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Challenging the thoughts

So far in my battle against postnatal depression, I’ve cried in public in front of strangers three times, yet have desperately fought the tears and hidden my true feelings in front of my nearest and dearest. Daft eh?

Then when I walked through the door of my local Steps2Change clinic, I made it four strangers I’ve blubbed in front of when I sat down in a chair in front of my brand new counsellor. She uttered the immortal words “tell me what’s brought you here,” and my exact response was “I feel like a failurrrrrrre and I’m lettig by children dowd *sob sob*”

Obviously very used to dealing with responses like mine, my counsellor offered me the strategically placed box of tissues and managed to calm me down enough for me to tell her exactly how I was feeling. I explained that I’d felt is way since the day Rory was born, exacerbated by his bad sleep and my struggles with breastfeeding.

I filled out a questionnaire where I was asked to rate how I felt about certain statements (such as ‘I feel like a failure to my loved ones’ and ‘sometimes I think everyone would be better off without me’ on a scale of 1 (never) to 10 (every day) and as you can see, initial score was high on the anxiety scale and slightly lower on the depression scale.

After a long chat, we decided the best course of action was to try some ‘thought challenging’. This was where as soon as a negative thought came into my head, I was supposed to ‘take it to court’, whereby I look at the evidence for and against what could happen.

For example, if I heard Rory stirring over the monitor, my first thought due to anxiety would be “oh no, he’s waking up. He’s not slept long enough.” Which would then turn into depressed thoughts…”He’s going to get overtired now and he won’t sleep well tonight either. It’s going to be another horrible night.”

So I was supposed to look at the evidence for this thinking, i.e. “He slept badly due to overtiredness in the past” and against it “he’s older now and sleeping better” or “he’s only stirred, he’s not woken up.”

I have to say, initially getting my frazzled brain to think rationally was really hard. I’ve always been a worrier and having depression and anxiety had made it so much worse. But slowly, gradually, over the weeks that passed, it started working. I sat and made myself think about the evidence that something bad could happen, and guess what? Nine times out of 10, what I was worried about happening never happened. And I started to feel better. Less miserable, brighter, less hopeless. I could look at my children without bursting into tears because I felt like I was failing them.s

Six weeks later, my counsellor was so pleased with my progress we decided I could be discharged, with the centre’s number on speed dial in case I needed to come back. Am I scared about facing up to it by myself again? Absolutely. I don’t ever want to feel like I did on that horribly low day again. But I’ve been given the tools to deal with my postnatal depression that seem to be working for me, the rest is up to me.

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An S.O.S with the G.P

I need some help, I don’t want to feel like this anymore.”

These were pretty much the exact words I said to hubby when I finally realised enough was enough. I’d been feeling like absolute shite for months – having a constant sinking feeling in the pit my stomach that I was a complete f*** up, feeling like a terrible mother and a waste of space as a person in general, and it was only after I wondered to myself if anyone would actually notice if I disappeared that I knew I needed help.

I explained in my previous post how awful I’ve been feeling about myself and my skills as a mother and wife, which was an incredibly hard blog to write. Now we’re onto the next step: getting it out there and getting help, so consider this post phase 2.

I finally plucked up the courage to tell hubby how I was feeling, and bless him, although he’s admittedly not too clued up on mental health as a whole, he did a hell of a lot of research of how best to help me after that bombshell. And he said the first thing to do was to get an appointment with the doctor to figure out how to help me.

Shit. Even the thought of the doctor was enough to scare me, as I thought the only response would be to either stop wasting his time, or that I was an unfit mother and the children would be taken away.

But I did pluck up the courage to make an appointment with a GP. He happened to be a new addition to the surgery, and maybe having a complete stranger to unload on did help. But as soon as the words “So how can I help you today?” came out of his mouth, I broke down and told him exactly how I felt. And bless him, he immediately produced a box of tissues and said these words, which I hope those of you reading this, thinking about getting help, will also hear:

“First of all, you’ve done exactly the right thing coming here today. Second of all, you’re very brave for admitting it too. You’re a great mother.”

I could have kissed him, he was so kind and after a long chat, it was easy for him to see that I was suffering from postnatal depression, which had been exacerbated by not only months of sleep deprivation due to Rory’s poor sleep, but also the death of my mum whom I had never been able to grieve for properly – but that’s a whole other story.

He said that I could either try a small dose of antidepressants, or give therapy a try, as a starting point. He also ordered some blood tests to rule out the possibility of anaemia or under active thyroid problems (these have since come back negative). I opted for therapy, something I’ve considered doing for years to help me come to terms with losing my mum, so now it’s a waiting game to see when my appointment comes.

It’s a start, and a huge relief for me to know that I’m not alone (according to the NHS, 1 in 10 mothers suffer from postnatal depression), and just taking the step to make things better for us is a huge weight off my shoulders. Let’s see what the blood tests see and what my first sessions brings. I know it won’t be an overnight improvement and there’s a long road ahead. But as the song goes, “I’ve got 100 steps to go, today I’ll make it 99”.

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The next step

After that very positive visit to my doctor, I was scheduled in a phone assessment with a member of the Steps2Change team here in Lincolnshire, as well a home visit from a health visitor.

It was this appointment that terrified me. I was convinced that the health visitor was going to assess everything about me and how I was with the children, and that if there was anything she didn’t like, all it would take would be one phone call to social services and both my babies would be taken away.

Which is why when Hubs came home to be at the visit with me, he found me cleaning the house like a madwoman, convinced that if it seemed like I didn’t have my shit together, our life together was done for.

As it turned out, I couldn’t be more wrong. Sally the health visitor was wonderful and really reassured me that the kids wouldn’t be going anywhere, and that I was a lovely mum with a warm and welcoming home. We had a lovely chat, which once again started with me bawling like a baby. All my fears about failing as a mum and awful memories of missing my own mum came tumbling out, and Sally, bless her heart, got me straight away.

She said it was obvious that I’m a perfectionist who just wanted to be a perfect mum to the children, and Rory being such a bad sleeper in the beginning hadn’t helped matters either as I was so exhausted. Not having my mum around to help or ask for advice was obviously a huge factor too, and as I hadn’t grieved for her properly at the time, I hadn’t had any closure there either.

She diagnosed me with postnatal depression and anxiety, and referred me to a perinatal mental health team, and bumped me up the list for the phone assessment so I could potentially get started on weekly therapy sessions. The phone assessment was a much tougher appointment, as I was asked all about how I was feeling, when it began, all about my past, about how motherhood with both my children had gone, and much more. It was decided that Cognitive Behaviour Therapy would suit me best so I could try and work through my constant feelings of failure and anxiety. Within days, I had my first appointment for CBT.

I know our NHS and mental health services get a bad rep, but I seriously can’t rate my treatment highly enough thus far. From seeing the doctor to having this chat with the health visitor was less than a week, and my first CBT session was scheduled for a fortnight later. How these sessions go I’ll fill you in on next, but so far, just getting it all out here feels like a huge weight off and I feel like I’m actually being heard and taken seriously. Stay tuned to see how this goes…

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The Hardest Truth to Admit

This blog post is the hardest one I’ve ever written, it’s taken me months to discuss its content with Hubby, never mind the blogosphere. But I’ve finally managed to get up the courage to answer this question:

What is postnatal depression?

Well, now I can answer that. It’s horrendous.

It’s feeling as though you’re doing everything wrong, that your children are suffering as a consequence of your ineptitude.

The reason your baby doesn’t sleep well? Totally your fault for failing to get a baby to do one of the most important things for their development.

It’s feeling that your family deserves so much better than you. They deserves to have a mum and wife who has her shit together, such as *insert name of fellow mummy* who is perfect and makes motherhood look easy. They’d be a much better mummy than you, surely.

It’s feeling like your husband just settled by marrying you, that he’s way out of your league and that one day, he’ll realise that and leave you for a woman who is much more attractive/clever/funny/slim than you.

That said other woman will be a much better mum to your children than you and they won’t want to see you anymore (this one was one of the worst for me).

It’s not being able to admit to anyone that you’re feeling this way, because that will just cement the thought that you’re useless into the minds of everyone you know and they will think you’re a bad mother. We’re supposed to be loving every minute right?

It’s not telling anyone because why would anyone want to be burdened with your petty, insignificant problems?

As for admitting you need help and going to the doctor? Forget it. Then they’ll think you can’t cope and they’ll come and take your children away from you.

It’s looking at yourself in the mirror and not recognising that fat mess looking back at you.

It’s gazing into your children’s faces and loving them so much, but hating yourself for not being a better mum. Looking at your beautiful, clever three year old and handsome, squidgy baby boy, hoping with all your heart that they won’t end up hating you for being a useless mother when they’re older.

It’s waking up every day with a heavy, sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, wondering how many times you’ll screw up today.

Every single one of these thoughts have been going round and round in my mind for months, pretty much since the day Rory came home from hospital. His first night at home was a bad one, he wouldn’t settle in his Moses basket (totally understandable after 9 months all cosy inside my belly), but all I kept thinking that night as I paced the floor, trying to soothe him, was “we’re less than 24 hours in and I’m already failing.”

Some of you may be surprised to read this, as I’ve perfected the art of glossing over my misery with a smile and some off-the-cuff jokes, such as “yeah we had another bad night, but hey, it won’t last forever right?” *cue ironic laugh* Even the midwives and health visitors commented how well I was doing in those early weeks, and I was terrified that if I let the mask slip even a little, I’d be admitting failure and the children would be taken away.

But the truth is I didn’t want to admit it to myself, never mind anyone else. I’ve been trying to fill our days with baby groups, play dates, trips out, anything to keep busy and take my mind off the constant fear and doubt in my mind that I’m a terrible mum. Because if I’m sat at home, there’s too much time to think and replay all my failings in my head.

The clues were always there, looking back. Whether it was my breakdown in front of the health visitor when I struggled with breastfeeding, my desire to be a better, less tired mum, or my constantly trying to convince myself that giving up breastfeeding wasn’t a terrible thing , as this was a big trigger for me and was, in my mind, just yet another way I was failing Rory.

Things came to a head for me a couple of weeks ago when I took some washing out to the tumble dryer in the garage and thought “would anyone notice if I just didn’t go back in? If I disappeared? If I fell onto the blades of the garden shears and bled to death?” I knew then that things had gone far enough. I had to sort myself out, if not for myself then for the children. They needed me to get better so I could be the best mummy possible.

I was nearly at the end of my rope when I finally admitted to my amazing husband how was feeling. This was a big step for me, which I’ll go into in my next post. But what I’ve learned is that things won’t just improve on their own. So please, if these thoughts I’ve been having have gone through your mind, speak to someone. Call the Samaritans, or go to your GP. Please don’t suffer in silence.

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I wish I could be better

We’ve been a family of four for nearly five months now, and while I couldn’t be happier with our little family, I can’t help but wish I could be a better mother to both our children.

When I say that, I don’t mean I’m necessarily a bad mother (at least, I hope not!) I’m just a bloody tired mother. And everyone knows a tired person has little to no energy, minimal enthusiasm and even less patience, and you need an abundance of all three when dealing with a three year old and a baby.

I feel bad that the fact I’ve been so tired means I end up being a bit short with Isla sometimes. I’d love to be one of those mums that can handle the toddler incessant questions phase, but I just can’t. The other day, the following conversation which happened over and over again drove me up the wall…

Isla: whose car are we taking [to the shops] mummy?

Me: We’ll go in daddy’s car Isla.

Isla: is it blue mummy?

Me: no it’s white sweetheart.

Isla: why is it white?

Me: because it was made that way.

Isla: but WHY are we taking daddy’s car?

Me: because we are Isla.

Isla: why can’t we take mummy’s car though?

I’m lucky that while Isla is demanding in an inquisitive, playful child way, and asks that we play shops or post office with her, she’s by no means a demanding child. She also understands that I can’t always play with her because Rory needs feeding/changing/attention and will entertain herself for a little while. But I still feel guilty that my lack of energy means I can’t play for hours on end with her. And sometimes, just to give me five minutes of peace, Isla is allowed to watch a few episodes of Peppa Pig and Rory is placed in his bouncy seat so I can sit down with a hot cup of tea. Similarly, Rory sometimes ends up placed on his play gym for a bit longer than I’d like while I try and play with Isla for a while (thankfully he’s such a chilled baby, he’s perfectly happy rolling around on his mat and beating up his sensory toys).

I seriously take my hat off to mums of more than two children. I’m absolutely worn out taking care of just our two, so those of you with three or more are superheroes.

Of course, I know that as they get older, they’re both going to become less demanding and will entertain each other and need us less. And this thought does make me sad, as I want to be able to throw myself into being a fun mummy while they still need me. But night feeds and early starts do take their toll, there’s no question, and there are days when all I want to do is lie on the sofa and sleep.

I’ve said before it’s impossible to cherish every moment, so I’m trying to cherish the moments that ARE cherishable, like watching these two monkeys play together. Isla adores her baby brother, and he in turn finds her hilarious and will laugh like a drain when she blows raspberries at him. Those are the times I love the most, and the exhaustion and frazzledness are worth every minute.

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The moment I finally broke

Everyone has a limit, a breaking point, a moment where they finally surrender and admit they need to make a change. Mine came in the presence of a complete stranger when my baby was stark naked on a set of scales, and I admitted, out loud, I felt like I was failing as a mum.

Let me take you back to nearly four weeks ago, when Rory was 14 weeks old.

Sleeping like an angel…finally!

As I’ve said in a previous blog post, I hadn’t enjoyed breastfeeding Rory half as much as I did with Isla, mostly because I’m so exhausted from feeding him all through the night to try and get him back to sleep. But “breast is best” right? So I was determined to continue as I felt that if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be giving Rory as good a start in life as Isla had. The official line from health officials is that breastfeeding gives babies “the best start in life”, and while I agree that it has many, many benefits and that I am very pro-breastfeeding, it’s bloody hard and it was this thought that makes life so tough for new mums, and it’s no wonder that postnatal depression is such a common occurrence.

The moment I knew I needed to stop struggling on and seek help came when I went to a Top Tips session run by my local Sure Start centre. The session are run by a health visitor and are aimed at mums of 4 month olds looking to start weaning soon, but when I casually mentioned about Rory’s bad sleep and how I was considering bottle feeding him because I was worried he was just always hungry – although I really, really didn’t want to because I felt I’d be admitting defeat – she suggested that we weigh him just to see how he was getting on.

He weighed a healthy 13lb 4oz at 14 weeks old, but all I saw was that he’d dropped from the 50th centile to the 25th since he was last weighed at eight weeks old.

That was when I burst into tears.

In my exhausted, frazzled state, I thought it must mean he wasn’t gaining weight as well as he should, and as I was breastfeeding him around the clock, it was my fault, and I was failing him.

Bless her heart, the HV was brilliant at calming me down. She pointed out that he was gaining weight, he was happy (throughout this exchange he lay there on her scales, completely naked, with a huge grin on his face!), and was incredibly alert, so he was doing fine. It’s perfectly normal for babies to drop a centile or two over time, and that the percentiles aren’t the be all and end all. As long as he’s putting on weight, he’s fine.

I fully expected her to judge me for wanting to try formula feeding him too, as all health visitors I’d encountered over the years had bleated on about “breast is best”, but she said if I thought it would help, then just do it.

I’m so grateful to this complete stranger who wiped away my tears, helped me put Rory’s clothes back on and assured me that I was doing fine, and the fact that I was so determined to give Rory a good start in life showed that I am a good mum, while also saying giving him formula too wasn’t depriving him of anything. To exclusively feed him for almost 4 months was a really good amount of time, and that as long as he’s fed, changed, and loved, he’s not missing out on anything that Isla has had.

Three weeks on, Rory is now fed roughly a third on boob, a third expressed milk, and a third formula, has two or three feeds at night, and now weighs 14lb 1oz, hovering just above the 25th centile. I feel a lot better now I’m not losing my mind from exhaustion, and I’m so glad i stopped being stubborn and reached out for advice.

I’ll cover the ridiculous pressure put on mums by others to exclusively breastfeed in another post, but for now, the morale of the story is this. Parenting is tough, one of the toughest things we’ll ever do, and if you feel as though you’re struggling, or just need some reassurance, ASK FOR HELP. Take that step and reach out. Don’t suffer in silence. I expected to be judged, but the truth is, the only one judging me was me, with my stupid notion of thinking that bottle feeding would be admitting I was failing at feeding my baby. He’s happy, therefore so am I.

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Bring on the Breastapo

Ok, I’m going to say something controversial here *braces self for tidal wave of vitriol.*

I haven’t enjoyed breastfeeding this time around.

There, I said it.

I know I shouldn’t say it. I shouldn’t even be thinking it, because “breast is best”, yes? And while I do count myself very lucky that I’ve been able to breastfeed both of my babies, and while breastfeeding Isla was a more pleasant experience, I just haven’t been able to enjoy feeding Rory this time around.

Our chunky little boob monster!

As I said in a previous blog, Rory is a bad sleeper and a hungry baby, and nine times out of ten, will only resettle after a feed, which means that all of the feeding and night wakings have fallen solely on my shoulders, no matter how many times he wakes in the night. With Isla, who was for the most part, a good sleeper, I was so relieved that I could breastfeed her without any problems from day one that I felt a sense of accomplishment every time she latched on, and actually did feel that warm, fuzzy feeling mums are supposed to get at every let down. With Rory, again while I did feel relieved that he latched without any issues, I couldn’t enjoy it because it’s constant. And therefore, painful, and no amount of Lahnolin will soothe my poor nips.

Still think I’m wrong to admit this truth? Allow me to set the scene. It’s 3am, Rory has woken up for the fifth (yes 5th) time since 7pm and I’m exhausted and sore, yet I know the only thing that will get him back to sleep is yet another feed. But the whole time, I’m worrying that creating a boob=sleep association will make things even more difficult going forward, and I’m crying from exhaustion and despair because all I can see is months of broken sleep and an overtired, constantly hungry baby.

We’ve been trying to get him to take a bottle of expressed from when he was four weeks old and he only took one for the first time last week at 14 weeks. Even when I dared to ask for advice on getting a baby to take a bottle on a Netmums forum, the reply I got stated that there was “plenty of time for dads to share the feeding” and that I should be enjoying all those “sleepy feeding cuddles”. I should be enjoying hourly wake ups and red-raw nips?! I don’t think so Janet. But thanks for the fresh dose of mummy guilt.

So it’s been painful, exhausting, and bloody draining. But “breast is best”, so I shouldn’t be complaining because at least he’s getting all that “liquid gold” as one health visitor called it, am I right? It was this very thought that made me struggle on for weeks because the mummy guilt was eating me up. I CAN breastfeed him, when many other mums can’t for whatever reason, so therefore I SHOULD be exclusively feeding him, yes?

Bollocks to that frankly, and I say this loud and clear. FED is best, a happy baby with a full tummy and whose had a better nights sleep is best, and having a mummy who isn’t about to lose the plot from sheer exhaustion is best.

Rory’s first successful bottle feed.

Which is why we’ve started combi-feeding Rory now that he’s three and a half months old, with the view to start bottle feeding him at night once he’s got the hang of it. I gave him bottle of formula last week just before bedtime once we’d found a bottle he liked (thank you MAM bottles, you saved me!) and on the very first night, between 6.30pm to 6.45am, he woke up just three times for feeds, instead of five or more. Obviously it’s early days, and he’ll refuse to take a bottle if you catch him at the wrong moment, but frankly, this is something I really want to do, if anything so I can have a bit of a rest and be a better mummy to Isla because I’ll have more energy and more patience after a bit of a break.

Part of me wishes I’d been able to exclusively breastfeed him until he was six months old, like I did with Isla, but a bigger part of me is relieved. Does it make me selfish for hoping that the formula will make him sleep longer at night? Perhaps, but it suits us because considering what we’ve been through for me to admit I’m struggling to exclusively breastfeed, it’d be a welcome relief for him to sleep for more than two hours at a time.

So if the Breastapo wants to come at me with flaming torches for daring to give Rory the odd bottle of formula, bring it on. Because all mummies want is a happy baby, and for us, if happy means a bottle of formula here and there, so be it. So there!