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My Story – Tina Jones

I have always wanted to teach. For as long as I can remember. School and some really awesome teachers were, for me, my absolute saviours. Without them, I don’t think I’d be here now. When I secretly left my first year of a business economics degree to study History and Education, I knew I was doing the right thing.

So why now, ten years down the line, have I just handed in my resignation and decided to leave teaching?

It’s simple really. Postnatal depression made me realise what actually matters. Not marking books, holding revision sessions, entering endless amounts of data, going to meetings, planning lessons or constantly nagging GCSE students to work harder. What matters is ME. And my family.

I had a difficult pregnancy, plagued by Symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD) and chronic indigestion, and was signed off work from 24 weeks as I couldn’t walk properly. But after a speedy labour and a little hassle sorting out silent reflux, we settled in nicely to being a family of three. I LOVED being ‘mummy’. It was everything I hoped for and I finally had everything I had ever dreamt of.

But being a teacher comes with a lot of baggage. Namely ‘teacher guilt’. I am the only teacher in my department and the school had trouble with my replacement. So I found myself, baby in sling, holding revision sessions 3, 5 and 8 weeks after she was born. I was in constant email contact with my exam students, helping them revise and as September arrived, I was in for the INSET days, to make sure I didn’t miss anything vital.

I think this is when it started. Even though I now had a steady replacement, I seemed to have a lot to do. My GCSE classes were really behind, no one seemed to be keeping an eye on things and as the months went on, and I started doing my ‘keeping in touch’ days, I became more and more anxious about going back to work. I started having complete meltdowns about the smallest thing. Some tiny thing my hubby said in passing could render me hysterical. I didn’t want to leave the house or leave our daughter with anyone. She was the only thing that made me feel calm and in control. Eventually things became so bad, my husband sat me down and said the thing he had been worried about for months: ‘I think you have postnatal depression, call the health visitor’.

So I did. She came really quickly and I did the multiple choice questionnaire they give you and scored quite high. We talked and decided it was circumstantial so I’d keep in touch as I went back to work. I was completely honest with work and by the end of second week; I had gone to the Head and asked for my hours to be reduced. So I was working three days a week. It seemed manageable and I thought I was doing ok. So much so that I decided I needed to up to four days after the Easter break so that I could be there more for my exam classes.

The reality however, was that I was doing a full time workload in three days. I was planning lessons off the cuff; I was miles behind on marking and losing my rag with exam classes and their lack of commitment. We had an amazing holiday in Cornwall and by the time the new term had come back around I had wound myself up so much about work that I ended up taking two days off because a migraine rendered me blind! I realised I didn’t want to do it anymore. The sleepless nights and nightmares weren’t worth it. I started talking to my husband about leaving after I had seen the mental health nurse and she had given me the option of being signed off. Being signed off sick felt like more hassle than it is worth. I’d have to set cover work and with exam season here, the guilt would make me feel worse. But leaving at the end of the academic year seemed achievable. I talked to lots of family and friends, and obviously my husband and the decision was made. I told my line manager of my plans and booked a meeting to see the Head.

So it is done. I have given my notice and will no longer be teaching from the end of July. I have started a training course to be a wedding, naming and funeral celebrant, writing and conducting people’s important family ceremonies. I’m also going to rest; I’m going to take my daughter to the park and on play dates. I’m going to spend time with my fabulous husband. I might even get my hair cut or my nails done.

Most importantly, I’m going to look after me. I’m not going to be dragged down by endless marking and assessments. I’m not going to be the one causing stress to teenagers who already have enough going on. I’m just going to be happy. And strange as it sounds, I have postnatal depression to thank for that.

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Volunteering with PANDAS by Tam Mason

If you had asked me 7 years ago, before having my daughter, what I would be doing today, volunteering for a national charity supporting women and families affected by pre-and post natal illnesses, wouldn’t have been something on my list.

Before the life changing experience of having a baby, and then unfortunately developing PTSD after a traumatic birth, PND, and anxiety, I was pretty sure I had my life mapped out; I knew where I was heading, but how wrong could I have been.

I wasn’t well enough still to return to the job I loved after my maternity leave ended. I enjoyed being a stay at home mum but when my daughter started full time school, I suddenly felt lonely, lost and I began to feel like my purpose had gone. I looked for a job that would fit around school hours but this proved difficult and I was still struggling to manage my anxiety so actually the commitment of a job felt like an impossibility.

I stumbled across PANDAS by accident one day and right now I can honestly say that apart from having my daughter of course, it has been the best thing to have come out of the very difficult times I have experienced. It’s turned my bad experience of post natal illness into something positive. I started volunteering in the Autumn of 2013 as an admin on the Facebook page, I then did some time on the email support team before being asked if I would like to help out with the support groups team who at the time were short of volunteers and it is here that I have settled and found my niche. Nearly 3 years later, I am now the Support Groups Team Manager, a role I am very proud of and one which I absolutely love. I live and breathe PANDAS!

In my day to day role, I manage a team of 6 volunteers and oversee the running of a large number of support groups around the country. We help groups to set up, ensure their successful running, and signpost women and families affected by pre and post natal illness to them. At the moment, I am particularly enjoying developing and improving the service we provide to ensure our support groups can give the best support they can to the families who need them. I am constantly in communication with a large number of people and I really enjoy getting to know everyone. PANDAS has become like my extended family and we all look out for each other. Many of us have experienced pre or post natal illness so we understand and without even having to say anything we all share a connection not only through our experiences but through our passion for the charity and what we are trying to achieve.

It gives me a great deal of job satisfaction to know that I am helping someone even indirectly who felt as alone and desperate as I did in the depths of my illness and I am pleased I can give my time and commitment to PANDAS.
At the same time, volunteering with PANDAS has helped me so much. The experiences that I have through since having my daughter has changed me as a person and I have struggled to ‘like’ the person I have become. My role in PANDAS has helped me to find myself again, has increased my self confidence and belief in myself and have given me another identify alongside my role as ‘mummy’. This time last year I won the PANDAS ‘spark’ award for my volunteering, which was a really great achievement and gave my self esteem a really positive boost. My daughter and I often chat on the school run in the morning about our days ahead and she often asks ‘PANDAS today Mummy?’ and when I say yes, I get a thumbs up and a ‘good job Mummy!’ Her praise keeps me motivated.

I have met so many wonderful inspiring people through volunteering, many of who I am now proud to call my friends. It has been an absolute pleasure to have been able to meet some of these people in person and I hope in the future to meet many more. So if anyone were to ask me today what I do, I’m more that proud to stand up and say, ‘I volunteer for a national charity called PANDAS’. I am very pleased to do so and hope to be involved with PANDAS for many more years to come, I can’t see anything changing. This is the direction I am heading in now. They say things happen for a reason and I truly believe this. I was never meant to go back to my old job, I was meant to find PANDAS and all the opportunities it has given me. I will never be able to put into words how thankful I am! THANK YOU PANDAS!!!

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Volunteering for PANDAS – Hannah Gerken

Hello PANDAS Guest Blog readers,

I’m Hannah and I manage the Helpline here at PANDAS Foundation. I have been a volunteer for coming up to a year now, starting off at email support, in the closed Facebook group and as a helpline volunteer, all very different but rewarding in their own ways. It has been incredible to have the opportunity to get involved in so many aspects of the charity. When I was asked if I would like to manage the helpline, I felt a huge sense of responsibility and fear of the unknown but was so excited to take on a new challenge, in order to improve the helpline for both our service users and volunteers.

 

What do I do?

Every day is different! From interviewing and training new volunteers, organising role play calls, to making sure that our current volunteers were happy in their role and voicing their thoughts, editing the call system, developing the training package and liaising with the rest of the team to make sure that everything was running smoothly… and that’s just my PANDAS life. I tend to get very immersed in my role and before I know it, the day is over! The helpline’s biggest achievement to date is having 100% coverage which means that every individual that calls will have someone on the line immediately to talk to… a very big deal when you have had the courage to seek support. I also do several shifts on the helpline supporting women and their families suffering perinatal mental illness.

 

I find this incredibly rewarding; there is often a clear difference in how the service user is feeling from when they called to after we have spoken. Being thanked for listening and providing practical advice is one of the most fulfilling feelings I have ever felt.

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What does volunteering mean to me?

Volunteer – a person who does something, especially helping other people, willingly and without being forced or paid to do so.

I think the definition of a volunteer says it all for me. I love what I do and am up for trying anything that is placed in front of me, all for the reward of someone saying thank you, or hearing the change in their voice from the start of the call compared to the end. There is no better feeling than to be able to provide a small piece of hope to someone who is struggling, to tell them that it is ok to feel how they are and that they are not the only one out there going through a really tough time. It is so important that we, as volunteers, make our service users feel worthy and that they are not alone and this is something that we have all effectively succeeded in doing.

 

Volunteering to me is a responsibility, privilege and opportunity that provides me with so many rewards. I have grown in confidence, self-worth and broken down so many barriers that I never thought I would. Mental illness is a subject very close to me and being able to support others through their struggles but also overcome my own has been one of my greatest achievements to date. Through PANDAS I’ve had the chance to attend further training and study days, actually meet the people I speak to everyday online and make memories I will never forget. I have become friends with some of the most inspiring people and have the pleasure of working together with them to achieve a shared goal.

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Volunteering has filled a little hole in my life and I honestly can’t imagine a day without PANDAS anymore! Happy volunteers week,

Lots of love and positive thoughts,

Hannah x

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Han vs. Marathon

26.2 for PANDAS

I ran a marathon on Sunday. 26.2 miles. It has been such an overwhelming experience from start to finish that I just don’t know where to start!

Hannah

September – Before the marathon.
I don’t always like myself very much, I rarely think I’m good enough – for my family, my husband, my girls, my friends, my job, my dreams and aspirations. I’ve been reading, studying and researching ways that I can find peace with myself, finally feel good about myself and then when I’d been volunteering for PANDAS for a year I saw that one of my fellow volunteers, Catherine, had got into the London marathon 2016 – I felt envious, I have always wanted to achieve something like that, I have often watched bits of the London Marathon and thought how amazing it would feel to achieve something so epic. Like somehow it would validate my existence, something I could be proud of (other than my beautiful girls of course), something purely for me. I decided to do something completely bonkers and apply for a charity place running for PANDAS. I didn’t tell anyone I had applied as I didn’t expect to get it. I got it. I was beyond excited and terrified! I had that niggling anxious voice in my head telling me I was kidding myself but I tried to drown it out, I knew I wouldn’t give up because if I did I felt there would be so many people telling me ‘I told you so, who did you think you were kidding?’

September – April: The Training.
The training was H.A.R.D. I found many new ways to feel guilty as I ran in the evening rather than spending time with the girls, my husband was doing all the cooking whilst I was out. To begin with as I ran my 3 mile and 4 mile training runs – I hated it, that annoying voice in my head kept on doubting how I would ever get to run 26.2 while I struggled running 3! But very gradually I started to see progress. By Christmas I had hit 8 miles which felt like such a long way and I began to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Not a lot of running happened over Christmas so In the new year, I re-grouped, taught myself about nutrition and went to see a running coach. I began to increase my mileage and signed up for my first half marathon. The half marathon was very tough, both mentally and physically. I hated so many people being better than me, running faster, overtaking – mentally I was not in a good place during this race which made it so much tougher. I was back at school feeling self conscious and crap compared to all the sporty types that were speeding off – there were parts of this race that I felt very alone and as I crossed the finish line I didn’t feel happy or proud I just wanted to cry. I couldn’t imagine running double that and felt angry with myself for ever thinking I could. I was really disappointed with my time once I realised that I had finished within the last 100 people and spent days after feeling depressed and anxious about the marathon.
Anyhow, I continued to chip away at the distances – I loved my 16 mile run and began to feel like perhaps I could get through the marathon.
A couple of weeks later I got up early on Sunday morning and headed out for 8 miles. At 8 miles I called for a friend, had a banana, refilled my water bottle and we set off for another 10 miles. at 13 miles I really started to flag. It was awful, the doubting voices in my head started up and I couldn’t fight them off – my friend was the only reason I managed to finish that run. I felt nauseous, dizzy and depressed. How could I possibly run another 8 miles on marathon day? The negative, berating voice was back again.
To make matters worse I had calf strain, so that 18 miles was the last run I actually did before marathon day! During the final 4 weeks of my training I saw two sports therapists, one of whom, Donna, works for PANDAS and was absolutely amazing.  It was fantastic to meet her in person and really feel the support that she was giving me! Catherine and I had many chats about training and mental states, I am so incredibly grateful that we were able to share this experience together. Catherine recommended an amazing book about marathon training which really goes into the psychological side and gives loads of tools on how to use positive self talk and affirmations to make yourself believe that you can get through those 26.2 miles. So that last few weeks where I should have been tapering, I was trying very hard to get my negative thoughts and emotions under control, it was the hardest part of all the training. Also because of my calf strain I had to make a decision – to run or not to run.
I posted the following on my Facebook page:
This week I have had a really shit decision to make – run and risk making my leg worse or don’t run and let everyone including my self and PANDAS down – especially all you lovely people that have so generously donated already!
I have been a bitch to live with but after a long chat with Mr T. I have decided to get to the start line next Sunday and give it my best shot. I may not be able to complete the marathon but I’m going to give it a bloody good try! I have only run 3miles in the last 3 weeks so I feel massively unprepared but I’m not giving up!
At PANDAS we support our ladies through postnatal illnesses and tell them not to give up hope so I won’t give up either!!!

Once I had made the decision to get to the start line and just get round as far as I could, I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. That was it – I’d made a decision now I just needed to put all my energies into getting my head into the right state of mind.

The Marathon
So I did it. It’s done. I loved the whole experience! It went well, I used my techniques of positive self talk and I soaked up the atmosphere. There is nothing that I would change about it. I felt humbled by all those people challenging themselves for charities close to their hearts, for own personal reasons and all those spectators cheering and encouraging, handing out jelly babies and oranges, children getting involved and the general street party atmosphere. I spent five and a half hours in my own mind which isn’t always the place that I want to be but I proved to myself that day that it can be ok in there and I should probably go there more often!

I thought a lot about how running the marathon could be likened to the advice we give to those we support at PANDAS and how I overcome my own anxieties. Small steps, perseverance and positive self talk along with support from friends and family.

I thought about another amazing PANDAS colleague and friend, Amy, who is running an ultra marathon this year. Amy ran 26.2 a couple of weeks ago as a mere training run! No spectators, finish line or medal – I found that very humbling and massively inspiring.

I thought about all the people we support at PANDAS, how I was once a PND sufferer and all of their individual journeys.
I thought about Eddie Izzard running his 27 marathons – I am in awe of his determination and passion to do something he believed in.

It was an amazing feeling crossing that line on Sunday! Seeing everyone’s messages of support on Facebook afterwards. I don’t have huge amounts of self belief and rarely feel myself to be ‘good enough’ so this whole journey has been a massive mental journey for me – but I got there – and I feel stronger for it. I also feel overwhelmed by the amount of friends that got behind me on this, several even saying I was an inspiration! Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be an inspiration to anyone!

DREAM.ACHIEVE.BELIEVE 

Until next time . . .

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When Reality Doesn’t Match Dreams – My Post Natal Depression Story

My name is Nikki. My children are now 9 and 6 but I remember so clearly my less than romantic introduction to motherhood I had.

We had been trying for a baby for 18 months before we had some tests done. I know many people who try for years buy 18 months seemed like a lifetime when I was so desperate to conceive. I remember going in to town one day and seeing a very young girl hanging out with her mates smoking and drinking whilst heavily pregnant. I came home balling my eyes out on more than one occasion. Every month hoping for a positive pregnancy test.

On Christmas eve 2005 my husband proposed and I threw myself in to arranging the wedding to take my mind off wanting a baby so much.  I have POCO’s and my husband had been crushed 13 foot underground just months before we met and suffered severe damage in his hips and pelvis. We knew the chances of conception were going to be less. It came back that we my husband had less than 17% live sperm and 10% of those were deformed. We decided we didn’t want to try IVF but that if nothing happen we would adopt in the future.

Amazingly about 8 weeks later I had an urge to do a test. I popped home from work in my lunch break and happened to have a spare test so I did it. To my utter amazement it was positive.  At the time I was still smoking occasionally. I know!! I was trying to conceive and smoking. Not a wise decision but that’s just how it was then. In hindsight I should have given up before trying. If I had time again I’d do things differently but hey….This is relevant because I think it was one of the first signs for me things wouldn’t work out how I dreamed when I imagined having a baby.

On seeing that positive test after nearly two years of trying. Being told it would be a miracle if we conceived naturally and wanting a baby so much, the first thing I thought when I saw it was positive were all the things I’d have to give up.  I’d have to quit the fags, change the wedding plans, change honeymoon plans, stop eating soft cheese. Then ‘shit I need a fag’ I can’t cope with this came in to my mind. I’d actually ran out of cigarettes and went round to my neighbours and asked her to check the test before I even spoke to my husband. I was in utter shock. I had pinched one of her cigarettes, which would be my last one, and went up to my father in laws grave and sat there trying to get my head around it. We always said he was a robin and that afternoon a little robin came and visited me and just sat there. I have to say I sobbed a lot that week.  In shock, overwhelmed and scared……It wasn’t how I thought I’d feel after peeing on ovulation sticks and pregnancy tests for two years longing for a baby.

After a week or so, I don’t remember how long now, I got my head around it and got excited! :O)  I wanted to be a real earth mother. I had grand expectations of being a mummy. I was going to be arts and craftsy, breast feed for as long as I could, have a perfect home Hypno-birth, make all my own baby food and use washable nappies. I had it all planned out to the last detail.  By the midwives dates I was due on the 14th November. She came round and we went over all the questions they ask you. I can’t remember if she asked or I volunteered the information as I hadn’t really told anyone before….

I’ll keep this story short but it’s relevant. When I was 15 I was raped at a party. I was a virgin at the time and was with all my ‘friends’ and my first long term boyfriend who I was utterly in love with. Everyone was all over the house. He was downstairs and I was with a group of mates upstairs. We were all just chatting. I had never drunk before but everyone was drinking so I drunk some red wine. It hit me hard. I remember everyone leaving the room we were in except my boyfriend’s best friend.  One minute we were chatting the next minute I remember being dragged down a hallway and banging my head on a radiator. The next thing I knew I woke up and he was on top of me doing his thing. I was paralysed with fear and drink and could do nothing. I remember people shouting downstairs calling me a dog but no one came to my rescue. I guess everyone was drunk young and stupid. I tried to tell my friends brother next day but he didn’t believe me and after that I just kept it to myself.  I sought out advice from the Family planning clinic to get checked out and make sure I wasn’t pregnant and got on with life. I struggled after that with eating issues and OCD for a long time but eventually I managed to lock it away, or I thought I did.

The midwife noted on my file in big writing RAPE VICTIM – I didn’t realize the relevance of it at that point.

On the 30th October things started to happen. After I found out it was my hind waters had gone so no big drama. I had been having irregular gentle contractions for about 12 hours but nothing really happening. My midwife who I had really liked as she was on my wave length and totally supported my decision to home birth told me to go in and get checked.  I went in and had his heart rate checked which was totally fine and everything else was in check. However the midwife was adamant I had to go in and be induced that day. Her exact word were ‘if you don’t come in your baby could die.  Bearing in mind only a few minutes before she had said everything was fine it was an extreme and frightening and confusing thing to hear. I said I didn’t want to stay and could I come back later and she said it was fine. I was thinking they wouldn’t let me go if there was a problem.

Every bone in my body told me I didn’t need an induction and I shouldn’t go back in that night.  When I got home I called my local midwife who said that I didn’t have a choice. My husband felt that we should do what the midwife said. It was our first baby. I normally follow my instincts but there was another little human here relying on me to make the right choice.  Reluctantly 2 hrs later than we should have been, we arrived and were checked in at 8pm.
I explained I felt I was going to labour quickly and was instantly dismissed as a first time mum who didn’t have a clue. I’ve always been very in tune with my body and knew it would be fast. They explained they would put in a pessary but it was probably going to take a few days. Again I said I really don’t think so. It’s going to be fast. I was dismissed.

After that I was told there wasn’t room for my husband on the postnatal ward and the antenatal ward was shut. He’d have to go home. This terrified me and made me feel very vulnerable. She promised me as soon as I went I to labour, which wouldn’t be for a day or so, that they would call him immediately and he would come back.  So the pessary went in, Darren went home. 20 minutes later, there was a loud pop and my waters went. Straight away the contractions came and were like being hit by a bus every few minutes.

I managed to get out of bed and hobble to the toilet and sort myself out. I went to the office on the ward where the midwife’s were and told them. They said they would call my husband and to go back to my cubical. No one came for ages. I started calling for someone. By this point I couldn’t reach my bag to get my phone either. I was in a lot of pain despite trying to use the Hypno-birthing techniques. In fact had I not used them I hate to think what kind of state I would have been in!  No one came for 4 hours…..I was on my own, no husband no midwife, no support. Eventually I was screaming that I needed to push and a midwife walked past and told me to ‘be quiet, there’s sick women on the ward’.  Finally someone came in and checked me and injected Pethidine without my permission. I had specified no Pethidine because of the way it would make me feel (like when I was drunk and raped)

A midwife shoved her hand inside me so hard I nearly fell off the side of the bed. With that she shouted ‘Shit! She’s 7cm get her to delivery and call her husband’  After that I was in and out of it. All I remember is that I only had a short T Shirt on, nothing else not even pants, and was put in a lift with a male porter.  The next thing I knew I was on a bed being given an Epidural when my husband walked in. Again, we didn’t want an epidural and it was written I the birth plan and I was in NO fit state to consent to have one as I was barely awake after the Pethidine.

Once things had calmed down a bit a midwife told us there was only 4 midwives on the ward and 8 women in labour. There wasn’t enough midwives to look after me if the baby came too quickly. They basically used the epidural to slow things down until I was given what I call my ‘landing spot’, pumped full of oxytocin to speed things up when they were ready.  They put me in stirrups and wouldn’t let me get up or move. My bed was facing the door which was left open a lot and people coming in and out. I know labours not particularly dignified but this took the piss. Everything was on view for the world to see.

Eventually, they told Darren they were giving me an episiotomy and ventouse. I didn’t want one and there was no reason to. The baby’s heart rate and recovery was perfectly fine, he wasn’t in distress and my contractions were regular. They put on immense pressure and despite me saying no they gave me one anyway.  Every step of the way they did what they wanted and never once listened or took my feelings in to consideration or respect my body. By this point I was exhausted with fighting.

The ventouse came off but Toby was born a healthy screaming and pink 7lbs 9oz a couple of contractions later.  They wrapped him up and gave him to me. No skin to skin as requested in the birth plan.  I felt nothing.  I remember them trying to get me to smile for a picture. It felt fake and forced. I remember thinking from that very moment I wanted to curl up and be left alone.

Things never improved after that. They stitched me up with no pain relief and the epidural had worn off, a nurse dropped my bed down and caught my catheter in the bars so it pulled out which was excruciating and staff proceeded to generally be rude and abrupt for the next 2 days. Eventually I said if they didn’t discharge me I was leaving anyway so they let us out.

After we came home things quickly spiralled out of control. I either slept or cried nonstop. I could barely function. Toby screamed all the time and I didn’t know what to do. He always seemed hungry.  I was trying to breastfeed but it didn’t seem to be working. I tried going back to bed for a week and doing constant skin to skin. When he wasn’t feeding I’d be pumping as the midwife told me it would help. I would effectively feed for 2 hours and sleep for 1 then repeat for a week. Still no milk. I was exhausted and Toby had lost nearly 2lbs.  She said the only option was a bottle. I felt like an utter failure. The only thing I could do for my baby and I couldn’t even manage that. I now put the lack of milk down to the postnatal depression and the stress of his birth. I’m not particularly a Daisy the cow kind of breastfeeder anyway but the stress shut down my supply completely.  Still wanting to breastfeed we continued to latch him on for as long as possible then switch him to the bottle.

I was such a wreck by week 2 that my husband, who had gone back to work by this point, was getting up in the night. I just wouldn’t wake up. He’d latch the baby on to be whilst he prepared the bottle then when he was done, bottle feed him, wind him and put him back to bed. He was working really long days and driving up the M25 for 2 ½ hours every day to work and was shattered to but there was nothing left in me to be able to function.

I was SO ANGRY…..  I was livid at our midwife. Still to this day I feel she let us down. She should have given us our choices so we could make an informed decision.  I was angry for the hospital for dismissing my notes with the special care notice on it advising them of my rape. They showed no respect for my body.  I was angry for the midwife lying that she would call my husband and then leaving me on my own for hours in agony with no support.   I was angry at my husband for going home even though I begged him not to and for listening to them over me, even though he was just doing what he was told.  Giving birth was like being raped all over again. This time it didn’t just take my virginity it took my hopes and dreams, my husband’s hopes and dreams, it took my new baby’s mother away and left an empty shell for the first months of his life. I’ll never get those moments back.

I started to manage day to day tasks by following a list in the Baby Whispers book. Despite what was happening I followed that time table to the T. It was the only way I knew what to do.  When I saw pregnant women I would break down in hysterics, even in the middle of a shopping centre because they still had their birth experience to come and mine was wrecked.  If I heard any of the music that was playing at the time the same thing would happen.

I developed very bad OCD and often had suicidal thoughts. When Darren was at work I’d spend most of the day crying and calling him begging him to come home so I wasn’t alone.  At the 12 weeks check I took the little PND test they do and failed epically. I waited a few weeks and got to see a councillor. I don’t remember it being particularly helpful if I’m honest. It was a long time ago now. Toby will be 10 this year. It’s a shame they didn’t do the test earlier, hopefully its different now.

What I do know helped though is EXERCISE. :O)  It was my utter life line.

During my pregnancy I totally indulged and ate everything. Two pizzas a day, a couple of Mars bars, cheese scones, After Eights were a favourite! I ballooned from a size 12 to an 18.  My mum bought me a gym membership for Christmas when Toby was 8 weeks old.  Just before Christmas I got the all clear to exercise and on the 2nd of January and started training every morning.  It was the only reason I left the house except to walk once a week with the antenatal girls I had met. It gave me structure and me time. There was a creche there so I could drop Toby off and go and train.

I was shitting myself at first I have to admit. But I forced myself out of the house every morning at 8.45. I felt really self-conscious but everyone was nice and I started to chat to other mums more regally. I’d spend two hours there doing the gym or a class every day Monday to Friday without fail. It became a non-negotiable act. On the weekend I’d go for a run. I couldn’t run for 1 minute to start with but I built it up slowly until I eventually could run 10 k.
We booked our wedding for the following summer and it gave me another focus. I stepped up the training and found out wat worked for me with my diet to lose weight and prepared to walk down the aisle looking and feeling good.
It was still incredibly hard at home though. I think for about 14 months or so I would cry most days. I was crying because I was grieving for the birth I dint get and I was grieving for the precious moments I missed out on. The first cuddle and rush of love, the bonding and sleepy night time feeds. Even the little things that can be taken for granted like nappy changing and family time. My husband would take him out in the sling a lot so I could be on my own and ty to do something to make me feel better but I was overwhelmed with sadness

As it got closer to the wedding I didn’t cry so much. The sadness was still there but it eased up and as Toby grew bigger I coped at being mummy better. I was still struggling with the issues the birth had brought up with the rape. Now I understand it, but back then I didn’t. After having Tobs our sex life was in tatters. I dint want Darren to touch me and I didn’t feel sexy. I’m sure loads of mums can relate to that! On top of that I started to have constant nonstop flash backs from the rape especially at bed time.

My husband was incredible through all of this but it was VERY hard for him too. He was a mum and a dad at times even though he was working long hours too.

Sometimes I think it’s really easy for the focus to be just on the mums when they’re struggling but for him to stand by and watch his strong feisty woman drift in to a gibbering wreck and not bond with her baby knocked him for six.
It was only a few years later he said how much it hurt him and also knocked his confidence when I constantly rejected his advances. But he also needed to feel loved and a connection. It wasn’t just a sex thing it’s about human needs.
In order for the dads to fully help the mothers the dads need support too.

I put my recovery from postnatal depression solely down to exercise and looking after myself. Having the structure gave me something to focus on and even though I was rubbish to start with I really stated to enjoy the exercise and the buzz it gave me. I also lost the weight I gained and felt more like the old me again and most importantly

I bonded with my baby boy :O)
When Toby was one I trained as a Birth Doula, the course was incredibly eye opening and gave me many light bulb moments. Especially regarding the link with sexual assault and postnatal depression. It wasn’t until that moment I realised why it had been written on my file and why I was having all these flash backs. Although I had recovered from PND I hadn’t addressed the post-traumatic stress from the rape but at least I understood now. If only the notes had been respected things could have been different.

A few months after we got married I fell pregnant again. Sadly there were signs that the NHS were not going to respect my decisions again and I decided to hire a private midwife. We didn’t have the money but I was going to do everything I could to avoid ending up feeling like I did after Toby.

I saw an NHS midwife for my antenatal care to keep costs down and had our private midwife for the last few antenatal appointments, birth and postnatal appointments.
I practiced Hypno-birthing from the minute I found out we were expecting again and I researched everything I could. I contacted AIMS – The association for Independent Midwifes and sort out their advice as its non-biased. I exercised right up until 2 days before I gave birth weight lifting and doing aerobics, and ran until I was 33 weeks. I listened to my body as adjusted things as I needed to. I made my self not only physically, but mentally strong though exercise.
Again, I planned the birth meticulously and surrounded myself with information so I was well informed and a midwife we both trusted to look after us all. We had plans in place in case I had to be transferred to hospital but in my mind I knew it was going to be ok. I was so determined I wasn’t going to put Toby through the pain I went through again, or our new baby.
On the 7th June at 38+6 Naiyah-Blue was born perfectly at home in a pool with Toby holding my hand and my husband filming (I know some might think that’s loopy but I wanted to remember every detail I could of this birth) The midwife arrived just as she was crowning.
It was a quickie again although this time we spent the labour in a local pub having Sunday roast and came home just 40 minutes before she was born. I Hypno-birthed in between contractions and chatting to friends and eating.
It was pretty much pain free as I was so relaxed and a very casual wonderful afternoon I’ll never forget. Toby hopped in the pool after and cuddled his sister. We spent an hour and a half in there, thankfully it was warm and fairly clean! All three of us had skin to skin contact and cuddled for as long as we could. To me it helped heel some of the pain from his birth. It couldn’t have been more perfect. I cherished every moment with the children and was really happy. We all settled in to our new family life well and although I was worried about getting PND again I didn’t.

Six months after Naiyah was born I re-trained as a Personal Trainer, Ante and Postnatal Exercise Specialist and Nutrition Coach. I set up my company Fit & Fabulous and set about my mission.
To help as many mums as possible to use exercise to help them through mentally tough times. To heel their bodies and their minds and find the old them again.
At the exact time I started retraining I had a nervous breakdown I was still struggling with the hangover from the rape issues Tobys birth had brought up. I was over the PND but I had no choice but to stop running from my past. I just couldn’t keep in in anymore and told my husband, my family and the police.
I spent 9 months on day care in the priory 4 days a week whilst doing my studies. I was diagnosed with Bipolar, PTSD and OCD. I was tough going through treatment but The Priory is an incredible place. I can hand on heart say I don’t think I’d be here without their help.
I learnt all the tools I needed to keep in my box for the bad days and how to use them.
Day by day things became brighter. My children had mummy back, Darren got his feisty wife back (not sure that’s a good thing ;O) and I had Nikki back. :O)

Over the past 6 years I have done an immense amount of self-development. I’ve grown as a mum and wife and learnt to find some peace from what happened to me. I’m not saying sometimes I don’t feel a tinge of sadness and anger over the birth every now and then but I’m only human.

I’ve got my tools and on the occasions I feel down about anything I use them. I’ve built up my confidence and done things I never imagined I would do. I even completed in a Bikini Fitness Bodybuilding competition! Back when I was so down I would never have dreamt I would find the balls or courage to do that.
My husband is my rock and I’m incredibly lucky to have him. I’ve asked him to proof read this so his probably going to get a big head but it’s down to his unconditional love and support that I had the ability to fight my way out of depression and be who I am today and for that I’ll be forever grateful.
Although I still have to manage the Bipolar I am medication free and in a really happy content place and have a wonderful relationship with my children and husband.
I believe 100% that these things happened so I can help other women to get through the struggles of motherhood and depression.
As I said before, it’s my mission to help as many women as possible to feel good about themselves again. Not just in their body but their mind too. Mindset is always at the forefront of my work.

I’ve now expanded my skills in to mindfulness and life coaching and I combine this with an online personal training and nutrition courses so I have the ability to reach even more mums with no geographical boundaries.
Seeing my clients change their life around is just the best feeling ever because it’s not just them but their families and relationships that flourish too.

If you’re struggling with any kind of mental illness please reach out for help. I know it’s a really scary thing but you really can change things around and feel happy again.

These are my top tips for struggling with mental illness:
1) Reach out to a professional and tell someone you love your struggling – be totally honest even though it’s really tough. It’s easy to put a mask on and down play how you really feel.
2) Take one step at a time.
3) Be kind to yourself, look after yourself and don’t beat yourself up (easier said than done I know but keep it in mind and try not to engage in negative self-talk)
4) Try and get out of the house once a day for some exercise, even if it’s just a brisk walk with the buggy for 20 mins.
5) Ask for help at home from friends or family if you’re struggling to cope at home.
6) Nourish your body with good food to keep your energy levels steady
7) Work as a team with your partner. You’re in this together.

Much Love and Peace
Nikki Wetherell
Fit & Fabulous
fitandfabulous.co.uk

Kate
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Postnatal Psychosis – My Experience by Kate Valenta Parsonage

Ahh Christmas time. The time when soaps tend to do their best dramatic storylines to fight for top ratings. No matter how unrealistic they maybe.  Most years I don’t pay attention to the TV it all seems to be doom and gloom and not much ‘Holiday spirit’. This year however I’ll be watching with baited breath holding out that maybe, just maybe soaps may actually do a small minority of women a favour and expose the crippling Illness of Post-Natal Psychosis for the terrifying demon it truly is in a sensitive and realistic view.

This year Eastenders are going to feature Stacey Branning developing the illness after giving birth to her baby. Most people who watch Eastenders already know that Stacey suffers from Bipolar Disorder. Bipolar disorder gives mums a higher chance of developing post-natal psychosis, 25-50% higher than a woman with an undiagnosed severe mental illness in the days after childbirth. Couple that with Stacey deciding not to take her prescribed medications for her Bipolar disorder during her pregnancy it’s just not sounding good. However, there’s still the minority of women who don’t take their medications during pregnancy with a diagnosed severe mental illness and they’re completely fine afterwards. Post-natal psychosis is barely spoken about it’s very under known about by both medical professionals and the general public but I’m hoping it is done justice in this upcoming storyline.

After the birth of my first child in February 2012, Postnatal Psychosis gripped me and dug it’s claws in. After pushing out 7lb3oz of screaming pink flesh I could think of nothing better than sleep. After a long three days back to back labour without an ounce of sleep during the whole ordeal no one could blame me. My body was exhausted and my mind was equally as shot. However, I think the shock for people was that I was still on my back eyes closed two days after giving birth claiming ‘exhaustion’ this was my first sign, my first sign something was clearly seriously wrong with my mental wellbeing.

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My first night in the hospital passed in a drug hazed blur. During my pregnancy I so desperately wanted to breastfeed, I so desperately wanted to feel the rush of love for my new-born mums speak of. However, I just felt an intense desire to sleep and not even touch the baby. I begged the midwives for bottles of Formula in aid to let me get a good night’s sleep in. In reality this was in hope that I could stop the way I was feeling, I truly believed sleep would heal me and I’d wake up, feel great and be ready to become the Mum I dreamt I would have been if I wasn’t on my way to becoming severely mentally unwell.

The next morning my partner arrived with his parents like an excited new dad expecting to see a doting new Mother with her baby. However, he was met with the complete opposite, me on my back eyes closed oblivious to the world and the baby rooting for a feed. I remember hearing his parents being there but I just lay there my eyes closed firmly. Later that day he was trying his best to ‘wake me’ but I begged him to let me sleep, I became agitated and nasty that he dared to ask me to do anything for our daughter. That was the whole issue at the start, I so desperately wanted to sleep but my mind was wide awake but my body was asleep (sounds very odd I know!)

During the day I can only say my mental health took a complete nose dive. My partner had to take the baby away as I was becoming increasingly distressed about the baby needing me and my lack of ‘sleep’. I begged him for the car keys so I could escape the ward and be alone in quiet and without the noise and just sleep another major warning sign that something wasn’t right with my mental health. That night my hallucinations began, I ran out of the cubicles where women were kept with their babies hiding from the alarm sound in my head, only I couldn’t escape it. I ran back to the ward even more distressed shoved my headphones in, closed my eyes and started to try to sleep. I was later nudged by a midwife because my baby had been crying for over ten minutes and I failed to respond.  Later that day I was discharged and left to go home. The most shocking thing I think was that no midwife noticed that I hadn’t been out of bed in the whole two days I had been there ( This includes going to the toilet, yes I failed to do self-care).  Before I arrived home I rang my mother with my demand that the babies Moses basket was downstairs waiting for me to put her in when I get in as I needed to get in my bed. I burst through the front door placed in her Moses basket and shouted at everyone to not wake me until I had a decent sleep. Obviously by this point, I think it was becoming more obvious to people I was becoming unwell.

The next day I could hear my mum on the phone to the GP’s requesting I was seen as I appeared to be unwell. I knew something wasn’t right but I truly believed it was my lack of ‘decent’ sleep. I shoved some clothes on, left the baby with her Dad and proceeded to have panic attacks on the way to the GP surgery. My mum explained while we were there she felt concerned that I was lay in bed a lot and didn’t seem to want to touch the baby. The Dr asked me a number of questions in which I was told I was a new mum and it’s expected that new mums are tired and generally ‘a bit’ anxious following childbirth. We left fully accepting what the GP had said and tried to continue.

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The following week things continued to get worse. My consistent complaining about my body falling to sleep but my mind being awake was becoming more and more and my anxiety and panic attacks intensified tenfold along with the constant buzzer noise I could hear in my head. I also forgot how to do basic things, I’d sit with food in my mouth and forget to chew, I forgot that I needed to change my sanitary towel, I basically forgot how to be an adult. Everything seemed in technicolour and the world didn’t seem real.  Around the fourth day my delusions kicked in out of nowhere….

The delusions I would say was the worst part of the illness, yes the crippling anxiety and lack of self-care is horrendous, but the delusions were something else, something you can’t even put a pin point on.  I sat there in my room holding my baby looking down at her when all of a sudden I started to think, ‘This isn’t the baby I gave birth too, this baby has been swapped!’ panicked I started to look for any sign she was mine, but because I couldn’t remember a thing about her and a thing about what happened really in hospital I couldn’t convince myself that my baby was mine. I tried to find respite by looking at photos, looking at her baby bands and thinking really hard if she left the room when I gave birth to her. I also started to look at other people’s babies looking if it was my baby from the photo. The more I tried to convince myself the more paranoid I became, surely if I was thinking this some kind of natural instinct is telling me somethings not right?

The delusions carried on intensifying. I started to question my partner and mother intensely on things that really didn’t make any logical sense. I started to believe that someone had swapped all my babies clothing in the wardrobe as I was expecting a boy not a girl. I always knew Ivy was a girl during pregnancy it was yet another delusion I had.

The delusions then took a really vile turn. I started to believe my real baby had died during labour and my family and the hospital was in on hiding it from me so they swapped my dead baby for a living baby. Obviously any person would find this thought distressing. I started to contact the hospital asking them questions, I constantly asked my mother and partner to tell me what happened. I became fixated on finding out the ‘truth’. I became angry with family members that they were hiding things from me I started to plan running away to escape the mad mess these people had put me in and go off to grieve my baby.

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All the while, while this was happening we had numerous visits from midwives and also numerous trips to the GP. My partner was really stressing to the midwife that I wasn’t ‘there’ and everyone around me become increasingly concerned about my mental state. Each time we seen someone they never knew what to do except prescribe me more anti-depressants and told me to rest. My partner had to take numerous weeks off work because I was just to poorly to watch over Ivy, I couldn’t look after myself never mind a 2 week old.

The delusions and extreme anxiety carried on way past 6 months I started drawing marks on Ivy’s body so I could come home and check she was still the same baby. Again we went back to the GP’s stressing I was very unwell mentally but was once again passed off and told to take more anti-depressants.

The turning point in my illness was when my anti-depressant dosage hit the top dosage you could be prescribed. My mood flipped in to hypomania. I felt the best I had ever felt in my life. I then proceeded to do some crazy things all of which I regret now but try not to blame myself for as I was very unwell. My moods continued to go up and down throughout the next year in the end my GP referred me to the psychiatrist after my Mother sent me in high as a kite after jumping over bike shackles in the high street like an excitable five-year-old.

In my first appointment they asked for a general history and what had been happening for me to end up needing to see them. It was here where I was told I’d been suffering from Postnatal Psychosis this came as a relief. Finally, I had some kind of starting and closing point to what had just happened this past year to myself and I finally gained understanding that things were going to change for the better. I was prescribed anti psychotics and things gradually started to ease up. I bonded with Ivy finally and started to become a ‘Mum’.

Today I wouldn’t say I’m 1000x recovered but I am getting there. I had my second child in May and was thrilled when I got past the six months’ mark which is classed as the highest risk period for redeveloping post-natal psychosis.

So let’s keep our hopes up that it’s exposed in the correct way!

If you would like to speak to Kate about her experience, please get in touch with the PANDAS Team via the PANDAS Foundation Facebook Page.

David
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David Heffernan

Hello everyone
My name is David Heffernan, and I live in Knutsford, Cheshire with my beautiful wife Emma and 2 boys Ben (9) and Jack (4).
I am self-employed and work from home, which allows me total freedom to be there for my boys as and when needed. Although that is most men’s dream, it only came about through adversity.
4 Years ago I was diagnosed with a neuromuscular disorder and severe lung defect – I became unemployable overnight and so after 100 job interviews and not one single yes, I knew I had to take control of my life and so I became self-employed.  In the last year through investing in shifting my mindset I have been able to come off 36 tablets a day plus Morphine and I can now be a Father again to my children.  18 Months ago – I couldn’t even lift my child up as my illness had got so bad.
I am so proud to be involved with PANDAS and PANDAS DADS because I can see the real value and benefit in what they offer to people who are experiencing PND.  My experience of PND has been more of a supportive role.  My wife has suffered with PND since the birth of our first born 9 years ago.  It took over 18 months too be diagnosed and a further 18 months on anti-depressants before she was finally given just 4 sessions of CBT counselling.  This is what drives me – I am passionate about empowering women (and men) during pregnancy and helping them become strong, independent and powerful so if or when PND strikes before or after birth, they are well equipped to tackle this life changing illness.
I studied depression to the point I became a self appointed expert in the subject so I could help my wife as best I could.  I wish to help other Dads in the same situation who may not understand what is happening to their partner/wife and support them so they can support their wife and provide the best environment for their marriage/relationship and their children. It is a non-debatable fact also that Men do suffer from postnatal depression, so it is important that men have a safe forum to seek advice and support during this time.
My wife has learnt to control her depression now through solution focused thinking. She has always been the most beautiful woman in my life, depression has just been a temporary resident in her mind.  As the landlady she has learned to evict it quite quickly when depression decides to claim squatting rights.
I am so proud of my wife and of every single member of PANDAS because it takes real strength and courage to recognise there is a problem and so you are to be commended for that – I pray that PANDAS and myself can be a constant source of encouragement and friendship to you along your journey.
Thank you
David Heffernan
8 Caitlin Dean
5

#HGDay16 – My Story by Dee Hawke

I found out I was pregnant when I’d just turned 20. It wasn’t a happy occasion, I’d gone to a family planning clinic due to severe pains around my side that had been happening for a few days. I sat down and they asked if I was pregnant, “no way” I said. I had to do a pregnancy test anyway but laughed it off. The lady walked into the room with the test and said ” you’re pregnant- no doubt about it”.

HG Awareness Day 2016 Dee%27s Story Pic 3

With that I was sent to hospital with a suspected ectopic pregnancy. It took weeks to get my head around it. After 2 weeks of back and forth hospital appointments they confirmed my baby was in the right place and all was well.

Just as I was starting to feel ok about being pregnant I started feeling sick, very sick. Not just a bit of nausea this was severe sickness.

I went to my doctors and they told me it was morning sickness and told me to try ginger and acupressure bands.

After 5 days of not eating or drinking and with my sickness getting worse I went back and told him that ginger was ridiculous and the bands were even worse. He prescribed me an anti-sickness medication called cyclizine. I left feeling like they had listened and I was on my way to never being sick again.

How wrong I was.

At 6 weeks pregnant I was so ill I could hardly move. The cyclizine didn’t work for me. I couldn’t eat at all and I only managed a few sips of water a day but that would usually come straight back up. I was so weak and loosing so much weight. I suffered incredible migraines, dizziness, and constant nausea, I would lay on the bathroom floor wishing my life away.

I made it to 9 weeks, I don’t know how. I saw my midwife who told me again “it’s just morning sickness, it’ll be gone by the 12th week.”

That didn’t happen.

I’d never heard of Hyperemesis before but I read hundreds of forums and instantly knew it was what I had.

There were days I thought I would die, it sounds extreme but I was being sick so many times a day I burst the capillaries in my face, and was vomiting blood.

I had no help during my first pregnancy, it didn’t seem to be very important to doctors or midwives back then (2005). I’m lucky my family were so supportive.

By 28 weeks my sickness had nearly gone, I was still sick but it wasn’t constant. I gave birth to a healthy baby girl at 40weeks+10days.

I went on to have another HG pregnancy which was made worse by having another little person to care for. I had slightly more help but after trying every anti sickness medication possible I needed to be hospitalised and rehydrated with IV fluids. Again by 27 weeks I was starting to feel more human. I gave birth to my son in 2008.

I found out I was pregnant with my third baby in 2012 and I’d researched Hyperemesis a lot, it stated again at 6 weeks and this time I was ready (ish). I’d read on some American forums about a drug called ondanseteron that could help and this time I walked into my doctors and demanded treatment. I was told it’s worth a try but it’s expensive, very expensive.

I didn’t care, I was already in a bad way I just wanted to not be sick and be able to eat and drink normally. A few days later I was hospitalised and put on IV fluids again.

This time I was really looked after, they corrected my medication and made sure I could come straight back in if I needed fluids.

I managed well at home with ondanseteron. With this medication I could do everything again. There were occasions where I was sick but it was nothing compared to before.

I took ondanseteron throughout the entire pregnancy and gave birth to my beautiful healthy son in 2013.

I’m now a Volunteer Peer Supporter for Pregnancy Sickness Support and I support women going through the same ordeal. I think it’s great to have someone to talk to who’s been through the same experience. Hyperemesis is not just sickness, it’s an incredibly debilitating, isolating and exhausting illness and a huge amount of support is needed to get through it.

I love being a volunteer I find it so rewarding that I can be of help and offer information and support to someone who really needs it.

Unless you’ve suffered with Hyperemesis it’s very hard to understand exactly how that person feels.

Pregnancy Sickness Support is holding its biennial conference for sufferers and volunteers on Saturday 14th May in Bristol in the lead up to HG Awareness Day on 15th May. This is an opportunity for existing volunteers to develop their knowledge and training on the condition and how best they can support sufferers. New volunteers can attend to find out about the charity and how they can get involved and current sufferers can find out more about treatments and support available as well as how they can support the charity in the future.

International HG Awareness Day is an opportunity to raise awareness of the condition and the work of the charity and its sister organisation in the USA the H.E.R Foundation (www.helpher.org).           You can get involved on social media using #HGAwareDay16.

Pregnancy Sickness Support (PSS) is a UK charity for pregnancy sickness and hyperemesis gravidarum (HG). In addition to providing information and support for pregnant women and their carers, the charity also raises awareness among the public and healthcare professionals (HCPs) through impactful media campaigns to reduce the stigma about this misunderstood condition. Furthering research is a key aim of the charity and forms the basis for our HCP education programmes, service development support and annual conferences.

If you are suffering and in need of information and support please call the helpline on 024 7638 2020

More information about the charity can be found at www.pregnancysicknesssupport.org.uk

MY PND JOURNEY – BY TILLIE MABBUTT

“I don’t want to be a Mum anymore!” I screamed at my husband: the defining moment of a row we were having about something insignificant, but had blown out of proportion.

This sentence was the catalyst for my Post Natal Depression recovery journey.  Those were the words that gave my husband, Shaun, a window into how I was really feeling about being a mum to our nine month-old son.  He stopped still, embraced me, and gently told me that we needed to seek professional help.

From as long as I can remember, the thought of being pregnant; or anyone else being pregnant was just horrific, I suffered with what psychologists call, Tokophobia, fear of birth or pregnancy. I have no idea where this phobia came from.

Although I understood that it was the most natural thing in the world, it just seemed so alien to me; growing a human inside your body? How does that make sense? However, my want to have a child after we got married gave me the push to deal with the phobia through therapy.

So before trying for a baby, I sought help in the shape of Emotional Freedom Therapy (EFT) and it worked! I felt more comfortable with the idea and I had the psychological tools to control my thought process surrounding it.

Shaun and I tried for a year and a half to get pregnant and after being diagnosed with Polycystic Ovaries, my local fertility clinic put me on Clomid, a drug that forces your ovaries to release eggs on a regular basis, something my body wasn’t doing on its own.  Within two months of being on it, I was pregnant.  We were, understandably, over the moon and excited for the journey that lay ahead.

I had, what would be classed by most, as the perfect pregnancy: no complications, nothing out of the ordinary and other than being uncomfortable, it was all fairly simple.  Simple, apart from the fact that I didn’t really ‘get involved’ with my growing baby.  By that, I mean that I didn’t enjoy feeling him kick or move, I didn’t look at my bump or stroke it with loving thoughts, I just detached myself from the growing life inside me and went about my life as normal. I read the books and knew what was happening with my body, but I didn’t enjoy pregnancy, it just felt like a huge inconvenience.  And as my friends and family know, I’m not a woman who is used to having restrictions on what I am able to do.  With hindsight, I should have known that I would struggle.  It was even at those early stages of being a mum –  pregnancy – that I hated losing my own power of decision and independence.

My birth was, (and when I say this to other women they look at me like I’m crazy) wonderful.  I’d had been listening to hypnobirthing CDs and reading the accompanying book and felt more than ready for this huge feat.  Although from the start of contractions to our son being born was 33 hours, it was relaxed and calm.  I made cakes in between contractions and had a fish and chip dinner, Shaun with me the whole time being amazingly supportive.  I then spent the last 6 hours in the birthing pool where our son, Fletcher, was born.

The midwife quickly scooped him onto my chest for me to hold.  And that’s when it started: I had no emotion towards him at all.  I was just lying in the water overcome with relief and self pity.  I was looking at him and all I was thinking in that moment was “I can’t believe I’ve just done that, I am in pain and exhausted, thank god it’s over”.  I wasn’t thinking, what a lot of mums do: “I’m so happy to meet you, I love you so much”.

We had put in our notes that we didn’t want the midwives to tell us the sex of our baby, as we wanted to look and discover for ourselves.  It took a good 5 minutes and prompting from the midwife for me to even find out.  We then named him and I quickly past Fletcher to Shaun to look after whilst I got out of the pool and was checked by the birthing centre staff.

Fletcher and I went home 15 hours later. This was a decision I now regret, I wish I had stayed in overnight and had that extra support for his first day, and mine. Who knows, it could have made a difference. In the next few days and weeks we had lots of visitors, as you do when you’ve had a new baby, and each one would say things to me like: “Isn’t he lovely?”, “I bet you’re loving being a mum?” “It’s just such a magical time”.  And I would sit there, nod and smile and agree whilst secretly , I just assumed that this was the ‘baby blues’ and I could just ‘fake it until I made it.’

But weeks turned to months and I still didn’t feel bonded to Fletcher or enjoy being a mum.  And I should have, he slept through from 4 months and although he had colic to begin with, a change of milk sorted that. But he was a good baby.  He has always been a very active child, making noise and wriggling around from the moment he could, but in my mind, he was a nightmare.

I hated that he needed me so much, I hated losing my independence, I hated that I no longer felt like ‘me’.  I started to feel a huge amount of resentment towards him; this of course led to a massive gap in understanding between Shaun and I.  We couldn’t begin to grasp how each other was feeling or why, and we would fall out over tiny, insignificant things that escalated into full-blown arguments, which, before Fletcher, just didn’t happen.  This was something else I blamed my son for.  In my head, he had caused me pain, discomfort, loss of identity and now a wedge between me and the love of my life.

But life goes on and I truly thought that at some point I would settle into it and start to love him.  I just assumed it was sleep deprivation and just generally getting used to be a parent.  I did everything I could to bond; skin to skin, baby wearing, baby massage classes. Unfortunately he didn’t take to breastfeeding because of a tongue tie, but I felt fine with giving him formula because I knew we had both tried our best and quite frankly I was happy to be able to give him to visitors as soon as they would arrive. I even once, offered him to the postman.  He was born in November so the first few months were spent in a small village with no one my age around, in the depths of winter. Most my friends and family were living  20+ miles away, I was lonely.  I was also the first of my closest friends to have a baby, so to speak to other recent mums about how I was feeling meant leaving the house, finding women I had something in common with and becoming close enough to talk to them honestly.  I found one mum friend who was a great support to me, without her even knowing it, because she was honest about parenthood. But even then, I just couldn’t summon the courage to tell her the extent of how I was really feeling. I knew that the thoughts I was having were horrid. I couldn’t possibly say them out loud.

There is a misconception that with PND, mums or dads want to harm their babies.  This isn’t the case for the majority of women.  I certainly didn’t.  I didn’t want to hurt myself either, but I did want to leave Shaun and Fletcher.  I would watch the clock all day until Shaun was due home, and on many occasions I would think “Shaun is back in ten minutes, if I go now I know that Fletcher will be fine and then they can get on with life without me.”  I thought that it wasn’t fair for Fletcher to have a mum around that regretted having him and couldn’t love him as much as Shaun could.  One of these times, I actually packed a bag, but as Shaun drove up to the house I hid it.  I stayed because I couldn’t imagine my life without him.  I’d just have to get used to Fletcher.  But the darkness was terrible, people call depression ‘The Black Dog’, and he was biting at my feet, just waiting to swallow me whole. Some days I wanted him too, it seemed easier to submit to it rather than fight it.

We moved from the cottage when Fletcher was eight months old and bought a house in a nearby town, but to get the size house we wanted we had to buy a renovation project.  We moved and I was happier, in the village we had some neighbours who made our life there very stressful, so having new, friendly neighbours it helped removed that strain.  But with the amount of work we we’re doing on the house coupled with work and parenting, the stress levels of both Shaun and I rose and with that the arguments started again.

After my admission of not wanting to be a mum I couldn’t reign it all in.   Everything that I was feeling and thinking came pouring out.  Shaun called my health visitor and she came to see us a few days later.  She asked me to fill out a test of ten questions with multiple-choice answers about how I was feeling, if you score ten or over you are diagnosed with postnatal depression.  I scored 20.  She asked me to commit to doing a hobby that I enjoyed before motherhood for an hour each week, she also booked me an appointment with a doctor that she had carefully selected to ensure I got the support I needed.  So I started swimming for an hour a week and the doctor put me on Serotonin based medication.  I told the rest of my family and some close friends, I felt supported, lifted and hopeful.

On Fletcher’s first birthday, I had a ‘light bulb’ moment.  I looked at him and I saw not a baby, but a toddler that was growing into a boy.  He had become a real character, he was becoming independent (fiercely so, I wonder where he got that from?!) and I realised that he didn’t need me to do everything for him. I had gained some of my independence back. I had survived the first year, and I had stayed.  But most of all, I had started to love him.

I now understand the science behind PND, my body had an imbalance of hormones that had blocked my mind the natural instinct to love my child.  But through the help and support from medical professionals and my family, I was fighting against that.  I don’t think I would have ever have made it out of the darkness without the shoulders that I had to lean on.  I was so lucky to have a health visitor that was so brilliant at understanding and knew exactly what to say.  And beyond fortunate to have a husband that gave me the time, space and love that I needed.  We discussed alll it recently; we both feel that going through that experience has made us more aware of each other’s needs as parents and individuals, which is an unexpected bonus.

And now, just before his second birthday, I can’t find enough words to explain how much I love and adore him.  He has turned into such an amazing little man, he’s funny, caring, silly and independent. I just love watching him learning each and everyday. Sometimes I find myself staring at him and crying, completely overwhelmed by my love for him as if my mind and heart are making up for lost time.

I’ve also come to the realization that I am a good mum. And although I don’t think I will ever say that parenting is easy, I can’t ever imagine my life without him.  I now have two loves of my life.

SAD MAM’S WINTER SURVIVAL GUIDE – BY ANGELA BROADBRIDGE

SadMum1

It’s no secret that many of us struggle in winter, the dark mornings and nights and dull overcast days can send even the most positive soul into the doldrums; with light deprivation the main cause of SAD the long nights and short days can take their toll. I realised a few years back that I have made a referral into community mental health or asked for help from my GP every year in Autumn/Winter for as long as I can remember.  It’s pretty clear then that for me a personal action plan is necessary to help me fight the winter blues.

When I was on maternity leave I found that particular year much easier, I could be out during the brighter parts of the days and felt good about making plans for the late morning period when I knew I could get more of the vitamin D I need from the sun.  Once I returned to work the impending sense of doom that the change in the clocks brought about was palatable; I was SAD alright, really bloody miserable!  There’s a sense of cabin fever that winter brings and now that I recognise it I am better prepared to treat myself well in winter.

I have learned to manage aspects of SAD over the years and yet it’s definitely harder when you have more than just yourself to think about.  During the summer months I really enjoyed going out for a walk with Joss every evening until about 8pm. This routine set us all up for a happy bed time, yet in winter we all have a sense of being ‘stuck at home.’ This survival guide is no replacement for getting advice and support from a medical professional, but it might offer some general well being pointers that fellow SAD mums and dads might find helpful!

 SAD MAM’S WINTER SURVIVAL GUIDE

Your survival kit might include:

  • Access to sunlight daily, even just for twenty minutes. If you’re at home with the kids take them for a walk between 9 – 11 when they days are often brightest, keep yourself from getting down by talking about all the things you see on your walk, there’s a reason why Joss and I have been doing so many leaf pictures lately, it’s because it gives me something to do when we’re walking to distract myself from thinking about what we’ll do next, what we’ll do is get some glue and get sticking!  If you’re at work take an earlier lunch break and have a walk around the block to soak up any daylight you can get.
  • A SAD or light therapy lamp which can give you a boost on those really dark days when Mr Sunshine stays away and Mr Rain comes out the play. I use mine daily for an hour from about September and do feel a noticeable difference
  • Headspace, I have been teaching myself to meditate to help clear the dark thoughts and intrusive ideas that come into my head. I tend to get really glum in winter, it starts with head chatter “I feel bad, why do I feel bad? Is something bad going to happen?” Then it spirals… CBT taught me to control the spiral and I have some brilliant tools that I use to combat anxiety, but in winter it feels easier to give up and I sometimes lose the fight, that’s when taking some time to meditate can bring me back to a more positive way of dealing with the thoughts. I use a few online tools, but the headspace app is a really good place to start.
  • Your diary – give yourself things to look forward to, plan to see some friends – life often looks different when we get together with others; look ahead to Christmas if you enjoy the festivities and plan to do something nice, this year we are going to get tickets for Enchanted Parks in December and I’m really looking forward to sharing that with Joss. More recently we’ve enjoyed getting out in the late fresh air for Halloween and Bonfire Night, both nights I had to really motivate myself to get out of the house but we really enjoyed it when we were out.
  • A healthy eating plan – step away from the winter stodge, it’s so tempting but try to save that to look forward to over Christmas time! If you can stick to a healthy eating plan, (heck, include exercise and make it a healthy living plan) you’re likely to feel more energised and better prepared to fight off any winter bugs that also get us down.  Balance your carby cravings with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and try to take in proteins which can help to boost your seratonin levels try fish, turkey, chicken, beans, pulses, nuts, eggs etc, food high in B vitamins and tryptopan can boost your serotonin levels
  • An Advent activity list – in winter it’s harder to motivate ourselves as we experience a dip in energy.  I find it harder to think of things to do and easier to sit down and do not much of anything!  Last year I had a series of counselling and was given a huge list of 100 activities to challenge my thinking, often my husband would designate me a task for the day and I’d have to engage with it.  After a day or two of feeling silly for needing someone to motivate me I thought I could do the same for activities Joss and I could do together.  I wrote out a list of fun activities indoor and outdoor and stuck it on the fridge to avoid the old ‘I’m bored and there’s nothing to do’.  I really recommend giving this approach a try if you like to have something to look forward to and to set yourself goals, it sets you up for the day with a little activity plan and is something for your family to look forward to as well.  Here are a few ideas to get you started.  I’ve decided to use this as a basis for our ‘Advent bucket list’ of 24 ideas to do starting 1st December; we’ll try to do them all in the run up to Christmas to keep me motivated and I’ll use each activity to try to increase my mindfulness and focus throughout the darkest time of the year.

SadMum2

Finally, if your symptoms are so bad that you feel you can’t live a normal day to day life and the down days are too frequent, see your GP for medical help.

Original content available here: http://thereandbackagainamotherstale.com/writing/sad-mums-winter-survival-guide/

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