“Slow down, slow down”, said the midwife in a calm but firm manner. “How?!”, I frantically screamed back in my head. And then, there she was. Our tiny little daughter came flying into the world, with one almighty splash, into the birthing pool.
Mr E and I are now very proud parents to a beautiful, sassy, loving, little one year old. It’s been the best and most challenging year of my life. Here are my reflections, one year into parenthood, on what it is like to live with mental health struggles and a baby. Not all of this has been easy to write but if it means just one other parent knows they are not alone in finding things difficult then it was worth it.
For me, during labour my body took over. I don’t know if it was the weekly NCT Yoga sessions, the regular recital of positive birth affirmations (yes, I really did have these stuck to all the mirrors in my home despite my doubts at first) or just Mother Nature doing her thang, but I was one of the lucky ones. Labour was the easiest bit of the pregnancy through to new born baby stage for me. After a short delay while Miss EEE was checked over (on account of her rather too quick arrival into the pool) I was handed my little girl and all was right with the world. Bliss.
Fast forward twelve hours and I was a tearful, anxiety filled mess. The fear had taken hold and I was terrified to close my eyes, to give into the exhaustion hounding me, convinced Miss EEE would die in the night. Of course, I had my husband, my rock, right by my side but that wasn’t enough to calm my Mama mind this time. She was mine and like a lioness with her cub I felt it was my sole duty to protect her. I understand now that this is an inbuilt hormonal response that had just gone a little into overdrive for me, but at the time you could not have convinced me that there was ANYONE else was up to the job of taking proper care of her. Naturally, the hormones subsided, but I was left with an irrational anxiety that my daughter would die that stayed with me, at the front of every waking thought, for many weeks. This isn’t easy to admit but I think it’s an important part of my ‘one year on story’.
So where did I go from there?
The anxiety was nothing new. I have struggled with Anxiety and Low Mood for many years. I’ve had access to plenty of mental health professionals in the past, so luckily I do have many tools to draw on to help me manage my mood although becoming a parent did bring a new set of mental health challenges. I want to share some of these and how I tackled them in the hope it might help another mentally illuminated parent out there.
Fearing the Death of My Child
Typing that header has sort of taken me aback a little. I don’t think I’ve ever put it out there quite so bluntly to anyone other than my therapist! But the whole point of Mamas Mind Menu is not to sugar coat things. I feel ashamed almost to put it in black and white, which I realise, logically, I totally shouldn’t. I didn’t choose to think that way so there’s no need to feel ashamed. I’m a work in progress when it comes to managing the triple headed monster of shame, embarrassment and guilt 👿👿👿. I’ll keep you posted on how I learn to tackle these!!!
Anyway…. back to the point. My main mental health challenge, since becoming a Mother, has been around managing the belief that Miss EEE will die. I know this sounds dramatic but it was a core belief I had to actively manage. I still don’t really know where this comes from. I remember dreaming every single night for several months that Miss EEE was in our bed between us and I had suffocated her, waking in a sweaty mess! One night I even tried to lift Mr E out of the bed dreaming he was my baby girl. Not the kind of bedroom pickup either of us wanted! Another regular was to panic that my daughter had meningitis at the smallest rash. My thoughts were even as extreme as thinking that if she had a dirty nappy for too long she would get a UTI and this would become acute and she would die. It was all consuming and exhausting. I probably could have been a lot more open with family and friends about this than I was…. but there’s that three headed monster again 👿👿👿… looking at me with his judgey 6 eyes.
After several months of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, I have begun to realise that I have a core fear around losing loved ones. This is why I can intelligently recognise my beliefs are irrational, yet still struggle to break the emotional connection to the belief and change my behaviour. I’ve worked hard on testing my beliefs by running small “experiments” to push myself out of my comfort zone. For example, as simple as only taking the number of nappies out equal to the number of hours I plan to be out. Or rationalising how concerned I should be about her by trying to assess if she just had one small symptom or more than one. For example, not panicking about a slightly raised temperature unless she also seemed distressed.
I can now say that I spend more time playing with and enjoying my beautiful little girl. I have more time to notice how happy and well she is. More time to get to know her personality traits like how inquisitive she is and her little quirks like her love of books! You can get past this huge fear if you are experiencing it too. Reach out to your local IAPT service, a Health Visitor or your GP if you feel you need help to overcome it. If the first person you speak to doesn’t get it, try a different avenue. It’s so worth the effort to be able to kick back with your baba and smell the roses every once in a while!
Sleep is one of the basics in my self care routine. News flash **Sleep and newborns don’t mix**. Cards on the table time, Miss EEE has been a little diamond when it comes to sleep in comparison to some other babies we’ve known. She started to sleep through from 6 months (more or less) but before this it was incredibly draining and I do still find it so difficult when she wakes in the night now.
For the first 6 months (or thereabouts) Miss EEE was exclusively breastfed and I never did quite get into my groove with expressing. Between that and her being a bottle refuser, this meant I was on the night and day shift for feeding for quite some time. The hormones kept me going at first but it did get to me after a while. I became very emotional and struggled to control the tears. Oh and the RAGE I would feel at the tiniest thing!!! One thing that really helped in the early days was Mr E taking the early morning shift of cuddles after she’s had her 4am feed and refused to sleep anywhere but on a warm chest. It can be easy to push others away but asking your partner to lighten the load and let you get an extra forty winks can be worth its weight in gold coated mental health tokens! If you aren’t lucky enough to have someone who can do this for you, then do at least make sure you rest your own body and mind somewhere peaceful and comfy if baby has you trapped (but of course always follow advised safe sleeping practices when you have your baby in bed).
Once Miss EEE was sleeping through I found myself left with insomnia. How ironic?! I would wake in the morning with pounding headaches. It turned out after a dentist visit that I had started grinding my teeth. The most unexpected discovery! Apparently it is common in new Mums due to stress and anxiety. Who knew?! So, the first step to solving my problems was the introduction of this sexy little number into my bedroom routine…
Yes, it’s a tooth guard. Is it sexy? No. Do I care? Quite frankly, no. The well rested and mentally well, tooth guard wearing me is far, far more sexier than the emotionally unbalanced and physically exhausted me on any day of the week.
Other techniques I have found helpful to manage insomnia are to use the Worry time App which is designed to interrupt repetitive thinking, by setting aside your worries until later. This is a huge cause of my insomnia so this app really helps. I also find listening to hypnobirthing music in bed really helps. I have well and truly been suckered into the hippy hypnobirthing merch! I have a whole load of other tricks up my sleeve when insomnia strikes and will try and post on these soon.
My biggest piece of advice is to not sweat it if you can’t sleep/ baby won’t let you sleep at night. The more you panic the harder it is to get any form of rest. Accept it and try to at least let your body recover from the stresses of the day. You can and should always take every opportunity to cat nap during the day while your little darling catches up on their Zzzs – in fact I think it’s your God given right as a Mum to nap, isn’t it?!
Struggling to Balance & Accept Imperfections
This last one isn’t strictly new for me, but finding balance in my life and accepting my imperfections has taken on a different dimension since becoming a parent. I’ve long recognised these two things as drivers for my anxiety and now, pro-active management of these, has become ever more important as I learn to adjust my own expectations of what is and should be achievable. Everyday is a learning day at the moment!
The best story I can use to illustrate my struggles with this one is the tale of Miss EEE’s recent first birthday. We didn’t want a huge party with the world and his dog being invited but I did want the day to be special for her. I’d not long since returned to work and on top of this we had all been plagued by illness. I think nursery has its own special version of “freshers flu” that the little germ monsters like to bring home to test out their parents immune system. It’s like a natural selection process on your parenting abilities – can you handle Tonsillitis while balancing an 11 month old and a challenging working week? Well, I pretended I could but really I couldn’t.
The nearer her birthday got, the more I piled the pressure on myself. It had to be PERFECT! I decided she needed homemade fairy wings, a homemade 6 layered fondant covered cake, homemade Mexican Fairyland themed food (yes that was the theme for the day!), homemade fairy sensory bottles, a homemade fairyland sensory ring.
We all have such lovely memories of the day, Miss EEE had a ball and I don’t regret a thing, other than, I could have made a few more sensible decisions to introduce a bit of balance on my time and taken care of myself first. Perhaps 6 fairy sensory bottles weren’t strictly needed and just one would do. Miss EEE’s fairy wings probably didn’t need decorating ornately and I probably should have drawn the line at a three layered birthday cake. Maybe if I’d made these decisions I wouldn’t have been sharing a glass of red with Ziggy the Chameleon at 11pm the night before the big day!
Taking time for myself and learning to ask and accept help from others is the final parenting mental health challenge I have to overcome and I’m still trying. I love my daughter to the moon and back and don’t get me wrong, I have zero regrets, however, that doesn’t mean there aren’t times when I don’t pine after my lifestyle before becoming a parent. I miss having the freedom to go on a date with my Husband or laze in bed watching trash TV until midday. Making the time for you as an individual and you as a wife/ partner is so important. I was offered some advice from the CEO of my workplace recently which seems pretty sound to me – if you can accept that you can’t be perfect in either at home setting or in the workplace, all the time, then you will have cracked it. And on that note, that’s the reason I’m going to practice what I preach and end this imperfect post here!
One Final Thought
Happy birthday little fairy princess. It’s been a rollercoaster of a year and I couldn’t think of any two people I’d rather share the ride with than you and your Daddy! xxx