My story of surviving postnatal depression

7580326340_80b9337c07_zIt’s been a really big deal for me to ‘come out’ as having suffered from mental illness after the birth of my children (yes, I had issues both times). I am writing about my own experience because I found it really helpful to read about other people’s stories when I was recovering, and because a big part of who I am is that I survived two bouts of postnatal depression (later diagnosed as mild postnatal psychosis).

I am also sharing my story because the challenges we’ve been through explain why we are passionate about this project. We have seen first-hand how tender those first few months are and would like to tell parents who are giving themselves a hard time that they are doing great.

You’re Doing Great, Baby is not just for people with postnatal depression. It’s for anyone who has found the learning curve of being a new parent challenging. For people who are tired and have good days and bad days – which is most parents I think.

People who suffer from mental illness often suffer two-fold: once in experiencing the issues and all the ramifications this has on your life, job and relationships, and then again in the shame of keeping it secret. I am not ashamed anymore. Or at least I’m getting there with not being ashamed. It’s a work in progress.

My darkest times were in the first ten weeks after having my first son, Leo. I became convinced I was a total failure as a mother and that Jeff and Leo would be better off without me. I felt unsafe in my own skin. So anxious I couldn’t sleep, watch television or carry out a conversation. So depressed that I couldn’t taste food or see colours. I was paranoid about my caregivers and felt like I was going crazy. Getting up each morning seemed impossible but somehow I did, and I put on a brave face for Leo – crying only while he slept. The thing that kept me going was my love for Leo and Jeff. I couldn’t figure out a way of not being around anymore that wouldn’t scar Leo for life. After ten weeks of suffering in silence – ashamed of what I was feeling at a time that was meant to be the happiest of my life – I told my Mum what I was going through and she made sure I got the help I needed.

If you’re curious about what helped me recover, it was first and foremost a mixture of medication, therapy and support from Jeff, my parents and understanding friends. I was helped along by exercise, diet and sleep (once my own depression-related insomnia was gone, getting up to a hungry baby was much easier).

Continue reading My story of surviving postnatal depression

Being there for someone with postnatal depression

Leo LOL
Leo made this for me when I was recovering from my most recent bout of postnatal psychosis and depression. As crook as I was feeling, it still gave me a smile.

I know there are a lot of lists out there of what to do if a friend of family member has postnatal depression (PND) but I wanted to write my own list to capture the things that helped me. I’ve also had input from other women I know who have suffered from perinatal anxiety and depression.

You can read more about my story here.

PND and related mental illnesses vary in symptoms and severity from person to person. If you are concerned for the safety of a mother or her child/children then seek professional help immediately. There are resources at the bottom of this post.

  • Understand that PND is a mental illness. It’s no-one’s fault and it isn’t anything to be ashamed of.
  • Respect her privacy if she doesn’t want to talk about her illness, symptoms or treatment. Let her know you are there to listen if she does want to talk, but encourage her to get professional counselling/therapy as well.
  • If she does want to talk about her experience, do your best to listen without judgement.
  • Understand that she won’t be her usual self at this time. With help and time she will get better.
  • Tell her you love her and that she is going to get better.
  • When she is starting to feel a bit better, or on days when she doesn’t feel so bad, sharing a laugh together can be wonderfully healing for everyone. Sometimes laughter comes at the most unexpected times and babies/little kids are excellent to have a laugh with.
  • It’s important that you look after yourself. Supporters need support too.
  • 4797903998_801b0152d1_zIt’s probably not helpful for her to hear a big list of the things she can do to to feel better. Depression and anxiety make it hard to make decisions and chances are she is aware of all the things she could be doing to feel better but is having trouble doing them. For example, rather than tell her she needs to eat better, try cooking her some nourishing food (fish, protein, fresh vegetables, soups, stews) and dropping it off at her house with no expectation of a chat unless she would like one.
  • There probably isn’t much you can say that will help them, but there is stuff you can do. Be guided by them. If she would like a chat then ask them how often she’d like you to call them and check in. If she would like to go for a regular walk, do that. If she would like you to come and play with the baby while she has a nap then do that. If she would like some adult company during the day then that’s a great way of showing support.
  • If she doesn’t want to see people please understand this isn’t a rejection of you – she just can’t deal with company at the moment. I really went to ground both times that I had the depression/psychosis and didn’t want to see anyone except immediate family. I really appreciated friends who let me know they loved me and understood that I would see them when I was ready.
  • VioletBe respectful of her choice to either take, or not take, medication. It’s her call.
  • If she wants to seek the help of a psychologist or therapist (again, it’s her choice), do whatever you can to help make it possible e.g. offer to babysit while she goes.
  • Be ready to share in her joy when she is feeling better. Acknowledge her strength and courage.
  • Cut her some slack with getting *stuff* done. When I was at my worst I wasn’t up to eating, let alone cooking and cleaning.
  • If she does manage to achieve something in her day but can’t see it, remind her that she’s doing great.
  • Let her have good days and bad days. It is such a rollercoaster for everyone involved, but it’s going to be easier if you just leave space for her to feel how she is feeling.
  • If she needs time away from the baby then help make this happen. If she needs to not be away from the baby then be supportive of that too. She’s going to be the best judge of what she needs.
  • Random acts of kindness can really help. Whether it’s an unexpected meal, cake or box of fruit and veg dropped off at the door, or a pretty card sent in the mail, or whatever, random acts of kindness remind your friend you’re thinking of her.
  • Consider making routine contact. I had a friend call me every Monday during her lunch break at work. She knew my baby would be asleep and it was a good time to chat. If I felt like it, I answered the phone, if I didn’t she left a message. It could be an email, text, whatever, but regular, gentle contact will let her know you really are there.
  • Check with her partner how they’re doing and whether there’s any way you can help them to help your friend.
  • Sometimes she may need an advocate e.g. someone to accompany her to a medical appointment.
  • If it’s your partner who has suffered PND and you’re thinking about having another child, be ready to have open conversations about what you would do if it happened again. The book What Am I Thinking (referenced below) is a helpful discussion starter for this.
Enjoying the flowers with Granny
I am so grateful to my Mum for her support and advocacy. Here she is showing Leo a beautiful flower.

Continue reading Being there for someone with postnatal depression

The story of two births

Birth is such an important time in a woman’s life. When a baby is born, a mother is born as well. Here are some thoughts about my two birth experiences with our boys. Reading other people’s birth stories has helped me process my own experiences, so I am offering these up in the hope they may help someone else.

2009-12-02 at 04-00-10Leo’s birth in haiku

Labouring at home
Get to hospital: freak out!
Vaccum and he’s here

Leo’s birth was traumatic for me (and probably for him too). We laboured beautifully at home (got to 9cm dilated), but when we got to hospital things went pear-shaped. He was born with the use of ventouse extraction, with a lot of fear and a bunch of medical people we had never met before in the room.  He was whisked away for oxygen before I could hold him, or even look at him. We were reunited about twenty minutes later, but it was the longest twenty minutes of my life.

For the first few hours after he was born I felt like it had all been wonderful. I had a beautiful, healthy baby after all.

But then the memories of the birth started coming back to me in bits and pieces, along with a flood of emotions. I remembered being told not to push when I had the urge to (with no explanation) and then later being told crossly that I wasn’t pushing hard enough or fast enough and that my baby was in danger. I remembered the rushed episiotomy. The phone call for back-up being made in haste and the room being filled with medical professionals and bright light and me flat on my back.

I remembered the last thing I heard before he was born was the obstetrician saying to the midwife “of course the heart-rate would be fine now…”

Nothing was explained to me about what had just happened. It felt like I could have just dreamt it all.

“A woman is more likely to develop PTSD if she feels like all control has been taken from her and she is the passive object of other’s ministrations. She isn’t asked for consent, for example, for different maneuvers which they may do. She’s supposed to shut up and let them get on with doing the birth. And she comes out of that feeling helpless, and this helplessness can persist in other areas of her life too, so it’s not just the birth. So she gives up and feels that it isn’t justified for her to take responsibility for anything. And women can feel this for many, many years and I’ve had women in their 60s and 70s call me to talk about births which they haven’t yet worked through and this experience has stayed with them and incapacitated them.”

Sheila Kitzinger (1929-2015), author and birth activist

I believe in Jane Hardwicke Collings‘ idea that “everyone has the birth they need to have to teach them what they need to learn on their journey to wholeness.” She also believes that we learn something from each birth that helps women mother their child. Through Leo’s birth I learnt that I didn’t know how to communicate my needs effectively. Everything that I learnt during Leo’s birth, and in those early months as his mother, taught me how to tell people what I needed and how to advocate for myself and him. Now that Leo is five, it makes my heart sing to see how easily he tells people what he needs. That was always something I struggled with as a child (and as an adult).

Continue reading The story of two births

A safety net made of love

Cheryl StrayedCheryl Strayed is a writer from Portland, Oregon. She has written fiction, a famous memoir called Wild, and an advice column called Dear Sugar. Her writing as Sugar spawned the incredible book Tiny Beautiful Things.

Pretty much every time I listen to Cheryl’s Dear Sugar Radio podcast, which she does with Steve Almond, I am struck hard by the truth of something she says. She manages to articulate things that my body/heart knows but my mind didn’t. I am so inspired by her writing and her honest, compassionate advice.

In an episode entitled ‘The Wounded Child Within’, the Sugars address a letter writer grappling with the question: “Are we ever able to fully let go of our past?”

In answering the question Cheryl touches on her own past (which included the all-encompassing love of her mother, an absent and abusive father, and the death of her mother when Cheryl was in her early twenties). After her mothers’ death, Cheryl became self-destructive as a way of coping with her grief. (She chronicles this period of her life in her memoir Wild.) In reflecting on how it is that she managed to survive that period of her life she said:

I had been loved too well to ruin my life.

This idea feels familiar to me, and yet I had never thought of it like that before. I want to put it in bold with rainbows behind it, because I think it is true and amazing.

I have been loved to well to ruin my

Mum, Dad and me
Mum, Dad and me

My parents loved/love me in a way that makes me want a good life for myself and my own family. Their love is present in me like a cell that has divided again and again and is the blue print for my love for myself and my loved ones.

Their parenting wasn’t perfect (just as I am not a perfect parent). Can we just agree there’s no such thing as a perfect parent?

They did their best and there is something about their love which keeps me on a loving path with myself. It’s my safety net. I have had tough times in my life. I have made bad decisions. But ultimately I know how to love myself because of how they loved me.

But what if we weren’t loved by our parents in a way that nourishes us? My Mum had a troubled relationship with her own parents, and she felt saved by the love of her maternal grandmother. Her Gran’s love is present in her love for me.

Surely giving our children this love safety net is one of the greatest things we can do for them.

I find it very comforting to visualise an imperfect but beautiful safety net made of the love of all of my ancestors, present inside of me and my children.

I hope this gift of love is present in our book.

 

Our story so far

I want to share some snippets of our story to show why we wanted to write You’re Doing Great Baby.

When I was a new mum I read A LOT of blogs and articles about things that I was going through and wanting to learn more about, and I found it really helpful and normalising to read unvarnished tales of motherhood. I hope that in turn it is helpful for people to read about our story.

The main challenges I faced when I first became a mother were:

It’s not all challenges though. There have been many, many joys. Especially once the mental health and breastfeeding issues had settled down. I have also written about the good times:

Stuff I want to say to you about breastfeeding challenges

This is part three of a three-part series about breastfeeding with Insufficient Glandular Tissue.

IMG_2806You can read my breastfeeding story here. This post is a collection of everything I’ve wanted to get off my chest (ahem, pardon the pun 😉 about facing breastfeeding challenges.

  • Just because you can’t exclusively breastfeed it doesn’t mean you can’t breastfeed at all.
  • Please don’t judge bottle-feeding mums.
  • Please don’t judge women who have stopped breastfeeding after breastfeeding challenges.
  • Please don’t judge any mums!
  • The things women are told to do to increase their supply are very daunting for a first-time mother still learning the ropes. It’s all very well to say to feed and pump around the clock, but when you have a baby who takes a long time to settle, naps for 40 min stretches, needs you to hold them constantly and their feeds take an hour (as Leo’s did), that’s pretty much impossible.
  • Formula is necessary for some women, for lots of different reasons. I felt like I was feeding him poison at first because of everything I’d heard and that’s soul destroying.

To health professionals dealing with women with breastfeeding challenges, including IGT

Please acknowledge a woman’s grief when breastfeeding doesn’t turn out as she had expected.

A new mother is as vulnerable as her tiny baby. She’s spent 9+ months nurturing this little person and she wants the absolute best for them and it’s very confronting if you can’t give them what they need.

Continue reading Stuff I want to say to you about breastfeeding challenges

Living with low milk supply

This is part two of a three part series about living with Insufficient Glandular Tissue (IGT).

You can read about my story here. Here are some things I have learnt from my two experiences of breastfeeding (and supplementing with formula) due to IGT.

  • Best is best, sweet lady.
  • Only you can forgive yourself.
  • Try to make peace with, and love, your breasts. They are doing their best.
  • Give yourself permission to grieve and feel sad/disappointed/angry.
  • It’s not always going to feel so hard.
  • IGT fucking sucks.
  • You've got a lot going on, Mum
    Pumping, drinking breastfeeding tea and looking after two boys

    Just because you can’t exclusively breastfeed it doesn’t mean you can’t breastfeed at all.

  • The vast majority of people who see you breastfeeding/bottle feeding/using a supply line won’t judge you. They may be curious if they see you mix feeding, but they won’t judge you. Women often give themselves a much harder time than anyone else would.
  • Surround yourself with support. Because IGT and related conditions are pretty rare, sometimes your best support will be from other mums online. Like the amazing IGT Mamas Facebook group.
  • Once I imagined love, rather than just milk, being transferred through both breastfeeding and bottle feeding, I felt so much better about it all.
  • It’s really annoying to read in a lot of breastfeeding literature that it’s very uncommon to have bonafide low supply (i.e. supply issues that aren’t due to some other issue with baby’s latch or introducing formula etc.) when you have bonafide low supply.

Continue reading Living with low milk supply

My story of breastfeeding with Insufficent Glandular Tissue

It’s World Breastfeeding Week this week and to celebrate I wanted to write about my breastfeeding journeys with my two boys. It’s not a conventional story of “successful” breastfeeding, but I am proud of our story.

My precious Leo

I was diagnosed with Insufficient Glandular Tissue (IGT) when Leo (my eldest son) was 3 days old. I had been expecting to breastfeed through any challenges that came our way. I had read all the literature about ‘boobie traps’ and formula compromising your supply, so it was a horrible shock to have health professionals telling me that I needed to supplement him. I thought that if I saw enough Lactation Consultants someone would tell me that it had all been a bad dream, but no-one could tell me that I’d ever be able to produce enough milk for my little one.

Every bottle felt like a reminder of my inadequacy and failure as a mother.

To say that I was shattered by not being able to exclusively breastfeed is an understatement. I left the hospital feeling like Mother Nature and hours later I felt like a worthless piece of junk. It felt like I was grieving for a death – the death of a relationship with the most precious person in the world. I felt deeply ashamed of feeding Leo formula, and bewildered by all the extra jobs: sterilising bottles, counting out scoops of formula, having a warm bottle ready for him as soon as he needed it – all at a time of the greatest sleep deprivation.

You've got a lot going on, MumChronic low supply is chronically depressing! Every time I expressed I was faced with it, every time he chugged down a bottle of formula I was faced with it. Eventually I had to stop pumping after his breastfeed in the middle of the night because I couldn’t sleep afterwards.

In those early days breastfeeding feels like mothering itself, and many of you would agree. Part of me agrees… I loved our time we had breastfeeding. BUT, when you have something like this happen, you’ve got to find another way of thinking or else you’ll go mad. It’s the first question you’re asked by GPs and other health professionals: “Are you breastfeeding?”. So if you ‘fail’ at breastfeeding it feels like you’ve failed full stop. Making new mothers feel like failures is so unhelpful.

Continue reading My story of breastfeeding with Insufficent Glandular Tissue

Unhelpful things said to new parents

I had some unhelpful things said to me when I was a new Mum that have rung in my ears for five and a half years.

I may never forget them, but with time they are losing their power. In some ways a new mother is as fragile and vulnerable as their tiny baby.

The power dynamic between people makes a big difference to how a comment is taken. Comments from people in positions of power, such as health professionals and elder family members, can be particularly hurtful.

The two comments that have haunted me the most are to do with breastfeeding, and they were both said to me by people in a position of power.

You'll only ever make enough milk to

Formula lucky

I felt deep shame about not being able to breastfeed Leo exclusively due to what was eventually diagnosed as Insufficient Glandular Tissue (IGT). My condition made me feel like I wasn’t a proper woman and had no right to be a mother, so those comments cut me to the bone.

Often the comments that hurt the most are the ones that connect with an insecurity you already had. It’s like they agree with the critic you carry on your shoulder that tells you you’re a crappy Mum/Dad/person.

Hey peeps

Passing comments from well meaning family, friends or strangers along the lines of ‘enjoy every second’ can make you feel like an ungrateful bitch if you are not having a great time.

Often if you talk to the person telling you to enjoy every moment, they will be only to happy to talk about the times they themselves didn’t enjoy every moment. It is so easy to forget the power of that early time and everything going on for new parents. I am guilty of this myself – babies and little kids look so cute that you forget how intense life with them can be and how they can push any parent to their limits.

Sometimes innocent questions like “have you tried leaving them to cry/giving them a dummy/hanging their cot from the ceiling from an elephant’s tail” can drive a new parent INSANE! Too. Many. People. Telling. Me. What. I. Should. Do.

What I am learning over and over again is that comments like those above – that are either designed to hurt, or not designed to hurt but they do – often say more about the person saying them and their preoccupations and issues, than about the person it was said to. It’s not about you, it’s about them.

Some comments people made to me about how much their baby slept or fed or ate or pooed or cooed induced pangs of guilt or fear in me. Once again, they were unhelpful without meaning to be. Those comments rang in my ears too, but not as much as comments levelled directly at how I was doing as a mum or how my baby was doing.

Comparison of yourself to others is probably worthy of a whole post of its own. By the way, please let me know if you want to write something about comparison (or anything) for the blog! Would love to have some guest posts. :)

Did you have something really unhelpful said to you when your baby was small (or at any stage in parenthood) that you’d like to get out of your mind?

People say great stuff too! I’ve also written about the helpful things people say to new parents.

One thing we were sure of when writing You’re Doing Great, Baby was that we didn’t want to be giving advice on how to feed, settle or take care of your baby. We hope this gives people room to see themselves in the characters and that no-one is made to feel guilty by our book.

Blog 300x300 kickstarter2

Helpful things said to new parents

tiny handIf you’re having a tough time in those early months, even things said with the sweetest of intentions can induce parental guilt. In some ways a new mother is as fragile and vulnerable as their tiny baby.

Let’s celebrate the things people have said that were actually helpful! They will be different for everyone but I bet there are some that are helpful for lots of new parents.

One of the cards we got when Leo was born really stuck in my mind. As well as congratulating us and saying how gorgeous Leo was, it read:

I hope you’re enjoying parenthood and there are more ups than downs.

That one sentence, amidst all the cards saying how excited they were for us and how we should enjoy this precious time, meant SO MUCH to me.

It was the kindest little reality check. No judgement was implied – just a simple wish for happiness and an acknowledgement that early parenthood can be hard yards along with all the joys.

Helpful thoughts and practical advice people have shared with me:

  • This too shall pass (the good will pass, the bad too. So you may as well really be in this moment).
  • We can only love others as much as we love ourselves.
  • Make gratitude a daily practice.
  • Give yourself permission to feel overwhelmed.
  • Instead of putting your ‘parenting’ hat on, try just being yourself. It’s much more real and less energy.
  • It’s hard work being a baby – they’re learning so much and exposed to everything new.
  • You’ve got to be kind to be kind (rather than being cruel to be kind).
  • Motherhood is a marathon not a race.
  • Think about the sleep you’re getting rather than the sleep you’re not getting.
  • Start making dinner in the morning.
  • Say yes to whatever scares you most. Acknowledge it and then put your yoga to it. The fear will begin to shift and then you can see possibilities again.
  • Holding on tight is the surest way of seizing up any real potential for growth and change.
  • If something’s really not working then change it. Gently.
  • Unless babies have a poo in their nappy there’s no need to change them in the middle of the night.
  • Remind yourself that you’re doing great! (that’s the advice of our book).

In future posts I’m going to talk about some of the amazing people who have inspired me in my parenting (and inspired our book). I’m also going to write about the unhelpful things that people say to new parents.

What have been helpful things people have said to you? Please share the wisdom in the comments below!

YDGB PR square blog3