spoken to who have had these thoughts are deeply deeply distressed by them and absolutely won’t tell a health care professional about them – with the fear of their baby being removed from them and them being labelled a paedophile and put on the sex offenders register. They have told me that the thoughts just pop into their brain like a poison that won’t go away and totally grips them. They say they would sit in fear, unable to move with thoughts of “what if I actually do what is seeping through my brain? Am I actually capable of this? The fact that these awful awful thoughts and images won’t go is terrifying and disgusting me” and it makes them want to avoid their baby. They say they think , this is my baby, I love them and I want to protect them from any harm and I am thinking these thoughts , these thoughts of harming them in the worst possible way myself ? Does this mean I am going to do it? Should I even be here as their mummy? Should I go and take them out of the way of my harmful thoughts?

One mum told me she would have flashes of thoughts throughout the day, so much so, that she didn’t want to pick her baby up or change its nappy. She would say, why can’t I just be a normal mum? They make me think that I am evil and disgusting. These are deeply deeply distressing thoughts but I need to say this very clearly:
Thoughts of harming your baby do not mean in any way that you want to do this or will do. Quite the opposite in fact.

The charity Maternal OCD (who are absolutely utterly BRILLIANT) says ‘obsessions can be focused on anything from germs to symmetry. When OCD presents itself during motherhood, the responsibilities for the life and well-being of a helpless infant may be experienced as a chronic stress’ and lists some symptoms as :

– Fear of contamination to the mother, child or anyone in contact with the child e.g. perceived risk of HIV, food poisoning
– intrusive thoughts of stabbing/hurting /dropping /touching the newborn baby
– Doubts that harm could come to child e.g. bottle steriliser not working
– Perfectionism e.g. everything around the house has to be a certain way

Maternal OCD says that ‘to try and eradicate the anxiety attached to the obsessions, mothers with OCD will act out rituals to ensure their child is safe and no harm will come to them. In fact, this makes the OCD worsen. Although the anxiety attached to the obsession reduces short-term it returns stronger and stronger. This means that potentially the mother is acting out rituals for a significant amount of her day’.
They list some examples of these below:

– Hyper vigilance when meeting new people or going to public toilets, this will include avoidance of touching other people, planning a day out around toilet breaks and using excessive wet wipes and hand sanitisers
– Hiding anything sharp around the house
– Constantly checking the gas is turned off, the petrol pump is working correctly
– Waking earlier than necessary and going to bed later than necessary to ensure the house is ‘just so’
– Constant reassurance seeking from friends, family members and maybe health professionals that the child is unharmed.

If you experience any of the symptoms, please tell your doctor. There is a great article at http://bjgp.org/content/67/661/376tes which informs health care professionals on how to normalise intrusive thoughts for concerned parents. It states:
‘Intrusive thoughts or images of causing harm to one’s infant are common in the general population. Experiencing the intrusive thoughts makes them no more likely to harm their infant intentionally than any other parent is to harm their own infant intentionally. There is no need to avoid triggers or situations that give rise to the intrusive thoughts or images. Avoiding them actually tends to increase the frequency of the thoughts and it also advises that “Intrusive thoughts of harming one’s baby are common among clinical and non-clinical samples alike. However, they may become more distressing and harder to cope with in mothers who are suffering from mental health problems. Such thoughts can be elicited through careful and sensitive questioning (especially emphasising to parents that these are common and do not mean that they will act on them). Once parents are able to acknowledge and talk about these thoughts and appreciate that experiencing them is very common, they often diminish in significance and frequency. Where they persist, treatment for intrusive thoughts is available using standard cognitive behavioural techniques.’

So please take this as reassurance that it’s okay to open up to your doctor about your feelings. And this is what you need to remember. Having these thoughts does not mean you will act on them. There are lots of treatments, from CBT to medications to support you through to recovery and help to minimise the thoughts. Maternal OCD have a whole page dedicated to treatment options and emphasizes how these symptoms are very treatable – http://maternalocd.org/about-perinatal-ocd/ .

They also have a great page on how to access help if you have Perinatal OCD and details both professional and peer support – please take a look http://maternalocd.org/finding-help/ . You aren’t alone with these thoughts and there is help to get you through what is a very distressing time.

I am the coordinator of the UK Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week with my friends in the Perinatal Mental Health Partnership, and during the 2018 week,  we asked Maternal OCD to run a Facebook live session to talk about the illness, how to get help and to answer questions live from mums and health care professionals. They did and it was an incredibly gentle and insightful session. The session was delivered by Maria Bavetta who runs the charity and has lived experience and a psychiatrist and the recording is below . It’s been viewed nearly 5000 times and feedback from mums has been that it’s a really useful session – https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=762568750601030&id=587696788088228.

Everyone experiences their own individual and different symptoms when unwell after having a baby. If they make you feel awful , then you deserve help and support. Opening up to a doctor can be scary and I want to do all I can to help make that step easier

My friends at Smile Group have this fab checklist you can fill in with your feelings ( esp if saying them out loud scares the rollocks of you ) and you can just hand it to your doctor – http://www.thesmilegroup.org/help-from-the-professionals/ .

And here is the lovely Dr Stephanie who is a GP who had postnatal depression twice. During the 2018 awareness week she did a facebook live about how to open up to your GP 9 she talks lots about intrusive thoughts ) so if you are feeling anxious, hopefully this talk can ease your mind and prepare you – https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=763409700516935&id=587696788088228

Finally – I wrote this a while back about all the maternal mental illnesses there are , their symptoms, how to access treatment and details of support across the UK. Do take a look and I hope it is helpful.

https://smalltimemum1.wordpress.com/2018/10/10/new-how-and-where-to-access-help-and-support-for-maternal-mental-health/

Its the hardest job in the world being a mummy . These symptoms may not be talked about a lot but you are not alone. I promise you . Take a look at #PNDhour with @pndandme every Wednesday night at 8pm on Twitter-  http://pndandme.co.uk/what-is-pndhour/ – and you will see.

x

 

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Melt me in a chocolate Santa and roll me in new year nuts – the resolution to love myself like others love me.

While others are clad in spandex, squatting their way through their new years resolution of eating boiled eggs , a gust of wind and a glass of air, I started 2019 how I finished 2018. Stood in the kitchen naked bar my pants and one sock, drinking the dregs of the New Years Eve bucks fizz for breakfast, making a sausage roll and chilli heatwave dorito sandwich, dipping cocktail sausages in marmite.

I then went back to bed with the chocolate santa. I made a resolution to not make any resolutions and rolled into my husband who put his arm over me and held my tummy and went to sleep. The holding of my tummy made me open my eyes and think . When I was younger , the idea of a man holding my actual somewhat soft tummy that falls to the side similar to an ice cream melting in the heat would have sent me into a right old spin. I wouldn’t have let it happen as I would have feared they thought I was fat and be disgusted and wonder why on earth were they in bed with me. But my husband willingly does it. He likes putting his arm over me and cuddling my tummy . On a Monday morning , while I am on breakdown number 76 since getting out of bed , with 3 false nails stuck in my hair, hollering at my child to move quicker than the half dead slug he is impersonating as we are late for school and if we are late that means the receptionist will moan at mummy for not paying for the last 3 weeks worth of school dinners , my husband walks past me on the way to the shower and strokes my hip and tells me I look lovely. One look in the mirror shows I have roots so grown out that I could be a Jerry Springer guest , all the hairs everywhere appear to have flourished with the rainfall and the underwire on my bra is about to take my eye out, but he thinks I look nice. More than that, he tells me I look perfect. And he doesn’t have mud in his eye. I have checked. Numerous times.

Weird eh? I always assumed I was horrible to look at and everyone would think I was and it has taken quite the time to accept my body for how it is. All curly wurly like a road map. Think kardashians with extra butter and cream on top. With a tequila chucked in.

So I went back on myself and decided to make a resolution – I resolute to like me . To like how I look. To be healthy and happy and show my son how good it is to like the body you are in as it will be with you forever.

During my teenage years, I thought I was fat.Looking back at photos of myself , I had orange tinged hair from a catastrophic use of sun in , purple lipstick with a silver shimmer from my eyeshadow and a foundation ring around my chin. I think I probably smelt of body shop white musk as well, and looked fairly ridiculous. I also had a very avant- garden beige faux leather, probably faux plastic blazer and wore leopard print trousers to my English lit A level. Kylie Jenner I was not. So while my outfit and make up choices were slightly suspect, my weight wasn’t a problem. For me it wasn’t initially anyway. It was for others though and the brief flippant comments about it built up over time which inevitably made me look at my hips, thighs and stomach and encase myself in a measuring tape everyday.

A school ski trip filled me with joy. On return home, someone I knew said, just as I got off the coach, when I was 14 years old “ why aren’t your legs skinny? When I went on the ski trip , my legs came back skinny”. The very fact someone felt they could look at my legs, make a mental note on their thickness level, decide that it was ok to publicly say this to the rest of the playground and then top it with the reduced fat cutting comment of how their body looked better than mine , sent my head into a spin. Another told me a year later that I was ok to look at from the side but from on, my bum was too big.

My stomach was never my best feature but pregnancy and a c section has secured its lack on the washboard front . Who knew it was possible for a stomach to hit a thigh when one walks? Frequent exercise as I can’t drive as it would be a public health risk , has produced decent cardio health but the lower part of my physical body has created its own ladder somewhat.

But motherhood has , I don’t know, made me feel okay to be in this body. Because I feel like I am the body I should be in. I think I actually accept myself and how I look. Over Christmas, I was quite unwell and my sinuses got very blocked and I lost my hearing for a little while. As I have been off work while I try and find my ears, I am aware I have consumed a diet of subtitles , Fanta, scones topped with brandy cream and Yorkshire puddings with jam and broken nothing of a sweat getting out of bed to turn the tv with the occasional terrifying 4 minute walk to the GP and that I have padded out a little. A shirt dress I own currently has my hips making a bid for freedom but I don’t really care. My heart is beating with health and within a wealth of love and acceptance and for that Father Christmas , I am truly grateful.

Joe once asked me what the funny lines are that cross my tummy and my hips. I taught him about periods and sex when he was three so figured a sit down chat about mummy’s stretch marks wouldn’t terrify him too much. I explained that when I was pregnant and he lived in my tummy , that he grew rapidly. And his tiny little legs and arms would stretch out needing room and my skin created these lines while it made room for him.

The marks and shape of my body tell a story. They tell my story. And they also tell Joe’s story. They tell the story of me becoming a mother. The stretch marks that run along my tummy show where my boy made himself comfortable in the home I made for him for 9 long months. My tummy that hangs does so because he grew so big and strong. My c section scar shows how he was brought into the world, into my arms, before he lay on my chest. And my boobs. They kept him alive . They fed him and nurtured him and I celebrate that. This body created a grew a whole new life and then nourished it for such a long time. My mum said, as she saw Joe feeding from me, after not really understanding how breastfeeding worked, “isn’t nature amazing” and she was right. It is incredible.

One of the loveliest memories I have with my son is when he pressed his belly button into mine and said “this is where we were connected mummy”. That belly button that was pierced when I was 15 in a low rent attempt to be like Britney Spears (a drunk in Times Square told me I looked like Britney Spears at 3am, 10 years after said belly button piercing and 5 years after I had it removed as it kept getting stuck on my knickers , being tangled in the uncurling cotton of a pair of pants and I would find my head by my own vagina as I attempted to unravel myself. Bye bye belly piercing ). But now it represents how I nourished Joe as he grew in me. We were connected by our belly buttons and it gives my stomach a whole new dimension.

I do not talk about my problems with eating as a teen much as I don’t want Joe , my lovely son, to pick up the weight negatives that constantly surround us. I cringed when someone said to him as a 5 year old that he would eat a fat tummy if he had another scoop of ice cream.

In the past as a teenager, the food I ate didn’t remain in my stomach. Rapidly and frequently, I would make it come up my from stomach and I would see it floating in the toilet in front of me. I knew I needed to eat to start alive and I enjoyed food, but I didn’t enjoy what I thought it was giving me – a body I felt disgusted with. A body I felt so ashamed to be living in , I didn’t want to leave the house. A body I felt so disgusted by, I didn’t even answer the phone because I thought people would hear I was fat in my voice. The making myself sick period of my life has gone but the remnants of it remain – my front tooth needs to be replaced as it is so thin from acid erosion that it has two cracks down it. One of my gums has completely eroded and two root canals can’t save it. I panic about what I did to myself so now, around 18 years on , I want to treat my body with the nurture it deserves. I can fix my teeth, I am fortunate enough to be able to do that but I want to ensure I show Joe that we are more than how we physically look. But also that we should celebrate how we look because our bodies are our storytellers.

I used to hate my hips. Now people are buying hips. I used to think I would offer them mine for a good price but I think now I am attached , quite literally, to the flesh that provides the softness to my growing old bones. I used to sit and irritate John for a tummy tuck and dream of wandering around the pool on an all inclusive in a string bikini but now I think if I had this flesh removed I would cry that I had got rid of Joe’s old house in my tummy and beg the surgeon to give me a keepsake.

2 months ago, I got the chance to go on a kid free all inclusive with the husband. I grabbed it with all of my hands whilst I dreamt of the time off work, a break from wrestling my child from pissing out of the window and being able to legitimately consume 8 croissants for breakfast.

I can confirm it was a jolly hoot. I had 6 meals a day and shots of gin as a snack. I had no tan. I had a nutritious breakfast of aperol spritz every morning & made it my mission to get banned from aqua aerobics for being drunk. And I achieved it. To confirm, while everyone else having a super time relaxing by the pool, I was asleep on a sun lounger at 11am in a leopard print swimming costume, as a result of the cava I consumed for breakfast. I had the greatest time of my life. I walked around in my pants not breathing in and it was bliss.

This body has seen me through so much. My mental health has tested me and almost broke me. I had Postpartum Psychosis after I had Joe and I felt like nature was playing a terrible trick on me. The brain that played these psychotic tricks however has also proved to be more resilient than 1000 non stick flying pans. Every bit of mental health hell that has been chucked at me hasn’t stuck. It has remained there for a while and at times I thought my symptoms had latched on to me as a permanent stain but after much work, with the right cleaning products in the form of anti depressants, the symptoms came off, like a stubborn stain on a pan does eventually. Every so often something sticks again but I know with time and determination, I will be clear again.

The stomach and hips housed a child and enabled me to give birth via a c section because of my broken vaginas. I can’t give birth vaginally as I have uterus didelphis ( two wombs and two of lots of other things – google will fascinate you about it ) and if a child attempted to exit that route, they would find a road closed sign in their way. So sunroof it was and I had my baby. C sections are major surgery and recovery is tough. My body lived that and it’s done its job well and I am forever grateful. The scars and excess skin are some of the chapters of the story of my body.

Joe looks at me and just sees his mummy. These hands cook his favorite beef stew and rare rump steak with franks hot red sauce. These hands  also wave broccoli  and cut up 3 apples a day for  him. My legs are what he held onto as he learnt to take his first steps. They were his guide ,they were his support that he gripped when he took a tumble. My tummy is a pillow he lays on when he is poorly, my hands hold his when he is scared or nervous.

I used to cut labels out from clothes so I wouldn’t be reminded of my size every time I put clothes on. No more. I am strong , I am me , I am mummy. My body is my story and there is still lots to tell. As I approach 40 , everything is a little bit lower. The lines are forming deeper. I think I have a beard. But it’s okay.  I love working out. I work out almost everyday. I do about 20000 steps a a day and love my fitbit . I shut the bedroom door and shout that I do not want to be disturbed for the next 45 mins. It is my time to dedicate to my own health. It is my time to unwind from the frazzle and its my time to be me. Which is so so important .

This body has served me well and while everything is dropping , I am still standing and that’s all that matters.

Except when I am drunk on a sun lounger in Spain. Then it is the absolute shizzle to not be standing.

Like a dandelion- in the space of a single moment, a single breath, it goes from being there, to gone.

I always knew having a baby would be hard. Having a condition where I have two wombs and two vaginas meant I had been seen by practically the entire medical unit of East London and had had suspected pregnancies before. Some hadn’t been picked up, others were called chemical, others were to be medically removed. My body just didn’t seem to know what to do with them once the sperm decided which womb to swim to and the frustration at not being able to bribe it into working was intense.

9 years ago, I experienced another pregnancy loss. It was this pregnancy that showed us we wanted a family and showed us we needed proper medical support for that to happen.

I found out I was pregnant at 3pm on a Sunday afternoon at the Hospital. No weeing on a stick, no, ooh my boobs feel sore, not even a missed period. Having two wombs means my periods have spontaneous parties, some big, some small, but all seemingly drunk and confused as I often got two at once and none for 3 months. Back to the Sunday afternoon….

I worked in a pub on Sundays and Mondays. I had lived there for years before I met John and it still held a big place in my heart and I loved being there so on Monday nights I ran the bar and sang with the band and on Sundays , I would roast 30 chickens, season 3 topsides of beef, massage 2 pork shoulders and cook a partridge in a Peartree at Christmas time. That morning, I had peeled approximately all the potatoes from Sainsburys and covered myself in enough gravy, I could have delivered myself to a customer’s table and been their own personal dipping sauce. At around 2pm, I had a tantrum that my Yorkshire puddings were stuck in my non-stick muffin pan and went to deliver 2 chicken dinners to a couple in the bar. As I walked down the steps, I slipped and fell down the stairs like a human slinky and found myself at the bottom with half a chicken resting on my boobs and the Yorkshire puddings even more out of shape than me after 3 days at an all-inclusive.

Bar the embarrassment of being a human roast dinner, I had hurt my back and with the hospital opposite the pub, I wet to Casualty to get checked over. As part of the initial tests, I had to give a wee sample and after 10 mins, a nurse came in to see me and asked my friends to leave the cubicle. I was convinced that by some weird medical science thing, my wee was able to say I had broken my back and she was about to tell me, but she didn’t. She looked awkward and said, Eve, is there any chance you could be pregnant? I thought for a moment … hmm. Well, I have had sex with John at some point between the Tesco delivery being dropped off and Christmas, but I can’t remember how, where or why. She looked at me and said, well Eve, I ask this, because this test tells me you are.

I called John, announced it to him in a blaze of glory and he rushed to the hospital to see my bruised back and the doctor reassured me the fall was minor. The morning after, I began to bleed very lightly and went to the doctor who did a pregnancy test on me and declared I wasn’t pregnant and that two lines meant negative. I asked him to be read the instructions only for him to confirm I was indeed pregnant and due to my womb and pregnancy issues previously, was sent to the early pregnancy unit for an immediate scan. It was here I met my lovely lovely Dr who we still think of so fondly now, for a year later, he delivered our son Joe. But I met him here for the first time and was scanned and it was there we saw our tiny pregnancy, all 6 weeks old and the size of a pin head. I was reassured the fall hadn’t affected the pregnancy and I was so grateful.

It was explained that due to my uterus didelphis, I would be looked after weekly by the team to track the progress of the pregnancy. Lots of things around having two wombs and pregnancy being in the smaller womb etc etc but we left elated. Nervous but happy. Maybe our family dreams would come true.

Some weeks past. We had more scans, and all was going well and as we hurtled towards 10 weeks, we knew that shortly we could announce our happy news. One side of my tummy had slightly more swelling the other due to the two-womb scenario and I knew that was my pregnancy was progressing in me. All was good.

Until it wasn’t.

Trigger warning here , as I describe my loss. Stop reading it you need or want to and pick up at another time or don’t read again. Be kind to yourself and only read what you are comfortable with.

I remember the day it happened. Imagine like a dandelion- in the space of a single moment, a single breath, it goes from being there, full of hope, to gone, in one quick fell swoop. I woke up and went to roll into John for a morning cuddle. There has always been a safety in his arms in the morning time – my sleep was broken, and my dreams were odd, so waking up to a hug gave me my strength for the day. But this day something stopped me.

I stopped because as I opened my eyes, I felt wet, like when you wake up having started your period in the night. But it wasn’t that this time, it was another act of nature at play and this time a very very cruel one… I placed my hands inside my pyjamas and felt what I knew was blood. My mind started feeling numb and heavy and I leapt out of bed and ran to the bathroom holding myself, screaming for John. He was shouting what is it Eve, what’s happening. A moment of calm hit me, and I said I need my red hospital book. I need it now. I need to ring the early pregnancy unit. I heard crashing around and he brought it into me. I sat there, with my pants around my ankles, and rang the unit. I wanted to call them and tell them what I had felt. I was calm and straightforward on the phone, knowing that I was booking an emergency appt to tell me what was wrong as I had felt my pregnancy leave me as I sat on the toilet. I never knew it could happen like that.

We got there and sat and waited to be seen. John was tapping his feet nervously on the floor and I stared straight ahead, not daring to think of anything. The noise around me seemed muffled until I heard my name called. In we went with the nurse who had scanned me that first day I found out I was pregnancy. The same nurse who had scanned me the week before. Yet here she was scanning me for probably the last time.

John took my hand and squeezed it tight, kissed me on my cheek and head and told me he loved me over and over. Then he looked to the floor, feet tapping. I was making pleasantries, nodding, shifting my bum down on the table, moving around so the nurse could get the best view – all the things I had done before in my scans to see how my pregnancy was progressing – all those times to be told it was going well.

There was a silence, filled only by brief taps on to a keyboard by the nurse. And then it happened – I looked at the screen, the screen filled with my two wombs yet one of them looked different to how it was last week. At that point it had been filled with a tiny sac that seemed so small but so big in hope but now, now it was gone.

“I’m so sorry” were the words we next heard. She took my hand and said it again and turned the scanning screen away from us. There was nothing left on there for us to see yet that blank space was filling our minds. My eyes, the eyes that had started at the wall, started to well up. John buried his head into me and cuddled me and we started to cry together. The nurse stroked my head and said to get dressed and instead of going out the usual door, to go through the door at the back – as that door leads to the loss room, where we can sit for a while and prepare ourselves to leave the hospital. But this time with no scan picture to hold.

We sat in that room, which was beige and with two seats and one small table and it looked as empty as I felt, and we cried. John held my tummy and me and when it was time to leave, the door opened out into the waiting room, now full of pregnant women, some smiling, some on their phone, some holding pots of wee, all holding their red book. I was holding nothing. And I wasn’t smiling. I wasn’t on my phone. And I had no pot of wee as it wouldn’t need to be tested anymore. People looked at us, both in tears, me wearing a cardigan that I didn’t realise still had the stains of the morning on it and we realised they knew why we were there and why we had come out of a door they had not seen before. Our faces told our story to a group of strangers and my mind went into overdrive. I felt a pang of jealousy that they were pregnant, I felt cross that I had to see them and be scanned in the same place, but I also felt incredibly guilty that I was a reminder to them that not all pregnancies work out and I wanted to run down the corridor and not scare them.

I called work and told them. My boss said it was a shame and that she would see me after the weekend. It was a Friday. There was no way in hell I would be in on the Monday. I was still bleeding, and my body, heart and mind felt like they had burst. I had absolutely no clue how I was supposed to go back to work and face people and make spreadsheets and act as if they were important. I never understood excel and could never get bloody formulae to work and felt useless and now here I was, again feeling useless, as my body couldn’t keep my pregnancy safe. And no one had known about my pregnancy. So, on Monday I was supposed to go back and see Susan in accounts and talk about how my weekend was and what was I supposed to say? It was lovely thanks. I had a dinner of Cajun chicken, watched Weird Science, got some sweetcorn stuck in my tooth, had an internal argument with myself about whether I should shave my legs or not and had a miscarriage.

I phoned my mum in a haze of tears and told her I had had a miscarriage. We hadn’t told our parents as we had been so incredibly nervous. She cried with me and put my dad on the phone who broke down in tears. We then lay on the bed and held hands and at night he ran me a bath, pulling the sofa out for me, making me hot water bottles and surrounding me in pillows and covers. Anything he could do to make me feel better, John did.

Nothing can prepare you or the emptiness you feel especially when you have spent the last month getting used to your body being full of something you didn’t expect. One day it is there, the next it is gone. We didn’t thin about trying again as we hadn’t tried to begin with and everything was such a muddle. I was so scared. Instead, we booked a holiday to travel around America, which we did – I got offered a job by a woman in New York who had 8-foot-high hair and blue eyebrows and a man in Time Square asked me if I was Britney Spears. And I became obsessed with fruit machines in Atlantic City and wanted to move there and play bingo forever with a sherry in my hand.

Almost exactly one year later, after a weekend away where I had consumed enough wine to be considered an international export, I found out I was pregnant. The usual fear, panic, tears and inability to think further than a day ahead took place. We went back to the early pregnancy unit and was scanned by the same lady we saw the year before, we saw the same doctor who had promised to look after us all the way through, and he did again, and we reached the 10-week mark and then passed it.

At 12 weeks, we told everyone, but I was clear and told people about what had happened before. We bought absolutely nothing and asked people not to get us anything – it was just all too scary to think about. I was placed on progesterone therapy until birth, meaning I spent 30 mins each night attempting to get what resembled a dildo shaped candle up the correct vagina leading to the womb with the pregnancy in and then had to lay upside down on the beds as said candle type tablet melted inside me. When I got to around 24 weeks, attempting to get this over my stomach with my very small arms was something of a feat but we were assured this would help keep my cervix strong. I was told that I wouldn’t be able to go the full distance and Joe would be delivered early via planned c section as its nigh impossible to push a baby out of one of two very small vaginal canals.

In January 2010, I delivered my beautiful joyful son Joe by c section and the two wombs meant I was live learning experience for some trainees. My surgeon had looked after me every single week of pregnancy and he was the first to hold Joe. He was also covered in Joe’s urine which decided to gush out as he was pulled from my tummy and we were so incredibly grateful for his support. We had told no one of my due date, even though we had known it from 12 weeks so keep me from having to deal with the “do we have a baby” comments as I feared I would have to respond with a no, it’s not there anymore.

Giving birth brought us new life changing challenges that were never expected. A diagnosis of postpartum psychosis meant I felt scared of my baby and also provided a stint in a psychiatric mother and baby unit as I learnt to be able to be near and hold him. My main fear was of him being here forever and I was terrified of being a mum forever. Now he was here, I couldn’t send him back and I felt terrible guilt that for so long I had wanted children that my body hadn’t given me and yet here I was with the most beautiful child in the world, and I didn’t think I wanted him. It felt so cruel to put me through this when  wanted a baby so much.

My story of psychosis is covered in my other blogs, but I mention it as it the fear of that happening again combined with the very real prospect of further miscarriages due to the uterus didelphis and I have decided there will be no more babies.

I told Joe last year about this loss and how it led to him. At 7 years old, he took my tummy, and asked me what the marks were. I said they were stretch marks where his little feet and arms were growing and pushed my skin out. I showed him my c section scar and said that’s where you came out of and he then pushed our belly buttons together and said, “And this mummy is where we were joined” and I cried. He kissed my tummy and said I know about the other baby mummy. I was in there with her, but I was waiting to be born in the future.

I didn’t even know what to say to this. It was beautiful, it was healing, it was out of the blue and it was the her bit that really made me sit up. He drove his toy car of my stretch marks said yeah, she was a girl mummy, she was nice, and the car drove down my leg. Children say things at times that make you wonder, and John and I stood there staring at each other, not knowing what to say.

Time heals but you don’t forget. At times I don’t think about it and at times, it flashes into my mind when I am putting the lasagne in the oven or having a shower. Out of the blue, it’s there and I know this will probably be the case forever.

If you have experienced loss, my heart is with you.

 

 

 

NEW – How and where to access help and support for Maternal Mental Health.

It has been quite the few years for perinatal mental illness. From the EastEnders postpartum psychosis Christmas storyline a few years ago that I was involved with , the UK Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week that I help to coordinate as a member of the Perinatal Mental Health Partnership ,maternal mental health are the words on everyone’s lips. Which is wonderful.

But for us mums who have suffered or are suffering, it’s on our minds all the time. Being pregnant or having a baby and feeling like a shadow of your former self, has affected women for thousands of years . It’s with us all the time and it’s with us until we recover.

I had postpartum psychosis and anxiety and all I wanted to do was recover. I had my son and fell into a dark deep pit of hell. A doom watch came over me and convinced me my baby was a mistake, I hallucinated about being buried alive and I became so ill, I could see absolutely no way out from the hell I was in. It took almost 2 months to get me the correct treatment and when I emerged from my illness, I knew I needed to use my experience to help others. And this starts with empowering mums with knowledge about their symptoms and how to get help.

Whether you are at the start of what you believe to be or have been diagnosed as having a perinatal mental illness, mid-way through, where the horror of the start may be being chipped away by a sprinkling of golden good days here and there, or nearing the end where the fog has almost cleared, you can see the brightness of life before you with your baby and a smile allows itself to come through and the relief is feeling you want to bottle up forever, you need help and support.

And there is help and support available, provided by people who know what they are talking about and who know what may help you. Everyone’s experiences are different – whether its depression , anxiety, psychosis, OCD, feeling full of sadness , feeling full of fear , feeling alone – but what makes help great is it can be adjusted to help you in your situation.

It may feel like it but you aren’t alone. And it may not feel like it, but you will get better. The whizzy medical bods who like looking at graphs and number porn say that ‘1 in 7 women in the UK will be affected by problems with their mood during pregnancy and afterwards’. All these feelings tend to be termed under the Postnatal Depression in the media etc. but they shouldn’t be – not all the feelings are related to depression. So, the medical bods put these feelings under one banner and call it the perinatal period.

I am not a doctor. I have no letters after my name that signifies I’m a medical brainbox and I can’t diagnose you. I am a mum who has recovered and thought my only way away from my feelings of utter despair was to not be here anymore. But I am. I’m here and I am well and you will be too.

So I may not have a medicalology but what I can do is point you in the direction of good, accredited, proper, real, and decent, not made on the Christmas market type sources of support that can help you.

So, ready? Have a look below and we can go through symptoms and tell you where you can get help. I promise you are going to be ok.

Overview of Perinatal Mental Illness

I feel like a sack of potatoes have been thrown at me and I can’t get up. Does it have to be a big sack of potatoes or can it be just a little one? What do I do?

Whether your symptoms are classed as mild, moderate or severe, if they are making you feel bad then it’s bad and you need help. From one end of the spectrum of feeling low, you don’t need to be psychotic to deserve help. I see lots of women say ‘but I didn’t think I was ill enough’. You’re ill enough if it’s affecting your life. Whether it’s made you feel teary at the exhaustion of being woken up 27 times a night or hallucinate that your baby is God, (or like me, make you take your clothes off and run into the road while clinging to your hubbys ankles), you are woman and you need to roar. Roar that you need and deserve help. And if you feel you cant, hopefully some of the things in this post will help you take that brave first step.

Perinatal mental health support in medical terms is a bit of a postcode lottery. In one place you might have an amazing dedicated team who fall asleep with the NICE guidelines on mental illness after a baby on their pillow and have a Mary Poppins handbag of amazing treatments to help you. In another place, you might find yourself in front of GP who doesn’t look at you when you pluck up the courage to go and see them and thinks Postnatal Depression is a modern day concoction of middle class mummies who want to have it all but can’t. And then you may find an online doctor who has bought their degree via the University of Google, will only give you treatment options if you buy their book and who suggest a dab of apple cider vinegar on your temples will ease the anxiety away. Avoid these people, stick with malt vinegar and only use it to make your chips taste nice.

Someone once messaged me to say the reason I got ill was because I ate bread. I was unaware eating a product made out of flour, yeast and water and baked in the oven could make me hallucinate , run down the road with no clothes on and fill the garden with juice extractors. Because it’s not true. And I follow a low carb diet, so I seriously doubt a multi seeded sandwich roll resulted in me ending up in a psychiatric unit.So please continue to eat your cheese sandwiches – you have had a baby and need energy to not only look after them , but you as well. Because you being well is important.

For details on mental health in pregnancy and after birth and the symptoms and signs of perinatal mental health problems, please have a look at the links I post throughout . These are proper medical pages and will give you good info.

For a good overview of Perinatal Mental Illness, the NHS website below is good and isn’t overwhelming. Maybe bookmark it on your phone:  http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/mental-health-problems-pregnant.aspx

The Baby Blues

Ok. So , you come home from hospital and alongside having a sore fandango, wearing a lilo in your pants to soak up your postpartum bleeding and being unable to do a poo for fear of your stitches coming apart, you also feel a little bit sad, weepy and very very tired. Doctors tend to call this initial feeling the Baby Blues.
The Association Of Postnatal Illness say that ‘after the birth of a baby about half of all mothers suffer a period of mild depression called the blues’ and Babycentre say 8 out of 10! In normal terms – this means most mums then. And most mums I know have experienced teariness, exhaustion, and feelings of being overwhelmed, but these feelings pass very quickly and usually need no medical support.

Symptoms of the Blues are :

– Emotional and upset when they have the blues and they cry for no particular reason.
– Tired and lethargic
– Anxious and Tense
– Difficulty sleeping

Why do I feel like this you wonder ? Apparently its bloody hormones. GRR to them. Your body has just produced a baby and it all goes a bit haywire and your hormones start arguing with each other and have a minor falling out. Your boobs are filling with milk and your lovely home is now filled with a crying baby and cards are arriving and you can’t wee without it burning and it’s all just tooooo much.

But….this particular falling out doesn’t last and your hormones sign a peace agreement. The medical wonders say if you have the blues, these feelings may last for a few hours or, at most, for a few days and then they disappear and don’t need to be worried about. If they last longer than this though, seek medical help as it could mean something more serious is happening. Have a look at this link from the Association of Postnatal Illness for more information on the baby blues.
http://apni.org/the-baby-blues/

Antenatal/Prenatal Depression and Anxiety

As the super helpful NCT website says, antenatal depression can rear its ugly head while you are pregnant. Said baby is still in womb, giving you piles. You could have just found out you are pregnant and instead of feeling like those mums on Facebook who post a pic of their wee stained stick with the words ‘2 weeks pregnant’ while jumping up and down for joy with flowers round their head , you think jeepers, this does not make me feel spritely at all.

Or you could sail through said pregnancy, get to 7 month and suddenly get walloped in the head by the depression dodge ball which you haven’t dodged at all. It’s knocked you down and you find it hard and almost impossible to get-up.

This is a real illness. Don’t feel shame because being pregnant is tinged with sadness – antenatal depression and anxiety are becoming recognized and your GP can help. NCT have produced this simple webpage for more information.
https://www.nct.org.uk/pregnancy/antenatal-depression

Birth Trauma and PTSD

Giving birth can be traumatic but our antenatal classes con us into thinking if we master how to give birth on a bed made out of tofu and meditate ourselves into an orgasmic state, then we will simply feel like we are giving birth to a raindrop, hum the pain away and spend the next 20 years talking about how you could give birth every day. Which is beautiful.

But for some, birth isn’t that straightforward and can be a terrifying, anxiety inducing experience which leaves a big emotional mark on the mum. The Birth Trauma Association say that ‘when we talk of birth trauma, we mean Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that occurs after childbirth. We also include those women who may not meet the clinical criteria for PTSD but who have some of the symptoms of the disorder’.

The BTA outline characteristic features of PTSD as including:

– An experience involving the threat of death or serious injury to an individual or another person close to them (e.g. their baby).
-A response of intense fear, helplessness or horror to that experience.
-The persistent re-experiencing of the event by way of recurrent intrusive memories, flashbacks and nightmares. The individual will usually feel distressed, anxious or panicky when exposed to things which remind them of the event.
-Avoidance of anything that reminds them of the trauma. This can include talking about it, although sometimes women may go through a stage of talking of their traumatic experience a lot so that it obsesses them at times.
-Bad memories and the need to avoid any reminders of the trauma, will often result in difficulties with sleeping and concentrating. Sufferers may also feel angry, irritable and be hyper vigilant (feel jumpy or on their guard all the time).

Birth Trauma / PTSD is very real. Giving birth isn’t a bed of roses and can be an upsetting and difficult experience and you shouldn’t feel any shame if you are experiencing it. It can put women off having more much wanted children and that’s a horrible feeling to experience.

The BTA have a really helpful link on how and why you should access support here http://www.birthtraumaassociation.org.uk/help.htm
For more information see http://www.birthtraumaassociation.org.uk/default.asp

Perinatal OCD

Sometimes people call this Maternal OCD. You don’t hear much about this but you should – it’s not as rare as people think and can be distressing. The RCpsych page has piles of very good info so please take a look but as a quick view, RCpsych say the main symptoms are as follows:

INTRUSIVE THOUGHTS. I have put this in big old letters as these thoughts plague LOADS OF MUMS BUT NO ONE TALKS ABOUT THEM. These are basically thoughts or images that keep coming into your mind. These are sometimes called obsessions by docs. They can be very upsetting and you can visualize things you don’t want to see. These are more common than people realize and when I spoke of mine, I found others had them also. Remember, however distressing the thoughts or visions, please don’t hold back from telling medical professionals about them. To treat you properly, they need to know your thoughts and feelings. And I guarantee, you won’t be the first to talk about these kind of symptoms to them.

TRIGGER WARNING
So – let’s talk about intrusive thoughts. This may be triggering, so if you need to stop reading, stop. This blog is for info to help you but if you feel like you can’t read anymore, then put your phone down and stop reading. You can always come back to this when you feel ready.
Ever had that feeling, as you are stood waiting for the 17.58 train to Brighton, eating a Mars bar and reading about how to contour your cheeks like Kim Kardashian, that you want to jump in front of a train as it zooms past? Yep? And you think, that’s a bit weird, of course I won’t jump in front of the train, and you finish said mars bar and the thought leaves your brain in a second.
When I was younger, I had thoughts of grabbing scissors and hacking my hair off. If I HAD DONE, I WOULD HAVE CRIED FOR 27 YEARS, but I found it hard to shake the feelings. I once chucked the scissors up in the air to put them on top of the cupboard but they just fell down on my head and then I got my husband to put them away as I was convinced if I had them, I would perform a bob on myself reminiscent of a 3 year old cutting out shapes – one side short, the other down to my knees and a fringe that is half way up my head performing the conga.

Well, imagine having these thoughts all the time. About your baby. ARGH. Scary isn’t it?

When you are pregnant, people throw advice at you. Your mum says she fed you on a concoction of evaporated milk and strained prunes when you announce you will be breastfeeding, your auntie says she put your cousin, in her pram, down the bottom of the garden with a fly net over her so she didn’t eat them as she screamed and the random lady in Costa tells you that you shouldn’t be eating a caramel shortbread if you want to have a boy. No one tells you however, that when you give birth, it is possible that your mind can fill with terrifying thoughts that will cover you like a black cloak and refuse to go.

I know of one woman who developed a deep fear of batteries being near her baby. She could not stop the thoughts of them exploding near her baby’s face and so she went around the house and took the batteries out of everything. Her mind was filled with horrible thoughts of her baby’s face being burned by batteries and this impacted on her life in so many ways – she didn’t accept toys from well-wishers that were battery operated, the remote controls were rendered useless and clocks stood at a standstill around the house. Her husband told her it was complete and utter madness to march around the house opening up radios and emptying batteries into the outside bin and her mother in law told everyone her grandsons mother wasn’t right in the head. How nice.

Some mums have visions of hurting their baby and refuse to pick up knives or go in the kitchen. They visualise dropping the baby on its head so avoid holding their baby.

The one that NO ONE DARES TO MENTION are the thoughts of a sexual nature. Mums I have supported or spoken to who have had these thoughts are deeply deeply distressed by them and absolutely won’t tell a health care professional about them – with the fear of their baby being removed from them and them being labelled a paedophile and put on the sex offenders register. They have told me that the thoughts just pop into their brain like a poison that won’t go away and totally grips them. They say they would sit in fear, unable to move with thoughts of “what if I actually do what is seeping through my brain? Am I actually capable of this? The fact that these awful awful thoughts and images won’t go is terrifying and disgusting me” and it makes them want to avoid their baby. They say they think , this is my baby, I love them and I want to protect them from any harm and I am thinking these thoughts , these thoughts of harming them in the worst possible way myself ? Does this mean I am going to do it? Should I even be here as their mummy? Should I go and take them out of the way of my harmful thoughts?

One mum told me she would have flashes of thoughts throughout the day, so much so, that she didn’t want to pick her baby up or change its nappy. She would say, why can’t I just be a normal mum? They make me think that I am evil and disgusting
These are deeply deeply distressing thoughts but I need to say this very clearly:
Thoughts of harming your baby do not mean in any way that you want to do this or will do. Quite the opposite in fact.

The charity Maternal OCD (who are absolutely utterly BRILLIANT) says ‘obsessions can be focused on anything from germs to symmetry. When OCD presents itself during motherhood, the responsibilities for the life and well-being of a helpless infant may be experienced as a chronic stress’ and lists some symptoms as :

– Fear of contamination to the mother, child or anyone in contact with the child e.g. perceived risk of HIV, food poisoning
– intrusive thoughts of stabbing/hurting /dropping /touching the newborn baby
– Doubts that harm could come to child e.g. bottle steriliser not working
– Perfectionism e.g. everything around the house has to be a certain way
2) Anxiety – usually as a result of the thoughts. Then, thoughts or actions you keep repeating to try to reduce your anxiety. These are called compulsions.
The charity Maternal OCD says that ‘to try and eradicate the anxiety attached to the obsessions, mothers with OCD will act out rituals to ensure their child is safe and no harm will come to them. In fact, this makes the OCD worsen. Although the anxiety attached to the obsession reduces short-term it returns stronger and stronger. This means that potentially the mother is acting out rituals for a significant amount of her day’.
They list some examples of these below:
– Hyper vigilance when meeting new people or going to public toilets, this will include avoidance of touching other people, planning a day out around toilet breaks and using excessive wet wipes and hand sanitisers
– Hiding anything sharp around the house
– Constantly checking the gas is turned off, the petrol pump is working correctly
– Waking earlier than necessary and going to bed later than necessary to ensure the house is ‘just so’
– Constant reassurance seeking from friends, family members and maybe health professionals that the child is unharmed.

If you experience any of the symptoms, please tell your doctor. There is a great article at http://bjgp.org/content/67/661/376tes  which informs health care professionals on how to normalise intrusive thoughts for concerned parents. It states:
Intrusive thoughts or images of causing harm to one’s infant are common in the general population.
Experiencing the intrusive thoughts makes them no more likely to harm their infant intentionally than any other parent is to harm their own infant intentionally.
There is no need to avoid triggers or situations that give rise to the intrusive thoughts or images. Avoiding them actually tends to increase the frequency of the thoughts and it also advises that “Intrusive thoughts of harming one’s baby are common among clinical and non-clinical samples alike. However, they may become more distressing and harder to cope with in mothers who are suffering from mental health problems. Such thoughts can be elicited through careful and sensitive questioning (especially emphasising to parents that these are common and do not mean that they will act on them).
Once parents are able to acknowledge and talk about these thoughts and appreciate that experiencing them is very common, they often diminish in significance and frequency. Where they persist, treatment for intrusive thoughts is available using standard cognitive behavioural techniques.”

So please take this as reassurance that it’s okay to open up to your doctor about your feelings.And this is what you need to remember. Having these thoughts does not mean you will act on them. There are lots of treatments, from CBT to medications to support you through to recovery and help to minimise the thoughts. Maternal OCD have a whole page dedicated to treatment options and emphasizes how these symptoms are very treatable – http://maternalocd.org/about-perinatal-ocd/ .

Maternal OCD also have a great page on how to access help if you have Perinatal OCD and details both professional and peer support – please take a look http://maternalocd.org/finding-help/ .
You aren’t alone with these thoughts and there is help to get you through what is a very distressing time.
Some extra info pages on Perinatal OCD are below.
http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/healthadvice/problemsdisorders/perinatalocd.aspx
http://www.maternalocd.org/index.php

When we ran the 2nd annual UK Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week in May 2018, we asked the charity Maternal OCD to run a Facebook live session to talk about the illness, how to get help and to answer questions live from mums and health care professionals. They did and it was an incredibly gentle and insightful session. The session was delivered by Maria Bavetta who runs the charity and has lived experience and a psychiatrist and the recording is below . It’s been viewed nearly 5000 times and feedback from mums has been that it’s a really useful session.

Health Care Professionals – you may also find this useful to watch as a training tool and for guidance on how to support mums who present symptoms of Maternal OCD.

It’s here https://www.facebook.com/PerinatalMHPartnershipUK/videos/762568750601030/

Postnatal Depression and Anxiety

Everyone knows the term Postnatal Depression or PND as its more commonly referred to but even though the term is known about, mums feel a real sense of shame when admitting they think they are suffering. You don’t need to feel shame – motherhood is no picnic in those early days.

As a mum ,you may have just pushed a melon sized person out of your nether regions or had major surgery to evict them from your tummy, you can’t wee for fear of bursting your stitches , you can’t sit down because your stitches appear to have been too thoroughly done by what appears to be the local seamstress, if you have had a c section, it feel like you are going to break in half at any point, a river of blood is gushing out of you for 6 weeks, your boobs look like they have won the golden ticket to the playboy mansion , great auntie Vera wants to come and stay and help out for the first 3 weeks which is worse than the devil coming over to play with fire in the garden and your baby appears to have laughed in the face of evolution and doesn’t ever sleep. People say oh it’s the best thing ever isn’t it and you’re standing there with sick down your top and someone else’s poo under your fingernails and you think what the dickens , I feel awful. I feel like crying. FOREVER.

Symptoms and feelings like those listed below may go quickly like the baby blues, which I talked about earlier. But if they carry on, they could be leading to postnatal depression or anxiety.What you must remember though throughout all of this is – you are a good mum, a lovely person, a god damn warrior. Social Services won’t swoop your baby away and thinking distressing things doesn’t mean you will act on them. You are going through a hard time and you can’t just snap out of it. At the moment you are in a hole but you will get out of it.

You aren’t awful. Don’t feel ashamed. You are a good mum.

I thought I wanted the baby to live next door and was using up three rolls of toilet paper a day because was am crying so much. Oh god, the tears. They started when my parents dropped us home from the hospital, I clad in DVT socks with legs the size of a squeezable orange carton and the realisation hit me that this baby was here forever and I was in charge of it forever. And the tears then didn’t stop for the next 7 weeks. Wahhhhh . This was a big first indicator that I wasn’t revelling in motherhood.

As the RCpsych pages say, PND or anxiety symptoms can look like these:
Depressed
Irritable
Tired
Sleepless
Appetite changes
Unable to enjoy anything
Loss of interest in sex
Negative and guilty thoughts
You might think that you are not a good mother or that your baby doesn’t love you
You may feel guilty for feeling like this or that this is your fault -You may lose your confidence
You might think you can’t cope with things.

Anxiety

Anxiety can be awful after having a baby. For me , the symptoms were at times worse than my Psychosis. I had a deep fear of my baby and the thought that he was now here forever filled me with such fear, that I felt like I was in a constant panic attack.
My doctor asked me if I felt like I wanted to flush the baby down the toilet – she could have phrased it a tad better but I was just very scared of him. I couldn’t dump him like a boyfriend I suddenly stopped liking and I couldn’t sell him like a flat that I had got bored with – he was here forever now and the fear of that consumed me . But my symptoms are only one experience.
Some anxiety symptoms are below – these again are taken from the RCpsych website.
You may feel like:
Your baby is very ill
Your baby is not putting on enough weight
Your baby is crying too much and you can’t settle him/her
Your baby is too quiet and might have stopped breathing
You have a physical illness
You will never get better
You may feel like you won’t ever not feel like this -You may be so worried that you are afraid to be left alone with your baby.
When you feel anxious, you may have some of the following:
Racing pulse
Thumping heart
Breathless
Sweating
Fear that you may have a heart attack or collapse.
http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/healthadvice/problemsdisorders/postnataldepression.aspx

Postpartum Psychosis

Action on Postpartum Psychosis says that ‘Postpartum Psychosis (PP) is a severe, but treatable, form of mental illness that occurs after having a baby. It can happen ‘out of the blue’ to women without previous experience of mental illness. There are some groups of women, women with a history of bipolar disorder for example, who are at much higher risk. PP normally begins in the first few days to weeks after childbirth. It can get worse very quickly and should always be treated as a medical emergency. Most women need to be treated with medication and admitted to hospital’.

I was one of those women .You may have heard of this illness for the first time since the soap EastEnders featured it as a major storyline. The charity Mind worked with the BBC to get the portrayal of the illness right, as did APP and myself and another mum, Kathryn Grant, been acted as consultants to the storyline and met with the researchers and actors to discuss our experience.

It is a scary illness – lots of varying symptoms as shown below – for me, I felt very scared of ‘something’. I hallucinated that I was floating and thought the sky was able to be ripped apart. I was terrified of being in the same room as my son and had bright flashes in front of my eyes. Again though, these are my symptoms. My friend spent a day thinking she was the President of North Korea which was terrifying enough in itself.

As they are the very best source of info on PP, here is APP’s list of symptoms: There are a large variety of symptoms that women with PP can experience. Women may be:
– Excited, elated, or ‘high’. -Depressed, anxious, or confused / excessively irritable or changeable in mood.
Postpartum Psychosis includes one or more of the following:
-Strange beliefs that could not be true (delusions).  -Hearing, seeing, feeling or smelling things that are not there (hallucinations).  -High mood with loss of touch with reality (mania).  -Severe confusion.
These are also common symptoms:
-Being more talkative, sociable, on the phone an excessive amount.  -Having a very busy mind or racing thoughts.  -Feeling very energetic and like ‘super-mum’ or agitated and restless.  -Having trouble sleeping, or not feeling the need to sleep.  -Behaving in a way that is out of character or out of control.  -Feeling paranoid or suspicious of people’s motives.  -Feeling that things are connected in special ways or that stories on the TV or radio have special personal meaning.  -Feeling that the baby is connected to God or the Devil in some way.

Treatment for PP

PP is classed as a medical emergency and if you suspect you have it or your wife, partner, daughter, sister or friend may have it, you need to take her to a GP or hospital. Mums and little’s are often treated together in specialist psychiatric mother and baby units so to avoid the separation of mother and baby, wherever possible, by joint admission. I went into a mother and baby unit. It was fab.My bed wasn’t chained to the wall and I wasn’t made to wear a straitjacket while watching the TV. It was safe, calm, warm and purposeful and it started my recovery.

I’ve written about my experience in the unit here which I hope you will take some comfort in https://smalltimemum1.wordpress.com/2015/11/22/i-need-a-bed-of-strawberry-creams-in-a-place-of-recovery-dreams/ .
Once discharged, the local specialized Perinatal Outreach and Community Psychiatric Team visited me every day at home. Don’t be scared if you need to go into a mother and baby unit or see a perinatal team at home. They are great and will help you get better x
See http://www.app-network.org/ for more info.

Again, during the 2nd UK Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week in May 2018, we asked APP to run a Facebook live session to outline the symptoms of Postpartum Psychosis . Two healthcare professionals and a mum with lived experience led the chat and it has had more than 6000 views. Again, Health Care Professionals may also find this useful. Link is here https://www.facebook.com/PerinatalMHPartnershipUK/videos/764093897115182/ .

Suicidal thoughts

When you are feeling in such a way as described, suicidal thoughts may come into your head. It is very important here that if you feel like you are going to hurt or harm yourself and or attempt to take your life, you need to see a doctor right that very instant. Health Care Professionals are trained to deal with crisis situations.

Its ok to call the GP urgently and say you need to see a doctor and tell them why – It’s ok to go to casualty and tell them you are having these kinds of thoughts. You aren’t wasting their time. It’s ok to call your local mental health crisis team. If you don’t know their details, google crisis team and the area you live in and a number should come up.

All these things are more than ok – they are essential. You need and deserve help. You can and will get better. You deserve to be alive. People want and need you to be alive. You are a good person and you aren’t well. I reached the depths where I thought suicide was the only way out as I couldn’t see beyond my illness but there are services, medications, support networks that can help you recover and find your happy again.
If you are feeling like death is the only way out, you need urgent help. GP, Casualty, 999. Contact them.

The NHS has a very helpful page specifically for people who are experiencing suicidal thoughts. Take a look if you need to:
http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Suicide/Pages/Getting-help.aspx

I want to get better from my perinatal mental illness – what should I do?

For all of the things listed above, it’s super important to seek help. There are lots of ways of doing this.
– Contact your midwife, doctor or health visitor and tell them you are worried that you may have a problem with your feelings during your pregnancy or after the baby is born. Perinatal means up to 12 months after your baby is born so even if your child isn’t a gurgling little baba anymore, doesn’t mean you can’t be suffering!
-Doctors are used to seeing mums with these symptoms. Most docs are fab, some, as is life, not so much so. Ask the receptionist who is nice, who has a kind ear and who won’t stare at a computer screen while you are with them. If it’s too much to say in person, write it down and pass it to the receptionist if you can.
– If you see a doctor as they are as useful as a chocolate condom, then book an appointment to see another doctor. You can see 7865 doctors if need be. You deserve to be listened to.
– If you are a friend or relative of the person who is unwell, you may have to encourage them to make the appointment and go with them as they may not be aware of, or believe that there is a problem.

Accessing help from Health Care Professionals

It’s really hard to open up to a doctor or health visitor about how you are feeling .So , if you haven’t yet told your doctor about your feelings since having your baby, this may be useful for you.

The Smile Group have this great checklist you can complete and bring to the doctor should you not know what to say or how to say how you are feeling http://www.thesmilegroup.org/help-from-the-professionals/

Dr Stephanie De Giorgio is a GP who suffered from PND herself. During the 2nd annual UK Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week in May 2018, she ran an FB live session to tell people its okay to open up to their doctor, even if they have intrusive thoughts. Please take a look – it’s an incredibly useful session and Stephanie opens up about her own experience and shows you aren’t alone.

Health Care Professionals– please watch this. PLEASE. The Royal College Of GPs always sends out tweets asking doctors to always check on mums and their emotions and I can’t express this enough. If you are unsure how to help when a mum says she is suffering, have a watch and you will get some tips.

It’s here – https://www.facebook.com/PerinatalMHPartnershipUK/videos/763409700516935/

The Perinatal Mental Health Toolkit – http://www.rcgp.org.uk/clinical-and-research/toolkits/perinatal-mental-health-toolkit.aspx is a clinical resource for health care professionals to help them support unwell mums. However, it’s also a great resource for anyone but if you look after women and are a HCP , please use it.

Perinatal Guidelines in practice – https://www.guidelinesinpractice.co.uk/mental-health/practical-implementation-tips-perinatal-mental-health-problems/453729.article Dr Stephanie, who was referenced earlier, has produced these guidelines to support healthcare professionals when diagnosing an unwell mum. This again is a useful resource for anyone.

As HCPS, you may also find it useful to show mums this little film called Perinatal Positivity. Perinatal Positivity uses the real voices and experiences of women and men who have had mental wellbeing difficulties around the time of pregnancy, childbirth and beyond. The people who made it hope it will help mums emotionally prepare and find support, if needed, at this time. There is a subtitled version of the film on their clips page. It’s brilliant https://perinatalpositivity.org/

I wrote this for HCPs about supporting mums with maternal mental illness https://smalltimemum1.wordpress.com/2016/09/20/a-spoon-full-of-sympathetic-sugar-really-can-help-the-medicine-go-down/

Medicated and Mighty – what will get me better?

There are many effective treatments for perinatal mental health problems such as medication, therapy and support from charities. The vast majority of women make a good recovery. This is an illness like any other and it is vital that you receive help if you need it, so do not be afraid to ask for it.

Medication – sometimes you won’t need this, sometimes you will.
I thank the medication gods – I took so much at one point I was a human maraca but I got better. I’m still on a low dose now – I see meds like that song ‘Tequila, it makes me happy’. There is no shame in needing meds – they can help the awful fog in your head clear so you can focus on recovery. If you broke your leg you would wear a cast. Wouldn’t you? You wouldn’t roll down the street attempting to not land in a pile of dog poo because you thought you could pull yourself together, think happy thoughts and leg would magically be unbroken.
The charity Mind have a fab page on medication here which you may find useful to read http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/drugs-and-treatments/medication/#.Vsbx1ErfWrU .

Breastfeeding and Medication
If you are breastfeeding but need meds, that’s ok. There are lots of medications you can take while nursing. I was on anti-psychotics and anti-anxiety meds that were compatible with feeding and if you are wondering what meds are ok, or your GP isn’t sure, then the person to contact is Wendy Jones. Wendy is lovely. And super helpful.

During the 2nd annual UK Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, one of the main messages we wanted to give mums and families was to empower them with information on how to access support to help their recovery from maternal mental illness.

As one of the main areas of concern from mums is if they can take antidepressants if they are breastfeeding, so we made this little video with the help of Wendy ,which gives info on what anti-depressants you can take whilst nursing. It’s very good and informative and has helped over 15,000 mums!

Also, Wendy’s webpage is below and there is a tab with her contact details. If you are feeling too anxious to talk to Wendy, she is happy for you to send an email.
http://www.breastfeeding-and-medication.co.uk

Health Care Professionals – I beg you – please stop telling mums that in order to take any anti depressants, they have to stop breastfeeding. Please watch Wendy’s session, look at the Perinatal Mental Health Toolkit and look at these factsheets from the Breastfeeding Network which simply set out which anti depressants are suitable when breastfeeding https://www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/drugs-factsheets/ .

Let’s talk – therapy!

You don’t have to be a millionaire to go therapy and you don’t have to lay back on a sofa while someone with a clipboard nods while you are in a puddle of tears. Therapy is amaze balls. It can get to the root of why you are feeling the way you are and then help you develop coping strategies. I had CBT and EMDR therapy – which sounds ridiculous. – I had to follow a flashing light around the room to get over my trauma but it god damn worked. There are loads of different types of therapy so if offered to you, give it a whirl.

Again, the charity Mind have a great website on therapy http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/drugs-and-treatments/talking-treatments/types-of-talking-treatments/#.Vsbz20rfWrU

I wrote a blog on treatment options last year. Take a look https://smalltimemum1.wordpress.com/2015/02/26/tear-up-those-anti-depressant-prescriptions-all-you-need-to-do-is-climb-into-a-magicians-hatnudge-the-rabbit-out-of-the-way-and-abracadabra-youre-cured-in-a-puff-of-pull-yourself-together-smo/

Sources of further help

Maternal OCD http://www.maternalocd.org/ : A charity set up by mothers recovered from perinatal OCD, who can provide support via email, twitter and Skype. For further details please contact: info@maternalocd.org

OCD Action http://www.ocdaction.org.uk/ : A charity providing a dedicated OCD helpline, email support and advocacy service. Contact details: 0845 3906232; email: support@ocdaction.org.uk

Association for Postnatal Illness http://apni.org/ The UK’s leading PND charity provides telephone helpline, information leaflets and a network of trained volunteers who have themselves experienced PND. Helpline: 020 7386 0868.

APP http://www.app-network.org Association of Postpartum Psychosis offers support to those suffering Postpartum Psychosis and their families. APP are the specialists in this illness and for correct advice, please contact them. They also run a peer support forum.

Depression Alliance http://www.depressionalliance.org/ Tel: 020 7407 7584; email: info@depressionalliance.org Information, support and understanding for people who suffer with depression, and for relatives who want to help. Self-help groups, information, and raising awareness.

Home Start http://www.home-start.org.uk/ Tel: 0800 068 6368. Support and practical help for families with at least one child under-5. Help offered to parents finding it hard to cope for many reasons. These include PND or other mental illness, isolation, bereavement, illness of parent or child.

National Childbirth Trust http://www.nct.org.uk Helpline: 0300 330 0700. Support and information on all aspects of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood. Local groups and telephone helplines.

MAMA – The “Meet A Mum Association” http://www.mama.co.uk   Created to try and help thousands of mothers who feel out of their depth, depressed or a little isolated when their babies are born Helpline 0845 120 3746

The Samaritans http://www.samaritans.org/ 24-hour helpline 08457 90 90 90 (UK) or 116 123 (Ireland); Email: jo@samaritans.org. Confidential emotional support for those in distress who are experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including suicidal thoughts.

Tommys http://www.tommys.org Tommy’s pregnancy information service provides information and resources about mental health in pregnancy.

Tommys Midwifery-led pregnancy line http://www.tommys.org/mentalhealth is available for anyone worried about their mental health in pregnancy, or that of another (0800 0147 800).

Birth Trauma Association http://http//www.birthtraumaassociation.org.uk/ supports all women who have had a traumatic birth experience. It is estimated that, in the UK alone, this may result in 10,000 women a year developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).They offer emotional and practical support to women and also their families. They can offer email support to mums suffering, for more information please see this link http://www.birthtraumaassociation.org.uk/support.htm .

Mums Aid http://mums-aid.org provides inclusive and accessible psychological therapies for mothers experiencing a broad spectrum of emotional and mental health difficulties during pregnancy or postnatally.

Black Thrive was created was to help change the stigmatism that exists surrounding mental health in the black community. They would like every person and family dealing with mental health to know they are not alone. Black Thrive is there for them https://www.blackthrive.org.uk/Family-support

The Asian Mums Network offer some great pages on Maternal Mental Health and these linked through here https://asianmumsnetwork.co.uk

JAMI – The Jewish Association for Mental Health https://jamiuk.org/

The Muslim Bereavement support network can offer advice to mothers who have lost a child http://mbss.org.uk/losing-a-child/

Praxis run support groups for migrant mums and their babies http://www.praxis.org.uk/volunteer-page-24.html

Channel Mum is an online community for mums https://www.channelmum.com

mumsmeetup.com connects mums locally and across the UK and mums are able to search their county and locality to find mums similar by age, age of child and circumstances (such as mums to be, working mums, single parent mums & more). Also, mums of children with disabilities are able to search by similar conditions and location.

Mumsnet – https:/mumsnet.com makes paremts life easier by pooling knowledge and advice.

Netmums – https:/netmums.com offers parenting advice , chat and support. Netmumsalso have a parent supporter network offering free online support and advice. https://www.netmums.com/support/netmums-parent-supporters .

Single Parent Helpline: 0808 802 0925

Young Mums Support Network – https://ymsn.co.uk

Pink Parents – pinkparents.org.uk offer a range of support services and social activities for all Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual families.

Tamba – the twins and multiple births association offer support for parents https://www.tamba.org.uk/support-menu

Pregnancy Sickness Support https://www.pregnancysicknesssupport.org.uk/ offers support to mums struggling with pregnancy sickness/ Hyperemesis. They have a national support network for women suffering any degree of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy to access support and comfort at times of isolation and distress https://www.pregnancysicknesssupport.org.uk/help/supporters-network/ .

Information and support for anyone affected by miscarriage.
Website: http://www.miscarriageassociation.org.uk/
Email: info@miscarriageassociation.org.uk
Telephone: 01924 200799

Postnatal Depression Ireland http://www.pnd.ie
https://www.nurturecharity.org/

Moment Health http://www.momenthealth.io/ has a wealth on info on maternal mental illness including an emotions tracker.

The Every Mum Movement http://everymummovement.com/ contains information for mums on the illnesses, mum meet ups and how to ‘be mentally buff’.

Perinatal Mental Health Partnership https://www.facebook.com/PerinatalMHPartnershipUK/ . This is the group I am part of and you can follow us for information on the UK Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week.

Mind – Mental Health Charity http://www.mind.org.uk

Sane – Mental Health Charity http://www.sane.org.uk

Rethink – Mental Health Charity https://www.rethink.org

Bipolar UK – Mental Health Charity https://www.bipolaruk.org

Best Beginnings – https://www.bestbeginnings.org.uk/

Maternal Mental Health Alliance – https://maternalmentalhealthalliance.org/ . The Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA) is a coalition of UK organisations with a vision to see all women across the UK get consistent, accessible and quality care and support for their mental health during pregnancy and in the year after giving birth.

International Help – Postpartum Support International http://www.postpartum.net/get-help/locations/international/

Peer support and support groups

Peer support can be incredible – talking to someone who has been through what you’re going through and got better can give you real hope. However, do check that if you are going to a peer support group, that they are properly safeguarded with trained staff and volunteers, who have access to clinical supervision and support for themselves. Support leaders can have peer supporter training, Mental Health First Aid qualifications an example.

Please don’t attend support groups being run by mums who are still unwell. It’s not safe. The groups below are a snapshot of what is available across the UK .

Perinatal Mental Illness Peer Support Group – if you would like to join a Facebook support group for perinatal illness, this group may be useful to you. Part of an international group of around 15 support groups across the world, this is the UK and International group. The admin have Mental Health First Aid training and are recovered mums themselves https://www.facebook.com/groups/1732740973652517/

The Motherload –  If you would like to join a mums group on Facebook to be amongst supportive non-judgemental mums, then The Motherload could be beneficial https://www.facebook.com/groups/wearethemotherload/

Association for Postnatal Illness-  http://apni.org and helpline 020 7386 0868. Provides telephone helpline, information leaflets and a network of volunteers who have themselves experienced PND.

Cocoon Family Support http://cocoonfamilysupport.org/ . The fantabulous Cocoon Family support is a London based charity. It supports those affected by postnatal depression, and mothers who are struggling to deal with difficult emotions before and after birth. They provide a safe and supportive environment where families can get together with others who may be feeling similar to themselves. They also provide a range of services to aid and support recovery. They are based in SE1, NW1, NW3 and NW6 and can be accessed by people across London and its borders.

The Smile Group http://www.thesmilegroup.org/ .  The SMILE Group was co-founded by Natalie Nuttall and Ruth Eglin in 2011 after they both experienced PND and felt passionate about the need for parents to benefit from sustained peer support at a local level. They run support groups each week for mums in Cheshire East.
Macclesfield – every Friday, 10am to 12pm Congleton – every Wednesday, 10am to 12pm

Raindrops to Rainbows http://www.raindropstorainbows.co.uk . Run by the lovely Steph who is trained to provide support and advice, R2R provide peer support to mums to be and mums in the North East. They currently have five groups covering Teeside, County Durham and South Tyneside areas. The website has full details and there is a Facebook page.

Open House Nottingham http://openhouse-notts.org/ . Open House (OH) was founded by a group fab Mums in early 2012 with the aim of supporting those who are or have been affected by any psychological and emotional condition which has developed during pregnancy or during the postnatal period. These include antenatal depression, postnatal depression, anxiety & OCD. They run drop in groups in Nottingham and details are here http://openhouse-notts.org/our-drop-in-groups/ .

Lotus Petal PND https://www.facebook.com/LotusPetalPND/ Support group run every other Monday 9.30-11am at Little Lions Children Centre in Essex. Run by Sarah, who is the nicest lady in the world, she welcomes any mum in Essex needing support. Contact details are on the Facebook page.

Juno Perinatal Mental Health Support http://www.juno.uk.com/ Juno Perinatal Mental Health Support was founded in February 2015 by a group of mums in Edinburgh who all have personal experience of perinatal mental health difficulties. They are kind, lovely women. They support mums through Weekly peer support groups across the city where we offer advice and information One-to-one befriending through our outreach program Access a subsidised counselling service out with our groups with a trained professional. They run four groups and details are here http://www.juno.uk.com/our-groups/

Bluebell Care http://www.bluebellcare.org/ Bluebell is a charity based in Bristol supporting mums, dads and families who are affected by antenatal or post-natal depression. They run regular, free groups Mums’ Comfort Zone, together with free creche provision, in South, North and Central/East Bristol. They prioritise the support we are able to provide (due to funding constraints) as follows: young parents from the Hartcliffe/Withywood/Bishopsworth area in South Bristol, parents from the Henbury/Brentry area in North Bristol and parents from St Pauls, Easton, Montpelier’ and Stokes Croft area in Central/East Bristol.
They also offer 1:1, informal, support via the Bluebell Buddy who can arrange to visit mums at home and/or in their local area for a cuppa and a chat. Dads can also access support through their Dads’ Zone group.
If you would like more information on their services please contact the lovely Ruth Jackson Telephone 07738628842 or Email info@bluebellcare.org

House of Light http://www.pndsupport.co.uk/ Offering hope and support for women affected by Postnatal, Antenatal Depression & Anxiety in Hull. Call: 0800 043 2031 or01482 580499 text: 07854 220790 email: help@pndsupport.co.uk

Mothers for Mothers http://www.mothersformothers.co.uk/links.html Support Group for mums in Bristol suffering from PND. Helpline details are here http://www.mothersformothers.co.uk/contact-us.html .

Homestart Bedfordshire http://www.home-startcentralbeds.org.uk/postnatal-depression-in-bedfordshire/ Home-Start Central Bedfordshire we run numerous pnd support groups throughout Central Bedfordshire.

Acacia Family Support http://www.acacia.org.uk Provide a free wide range of support and therapies to help mums recover from the symptoms associated with pre and postnatal depression. Their services are delivered across Birmingham and they include individual befriending sessions, group work therapy, telephone support, practical support in your own home and massage therapy for parents and your baby.

Cedar House Support http://www.postnataldepression.com/ runs PND support groups in the Surrey, Sussex and South London Areas. The groups are run by trained PND Counsellors.
The Guildford Group
This group runs from 10am to midday every Wednesday, term time only starting on January 13th 2016 at Boxgrove Sure Start Children’s Centre, Boxgrove Lane, Guildford, GU1 2TD. All groups are informal, confidential and a great support for the mothers. A crèche is provided and there is parking. Please contact Liz before attending: lwise@talktalk.net/ 07773283556.
The Balham Group
This group is at St Stephen’s Centre (next to The Weir Link Centre) Weir Road, SW12 0NU.
This group will run every Friday, term time only from 9.30 to 11.30am, a crèche is provided and there is free parking.
It is necessary to book a place for this group, please contact Liz to do so. 07773 283556, lwise@talktalk.net
The Surrey Heath Group (Mytchett)
This group started on Tuesday 12th January 2016 at Mytchett Children’s Centre, Hamesmoor Road, Mytchett, GU16 6JB and runs every Tuesday term time only from 12.30 to 2.30pm. A crèche is provided and there is free parking. Please contact Liz on 07773 283556 or lwise@talktalk.net for further details.

West Kent PND support group https://westkentmind.org.uk/what-we-offer/mums-support-group

Kyra Women’s Project http://www.kyra.org.uk/ is based in York/Selby and offers a range of support services.

If you are in the Isle Of Man , then take a look at this https://www.gefthemongoose.com/headland/maternalmentalhealth/ and support group details are here https://www.netmums.com/isle-of-man/local/view/support-groups/antenatal-postnatal-support/postnatal-depression-support-group-1

If you are in Sheffield , look up https://lightsheffield.org.uk/support/

If you are in Forth Valley Scotland , check out Aberlours Perinatal Befriending service https://www.aberlour.org.uk/services/perinatalbefriending/

NCT offer Early Days courses for new mums https://www.nct.org.uk/courses/postnatal/early-days

If you are in Guernsey,contact the Guernsey PND support network http://guernseypnd.org/ . They can be contacted via email pndguernsey@gmail.com or you can call their confidential telephone line 01481 520657 .
Their regular coffee evening’s are held at Caritas Coffee Shop, Mill Street, St Peter Port and they have given them exclusive access so it’s very private.  These are an informal way to come with or without your kids for free coffee and cake and a warm welcome. They are held quarterly on the first Monday evening of each third month from 7pm.

Merton and Wimbledon PND  support groups https://www.gettingiton.org.uk/services/merton/post-natal-depression-support-group Located at: Merton Abbey Primary School, High Path, Merton, London, SW19 2JY and Patrick Doody Clinic, Pelham Road, Wimbledon, SW19 1NX and other venues.
Support groups run by a health visitor, offering the opportunity to meet other mothers who are experiencing post natal depression and share ideas on how to cope with these feelings. A home visit is offered prior to attending the group and a crèche and refreshments are provided. There are 3 groups run a year and they are held in various children’s centres across Sutton and Merton. A referral is required from health professionals or the client themselves.Telephone: 020 8254 8274/8273

Marlow women’s group – This group offers social activities to local people over the age of 18, particularly young women experiencing post-natal depression or social isolation. There is a free crèche for anyone who wants to bring their children with them.
Website: https://www.bucksmind.org.uk/
Email: info@bucksmind.org.uk
Location: Marlow
Telephone: 01494 463 364
Referral: Self-referral

If you are in East Sussex, the NHS run a Perinatal support group https://www.esht.nhs.uk/leaflet/postnatal-depression-and-anxiety-support-group/

If you are in Sheerwater , Cornerhouse run a pre and postnatal support group on Mondays http://cornerhouse.cc/services/depression-support-woking-runnymede/

If you are in St Austell , UnTangled run a support group for those experiencing and affected by pre or post natal depression. Contact Cara on 07917008776 or via caca21@hotmail.co.uk .

In Stockport, Rose Buddies Mums and Tots Arts and Crafts Group is run by Mums for Mums struggling with low mood. Sessions are free, but they do welcome a donation towards their running costs when you can. No need to book. For info see https://www.stockport.gov.uk/groups/rose-buddies-post-natal-depression-peer-support-group

Bluebell PND Counselling Service http://www.crossreach.org.uk/bluebell-pnd-service
(Provide generic counselling and a specialist perinatal depression service. Cover central belt of Scotland)

CrossReach Perinatal Services: Lothians http://www.crossreach.org.uk/postnatal-depression-support-whole-family
(Provide postnatal depression counselling service in the Lothians)

Southside Counselling Service http://www.southsidecounsellingglasgow.co.uk/
(Counselling service covering Glasgow and surrounding areas. Provide a counselling service for women who experience pre and post natal depression.

Home-Start Glasgow North http://www.homestartglasgownorth.org.uk
(Home-Start Glasgow North is a voluntary organisation set up to increase the confidence and independence of families with at least one child under five years old who are experiencing difficulties. We are located next to Maryhill Community Centre)

Mellow Parenting http://www.mellowparenting.org/
(Mellow Parenting aim to support parents and their children in making good relationships

Birth and Beyond http://birthandbeyond.org.uk
(Provide a mentoring and counselling service for parents in Edin

Dudley – A new space for women with pre- or post-natal anxiety and depression.
Come along for a cup of tea and a chat with other mums who understan
Every 1st and 3rd Wednesday of the month, 11:00am -1:00pm, at Food for Thought, Victoria Street, Stourbridge DY8 1SP.
Please contact Tim at the Dudley Mind Head office on 01384 442938 or by email at enquiries@dudleymind.org.uk.  http://dudleymind.org.uk/peer-support-groups/the-haven-mums-group/

Tamworth – https://www.singleparents.org.uk/organisation/tamworth-post-natal-depression-support-group

If you are in Ireland , Cuidiu parent to Parent supporters offer a listening ear to Mums who may be feeling low about being a parent or who are depressed. They have two ‘Parent Support’ coffee mornings a month in Dublin. Click here for more information on Parent Support  or here for contact details of their Parent to Parent Supporters. https://www.cuidiu-ict.ie/Supports_Parenthood_PostnatalDepression

Southward support group for women who have had children removed due to care procedures http://www.together-uk.org/southwark-wellbeing-hub/the-directory/14159/mums-supportive-group/

#PNDHOUR And let’s not forget the amazing #pndhour run by the beautiful Rosey @pndandme. A weekly Twitter chat, it takes place every Wednesday between 8-9pm and a different subject relating to perinatal mental health is discussed.
Mums, currently ill or recovered, health care professionals and family members all take part to discuss experiences, share knowledge and provide hope. Join in if you can, it’s brilliant. Rosey has written a little explanation of it here http://pndandme.co.uk/pndhour-explained/. Rosey’s blog is here and it’s a fab resource on all things Perinatal http://pndandme.co.uk. Rosey’s page also has a fab tab which lists lots of brilliant blogs from those who have suffered http://pndandme.co.uk/pndfamily-help-support/ .

Am I alone? Can I read other people’s experiences?

You aren’t alone. You most definitely aren’t and there are lots of stories online from people who have written about their experiences. Remember, reading things could trigger thoughts and feelings so take care of you and only read if you feel ok to. If at any point you want to stop, then do. That’s ok.
My blog is here. I talk about being ill with psychosis and anxiety, recovery, medication and EastEnders https://smalltimemum1.wordpress.com

You will get better, you aren’t alone. You may slide up and down the snakes and ladders of the game of recovery but you will get there.

The chronicles of a 0-3 month babygrow with the hidden healing powers of a poo stain

This morning, I tripped over 4 pairs of shoes that had appeared to have had a growth spurt in the night and bulked up to hulk proportions and came spilling out from under the bed where I had stuffed , pushed, kicked and screamed them into submission to fit. The trip made me fall onto the pet rats cage and bang my toe on the box I keep my work stuff in. As with the shoes, overnight , the contents of this box appeared to have opened several cans of spinach and performed a Popeye type boom and grown somewhat and the contents of the box were spilling everywhere. Conscious that if I carry on like this , I might become the subject of a channel 4 documentary, I decided to clean the box out. An unhealthy amount of celebrity magazines found themselves in the recycling bin and if you have ever lost any wires or plugs, come and see me , as they seem to have all congregated in this little red box. This however , is not a one off.

I cleared my desk out in work last year as I was starting a new job. Everyone else had lots of highly important papers while I had contents that resembled a washed up porn stars handbag enroute to a Cher tribute act. It contained :

A learn how to bellydance kit
64 hair bands
9 unopened cans of diet coke
16 keys to open the way to a forgotten land
5 mindfulness colouring books
8 pairs of shoes
A pair of leather chaps
6 tubes of nail glue
5 belts
23 odd socks
A mother’s day picture from my dear child of an assassination
A stapler called Moira
4 umbrellas
4 packets of antipsychotics
A miniature rhino
A homemade hotline bling phone
A cardboard cat that has been to the north pole
A Heat annual from 2007
A holy bible signed by God himself
Oh – and a photo of my kid.

Moira is never being thrown out. She has stuck with me through the good times and the bad. That’s friendship for you – she came with me to my new job though in all my years, I have never learnt how to put staples in her. Still, I will keep her on my payroll as she is practically part of the furniture and that is needed in an office burning with hot desking.

Instead of chucking the rest of it in the bin,I sat cross legged on the floor and reminded myself about about all the times I had with the hair bands. They had seen me during the stage where my hair resembled a Jeremy Kyle guest and had roots down to my ears. They had been there when all my hair fell out due to stress and childbirth and supported me emotionally when my new baby hair started to come through creating a mid forehead fringe circa 1987.

And then I will always treasure that mother’s day picture my son drew for me. Granted , it did make me consider if I was raising a psychopath as while the front of card had an adorable drawing of a very round me with what appeared to be a full length beard and one testicle next to the words “mummy is the sweatiest mummy ever” ( he meant sweetest I am assured ), on the inside, there was a picture of a full blown police chase and someone falling out of the sky with their lungs hanging out. “That is the bad guy mummy. He will go splatter bang cos the police are on the warpath”.

What is this ramble all about I hear you say loudly ? Well this weekend I was reminded of the power of possessions for parents and the memories they hold and how they can help us deal with and close the chapter on difficult parts of our lives. This weekend I went through Joe’s baby clothes , in the knowledge they can’t clog up the laws attic for much longer and it was a heartwarming, sad , joyful, difficult task. I never knew wading through bin liners and space bags could bring up so many emotions at once.

I walked up the stairs and saw the two bags of baby clothes and plastic bowls and almost held back from going in. These were clothes that were with me during the worst , my experience of Postpartum Psychosis and then the best of times, my recovery and beautiful life now. I sat on the floor and opened the space bag and watched the clothes come back to life as the air filled it. The first thing I saw was a huge blue and white woolen blanket and within a second , I felt my eyes becoming wet. I pulled it out and smelt it and my head started to slow dance to the memories it brought back. My mum had knitted this when Joe was born but it hadn’t been used for him. This blanket instead literally kept me warm with my mums love. The night I woke up thinking I was buried alive in a coffin, screaming to be released from the cold hard winter grip of Postpartum Psychosis , just a few hours from floating to the dark clouds of thinking of death and half a day away from being admitted to a psychiatric unit, that blanket served to shield me from that bitterness. As I sat and rocked back and forth in bed , convinced at any moment that utter darkness and doom was to descend upon me , John went and got the blanket and wrapped me in it . He said that your mum isn’t here Eve but this is . I wrapped it round me as tight as I could and buried my head into the wool, inhaling the smell of my mum on it, knowing her fingers had created it . My mum flew over two days later to give me that love in person but while she wasn’t there , this blanket would serve as her stand in.

Under the blanket were the tiny cotton reminders of those early days – Joes clothes. I lifted each one up , amazed at how small they were and lay them in my forearm as I tried to remember what he was like in them. First the vests. Little white vests that looked like they would fit on a doll but were the garments that kept my boy warm when he was at his tiniest. I turned one of the around and let out a laugh – on the back was a yellow poo stain -parents all understand these feral stains , the result of poo explosions , which end up in your child’s ears, their feet , your fingers and everywhere else except in the bloody nappy. When it happens you stand and wonder how the dickens you will get the vest off without smearing your 2 week old in its own face with something that resembles a chicken korma and actually contemplate if you should cut the vest off or chuck the entire baby in the bin and order a new clean one from the shop and get it delivered in the Tesco delivery with the baked beans and bag of wonky carrots.

As I went though each item,my heart and head were becoming full of emotion. These clothes were with me and Joe during the worst time – my illness. I pulled out one top, a little beige top from Gap that I bought as it looked like a top John had and I could dress Joe up like him and stopped and stared at it. I remember this top so well as it is the one that I couldn’t dress Joe in on John’s first day back at work after I gave birth. We said goodbye to daddy and I lay Joe on the bed on his spotty changing mat and tiny little legs were kicking around . His wrists and ankles had little rolls on them where my milk had been helping him grow. He was utterly perfect and squishy and a total delight but I was terrified of him. I stood and stared at this sweet smelling gurgling little boy and felt my hands shaking and my teeth chattering . I lifted his ankle to put his trousers on and I couldn’t do it as I was twitching so much. I would stop and breathe in and out and try again , trying to put his smooth precious shoulders into the top where he would look like daddy and I found it so hard. Here I was with my own child and I couldn’t even dress him as I was so scared and I cried. And cried. And cried.

Each little outfit had memories attached to it. One little yellow one with the words ‘hello world’ on them. When I left the mother and baby unit , I had a community psychiatric nurse come and visit me every day. One day, during our chat, someone came in and said they thought some clothes were too small for Joe now and had put them in a carrier bag for me to take to the charity shop. One of these was the hello world outfit – it was the first outfit I had bought when I was pregnant and made me smile whenever I saw those words . I didn’t want to give the outfit away and I was even more devastated that perhaps I hadn’t noticed my own son was too big for his own clothes. My mind had been taken from me in the grip of mental illness and I was muddled and confused and I found that very hard to deal with. My CPN however was wonderful and said , whatever Eve, it’s a gorgeous outfit. Dress him it in. Keep it forever, it’s special. It’s ok to want to keep some memories Eve as there will be a point where the good memories will totally blur out the bad.

Later that day, I dressed him in it and he looked lovely. And today,nearly 9 years later, Joe has dressed one of his teddies in it and its sitting on its bed , saying hello world to Joe everyday . She was right. The good memories do take over the others.

The little Superman baby grows, the tiny socks that he would never wear and fling off the side of the pram, the smart shirts he would wear at family occasions where everyone would say he looked so handsome. They all have memories attached to them.

But I also know I can’t keep everything forever. Some of the clothes he wore once when we went to get a bacon sandwich and that isn’t a memory with any meaning attached to it . John and I sat and went through Joes clothes and worked out which ones meant something to us as a family to keep forever and which ones could go to a charity shop for other children to have. I have a built in ‘I want to keep everything forever and always’ glitch but , as I am coming to a time where I see that our life has moved on from my illness, it is time to let some of the things that don’t hold a significance , go. The jeans I don’t think he ever wore, the matching socks he hated in favor of odd socks, the clothes with no stains- they went. They don’t have the memories.

My baby sling was there in its box on the bed and the sling is special to me. I was too scared of my own baby to be near him. I couldn’t pick him up, his very presence frightened me. So when I went into the mother and baby unit, I was encouraged to wear him so I could feel his heart beating next to mine. The only thing I would do for him was breastfeed , so he would feed in the sling and during my walks around the grounds of the hospital, while I was learning how to be with him and not be scared , I would wear him and John and I would talk and walk. The sling helped to do the most important and groundbreaking thing I ever needed to do – be near my baby- and I will keep it forever.

My friend Heidi shared with me a quote which I think sums up the power of wanting to hold onto some memories while knowing it is ok to move in from others : “ Being a mother is about learning about strengths you didn’t know you had and dealing with fears you didn’t know existed”. I think this is so powerful. I saw my strength in ways I never thought possible in recovery and dealing with the fears I had never been told about – being frightened of my own baby.

Becoming a mother provides us with love, tears, good times and bad. I have been at the depths of hell with Psychosis , cried with sleep exhaustion tending to a child who woke up 17 times a night and then having to turn up to work at 8am to deliver a presentation , been pooped on and cleaned up vomit that decorated my feet instead of the bedroom floor. We have all clapped and had hearts filled with love when we hear our little one say mummy for the first time and have 765467 photos on our phone of them holding a fork or stuck inside the wash basket covered in butter which you have smeared all over them to try and pull them out (that was a delightful afternoon). These memories , to others, may be deletable, but to us , they hold meaning and our finger hovers over the delete button wondering if in 25 years we will find that photo of them wrapped in the cling film to be a memory holder or one that just adds to the pile of others.

I will never have another baby and that is absolutely the right choice for me and our family but folding the clothes and saying goodbye to them , without the option of keeping them for the next one, was bittersweet. Saying goodbye to some of these clothes has been hard but as my beautiful son grows , now so does the room for his new clothes and new memories.

It’s strange I have such a connection to clothes considering my track record. One day last year, I went to work and presented myself as a highly competent and fully functioning member of society. I then got the tube at the end of the day , collected my child from school, clapped at his picture of a soldier with 6 eyes, walked the half hour walk home to abide by my fitbit rules of do 98000 steps a day or will spontaneously combust, cooked a lentil dhal, washed my hair whilst writing a letter to the school, shaved half of my calves to the sock lines and tended to my bed ridden husband who had sneezed at weekend and was apparently hanging at deaths door.

I then at 5.40 said I am going to the pub. Lentil dhal had been rejected so opened tin of beans, put chips in oven and left husband with instructions to turn to gas mark 4 for 20 mins when our child starts acting feral.
I left the house, smoothed my frizzy hair with a value baby wipe and began my merry walk down the road and noticed my bum felt cold. I investigated why I felt so chilly and opened my coat to see my tights , my pants through my tights and my bra. I appeared to not be wearing any clothes.

I had forgotten to put my clothes on.

I was 37 years old. I have two degrees.

I forgot to put my dress on. I wish I had been attached to clothes at that moment.

So here we are now. We have a lovely box of clothes that holds all the dearest memories – the baby grow Joe wore after I gave birth, his first little stripy hat, the white vests. All the special things that hold a multitude of memories. And what is so gorgeous now, is we are at that point where our dark memories have been blurred out by the good ones. Some of these clothes were with us as we worked through the fears we never knew existed and as we found our strength and for me, they are more than a factory produced piece of cotton. They show us that we got through that time.

” My wee could burn a hole into Trumps hair mummy”

Trumps visit to our shores rose up a memory from a few weeks ago. A memory of being a full time working mum to 8 year old Joe The Ledge. Who got a wee infection so bad that he thought it had the capacity to burn a  hole through orange hair.
Galloping vaginas. I was exhausted man. Thought I would work from home one day after being ill all week and could get through my 976 emails in a jiffy from the comfort of my bed.
No such luck. At 6.45am, my child declared “my penis hurts like an inferno of devil death head” and couldn’t put on any pants to go to school. After much naked pain rolling around from him whilst I sat on the loo making an excel spreadsheet, I made the executive decision to call the doctor as child became convinced penis was going to drop off as “my wee could burn a hole into trumps hair mummy”.
It was 8.50 and he was due at school at 8.55 and I had a phone meeting at 9am. Look over at child who was now in cold bath to soothe said burning privates and he had scrawled “Joe hurts” on the bath with a crayon which resembled blood dripping down a wall.
Missed start of 9am meeting due to gp surgery telling me I am first in the queue for 20 mins. Once the receptionist answered, she explained a telephone triage system was in place and the gp would phone my son at 10.20 on his mobile to discuss his symptoms. I explained he is 8, isn’t trading on the stocks and shares just yet and that his school isn’t a flexible employer so he won’t be able to take a call on his non existent mobile at 10.20. After much umming and foot stamping from me, realise , now child was crying with penisitis, I need to keep him off school for the triage system.
Had 9am meeting late , via Google hangouts , with my son providing a sound track of “mummy I got breaking up poo” and await gp call. Which happens at 11 and told to come in at 12.10.
Child refused at 12pm to put any clothes bar a pair of crocs and opened front door and marched onto street to walk to doctors. After the promise of a cake and Lolly, agreed to wear a pair of shorts with no pants.
Get to doctor amid yelps of “everything hurts – take it away please mummy” and child impressed all the medical staff by saying penis and testicles and then pissed ALL over the wall, my hand and face whilst collecting urine sample. Made mental note to wash everything when home. Sat child inside trolley in supermarket to get penis cream whilst on phone to work for another meeting. He emerged from under a cauliflower whilst I declared to work I had to submit and take today as leave before I get completely confused and beep my child on the checkout and apply penis cream to a pile of broccoli florets.
Got home to find washing machine foaming at the mouth and 19879997 pairs of dirty pants on floor. Internally screamed and announced we were going on a fun walk to the launderette wtih 4 loads of washing.
Turn up , pulling child along in old lady pull along trolley and child climbs in dryer and starts reading his book. Take child out of dryer and explain he can’t be put on a spin cycle whilst discovering a pair of my pants on the floor complete with panty liner still stuck on them.
27 loads of washing later , got home to find I left house without my keys. But it’s ok because I also left my window open. Word to the wise – for fun, don’t attempt to yank a pull along shopping trolley through a tiny window whilst you are midway through the air as your neighbours think you are a flashing burglar.
We got in. I stood on a plug and a piece of Lego and realised I’ve not been wearing a bra all day. Or had a shower.
Put potato waffles in toaster and feed the 5000. Including child and the pet rats. Whilst wearing my coat and leg weights to throw in an aerobic workout whilst I scrubbed the oven.
I am a mothering machine.

When you slip on your marbles, show your kid how you got back on your feet – telling your child about maternal mental illness.

In May, I was as busy as a bee in pink high heels can be. A year of planning , with my super PMHP colleagues, was coming together , as we were due to launch our 2nd UK Maternal Mental Health Matters Awareness Week. Our small little group created the campaign to shine a light on perinatal mental illness, to show how and where to access support and provide women with the tools to start the difficult conversation where they ask for help. 

The night before the week launched, I found myself trekking down Oxford Street in London , with frozen hands , on my way to a radio station. I was going to be talking about the week, why we created it and a little about my own experience about Postpartum Psychosis and anxiety. I am used to the kind of questions I get and always prepare myself for the shock and bewilderment from the interviewers when I tell them about the time I thought I could cut through the clouds with a pair of plastic scissors, or found myself apparently floating in the corner of the room. And when I tell them I was so utterly and desperately scared of my own baby , that I would shake uncontrollably when I was with him and pulled my hair from its roots in a despair that I never thought possible, they gasp. Gasp because surely the law of nature is that once baby pops out of your vagina or tummy, you fall into its arms in a haze of glory filled tears and feel on top of the world even though you cant do a wee or a poo for fear of bursting your overtight stitches.

But this interview threw up a question I hadn’t had before. As I was rattling on about being a human maraca , what will all the meds I had to take to stop me thinking I was cartwheeling through the air , I said ” and my son knows what happened to me “. The interviewer stopped me and seemed shocked. He asked me to repeat myself and I did and he asked how I did that ? How did I tell my son about the horrific illness I had , that was brought on after his birth? How did I tell him that mummys marbles flew off the table and rolled around everywhere so much, that she fell on them so hard and was so hurt, she struggled to get up. The marbles kept spinning and going backwards and forwards and round and round at a million miles an hour and mummy didn’t know how to make them stop. It was if they had a mind of their own and they wanted to roll away from where mummy wanted them to be. Mummy wanted to marbles in her mind to stay in there and all sit in the right place but they didn’t. They rolled off, some got damaged , some got lost. Mummy truly felt like her marbles were gone forever and that they would never be replaced.

My son is now 8 but has known since he was around 3 about my illness. Or as he so beautifully named it ” Mummy’s poorly head”. What happened to me after he was born was life changing and the effect of it was felt for such a long time , that to me , it seemed important to tell him about it. 

Until he was around 3 , I took medication 3 times a day. I was still on my hospital dose and taking them became part of my routine. I had Thursdays off work and would take Joe to cookery class at the childrens centre , watch him pour flour over his head, mix some cake mix together with his splodgy sticky hands and then present me with a snot covered concoction at the end for me to lovingly eat. Mmm, yummy. I would then hose him down and we would go off for lunch at Wagamama where he would toddle up to the waitress and say ” Me want nuba 981 but no coocumba”. He would then sit on the floor under the table with his batman figures until his food arrived ( he hung out under tables until he was 5 and would often have an entire 7 course meal under there in the dark, happy as larry. He would emerge looking like he had rolled around in tomato soup whilst living in a bush), and one epic day, I turned round to see him standing up in the high chair, merrily doing a wee all over the seasonal greens in his chicken noodle soup. Whilst bribing him to put his penis back in his pants and explaining to the waitress that he wont be finishing his food as it’s now been seasoned with his own piss, I remembered I had to take my medication. Joe would see my empty my entire handbag onto the wagamama table – 3 pairs of superman pants ( for him), a can of dry shampoo with an incontinence pad stuck to it ( for me ) , 8 headless lego men, a packet of false nails , 3 cans of diet coke, 2 phones , 1 laptop, a partridge in a pair tree and 3 packets of amitriptrline. I would knock my tablet back and he would say ” that to help mummy head stay all great . Huzzah!”. 

And he was right – my medication does keep me staying great or greatish. Taking medication is now part of who I am. Alongside wearing pink shiny nails and hoop earrings you could put your whole hand through, I take antidepressants. Alongside being a civil servant, I take antidepressants. Alongside loving gin and laughing and loving , I take antidepressants. Joe knows Mummy is all these things. And to me , that’s important. 

Being ill after having Joe is truly the single most horrific thing that has ever happened me. Its left me determined to help other mums, utterly firm on my thoughts that for me , I wont ever have another child, and a clear view that just like daddy told him about when he broke his arm , that I will tell him about when I had a poorly head.

People say , how did you tell him ? Aren’t you worried he will think it was his fault and I’m actually not. I told Joe last night I was thinking of writing this blog and he said , can I write something in it mummy? I want to tell the mummies they will get better and I don’t mind knowing because I know it wasn’t my fault . I said of course you can so here you go :

“Hello mummies with the poorly heads. It oky to tell your child you had a poorly head as tell them its not their fault and the mummies always get better and it will all be ok”.

We have all , as a family, visited the psychiatric mother and baby unit Joe and I lived in after he was born. Joe saw the bedroom we lived in , he climbed into the cot he slept in and laughed saying I must have been tiny mummy. That was the room that I sat in when I was admitted, having woken up in the night before, convinced I was buried alive in a coffin and full of thoughts that the only way out of thee feelings was go not be alive anymore. When I was admitted, I was in the most terrible state – I couldn’t remember how to get dressed, I hadn’t done a wee for days and I was convinced I could smell burning. I was in a total state of panic and was convinced something horrific was going to happen at any moment. I was welcomed into the unit by the kind nurses who sat with the on the bed while John sat next to me with Joe in a car seat . They gently explained this would be my room for as long as it would take for me to start my recovery and they pointed to the cot in the corner where Joe would sleep.

I unravelled at this point. I screamed no no no over and over. At home , John was in the bedroom with me and Joe as I couldn’t be on my own with him but I realised now I was here , John wouldn’t be. My biggest fear had come true – I had to be on my own with my own son and this terrified me to my core. I had an enormous panic attack and felt like I was glued to the bed. Everyone could see how gripped by the illness I was but that I also needed to near Joe to bond and recover. The nurses agreed I didn’t have to close my bedroom door and one sat outside my room for he first week and cuddled me in the night when I would wake up frozen in fear.

This was also the room where I took my first big step towards recovery. I still count this as a major turning point in my illness and still now get goosebumps when I think of it. I have them now as I am typing. One week atfer being admitted and being too scared to be near my son, I walked into the room and sat on the bed and peered into Joe’s cot. No one was in the room with me and there was no nurse sitting outside. It was probably maybe only for a minute but I sat there and looked at him, on my own and I felt something I hadn’t felt since he was born – a v small lack of fear. I never knew that at 29, having worked with government ministers for the previous 11 years , having run a pub and thrown out 6 foot drunks with my 5 foot frame , that I would be experiencing the biggest and bravest point in my life – being able to sit in a room on my own with my own flesh and blood. My own baby who grew in me , who I nourished. Who was alive because of my milk. I had given him life but I had been too scared to hold or look at him. But here I was at my bravest – I was doing something that millions of people do all day but for me , it held a massive significance.

So taking Joe there to see the unit was important to us. It’s a part of his life too. He saw the room, the cot, the bouncer he would lay in. And he also saw the message board with all the cards and letters from ex patients that thanked the unit for helping them get better . I would stare at this when I was a patient, wondering how on earth these women got well and as I was convinced I would be the one who didn’t . They provided me with hope as my mind was clearing from the haze of psychosis and I dreamt of the day where my card was up there , with a photo of me and Joe , saying thank you .

And it is. That card is there now – alongside a photo of Joe and I  “ Mummy , its me as a baby , look”, Joe said as he wandered through the unit. He ran up with a smile and read the card. “ Mummy ? Will the ladies in here now read this and know they wont have a poorly head forever ? Will they see the picture of me and you and see they will be happy one day as well mumma ?” . I explained they will. That our story will give them hope , like the cards had shown me.

Joe knows my illness wasnt his fault. He knows it was caused by having a baby but it wasnt because of him. Sometimes the mind does funny things – like if he feels anxious when he is in goal at football practise, or that he gets sweaty little hands of the teacher asks him to read out loud in class. He doesn’t want to feel like that but he does and its no ones fault. Like when you get a headache or a tummy ache , it just happens. He asked me what I felt like when I had a poorly head and I said well mummy did a few things which might made your eyes go all big and you might even laugh because it sounds a bit strange. “ What did you do mummy?” he asked . I said , well I clutched your fathers ankles one day and refused to let him leave the house. Another time , I ran after him in the street naked . Cue hysterical laughing and shouts of , you went outside with your butt out ? Your actual butt on the street . This then descended into questions about what if I needed a poo and him talking about when he did a shit in the garden and wiped his bum with my Tesco receipt and how his jet stream of wee hit the window. We must be lovely neighbours …..

I did also tell him that my poorly head made me feel like I was scared of him. And the reason I was so sad when I was ill was that he was such a super gorgeous squidgy little baby and I didnt want to be scared. My brain had got all jumbled up and was making me say and think and do things that weren’t real and this was one of those things. The chemicals in my brain went a bit funny and Dr Mark looked after me and I took some special pills to make them okay again. And  Mummy will take a v small dose of those special pills most probably forever just to make sure that her brain doesn’t have a jelly like wobble again in the future.

I am at a stage now , 8 years on , where talking about what happened to me is becoming a chapter I am almost at the end of. I will always be a mother of one and I feel like the decision John and I took to tell Joe , has been the right one. He knows about it , he has digested it , he understands it as well as an 8 year old can. Its made him empathetic, he feels a kindness towards new mums we see in the park and he knows that mummy spends some of her free time , when I’m not with him, helping the mummies with poorly heads now. The illness had a powerful impact on our family in so many ways and for us , to not tell him about that , wouldn’t have been right.

Its your story. Its your family. But always remember, your illness isnt anyone’s fault. It happened and it’s an utter ballache and I will bang the recovery drum for as long as I live to help women get better. And I am so grateful to have my little superhero boy my side to bang the drum with me .

Here is the fella telling you that you will get better https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=740135519474226&id=372428426244939 xx

 

Blogging about motherhood,the madness it can bring and the muddles I find myself in.