Having a baby after PTSD – am I mad?

For some mothers giving birth is a magical, exciting and altogether positive experience. For many others, including myself, it is an experience that begins with excitement, but doesn’t have the happy ending.
After giving birth to my first daughter I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Odd right? I thought only soliders had that. Turns out mothers quite often get diagnosed after giving birth.  The symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks, nightmares, emotional numbness, struggling to sleep, avoidance of certain places, persistent negative feelings about yourself, being easily irritable and a constant feeling of guilt, fear or shame. To name a few. I didn’t have all of these symptoms, but the ones that impacted my life the most were flashbacks, negative feelings about myself and persistent guilt. It hasn’t been my favourite life journey but it has been one that I’ve tried to be as open as possible about with my friends and family.
All these thoughts and feelings were triggered by one event – giving birth. So why am I back here in a situation where I have to do it again?
To put it simply, my love for my daughter and desire to have more than one child, as well as months of therapy has led me to feel like I can face this fear.  It will be easy right? “No two births are the same”, “babies come out much easier the second time round”, “you’ll be fine”, are the most common comments I receive when speaking abour my fear.  The truth is, before I fell pregnant I was adamant that when the time came I would have a cesarean.  
However, now that I am pregnant again I find myself reliving my daughter’s birth more frequently. My feelings of failure and incompetence are trying to reappear and I am panicking about delivery. What do I do? Avoid the trigger completely and ask for an elective c-section? Or try to heal old wounds and give it another go? The only problem is, I don’t have a crystal ball. I don’t know which option will make me feel better, and which might make me feel ten times worse. 
It has been two years since my daughter was born, but still on the eve of her birthday I layed in bed next to my husband sobbing, asking him when the flashbacks would stop and when I would stop feeling like such a failure for the way she was born. My midwife has referred me to the local mental health team to start therapy again, I have my first session in a couple of weeks. But I still have five months to decide what birth option is best for my baby and I.
Hopefully when I have made my decision I will update, but for now I’ll have to continue in this limbo of wondering what I should do. 

‘Trying’ to conceive

When a couple decides they’re ready to have a baby they become part of the “trying to conceive” club. For some couples there’s really no *trying* about it. First month of having unprotected sex and boom! They’re pregnant. For others it takes a lot longer…
I was always told at school about how easy it is to get pregnant, basically warned that any kind of sexual contact could risk a little bundle of joy 9 months down the line. I really did think that for me it would be that easy, I’d plan it all out, have baby number 1 when I was 25, baby number 2 at 27 and if I fancied a third I’d have it just before I was 30. What a plan. Can’t go wrong there can I? Or so I thought…
It took 18 months to fall pregnant with our first baby. 18 long, emotional, stressful months.  You see, until you’ve been on that journey you really don’t know what *trying* for a baby really means. It can become a very lonely place, a place that only a few people understand. Until you’ve sat crying every month staring at a negative pregnancy test, sobbed when you’ve heard about the latest relative to fall pregnant, felt exhausted by the heartache of wanting a child, begun looking up every environmental factor that can affect your fertility and changing your lifestyle to adapt then you’ve never really known what it’s like to try for a baby. Of course I meant no disrespect to anyone who hasn’t been there, it’s a dark place and I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone. But I feel as though it’s best to talk about so that anyone out there experiencing these feelings knows they’re not alone.

After 18 months we fell pregnant with our beautiful baby girl. Pregnancy, for me, was hard. Labour was hard. Being a mum is hard but worth every single tear of stress that falls down my face. Being a mum is also the best thing I’ve ever done, my heart is suddenly full to the brim with love. I have this little human who I would do anything for, who makes me smile when I’m down, who can stress me out beyond belief but with one cute act can make me forget why I was even angry.  Was she worth the wait? Of course she was. Every single month. 

However, we are now thinking about baby number two. This should be easier right? We’ve all heard the stories, “it took me 4 years to fall pregnant with my first but then I was pregnant after the first month of trying with my second”. I thought that was going to happen to me. But no, I was filled with a false hope. I thought it would be easier now that I know I can get pregnant, I’m not infertile. So what’s my problem? Why am I sat here trying not to cry about the fact that it’s 5 months into trying to conceive again and we’re still not pregnant?  I’ve realised that no matter how many babies you have, if your heart wants more and you struggle to get pregnant that feeling of disappointment, stress and heartache stays with you. 
So if you know anyone who is trying to conceive please don’t tell them it will be okay, don’t tell them they need to relax, and don’t tell them they need to stop trying. Just be there for them, listen to them, let them offload. Until you’ve been there you won’t understand how they feel, and that’s fine, but for now they just need someone to talk to, to get it off their chest.  Someone to joke to about it, because if they don’t laugh they really will cry. 
And if you’re trying to conceive then you’re not the only one who has been there. See if you can find someone who has had the same struggles as you, having someone who understands makes a huge difference.  

Everyone falls pregnant under different circumstances. For some the answer really is to stop trying, for others the answer is to try harder.  Unfortunately I believe I fall in to the latter category. When I fell pregnant I was jogging every day, eating healthily, not drinking and cutting out caffeine.  So January is my time to get my body back into tip top shape to carry another baby. I know I can do it, but until then I’ll be here, feeling quietly sorry for myself every month pretending that it doesn’t bother me. 

My Breastfeeding journey

I wanted to share my story of breastfeeding my daughter, because as I joined the club of breastfeeding mothers the only information I’d really had was what I was taught in antenatal classes and read in books. This didn’t fully prepare me for the roller coaster experience I was about to have.

Books, midwives and antenatal classes will offer you a brief account of what it’s like to breastfeed, one with rose tinted glasses. I was told that it wouldn’t really hurt, just “10 seconds of a toe curl” when I first started at each feed and then I’d be fine. My baby would gaze into my eyes as we bond over this special moment that no one else could share, and of course I’d be boosting her immune system to equate that of superman. (He never gets a cold does he?)

Whilst I enjoyed breastfeeding (so much easier to get out the house than faff with bottles and formula, what do I need? The two Bs – baby and boobs) and I was proud that I made it to 10 months with April, the initial journey wasn’t quite as easy as I had hoped.

The first 48 hours.

Let’s start with the initial doubts. When breastfeeding you haven’t got a bloody clue how much milk your baby is getting. You have to hope that it carries on until its little tummy is full and hopefully a few hours will pass until the next feed. I spent the first afternoon and night in hospital constantly asking the midwives to check if she was feeding okay, doubting myself and panicking that this tiny little baby was going to starve. She didn’t.  If this is you, relax. Your baby will cry if it’s hungry, that’s what they’re good at.

Secondly the pain. Okay it wasn’t equivalent to labour but my God having such a sensitive area in almost constant use for the first few days did some damage. Get some Lansinoh cream and apply after EVERY feed! If you want to know what it’s like, imagine the first few seconds like hundreds of little needles stabbing into your nipple, and when that pain is over think of it being rubbed with sandpaper for the duration of the feed.

Two words: nipple shields.  The NHS and midwives frown upon them but without them I would have given up. I used them for the first few seconds of the feed (the most painful part) and then quickly slipped them off. This avoided the concern of “nipple confusion” (a baby wanting a teat like a bottle instead of the real stuff) and the risk of mastitis, potentially caused by the baby not feeding enough because nipple shields make a feed less efficient apparently.

Night 2

Oh night 2…how I remember you! Top tip: get snacks out and movies ready. You won’t sleep tonight. I’m serious.

(If you get to night 2 and this hasn’t happened, expect it on night 3 or 4. It’s the night your milk comes in).

The milk has arrived

Once your baby pulls through your milk you will wake up in the morning with rock hard boobs probably about four cup sizes bigger than pre pregnancy. Think this sounds good? It’s not. It fucking hurts. They leak everywhere. It’s like someone forgot to turn the tap off. Get breast pads stat!

Friends and family

I was always adamant I wouldn’t be one of those people who hides away whilst feeding their baby. Why should I? It’s a natural thing and I feel that one of the reasons the breastfeeding rate is so low in this country is because we don’t see people doing it often enough. You can buy lots of clothes and scarves that will cover you up and once you and baby have the hang of latching on you won’t have to worry about the odd nip slip. It will be second nature and no one sees anything. Promise.

That said, in the early days you end up so obsessed with trying to make your baby latch properly that every Tom, Dick and Harry gets and eyeful of your boobs. Don’t worry. You’ll get over it, as will they.

Most of my friends and family were fine around me feeding. There were the odd few who felt uncomfortable, my 19 year old nephew was adamant he’d seen my boobs and was scarred for life, I know full well he hadn’t. My sister’s husband also took time to get used to it, whilst on holiday with them I had to feed April at the table when he was sitting opposite me, at the first sign of her needing to be fed he would physically turn sideways and lock his eyes on my sister. Luckily this didn’t bother me. I knew he wasn’t being rude, he just didn’t know what else to do.

Feeding in public

In my 10 months of breastfeeding April I never once had anyone come up to me and make a negative comment. If you don’t look out for it and get paranoid that everyone who looks your way is staring at you in shock and disgust then you’ll be fine. Be paranoid and you’ll misinterpret people’s actions.

Distractions

As April got older and more interested in her surroundings feeding became harder. As a newborn they can barely even see your face, let alone look around the room whilst feeding. Once April started to take an interest in everything around her it became harder and harder to feed on the go. I found myself heading to her nursery to feed in quiet so that she wouldn’t whip her head off every 2 minutes to check what was going on! I think this stage required the most patience for me and was the start of our breastfeeding journey coming to an end.

Going back to work

This was the other factor that contributed to me stopping feeding. When April was 10 months old I went back to work four days a week. I worked in central London, this meant 12 hours away from home. I went to work armed with my breast pump and cool bag to pump my missed feeds and store the milk. However pumping is hard work. It’s not as efficient as feeding directly and sometimes you can sit there for 20 minutes to only get 2oz of milk. My manager was incredibly understanding and let me go off to pump as and when I needed to, but I couldn’t shake that nagging feeling that everyone would think I was just skiving off and sitting in the medical room by myself.

Not to mention how boring it was! No mobile phone signal, no one to talk to, just me, my pump and the 4 walls. ZzZzz.

The final goodbye

So after 10 and a half months of breastfeeding we had both come to a natural end. April no longer demanded the feeds she used to have, my supply gradually declined and we made the transition to formula.

I made sure that I knew when our last feed was going to be so I could remember it, and I still do. It wasn’t anything special, just a normal feed time but it gave me closure. 

I won’t lie, I cried the first time we gave her formula. I hated the thought of feeding her something that was designed in a lab somewhere by strangers. Until then she had only ever eaten natural things. This was alien to me and it made me feel incredibly uncomfortable.

Of course I know now that formula wasn’t going to poison her, she didn’t seem to know a difference and it was given to thousands of babies in the UK so who am I to say it’s not good enough for my child? It was probably insecurity more than anything, I hated feeling as though I had been replaced.  She had it for two or three months and then made the transition to cows milk. Now I’ve been replaced by a farm animal instead of a lab – awesome.

Oh and if you get told that formula will help your baby sleep it’s a lie. April’s sleep stayed just as shit on formula as it did on breast milk. It’s a myth. So if/when you make that transition don’t expect a miracle!

The end

As a fairly anxious mother who always panics that she’s not doing the best for her daughter and always questions her parenting it’s safe to say that breastfeeding is one of the things I feel really proud of doing. I stuck with it when I felt like giving up and for the first six months of my daughter’s life outside the womb I was the only thing that kept get growing. That’s a pretty awesome feeling.

What’s in a name?

So here you are, pregnant, excited, nervous and about to make a very important decision. What will you call your shiny new bundle of joy?

So many questions to consider to make:

  1. Will this name suit a baby?
  2. What will their name look like on their CV?
  3. What will people shorten it to?
  4. Are you about to doom your baby into a school career of being bullied?
  5. Do we tell people what the name is in advance?

The final question is one we made the mistake of doing.

My husband and I had been together for 8 years when we fell pregnant, 9 years by the time she arrived, so we’d already had the baby name conversation several times. We had our names carefully picked out for a good 5 years in advance, never wanting to change them.

John for a boy, April for a girl.

We found out we were pregnant in August, I worked it out that we had fallen pregnant in July, let’s do some quick maths….two, three, four, five, six…seven…..eight….oh fuck. We were due in April. Fast forward to our 20 week scan and yes, as fate would have it we were expecting a girl.

Most of our family knew the names we had picked out in advance, so they knew that April’s name wasn’t just a last minute “oh she’ll be born in April so let’s just call her that” idea. However, when it came to nosy work colleagues and random old ladies who flocked to the pram like pigeons to an abandoned pile of chips it was a very different story. Here are just a few of the wonderful comments I got from people when they found out her name…

“Oh are you actually calling her April? I thought we were just calling her baby April in the office because that’s when she’ll be born” – work colleague.

“April? Lovely! Was she born in April?” – every sodding old woman I meet.

“Would she be called May if she was born in May?” – my comedian brother everyone.

“Oooh will the next one be called June?” – another old lady responsible for this one.

There were plenty more similar comments, mainly people thinking they’re the next Sherlock Holmes for figuring out that she was born in April.  I’ve given up telling people that we had picked the name out years ago, and on occasion I have been known to lie and tell people she was born in May just to wipe the smug “I’m so clever, I guessed she was born in April” look off their faces.

For our next children we already have names picked out too, our boy’s name will stay the same and we have two options for a girl. One of which my mother in law has told me “If you call her that I won’t come a visit her because she has such a stupid name”, which of course warms me to the name even more. However, next time round we won’t be sharing the name in advance, because usually people will only tell you they think your name choice is shit whilst you’re pregnant, not when the baby is here. Apparently that’s much more acceptable.

Having a baby ruins your life

Or that’s what everyone told me anyway.

Before I fell pregnant I constantly got told not to rush into having children (I got married at 22 so people must have thought I was the kind of person who liked to rush into things). They told me to live my life before I had to give it all up to look after another small human being. They told me to travel before I had kids, wait until I was older, blah blah blah you know the drill.

I’ve always been VERY broody, so at the age of 25 I decided I was finally ready for a baby. I had a stable home, job and marriage so there wasn’t anything holding me back.  My husband and I decided to take one last trip away, somewhere long-haul that we figured wouldn’t be very baby friendly. So we went to China.

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Fast forward a few years and I’m calling bullshit. I now have a demanding one year old who doesn’t sleep through the night, is grouchy if she doesn’t nap and likes to be constantly entertained. But to date we have taken her to five different countries.  We drove from the midlands in the UK to the North West of France with her, we flew to Italy and climbed for hours across a cliff-side, me carrying her in a sling and my husband carrying her pram, we did a week long, 1400 mile, road trip around the whole of Iceland with her at 6 months and most recently we took her to Saint Lucia and Antigua – an 8 hour flight and a 5 hour time difference.

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Not once during those trips have we thought “Shit. We really shouldn’t have done this with a baby”. Yes we had a little extra luggage with us, yes we were a bit more wary of the trips we took, and yes it meant that we couldn’t both go and get pissed at the all-inclusive bar and stumble back to our hotel room at 1am but these were sacrifices we didn’t even think twice about having to make.

I’ve always wondered why people used to tell me that having a child was the end of my freedom, but I realise now that it’s because they’re the people who allow their freedom to be stolen.  We managed to go abroad, experience different climates and time differences and still manage to give April 3 meals a day, all of her naps and her bedtime was on time every night. We’re not super parents by any stretch of the imagination, we just have a passion to travel and the determination to make it work.

So as I sit here planning our 10 day road trip to the West Coast of the USA in November, I want other parents to know that you CAN travel with a child AND have a good time. You don’t have to be Mr and Mrs organised, you just need to carry a few extra things. If you’re planning to have children and wondering if you will have to give up your life and freedom for it, the answer is no, not if you don’t want to.

So, to those people who feel as though having children has stopped them from living their lives – you’re wrong. Your children didn’t stop you, you stopped yourself. So go out there and live a little, there’s still time.

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P.S. hope you enjoyed looking at some of our holiday photos – my husband is a bit of a fab photographer – www.davidkinallyphotography.co.uk 🙂

Superior parenting

Recently I saw an update appear on my Facebook feed. It was written by a mother who had just been in a car accident with her daughter in her car too. Thankfully they were both safe. However, the mother chose to use this as an opportunity to do something I can’t stand. Parental shaming.

Parental shaming is when a parent judges other parents for not doing things the same way as them, either directly or indirectly. This lady had decided to post pictures on her Facebook and emphasise the importance of using an extended rear facing car seat. Posting a status about the accident is fine, she was probably in shock and wanted to make sure her friends kept their babies safe too, but the tone of her post was not.  The last sentence finished with “know better, do better”.

That really got my back up. Has this woman got a degree in being a perfect mum? Has she got a full badge of gold stars for her parenting style? I don’t know this woman but I do wonder if she has done everything by the book – natural labour (heaven forbid a woman wants pain relief during birth right?), breastfeeding for 6 months minimum, keeping her child in a moses basket next to her bed for 6 months, given her child all the relevant vaccinations, weaned her child in the newly recommended baby-led way and God knows what else. Maybe she has, like I said, I don’t know her. But to suggest that parents with forward facing car seats need to “do better” is pretentious, patronising and bitchy. What business is it of hers how other people raise their children?

As most parents know, this rule is fairly new and hasn’t even been implemented, there isn’t much of a choice of extended rear facing car seats and some children will scream their lungs out in the car if they’re facing the seat behind them instead of seeing out of the window.

Mums give themselves a hard enough time about the way they raise their children without some judgemental twat indirectly putting them down on social media.

Lots of love, a mum with an extended rear facing car seat which has to go forward facing in her husband’s car because the seat belt won’t fit round it.

Fair-weather friends

When you have a baby the dynamics of your friendships with people can change dramatically. Over the past 13 months I have discovered that my friends fall into three different categories.

Category one

These are the friends that get excited when you’re pregnant, asking you what names you might pick, claiming they can’t wait to meet him/her and they can’t believe you’re about to become a mum. Fast forward to that baby popping out of you and POOF – they’re gone.  You might get a Facebook comment from them when you announce the birth, if you’re lucky you’ll get a text. You’ve hit the jackpot if they send you a card.

They won’t make the journey to come and see your baby, they might be interested if you bring it to them and even then they’re probably just letting you come over so they can ‘tick off’ the baby visit.
You might expect this from casual friends, but unfortunately this has happened to me with what I used to call one of my best friends. I’m not sure why they act this way, maybe the whole baby thing freaks them out, maybe they’re not sure what to talk to me about anymore, I tell myself they’ll catch up one day but I think I just do that to make myself feel better. Realistically I know our friendship has moved on.

Category two

These are the friends that come to visit when the baby is born, bring a card, have a cuddle and see you once or twice a year. They make it to your little one’s christening and birthday party but don’t see you as often as they used to.  It’s not that they don’t want to spend time with you, it’s more that they think that now you have a baby you won’t want to do anything, or you can’t go out.  At least that’s my theory.  They mean well, but again they’re a little bit unsure how to handle friends with babies, they think it’s a lot more restrictive than it really is and they’re not quite ready to adjust to your new life and just come over to sit on the sofa with a cup of tea instead of going out to the pub.

Category three

These are the friends worth their weight in gold. The ones who can’t wait to meet your baby, once they’ve seen them they’re counting down the days until their next visit. The ones who drive over to your house when you have a child because they know your little one can’t stand the car, so they make the journey instead. The ones who still want to go on holiday with you when your baby is six weeks old and potentially up every two hours in the night. The ones who you trust to babysit your newborn whilst they sit in a restaurant at a spa bored to death all day so you can attend your sister’s hen party and still breastfeed every few hours. The ones who love your children almost as much as they love their own. The ones who still remember your child’s middle name. The ones who actually read your boring texts about sleepless nights, non-stop crying and teething. The ones who text you to ask how your baby is because they know she was poorly the day before.  The ones who buy your baby new clothes even though it’s not a special occasion. The ones who forgive you when you’re clumsy with the wording of your silly little blog.

I only have a handful of these friends but they’re all I need. They’re the friends I know I can count on in an emergency, the friends who would do anything for me, and I for them.  The friends who don’t run a mile when you have a baby because they either already understand what it’s like, or they can’t wait to join you on the journey to watch your children grow up.

So if you’re in the same boat as me, don’t be sad about the friends who fall into categories one and two. One day they might come back to you.  Just be glad you have friends that fall into category three, because they’re the ones that matter.