Mental Health Awareness Week – Mental Health in the Modern Word: Story of a baby mama

It is day four of Mental Health Awareness Week! We have heard the stories of Angharad, Scott, a baby boomer and we are now going to talk to a baby mama. 

I am a little (read a lot) obsessed with Giovanna Fletcher, she is someone in the public eye who wears many hats, blogger, vlogger, author, but first and foremost she is a mother. She is incredibly real about motherhood, she rejoices in how motherhood has changed the way she thinks and acts and how it has transformed her body into this special life giving shape, and she is a voice in the dark for those who worry that they are doing things wrong or at least not quite right through her book and podcast Happy Mum, Happy Baby. She got me to thinking, how will motherhood effect me, a person who has struggled with anxiety? How does it effect other people as they transition from stand alone humans, responsible only for themselves to being life giving, nurturers of little humans, future generations. 

I reached out to a Mum I know, she has always been a happy, driven woman, full of wicked humour, I had never even considered that she might struggle with anxiety when I first knew her. Back then I hardly ‘knew’ myself, by which I mean when I knew her I had little understanding of what I myself was struggling with, let alone having the instinct to see suffering of that kind in others. I remember a few years ago I re-met with this friend, she was as wonderful as I remembered and we were cackling our heads off before the first minute was up. There was nothing that she said or did that was an obvious admission of anxiety, but in telling stories about things she had done and thoughts she had considered, in mocking her past self’s actions in a way I felt familiar with, I understood on a subliminal level that we were kindred spirits for more than a shared sense of humour and set of interests and beliefs. I am so pleased that she has allowed me to tell her story of maternal anxiety, I know that I am only a few years away from feeling ready (as I will ever be) to start a family and I know that’s with an unmentioned and very likely unrealistic expectation that having children will be ‘simple’, I feel a little bit terrified and her story makes it clear to me that fear is such a normal part of life. 

Once again, this interview is very readable without the guiding questions and so I have left them out. 

Looking back I’ve always had anxiety all through my life but I was able to mask it with humour and sarcasm. In the lead up to motherhood, we had some unfortunate circumstances and difficult events lead to a different type of anxiety and that led to being very, and uncharacteristically, reserved and quiet whenever anyone hounded me with the post marriage mantra ‘you not having kids yet’ or ‘is there a baby on the way’. I wanted nothing more than to share the ultimate lovely news that, ‘we were expecting,’ but we had quite the opposite at first and so every time these questions were asked it was a kind of torture and felt, unbeknown to most, like the cruelest of jabs. 

Fast forward to a successful and healthy pregnancy with a few anxiety issues about the mad and awful events surrounding the world we live in and bringing a child into it — a new type came once more. We had a rough start with our baby and we were thrown very quickly Into the depths of severe sleep deprivation. As all new parents will understand we loved our child dearly, but we were cripplingly exhausted. We suffered with sleep paralysis, hallucinations and night terrors. 

We new the baby who didn’t sleep wasn’t the only factor towards our own lack of sleep. When he did finally nod off, we would check every minute detail, make sure all the things we were doing were following the ever changing guidelines and rules of safe cot sleep and safe car seat positions, safe everything — those don’t even scratch the surface of what we were worried about.

Our new baby not only didn’t sleep but suffered with two fairly severe newborn conditions. Anyone who knows the words colic and reflux may shudder and those who don’t, just enjoy being unaware! Those weeks and months of uncontrollable and inconsolable crying ruined my newborn experience with my baby. I didn’t have a car at first and I thought oh well that’s fine I’ll just walk and wrap up warm and push the pram and catch the bus. Well, the baby that didn’t sleep also hated the pram. We had yet another obstacle. Other friends tried to give tips and said he’d be fine after a little cry, but he wasn’t. I was left being almost stuck at home, not brave or strong enough to leave and when I did summon up the energy and nerve he would cry and people would comment ‘ohh he needs a feed’ ‘is someone sleepy,’  I was a nervous wreck and so annoyed that I couldn’t do anything as basic as getting on a bus with a (wailing) pram. 

I would mask annoyance and upset with my humour, but I was so tired and snappy I just turned into someone I didn’t recognise. I looked in the mirror one day and I even thought my eyes looked a different colour. I wasn’t me. 

At this stage Im sure most people would say PND and I got looked after numerous times by health visitors, but I knew deep down that I was just exhausted and wasn’t able to control my anxieties because Of this. The main anxiety I was feeling was to do with what I thought other people thought when my child wouldn’t stop crying, ‘why wasn’t I doing anything,’ clearly I’m doing a crap job, ‘she’s a shit Mum.’ So I stayed indoors a lot at first.

When I did start to venture out, no one else seemed to go through what I did. Other babies were sleeping through the night, happy to be held, enjoyed baby massage, loved the car and pram and I was still a shell and withdrawn, convinced other mums thought I was doing it wrong or moaning too much.

I used social media to be honest and make light of situations, which did help to some extent. It was a release to say, ’hey this is hard and that’s OK,’ if anything to help someone else back who may have also be suffering silently maybe, but also to gain advice and help as you can never ask too many people when you are desperate. Maybe a few years ago saying things so openly on social media would have been a big no-no for me, but my anxiety must have shifted to a different place and I was able to be more vocal. I messaged regularly into a local mums page and the support there was great — even if sometimes people didn’t have much help or advice they would give words of encouragement.

Anxiety has calmed down and I am finally getting more sleep! Nearly two years later!

I love holistic methods and I’ll try anything once! I’ve had acupuncture, regular massages, I use an essential oil diffuser by my bed, all the Lush goodies that have lavender in, practice self care. But ultimately for me, sleep has contributed a lot to my mental health and having that stripped from me almost broke me, even whilst ensconced within that new born happy place. 

If I could go back to my worst place of mental health I would accept more help and possibly not give in to every whimper and cry with breast feeding — something else that was a huge anxiety trigger — ‘what if’ baby was hungry and he’d die of thirst or hunger. 

I’m a lot more care free since becoming a Mum, I had semi hairy legs the other day whilst out and about on the hottest day of the year, I wore a dress and couldn’t give a shit, but even as the calmer me I knew we had about a ten minute window to get back into the car and get baby  to sleep (baby kinda’ likes the car now)  before a huge meltdown would ensue and I was rushing and dodging everyone, ignoring the lovely surroundings and chit chat with family members. It’s shifted.

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