Where I Drew The Line: Choosing My Health Over a Job

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It’s been 11 weeks and 6 days since I left my job and became unemployed.

Yes, I voluntarily quit my job and decided to put my mental and physical health first to be (excuse me for want of a better phrase) a ‘stay-at-home-mother’ (for now!).
So many people often laugh and belittle the title but it hasn’t been without complication and is definitely the hardest decision I’ve made to date, one I absolutely did not take lightly.

Mentally and emotionally, I was admitting complete defeat. Although not difficult for some, personally my previous job wasn’t the easiest to contend with – as with many, over-prescribed and under-appreciated, and despite putting up a fight, it didn’t take much to feel like a total failure 24/7 after many unhappy 10 hour days, 5 days a week.

Financially, feeling this unmotivated and under-appreciated came at the unforgivable cost of £1,200 a month in nursery fees, £50 a week in fuel and many a Great British Pound in forgotten lunch boxes and ‘run away from my desk at lunchtime to survive snacks’ – I’ve now left all that behind in addition to an entire salary… Another ridiculously hard parting for sure. As well as this, my departure prior to what’s known as the ‘qualifying week’ for maternity pay, has also left us rather short-changed.
So when did I decide to put myself above my job, money, and stability I hear you ask? In all honesty, it hit me like a train in slow motion for a few months then the fire started and I burnt out in the blink of an eye.

For months, it started as a series of small interferences with my day-to-day life: things like feeling overwhelmed, regularly crying on my way home from work, not enjoying anything outside of work at the fear of heading back the next day. This quite quickly snowballed after finding out I was pregnant in Easter earlier this year. Emotions running higher and baby brain swallowing me whole, I was tripping at every hurdle and it began to show it all aspects of my life, work being the hardest to go unnoticed. As the pressure mounted, I became a stressed-shell of my former self and found that I couldn’t stand up for myself at the fear of confrontation or worse, dismissal. It was all-consuming and I slowly lost my ability to concentrate, my confidence in decision making and imposter syndrome kicked in HARD. Recently, I read an article (forgive me, I can’t remember where) about how imposter syndrome is actually more about colleagues making you feel inferior and not accepted than you being bad at your job. It was a shocking eye-opener that, yes I could have been getting worse at my job through stress and anxiety but feeling inferior was, in fact, more a part of feeling inadequate. I was jumping through hoops, working away and for many weekends and extended days but it never ever felt like enough.

Now, here’s a bit of advice pregnant mama to pregnant mama – whatever you do, research your rights and make sure your employer follows the guidelines for pregnant women in the workplace. It can make a HUGE difference in how your role and job load is handled and a risk assessment is an absolute necessity, wherever you work. I felt at a disadvantage with this and only wish I’d been more outspoken at the time; this was an unignorable protruding factor on my ‘why I should quit’ list.

As we reached early May, heading towards my 9th week of pregnancy, the downward spiral only got more slippery. The dread of the job took over and I’d lost every ounce of gusto for my job and my home life; my entire life felt unbearable and with that, I sort medical help. Having previously had fairly negative interactions with the NHS and mental health, I was fortunately not ignored and was signed off work with ‘work-related stress’ for two weeks – even that felt like I was letting my job down. I didn’t quite know what to do with my days and regularly lay around feeling unmotivated and generally unwell; the weeks passed quickly and before I knew it I was back to the constant dread. On my return to work, my absence seemed like the elephant in the room. If it wasn’t for the lovely ladies who sat around me reassuring me with ‘are you ok’ and ‘if you need to talk, you know where I am’, I’m really not sure I would have survived the 6 weeks that followed.

As I slumped into my corner desk and tried to plow through the never-ending tasks that seemed to have festered in my absence, I’d never felt so behind or snowed under with jobs where deadlines had passed or were imminently due. With no assistant or colleague to share the load with, I started to crumble all over again. Nothing had changed and almost seemed like my time away had never happened. It was never really discussed beyond a short and sweet meeting where I agreed that I was fit for work again. In no time at all the tasks began piling up and it only got worse – it was then my overall capability was beginning to be questioned.

As I entered my yearly appraisal, I knew I was officially failing. I’d appeared to have stepped into a losing battle with little to no lifelines left to use. After raising many flags about my concerns, there was no mention of my increase in workload, my work quantity being constantly chosen over quality, me being signed off work with stress and certainly not a peep about how my role had changed since becoming pregnant. Needless to say, I was rung out and hung out to dry. My mind began to ponder whether I could survive 5 to 6 months more of this without a. being fired or b. miscarrying – it was at that exact moment, mid-meeting, that I had already made up my mind: to leave was my only option. I spent the following 2 weeks vigorously researching my maternity options and entitlement, spending almost every lunch breaks on the phone speaking to god knows how many people in the Government’s benefits department. Devastatingly falling short for statutory maternity pay, I luckily qualified for maternity allowance but this was going to leave me with an 8-week pay gap which we couldn’t really afford to do, but what choice did I have.

On Monday 24th June, I handed in my notice to an unshocked response. When asked why, my schpiel of ‘my health absolutely has to come first’ came pouring out – this was greeted with even less shock but the deal was done. Feeling oddly free but unnervingly cut off, I began my shut down almost instantly. I took on zero new tasks and wrapped up every piece outstanding in the 4 weeks that followed. I guess, for myself, I still wanted to prove that I could do the work at hand (when it came in reasonable and realistic quantities!). I left with my head held high and my mental and physical health just about intact. I regretted nothing and still don’t.

 

 

We didn’t know how we’d cope with one income but have picked up a few tips for how to save our pennies along the way – we’ve had to:

  • Cut down nursery days – the biggest saver! From 4 to 2 days with the help of Granny Day Care twice a week has been a godsent – plus the added bonus of spending more time with Rory at home has been priceless!
  • Condense our cars to having just one – in order to save the next wedge we condensed to paying for just one car, one tax & one insurance by handing my lease back to the garage and trading in Kyle’s for a bigger, more economical car (hello Kadjar with a humongous boot and space for us all – new baby included!)
  • Stop needlessly buying food (a biggie for us!) – plan, plan, plan! Impulse food buying is a wallet emptier for sure! Now we always check out which days/times supermarkets reduce their meats and have sometimes chosen to batch cook for lunches to help save a few more £££’s!

There is a definite moral to the story guys & gals, and that is never ever take your health for granted and whatever you do, do not hesitate to put yourself first, even if it seems impossible. You only have one you and driving yourself into the ground will not be doing anyone any favours.
It’s been the toughest and weirdest few months of my life so far and to think if I hadn’t have been pregnant I would have moved on to another job has made it a tricky one to swallow. I guess being unemployment has to be my title for now – I know it won’t always be like this and it won’t always be this tough! Just remember, you can never bloom the most beautiful flowers without a little bit of rain!

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Love to y’all, OCM! xx

Facing the Fear: Birth After Trauma Part One

No matter what anyone will tell you, cesarean sections are NOT the easy way out. Yes, they might be the best decision for you but we must remember that everybody is different. Your recovery could be a walk in the park or could be a little similar to mine: a small slice of hell with severe abdominal pain, severe swelling from excessive drugs, months of ‘deflating’, months of poor movement and continuous body-confidence nightmares. One of my biggest fears I will have to face this time around is birth and I’m going to try my best to document the process of pregnancy & birth post-emergency cesarean, step-by-step to help any other mama’s out there – whether it’s your first or fifth!

Now, you non-newbies will know I’ve previously talked about my birth story with Rory, my battle with mental health that followed and the ways I’ve tried to face these many demons in the hope of expanding our family –  well the moment has arrived for me to put my money where my mouth is and face ‘The Fear’. I plan for this to be the first of a few blogs following my journey through consultant-lead care and how I make my birth choices.

This pregnancy started off like every other: you make a midwife appointment and meet somewhere around the 8th/9th week of your pregnancy, you go forth and have a 12-week scan and see your midwife at the 16-week mark too – all textbook and running smoothly but it was here I was reminded that no matter how I look at things, this pregnancy will (most likely) result in childbirth – whichever form that comes in! It was at my 16-week appointment that my midwife (coincidentally the same midwife I had for Rory) asked whether I had thought about a natural or assisted birth this time around. I, of course, panicked and jumped straight in with ‘elective C-section is my preference’. WAS I MAD!? Who would think surgery would be a sensible idea? Why and how had I made this decision in my mind already? I worked out that it all boiled down to wanting a better experience than I had. With that, our first consultant appointment was booked and I was ready to fight my corner.

Let’s start off by saying I am lucky. We saw the consultant last week and it was so much more relaxed and successful than I had played over in my over-active brain. You can hear some real horror stories of consultants telling mamas-to-be that they can’t choose a cesarean birth and trying to put them off but I am fortunate not to be in that boat – PHEW! The meeting was calming and I felt listened to. *Worth noting here that we were seen by the consultant and a midwife*. I went in and was checked over as normal. We listened to the baby’s heartbeat, the midwife had a feel for the position and we sat down with my previous birth notes and went through what the situation was and what my choices are going forward. Did you hear that!? CHOICES! Hurrah, the words I so very longed to hear: ‘Whatever you wish to choose, we will support you in those choices‘. Absolute result! I was handed an A4 4-page leaflet on the benefits and disadvantages of both an elective cesarean or a VBAC (‘vaginal birth after cesarean’ for those not aware of today’s lingo!), which I am yet to divulge into, and sent on my way. Now, here are some FAQ’s the consultant answered for me during our meeting:

  • ‘When do I need to have decided my birth preference by?’
    In your second consultant appointment, which will be booked for around 36 weeks.
  • ‘If I chose one, when will my C-section be scheduled?’
    Between the 39th and 40th week mark allowing the baby to be as ‘cooked’ as possible. This means the chances of your baby having breathing issues or needing NICU attention is minimal.
  • ‘What would happen if I go into labour before this date?’ 
    You can either choose to progress with your labour naturally if you so wish OR you can be brought in for an emergency C-section straight away.
  • ‘If I decide on a VBAC how long will I wait after my due date before induction?’
    You will be induced at 41 weeks and no later.

So as mentioned, following on from an initial appointment, you are given a second appointment around the 36th week of pregnancy – so for us, this is around the 28th of November. This will be crunch time. This is where you should have done all of your research and be able to tell the consultant what it is you want. From here, if you wish to choose an elective you will be advised on a date (or selection of dates) for your baby’s big day – again, as mentioned, this will be around the 39th week of your pregnancy to be sure that the baby is fully cooked and ready to be brought earth-side.

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I am yet to make my ‘final decision’ or even half of it – we do still have 10(ish) weeks to go before I absolutely need to have decided and I am in no rush to put this in concrete. I know it’s going to be a very personal decision and one I am rather unlikely to take anyone’s advice on (in case you were unaware, I can be stubborn!). However, if you are reading this and have had a successful VBAC or a positive elective cesarean second time around, I would LOVE to hear from you. I’m trying to build a much bigger picture and would really like to feel as well informed as possible before I decide. Please head to our contact page if you would like to get in touch!

For the rest of y’all, we will be back soon with more updates!

Love and all,
OCM xo.

“Please Provide Your Paycheck”

 

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I’ve dug this one out of the archive today – just a little something I wrote back in February. Turns out I write a lot that doesn’t make the cut; it usually becomes irrelevant pretty quickly and it very swiftly gets forgotten about. However, this blog may help someone somewhere feel a little less crappy for chronically worrying about money, jobs, more babies and a little bit of anything else…

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‘All you want is 2.4 kids and a white picket fence like a Disney movie and unfortunately, it’s just not real life‘ – as dear husband-to-be uttered those words for the millionth time, a part of me closed the door, slumped to the floor and wept. It wasn’t what he’s said but the realisation that we were having to choose between expanding our family and surviving each month… OH, AND THAT NOBODY TOLD ME THIS WOULD HAPPEN!

With procreation being a part of most lives (we sure as hell wouldn’t be here without it) it started to seem like a long time ago that women were expected to ‘retire’ once they’ve had a baby but sadly, looks like attitudes still aren’t up to speed and many ‘powers-that-be’ are not helping the cause. Many women have to stay at home rather than return to work due to crippling nursery fees and the question that always needs to be asked is: why are we (the royal ‘we’) not doing enough to help working mothers and families? Is it down to the individual mother, the family, the employer or the whole god-damn system? We over here strongly believe the latter.

Since I was young, I’ve always wanted two children; whenever anyone asks I always say ‘I have two eyes, two hands and two backseats’ – let’s face it, anything more and you’re looking at growing more limbs or changing your car as a minimum! Now nowhere, ever did anyone tell me we’d be sat around with a calculator, counting each and every penny concluding that any more expenditure would leave us nothing short of bankrupt. For us fourteen hundred squiddies a month for full-time nursery has been the true cost of a safe and loving environment; this has (just about) allowed us to bring home the bacon, but the saddest fact is, even now in 2019, choosing between a career and a family has never been so tough.

There has been a debate for some time about the environmental strain of having more mouths to feed, bathe and house but debating about the financial strain seems to be rifer than ever. In an article by The Guardian in 2014, three families from Sweden, the UK, and USA talked about their childcare costs and the cold hard truth of each. It quotes that in Sweden ‘you pay 3% of your gross salary but there’s a cap so you never have to pay more than 1,260 Swedish krona [currently £103] a month per child – and if you have more children, you’ll pay a maximum of 420 krona [£33] for the third child and nothing for the fourth'(1). This is 27% of the UK national average in 2018 where the average cost of a part-time nursery place for a child under two has soared by 7% in the past year to £122 a week, or more than £6,300 a year, according to the report by the Family and Childcare Trust (2). Although that percentage is disgustingly high, the UK is still more fortunate than the USA when it comes to maternity & paternity leave, where mothers are not entitled to paid maternity leave at all and might only get up to 12 weeks unpaid if they’re lucky. Of course, we are more than fortunate in most respects – we have maternity leave and I would receive statutory maternity leave as a minimum but the truth of the matter is, statutory still wouldn’t even cover our current outgoings… We have cars on lease, nursery bills, rent, utilities, etc. and like most, we love a yearly family holiday – nothing overtly fancy or excessive.

So, what happens for the Fitzpriddings’ now? Short term it means a painstakingly uncertain wait, where caution is our new activity and ‘we’re trying to save’ is our new catchphrase. We never feel hard done by, our beautiful boy has shown us love like we’ve never known but the subject of more children opens the door to a whole world of what-ifs and buts you never even realised existed. In short, there is no answer to these questions that allows us to remain in pocket and have a larger family within a reasonable amount of time. I keep telling myself that there is plenty of time for this to come around but I know, 2 years into sharing our lives with this little dinosaur firecracker, it will whizz by. (WOAH, little did we know just 2 months later we’d discover we were expecting!)

Now, MAMAS ASSEMBLE for our closing thoughts – if you are ever in any doubt about your rights as a woman, a mother or as an employee, have no fear, there are women out there fighting for all. Flexible working for is a battle that is being fought every day by one of my favourite wonder-women,  @motherpukkaAnna Whitehouse and pregnancy rights is being fought by another, @pregnantthenscrewedJoeli Brearley. Campaigning and raising awareness for women rights and the law on maternity policies alongside the benefits of flexible working for all, these super mamas are paving the way for modern-day working families. (This is no ad or partnership, just what I would consider sharing invaluable advice between friends!)

As always, I hope this blog helped you feel a little less alone, whatever step in life your taking, whether it’s your second child or your fifth – after all, if you’re anything like me, family is always the most important thing.

Love and all, OCM xo.

 

Sources:
(1) https://www.theguardian.com/money/2014/may/31/costs-childcare-britain-sweden-compare https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/childcare-costs-increase-inflation-rate-treading-water-parents-household-incomes-a8230431.html 
(2) https://www.familyandchildcaretrust.org/childcare-survey-2018

Forever Keeping Up with The Fitzpriddings!

A family of three

The Fitzpriddings

I always say this (and you know I do) but after hiding away for a little while, we are in fact still here and SURPRISE, we are multiplying! Yes, that’s right – we are going to become an awesome foursome – WOO!

It’s been a hectic first half of the year with sensational birthdays and holidays with a few beautiful surprises and nasty hiccups along the way but we’ve made it this far and will be here a lot more often starting very soon – more to come on that! To kick start it all, this August we’ll be looking back at our Rory’s second birthday and our first stay-away family holiday to Disneyland Paris along with looking at what it really took for me to be a working mum (and why I chose to walk away) and how we are going to be preparing for our baby number two this Christmas – YUP, we planned that one really well. Taking it all in our stride, this year will be faced with many new and very difficult challenges but we are determined to turn it around and make the best of it.

We hope you’ll stick around and join us as we wade (or waddle) through the rest of 2019 –  we look forward to the journey!

Love as always, OCM .xo

 

 

Happy 70th Birthday: Why I’m Infinitely Grateful

Even though I’m a little late to the party, I feel my thank you to the NHS had to be a piece carefully considered. This took longer than expected and this isn’t a particularly long one but here it goes…

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As we all know, this year The National Health Service has reached its 70th birthday; an incredible milestone for a service that can sometimes be the hand to hold in every step through the circle of life. Today, this piece is an open letter on why I’m grateful for the NHS.

Happy 70th Birthday to the NHS: Thank You Flowers

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To The National Health Service,

What an incredible job you’ve done. A job you do with such courage and compassion, every single day. I’m beaming with pride and thankfulness whilst writing this as it is not without you that I sit here today, cuddling our precious son. 

After years of studying, racking up debt and working around the clock, your journey into a job becomes a role of unimaginable pressure, expectation and at any moment of every day, you could be faced with any possible and sometimes impossible problem. This is aside from the negative press, the government funding issues and the struggle to recruit; the overworked GP’s, overcrowded surgeries and in many cases, lack of available resources, you are without a doubt pushed to your limits every day. Despite this, in our deeply personal experiences, there has always been above and beyond treatment and care for each and every one of us.

As a family, we’ve faced some terrifying times; from my Great Auntie Lesley’s brain tumour and stroke, to my Papy’s viral heart failure, my Dad’s appendicitis to much more recently, my emergency c-section for the birth of my son, Rory. It wasn’t long after this that my parents wrote a letter to you expressing their utmost gratitude and thanks for Rory’s safe delivery and both my antenatal and postnatal care. A letter they were so eager and so proud to write you.

My most recent care through The Trust has been for an incredible postnatal care programme: ‘Every Birth Matters’. After struggling to come to terms with and face Rory’s birth, I was left unsure how to feel. Traumatised by the events and lacking a true understanding of what had happened and if it was at all, preventable in the future. With a fantastic midwife to walk me through my pregnancy and journey through labour and birth, she fully explained every step going into tremendous factual and emotional detail. This has been the most intense but worthwhile hour of therapy I’ve ever received. It has not only helped me accept what has happened but I’ve learned that there was nothing I could have done to change the outcome of Rory’s birth: He hadn’t progressed into my pelvis enough and after 30+ hours, they weren’t willing to give him any more time to try to. It was to save us both but what has saved me the most is knowing I didn’t fail, that my body did its job and even with the harrowing recovery – there was nothing more I could have possibly done: the outcome would have lead us down the same path. Even with this breakthrough, the best news was learning that I wouldn’t have to go through it again if we chose to have more children. That I could successfully have a VBAC if I wanted or a scheduled c-section should I wish. For someone who struggles with personal control, knowing that next time the choice could be mine, feels like a weight has been lifted. The Trust has been invaluable to my recovery and one day, I just hope I can express my gratitude enough.

Life is fragile and every day it’s put into your hands: a birth, a death, an illness, a broken bone. The list is endless. Nothing can prepare us for what life brings and no one will ever know what’s coming around the corner but it is from the bottom of my heart, I thank you for all you have done and all that you continue to do.

In our deepest and most desperate times of need, even in the most stretched state, you provided the absolute best treatment, care, and support for us to heal and move forwards without fail. You are a service that has become priceless for those who need it most.

You are priceless, you are treasured and most of all you are lifesaving. Happy 70th Birthday superstars!

Yours gratefully,

Naomi Pridding

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We must, must try everything to help the National Health Service and respect it for what it is: a life saving, irreplaceable free service providing an incomparable and incredible care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

I really don’t think I want to say any more for this – I don’t think it’s necessary. I’m just forever grateful for the care we’ve been provided with.

Loves to all,

OCM xoxo

Postpartum Mental Health: How Can We Talk About This?

As mental health awareness week comes to a close, I’ve decided to share this rather personal post with you. I’ve always felt rather alone when it came to understanding and talking about my own mental health but with all the media attention surrounding it of late, it still stands that there can never be enough done to highlight the importance of mental health and well-being. Sharing our experiences in the hope of helping others has become a blooming good start.

Having toyed with the idea of sharing this with you all, I once again find myself thinking that if one person reads this and it helps just one person, then it was worth the vulnerability and honesty of sharing my personal journey. I’ve discussed mental health before; wrote myself a letter in March about things I wish I’d known, things I would tell myself, but I always find that no matter what I would tell myself, I come back to my fears and the anxiety-inducing moments that surround the trauma of childbirth which can creep into the corner of even my sunniest days. When the smallest of thing that can set off a wave of panic, sometimes it’s unavoidable to suppress.

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Newly Dazed

24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year; Motherhood in unapologetically all-consuming but motherhood with mental health challenges is nothing like I expected. After writing our birth story last May and writing a letter last March, I’m now revisiting that day with a different set of eyes whilst looking at the journey that got me here today. As I’ve watched our little man start to grow up, my body and mind have changed. Regularly asked about the possibility of ‘Baby Number Two’, there are countless things I need to face and accept before that thought even enters my anxious brain. Looking back at my last month of pregnancy and Rory’s birth, I’ve struggled to accept the way things panned out.

My pregnancy with Rory wasn’t anything out of the ‘ordinary’. In fact, if you have read any of my previous blogs, I’d say I was rather lucky. I discussed my fortune in having no morning sickness or having any other debilitating symptoms or side effects. This lasted right up until I left work on maternity leave. That week magically flicked a switch and changed everything: I developed PUPPP. Pruritic Urticarial Papules and Plaques of Pregnancy is a nasty condition that develops in late pregnancy (and apparently more common in women having baby boys) and left my skin searing. I was itching with blisters and hives all over and burned at every hour of the day and night. Sleep was a thing of the past and doctors’ appointments became every other day, being tested over and over for Obstetric Cholestasis (a liver condition that can sometimes require induction) which luckily always returned negative results. I was exhausted and getting nervous at this point, I entered my final week of pregnancy feeling and thought was prepared. Still walking a mile or so in the afternoons hoping to induce early labour, I was offered a sweep – I need not go into details but DO NOT DO IT… I’m only joking but, in all seriousness, if ever in a position where this is offered: enter this with caution as at the very least it insanely uncomfortable and incredibly invasive. It was just 3 days later that I went into labour and 5 days later that I had an emergency c-section: the scariest eventuality that I was unprepared for. Leaving me swollen, cut and stitched, in agony and barely mobile, I felt couldn’t help but feel traumatised. How on Earth do you prepare for that!? Unwilling to talk about the event in depth or great detail, it became easy to brush the emotional side under the carpet and focus on my physical recovery which became unbearably tough on its own. It took me a good 5 months to realise how I truly felt about Rory’s birth.

Whilst speaking with a health visitor and NHS maternity service worker just last week, I found myself still feeling overpoweringly conscious of what I had been through. Without a doubt, I always find myself referring to how much worse it could have been or how there are women every day who face far worse but for me but I can’t help but linger on the single thing haunting what should be one of my happiest memories: it is the pure fact I was astronomically unprepared for a birth like that. My mind forever replays a scene from one of my favourite films, ‘About Time‘, during these moments. In a scene involving an accident that the main character Tim tries to change, he narrates a quote from a song by Baz Luhrmann called ‘Sunscreen‘: ‘He says worrying about the future is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life will always be things that never crossed your worried mind’ …No matter how hard I try, I’m still the one starring at the equation chewing that gum.

When I first opened up to a health visitor about how I felt, I was afraid what she would think of me. Mental health issues are associated with weakness but it takes incredible strength to face such inner battles. As I eased into talking about how I’d been feeling after surgery and how I’d coped with accepting the birth, PTSD was brought up. Always the person to think ‘but I haven’t been to war,’ or ‘I don’t live in a war zone‘, I needed to stop being so naive. PTSD isn’t because of a specific type of trauma and it can arrive and linger in many forms. It can be your memories keeping you awake in a cold sweat leaving you terrified to think too deep into what you’ve been through; It can be the very thought of how close to death you came and how it sends the blood rushing through your body, leaving you light headed and nauseous. It’s every time you see your scars, your stomach churns and the thought of how you wanted it to be makes you angry and somewhat irrational about the most basic of activities. It’s all consuming and something I’m now actively working to get through and I’m ok that it may take some time. Turns out the NHS have a fantastic service available where you can go and see specially trained midwives. They can talk you through what you’ve been through and help you process your feelings or fears surrounding your pregnancy, birth or motherhood. I’ll be taking part in a session in the next month and I’m both curious and anxious but hopeful it will help.

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Walking has become the best way to clear my head

Another side of mental health I find challenging is handling my anxiety. As I’ve become less afraid to admit it, it’s become easier to recognise. Postpartum anxiety is something I’ve talked about, previously in the form of separation anxiety and just like most mental health matters, each can take many forms. For me, it’s been an unexplainable jealousy, an underlying bitterness and twisting in the gut. A strange paranoia and relentless envy. It’s restless nights, toxic social media scrolling, actively avoiding every mirror, shop or car window. It’s taking hours to get dressed, noticing every extra stretch mark, wrinkle, crease or fold. It’s nightmares of what could or could’ve happened, the unimaginable and unthinkable. It’s all-around emotion, tears and upset and it’s also easy to slip into covering it up and hiding it far too often. Once again, it has taken me a while to actively seek help. You don’t always recognise it and you don’t always want to speak to those closest to you or anyone at all then there’s the option of medical help. For me, when I’ve seen GP in the past I have always been handed a ‘self-referral’ leaflet. These are without a doubt the most disheartening handout of information to be given when you’re in a doctor’s office trying to explain yourself after it’s taken weeks or even months to get yourself that far. I’ve learned that the doctors were no help, but when I turned to the health visitors, they appeared to be angels in disguise pointing me towards the NHS service I talked about earlier. It’s little steps to help put the pieces back together, to adjust to a new normal and to accept what has happened and move forward.

Our Little Monkey

Becoming a mother can be the hardest but the most rewarding thing you might ever do but you’ll never be the only one doing it. Avoiding being swallowed up in mental health challenged always comes down to being honest with yourself. Even in your darkest hour, only you can start the process of recovery. No matter how many times you try to suppress or hide how you’re feeling or the way you’re thinking, it will only deteriorate. Take charge of your health – it may be completely out of your comfort zone but try your best to reach out, find local groups or speak to your local maternity services. Opening up can be one of the scariest things you can do and yes, it is sometimes so much easier to lie, to really hide how you feel but sharing your experience can kick-start a very important process that will, first of all, help you feel a damn site less alone. Please, if you’re feeling low, sad, feeling like you are struggling, find someone who can help you in whichever form works for you!

As my title ask ‘how can we talk about this’, I’ve come to think the answer is far simpler than we thought. I believe it lies in empowering one another to speak out, share experiences and challenges. It’s guiding each other through difficult times and becoming a support network. We as women, as friends, family, colleagues could and should be supporting each other whatever the cause or type of mental health issue it is. Support is priceless.

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I hope, if you’re looking for help and need assistance, the links below help point you in the right direction and help you start your journey

As always, thank you for reading

Loves to all,

OCM xoxo

Worth The Weight?

 

Talking about weight is always a difficult subject and unfortunately talking about postpartum bodies is no different. Up until recently, it has never been a widely discussed (or accepted) topic. As I felt I needed to tackle some personal issues, I took my time and this has taken me around two months to write with it being nothing short of a challenge. I hoped by writing this, I could help not only myself but other women realise they are not totally alone when feeling like they’re living in someone else body.

It’s a stark reality check when you feel like staring into the eyes of a complete stranger. When you feel like you’re catching someone else’s reflection through a shop window. It’s like staring at someone you think you know, someone you met before in a brief fleeting moment but were never introduced to. They seem familiar. They copy all your actions, they share all your family and friends but to you, they’re unrecognisable. The stark truth is, it’s you and you no longer know you at all. This is the new you you’ll need to learn so much about.

It’s nothing short of a steep up hill struggle learning to accept a body you didn’t mentally prepare for. Let’s face it, between cots and car seats, you totally forgot to entertain the idea that your body would become unfamiliar and no longer be your own. You got whisked away thinking of your new life as a mother (or panicking about the birth) that postpartum you were at the bottom of the list. The reality check is a hard one. You have to stay in maternity clothes. You thought you’d no longer need them but you’ve reached a rather awful stage where your old clothes are still 4 sizes too small. It doesn’t take long before you hit a seemingly never-ending phase of being too big for old clothes and too small for your maternity clothes. THIS is the moment you will need to peel your self esteem out of the puddle of tears you’re floating in at the changing rooms at your local New Look and take some deep breathes: Remember: it won’t be this way forever.

Just when you think things could turn around because quite frankly you couldn’t feel any worse about the new version of you right now, you suddenly remember you have a boyfriend, a husband or a partner. Someone you (once upon a time) shared a close and intimate relationship with – (This is all providing you get 5 minutes peace to breathe of course!) Thoughts WILL enter your mind (despite the fact he probably witnessed you give birth): ‘I need to stay covered up, he absolutely cannot see me naked‘, ‘Oversized clothes should hide my body’, ‘I haven’t showered in days, has he noticed? Truth is he probably sees straight past all of that and sees just you but just how on earth are you supposed to feel comfortable or confident around him if you don’t even recognise yourself?! A swollen face, gorged bust, inflatable stomach – The aftermath of the surgery left me so swollen and it was like each little (or big) stretch mark became another haunting reminder of the limits to which my body has been pushed. Looking at myself I couldn’t see past this oversized version of me: this disproportionate woman clad with stretch marks and an over hanging stomach hiding a deep purple scar, deep down I didn’t want to accept that the once petite, size 10, slightly chubby round the edges gal who used to squeeze her non-boobs into a size 8 has left me. It just seemed so impossible. How was I supposed to bring myself to see our family and friends if I didn’t even feel or look like me? My preconceived (or lack of) ideas of how postpartum life would be really tripped me up at the first hurdle.

I guess I learnt the hard way that movies and social media don’t always help with the portrayal of having a baby. From pregnancy to labour to postpartum, I’ve come to the conclusion that it just can’t be summed up in a single photo or an hour and a half long Hollywood film. With celebrities social media accounts boasting their post-baby bodies with zero stretch marks or a petite frame rocking a petite bump can leave you feeling inferior and less than pleased about how you look. Whilst fully understanding that this image can be totally normal for some women and not for another, I have still hit the harsh reality head on that for me, my body does not look that way and I’ve faced a number of difficulties I would really rather have avoided.

As someone who has struggled on and off with body image since the teen years, not being able to recognise myself in a mirror has been a small dose of hell. With the whole idea of pregnancy and pregnancy related weight gain never bothering me, my mind always found the logical scientific reasoning behind being healthy and gaining weight to support my body through the process of growing a child. The common sense here far outweighed my somewhat irrational issues and helped my mind stay clear and make sense of my ever-changing body. As the first trimester of my pregnancy was too kind to me, I guess I became a little complacent. With barely any side effects, no sickness, very little dizziness, only mild fatigue and a hand full of food diversions, I gained very little extra weight. I realised quite quickly that compared to others and their horror stories, I had it fairly easy.

As my pregnancy progressed, everything remained steady. Little Rory was growing as expected with no signs of foetal issues. My health was in good shape and the only thing I suffered from was minor backache if sat at my office chair too long – nothing a lunch time stroll to get more food couldn’t fix! It wasn’t until week 34 when I began my maternity leave that things became a little difficult for me. Out of the blue I became incredibly itchy. My bump, shins and feet became unbearable to touch and often felt like they were burning. Mild panic broke out when I had gone looking for answers and came across the rare condition known as Obstetric Cholestasis: A liver disease that can develop during pregnancy, increasing the bile acid count to be much higher than it should be. It isn’t always serious but in severe cases, it can cause the development of jaundice and has, in some cases been linked to both premature and stillbirths. It affects around about 1 in 140 pregnancies and can be harmful to both you and your baby. If you do develop this, the only full cure is birth and will therefore be offered an induction usually somewhere between 37 and 38 weeks to help reduce any of the risks. Often medication can be given to help reduce the bile count but birth is much more effective.

Fortunately for me, after many (million) blood tests, my liver was fine but not long after this result I discovered I had developed a lovely little horrific side effect called PEP (Polymorphic eruption of pregnancy). This ruined my skin. Causing wide spread uncontrollable itching and spreading hives all over my newly grown stretch marks, my once smooth pale skin looked unrecognisable. Leaving scars over the worst effected areas, this added salt to the already searing wound, which just added to the explosive stretch marks that had erupted. I felt disgusting but little did I know I’d walk away with a much more permanent feature. Before Rory was finally born via C-section, I had never thought of the possibility of having to live with a scar. I have had moles removed in the past and have a handful of small scars but nothing that noticeable unless pointed out. I had braced myself that I’d have to live with stretch marks but let me tell you: no one in a million years could have mentally prepared me for a permanent scar, dealing with cut tissue, separated muscles or the wonderfully named ‘pouch’ that comes with the surgery. To add insult to serious injury, I came out of surgery unbelievably swollen and puffy. Looking back at photographs, I could barely open my eyes. On a first glance in the mirror after I got dressed for the first time post-op was literally horrifying. How the hell was I supposed to live with this over-hang of belly!? How are any of my clothes ever going to fit me!? And the more important ‘How the hell am I going to be able to get rid of this pouch when I can’t even walk let alone exercise!?’ My self-esteem hit a new depth. Should I have really been that self-centred about my appearance when I had just experienced the miracle of life resulting in a perfect healthy little boy? I’m not entirely sure.

So shall we look at some positive here? Although social media is regularly tarred as fuelling the national level of anxiety, I have recently found it to be my saving grace. Whilst I’ve been writing this there has been an epic explosion of body positivity filling up all of my social media feeds from some of my now favourite bloggers. As another taboo subject on the ever-lasting list of motherhood troubles, it pleases me very much that people of influence are bringing these subjects to light. I now don’t totally feel alone when wondering if I’m the only women ever to have discoloured stretched skin, the only woman to go from an hour glass to a square or the only woman to want to hide in a hole before getting a ‘tummy controlling’ swimsuit on. It’s been a million miles from easy but this has made it a little more possible that I may feel like myself again. I promise you if nothing else, this movement into loving your body will make you forget for a while that you no longer look like you but that deep down it really is you in there and you should feel the utmost pride for the life you have created and what your body has achieved.

It’s clearly no secret that pregnancy and giving birth can take an incredible amount of physical and mental strength so there is nothing more important than supporting each other through our pre and postpartum journeys. Please remember, no matter how you’re feeling, you don’t ever have to feel alone.

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Love to all,

One Curious Mother.

 

Sources:
Obstetric Cholestasishttp://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/itching-obstetric-cholestasis-pregnant.aspx
PEPhttp://www.bad.org.uk/shared/get-file.ashx?id=227&itemtype=document