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. 

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‘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. 

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 🙂

Special delivery

Firstly I’d like to say that my birth story isn’t the worst in the world, in fact it’s probably quite a common tale for first time mums. I’ve known of women who have had far worse times than I did, I’ve known women who have had to have blood transfusions and women who have ruptured their bowels during labour. But for me, it’s the mental scars that have lasted far longer than the physical ones. It’s 13 months on from when I gave birth and re-living it still brings me to tears and fills me with feelings of failure, dread, anxiety and fear. 

This is a hard one for me to write but I think I need to address what happened and how I felt. It will be long so please be patient.

It was about 3am on Saturday 25th April when I first realised I was in labour. “Excellent!” I thought, “I’m finally going to meet my baby girl, my journey to motherhood starts here”.  I was excited, I was happy, I was feeling positive.  

Fast forward a few boring hours (no one warns you that usually the first time round it takes bloody ages!) and in the early hours of Sunday 26th April I was admitted into hospital, still breathing well through contractions and feeling ready to take on the challenge of giving birth. 

As the day went on my contractions worsened, I was given paracetamol for the pain (all mums will tell you this is an absolutely pointless drug that has no effect what so bloody ever on you during a contraction!). By 12pm on Sunday my waters broke and wow did the contractions intensify! My positivity was dwindling as I felt as though my body was being ripped apart from the inside out. But my contractions still weren’t regular enough to be taken onto the labour ward. I spent the next 8 hours breathing heavily, throwing up and occasionally crying. I was ready for the drugs now. Where were the bloody drugs?

At 8pm I was finally taken onto the labour ward, given an epidural and hooked up to a heart monitor so the midwife could track what was happening. Time to relax. The contractions were still happening but I no longer felt as though I was on the verge of exploding. Queue a quiet few hours, watching Monsters Inc on Netflix, chatting to the midwife and getting back to my calmer but excited self.

At around midnight I noticed the sound on the heart rate monitor kept slowing down, from a gallop to a steady walk. I mentioned it to my midwife and she said she would monitor it but that the baby’s heart rate was dipping every now and then. 

After monitoring it for a while the midwife decided to get a Doctor to come and look at the stats, he said to keep monitoring and he would come back to see how we were doing.  The dips in the heart rate started getting more severe and more frequent, worry was setting in. The midwife called the Doctor back in and they decided to take some blood from the baby’s head to check she was okay. Whilst they were very good at acting calm I knew something wasn’t right. I knew this baby would need to be born soon and that’s when I kept getting awful images flashing into my head of the worst case scenario. The worst part was that I couldn’t do anything about it, my fate and that of my daughter were in the hands of effectively, two strangers. I laid there obsessively listening to the monitor, every time her heart rate dropped so did mine. I started to think my baby was going to die. I was going to live the nightmare so many parents worry about during pregnancy. I would never take my baby home. 

It was just after 7am on Monday 27th April and I had been listening to my little girl’s heart rate dip for 7 hours now and I knew I needed to get her out. The midwives let me start pushing and boy did I push! I used every ounce of energy I had left after being awake for two days and I pushed, I was so close to holding her in my arms. I knew she would be safe once she was with her mummy and nothing was more important to me right now than holding her tight and telling her she would be okay.
I had been pushing for an hour and the midwives called it. She wasn’t coming out, her hand was up by her head, her umbilical cord was around her neck and the position she was in meant she wasn’t going to be delivered naturally. That’s when they mentioned that awful word. ‘Forceps’. I panicked. This wasn’t in my birth plan. I had specified anything but Forceps, even if it meant a c-section. I had heard horror stories about children being brain damaged after forceps deliveries and I wasn’t about to let that happen to my baby girl because my stupid body couldn’t get her out. But it was out of my control, the Doctor said they wouldn’t be able to get me down to theatre quick enough and they needed to deliver her immediately. My heart rate went through the roof, I felt sick.  I just wanted this to be over. “Can I use the gas and air?” I asked. I told myself that if I got high enough I could block this memory out of my head forever, I could get so high I wouldn’t know what was going on, I wanted to be knocked out. But it didn’t work. I still remember it.  I remember the sound of the snip, I remember my body being pulled down the hospital bed from the force of the forceps, I remember screaming louder than I’ve ever screamed before, I remember giving one last push to help her out and finally, there she was. My little girl, safely on my chest.
Thank fuck for that.
I breathed a sigh of relief and burst into tears. “You naughty little girl, you scared your mummy and daddy” I said to her as my husband cried with a mixture of fear and relief. And I knew it was over.
Giving birth was my marathon. I was one step away from the finish line and I had collapsed. It was all or nothing, and I felt as a though I had achieved nothing. I had failed.
This happened over a year ago and although physically I’m fine, mentally I’m struggling to forgive myself. As a mother I am supposed to keep my baby safe and that weekend my body failed me. A woman’s body is built to give birth, women give birth on roadsides, in public loos, on trains for God’s sake and I can’t even bloody manage it with the guidance of a midwife telling me when to push.
Someone else had to do my job for me and if I’m honest, it makes me feel as though I didn’t deserve to keep her, to take her home and to call myself her mother. It makes me feel like I cheated. I hadn’t crossed the finish line but I was still given the medal.
If it had been down to me alone I’m certain her and I would have died and I re-live those final couple of hours on a weekly basis in some kind of sick self-torture. I can’t listen to stories of people giving birth because it fills me with jealousy and resentment – why can they do it and I couldn’t? I constantly wish I could go back and try again, maybe if I had pushed a bit harder, maybe if I had pushed just one more time? I know in reality it was out of my control and I didn’t do anything wrong, but unfortunately I can’t seem to apply that logic to my emotions.
I haven’t written this post as some sort of self-indulgent pity-party. I’ve written it because even if one woman who went through a similar experience reads it and feels as though she’s not alone then it’s worth it.
In this society of social-media bragging, we’re constantly fed stories of women who gave birth in the bath, listening to their specially selected playlist whilst holding their husband’s hand. That’s lovely for them, it really is, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t hate every person who had such a straight forward delivery. No one posts about the negative experiences because we’re too busy trying to block it out, too busy hating ourselves for what happened, and too busy being jealous. It’s okay if you struggled, and it’s okay that you didn’t sneeze your baby out in a field full of daisies as the sun rises, because that’s just life. At the end of the day we all got the same present – a newborn baby and we are all about to start the same chaotic, stressful, joyful and tough journey of being a mum.

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.