The end of a journey

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Over the last couple of weeks, my husband and I had agreed that we would  start to wean our daughter off of breastfeeding and on to formula. It came with a real mix of feelings for me. Sadness in someways as I have enjoyed the closeness and knowledge that I was her main provider, but on the other side there was a huge feeling of relief. It was so hard to actually make a decision, because society has so many feelings about what you should or shouldn’t do.

For us there was the added complexity of her milk allergy, exacerbated by her starting to react to her dairy free formula. So another GP appointment, and another formula, and we could start the process again. But for 5 days I was doing every feed, and what I realised very quickly was that I was exhausted and struggling. I missed being able to do bedtime with our son, because I was having to feed our daughter, rather than my husband giving her a bottle. I was struggling in the morning, as a time where I had normally caught up on sleep, while my husband did the first feed and took both children disappeared.

And then on top I had the mum guilt. I felt guilty cos I was resenting having to feed her all the time. I felt guilty because I couldn’t do things with my son because I was feeding, and when I wasn’t feeding I was too tired to do much. I felt guilty as a wife, because I was so worn out by it all. It was a huge battle I was having internally.

Making the decision to swap to solely formula feeding, was, in the end, and easy one. I knew I couldn’t keep going feeling so tired out by it all. I needed to be able to share the load. I need to be able to say yes to an invite from a friend if I want to go out. I need to find time and space to be me, Rachel, rather than spend my whole time being “mum” or “mummy”.

I have to say, I couldn’t have done the feeding journey I have been on without the never ending support of my online mummy friends. The two dozen or so women who have supported me through the middle of the night endless feeds courtesy of WhatsApp. The ladies on our facebook group that have encouraged me when I was having the bad days. And today, when I shared that I was at the end of the journey, they just loved and supported me some more.

For me, to reach 22 weeks of breastfeeding, is a milestone I never thought I would achieve. In the early days I was under so much pressure from medical professionals to switch to solely formula feeding, and then since then there has been pressure from some friends and family to stop breastfeeding as they think it was invading in to life too much and not what they saw as “normal” as it wasn’t what they had done, to pressure from people to go to solely breastfeeding as “breast is best”. I’ve always known that I was going to have to increase bottle feeds as I couldn’t express the milk needed to do a day or a night without me there, and with returning to work, and settling in with the childminder, it was something I was anticipating.

For me, fed has always been the best option. My eldest was bottle fed from 10 days old. My second was given his first feed by cup, he had 12 hours of tube feeding, 8 weeks of breastfeeding, and then switched to formula. So all very different journeys. Ending the breastfeeding journey now is what is right and best for me, my daughter, my sons and my husband. Because, more than anything else it is what is right for my mental health right not. My journey is not going to be right for everyone, and I know people will have their opinions, but I am going to try not to care. I know my family are going to be happier and that is my priority.

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The fear of the scales

This contraption has been the cause of some of my biggest problems since giving birth. It has caused me panic attacks, it has caused tears, it makes a fear bubble up inside me every time I have to get her weighed.

I know that the fear stems from the first few weeks of her life, when every time she hadn’t gained weight they would be sending us back to hospital. But it has left a deep rooted fear that I will be judged and comments will be made if at any point she drops off her weight curve. Things like get bringing up more milk than normal after feeds because she’s full of mucous from a cold or she’s been gumming lots and creating acidic saliva make me worry. I dread the times when we have to put her on the scales.

As I’ve said before, my health visitor is amazingly supportive, and she’ll come to the house to do the weighing, rather than getting me to go to tbe clinic, where I’ve had meltdowns because I’m panicking. But I still have to get her and her brother weighed every time we see the dietician.

There is no easy fix at the moment, and like all my other anxieties it’s made worse by tbe post natal depression, but it doesn’t take the fear away. Like everything else, it’s another fear I have to overcome, and each of them is a baby step.

Zzzzzzzzz…. what is sleep?

This image makes me smile, as it’s one of the big tips you get given when pregnant, ‘Sleep when the baby sleeps’. Ok, so that might work when you only have 1 baby, and that is still banking on the baby having good naps in the day, and you being at home and vaguely in a head space for sleep. But this doesn’t work when you have a toddler.

Yes my toddler still naps, but invariably not at the same time as the baby. It is also currently the only space where I can eat my lunch in peace, without my food being stolen. It’s also the hour or so in the day where I’m able to watch adult TV! And by that I mean indulging in my trashy tv love of old soap reruns! There really is a limit to how many times I can watch Paw Patrol in a day!

So daytime sleeping with 2 is a rarity! But recently for us, night time sleeping has also been a bit of a rarity. The baby had been waking every 2 hours for feeds, which when a feed can take 20 mins meant I was only getting sleep in 90 minute blocks. But then the toddler decided to embrace the sleep regression that can come at 2! He decided that for about 2 months, the day started between 4 and 5am! He was also waking at least once in the night. And generally it had to involve mummy cuddles no matter how many times daddy would go.

I am very blessed to have a husband that will get up early with the toddler, and take the baby if she’s not feeding, so I can get a couple of extra hours sleep. (We’ve also learnt the hard way that for me this can be quite essential, as I stuffer from migraines, and not getting enough sleep is a huge trigger.)

You’ll notice that I’ve been writing this in the past tense, and that’s because we’re starting to see a change…. the toddler has gone back to sleeping through the night and also not waking till 6am! And in the last week, the baby has done a huge shift and is only waking once! I’m not counting my chickens, and I know it can all change again at the drop of a hat, but for now I’m making the most of a bit more sleep.

Sorry to friends who are about to start this journey with a second, if I’ve shattered any dreams! And I’d love to me the person who first coined the phrase “Sleeping like a baby”! I would love to meet the baby they were referring to!

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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Would like it to be straight forward, and would like some positive affirmation

Some days I feel like I just want to go back to bed and start the day or the week over again. I really dread taking Niamh to any of her routine check appointments at the moment. I dread  lifting her on to the scales to see if she has gained weight, if she’s gained enough weight, if she’s still sitting on the same growth curve.

For those not in the know, babies weight is marked on a centile range chart, with tracking lines starting from 0.4th and going up to the 99th centile. Niamh sits under the bottom line for her weight. Every time we see a new professional – be it the “duty” health visitor  at the weekly weigh-in clinic, or the GP for her routine 6 week check, a doctor in hospital – they all comment on the fact she isn’t on the chart. They don’t comment on the fact she’s actually gaining weight steadily, and at the rate they would expect for all other babies, they just comment on the fact she is small. As a parent, I’ve found this exhausting and draining. I feel like i’m being judged as a parent – both in what my body can do naturally, and my choices to breastfeed over formula feed.

I also feel more anxious about each appointment. I know, due to having issues with self confidence and anxiety, that I take things more personally than others. I know that I need more affirmation at times that I’m doing it ok. I will hold my hands up and say I know this isn’t easy on those around me, and I also don’t say that  I need it or when I need it. It’s not straight forward, and it’s affected by my emotions, my tiredness levels, my stress levels, etc etc etc. But I also think that the professionals need to sometimes look at how they talk to parents and pass comments on things and realise that hearing something like – your daughter is tiny, and we need to monitor her weight – repetitively isn’t great  at building them up as a parent. For them to give positive affirmation to a parent seems to be too costly.

In amongst it all I am very grateful for a supportive community midwife and a supportive health visitor, who have championed me and fought my corner against others. My health visitor has even held me when I cried tears of relief because Niamh gained a reasonable amount of weight for the first time ever.

I am ever grateful for the patience of my husband and eldest son, who cope with this so well at times. I know i’m unpredictable and things like being anxious over appointments make some days trickier than others. I also know I am great at not telling people around me what’s going on inside. Sometimes I don’t even know what is making me feel worse. But I am learning too.

 

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.