Below are case studies kindly shared by some of our services users. We hope this will bring hope and empathy to others, and to see that no one is alone. Thank you so much to all our service users shown for sharing your truly inspiring stories.
Trigger Warning – Traumatic Birth
Hello, my name is George and I am mummy to nearly two-year-old Reuben. After struggling to conceive for several years, in 2018 I found out I was expecting a baby – my husband and I were overjoyed and just over 9 months later we welcomed a beautiful baby boy into the world. Unfortunately, Reuben’s journey entering the world wasn’t so simple. I’m a very organised person and the birth plan was prepared at least a month before he was due, well you could’ve ripped that plan up as soon as I entered the labour ward. Being 10 days overdue I was induced and couldn’t have possibly foreseen what was yet to come. Every step of my labour and birthing experience was horrific, I ended up having an emergency c-section followed by several other medical issues. The vision I’d had in my head couldn’t have been further away from the truth and the reality of the situation which was never pre-empted resulted in a particularly stressful and challenging start to motherhood for me.
I struggled to connect with Reuben and the monumental life change, I loved him from the moment he was born but I couldn’t separate the birthing trauma and enjoy looking after this brand new baby who needed everything from me; love, support, comfort, food and all my strength – I drowned, very quickly and very deeply. Every time I thought about what had happened during birth (about 20 times a day) I had a panic attack and felt as though I was an outsider, a ghost, desperately trying to remember my old ‘self’ the ‘self’ who I was happy being and the ‘self’ who I was comfortable with. My old ‘self’ was gone, and I was there, feeling like I desperately wanted to leave. The darkest moments when Reuben had been crying non-stop, I was on my own with him and didn’t know how to make him stop, did make me feel like I wanted life to stop, full stop. I couldn’t at that stage tell anyone how bad it was due to the embarrassment and shame I felt – I’d failed in my eyes. My husband was supportive, but he had no idea I had postnatal depression and I was very good at hiding my feelings, inevitably this made the situation so much worse as I then felt isolated as well as depressed. I want other parents to understand (and I wish this was shared with me) these feelings are OK, these feelings are NORMAL – we don’t all start our journey into parenthood with total bliss, we don’t all have immediate unbreakable bonds with our children and fit straight into the new role seamlessly. It is the biggest mental and emotional change we are likely to go through in our lives, and as such it’s completely NORMAL to feel like you don’t know what to do, who you are or how to move forwards.
This is where my journey changed…I started to break the day up into 10 minute slots, rather than clock watching every second, until I knew my husband would walk through the door and I could run to the bathroom and lock myself away to briefly escape, every 10 minutes I’d have something else planned – it distracted me and it made me feel I was accomplishing something. It sounds like a lot of things to have to plan, to fill a day, but it’s really not. So, first thing in the morning, I’d allow myself 10 minutes with Reuben in the cot where he was safe (even if crying) and I would have a wash, brush my teeth, perhaps even find some clean clothes of my own, because of the 1,367 pieces of baby clothing that’d taken priority the day before and continue with the day…next 10 minutes I’d move on to something else like play time or sensory time or water fun…then I increased the time slots because some tasks took longer, so walking was more like an hour…you get the idea. It didn’t happen overnight, but it worked with time – I also recorded what made me feel good in a day, so I could re-visit this on a day where I was feeling particularly down. So, if I knew being outside with the baby in a carrier and walking for miles made me feel great (even for a small time) I was going to do that again. Also, having the baby in a carrier meant I had the freedom of doing ‘stuff’ for myself and freed me up mentally as well as physically. In retrospect, I really wish I’d been more open with how I was feeling – for those who recognise these types of feelings, please know you’re not alone and if you can, reach out to someone you trust be it a close friend, family member or Health Visitor. All these people are there to help and support you in any way they can. Please know having PND doesn’t make you in anyway a ‘bad’ parent, it makes you human.
It took around 18 months for me to feel fully myself again, but I truly believe with the right help this would’ve been much earlier. Lastly, another significant contributing factor to my recovery was…time, Reuben became more independent as time went on and I was able to make plans where I could be away from him for short periods of time and have real ‘me’ time. This could be as simple as a bath, but it made me feel well in myself. It was as though the scales were shifting and the more and more I used these tools, I added another piece back to the me puzzle. I am now fully recovered, I still have times where I want to hide away and am driven mad by the chaos of ‘mum life’ but I recognise the signs and if I need to take myself away or use the 10 minute rule to get out of that thought process, I do…and most importantly I speak out on how I’m feeling to those such as the support services at PANDAS Foundation.
Trigger Warning – Traumatic Birth
Hi, I’m Kim, a mum to two boys; Isaac who is 4 and Seth who is 2.
It wasn’t and easy pregnancy with Seth. My waters broke at 30 weeks, and I was in and out of hospital for scans, checks and regular overnight stays. I was on antibiotics for this time to prevent infection and the plan was to be induced at 37 weeks, but at 35 weeks Seth was born at home on the bathroom floor after a quick, painful, unplanned and very traumatic birth (I was on my own with my eldest son for most of it). Seth was black, floppy and not breathing, I was in so much shock and was so scared.
After what felt like a lifetime of rubbing his back he started to breathe. We then had to wait over an hour for the ambulance to arrive, there was nothing I could do but sit and wait, scared to move in case I haemorrhaged.
Seth spent some time in the NICU for severe jaundice . I felt so detached from him, like he wasn’t mine. I hid my feelings about all of this for a long time and still feel a lot of guilt and shame about his birth and the way I felt. I have been diagnosed with PTSD and PND and I am currently doing EMDR therapy which is very intense but seems to be working.
I’m going to be running the Virtual London Marathon for PANDAS and I’m really enjoying the training. It’s giving me something to focus on and helps to make me feel a bit better.
I really wanted to be pregnant.
At 32 and in a happy, going-steady partnership, career sorted, this was the DREAM. I had visions of me doing glowy downward dogs and drinking green juice.
When I weed on the stick, that very day I stopped smoking and came off my anti-depressants. I was okay until week 6 when the hormones and withdrawal from amitriptyline and nicotine suddenly slammed me into the most mind-bending depression I’d ever experienced. Nausea and sickness hit with a vengeance and I started to become very dissociated. Within a week I was in so much mental and physical distress that thoughts of suicide and abortion rushed through my brain like darts, pinning me to the bed.
I could feel every single cell dividing, every ligament stretching, the deep ache in my marrow as my body attempted to give what it didn’t have.
I was meant to be happy.
This was what I’d always wanted. At 12 weeks, I drove to an emergency clinic and begged for medication. I was hysterical and wanted to cut the baby out of me so that it would all stop. I was told it wasn’t safe to take medication. I couldn’t find anyone or anywhere talking about antental depression. Every smell made me feel violated . I couldn’t walk around outside without feeling like the world was assaulting my senses. I couldn’t watch my TV. Couldn’t be in my bedroom which before had been my sanctuary. I couldn’t exist.
My baby shower was a pantomime. Every single thing around me made me want to die. Even when I finally got medication for the sickness and depression, I still felt like I was in a hallucinogenic sphere of disgust. When we talk about maternal mental health, it’s usually the postnatal part that affects women. But for me, the day after I gave birth, I felt like me again. The having a baby bit was a major relief compared to my body being borrowed.
My son is nearly six and as we approach IVF for our second baby, I’m scared of it happening again. This time around I’ve spent nearly a year weaning off the cigarettes and the medication I was on and upping the one that I’m “allowed” to stay on during pregnancy in the hope that it’ll soften the blow.
And this time around I won’t be posting smiley bump pics unless that’s how I really feel. I’ll share it here and in my therapy and I’ll try to ask for the help I need.
We are so happy to share our latest interview with Joanna Bull. Jo is a solo mother by choice to her gorgeous daughter, Tallulah. In this interview, Jo discusses many issues surrounding parenthood, including her journey into motherhood via a sperm donor and IVF. Jo, we are so grateful for you sharing your journey with us!
1) Please tell us a bit about yourself and your journey into parenthood
I knew ever since I was little that I wanted to be a mum. It was a running joke as I would talk about it often. As a young adult I made a pact that if I was single at 33 I would investigate sperm donors, and I was true to my word! However, when I did hit 33 we were in the midst of the credit crisis and having been employed all my working life by big corporates, I suddenly found myself unemployed. I waited some time, finding work again and securing myself financially before beginning my journey into parenthood. I’d had some partners, but none had worked out. So aged 38 I took the bull by the horns and went for it. I began with IUI (a treatment that involves inserting the sperm directly into the womb) but that didn’t work out. I had always assumed I would be really fertile, maybe because of my strong maternal desire, but following some tests, I discovered this wasn’t the case and that I was in fact running out of time. This news absolutely floored me, and I fell into a depression. I managed to pick myself up enough to begin my journey into IVF. After months of drugs, harvesting, tests, waiting times to see if it’d been successful, a failed first round with fresh embryos, and a lot of stress and apprehension, I found out I’d had success with my frozen emryos (FET)! I chose to have a blood test to check for, amongst other things, the sex of the baby. So at 11 weeks I found out I was having a baby girl. I was delighted but apprehensive throughout my pregnancy, as I was considered fairly high risk (I had low iron, hypertension and gestational diabetes etc…it felt like you name it, I had it!) It made it tough, but despite this I loved pregnancy.
2) Tell us about how you went about choosing a sperm donor
The fabulous clinic I attended had a small number of sourced donors and were able to offer me the choice of 11 potential matches. I was keen to have a UK based donor. The clinic meet each and every one of the donors and can recommended to their patients on those meetings. The rules changed some years ago now, so sperm donors can no longer be anonymous. My daughter will have the option to contact her donor when she turns 18, should she wish to. I did not have to accept the clinic’s suggested match, but I trusted them and did, though for some time I took the piece of paper with all the potential donor’s description on it with me everywhere, reviewing them constantly. I even spent a train journey discussing the options with a man I met on the train home!
3) What’s your favourite thing about being a parent?
I absolutely love the closeness between Tallulah and I. We always have each other, and because it’s just the two of us, our bond is so special and unique. When it’s good it’s simply amazing. Having her in my life has also given me a new sense of perspective. I no longer worry about things such as work as much. I know now what is truly important and I really value that life perspective.
4) What aspect of parenting do you find the toughest?
Solo parenting can be really tough. There is no break and it is relentless. Sometimes you just want someone to talk to about the things that come up…good and bad, and not having that can be very hard. It’s hard not having someone there to share the highs and the lows and someone with that shared sense of responsibility. I also feel that weight of responsibility heavily. If, for example, I was to lose my job, there is no one there to share the financial burden with, and that feels hard. Solo parenting by choice can also feel isolating. I have friends, for example, who get rest bite every other weekend while the kids see their other parent. I don’t get any of that. It’s hard when others say things like “I might as well be a single parent” when their partner is away a lot, because they don’t have any idea what it’s like to be in my position but I have a fantastic community around me who supports, me, though.
5) Can you give us an insight to any aspect of perinatal mental health issue that you’ve been through, and how you handled it?
I’ve suffered with depression on and off since I was a young adult but have always managed it with therapy and medication. When the IUI failed at the beginning of my journey it hit me super hard, and it was hard to pick myself up, but I did. I found it hard and isolating being in such an individual position. Sometimes others would try to help and empathise by saying things like “I know how you feel, I’ve been trying to get pregnant for a few months”, but they didn’t really. I had been on my journey alone and had had to manage many different drugs and procedures and didn’t have a partner going through it with me, so it felt like a totally different experience to them, which was hard to handle at times.
Once Tallulah was born it was tough managing the breastfeeding and sleep deprivation solo. I found the points where she was 6 weeks and 8 months old particularly challenging. I had a maternity nurse to help me and also a sleep consultant later on, which helped me no end. there were times when I felt at breaking point due to lack of sleep, and the anger and rage I felt through sheer exhaustion were very tricky to navigate. Thankfully I’m through that period now.
Like so many, I found lockdown incredibly tough. I have a full-time job and I had to cope with that whilst looking after my daughter. The juggle and feelings of guilt associated with that were very tough. My workplace was supportive, but it was still incredibly hard. I know my triggers and it felt like I was on the brink of a depression, so I sought medication and therapy early, which definitely helped me. I always want to make sure I’m fully present for my daughter, so it was super important to take steps early to prevent and potential mental health issues problems. I’ve also had EMDR therapy which was fantastic.
6) Have you been able to access the support you need?
Thankfully I had and have a whole online community of mums who know exactly what I went through and am going through now. It’s an online “solo mums by choice” community, and we are lifelines for each other, and nothing beats that. I was also lucky enough to have counselling offered by the fertility clinic I attended, which was great.
7) Do you have any advice for people who may be about to embark on a similar journey to you?
What I will say is that I have absolutely no regrets about my journey. I’m so happy that I have a child who is so incredibly loved and wanted.
My biggest piece of advice is simply to ask for help. I see so many barriers and stigma around getting help and support and that is so detrimental. As a solo parent it’s more important than ever that you seek avenues for help and support. The people that offer practical help are amazing, and make sure you take them up on it. If you can afford to pay for it, then do it. I hate this philosophy that we’re all immediately supposed to be parenting experts. Sometimes we don’t know what is best and need some extra expert help and advice, and that is ok. That extra support and advice can be the difference between just getting through parenting and actually enjoying it.
Emily - The Mum Poem Press
We are really grateful to feature Emily Way-Evans as our latest case study. Emily is one of the featured poets in the anthology “Song of Love and Strength”, by The Mum Poem Press, who are generously donating the profits from this book to The PANDAS Foundation You can read about where to pre-order this book here:
“Finding a voice through poetry has been life changing for me in so many ways. It all started when I took part in a free writing class for new mothers called Mothership Writers which was advertised by the local maternal mental health charity Bluebell. I had been experiencing a relentless period of depression since the start of my second pregnancy, my son was two and half at the time, so life was passing me by in a blur. The course had seemed like a good opportunity to do something creative to help my mental health whilst also having some quality time with my new baby.
The break from every day life was a breath of fresh air, and although I still wasn’t quite in the head space for socialising, just being in a room full of mums listening and writing whilst their babies crawled or sucked felt so uplifting. Whenever someone built up the courage to read their words aloud the emotion in the room was palpable, everyone relating hard to every single piece. It basically felt like group therapy.
I wrote one or two poems in the class but mainly I just scribbled out some thoughts based on the exercises given, and the calming nature of this was incredibly affective. It took me a little while to get into the habit of writing regularly at home, especially when time is limited and the only time you do have is spent sleeping or staring at the tv drooling because all you want is to switch off and not be clawed at for a while.. But when I did manage to put pen to paper or finger to note app I would surprise myself by confessing to feelings I hadn’t even know were there, and finding words I had previously been unable to express to anyone out loud, which now flowed out of me like bleeding ink onto the page. And slowly I began to process those complex and unidentifiable emotions which come with antenatal or postnatal depression, not to mention the additional haunting guilt – feeling like less of a mother, wife, person, or like you should be happier or more excited when all you feel is the opposite. I was able to work through these feelings in my own time, and express them in a safe and secure environment, then given the opportunity to voice them in a supportive space during the classes (even if I didn’t actually read aloud very often).
After the course had ended, we were given the opportunity to have our words published on page, in an anthology – ‘Dispatches From New Motherhood’ written by the mothers on the course. My piece was about my depression and a moment of finding hope in a crowd, it was extremely liberating to write and I found such solace in others reading my words and commending them. I felt like I was rediscovering my identity again and enjoying a part of my life that wasn’t just being a mother.
Then the first lockdown happened, and life intensified again. My mental health deteriorated, and I had to find new strength to pick myself up again. I was looking after two children by myself all day, every day while my husband worked, so I was exhausted, but I found some pockets of time to write and stuck at it as much as I could.
It was then that I found the Mum Poem Press, like fate from the heavens Katharine arrived in my inbox, looking for submissions for their anthology. I decided to start an Instagram account for my work and tried out some poetry. At first I was unsure about whether I was doing it “right” but soon found my flow and realised that the rules of poetry can be fluid and not as rigid as I once thought. Then once I started following and sharing I found a network of other mums out there – other writing mums, other struggling mums, other depressed mums, other creative mums, mums who were honest, supportive and just such beautiful people that I became absolutely hooked to this online community, and I haven’t stopped writing since.
I try to do some every day, usually when I should be sleeping, which is why every single one of my Instagram posts is riddled with typos. I’m definitely not a poetry expert either, I don’t have any qualifications in literature, imagery does not come easily to me, and the thesaurus is my best friend. But I love it and I feel like I have found a voice I never knew I had.
The Mum Poem Press has given a voice to so many mums, and an honest window into motherhood for new mums and mothers-to-be everywhere. Pregnancy, birth and beyond can be a very mind-boggling time for women, and there is often a loss of your sense of identity, so writing creates such a powerful outlet to process those feelings creatively. Then following the extra workload and mental load that women have had to take on this past year I feel there is a general sense of needing to voice our feelings and experiences, to vent, and to be understood, which may not have felt prevalent before, but is now rising within us so intensely that there is no holding us back anymore. The movement of mums who write is here and we have written our thoughts and woes so beautifully it is impossible to ignore us.
I can now be grateful to my second child for taking me on this roller coaster journey of self-discovery, despite feeling like I have aged a thousand years because of it.. I have also found new ways to connect with myself and with other people. By reading other mum’s experiences, and writing and sharing my own, there is a sense of comradery and empowerment which truly keeps me going on the low days and keeps me writing on the dry days. Parenthood is a constant roller coaster and it will continue to be difficult on occasions, I will constantly be rediscovering who I am, but this all gives me some great material for writing, which I love almost as much as my children.”
PANDAS Case Study
1) Tell us a bit about yourself and your background
I’m Louis, I’m 27-years old and married to my wife of 5 years Alice. Together we have two beautiful children, Daisy who is nearly 2, and Amber who is 6 months old. When I don’t have my hands full with family life, I am a doctor currently training to be a GP. As a family, we love using our free time to get outside and explore new places, which has been made difficult by the current covid pandemic!
2) When did you first realise you may be experiencing issues to do with mental health?
I have suffered with anxiety since I was roughly 20 years old, although I didn’t realise this until a fair few years later when I hit a very low point during medical school. At this time, I sought help from my GP, underwent CBT, and thought that was my spell with mental illness largely sorted. However, during Alice’s pregnancy with Amber, I started to feel some of my symptoms of anxiety returning slowly. I became more anxious about the pregnancy and Alice’s health as we became pregnant rather quickly following Alice’s first c-section bringing Daisy into the world. In addition to being anxious about Alice’s health, I started to also feel guilty about having another child whilst Daisy was still so young and needing a lot of love and support from us. Giving her our undivided attention became more difficult with Alice’s pregnancy progressing and the ensuing covid pandemic.
This all came to a head when Alice went into labor with Amber around 2 weeks early. It was a difficult labor, and, in the end, we made the decision together to go for another c-section after trying natural labor. Amber was delivered successfully and healthily but I began to feel odd once Amber was handed to me. The obstetric team were taking longer than usual to finish the operation. I slowly started to see more senior doctors float into the operating theatre with more anesthetists and other members of the team coming in. Eventually, I was informed that Alice had suffered from a post-partum hemorrhage, losing 2 liters of blood, and they were trying everything to get it under control. This was particularly difficult for me as I remained in the operating theatre throughout, and I could see Alice was obviously not well. Not being able to do anything for her at this time was tough, but I focused on keeping our fresh new baby happy and well. Thankfully, surgery was successful, and we returned home with Amber five days later.
Unfortunately, upon coming home and being off on paternity leave, I started to feel my mood declining. Obviously, due to the newborn stage you will all recognise, I wasn’t sleeping well. But I was also finding it difficult to bond with Amber. I found it hard to balance the demands of both my children, whilst simultaneously trying to help Alice recover from a traumatic birth. When I returned to work the mental exhaustion of balancing even more became so stressful, I occasionally had thoughts of taking my own life.
3) What did you find the hardest part of your situation?
The hardest part I have found about this situation was feeling guilty and blaming myself for Alice being put in a position where she could have died during childbirth. I also felt due to her rough pregnancy I robbed her of enjoying Daisy growing up as a young toddler because she was also preoccupied with thoughts about the new baby coming. I also found the fleeting thoughts of not wanting to be alive anymore to be particularly troubling, especially when surrounded by family and friends who love me. Before these became deeper and more frequent, I decided to seek help.
4) How did you begin to find help and support?
Being a doctor myself and having experience with mental illness in the past, I think I was lucky to have insider information into what was happening to me. I had heard of postnatal depression before and knew it was something that could be managed. However, I had never heard of it happening to men before and so I was initially quite hesitant to seek help. Once I had had a few suicidal thoughts, I knew I needed to speak to someone. I started by opening up to Alice about my thoughts and how I felt. She encouraged me to talk to the GP and get some advice on the best course of action.
After speaking to my GP and having her explain how my feelings and thoughts were interlinked and likely due to what I had experienced with Amber’s birth, I started to feel more at ease. We discussed treatment options and agreed that, given the severity of my symptoms, it was best to try both medication and talking therapies. I have been taking medication for around 4 months now and can honestly say I do see a massive difference in myself. I have simultaneously been completing online CBT and I am soon to start sessions with an NHS counsellor to discuss my thoughts. I am feeling better and feel incredibly lucky to both have the insight gained from my medical career and having a GP who truly took time to listen to me and come to a joint decision on my treatment. The fact that I sought help early has helped ensure that my bond with Amber was never strained too detrimentally.
Unfortunately, I have only heard of PANDAS and the incredible work they do within the past month. I think if had I known of their existence earlier I would have made use of their helplines and resources, which could potentially have helped calm those early symptoms bubbling under the surface at the start of my journey.
5) Why do you think it’s important to share your story?
I think it is important to share my story so other fathers see that it is also possible for them to suffer from perinatal mental health issues. I want to bring awareness to this and show other men that there are places they can turn to for support if they have any of these symptoms or conditions. I also want to bring awareness more generally to perinatal mental health issues so all parents feel that they can be open with their experiences and feelings, eventually being able to seek help and support in whichever way they see fit. Sometimes low mood isn’t just the baby blues and it’s okay to admit that. I have such a lovely bond with Amber now and want for every parent to feel the love that I do for my gorgeous little girl.
We’re really lucky to have the lovely Illy Morrison as our latest case today. Illy has a wonderful page over on Instagram called @mixing.up.motherhood where she talks about everything from childbirth, parenting, birth trauma, racial inequality, mental health…….and readily gives her opinion on others’ snack choices too (if you know you know!).
Here we interview Illy about her life, her work, and being a mum
- Please tell us a bit about yourself
I am 28 years old and am a mother, midwife, hypnobirthing teacher and birth debrief facilitator. I qualified as a midwife nearly four years ago, and started my page @Mixing.up.motherhood when I was in between jobs last March.
- What’s your favourite thing about being a parent?
I love watching her grow, I also love seeing myself grow, the experiences I have as mother shape me and also shape her, and I think that’s incredible. I wouldn’t change it for anything, and I recognise the privilege it is to mother.
- What aspect of parenting do you find the toughest?
The way it monopolises all of my time, I know that it is a normal part of parenting but sometimes the all-consuming nature of it can be very overwhelming.
- Can you give us an insight to any aspect of perinatal mental health issue that you’ve been through, and how you handled it?
I suffered with postnatal anxiety and extreme intrusive thoughts, the anxiety was to the point where I was struggling to sleep and was on edge basically all the time. The intrusive thoughts were pretty relentless as well. Over time I found ways to manage them, with the intrusive thoughts I would always reconcile the fact that I knew they were simply thoughts and not acts. Over time I became increasingly vocal about things that were bothering me which I found liberating and it was met with nothing but support. This is why I advocate so strongly for creating safe spaces where mothers can express their inner most feelings.
- Were you able to access the support you needed?
I was never offered the opportunity to debrief my daughter’s birth which I believe may have helped me to process things better. However, I did know what support was available and knew I could access it if I needed it.
- Please tell us a little bit about your work
I left clinical midwifery last March and have since set up a birth debrief service. This is the opportunity for parents to unpack and explore their birth experiences, particularly ones they found traumatic in a safe space with an impartial, knowledgeable listening ear. I also teach hypnobirthing to expectant parents.
- Do you have any advice for parents or parents to be at the beginning of their journey?
Your journey is uniquely yours, with all its ups and downs and in betweens, it is yours and yours alone. Don’t compare it to someone else’s, don’t worry about if they are doing better or worse than you, you’re doing just fine, and comparison will only steal your joy.
We are really pleased to share this article about anger and rage by Holly Ruskin. Holly has been a writer all her life but started exploring the poetic form after the birth of her daughter in 2019. She graduated with a BA in English Literature & Film going on to complete an MA in Film, specialising in feminism and the representation of women. As a lecturer and freelance writer, she has edited screenplays, written short stories and academic essays. But it is writing poems about motherhood that has brought her the most creative joy. She co-founded ‘blood moon poetry’, an inclusive and welcoming place for female poets to submit their work for publication. A selection of her work is published in an anthology of stories about postnatal depression titled ‘Not the Only One’ and her poems have been published in various zines, anthologies and journals. She also writes for Harness Magazine and is a Motherscope contributor. Holly lives in Bristol, UK. She can be found on Instagram @mother.in.motion
We are so grateful for Holly sharing this insight with us, on a subject that is little spoken about, but very much should be
I’d like to talk about anger.
The white hot, stomach churning, bone searing hot heat of rage that builds from the ground up until you think you might spontaneously combust with it.
Before having my daughter 15 months ago, I wouldn’t have described myself as an ‘angry’ person and I don’t think those close to me would have done either. That’s not to say I haven’t been angry prior to becoming a mother, more that it wouldn’t have been a defining character trait. Not a regular occurrence for me to want to break things or scream into a pillow until my throat’s hoarse and my lungs are burning.
Maternal rage and anger is a controversial topic, primarily I think, because angry women seems to be too. Sure, we can have an angry outburst or two on social media, as long as it’s funny; viral, meme-worthy female fury is acceptable but otherwise our rage should be restrained.
No, I’d like to talk about the rage that creeps steadily through your veins after you grow and birth a baby. The sort that simmers below your maternal surface, waiting to be unleashed on – yes, your husband/partner – but also on whoever wanders innocently into your blast zone.
My anger manifests itself at bedtime and usually after a back to back run of bad nights, where my daughter has woken every hour and can’t/won’t be resettled by anyone but me. The all-consuming and unconditional love she has for me begins to feel overwhelming and I want to claw my way out of my own skin. It is those evenings, when she’s finally asleep, that I feel ready to commit cold blooded murder. I am incandescent with fury. And that’s when I know – or have to be gently told by my husband – that I need a break.
I am just a mother, who needs to mother herself.
Because parenting (usually) demands much more of mothers; we are the home our babies return to every night and will keep returning to again and again, and again on their bad days. It is exhausting, back breaking – and yes, incomparably wonderful – WORK. And if you are a working mother, it is work on top of work.
What I’ve learnt in my first year of parenting (in lockdown, during a global pandemic) is that mothers NEED to look after ourselves and to be looked after. Self-care is not an Instagram visual. Time and space to breathe, sit in a quiet space, relax, decompress and reset is essential to our maternal mental health. For too long I’ve categorised the following as ‘self-care’: putting a wash on, hanging washing out, taking a 10 minute shower (alone), sleeping, washing and drying my hair, eating breakfast/lunch/dinner, making and drinking a hot cup of tea, cleaning, changing the bedsheets, watering the plants.
To be clear, these are not acts of self-care, these are either essential life skills or chores. None of which allow my body and mind to slow down and take the rest they so desperately need to be a good mother to my daughter. It doesn’t have to be a 3-hour spa day, just a 10-minute chance to take some deep breaths without worrying or caring for someone else.
So, the reason I wanted to talk about anger is to normalise it. I’m here to tell you that maternal anger and rage is normal. It’s not a meme, nor is it only acceptable when polished and made palatable for everyone else. It is raw and ugly and very very real. It’s also a sign that you’ve reached your limit. I am an expert at dodging my husband’s attempts to look after me and a pro at talking myself out of my own self-care advocacy.
What isn’t normal is not allowing women to experience the full range of human emotions, because that would imply we’re not considered human at all. Of course, all mothers are superhuman, but we also have our kryptonite and that is maternal overwhelm.
Fellow mothers, if you’re reading this: please, become an expert in your limits. Know them, plot them on the map of your mother-self and when you reach them…stop whatever it is you’re doing (safely) and ask for help. And know that you are normal. Rage and anger is normal.
Breathe, reset, repeat when needed. Mothers, it’s time to mother yourself.
1) Tell us a bit about yourself and your background
I am 34, married to James, and have 2 children, Micah who is 4 years old and Faith who is 3 years old. I am a Christian and my faith is the most important thing to me. Before having children I trained and worked as a doctor, specialising in mental health. I love being involved with my local church, catching up with friends, baking, watching interesting movies, walking in the fresh air and drinking coffee!
2) When did you first realise you may be experiencing issues to do with mental health?
Looking back I had issues with my mental health from a young age, possibly from the age of 5. I developed anorexia as a teenager and during my university years but did not deal with it properly. I experienced severe anxiety and subsequent burnout when I was working as a doctor but I did not want to acknowledge it due to the mental health stigma within the medical profession, or my perception of it. I was therefore diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome which I realise now may have been burnout from my anxiety. I had a miscarriage diagnosed at my 12 week scan in August 2015 which I found really hard. I subsequently found out I was pregnant with Micah in November 2016. I was very anxious during the pregnancy but did not think much of it. Micah was born in August 2016 and I was desperate to breastfeed him. However, this was a massive exhausting struggle.
A few weeks after Micah was born I started experiencing awful intrusive thoughts. It felt like anything I did not want to think would come into my head. I started to become incredibly worried that I might hurt or abuse Micah and I would analyse situations over and over to reassure myself that I wasn’t an abusive mother. Nappy changes, feeding times and even holding Micah became really stressful as my mind would suggest that I might be holding him in an abusive way, or that extra wipe of his bottom was abusive, or that I tried to hurt him whilst feeding him. It got to the point where I would analyse even the memories of these situations to try to reassure myself. I had not heard of postnatal OCD but I searched on the internet and realised that this may be what I was experiencing but due to the intensity of my experiences I just wasn’t sure.
3) What did you find the hardest part of your situation?
It felt that I was in a nightmare and I was in a cycle of fear and guilt that I was constantly trying to get out of. It got to the point where I was so exhausted by the analysing that I was truly unsure of whether I was an abusive mother or not and believed that I may have tried to harm my son.
4) How did you begin to find help and support?
Because of the nature of my thoughts I felt unable to talk to health professionals. I talked to family who helped in the ways that they could but it did not stop my symptoms. I visited my GP but did not really disclose my thoughts as they were so awful. It wasn’t until a weigh-in clinic with the health visitors when the nursery nurse there asked how I was that I completely broke down and blurted out everything. I was assessed by a community mental health nurse who reassured me that there were no safeguarding issues. Over the subsequent weeks my illness took strange twists and turns, I spent some time in a mother and baby unit and also received excellent care from my community mental health team and perinatal mental health team. I also had brilliant support from friends and family and my church.
I wish I had known about PANDAS at the time as I think if I had known about them I would have found their telephone and email support service really helpful.
5) Why do you think it’s important to share your story?
I am really passionate about mental health. I had not heard of postnatal OCD prior to becoming unwell, despite having worked in mental health. I think that there should be greater awareness of this condition so that women who experience these terrifying symptoms realise that what they are experiencing is an illness and not a moral failure and so they are able to seek help as early as possible.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
Hello, my name is Caroline and I live in South Devon – a beautiful part of the world! My Fiancee, Simon, and I have been together for a number of years and decided to start the exciting journey of trying for a baby and to become parents. In late 2017, we welcomed our little Girl and we feel incredibly lucky to have her in our lives. Being a parent is an amazing journey and experience – we all ride the adventure together and take each day as it comes, just enjoying the precious time we have together.
2. When did you first realise you may be experiencing issues to do with mental health?
When we discovered I was pregnant, our initial emotions were excitement, shock and nervousness! I became pregnant rather quickly and once the shock subsided, we were so happy and couldn’t wait to hold our baby in our arms. My pregnancy went very well and despite having severe morning sickness during the first trimester, I felt really well and healthy. The positivity from our scans really helped and I really looked after myself and our Baby Bump. My due date approached and as I was nearly 2 weeks late, I was induced at Hospital. After 3 days of extremely painful contractions and labour, our Beautiful little girl was born and we couldn’t be happier.
However, there were complications after her birth which were out of my control and when we arrived home, I became increasingly overwhelmed, severely anxious and severely depressed. The trauma of the birth and the circumstances following this, left me feeling isolated, empty, exhausted and helpless. Everything went black. I couldn’t eat, sleep and I had intrusive, even suicidal thoughts. I felt so ashamed to admit to anyone that I couldn’t even love or bond with my Daughter – I continued with the motions of being a parent, despite feeling so emotionally and physically drained inside.
3. What did you find the hardest part of your situation?
The hardest part of my situation was feeling like I was contained in a ‘glass bubble’. I describe it like this because I felt like I was the only person experiencing this trauma and although I wanted to reach out and share how I felt with those closest to me, I was convinced no-one could fully understand and wouldn’t validate how I was truly feeling. I was suffering with crippling anxiety and later discovered that I had developed PTSD because of my situation – this manifested itself not just mentally, but also physically. I suffered with jitters, paranoia, dizziness and even suffered a panic attack at one stage. I genuinely felt like a prisoner in my own body and mind – I didn’t recognise myself and I felt like a shell of my old self, losing my identity and personality.
In addition, I feel strongly that societal constructs that romanticise what ‘parenting should look like’ made my parental shame and guilt 100 times worse; comparing how we parent and bring up our children to others, especially via platforms on social media and the mass media. This can produce triggers for anxiety and a vicious circle of guilt, shame, anger and anxiousness. The complexities of mental health illnesses vary in symptoms so drastically and when it came to caring for our little girl, this highlighted itself through OCD and routine. She was looked after extremely well despite my condition and with amazing help and support from family.
4. How did you begin to find help and support?
Three years on from the birth of our Daughter, I have started to feel like I am returning to my original self but it has been a very long and arduous journey – I like to call it a “spiritual awakening’. I was finally able to share with friends and family how I was feeling and their support has been incredible. Sharing these issues with those closest can provide an invaluable support cushion. Over the first lockdown I took medication which benefited me greatly, and I tried really hard to take each day as it comes – especially during these testing and uncertain times.
There has been a lot of soul searching, self reflection and the gradual introduction of mindful techniques to help me deal with daily anxiety and stresses. Life isn’t perfect and I still have bad days like everyone, but I have acquired an arsenal of weapons to help me find perspective and block those intrusive negative thoughts. We are all individuals in how we deal with stress and anxiety – some techniques that really help me include yoga, mindful breathing and escaping to some rare (& often elusive!) peace and quiet! Access to numerous Mental Health organisations and charities on social media also provided me with the positivity, motivation and encouragement to keep going and celebrate the small things. Life is to be celebrated and it is so short – we must appreciate it and remember how truly precious it is.
5. Why do you think it’s important to share your story?
I wanted to share my story as I am desperate to help other parents who are in this situation. No-one should feel unable to ask for help and should be able to share their feelings and worries without prejudice and judgement. There are conversations happening – voices are being heard and along with charities like PANDAS, we are all working hard to be present and be that support that people need. Postnatal Mental Health is so incredibly important and if we can unite and work together to create better understanding, we can learn to spread happiness, love – and most profoundly, even save lives.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself and your background
Hi, I’m Stacey Cox, was the big 3-0 while pregnant this year! I work in mental health and am studying psychology with the O.U. which I finish next year! My beautiful daughter Georgina was born on 8th April 2020.
2. When did you first realise you may be experiencing issues to do with mental health?
I was pretty anxious throughout my pregnancy due to hyperemesis gravidarium causing me to be hospitalised 4 times for dehydration, but I knew I was becoming really unwell when we got home from hospital and my mood was just getting worse and worse and I started struggling to eat and get out of bed and I felt like I wasn’t bonding with Georgina.
3. What did you find the hardest part of your situation?
Definitely our birth! I won’t go into details, but we both nearly died. Also, attempting to breast feed after a traumatic C-section – giving up was the best decision I made!
4. How did you begin to find help and support?
I originally found support in the mental health midwife pre-birth and it was she who contacted the perinatal team and advocated for me when I wasn’t able to.
5. Why do you think it’s important to! share your story?
To show others that in pushing for support and having someone advocate for you in the really bad times is very very important! Without that support I don’t think I would be here today! And working in mental health as well, I know how very difficult it can be to get support, but it’s definitely 100% worth pushing for it!
- Tell us a bit about yourself and your background
Hi, I’m Francine, I’m 35, I’ve been married for 15 years and am mum to two daughters – Juliette 4 and Georgia 2. I came to motherhood in my 30s after 10 years of trying to get pregnant. When I fell pregnant with Juliette, I was in the process of signing up to study for a Masters degree and looking into the possibility of adoption as we thought natural conception was not going to happen for us. There are two factors which made it difficult for us to conceive – firstly, I have PCOS which can make it difficult to conceive and secondly my husband had a very stressful job which he left a few months before we fell pregnant.
- When did you first realise you may be experiencing issues to do with mental health?
My pregnancy with Juliette could have been stressful as I had gestational diabetes (GD), which meant weekly hospital appointments and multiple scans. When Juliette was born, I did struggle to adjust to life with a baby, as many people do. At this point my husband and I had been married for 10 years and were used to our single life. Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t flying all around the world living a crazy life, but after lots of work we were settled in our relationship.
I struggled with breastfeeding and managed to do 6 weeks before moving to formula – it was at this point I really started to get into a rhythm with my new baby and we went from strength to strength. When Juliette was 14 months old, we decided to try for another baby as we absolutely loved our life as parents. We decided to try quite early on as we were worried it would take years again – we fell pregnant straight away! Up to this point I was unaware that you were so fertile after childbirth.
Apart from the usual exhaustion, the pregnancy with Georgia was easier as I did not have GD this time around. Throughout the 9 months Garry and I didn’t talk much about our impending arrival and hardly prepared for her at all. Looking back this was when it all started to fall apart. When Georgia was born a week before Christmas, we were ill prepared, and guilt ridden. Both of us. Our thoughts were with Juliette and making sure her life was unaffected by the birth of her sister. This guilt consumed me.
- What did you find the hardest part of your situation?
Immediately I felt the pressure of having two very demanding young children – a new-born and a 23-month-old. I hadn’t given a lot of thought to how that would play out in reality – I think it is impossible to know how big this adjustment would be. Although I have both my parents and my husband’s parents around me, they felt unable to support me, even though we both reached out on many occasions. I felt isolated, lonely and scared. In those first few months I changed – I became an angry person. The mother Juliette had had up to that point disappeared and I have many heart-breaking memories of situations where I was just not able to hold myself together.
At the time we were in the process of buying a house and moving from a two-bed rented terrace house. It was so important to us to move to a family home and we were sure that this would make everything easier. Needless to say, the stress of moving compounded my issues and one September afternoon, two months after moving to the new house, I found myself on the lounge floor unable to move with anxiety and fear. The prospect of looking after both my girls crippled me and I couldn’t move. Everything I was doing felt wrong which was a stark difference to how I had felt parenting one child. I call this my breakdown – I had never experienced anything like this. My husband came home from work early and took the girls from me.
- How did you begin to find help and support?
After that day we decided I needed to seek help. I had been to the Drs a few months prior as I had struggled with keeping the children safe. They said I had mild PND and prescribed anti-depressants, but I was caught up in the stigma of this and not wanting to be on them indefinitely as I couldn’t see my situation getting better – I felt like life with two children was going to be like this forever. Foolishly, I felt that I could do this on my own. That September, however, we decided that it was better to take the anti-depressants as I could not carry on. I had been having suicidal thoughts and my belief was that the girls would be better off being looked after by someone else as I, their mother, could not keep them safe. I started taking the tablets straight away and by Christmas I could see a little straighter and was a bit more able to cope. It wasn’t an immediate fix, but it was a step in the right direction.
I was acutely aware that I needed to put a support network in place to be able to come off the anti-depressants but found this extremely difficult having absolutely no time to myself with two young children. I started asking around at the Doctors and in my community for PND support but was told there wasn’t any – even though this was only as recent as 2018 no one had heard of PANDAS where I live, in Kent. I carried on until December 2019 when I had the resources to pay for a counsellor and have only just managed to wean off my tablets. Counselling has been great for me as I can talk without judgement, shame or guilt about the things that I am struggling with and breakdown assumed stigmas over parenting. Finding a counsellor was a process in itself and I did originally return to a counsellor I had seen in the past who dealt with couples, however, this was not a good fit for the issues I was having at the current time – even though this counsellor knew me very well.
I sought out a counsellor who specialised in maternal mental health and this definitely made a huge difference. I have found with counselling that you might not find the perfect fit right away but if you keep trying you will find that person you click with – much like in any other relationship in life.
- Why do you think it’s important to share your story?
Mental health awareness has come a long, long way since I was young, but the walls can only continue to be brought down if we share our stories. For me, sharing my story might help another person in my situation to feel OK. Being a mother can be a very isolating place – especially for those of us who have an introverted personality type. I have found from older generations there is a lot of judgment over what a mother should be, what a mother should do, what a mother looks like, how a mother behaves etc. Judgement in all factions of life is the most unhelpful behaviour – it achieves nothing and simply leaves the judged feeling like they are on the outside. Having a non-judgemental space to share your experiences is crucially important – if you are struggling, seek out a non-judgemental space wherever and however you can.
In 2017 I became a mummy for the first time to our little girl Isla. After having a c section due to her being breech and then struggling to breastfeed I started to realise I didn’t feel quite right. I cried a lot and often for no reason. I felt like I was failing when I couldn’t settle her, or something didn’t quite go to plan. I didn’t feel like me at all. I kept telling myself that things have changed, I’m a new me, I’m tired, I’m emotional and that it will all be fine. I didn’t feel like I could tell anyone as I didn’t think it was normal to feel like this and people would judge. But after a few weeks of feeling very low I decided it was time to go to the doctors.
It was a huge step going to the appointment. I cried and told him exactly how I felt. He reassured me that I could get support and said it was post-natal depression. I came away with the phone number for my local Mind and with a feeling of failure and embarrassment. I spoke to my husband who was amazing and cuddled me while I cried. Funnily enough even now 3 years on I remember what I was wearing and what I had for lunch that day! Over the course of the following 2 months I had weekly sessions with a wonderful therapist at Mind. She made me understand that it was nothing I had done wrong, helped me to turn my negatives to positive and see things more clearly. She also got me doing activities to help me feel more in control, less embarrassed and to realise that selfcare is also so important to maintain good mental and physical health. After these sessions I was beginning to feel a little better about the situation however a few more months in I dipped again so went back off to the doctor. This time he put me on antidepressants so again I came away happy he helped and understood but a bit embarrassed that I now needed tablets to help me feel like me.
After a few weeks on the tablets and trying to maintain the tips I had learnt with my therapist I suddenly felt like me again. I was back to feeling in control, happy, relaxed, and confident in my decisions. I then realised that I needed to start talking about my experience and not be ashamed. I started talking on social media and joined any campaigns about maternal mental health and it was amazing how many people said they suffered too, including friends who had kept it secret but decided to open up about it once I had. I then went on to create a positive wellbeing selfcare journal and have sold many and had great feedback. It really helped me focus and knowing something that I had created was helping others was amazing. Then jumping forward to 2020 pregnant with my second child i did worry about how I would be especially with Covid19 happening all through my pregnancy. I spoke to my doctor and we agreed for me to remain on the antidepressants which I am so thankful for as I really think it helped me get through this very tough time as we were shielded as a family due to my husband being very high risk.
Now we have another beautiful girl, Lara, 6 weeks old and I am feeling really positive about things. Don’t get me wrong, I have bad days and days I cry but I have learnt to just accept these and know it is temporary, so I slow down, cuddle girls and breath. It’s hard not having friends and family visit for cuddles but they are all there for us and are a great support. I’m now more than happy to talk about anything relating to my journey with PND as if it helps one person speak up or seek support then it’s worth it. Being a mum is hard work, full of emotions, challenging, amazing, and rewarding but it’s always okay to need some extra support. You are not failing. You are not a bad mum. You are amazing. You’ve got this.
1. A little bit about me
Hello! My names Kirsty, I’m a mum of 3 boys aged 8, 5 and 17 months. I have a fantastic husband; I’d be lost without him! I work part time as a playgroup manager, and I’ve been working with children for 10 years now. My favourite thing to do is sleep and watch Netflix! I love a daytime nap, sometimes it’s necessary. Otherwise, I like going out with my friends, dancing, singing, exploring outdoors and spending time with my family. I’ve been dealing with mental health issues for over 8 years now, varying from depression to anxiety to both. I currently take Citalopram to help me function and get through the day.
2. When did you first realise something wasn’t right with your mental health?
I had an inkling something wasn’t right when my eldest son was born, I didn’t feel a rush of love or overjoyed, I just felt absolutely terrified! Those first few weeks, I went through the motions, he was cared for, but still, I felt nothing. My mum had a wee word and said she felt like I wasn’t myself and it seemed like more than “baby blues”. There was lots of tears and hugs but with the support of my village I engaged with my health visitor and the GP and began getting support. I was and still am medicated, for both depression and anxiety. I knew with my next two births, it would worsen and it did, but I was more prepared. I felt able to be honest and open about how I was feeling and knew to get help.
3. What’s the hardest part of your situation?
The hardest part of my situation is the guilt and the realisation that life wasn’t going to be what I’d imagined or expected. I’m not an always happy mum, I’m not full of patience, sometimes I shout or overreact, I find being a mum hard most days. I constantly feel guilty for the things I’m not, I second guess and overthink everything and most days I feel like I’m doing everything wrong, like I’m a drain on my family. I find taking my medication difficult, I’d love for my brain to be “normal” and to function “normally” without chemical help.
4. How did you begin to find help and support?
As I’ve said before, I’m very lucky and grateful to have an amazing support system. My husband and mum especially, I’m not sure I’d be here without them, but they know how to give tough love as well. The health visitor and GP were my first port of call, but I hadn’t realised how much support there was online. PANDAS helped me by providing somewhere I could go and read, chat if I needed to and reassured me that I wasn’t alone. I also hadn’t realised how “normal’ I actually was and speaking to my friends that also had children made me realise that we really are all in this together.
5. Why is it important to share your story?
I wanted to share my story to normalise pre and post-natal mental health issues. If my story makes even one person think “that sounds just like me” and they feel less alone, I’ll be happy. Parenthood is a lonely place to be and I can guarantee that most of us feel the same. We need to be honest and open with how we’re feeling, it’s important to get the support, it’s important to make time for yourself and to remember your an individual, an important one, not just “a mum”. It is so important to look after ourselves and each other. Don’t be afraid to admit how you’re feeling, reach out to your friends, they may need you just as much as you need them, don’t let yourself be alone or struggle, the help is out there, please use it.
If you need urgent help….
If you need urgent help or are worried about a loved one, you can call The Samaritans on 116 123 or call 999.