A mouth smile and not a heart smile

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I’ve been honest before about my struggles with depression and post natal depression. I wasn’t truly surprised by being hit with it again this time around, but I have been surprised by how hard it has hit me, and how it has affected me in different ways.

This time it really hit me hard. I had days where all I could do was cry. A black cloud had come down, and it wasn’t shifting. I started retreating more and more into myself. Not communicating with people and wanting to be in my own safe bubble. I also felt my anxiety levels shoot up and I became  worried about so much. From little things like what my children were wearing and what people would think, to bigger things like what would happen if…. and imagine extreme situations. And then on top of it all my need to control and have things in an order I can cope with have spiraled.

This time I have taken the step of medication. Small tablets that have the power to stop the tears falling daily. But they have also had the power to stop other emotions too.

I have been really struggling to connect with the joy that I should be feeling with my children. I have struggled to rejoice in all the positives. It has been heartbreaking when I have been smiling at my daughter, as it helps her learn to smile, but they have been mouth smiles, not heart smiles. Celebrating milestones has never been a struggle before, but this time it is, and it hurts.

At the same time I am struggling to connect with my toddler, and struggling to find time for my teenager. They all need me. They all have their own needs as children, and as a parent, my role is to meet those needs. But at the moment I know there are days when I can’t. My husband is amazing, and he does so much, but I also know I am not meeting his needs at times either. My parenting guilt has never been greater than it is at the moment. I constantly feel like I am failing them.

But I have learnt that I also need to prioritise. I have learnt that while for some, going out daily helps, for me, being busy is exhausting. I need to find the balance. I need to know I have people I can see when I am able, but that they also know if I don’t see them, or respond immediately, then it is nothing personal. It is just me trying to prioritise me and my family. I have discovered an amazing online support network. Other mums who gave birth around the same time, that I can connect with as and when I am able. But they are there even at 2am! I also have friends I can see when I am able, but who also understand if I have to say ‘Not today’.

I have been lucky. My GP and health visitor have been supportive, and are helping me with next steps and moving forward with a long term solution, but it’s not going to be a quick and easy fix. This cloud can thin and clear a bit, but it may never completely go away. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but I don’t have a choice.

What I have discovered is that my job helps. It makes a difference. In the last few weeks I have started doing some of my keep in touch days, and they have helped me refocus and find a bit of who I am again. I also know that I need to make sure that I can get the balance right in September when I go back to work fully.

Right now I need to focus on me. And on being the best mum I can be to my 3 children. Meeting all their needs at all their different stages in life was never going to be easy, but I can only do the best I can. I carry mum guilt round on a daily basis, and wonder if all I can do is enough, but I can only be who I can be.

I don’t ever write my blog for sympathy, but I write it to show others that they are not alone, and to help me process where I am at. I also know it is how some people find out what is going on for me, and I am sorry that for some this is how they find out, but at the moment I can’t always talk it through. I have a small number of people I am able to talk about this with, and if that is you, then thank you so much for listening and being there. Especially when it can be one sided. And if it’s not you, then I am sorry. Please don’t take it personally, it’s just how I am coping.

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Please don’t think you know the answers….or have a strop cos you don’t get a cuddle!

Parenting for anyone is a journey.  It has highs and lows. Every day is another point of learning, of frustration, of joy, of laughter, of tears. For me, the last few weeks have been more of the lows and the tears than many would expect. My parenting journey has been an emotional challenge, that I was hoping it wouldn’t be. In the last 8 weeks I have struggled as having my daughter has not been the perfect time that I had dreamed it would be.

I know that at times of upheaval and change I have an even greater desire to be in control and for things to happen in the way I had expected. I also know that when it doesn’t I struggle with myself, my feelings of disappointment, and my urge to have everything in control. I also get more anxious as i feel life spiraling out of my control. I end up hitting rock bottom. I can get very depressed, and I find each day a challenge.

At the moment, most days are a challenge. Getting myself and my children dressed in the mornings often feels like a great achievement. To get out of the house, is an even greater task, both in terms of emotional preparation and in terms of physically getting there.

But in all these challenges I can keep hold of my children – with my baby this is often currently a very physical thing. I need to hold her for reassurance, but also so I know that I am not missing her cues for need of provision fro me – be it food, communication, space to sleep. I know people think they are helping me by offering to hold her, to take away the “burden” of having to do it all, but at the moment, I need to. When I feel safe and secure I will ask for help. I will ask for someone I trust to hold her, but I won’t just pass her around for cuddles.

With my toddler, it’s being able to give the cuddles, make the dinner, provide the stimulation required, sit on the floor and do the jigsaws. I need to know I am still meeting his needs. I also need days where all we do is chill together watching movies. I need to know I’m getting things right.

With my teenager, I need to know that I can still be there for him. I need to know I can drive him to college occasionally.  I need to be able to check in and chat over the day. I also need to be able to sit back and let him be the near adult that he is. I need to enable him.

And in amongst it all I need to be a wife that can support her husband. I need to be able to do bits around the house so that we can still function.

I know people will say to stop, let go of the feeling of have to, share some of it. But the reality at the moment is that at the moment I can’t. I haven’t got there yet. So sometimes I need space and that is where I am at. I am getting support from the right people, and I know I’ll get there in the end. I’m not always getting it right for the world, but right now it’s right for me.

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No 3 arrives….and life is anything but easy

11 days ago we welcomed child number 3. Our beautiful daughter. After a difficult pregnancy, including 3 times a week hospital visits, nausea that got worse rather than better, weekly scans, gestational diabetes and insulin injections, we hoped that post birth we would be back in the normal swing of parenting.

Instead we have had 11 days that have been quite stressful, very emotional, and very exhausting. In fact without the support of some amazing friends I think we would have completely fallen apart. We have a little girl, who struggled to gain weight. At 5 days old she had lost 15% of her birth weight, which meant an automatic same day referral back to the hospital, and another 3 days staying on the maternity ward, having all aspects of feeding scrutinized. When we arrived, we were stressed as parents as we could see that our daughter was unwell. In fact she was at the start of a diabetic hypo. Her blood sugars had dropped very low and she was unable to respond properly to feed. We hadn’t even seen her eyes open properly.

I can honestly say I felt like a human cow! I was instructed to express milk between feeds for “top up” bottles, and to then also feed my daughter 3 hourly – I would even be woken overnight to make sure there was not  longer than a 3 hour gap between the start of each feed! Funnily enough by 2am, when I hadn’t actually slept because there was no time between feeding and expressing, I was emotional, exhausted and very frustrated.

I felt I was being treated like a first time mum that had no idea what they were doing. It also felt like my history, and the medical history of  my other children (both small and both late to gain weight in the first couple of weeks of their lives) was being ignored. I was physically pushed and pulled around to make sure my daughter had a perfect latch. I was emotionally expected to be a robot and just do as I was told. I was expected to only focus on the 1 child. Yes, my baby was my focus, but I was also very aware of my nearly 2 year old who had by then been away from me for the best part of 7 days out of 9 (including the days I was being induced.) It was hard work. I also had to watch my daughter have blood taken from her every 3 hours, plus more for other tests. All were necessary to make sure that there was nothing more serious wrong, but all were hard.

When we were allowed home, it was with a lot of negotiating about the community care we would receive, and me having to prove I could feed my daughter. I was left feeling like I was wrong for wanting to be with all of my children. I wasn’t asking to take our daughter away from medical care she needed. In fact, all they were going to do if we had stayed in was leave us in a private room, with me feeding and expressing, to reweigh our daughter another 48 hours later! I just wanted to be home.

Little did we know, that 48 hours later we would be back again. This time, I stopped hiding my emotions from the medical staff! It meant some of the conversations required tissues and physical support from my husband, but actually it meant the medical staff stopped and listened. I shared about why I wanted to be at home, and also about my medical history and how we had been working to help me avoid post natal depression this time around. Instead of readmission, to leave us in a room with me just feeding and topping up feeds with formula (not our first choice at all, but the compromise we’d had to come to for our daughter’s health), and with a toddler who would be even more upset that mummy had “disappeared” again, the staff agreed to let us do the same at home. Even the midwife agreed that there was no benefit to us staying in as all other test results came back clear. But ironically, we first had to prove we could give our daughter a bottle feed before  we could leave!

Our amazing friends had come over to help our teenager with the toddler, and had cooked us dinner. Coming home to freshly prepared food was amazing. When you are emotionally exhausted, you need to be looked after. When you know you have a history of depression and post natal

So  it has been tough. Our daughter is a total joy, and watching both boys bond with their sister is wonderful. But I can’t sit and say that the first few days have been a wonderfully new baby bubble. I have been up and down on an emotional journey, that was, at times, made harder by the hoops that the medical staff made us jump through to prove we were capable. Being a parent of a new baby isn’t easy at the best of times, but things can make it harder. Now at 11 days old it looks like we have turned a corner, celebrating a 110g weight gain today as a huge achievement.

A summer of firsts and lasts

The last 3 months has certainly been a busy season in our lives. It’s been a time of lots of firsts and lots of lasts!

As a parent it was my first time of feeling totally helpless during the long wait from exams to results day. There was nothing I could do to impact or change the results. I just had to wait.

I witnessed my son complete his last day at secondary school. It was a day of pride, when he was recognised for what he had done outside of lessons to help others through sport; a day of closing a door on a huge chapter of parenting my eldest as he moved on to his next journey. It was also the start of a process of letting go as a parent.

We then moved into a period of the toddler really changing in his development…. walking finally arrived, as did running, tripping, and a huge determination to do it for himself. New words are spilling out daily, which come with frustrations for us all. We hit one of those “leaps” which resulted in a lack of sleep. Oh and then we all had to deal with a heatwave!

Holidaying with a toddler and a teen was a new challenge. The teen missed lie ins, because the toddler didn’t do them, and noise travels freely in a tent. But they also spent special tunes together as brother’s – especially on the water slide in the pool and the rides as the local theme park! I loved watching them bond and enjoy the time together. It’s amazing to watch.

We then did the first of results day. I discovered that I was more emotional about the results than my son! But that actually we were both in a state of tension. We also did some good talking that day and week and I felt things shift to the next level, where he takes even more responsibility.

Whatever age your child, it’s hard to let go as they take the next steps. Letting go of my toddlers hands physically so that he can walk on his own, or metaphorically letting go on my teenagers hands as he walked into college on his own to enrol. The worrying doesn’t go. It just changes. With one I worry he’s going to fall or step off something not realising there is a drop, with the other I worry about bigger life choices.

It’s been a summer of change, but good change and essential change. This is a period of change for us all as a family, but the one thing I know is that none of us are doing any of it alone.

Allergy fun…..when all the best plans…

This weekend we had the total privilege of witnessing the marriage of one of my longest standing friends. It was an amazing weekend, but that kind of event for us always comes with a few stresses.

Our friends were amazing in their catering planning for the weekend, providing lots of food for me to eat with my allergies, and lots for my eldest son too. We had agreed in advance we would provide the food for the toddler, as we know it is hard to cater for all his allergies.

So with all the best laid plans, there also comes for me a level of anxiety as to the what-ifs that can happen. And we survived the first 24 hours without a hiccup. But with 21 other people around, who are aware to a point, there is always going to be a degree of risk. With a mobile toddler though, you at times need eyes in the back of your head!

We don’t know what, or when, our little guy picked up something he shouldn’t  have, but somehow he ate something he was severely allergic to. An unhappy, itchy baby was bad enough, but the sickness that followed was on another level. I was so grateful for the help of new, but wonderful friends, who jumped up to help so we could sort out a very unhappy little boy.  As ever what amazed me was once his system had rid itself of the allergen, and he was cleaned up, out little boy was back to his happy, chatty self! He tucked in to more, safe, food, and merrily chatted away to people.

We will never know what he ate, if it was a known allergen, or a new one, and that makes it tricky, but what I am learning is that we can only do so much. There will always be a time when there can be errors and slip ups. We try to minimise the risk as much as we can, but we also want our little boy to enjoy life and have as many similar experiences as other children as he can. But we will also spend time raising awareness with others about the dangers of allergies.

No, he currently doesn’t have an epi pen – as currently all his known allergies are non-IGE. But that doesn’t mean one day his allergies won’t become IGE and result in anaphylaxis. It also doesn’t mean that even a small bit is ok. Too many times we have heard people say, “well a small bit can’t hurt can it?” The answer is yes, a small bit can do a huge amount of damage to his gut. As an example, testing mackerel – just a teaspoon of it – resulted in 4 weeks of his tummy being unable to hold any food!

Things are not going to be easy for a potentially long while. I will permanently be grateful to our child minder, who provides him with a safe environment which he adores. To friends who help us have safe play experiences. People who will have him to stay and even provide him with food, which is not always the cheapest or most straight forward option.

Living with allergies and living with a child with allergies isn’t easy, but it is what it is. What I am learning on this journey, is that I need to stop letting people make me feel like it is an inconvenience,but it is ok to be honest and say it is a problem.

When you just want to make it all better

Some of the toughest days as a parent are the ones when you can’t take away the pain that is making your child hurt. Whatever age, your gut instinct is to protect them and to stop pain.

For nearly 3 weeks we’ve had to deal with the aftermath of the worst allergic reaction with our toddler since they realised he couldn’t have cow’s milk. The biggest problem this time has been that it totally unbalanced his gut. So we’ve had a very unhappy little boy. All because of a few mouthfuls of a new food item – mackerel!!

It has been so hard. You can’t explain easily to a 16 month old that they are going to feel sore. You can only hold them, and at times feel pretty useless that you can do no more than provide cuddles. Encouraging him to eat, when he knows food is linked to some of the pain he’s going through, is tough. But knowing that he needs to eat to have the energy to get better makes it harder. You do all the right things – staple foods, probiotics, water, cuddles, sleep – but it doesn’t make it instantly better.

And then you have the debate and juggle, do we leave him and go to work as normal, or do we stay at home. I know we are blessed with a fabulous childminder who provides him with the most loving environment, and my in-laws who adore him too. But it doesn’t make the choice easier or stop you, as a parent, worrying when he’s not with you.

For me it is one of the juggles I will always struggle with. In fact I struggle with it with both of my boys.  Do I send the older one to school or not? It’s always a balancing act. I don’t think it gets easier in some ways as it is different decisions with different impacts, but you still always want to get it right and to keep you child free from harm.

So there will be days when I can’t take the pain away, but as I mum I will always provide the cuddles.

Finding time for me

I’ve just spent a wonderful week with my husband and toddler in Dorset, but I’ve come home exhausted! I have felt like I need a other break to recover from this holiday, which seems so ungrateful. I realised 15 minutes after walking back through our front door what had gone wrong…. in 7 days away I hadn’t had 15 minutes totally to myself.

I have spent the week making sure my husband and son were happy. I planned in spending time with dear friends, who we don’t get to see very often, and I wouldn’t take back a second of that time. The week was a good break, and I don’t want to come across as ungrateful. But it has made me reflect on where I find time for me and how I find time to recharge my batteries. It has also made me realise I need to find a way to tell those closest to me that I need time and space to myself without them feeling rejected or unloved. If I don’t then I become grumpy, short tempered, agitated, and then I want to retreat further and further in to myself.

At home, I work for a fabulous organisation, I spend 16+ hours a week working at home in my own space. Yes I have video calls etc with colleagues, but I also get head space while I am working. (I know that might sound like a contradiction, having my own head space while working, but I get time where I am not having to engage directly with others and although I am generating outputs (often lots of outputs!!) I am also no having to energise others. I can only liken this to a rechargable battery. When in a torch, for example, when it is turned on it is being drained of power. When it is off, it is static-not draining but not recharging. When the battery is placed back on the charger it is gaining power again so that it can make the torch shine brighter and for longer.

A few years ago realising I was an outgoing introvert was a big turning point, and since then I have kept trying to carve out space for me. Be it half an hour in bed on my own each evening with a book, or making the most of the nap times in the day since having a baby. Taking that time for me has become crucial. I had forgotten how when on holiday routine changes, and there are others with expectations. I also had expectations, and we’d never discussed them.

I know before we go away for much longer in the summer we need to have the conversations about how each of our needs are met. I know I am more complicated at times to read, but since having a baby and now a toddler, I know I need to carve out that space for me even more than ever. Parenting is still very much a journey, possibly even more so the second time round! But this time I think I am learning more and more about myself!