The 'old' me....
I’ve seen a lot of posts around this week about maternal mental health, which have been a breath of fresh air to read. I think, although we have come a long way in being able to open up about our mental health, mums in particular still find it difficult to actually admit – you know what, I’m struggling here. For me, the first year of Rafe's life, although an absolute joy, at times was a real struggle, not just because of my PTSD from the birth (will talk more about that later), but I had moments of feeling real loss. And that’s the only way I can describe it. I didn’t lose anyone – but I felt like I lost myself. Yes, the sleepless nights are exhausting and nothing can prepare you for the 2am tears - and nothing can quite prepare you for the overwhelming love you will feel for your baby – or the pure joy their first smile brings. But nothing prepared me for the feeling that I didn’t quite know who I was anymore. This is a photo of a friend and I having the time of our lives at a friend’s wedding pre-baby. Obviously had a few wines and went slightly wild. And looking at that photo, I feel like I don’t recognise myself. Not just because I am a few stone lighter and don’t have a beard....I remember the doctor saying to me at the 6-week check-up, that once the flowers and cards dry up, people will forget about you, they will get on with their lives – but you can’t. Your life has changed forever. People also talked about ‘mourning their old lives' and that stuck with me. I wasn't exactly a party animal every weekend, but I loved to let my hair down, dance like an absolute idiot and drink tequila – and it wasn’t like I wanted to be strolling in at 2am – but in those early months (and even now), I just felt like that fun-loving person had gone. And that person, although much more to her than someone who loves tequila, had been lost for good. Sounds dramatic and I know that women struggle with so much more – I do too – but before Rafe I knew about PND, baby blues, that it was going to be hard. (Though nothing quite prepares you for it.) But nobody told me that I would look in the mirror some days, see my reflection and not know who was staring back at me. That I would be torn between ‘pre-baby me and post-baby’ me and that I felt like those two could never mix. That I was mum and I thought that meant closing part of me off - that I was 'boring' now. Even now I still say things like “that was the old me” or my husband will call me sexy (not that I have ever woke up and thought, wow I am sexy!) and I just cringe as that person to me, I feel sometimes, can’t exist and be a mum. I know realistically at the antenatal class there isn’t going to be a topic on mourning your old life with tequila – but I do think it's important to talk about these feelings, along with all the other feelings that seem to hit you like a hurricane when you become a new mum. Just to know that it’s ok to feel lost and miss your old life – it doesn’t mean you love your baby any less, or don’t feel so lucky to be a mum. I just don’t think you can underestimate how it can knock you sideways to look in the mirror – and not be sure who is staring back. Second baby is weeks away and I know that I’m not exactly going to be partying till 2am for a while – nor do I want to right now! And don’t get me wrong – I feel like I was born to be a mum and love my little family more than I can put into words. But what I really want to try and remember this time round is that I don’t need to put up my dancing shoes for good, pack the tequila away (though hangovers and children do not mix), that there will be a time where I will be getting a piggy back off my friend while going wild. Becoming a mum – doesn’t mean I am lost, or boring, or the ‘old me’ has gone for good, just means I have gained so much more to go with who I was 'before'. And I bet I could still drink you under the table! Ok, maybe not but I’d try…
So yes, with it being maternal mental health week, as I said, it has been a breath of fresh air to read other women’s posts and brought some feelings to the surface. People who read my blog every week, will know that I was diagnosed with PTSD after Rafe’s birth – and although thanks to CBT, I feel almost like a different person from the person I was when I was in the mist of flashbacks and anxiety. Though they never really will leave – the feelings are nowhere near as intense. I will always have my moments I think. And coming up to baby number 2’s arrival, birth is obviously on my mind. I have been practicing hypnobirthing and have my second session with a registered hypnobirthing teacher, who is also a midwife today. I feel quite calm and don’t feel much anxiety at the moment – but deep down, there is a part of me that worries that once labour starts – panic mode will set in and I will instantly think back to some of the traumatic moments of Rafe’s birth. But that’s why I’m doing hypnobirthing, so trying to be as positive as I can. Though I have had moments where I have wobbled and felt panicky and had flashbacks, in particular when I was reading my hypnobirthing book and it was talking about induction. A wave of panic came over me, I dread being induced and at the time, my sister-in-law was about to be induced and I felt an overwhelming fear and panic for her and I just couldn’t get a grip on my emotions for quite a few days. Though didn't want to say anything as knew a lot of it was irrational. I did manage to rationalise my fears and of course, my SIL was fine and has had a beautiful baby boy. I was just caught off guard to have felt such intense emotions about someone else's birth. I haven’t mentioned this before in my blog but I can also get incredibly overwhelmed when I read or hear of any stories to do with children being hurt or are suffering. Of course I have always been affected by this before I had Rafe and it makes sense that now I’m a mum and I know how much I love my boy and that maternal instinct that is so strong, those feelings of 'how can anyone hurt their own child?' hits home so much more. But I have to really avoid these stories now as much as I can. Turn the TV off. Not read the news. Even some moments in films I need to avoid. I spoke to other mums who had experienced birth trauma and they said they ar the same and feel incredible emotions when they see or hear of anything to do with the pain or suffering of a child. It can for me, be all-consuming. Like the other day I read a headline I wish I hadn’t seen and I broke down. Uncontrollable crying, genuine heartache for this child. Like he was my own. And that story haunted my thoughts for days. I don’t know whether I would always feel those emotions so strong because I am now a mum – or are they so intense as connected to the birth trauma and PTSD. I know those feelings won’t ever go away but I hope they will become less intense as they can be hard to get a hold of. Does anyone else feel these types of emotions too?
I will let you know how my next session of hypnobirthing goes and try as much as I can, to open up about anything to do with maternal mental health – as I just would hate for anyone else to be struggling – and feel like they are alone.
So Rafe! A little update before I go...He's a tinker! He is walking so well now – though still inwardly on his feet – is there any way of helping with this? Or will he just hopefully naturally, start walking flatter when he gets more confident? This week, he is still full of cold and has a cough – so sleep has been horrendous. He takes a long time to settle and through the night, up at least an hour trying to settle him as he is coughing so much. Along with my nasal congestion and general pregnancy insomnia I am pretty wrecked. And so emotional and hormonal. But just got to keep on swimming!
Well that's me for the week. As always, thank you for listening. And remember, you're not alone. You're doing an amazing job - us mums are superheroes.
Till next time,
Royal Marine Wife. Mum to Rafe.