Sunday, 30 April 2017

Let's talk about mental health.


Maternal mental health to be precise.

Every mum no matter what their situation deserves to have access to non-judgemental mental health support. Why? Because, every mum matters.

May 1-7th marks Maternal Mental Health week, and one I am proud to be an official partner of. It is something I have regularly blogged and spoken about.

This week will show the gaps that so desperately need to be addressed in mums receiving the care they need.

After the birth of my first son, I was diagnosed with a mental illness, at times I was let down by the system and have struggled a lot to come to terms with the first 18 months of becoming a mum.

I have also found this is the case with mental illness in pregnancy, now pregnant with my second and approaching 30 weeks, I have only been asked once how I am feeling yet it clearly states in my notes I had PTSD.

It is so easy to hide, as mental illness seems to be judged on appearance. If you look semi put together and smile politely you won’t be asked what you really need someone to ask you. Are you okay?

It is so important weeks like this are recognised, so we can all get involved and raise awareness and demand change.

One thing I have learnt is how supportive the social media community are, how honest they are about sharing their raw experiences but we all had one thing in common.

The fear of the stigma, the shame, and the judgement of admitting you need help. This NEEDS to stop. This NEEDS to change.

I will carry on telling my story in hope that it goes towards changing the way we view maternal mental health and the changes that are needed.

No one deserves to suffer in silence in fear of being judged, we all need to have easy access to reliable support and help that we may need from time to time.

The more we talk, the more open and honest we are at sharing our stories, will hopefully one day break down the walls that have been put up around maternal mental health.

When I was pregnant with Elijah, having mental health problems during pregnancy or post partem didn’t even factor in to my preparations for welcoming him into the world.

I worried about the usual things, breast vs bottle feeding, did we have enough clothes? Would we be good parents? Would I be okay giving birth? What I didn’t worry about was that I would be so depressed post-natally that I would abuse pills, have an eating disorder return and plan on leaving my family all within 6 months.

We were given a leaflet by the midwife about looking for the signs of post-natal depression, but you do not really read it, never mind learn the signs of it. I mean I wouldn’t be affected would I?

But, you cannot know that for sure, and 1 in 5 mothers will be affected by mental health issues during or after pregnancy.

Turns out, I was affected badly after having Elijah taken away and admitted to NICU within 12 hours after he was born, later needing lifesaving open heart surgery.

I was angry, in denial, resentful to all and began to slowly close of everyone one by one, including Greg. I shut down and did what I did best, self -destruct. I punished myself as I believed this is what I deserved.

It came slowly, eating away at me as I tried to gain control of the situation we found ourselves in. Did I think I needed help? Did I recognise that I did? I don’t think I really knew what was going on. I felt like I was the only one in the world feeling like this, feeling such a darkness have a hold on me and suffocating me from the inside out. That I wasn’t normal, everyone else had it together didn’t they? Yet, here I was failing at being a mum. So, I turned on myself even more for, failing, for being a crap mother, for not being normal.

When we were in  NICU, we met so many people, the staff turnover for shifts is high. A few leaflets were given about support groups, other parents who have had children in NICU most of this is focused upon premature babies. Honestly, at the time I was in such bad denial that they would turn around and say they have made a mistake I didn’t want to acknowledge that we were like the other parents in there.

We were discharged determined to forge our way as new parents whilst awaiting Elijah’s surgery date. The NICU outreach and health visitors came to check in now and again, I smiled politely, held back the tears and pretended that yes, I really was fine. This became a familiar disguise I put on to family and friends as well.

As with most things, if you hold them in for too long something with blow up, I was lashing out any anyone even Elijah. It couldn’t go on I think the real time I realised I wasn’t well was when Elijah was 18 months old I couldn’t just keep pretending it was what we had been through that was causing this. Elijah had his op and recovered well. I couldn’t move on.

Eventually, I plucked up the courage to go to the GP and throughout the whole walk there I was petrified they would take Elijah off me. That I was an unfit mother, but I wasn’t, I was an unwell one.

I felt ashamed sitting in the chair being asked if my child was at risk from me, that I had failed him. But, no matter how hard this was to accept, this is what was needed.

I was prescribed anti-depressants, and recommended counselling. I had never been offered this in the whole 18 months of having a baby in NICU, or having a child need a lifesaving operation. If this was my experience were other NICU parents going through the same thing? Turns out yes, the lack of mental health care on offer for NICU parents is deeply saddening and one I am in talks with my MP to try and change.

Due to the extensive waiting lists, the promises that I was a priority suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder I never did see a councillor. Due to the extensive wait times Instead I began to try and reach out to other heart parents on Instagram, and pour everything I could into writing my blog. This saved me, but I feel the lack of support that was offer, the stigma, the judgement around being mentally ill all led to me going down a path that was the darkest I had ever gone on.

I can see how and why some mothers end up sadly ending their lives due to the lack of support on offer. The system seems to be quite flawed and it tends to now be down to other mothers supporting one another and picking up the pieces for at times for complete strangers. The network of parents talking openly about maternal mental illness is a revolution and one that could save so many lives. Even Kate the Duchess of Cambridge has recently opened up to her struggles and is campaigning for better mental health care.

Post Natal Depression is something that is now becoming a more open and acceptable conversation to have. Depression in pregnancy? Perhaps not so much. This is something I didn’t experience with Elijah but 7 months into my second pregnancy some familiar feelings have started to stir. However, from learning what I did with my PTSD I knew I had to stop them and quickly. I couldn’t self-destruct, I couldn’t bury my head and pretend it wasn’t happening. Greg thought I was tired and hormonal, I knew it was more. I have shared my story online, all the gory details of how I felt, yet I could not tell the one person standing in front of me, I needed help. I did what I do best, I wrote it down and was honest about how I was really feeling and he knew straight away I was not just being tired. You feel like you cannot talk about not enjoying your pregnancy, or it frankly making you miserable as you will be seen as ungrateful, selfish and insensitive to others around you who perhaps are struggling to get pregnant. But, I had to face facts this is how I was really feeling.
It seems that becoming a mother and mental illness went hand in hand for me, and on the brink of becoming a mum of two it is something that is never too far from my mind. That is why I have included some personal blog posts from the last year to showcase maternal mental illness. I will also be sharing these articles across social media through out the week. I will be posting my personal and honest letter that I sent to Greg asking for help at the end of the week to try and break down the barriers around maternal mental illness and depression in pregnancy.

Below are also all of the details for you to get involved from May 1-7th. I would also like to highlight, The Every Mum Movement who is asking everyone to raise awareness by changing their profile pics on social media with the following message on Maternal Mental Health Day which is May 3rd. I’m in, are you? Find out more info on the Facebook page or Instagram.


The Longest Wait

Why blogging helped me cope with PTSD

Is there enough support for NICU parents?

Goodbye Old Friend  

The World Book Day disaster and the musings of a failing mother, a letter to my son.

Who am I? The Mum change.

Walking on a tightrope ft Sandi Thom

The Fear

The darker side of pregnancy

Are we judging mental illness on appearance?

Slipping through the cracks of NIICU parent mental health care

My body secret, an eating disorder

Why I grieved for my healthy baby

You think I am strong but I am not

NICU parents need help too

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Dear Elijah, it has been two years…

A bit of background, Elijah was born with a Congenital Heart Defect (CHD) called Tetralogy of Fallot (TOF),  this means there were four structural abnormalities wrong with his heart. These were repaired, via open heart surgery at Great Ormond Street in April 2015 when he was 6 months old.  Please be CHD aware 1 in 100 babies are diagnosed with some form of CHD. To mark Elijah's two year heart anniversary, I will be sharing some CHD/ heart related posts of our journey that have appeared on the blog through the last year over on the Honest Confessions Facebook page this week.

Elijah and Alice celebrating two big occasions this week.

Elijah, this week marks two big occasions, your friend’s Alice’s second birthday (Happy Birthday Alice!) and something else that you are likely not to remember.

It won’t make much sense to you now, but one day it will.

This week you will see Mummy and Daddy look at you funny a lot, and you will get extra cuddles and kisses and you will not know why.

You might hear us talk about when you went down to London, this week is your two-year Heart anniversary.

Two years ago, I held you as they put you to sleep and laid you on the operating table, taking your dummy from you and keeping it with me.

Two years ago, they took you away to the operating theatre and performed open heart surgery on you to repair your heart, to save your life.

I didn’t know if I would ever see you alive again, I didn’t know if they would bring you back to me.

If I would ever breathe in your smell,  get you dressed, change your bum or put you to bed again.

I wish I could have taken the physical pain for you, to have it performed on me and not you. You were so young, so small, it wasn’t fair, was it?

I felt as strong as a tissue in those 5 hours you were in theatre, wondering what the outcome would be.

Those hours were spent walking aimlessly across London wishing the time away until we would get the phone call.

The relief of when we did and that we could see you again shortly, is something no words could ever describe.

We saw you as you laid in intensive care with a small incision mark down your chest covered by a plaster, and a chest drain stitched into you that looked like something from a horror film.

You looked peaceful, asleep amongst from all the medical equipment. We were also back on familiar territory with the machines, and alarms, just like our NICU days.

You were amazing, you fought from the get go, you were stronger than me and your Dad that week.

We read books to you, we sat by your side watching Muppet's films and C Beebies trying to awkwardly hold you while you were hooked up to the machines.

5 days later, you stunned everyone and we brought you home to begin your recovery.

We all came back with scars from the hospital, some physical, many of them mental.

I still see it in the flashbacks, the nightmares and the feelings instantly return. They never seem too far away.

It might seem weird to some that we celebrate this anniversary especially as it is a hard time to remember and come to terms with again.

However, it shows how far you have come, how far we have all come since that fateful trip to London.

Here we are two years later and you are on the brink of becoming a big brother, and you are a kind, funny, (bloody annoying) but frankly brilliant little boy.

Always everyone’s favourite where ever we go with your cheeky smile, never did I think back then we would be where we are today.

Now, we barely see a consultant being reduced to one consultation appointment a year, and you were even discharged from the development clinic.

Two years ago, you earned your heart warrior status by overcoming something that most do not have to ever experience in their lives.

We have tried to raise awareness, you have always enjoyed getting involved in the fundraising, or just by letting me write or as you call it, ‘Mummy’s work’.

Our fight is not over, and it is one we will all have for the rest of your life, but for now we can celebrate.

Celebrate your heart anniversary, and show the world how bloody amazing you really are.

You were 1 in 100  to have been dealt this card, and you have done it with that mischievous smile on your face.

You got me through this, you are my hero little one.

My strength.

I love you, always.

Mum x

Saturday, 8 April 2017

The Fear

I don't know what's right and what's real anymore
I don't know how I'm meant to feel anymore
When do you think it will all become clear
'Cause I'm being taken over by the fear

We are one week off going into the third trimester with baby number two, and it is official the fear is now returning. I find when you’re pregnant the fear ebbs and flows through the 9 months. When you first find out you are pregnant, you are just aiming to get through those first 12 weeks, the fear is ever present on your mind. Every cramp, twinge and symptom is scrutinized and the worry of miscarriage is rife. Until you see the baby on your scan, you cannot relax that something may be wrong. The scan gives you some reassurance then after a few more weeks the fear dissolves slowly as you enter the second trimester. Then something magical happens and as it the baby knows you are worried they begin to signal to you all is well or in my case, kick the crap out of my insides but it is reassuring. Then there may be a day they are slightly quieter or they decide to switch up their daily routine and throw you right back into the fear. Being a high-risk pregnancy we have had a few more scans than normal including two anomaly scans and I have been told all is well. But, there is a doubt in mind that I was told this with Elijah and something was wrong. Yes, they were not looking for a problem with him as they were with this baby but the creeping doubt is always lingering somewhere in the back of my mind. If it can happen once it can happen again. Up until last week I was feeling okay, positive about the birth and that I would go in and own this delivery. Now, entering the final 13 weeks, I am crapping my giant maternity pants about giving birth again.

I guess, it isn’t the pain of birth, but more if something goes wrong. With me or the baby. When Elijah was born, I became something I didn’t plan for, or expect, a NICU Mum. I am worried this will happen again, but I am equally as worried that I may not be able to hack it as a ‘normal mum.' After all being a NICU Mum is all I have ever known how to be. The loss of control is terrifying and at the end of the day I don’t think there is much I can do that will change the outcome. What will be, will be and that is something that scares me. I have given birth before so I vaguely know what’s going to happen, I know what could go wrong (ish) and can prepare myself in some way for it. What I cannot prepare for is how my body will react t giving birth again, as although it gave me a beautiful little (well 8.12lb) baby boy it didn’t fare so well. I was very ill and stayed in for 7 days. In the back of my mind this time, I cannot really afford to do that as I have another child to get back too. I also know that I must make sure I take time to recover so I can be the best mum of two, I can be. Catch 22. I have been wondering if my body will be able to cope with breastfeeding as last time I could not. I wonder if Elijah will adapt to being a sibling, and cope with not having all my attention on him. Something he has been used to for nearly three years. I wonder whether we have got everything we need, and if being new-born parents will come back to us easily. I also wonder if we may all end up trying to kill each other through lack of sleep again. I wonder with me going on maternity leave soon if I will cope adjusting to being a full-time mum again, if I will feel lonely, if we will have enough money. Greg is a chef and works some unfriendly baby hours, can I hack it solo with two? I hope I can still make time to write after all this is what keeps me sane and I hope to be working on a book idea I have. It is the fear of the unknown. As a parent, I think you operate on 90% fear, are you doing a good job? Are you messing them up royally? Are they happy, healthy and well adjusted? Pregnancy fear really is just the beginning. Talking of fear, do not mention to Greg that we only have 13 weeks to go, although he of course knows this, he currently is like a deer in the headlights at the prospect of becoming a dad of two.

Another major fear is how my mental health will be after I have given birth. Last time, whether it was the circumstance, or just becoming a mum my mental health took a battering. It took me a very long time to admit there was something wrong and I hid a lot. First time round I am not sure you are really educated enough about the perils of PND, and PTSD to arm yourself with an arsenal of protection. Or just to recognise that what you are feeling is normal but you may need to acknowledge there is a problem and there is no shame in that. I felt abnormal, a rubbish mother and didn’t want to admit I felt like a failure especially to myself. This time round, yes, I think I will see the signs and act on them earlier but going back to the place I was in after Elijah was born scares me. If I did end up there again, I don’t know if I could come back again. I have been so honest on the blog before about what I was really going through, what I was really doing that I think Greg would notice. When I fully admitted that there was a problem and what I had been doing he was shocked and I had hidden it so well. So, far in the pregnancy I have been feeling okay mentally. As much as a hormone filled pregnant woman can feel. But, recently I have felt some old feelings reappear from the depths of where I thought I had left them.

Whether this is just because I am at that stage in the pregnancy now where things are getting quite real or I am doing what I do best and overthink, EVERYTHING. I have been feeling slightly off. Overwhelmed that in 13 short weeks I will be a mum of two. Something else is playing on my mind too, my weight gain. Now, I don’t think I have put too much on and yes, I haven’t been eating the healthiest I could have been (I ate pizza for breakfast the other day). However, last Sunday I had a slight shock. I was walking Elijah through town and I spotted myself in a shop window. Now of course I have a large bump, after all I am 6 months pregnant. What I didn’t realise was how the pregnancy had affected my rear end! Dear lord, my bum cheeks were actually moving separately from one another! Was it the ill-fitting leggings? Perhaps, was it the box of Lindor chocolates I inhaled the night before, more than likely but that old self-conscious feeling came back as did my body instantly reacting in the way it used to when I had an eating disorder. That day, I noticed I didn’t eat junk, I was obsessing over the amount of weight I had put on. For 6 months, this hadn’t bothered me and I have laughed along with the jokes that I was becoming bigger and them not even penetrating the surface. That day something changed, I questioned Greg over and over and made him look at my bum from all angles, he wasn’t quite sure what to do, bless him. I know, deep down this does not matter. That I am in fact growing a life and as long as they are okay, it doesn’t matter what you look like. Those new-born days you tend to look like a bag of crap anyways. I would also never let myself get to the point where my eating disorder returned but the thoughts have been plaguing me. This then led to what I will look like after the baby is born. Your body becomes unrecognisable, I just hope I am strong enough to accept and handle this. Or hopefully be too bloody tired, to give a crap.

I think Lily Allen had it accurate in her song, The Fear. It is a perfect representation of how and what I am feeling now. This all just feels like one long ramble that came spewing out but I am glad it is that, out. I cannot remember really feeling like this with Elijah. There was so much I didn’t know, this is what I think has given me the apprehensions I have about the birth, mine and the baby’s health because I know it can go wrong. Hopefully, now I can focus on the positive, let go as much as I can of the fear and enjoy the rest of the pregnancy, fat ass and all.
13 weeks to go.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

The Calpol Brigade

I have come to a realisation recently. Elijah is ill, A LOT. He is basically a germ factory. Or he is licking
everything, I do catch him doing this quite often. I even caught him putting his head down the toilet the other day.  I don't think we ever go for longer than a month or so before germs invade the house, and take us out one by one. He does not really get ill any more than a child of his age, in fact I think he is considered one of the healthy ones. He even takes his squidgy vitamin once a day which I am pretty sure is just a wine gum in disguise. But, every so often BAM! The house becomes an array of half empty Calpol bottles, snotty tissues, vomit/snot/ any other unidentifiable bodily fluid on the sofa and round the clock Disney films with three sleep deprived zombies inhabiting it. One thing that is certain he will always be ill when we have something planned, work,a night out, or for the last two years on my actual birthday. 

It comes in stages, normally it is at it's peak in the winter months but I have begun to recognise the tell tale signs. A few days before the illness officially breaks, it will go one of two ways. Elijah will sleep really well (thus lulling me into a false sense of security) or he won't be sleeping at all and it is put down to another, 'phase'. He becomes Damien from the Omen and begins to act out, and gets angry at the smallest things, you know like looking at him. Then upon closer examination a small snot trail escapes from his nostril and all begins to make sense. Or a small spot is found and the yells of, 'GREG, GET THE GLASS, WE NEED TO DO THE GLASS TEST!' can be heard from across the land. Cue lots of photos (normally of his bum) mass sent out to every mother, father, grandmother and anyone who may remotely be able to identify this spot. Which is normally just that, a spot.

As a NICU Mum, I have been known to slightly panic at times and haul him down to the Doctors at the slightest sign he is not 100%. This in the beginning was very tedious, a GP would look at his history and send to send us directly to hospital. They then confirmed a cold and 5 hours later, tired, hungry and stressed we would be sent home again. After nearly three years I have relaxed slightly, but I do have a ready stock of Calpol, 'magic cream' and vapour refills that would rival Boots. I mean when you really need it why is it that every bottle you have seems to be empty? Why have we kept them if they are all empty? Why on one day can you find 500 of those syringes and when you actually need one you have to improvise with a spoon and end up coating you, the kid and the whole house in a sticky pink residue? Why are they in my handbag making it a glorified ant farm?

I do tend to go into overdrive when he is ill, basically becoming Florence Nightingale but with more sweaty cuddles. I even let him sleep with me if he wants, it is easier than getting up 200 times in an hour. It is fairly laborious, however I enjoy a nice day time nap on the sofa as much as the next person. This normally is rudely interrupted by Elijah's snoring or him coughing so much he vomits. All over me. Normally after eating Babybells. We normally stay quarantined for a couple of days, watching Toy Story and Mr Tumble on repeat with me in my slightly sick stained pj's and not washing my hair. This is usually due to the excessive amount of washing he has created, when every sheet/pillowcase/cat that has to be washed again and again.

Image result for calpol drawing
Drawing Credit; Life; page 77; Cody and Calpol; DoodleMum
We are fairly lucky, so far we haven't had anything too bad other than some pretty nasty chest infections. The illusive chicken pox/ hand, foot and mouth and sickness bugs have not yet graced us with their presence. Colds though? We have probably had about 20+ in the last few months and they all go on to his chest which leads to a lot of coughing which turns to vomiting and then the cycle continues with me and Greg then becoming ill ourselves.I have never been so ill in all my life, how long does this last? Until he leaves home? What happens when I have two of these germ attractors? Will I ever set foot outside of the house again? (I am now Googling Family germ protector bubbles.We can become the bubble family).

So after Elijah's last bout of illness seems to have left the building, for now. I thought I would put together some top tips for having an ill toddler!

Or a survivalguide if you will.
1. You will not be getting out the house or getting anything done, don't even bother trying.
2. Become at one with the sofa after all you're not getting off it for at least two days.
3. Stash a full bottle of Calpol somewhere, so you know you are stocked up then forget where you have put it.Try and scrape the last drips of the empty one out at 3AM and end up with the little plastic protector coming off and coating your hand in the last dosage. Consider scraping this off hand onto spoon.
4. Don't let Nan round, as much as she is a help, no one wants to see Nan thrown up on. She then may get the dreaded lurgy and have to cancel future babysitting duties!
5. Just accept in two days time, you will feel like crap, and the little bugger has made you ill AGAIN. Cancel your appointments now, less hassle.
6.If you do the drop off at nursery and smell sick come home and bathe in bleach. #breedingground
7.You can never have enough Calpol.
8. Google is a friend, and also an enemy especially with identifying rashes be weary it is fairly likely your child does not have small pox,the plague or a tropical disease when they don't even have a passport yet.
9. Eat biscuits. Everything is better with a biscuit. (Or if after 11am drink GIN, and you are not 6m up the duff, *sigh*.)
10. No matter what you will instantly regret trying to catch sick in your hands.

If you have an ill toddler right now reading this, have learnt all the words to the 'Goodbye, Goodbye' song before 7AM, been up all night, are covered in sick, haven't washed in a few days, or are considering eating the Oreo you have spotted under the sofa or having to wash the cat with a wet wipe after snot has been wiped on her again. This is dedicated to you. 

I salute you all, we are all in the Calpol Brigade.

p.s this post was not way endorsed by Calpol.

p.p.s It should be I am a great spoke person.

p.p.p.s Calpol, call me.