Please note: this blog post contains information about loss and may be upsetting for some.
Pregnancy and ‘having a baby’ was something I considered important to do at a particular age and stage of some unwritten ‘life plan’, and it was momentous for me and my partner to have decided to move on to a new untested part of our lives. My first pregnancy ending in miscarriage at 3 months pregnant kicked off a long period of depression. The physical miscarriage was not complicated as such. It was a ‘missed miscarriage’ which brings with it so much confusion; the foetus grew to eight weeks, but I still felt pregnant, and I only knew something wasn’t right when I started bleeding at twelve weeks. But the emotional attachment was not to the foetus, but to what the pregnancy meant to me.
I attended an event with some former colleagues while I was physically experiencing my miscarriage. I was off sick from work, but I was determined to carry on as normal. ‘What had I been doing recently?’ Well, for the last two months I had been suffering with constant nausea and retching and the crippling tiredness of early pregnancy. Though now I had nothing to show for it and to top it off a massive guilt that I had ever moaned about feeling so awful when all I wanted now was to still be pregnant. I couldn’t tell anybody what was on the tip of my tongue, what I had really been doing. I already felt like I was losing control. Entirely of my body, when of course it is not possible to control most aspects of fertility and pregnancy, but also of my mental stability. I felt like a failure.
I was certain that falling pregnant again and having a baby would cure my depression. So that was the plan. But I was wrong.
Falling pregnant again seemed like it took an age, but in fact must have taken only four or five months. When I fell pregnant and felt all those familiar symptoms of nausea and sickness and bone-aching exhaustion, it felt imperative to drag myself on as normal as much as possible, in case it didn’t last. I had an early scan at the same age of gestation that the first foetus had stopped developing, and it allayed my fears a little. But I lived in denial. I got bigger, and I hated people asking me so many questions: it didn’t feel real. I didn’t allow myself to trust that I was going to have a baby. I went through the motions of antenatal scans and appointments, of booking my maternity leave from work, of obtaining the absolutely practical bare essentials. But I approached it unlike anything before in my life. I am usually organised, I love planning, for instance I thoroughly research forthcoming trips and events to lend me a sense of the familiar when I am placed into a situation. Yet I did not read up on childbirth, motherhood, babies, parenting… that was out of character for me and it was a mistake.
I had no idea that labour could last for six days, until it did. I had no idea that after those exhausting six days and having pushed the baby out, I would not get to rest. The baby needed feeding. The baby needed holding. I would not get to rest for more than a few hours at a time for weeks. I didn’t know before that all the exciting(!) new things that you get stuck into and learn about with a new baby – such as feeding (ouch!), burping, sleeping, changing nappies, clothing – are done in survival mode, with heavy sleep deprivation, with no time or energy or patience to read or understand anything in depth.
Coupled with a constant sense of dread. The overwhelming sense of responsibility. The loneliness as a new mum in a new area with no ‘mum friends’ (and the first of my close friends to have a baby). It was all such a shock.
I was breastfeeding exclusively because it was the ‘right’ thing to do, it was hard-won so I needed to keep at it, it was part of my identity now, so I thought. But I was also sure that once the baby had weaned and stopped breastfeeding, I could leave. My partner was doing a much better job of loving our baby and enjoying her. Once I was no longer giving her sustenance, it would be okay, because I would leave. They would be better off without me.
This is surprisingly difficult to write, because I truly, honestly believed all this in the core of my being. I wasn’t suicidal – I was going to bugger off to start a new life in the Highlands or somewhere and never become a mother because I was so bad at it. I genuinely thought this would happen and would be the solution.
The other intense and impossible desire was the sense that this was a trial run. Okay, I’ve given it a go with this baby, and it’s not worked, so take her back, please. Maybe one day I’ll be ready to try again, but I’m doing a crap job of this, and she’d be better elsewhere, so let’s start from scratch another time. Another example of distorted brain-scrambled nonsense in hindsight, but it was a pervasive belief. These strange fantasy ‘decisions’ sound fanciful and unhinged, and they were. I wasn’t in denial about my depression as such, I just thought this was how it was now. I accepted depression as part of my personality – I’d had depression as a teenager too so I put it down as inevitable and innate.
For a long time, I thought every new mum felt like this. I couldn’t fathom how they could not. It took me over a year, maybe longer, to tell close friends. Talking about it helped. I wasn’t sure whether to label it as postnatal depression (PND) as I’d been feeling so low for over a year beforehand, triggered by the miscarriage. In hindsight of course it was undiagnosed pre- and postnatal depression. Attending a support group for women with postnatal depression really helped, and it turns out a lot of them had exactly the same ‘certainty’ about the ludicrous escape plans they were plotting as well!
A few years on, we decided to have another baby. A decision tinged with happiness and fear. I fell pregnant straight away and miscarried days after the positive test, but it didn’t matter that time. A ‘chemical pregnancy’. The depression didn’t creep back. I fell pregnant again within months. Being pregnant again was hard: the sickness and nausea was even tougher to grapple with around a toddler. But the depression didn’t come back. Baby was born and we were exhausted and he spent the full first year of his life waking us up at night! But the depression didn’t creep back in.
I felt ready to share my story because I have felt low recently, but it feels different. Grumpy, stressed, but not spiralling end-of-the-world sadness. I used to feel the Mega Fear every time I felt teary and run-down thinking This Is It: It’s Back. But I don’t feel that when I feel a bit low now. Depression does go away. I can’t pinpoint when it left me, or exactly why. Recovery is an ongoing thing: I keep tabs on my mood, but that’s okay. A myriad of factors may or may not kick off depression. Pregnancy and miscarriages and babies and studying and work and family and friends might trigger some deep low point in your life, but they might help pick you back up, too.
Find more from Ellen by following her on twitter @nellefant
I’m very open about the fact that I’ve had OCD most of my life, that mental illness runs in my family and that my postnatal depression led to me starting Bare Biology.
I talk about my depression kicking in after the birth of my second child, Oscar. But now I realise the anxiety element of it started after the birth of my first baby, Grace, and worsened when I was pregnant with Oscar. I can remember walking along the river Thames with Grace in her pushchair and being terrified that I’d be taken over by some evil force that would compel me to throw her in the river. I would get vivid visions flash into my head and would actually ‘step away from the edge’, just in case.
After Oscar was born, the really low feeling kicked in and then the overwhelm. I would have moments when I couldn’t make a single decision and would be paralysed by a simple task. I couldn’t think straight and everything seemed monumentally difficult. I would walk to the beach with Oscar in his pram and would sit for ages on my own with him, thinking about how useless I was and how everyone would be better off without me. It all sounds melodramatic now, but I literally felt wretched. I’d look at other mums and families and wonder how they could seem so happy and so relaxed.
I eventually asked for help from my health visitor and GP and went to a support group for mums with postnatal depression. I also mega-dosed on oily fish and fish oil, which contain a key Omega 3 called DHA which mums lose during pregnancy and breastfeeding and as a result my business, Bare Biology, was born.
One of my missions in life is to help other women with pre and postnatal depression, and we’re delighted to team up again with PANDAS foundation to bring you the facts on prenatal mental illnesses. The first step to recovery is realising you aren’t well. Mums often struggle through without knowing they are experiencing a mental illness and many caregivers don’t know how to spot the signs.
On our website we have developed a mini help page, with a self-help questionnaire developed by a psychologist and articles from leading experts in nutrition, wellness and fitness to help mums recognise the signs and most importantly get help. If you think you’re struggling with prenatal depression, anxiety or OCD, click here (embedded link) to access our free questionnaire and guides.
We’re also delighted to be donating 10% of all sales of Bump & Glory, our pregnancy Omega 3, to PANDAS for the next month and will continue to work hard to help women get better.
Breaking a leg is easy to describe. As I have just done. Plain and simple. And we know what the solution is. To fix it. And we know we can.
So, when I sat down in front of a Dr trying to explain after giving birth that I felt excited and worried at the same time, and then sad and nervous, I couldn’t even begin to explain or understand my head. My mental health. I dictated a shopping list of ‘symptoms’ and cried. A lot. I was pregnant which made me happy. But I felt sad because I couldn’t stop being sick with Hyperemesis. But also, worried that something would happen to my baby. This didn’t change, for nine months.
And then I had my baby. “Congratulations you are now a Mummy!” I stopped being called Annie and family and friends would call me “Mummy!”. I felt proud and happy again. But my old reliable friend anxiety crept back and knocked on my door. Following me all the time in every circumstance. I panicked hugely. That something terrible would happen.
“Nothing bad is going to happen in the front room with a sleeping baby” my husband reassured me as I sat next to my Moses basket with my beautiful new-born baby on his fourth hour of sleep. I was comfortable on my lovely sofa, in my warm house with the curtains closed. That’s how I managed my anxiety. If everything was under control, with no one looking in or stealing my time away from my baby it would all be ok.
Two weeks after giving birth, constant visitors, endless messages of congratulations. And interminable rounds of tea and cake. I put on a brave face to our 1 millionth visitor. “he’s perfect, I’m so happy” I said to my friend one day, painting a smile on. Handling over my bundle of joy and soon after scuttling off, upstairs into the arms of my husband.
Sobbing my heart out, I let it out. All out. I was sad and anxious. I couldn’t breast feed it was too sore, I couldn’t feel excited in case something went wrong. And I didn’t want the flow of endless visitors ruining my new routine. I wanted to remember my new-born baby’s blinks, twitches and noises at 12 days old. Not make another visitor another cup of tea.
“I understand, you’re doing brilliantly and we love you” my friend said as I came downstairs smile painted back on my face. She had heard my melt down. Through the baby monitor. But it was ok, it was ok to be me.
Since then, I have established boundaries. I limit visitors. Of course, family and friends can visit us. But not “anytime” they come around MY routine and not theirs. I don’t feel guilty for sleeping when my baby sleeps. I also ask for help when I feel I need it.
And most importantly, I opened the curtains and let the light and people see in. I had nothing to hide. I just had to keep aware of how I felt, hold my precious baby tight and remember I’m not just a “Mummy” I am Annie too.
For support with pregnancy sickness and Hyperemesis Gravidarum, you can visit Pregnancy Sickness Support. Fore more information on pre and postnatal anxiety please get in touch with us at PANDAS.
6 Hobbies You Can Do to Improve Your Mental Health
Life is extremely busy, especially if you have kids. Thinking about hobbies, as an activity to indulge in, is usually the furthest from our minds.
Unfortunately, this way of thinking is robbing us of a great opportunity to release stress, improve our mental health, and add a little extra joy into our lives.
A hobby can be anything that brings you happiness when you are doing it or that invokes a feeling of passion when you engage in the activity.
These two benefits alone can improve your disposition and change your outlook on what you are going through in your life. In thinking about mental illnesses during pregnancy we have found five simple hobbies you could try to improve your mental health and make you feel better about yourself.
1# Indulge In What You Love
There is no hard and fast rule on what makes a hobby a hobby. There are many activities out there you probably never considered to be a hobby because of the nature of the activity.
For example, meditation can be considered a hobby, especially if it is something you find joy in repeatedly doing.
The key to finding a hobby, to indulge in, is to simply think of the different activities that make you smile. We are giving you five ideas, but you should stretch your imagination to find others that suit your personality.
No one said you could only have one hobby in your life.
Painting can be a soothing way to pass the time. There is something about painting that fills our heart with joy and brings down our blood pressure.
The act of putting paint on a brush and creating a picture on a canvas sets off a feeling of euphoria from accomplishing and creating art. Now listen, you do not have to be a pro to conquer the art of painting.
You can find many painting kits in your local arts and craft store. If you are concerned about what you can create, try a ‘paint by numbers’ project.
Paint by numbers makes the creation process a little easier. The picture is already there.
The creation comes from the color choices and strokes you choose to make.
3# Cooking and Baking
We know, as mothers, cooking is an everyday necessity, but why not turn that necessity into a hobby. Cooking and baking can be very therapeutic and relax when it is done in a non-stressful environment.
Taking a cooking or baking class for fun will expand your cooking and baking repertoire. The more dishes you learn how to make, the happier your family will be when you present them with your new culinary masterpiece.
You may find that providing for your family in a new creative way will highlight your perspective on how well you are providing for your family. After all, taking care of our family is the ultimate accomplishment for a mum.
4# It Is As Simple As Reading
Nothing increases brain function like reading a good book does. We know it sounds simple enough, but picking up a book can be one of the greatest enjoyments of your day.
Books allow us to escape our day-to-day life and enter into the world unlike our own. Reading takes our mind off the things that bother us for a little while and gives us the opportunity to focus on something positive.
Before you attempt to tell yourself, you do not have time to read, we would like to present you with a little tip. Audiobooks are amazing.
If you find you do not have time to read a book the good old fashion way, download an audiobook onto your phone and listen to it in the car. This can be a fun way to enjoy reading.
The bright side to audiobooks is you can read more books faster.
5# Textile Arts
Any craft you can do with your hands is a great hobby to take up. A few of the best crafts to turn into a hobby are crocheting, knitting, cross-stitching, looming, quilting, and sewing.
Each one of these crafts improves your hand-eye coordination, your brain functions, and lowers your blood pressure because they tend to create a calming feeling in the person who engages in the activity.
These crafts are great because you can take them with you. You can also perform them while watching your children play, visiting with friends, or watching television.
6# Let’s Get Physical
We all need our bodies to be in tiptop shape. Why not pick up an activity that helps us stay in shape and release some endorphins? Dancing can be a fun activity that will whip your body into shape, release endorphins, and make you laugh and smile.
There is nothing like the feeling of moving your body to match the music you are listening to.
Music can make you feel good all by itself, however, when you combine it with dance, the feeling is magical. Whether you take a dance class that requires a partner or a style where you can dance individually, a weekly dance class will fill your heart with joy and put a pep in your step.
There are many different ways to make yourself feel better about yourself and what you may be going through. The key is to decide you want to feel good.
Once the decision is made, everything you do after that simply works. Life can be tough, but it is not over.
We have our family, friends, and kids looking to us for guidance. Take care of yourself.
Find something, anything, that brings even a small amount of joy to your heart and start from there. You can learn an instrument, play music, or find a television show to turn into a guilty pleasure if it does the trick.
The key is to find a reason to live. Live past the mental illness.
Remind yourself that this too shall pass and you will soongive your baby an extra cuddle, not for them, but for yourself.
Hannah Tong is the founder of Omaby.com, a blog dedicated to providing accurate advice to mothers regarding childcare. She loves taking care of her kids and teaching them the right things. She is also enthusiastic and loves sharing her experiences to teach others about how to care for their families’ health.
PANDAS Foundation are delighted to be supporting The Good Practice of Care for Women with Mental Health Conditions during Pregnancy Conference, being organised and Chaired by Mr Raja Gangopadhyay, Consultant Obstetrician, West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust.
The conference aims at enriching attendees knowledge of Perinatal Mental Health (PMH) conditions, and lecturing experts will be covering :
– Overviewing mental health problems in the perinatal period,
– The effects of maternal mental health conditions on fetus and pregnancy outcomes,
– Interventions to mitigate risks and Care Planning in pregnancy.
– Principles of using the medication in the pregnancy and breastfeeding.
– Tokophobia and traumatic birth.
The conference is being held on the 23th June from 9-5pm at the International Hotel, Wembley, London with all proceeds from the conference being donated to PANDAS Foundation.
PANDAS Foundation has been providing peer to those directly and indirectly affected by pre and post natal depression since 2012. PANDAS service users are supported by volunteers through a dedicated helpline, local support groups, email support and closed Facebook groups. The majority of volunteers have had first or secondhand experience of these terrible illnesses and now having recovered, are passionate about giving their time to help support those going through similar circumstances.
Volunteers, providing peer support are trained in peer support and safeguarding protocols and are fully DBS checked.
If you are interested in hearing more about PANDAS services please contact us directly on :
Having lived with depression since the age of 12, with my triggers being linked to times of pressure and stress (I was first diagnosed after the death of my beloved grandad), I guess it was fairly inevitable that I suffered with both prenatal and postnatal depression with all three of my children.
The first time that I realised I had postnatal depression was with my eldest child when he was only a few months old. I was around my mum’s house with him and, after a build up of emotions and feelings of helplessness, I told her he would be better off living with her and I ran out into the road. She followed me, brought me inside and calmed me down and the next day I booked myself an appointment with my doctor.
Over the next few years my depression ebbed and flowed, with the birth of my daughter triggering things again. I built myself up online to sound like superwoman, cooking, cleaning and even baking cakes the day after giving birth, but behind closed doors my relationship was shaky and I was falling apart. I became an expert at faking a smile.
Now 27 years old, with a failed marriage behind me, now with a loving partner and my youngest son aged 4 months, I have a slightly been there done there attitude when it comes to depression. I’ve tried both counselling and medication, and both have worked for me at different points in my life.
There’s no shame in going onto antidepressants. I was on them when I fell pregnant with my youngest, and I slowly weaned myself off of them during my pregnancy, although I was assured I could stay on them if I needed to as ultimately my health and mental wellbeing was key.
The best advice I have ever had is not to be ashamed to speak out and let people know how you’re feeling. Your friends and family can’t necessarily help you, but just having their support, and not suffering in silence is a huge step in the right direction. A big misconception is that if you speak to your doctor about postnatal depression you may risk your baby being taken from you. This is not true at all, and please don’t let fear stop you from getting the help and support you need.
This time round I self referred myself to the Steps to Wellbeing service after my depression had me catapulting between bouts of uncontrollable crying and resembling a robot, lacking any emotion. I had a telephone assessment which resulted in being referred to a specialist counselling team in my local area.
I don’t feel I’ve gotten to the root of my depression before and am hopeful that this will help to not only mask the symptoms, as I feel I have in the past, but to battle my inner demons and ultimately get better not just for me, but for my partner and for my kids.
People have told me that I’m strong before and, although I don’t feel it, I guess I am. Having lived with depression for over half my life I feel it’s a part of me now, but I’ve not let it take over, I’ve not let it win. This illness is horrible, something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, but I can beat it, and you can too.
When my eldest, Theo, was born two years ago, I felt everything I was meant to as he was placed straight into my arms after the birth. He was our very much longed for baby and I had spent a lot of time throughout my pregnancy bonding with my bump. I would sing to him, bought expensive massage oils and spent a lot of time visualising him.
We didn’t find out what we were having but I just knew he was going to be a boy. I felt as if I knew him inside out from the moment we locked eyes on each other. I felt totally overwhelmed by the strength of my love when I held him that first time. It’s such a cliche but I honestly thought my heart might burst. I instantly felt ridiculously protective of him and hated anyone else holding him, even my husband. I breast fed him for the first few months and he was a hungry baby, so we were literally glued to one another.
Being one of two girls, I never witnessed a mother-son relationship first hand. I had assumed Theo would naturally have a closer bond with Zac and I would become a bit of an onlooker. So our exceptionally close connection took me totally by surprise.
Things with our second child, Daisy, couldn’t have been more different. I didn’t get that rush of love. Sounds brutal, I know, but I think I might finally be in a place where I can put this experience into writing.
I won’t go into the gory details but we had one weak moment over Christmas 2015 and all of a sudden we were expecting another baby. I remember feeling terrified and went into a total panic. More than anything I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt. How could I do this to Theo? He wasn’t even one yet. I suddenly felt as though the countdown had begun, ticking down the little time we had left together before an intruder would ruin everything.
I tried to pretend it wasn’t happening. I know I should have felt happy and so fortunate to be in the position I was in. I know there are couples who would give anything to have a child and another on the way. I can’t imagine the unbearable pain they must feel. This made me feel incredibly ungrateful and a pretty shitty human being.
I felt indifferent at the 12 week scan. Then at the 20 week scan I convinced Zac that we needed to find out what we were having. This wasn’t the original plan as I loved keeping it a surprise with Theo, but I had hoped that knowing the sex would help me to bond a bit more with my ever expanding bump. It didn’t. I bought one pink dress as I felt that’s probably what I should do then carried on ignoring the situation. I saw my midwife appointments as a massive inconvenience. I would get so excited about going to them the first time around. I tried to act excited when I heard the heartbeat but I still felt nothing.
Then Friday 23rd September arrived and I went into labour. It was 3am and my mum had just arrived to look after Theo. I went into Theo’s bedroom and gave him a kiss goodbye as he slept. I wept as I realised our time together as a twosome was over. I had spent the last 8 months dreading this moment. My contractions were very close together by this point so I quickly left the room and closed his door behind me.
An hour and a half later at hospital, Daisy was born. Zac got the first cuddle whilst they repaired the damage down below (childbirth is so bloody undignified!). I felt numb but so excited to hold her and to finally feel that connection I had been waiting for all year.
Zac handed her to me and.. nothing. I felt like I was holding someone else’s baby. I knew I loved her deep down, but that overwhelming connection just wasn’t there. When I held Theo I felt like I had known him my whole life. I think I expected Daisy to be the spitting image of him but they couldn’t have been more different. Theo looked a bit like Phil Mitchell and E.T’s love child. Daisy had a head full of jet black hair and such beautiful dainty features. She was a stunner, that much I could appreciate. I held her for a few minutes, then handed her back to Zac telling him I wanted to have a shower.
For the next few weeks, I fluctuated between feeling extreme guilt for turning Theo’s world upside down (in hindsight he was totally fine, the steady stream of gifts from thoughtful family and friends were a good distraction) and feeling very sad. The rest of the time I just felt numb. It all felt so wrong. This beautiful little girl should have felt like my best friend. My soulmate. My partner in crime.
I should probably have seen someone about how I felt, but I didn’t for two reasons. Firstly, I’m incredibly stubborn and hate accepting when things are less than perfect. Secondly, I had depression several years ago and refused to consider that it could ever come back again. So I just turned a blind eye to how I felt. I did what was expected of me as Daisy’s mother. I fed her, changed her nappies and washed her. But that was it. I was just going through the motions without really engaging with her or trying to form much of a bond. We started giving her formula after two weeks. I was fed up with the pain and she wasn’t latching on very well. And I wanted Zac to be able to help with feeding so I could spend more time with Theo.
This went on for nearly four months. I became convinced that she preferred just about everyone else over me. Why wouldn’t she? They gave her actual eye contact for starters. I felt little bursts of love for her now and again, like when she smiled or laughed, but it was nothing like the overwhelming emotions I felt for Theo.
Then a couple of weeks ago everything changed. Every night Zac and I alternate which of the kids we put to bed. This particular night, I was reading Theo his story. I could hear Daisy start to cry whilst Zac was trying to feed her. I gently told Theo to wait in his bed so Mummy could see what was the matter with Daisy. Zac saw me coming into Daisy’s dimly lit bedroom and told me she had heard my voice as I read Theo his story and wanted me. He’s tried saying this before, but she’s always carried on crying when I’ve held her, probably sensing my stress. I picked up her up from Zac’s arms. She instantly relaxed and snuggled into me. I felt so surprised when I realised she actually wanted me there. Zac quietly slipped from the room to finish Theo’s bedtime story. I sat down on the rocking chair and showered her with kisses and started to cry happy tears of relief. I finally felt a bond with her. I realised all this time it had been slowly forming without me realising it. All those little smiles, all those giggles and funny incidents over the past four months had built up to this moment. Today, I feel ready to share this experience. It’s been very difficult to write as no mother wants to admit that she has felt like this. I realise I still have a way to go with Daisy, but it’s fantastic knowing we are finally getting somewhere. Putting it into writing has helped me to accept that those tricky times are hopefully all in the past. I love both my children equally and with all my heart, but I love them in different ways. I’ve had longer to get to know Theo so of course my bond is naturally going to be stronger. But I realise that’s ok because I’m still getting to know Daisy. I absolutely adore her, and I’m so excited to see what adventures life has in store for the two of us.
I picture us going for coffee together when she’s my age, perhaps with children of her own, perhaps not. We might be laughing about something silly, or she might be confiding in me about the same things that used to worry me at her age. I really hope this becomes a reality one day. But for now, I’m just enjoying getting to know my future best friend in the making.
I went through the typical ‘Baby Blues’ on days 3 to 5 post partum, which included a good cry in front of my in laws on day 3, as for some stupid reason I decided going to a family BBQ was a good idea. It wasn’t.
I felt like I eased into parenting. Breastfeeding went really well, we managed to prove all of our family wrong by actually using our cloth nappies, we were peacefully cosleeping and I had made some lovely new friends from various Mum groups, including the breastfeeding support group I later trained to be a part of. I thought I had it down. And I’m ashamed to admit it, but I was very judgmental of those who didn’t parent in the same way that I did.
We were so cocky in fact, that when my periods returned at 8 months post partum, we decided to let nature takes it’s course. Which was a good thing too as at 9 months post partum, we were pregnant!
It all went down hill from there…we were gleefully happy, but within days my Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) came back twice as hard. Over the course of the next 32 weeks, I was admitted into hospital for rehydration and fluids a whopping 30 times. 30 times where I had to leave my little girl; my breastfed, cosleeping, little girl, to sit in a hospital where I received IV fluids, anti sickness and pain relief medication until I was able to keep down a dry piece of toast then sent on my way… until the next week. It was heart wrenching. This baby inside of me, that was supposed to fill our lives with joy, was breaking me, mentally and physically.
We had always decided we would only have two children, mainly due to how my body can’t seem to handle pregnancy very well. This meant I put a lot of pressure on trying to enjoy my ‘last pregnancy’ as much as possible. I forced myself to take weekly photo updates, plastering a grin on my face for my family and friends to see on social media. I got a maternity photo shoot done, to try and find some beauty in a crappy situation. I already felt detached from the baby inside me, I resented it from taking me away from my baby girl. I wanted to bond with it just like I had the first time around, but the sickness made it so hard.
During one hospital visit, at around 20 weeks pregnant, a female consultant sat me down and calmly asked how everything was at home. As these are usual questions to ask when a woman is alone in hospital, I thought nothing of it. But then she asked again, I again answered that everything was perfectly fine, my husband was at home looking after our daughter to keep some routine in the upheaval that was this pregnancy. A few hours later, at around 3:30AM, she came back and asked again.
By this time, I was quite annoyed. I knew exactly what she was hinting at, so asked her outright why she was asking. She explained that it was ‘impossible’ to have HG so severely that I would be admitted weekly, which must mean I am trying to get away from an abusive relationship.
Eh, excuse me?! You can see me, not able to even keep water down, and yet you are accusing me of making my condition up because you think my husband is beating me? I was shocked. After finding my words and assuring her my husband couldn’t hurt a fly, and that our relationship was anything but abusive, the doctor then started a different route. She started talking about my daughter, and stated that I must miss her so much during these hospital visits. Of course, hormonal pregnant woman starts crying when she thinks about missing her darling daughter. The doctor smiles, tells me I’m obviously mentally ill, which is why I’m getting so sick, refused to give me any more medication and referred me to the peri natal mental health team.
I didn’t know what to do. I knew that although I was quite down, I knew I was down because of the sickness, not sick because I was down! I was a part of a few HG Facebook support groups, so posted about my situation that same morning. Luckily, I was put in touch with the charity Pregnancy Sickness Support (find out more about PSS here). They were able to explain to me my options, and gave me some great advice on how to change consultants and who they recommended from my hospital, as well as a volunteer peer supporter who had also been through HG. She was my rock. I was able to change to a brilliant male consultant who understood HG completely, we got a game plan and decided that should the HG continue throughout pregnancy (like it did with my first pregnancy) then I would be induced at 37 weeks due to bile acid build up and liver troubles in myself.
Now I knew there was an end, I just had power through. I had assured myself as soon as the baby arrived, everything would be fine. Our family would be complete, we’d live happily ever after…if only life worked like that, eh?
You hear it all the time. New job? Oh you must be so happy!! You’re engaged? You must be so happy!! You’re wedding day, you’re pregnant, a new baby. You must be so happy. And you start to wonder whether this is an assumption or an order? You MUST be so happy. But what if you’re not? What if you have all of these lovely things and you still don’t feel happy? Is there something wrong with you? Are you ungrateful? A bad person? Because, and this may surprise some of you, there have been times in my life when I have had everything I ever wanted and guess what? I haven’t been happy at all.
I have lived with depression for eighteen long years, my entire adult life. I went from being an outgoing, popular, confident young girl to just a shell of my former self in just a few months. And I have no idea why or how it even happened, all I know was that everything had changed and I couldn’t find my way back. I had previously heard about people with depression, usually when eavesdropping on adult conversation, and yet it was spoken about in hushed whispers and with a look on their face that implied that it was something so shameful that it wasn’t something you spoke about out loud. And so, aged 18, when I finally plucked up the courage to approach the doctor, who told me that I was clinically depressed and wrote me a prescription for antidepressants, I felt scared, confused and thoroughly ashamed.
And so I isolated myself further, feeling as though there must be something very wrong with me. People would ask me, “What do you have to be depressed about?”, my own family would tell me to, “Cheer up!!” and friends would assume that a night out would ‘fix me’, and slowly I found myself realising that it was easier to avoid people, friends, family and try to “snap out of it” as suggested by so many.
But I didn’t snap out of it and my depression was all-consuming. I would spend weeks holed up in the little flat that I shared with my ex-husband. I would go days without showering, dressing, eating. I would cry for hours on end and have no idea why I felt so desperately sad. I considered ways to end this miserable existence, convinced that everyone would be far better off without me in their lives.
Eventually it got so bad that both my ex-husband and I moved back home to my parents. I had lost a great deal of weight, was physically un-well and desperately in need of some professional help. And back under the care of my family doctor I did begin to receive more support. I saw counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists, I underwent various therapies, tried a whole range of medications and at times I began to see glimpses of light at the end of the tunnel.
While all of my friends were beginning their post-graduate jobs or travelling the world, I was under-going intensive therapies and pouring my heart out to yet another health care professional. I felt as though I was the only person in the whole world who felt that way and it was unbearably lonely and impossible for those around me to understand. For all of his faults, the fact that my ex husband stood by during that time was a miracle. To continue to love someone who is intent on pushing you away, who has nothing left to give in return and who, let’s be honest, is no fun to be around, is a hard feat. There would be times where he would have to miss important occasions, events, even work, because I had been crying for ten hours solid and he was too scared to leave me. Times when I would ring him begging him to come home because I was afraid of what I might do. It was a miserable existence for me, but it was equally miserable for him too.
As the years went by, with the correct medication, there were many highs amongst the lows. I would go months where I felt as though I was clawing back a little of the old me and during those times I was happy, I really was. And then I would wake up one morning feeling as though the whole world was about to end, out of nowhere, just like that. And I would sit in the doctor’s surgery begging him to help me, telling him that I couldn’t go on feeling this way, and he would increase my antidepressants and send me on my way.
When Lewis came along I was over the moon, of course I was, being a Mummy was everything I had ever wanted. “You must be so happy!” people would say and I would tell them that I couldn’t be any happier whilst wondering what was so wrong with me? Why did I still feel so sad?
By the time I fell pregnant with Joseph I was finally finding my feet again, beginning to get back on track and things were looking up. I was happily married, enjoying Lewis as a toddler and looking forward to the arrival of our second son. I felt as though we had survived the worst and as I prepared for being a mummy of two, I had no idea that the worst was still to come.
So within just a few months of losing Joseph, it was no big suprise that I was at an all time low. The weight issues that I had teetered on the edge of for the last few years became a massive issue. I lost several stone in just a few months and when the doctor diagnosed me with anorexia I was so far gone that I no longer cared. I was surviving each day on diet coke and a couple of slim-a-soups and, at a time when I felt as though I had lost control of most areas of my life, I was clawing some back for myself. My parents seemed to age over night, they would cry and beg me to get better and yet I told them I was fine, just grieving, reassured them that I was eating and taking care of myself.
The following year I was finally admitted to an eating disorders unit and I didn’t fight it. I was tired, I was ill and my body was shutting down. I spent the first few weeks in there with a dedicated nurse by my side twenty-four hours a day. She watched me sleep, watched me shower and even watched me use the toilet. It was the lowest point that I can remember. I felt degraded, ashamed and as though I had failed as a mother, a wife and a daughter. And so I did whatever it took to get myself better. I ate, I talked, I wrote it all down, I opened myself up to the various therapies and group sessions offered there and I fought against every thought in my head so I could get out of there and home to my son. And by the end of the Summer when I left the unit, several kilos heavier, I swore that I would never go back.
And whilst I didn’t go back, it was not due to a recovery. My depression fuelled my anorexia and my anorexia fuelled my depression. It was a vicious cycle of self-hatred, self-doubt and self-harm, and I reluctantly accepted that perhaps this was all that my life had to offer. It was un-fortunate that at a time when I was already rock bottom, life continued to throw obstacles, heartache and more misery my way and so when my marriage broke down it was not a shock to me. It had been slowly crumbling for the last few years, the rocky foundations on which it had been built were not enough to keep us afloat. When it ended it simply re-affirmed what I already knew.
That I was not good enough.
And whilst I laughed and smiled and did everything that I could to protect Lewis from it, inside I was dying. When we announced the end of our marriage I remember the look of absolute terror in my parents eyes. A look that said, how will she ever survive this?
But by some miracle, we did. Faced with the option to sink or swim, I threw myself in headfirst and used every ounce of survival instinct to keep treading water. Within a year we had moved into a new home, I was holding down a full-time job, socializing on a weekend and beginning to embark on the world of dating. I had gained weight, without even realising, I was feeling good and I was stronger than I had been in years. With the acceptance that my marriage was over came the freedom from the great weight around my neck, the heavy chains of grief, the never-ending reminder of all that we had lost. For the first time in eleven years I was free to be whoever I wanted to be without that constant battle to repair a marriage that could not be fixed. And as we pieced our lives back together, Lewis and I, we paved the way for a new life, just the two of us and I was excited for everything that lay ahead.
By the time that I met Gaz I was feeling a world away from where I had started. Still, right at the beginning I was honest with him about what it would mean to enter into a relationship with me. I couldn’t promise him that it would all be plain sailing, there would be days, weeks, even months, when I might hit a dark place and need his help to find my way back. There may be times when I was feeling particularly bad about myself where I wouldn’t want to eat, when he would have to stand by and see the weight drop off me and he would be powerless to help.
And it was hard for him. To watch someone you love suffering is just heartbreaking, but to see someone so unhappy when you are doing everything in your power to put a smile on their face must be the most frustrating feeling. I’m very lucky that Gaz accepted me and all of my baggage and not only did he accept it, but he tried his very best to understand it.
For the first time in my life, being with Gaz made me feel beautiful. It’s very hard to loathe yourself when someone is telling you how amazing you are a hundred times a day. Even when you start to doubt yourself, that kind of affirmation most definitely starts to change your mindset and in doing that I felt happier than I had in years.
And I think the common misconception of depression is that we are unhappy most of the time. Depression is so much more than just feeling unhappy. There were times when I was genuinely on top of the world. When Gaz, Lew and I became a family I thought I would burst with happiness but depression doesn’t just disappear over night, it simply fades into the background. You can be feeling happier than you ever thought possible but the sadness is still there, just lingering under the surface, waiting to surprise you. You start to realise that weeks, months have passed and you haven’t cried or had a bad day and then just as you think you have got everything back on track, it jumps out on you, seemingly from nowhere, and knocks you right back down again.
People often say that there is that one defining moment in their lives when they decide that enough is enough. For me, I think that was when I had Megan. After Eva I became very poorly again with severe PND and it got to the point, as my weight plummeted, where the doctors wanted to re-admit me to the eating disorders unit. By some miracle, whilst waiting for a bed to come up, I fell pregnant with Megan and although not at all planned, I was so happy and desperate to keep her safe. I began to eat again, spurred on by an insatiable pregnancy hunger, and the weight piled back on. When she was born and so poorly, my sole focus was on having her well. Losing weight didn’t even enter my mind and allowing myself to give in to those post-baby plummeting hormones was not an option. All I cared about was being there for my baby. And right there and then, I looked around at my beautiful children who were completely reliant on me, and I knew that I had to change. And more importantly, I was finally ready to change.
And where as previously I have sank back into bad habits between pregnancies, this time it was very different. Falling pregnant with Harry so soon afterwards meant that my weight was at the healthiest point it had been in years. I ate us out of house and home and discovered that my love of food was far more satisfying than seeing those numbers going down on the scales. I re-discovered the joys of eating out, of cooking and baking and sharing meal times with my family. I noticed that my family stopped commenting on my weight, the doctor stopped quizzing me about my diet and that friends were telling me I looked good, I looked healthy and most importantly, I seemed happier than ever before.
After Harry I did lose a lot of weight, due to medical reasons, and yet I have spent this last year desperately trying to gain it back. To see the scales going up each week has made me happy. To see another pound on has been a massive achievement and never in a million years did I imagine that I would ever get to that point. And although, like depression, anorexia never goes away completely, I can now shush those thoughts in my head far better than I ever could before. I can push them away with a new-found strength, tell myself that my children need me to be well, that being healthy is far more important than numbers on the scales and most importantly, that I AM good enough. And I can be content in myself, in a body that, although far from perfect, has given me five amazing children.
And actually, I can hand on my heart say that, the last couple of years have been very kind to us. I see my doctor at regular intervals, I still see a therapist and am due to start a new course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy in the next few weeks. I still put those things in place to keep the depression at bay and to make sure that I never sink as low as I have done previously. And my beautiful children still remain to be the best therapy that I could ever ask for. Every single day they make me laugh and smile and I am grateful for this life, for my family and the joy of being their Mummy.
I’ve had people comment the last few years,”It’s like we’ve got the old you back” and I tell them that the old me is long gone. Like all of us as we age, we change and grow, but depression changes you indefinitely. I like to think that my battle with mental illness changed me for the better, shaped the woman I am today as a wife, mother, daughter and friend. I’ve learned to surround myself with positive people, to avoid situations that put me at risk of taking a step back, to remove myself from conversations that revolve around weight loss and negativity. I’ve learned that depression is the loneliest illness in the whole world, that there is no-one else on this entire planet who can see inside your head and share this illness with you and that battling against yourself is the toughest battle you will ever face. I’ve learned that true friends will understand my need for space and will be there to pick up where we left off, even when months have passed. I’ve learned that my family will love me unconditionally, regardless of how much worry and upset I have caused. And I’ve learned that even when there have been times that I have felt it was too hard to go on, there is always so much to live for.
And so when I tell you that I am the happiest woman in the whole world right now, I mean it. Today, right now, I could not be any happier. Tomorrow? Next month? Who knows, I may be struggling. I may be feeling down, anxious or struggling to push those dark thoughts away. There is no pattern, no rights and wrongs, no way of knowing how I will feel from one day to the next. But as adults we seldom share those days with others. We very rarely reply when asked, “How are you?”, “Not great, I’m struggling with my depression.” We are far more likely to say, “Great thanks”, and smile as though nothing at all is wrong.
I have never shied away from talking about my battle with mental health. I finally came to realise that there is nothing at all to be ashamed about and that actually, if more of us spoke about this openly then there would be fewer people suffering in silence. I hope that by sharing my story I can help even one person who is struggling, to perhaps reach out to someone who is feeling scared and alone and tell them, it WILL be okay. I imagine that all of us know at least one person suffering with mental illness, whether you realise it or not, and in a society where mental illness is still very much a taboo, that needs to change.
There’s a lovely quote that I read recently that simply says, “All of us are fighting a battle that others know nothing about. Be kind, always. ”
And that just about sums it up.
A smile can hide a thousand tears, so be kind. Always.
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