I have recently announced my third pregnancy! I am due in the middle of February next year. From the outside, it looks like we’re just completing our little family, but those who’ve followed my Instagram account and blog, will know that the decision to try for a third child, wouldn’t have been an easy one to make.

Since my announcement, I have had many a request for a blog post on pregnancy after PND. So here’s a blog article for those who’ve experienced post natal depression, and whilst their heart would like another, their head is filled with anxiety about feeling like ‘that’ again. It’s a long one, but it’s jam-packed with tips and insights.

 

My experience

When I first became pregnant, I had a history of depression, and a number of years of therapy and Psychotherapy training under my belt. I guess my medical records were a reflag for risk of postnatal depression as I was automatically allocated a Mental Health Midwife. She was sweet, but pregnancy and the early hazy months passed with little more than a hint of the baby blues and some overtired meltdowns. I coped, I socialised, I drank coffee at softplay and chatted sleep issues with buddies. ‘I’ve got this’, I thought. ‘I was made for this’. I was quickly discharged from the mental health oversight team.

I was pregnant by Oscar’s first birthday. I had an inkling as he blew his candles out on his homemade (slightly wonky) monkey cake, that next year he might be celebrating with a younger sibling. I was right.

My second pregnancy was different, not that it contributed to PND, but it wasn’t an easy start. Acute morning sickness made parenting hard as I warmed retch-inducing wheatabix for Oscar between rushing to the loo to be sick. I also had appendicitis which required emergency surgery and a truck load of drugs into my incubating body (cue the maternal guilt already kicking in).

Charlie came into the world in the very same pool as Oscar. Another long labour with a short and sharp ending. Textbook.

In a nutshell, we experienced undiagnosed silent reflux, tongue tie (twice…it can regrow, who knew?!), chronic sleep deprivation, horrendous feeding issues that I stubbornly battled through despite family begging me to stop (I felt it was the only single thing I could do for Charlie and I couldn’t bear to let it go). Meanwhile we were enduring a long-drawn out house move that wasn’t happening, a smashed up car, and other things I like to forget! All these things formed a perfect foundation upon which PND could thrive.

I rebuffed all offers for help and support, of cooked meals and the opportunity to nap. I’M FINE. I felt like a failure, and people offering innocent help gave me the incorrect impression that they too, thought I was failing. I felt my baby hated me, I hated me. I didn’t deserve him, or anything else good. I could barely string a sentence together, I stopped being able to hide my sore, red-eyes, and the terrified, weeping phone calls to my husband at work became a common occurrence. I went from thinking I could cope, to pretending I could cope, to believing I never could (here’s an article I wrote in my dark days)

On my 31st Birthday, I threw my hands up in surrender. You know what? I haven’t ‘got this’ at all. I went to my GP and wept as he asked about my bond with my baby.

I don’t need to go into vast detail of my post natal depression as this blog article is more about helping the future look a little more hopeful and less about the suffocating debilitation that post natal depression can grip you with. If you’re reading this article, it’s oh so likely you know that feeling, and for that, I give you the warmest and most compassionate hug. You made it. You might have dragged yourself through with faltering steps, but you made it mama.

In time, things changed. The sun slowly came through.

 

What helped me

There were three predominant factors to my recovery from PND:

1 – I forced myself to be open to a select few (namely a couple of close friends, my husband, my mum, my health visitor and my GP) about how I was feeling. ‘Forced’ seems like a strong word. But I really did have to battle against the fibres of my being, in order to open up. I knew something had to change. I was scared. Most of them, who’d seen me slowly unravel, weren’t at all surprised. In fact they seemed more relieved that the dropping of my weak façade meant that they would finally be able to step in, instead of watching helplessly from the sidelines. It wasn’t easy, but once I started talking, the words tumbled out in relief and slowly the shame ebbed away.

2- I started to accept that I am simply not created to do motherhood myself. Nobody is. Nor are you. I seemed to think I was an exception to the rule. I began to believe that seeking and accepting support of any form (be it practical, emotional, mental, physical) was not personal failure, but was in fact VITAL to good mental health. Letting friends be friends and family be family. Letting those who love me, love me in the way that I love them. Taking steps to learn to say ‘yes please’ instead of ‘I’m fine thanks’.

3 – I worked relentlessly at my cruel, bullying internal voice that was keeping me in that dark place like a millstone settling in the bottom of a lake. The voice that told me I was useless, hopeless, worthless. I did what I train others to do as a day-job! I started to challenge this voice with kinder and compassionate words that felt like lies at first, but slowly began to gain volume and power. These words are now stronger for me than my inner critic, and that, well that has changed everything. That has changed my life.

We moved house, Charlie’s reflux was medicated and improving, sleep was more plentiful, life became more do-able. I was in the swing of parenting two and working part-time in a job that I adore. So what next?

 

The ‘Shall we have another?’ question

As time went on, and as Charlie’s first birthday rolled around, the topic of trying for a third child kept cropping up. We’d always dreamed of having three kids. Tarun was one of three, I was one of three. Despite losing my sister to cancer before her seventh birthday, despite the fact I’ve lived through more of my life without her than with her, I still feel like one of three.

But this topic was loaded with abject fear. How would I ever cope? What if we had another reflux baby? What if the baby blues weren’t a fleeting tear filled couple of days, but months of deep dark blackness? I was scared of tipping my very new life balance that was filling me with purpose and contentment. For a long while, both my husband and I agreed that I was still healing from the trauma of that long, dark year, and that I needed more time.

I can’t say I ever got to a point where I proclaimed ‘Right. I’m READYYY. Let’s do this!’. And neither may you.

Charlie was nearing his second birthday, when I realised that the ground I’d covered had changed me. I was much better at seeking and accepting support, stronger at saying ‘yes please’ and ‘no thank you’ without fearing what people thought. I had become more naturally open, and my friendships more two-way streets (rather than me gladly offering support but refusing theirs). I had grown used to the concept of childcare and comfortable with utilising nursery. I realised that self-care habits had become an ingrained part of my life instead of a vicious internal battle. Little realisations like this, that the things I’d tried so hard to instil, had become a comfortable new normal for me, reassured me that whatever might lie ahead, I was more equipped with support than ever before.

So now, I’m pregnant. Nervousness and trepidation are woven through my excitement, but that is okay. That is to be expected.

This time my determination is more ‘I’m ready to do what I need to do to make it through’. Not in terms of expending every single ounce of my waning energy to battle through alone, but to call in the reinforcements, to go out and find the support I need, and to accept the support I have. It takes a village, and I am not a village no matter how capable I feel after a large coffee and a good night’s sleep.

 

My advice to you

So, here is my advice to you as you read these words with your own journey sitting heavily on your chest:

1 – Think about how you are now. How are you coping? How do you feel? Do you have residual or active depression that has not been properly addressed? Perhaps you need to invest in some personal therapy via your GP, or via the Find a Therapist page of the Counselling Directory. If you’re often feeling low, you deserve to address this sooner rather than later. And if you’ve experienced any level of trauma whatsoever, from what you’ve been through, please seek therapy in order to safely address this and enable you some freedom.

2 – Ask yourself how you feel and what you need. It’s likely that this has been a challenge for you. It is a challenge to any mum who’s focus is on the needs and feelings of their children, but if you’re going to be attending more closely to your emotional, practical, mental and physical needs, you need to ask yourself what they are. Get familiar with your needs, wants and feelings so that you can begin to act on them.

3 – Practice asking for and accepting help. Be it the offer of childcare for an hour so you can get some jobs done, or asking for a glass of water at your friend’s house when she’s forgotten to offer. Grow confident in stepping out to get your needs met. This is a hugely vital tool in the armour to fight PND. It’s not a comfortable task, but as your confidence increases and your needs are more likely met, you’ll find it easier I promise. This is so important.

4 – Carefully review your support network. Who’s there on standby, who’s standing in the wings? Who are the friends or family members that offer support? Does your hospital have a mental health midwifery service you can access? What did you struggle most with in your postnatal phase? What support might you have benefitted from had you been in a place to ask for and accept it? Have you found good online support? Is there a nice friendly network of baby groups and classes locally? What is around you already and what might you have to seek out?

5 – Take steps to speak with close friends or family members who you trust (if you aren’t already). Start letting them know how you feel in the little, day-to-day ways. The ups, the downs, the frustrations. If your usual response is to ‘keep calm and carry on’, this isn’t going to serve you well, just as it didn’t last time. Vulnerability is uncomfortable at first but entirely necessary for good mental health. Entirely necessary. Those first faltering words I spoke to a close friend, felt like shards in my throat, but now I speak more freely about my feelings. It gets easier as you get the kind and compassionate response that you’ve been denying yourself.

6 – Address your internal dialogue. If your internal voice is critical and strict, you need to really start trying to introduce a more compassionate dialogue over time. That critical and strict voice is the kind of cruel that will hit a girl when she’s down, and you certainly don’t need that. No matter what you think you deserve, you don’t deserve a little bully on your shoulder berating you and throwing petrol on the embers of mum guilt. You have to speak back to this voice. It might feel like a relentless argument at first, but imagine you were speaking those critical words to someone you loved. They need to be challenged because they are damaging. Retorting with a kind response (in the way you would to someone you love), feels unnatural and a little ridiculous, but never underestimate the power of doing this. In time, with work, the critical voice will be chipped away at and will slowly lose power. You need self-compassion. It’s a very powerful tool in the battle against PND.

7 – Consider practicalities and timing. There is rarely a ‘right time’, to try for another child but there can be ‘better times’. For example, Charlie has just turned two and is going to be starting our local nursery with Oscar next month. Therefore, I will be able to climb back into bed with the baby after doing the nursery drop off. I will be able to get cosy in my dressing gown and put on a box set, and recoup some energy. Last time I had a busy 19 month old and never once got to luxuriate on the sofa, but was instead rushing out to playgroups and feeding on plastic chairs in cold halls. What timing might be kind for your family and enable you best to get snippets of rest?

8 – Be kind to yourself. Take the pressure off. If the conversation of having another child fills you with fear, make a decision to leave that conversation on standby for a few months (we left it for six months), and instead, focus on implementing some of these points instead. Regardless of what decision you make and when, you’ll benefit from investing in these things.

8 – Talk this through with your partner. You need to be in this together. You need to be able to lean on them a little, and get used to leaning. Ideally your partner would form part of this support network, and keeping them in the loop about your true feelings and thoughts around another baby, better enables them to do this. 

Final words

I hope this helps you. There is still so much more I could say. I feel a podcast coming on (I’ve never done one before so you’d have to bare with).

Whilst I feel a little anxious about experiencing PND again, I know that having learnt to be more open, both about how I’m feeling, and in accepting support, my next postnatal stage simply cannot be the same as my last one, and that I am confident of.

You’re worth investing in these things. Regardless of whether you believe that to be true.

Anna xx

Ps – Feel free to drop me a line to book a coaching session where we can chat about this in further depth. Or, you might benefit from my Nice Girls course where many of these qualities are worked upon.

 

 

img_1668One of the things that tips petrol onto Mum guilt, turning it from a glowing ember into a ferocious fireball is the belief that we ‘should’ enjoy every moment. Here is my battle:

On the one hand I’m trying to live in the moment with my boys, fuelled by the very truthful platitudes of:

‘Make the most of each day’

‘You never know what’s around the corner’

‘One day, when they’ve flown the nest, your heart will yearn for these days’

‘You’re so lucky to have them. So many can’t’

But on the other hand, I’m stretched by the reality that amongst the heart-warmingly lovely, the beautifully mundane, and the ‘can this moment last forever’ it’s tough being a mum. The days can be long, meeting your needs becomes so second place that it can be hard to articulate what they are. There’s teething and whining, and snot for miles. There’s fighting and warring and sleepless nights. There are dark afternoons and tears and rage and loneliness.

These two things co-exist together in messy heap of mum guilt. We feel something negative, or moan about tiredness, and then there’s an internal stab of ‘well, you’re lucky to have kids that can make you tired. Because it means you have kids’. This is immediately followed by a familiar wave of silencing guilt. Nobody is telling me this, apart from my own mind. How can we balance the truth that having children is a wonderful honour, a miracle and ultimately a joy, with the day-to-day trials, the ups and downs and exhaustion? It’s hard to always live in the moment when the moments aren’t always breezy. It’s hard to exist in this tension of ‘it’s good, but man it’s hard’ when it’s so loaded with guilt.

I remember the tragedy of my sister’s cancer diagnosis at the age my boys are now. We lost her. I bet my mum would kill to watch us scrabble and fight for toys, I bet she’d sell a kidney to hear Emily whining at her legs for dinner. This adds clout to the shadow of guilt I’ve felt during the days of being irritated and exhausted by kids in tricky moods. How dare I wish for bedtime, when I have the living and loving kids that many have yearned for or lost? How dare I bemoan my kid-sapped energy when my own sister’s voice has long become a distant echo that I struggle to put tone to.

Even in the days we knew Emily had cancer, it wasn’t possible to swim around in a sickly sweet cloud of #soblessed. That’s not real life. We were living in an in-between time, the waiting room of her loss. It was painful a lot of the time, but not all of the time. Amongst the tears and the heart wrenching knowledge, there was joy and laughter, there were childish words and rough play, and there were tantrums and naughty steps.

I did have stabs of clarity, I did have moments where I looked at her and I just felt the weight of the future, the ripples of grief that touch you even before the loss happens. I remember our last family holiday to Centre Parcs, a family friend had generously paid for us to go. I remember waking early, excited to go and swim with my siblings in the kid-heaven pool. I went to her room and saw her sleeping peacefully, her face puffed by steroids, polka dots of historic cannula marks on her outstretched six-year-old arms. I gazed at her, I was a ten year old who knew that life was going to change in the most unimaginable way, and I thought I would NEVER fight with her again. I would never say a cruel or impatient word. I promised myself, and her sleeping form that I would spend the rest of her short life only loving her, being kind, and letting her monopolise my treasured Polly Pocket collection.

And then she woke. And we played. And we swam and we fought and I’m pretty sure she pinched me. Because that was real life, and that was living in the moment. Because that’s what kids do. They don’t suffer this existential weight of guilt that we’ve picked up along the way, like a downhill snowball building momentum, layered with ‘shoulds and ‘coulds’.

There will always be someone better or worse off than you. There will always be a heart aching tragedy to hear or read about. Oh man, and don’t they hurt even more when you’ve got your own children? You can’t help but slot yourself into the story, imagining what it might feel like when you hear of missing children and heartbreak. There will always be a reason to cast a shadow of pettiness over your feelings of irritation and your rants over the disappearing naptimes. If we negate and squash our human feelings with a constant stream of ‘yeah but’s then we will never process them, we will never reach out for help, we will never allow ourselves to be affected, impacted, changed and shaped by our circumstances. You are not a robot.

You see, even in living in the moment, you’ve got the invisible pull of the future and the weight of the past. Living in the moment isn’t about devouring it, swallowing it down, tattooing every word and smile into your memory. No, living in the moment is about being authentic to your experience, letting yourself feel even if that feeling is ugly or resentful. Even if that feeling is to wish that very moment away.

Living in the moment it’s about trusting that ultimately, you know you are grateful, you know you love and you know that those feelings will always be an undercurrent to whatever is going on. Living in the moment was about fighting with a sister I knew I was going to loose, because I trusted that I loved her, and she trusted that I loved her too. And in that moment, we were mad, and that was real, but it was fleeting as it mostly is.

Practice gratitude when you can. With practicing gratitude you’ll strengthen a trust that you have cultivated that undercurrent of ‘I am grateful’, like a stream that flows no matter what the surround is, or how bad the day is. You can trust that you don’t have to reprimand yourself every time you shout or glance at the clock wishing it would tick a little faster to bedtime. Something can be good, and hard, wanted and tough. A blessing and a trial.

My memories of being with my sister, Emily, are unsullied by the sense of pressure to enjoy and absorb it all that I seem to struggle with now. They were the rich spectrum of emotion that comes with relationship, the loving, the fighting, the impatience, the hugs, the highs and the lows. I think we could learn lots about living authentically from our kids. They feel what they feel in an authenticity that I seem to lack. They don’t seem to fear the fleeting feelings because they know that the foundation on which they can feel them is strong and unchanging. I love them. I can be mad and tired and frustrated, but I love them and that river rages stronger than any flitting sense of anything else, that in time ebbs like the waves receding from the shoreline.

That’s living in the moment.

I wrote this seated on the sofa, alone, last New Years Eve. How life can change within a year! It’s a stark reminder of how things always move and change, even though during the tough times, you fear it may last forever. It wont.

As this year closes, I sit alone on the sofa, full of last night’s dinner reheated, and a miniature bottle of bubbles. Just because, you know, it’s ‘New Years Eve’. The clock will chime and I will be asleep. At least, I hope I will. My restless babe lies upstairs in his cot; our wanted child, our second.

I’ve eschewed a family get together because I am empty. I’ve spent myself. I have nothing left to offer besides tears held behind heavy eyelids. Maybe you can trace them down my cheeks; the little telltale tracks of makeup not yet reapplied. Those that escaped earlier, as a friend gave me a hug.

This year has been the hardest one thus far. I feel a pang of guilt as my fingers chase the keys of my laptop. My mind begins to verbalise what my heart has been feeling. The guilt settles like an unexpected snowfall. I’ve known death. I’ve known death of a sibling, as a child. Cancer. So, how can I call this year the hardest yet? It was not full of prognosis and CT scans. Nor final words of ‘I love you’ uttered down a hallway. How can I negate the loss of a loved one, for a year of tongue-tie and colic, of restless nights and reflux?

Because with grief, I had my ‘self’. I knew myself. With grief, there was a cause, a reason for escaping tears and guttural cries. Missed functions were excused, explained. My heartache had a name. It was understood.

My wanted second child and I, we’ve been on a journey this year. His birth bought with him a whirlwind of why’s and what’s. Why are you not feeding, or sleeping or seemingly content? What am I doing wrong, what do you need from me that I cannot seem to give? You can have my all, yet I am not enough for you.

Up and out of the house. I have two children. I am a ‘coper’. Makeup on. Sunglasses on. For they hide the fact that the smile on my lips is a lie that my eyes cannot sustain. I am tired. I am scared. I am drowning in pretence, desperation to hold together the very thing that I wished for. We wished for another baby. I brought this on myself. We made this happen.

You screamed and you cried. You clawed me. My thin-lipped smiles became increasingly translucent, as fat tears would escape beyond the rim of my wide framed sunglasses, no longer able to contain the swell of dew that lined my bottom eyelids. What else do you want from me? You want sustenance and comfort, yet you scratch my chest, now displaying scrawny, pink scratches at various stages of healing. Who are you? You do not know me nor like me, and you resent me for bringing you into this world that seemingly makes you so distressed and tormented.

My birthday is marked on a green prescription for antidepressants. Penned by a concerned GP who asked me to return to ‘check in’. I never took the tiny white pills. Promising a happier mind-set but a terrifying list of side effects. They still lie in their foil blisters, un-popped. It wasn’t the chemicals of my body that saddened me, just the fact that you seemed to fail to find your home in me; a simple sadness that my baby will not be loved nor comforted by the very one that grew him.

Tongue ties, snipped twice upon my living room floor. I held you tight. Blood shed. My desperation to encourage you to find comfort at my breast. I found myself taken aside by well-meaning friends and family. Try a bottle they said. But no, in my stubbornness, I sought to continue. I needed you to want me amidst the screams. I needed you to find solace in my arms. I needed you to feel like mine, and I, like yours.

So now, we find ourselves half a year in, at the year-end. Finally a diagnosis for your discomfort. Syringes of sweet, sickly liquid administered into your cheeks. Reflux. Seasons take no notice of the years. Desperate for this season to draw to an end, I know full well that I will wake tomorrow and again, you will scream at my breast and I will cry in exhausted despair as I spoon puree into your puckered mouth. They say it might help. But really, only time will.

Reflux is a bitch. Six months passed, undiagnosed. It has unknowingly taken me to the very edge of myself. Chipping away at my self-assuredness, my self-confidence. Never have I second-guessed myself so many times, so much so that the self-doubt is written upon my face each time you cry. The persistent discomfort, the screams of pain teemed with a whining two year old that have led to a splintered door and pummelled pillows paired with raucous roars of frustration. The roars of a mother who does not know how to comfort her child. A mother who is exhausted, and still seems to find something left to give despite claiming herself empty.

Your older brother was easy. Kisses fell from my lips, wonderment in my eyes. You, my precious, second child, are my labour of love.

I’ve never used such bad language. I’ve never felt despair and frustration so physically. I’ve never denied myself so much so that I regularly forget to eat. I’ve never loved so desperately and so furiously. We are growing together, you and I. We are finding each other and falling in love. One day, this will all be but a distant memory, and the months of screams and frantic Google searches, will be but echoes. But for now, I wish that the clock chime would usher in overnight relief. But no, the years take no notice of the season, and ours is not yet over, but it will be soon. And you will smile more easily, and you will laugh more readily. And the joy will come.

The way we eat is often a direct insight into our relationship with ourselves. Woah…that’s heavy Anna! Yup, yup it is.

Tonight I had a healthy dinner planned. A sweet potato and chickpea scenario. However, I had an argument in my mind (or on stories) because I just wanted to grab the emergency pizza out of the freezer and inhale the damn lot (Husband: HANDS OFF). Anyhow, it got me thinking about how self-care comes hand in hand with eating well. Spending the time planning, making and eating good, wholesome food is a statement of care for yourself. It’s saying ‘hey, I’m worth the effort. I value my body’. I’ve totally lost that recently. During the week, my ‘three meals a day’ become caffeine, snacks and toddler leftovers. Basically anything that keeps that hunger pang at bay, shuts it up as if it’s an inconvenience and not a basic bodily need. I’m not trying to loose weight, I simply can’t be bothered. Enough need comes my way from small people, so therefore I refuse to listen to the needs of my own. I make and serve dinner in the evening, but thats when my husband is coming home. I feel challenged. Why do I deem him ‘worth’ the effort to plan, chop and stir, but when it’s just me, it’s grabbed mouthfuls and sugary sustenance.

I know that it’s not this black and white. It’s complex! Food is as complex as we are! I’m saying that it’s worth thinking about a little more. I’ve not been loving myself in the way that I’ve been making food choices recently. Have you?

Eating is a form of loving, its an indulgence, it’s a way to celebrate happiness, and a way to devour down difficult emotion. It can be enjoyed, shared, created. It can be denied, abused. It can be a constant source of anxiety.

For one person, eating a pizza can be a treat. For another, a self destructive binge. For another, a painful battle. Oh do I know all of these angles.

Let’s take some time each day to mindfully prepare and eat something. To tell ourselves that we are worth the time, creativity, effort and enjoyment of sitting down to nourish and fill our bodies.

PS – we’re eating the healthy dinner. Chips due Friday (always)

Needing help is a weakness. Asking for it is shameful. That’s our cultural lesson. Self sufficiency is king. If we can’t fix ourselves, we’ve failed. If we ‘need’ from another, we’ve lost something of ourselves.This is my constant battle. My raging self-sufficiency is both a blessing and a curse. It can make one driven and resourceful, but the pressure on yourself is layered so thick that it can be hard for others to see you struggle, knowing that any offer of support will be rebuffed with a sharp defensive ‘I’m okay thanks’. It’s as if an offer of help is a statement of failure, or evokes a fear that someone has seen a chink in the armour.

And then I look at my kids. So quick to ask for help, and accepting it without hesitation. The simple, childlike acknowledgement that we aren’t made to thrive or survive alone. My three year old doesn’t falter behind layers of shame and fear of failure. What broke? Why did it become so complicated? Why did we become so individualistic? It’s not just sad, it’s not just missing the point of relationship itself…it’s destructive.

We are NOT MADE to do life alone. Vulnerability does NOT equal failure. Fighting against these truths leads to burnout and a loneliness in feelings because nobody else has been involved in your processes.

I challenge clients (and myself) to start to say yes to the offer of help and support that comes their way, whether it be help with a buggy in a tight doorway, some luggage up some stairs, or childcare. No matter how big or how small, how much you feel you do or don’t need it, exercise grateful acceptance. In many countries, people are part of close-knit, enmeshed communities where energies and resources are shared, and the line between friends and families are blurred. Help and support are seen as forms of love to be given and accepted, and not statements of failure and shame.

You’re worth someone’s energy, someone’s time. You’re worth help and support. That is what community, friendship, relationship and love is about.