Guest Blog post, by Rachel Baldwin
My decision to start this comes after one of those days where (and I’m sure I’m not alone) has ended in me feeling like- is this it?
Being a Stay-At-Home-Mum is one of the hardest jobs (of course arguable by many), but to the stay at home mums and the mums who have experienced it, I don’t think there is anything quite like it.
I am 6.5years into my Mum life.
I was 17 – 4 days off 18, if you want to be precise. Easily judged, and seen to have ‘ruined my life’. To me, and my now husband (coming up to 5 years) it was the right time. I was a Health Care Assistant, and although Shaun was looking for work after finishing college our approach was we will make it work. People do, we all do. There is no real right time for a baby in anyone’s life, but your reasons for or against are totally valuable – we just all have to agree to disagree.
So back to being 17, and having this tiny 5lb baby who felt absolutely perfect, our spider monkey (long thin baby!). I took Mason home to my home, at the time in supported housing. It’s actually better than it sounds; I had a lovely 2 bedroom house to myself, but it was placed with other houses that were there for the same reason, occupied by young mums with young children needing a helping hand in the world.
I was on a high is the only way I can possibly describe it. We was a family and we were making it work our way. I adored being a mum, Mason was my pride and joy and I embraced every second with him. I jumped into toddler groups and baby massage etc., it was perfect. Life with Mason took us to renting our own home when he was just 10months old, and we married by the time he was 18months.
The feelings of wanting to better myself had already started when I was pregnant. My contract was cut from the hospital, and I wasn’t ready to give myself up to ‘doing nothing all day’ yet. I started a course in the January, making me 3months pregnant with Mason. I dedicated myself to 3 days a week for 12 weeks, and thoroughly enjoyed it all. I felt ready and prepared to be the best I could be for my new baby. I learnt a lot of things I needed to know – I felt confident and ready to be a mum. It’s funny how at 17 years old you can feel you have that calling to be a Mum, and I always followed “what’s meant to be will be”.
I was happy just being Mum until Mason was 14 months old, and I jumped at the chance of College to get myself back out there. I was excited by the thought of Mason having the opportunity of nursery too, so there was no stopping me in taking a course in Beauty Therapy – something I saw an interest in and saw myself with a possible future if I played my cards right. It was actually at the end of my course that I got pregnant with my second child.
My second pregnancy didn’t come without it’s worries. Mason was born small, with a heart defect, and they wanted to make sure baby number 2 was going to be of a healthy weight and any problems with her heart would be picked up sooner rather than later. I had set my heart on having her at home. I didn’t enjoy the hospital experience, and I didn’t see any need to be there.
Hannah seemed to prove everyone wrong and came 3 days late, happy and healthy. She was in fact born at home also, precisely as Waterloo Road finished! Yes, I was sat on my settee giving birth whilst watching Waterloo road, what could be better?! Unlike my hospital experience Hannah’s home birth was a lot more enjoyable (yes enjoyable) and I felt a lot happier. But this was where my troubles would begin.
After having Hannah I was marked off as all being well, the midwives went home and we got ourselves ready for bed. In fact Shaun had just put the Moses basket in our room when things didn’t feel right.
I was bleeding at an alarming rate, and quickly finding myself in pain. I was rushed to hospital via ambulance while Hannah followed in the first response car behind me. Things from there on are hazy, I was in a room with 11 doctors and nurses all rushing around me with no time to tell me where my daughter was, or what was happening to me. I do remember being told I needed surgery – they were putting me to sleep, and thinking this is it, imaging my children growing up without a Mum flooded me as I counted myself to sleep.
Things after Hannah’s birth were rocky. I didn’t have chance to enjoy my new born. I was poorly; I’d lost over half my body weight in blood, which resulted in transfusions. I was also trying my best to breastfeed a very unsettled baby, and also had a 2 and a half year old at home. I gave up my first moments with Hannah to nurses, and my (at the time) best friend who changed first nappies and assisted in Hannah’s first bath. Hannah never really took to breastfeeding and we soon found out she also had reflux. All of which I believe contributed to me developing post-natal depression and lack of bond. But what do you do when you’re convinced you’re supposed to love unconditionally?
When Hannah was 5 months I admitted to myself that I had a short fuse with Mason, I didn’t enjoy picking Hannah up, and I was feeling lost, not myself and disappointed at my lack of ‘Mumsyness’ towards her.
After opening up to family and my health visitor, I regret to tell you that support didn’t come flooding in. I did receive Early Attachment but I believe the damage was already done. Although I began to feel like Hannah’s mum, I did (and still do) find her hard work and sometimes out of my control.
Do I blame her? Of course I don’t, being born into this world and not having the comfort from mum for the first 3 days should never have been allowed. She was passed to me to be breastfed and then assisted back into her cot at the side of my bed. I think I’d be wondering what on earth was going on too. I can almost tell you she felt insecure, unsure and alone. I’m also almost sure she now feels overwhelmed a lot, scared and needs reassuring a lot. I can tell you this, because I am now the Mum I could have been 3 years ago.
That’s right – 3 years to tell you now I class myself as ‘recovered’. That doesn’t mean to say I don’t grieve my baby, that I didn’t get to be a Mum to properly, or grieve my past, I don’t say it halfheartedly, it does feel like grief, like a loss. I missed out because I was ill. I feel guilty because my daughter didn’t get the first few years I dreamed of for her. She was and still is happy – but I feel that mental damage, that insecurity we still to this day work on.
It takes me back to my ambition to do. I have been a stay at home mum for nearly 4 years. I see myself as a ‘doing’ person. Some people will plod through life happy, and I totally admire that, but I have a drive in me that needs to do. Whilst being a stay at home mum I found the Open University, I studied an access course to get a taste for home studying and decided it wasn’t for me. I have tried my hand at sales and spent 6 months dedicated to Party Lite, but I also volunteer.
I joined PANDAS in January 2015. I started off by interviewing potential Helpline volunteers – I thoroughly enjoyed this, hearing people’s experience and reasons behind wanting to do it, what they were going to bring to the Helpline. I unfortunately didn’t know about PANDAS when I was ill, but it’s sparked something in me to want more for Mums and their families.
After a year of interviewing I was offered a position on the Closed Facebook Page. It feeds my need to help – I don’t wish to sound selfish but it satisfies my need to do more. Unfortunately I am still on my roller-coaster. I am happy to say I will stay with PANDAS for as long as they will have me – I am always willing to help in as many ways as possible for the Charity – but the Stay-At-Home-Mum in me is restless. There are days that make me feel like Is this it? Is there a future for me? I feel the need for work, and I feel the need to work with families and children. I want to make our services for families better.
I know I am not alone in feeling let down by the system, let down by our services. I don’t want anyone who agrees to feel guilty about it either – we are in 2016 and things can be better.
To anyone who is reading this and can relate, I hope you take comfort in the fact you are not alone. You don’t have to give up on getting better if you’re ill. You are not alone in not feeling like the Mum you thought you would be. I volunteer because I (and the other volunteers) will always be here for you, and I will use my experience to grow my confidence and to one day be the Mum I want to be. The Mum who changed lives for families and made life that bit more liveable.
And just to clarify, my experiences have never stopped me loving my children any less – and I especially wouldn’t change any of it for the world.
Mum of Mason 6 and Hannah 3.
Postnatal depression survivor and PANDAS volunteer.