Formula feeding saved my sanity

Before you read this, this is my disclaimer. I am pro happy mums and happy babies. I am pro breast feeding and formula feeding and this post is in no way an anti breast feeding rant. It is hopefully a post to give others encouragement if they are struggling with breast feeding or switching to formula from the perspective of someone who also found it tough. 

This is a post I never wanted to write. I wanted to breast feed both of my girls because I had not avoided the ‘breast is best’ message (how could you?!) and I felt it would help me to bond with my children etc. Let me ask you this, has there ever been another time when you have wanted the best for someone else more than you do for your own children? I would love to give Tigger and the newbie the very very best of everything in their lives and that wasn’t any different when it came to breast feeding. However things changed when I had my first. After 5 weeks of exclusively breast feeding, I felt I could do nothing right. Tigger wasn’t receiving what she needed from me mainly because I was completely exhausted, run down and overcome by anxieties about whether I was a good mum or not. I was ill. I didn’t know it at the time but I had started my journey with post natal depression. 

The night I first gave Tigger a bottle, I cried so hard my husband called for back up in the shape of my mum! I struggled so much with the decision. It got easier don’t get me wrong but I still found it tough when I saw mums who were breast feeding. I felt like I had failed her. Why couldn’t I give her what she needed? Why was I struggling so much? 

I had a lot of guilt around changing her feeds to formula. This wasn’t helped by the fact that everywhere you go people ask ‘Are you feeding her?’ This question is my pet hate as the answer is of course I’m feeding her otherwise she would be screaming right now, am I giving her a bottle or my breast is a different question and in my humble opinion is none of your business! Of course at the time this was not my answer, my answer was usually something along the lines of ‘No she was breast fed for 5 weeks at the beginning but it was really tough so now she’s having a bottle’. Why the justification? Why the need to share that she was breast fed to begin with? Guilt. Is there any other decision you make for your children which comes under such scrutiny? Not in my opinion. 

Here’s the thing though stopping feeding was absolutely the best thing for me at that point. My mental health was rapidly deteriorating and I was struggling to just do the normal things in a day. Bottle feeding meant that on the worst days someone else could help me out. I also didn’t feel a huge pressure that it was only me who could provide leading me to feeling trapped on days I was struggling. 

It was by no means the only aspect of being a new mum I struggled with and by no means the only thing that helped me feel better but it was one of them. That was my experience and here is my encouragement to you if you are struggling with breast feeding your baby, you feel like it may be contributing to you feeling unwell and the main reason you are not giving up is guilt related then please don’t be scared. It is important for you and your baby that you are well, formula is safe to give your baby and feeding your baby can still be a precious bonding time. Do not struggle in silence, speak to someone you know and remember spring is coming. 

Caring for myself

When you get diagnosed with depression, PND, anxiety or many other mental illnesses you might have heard or read the term ‘self-care’.

As a psychology graduate I was very keen on this notion and as the daughter of a dad with depression I was AMAZING (annoying) at giving out advice about how to care for yourself! However since beginning to struggle myself I have discovered just how difficult this is when in the pits or close to the pit of depression.

What does it look like? What can I do to care for myself when I can barely face the day ahead (sounds dramatic but is the truth sometimes)? For me how do I approach a day with a toddler with no energy?

Firstly, self care looks different for each INDIVIDUAL and secondly it is actually a really important part of keeping a healthy lifestyle for anyone regardless of whether you are ill or well or somewhere in between. So there are obvious ones here like:

  • Eat well (I eat chocolate in large amounts and all things bad for me when down!)
  • Try and go for a walk/run/swim
  • Phone a friend or meet up with someone

However there will also be some other things that are personal to you, ways of feeling better even if it’s just a push through the morning or to get through that meeting or that phone call.

This post has stemmed from me finally taking my own advice this morning and putting some self-care in place to help me get through a tough morning! I am really good at telling people that I know when to take care better care of myself and what tactics I have but in reality that isn’t what it looks like. I have the knowledge but I’m not good at applying it! Too often a day can become a battle and by the end of the day, I feel like I’ve lost and depression has won, stealing a day from me.

This morning started out as a battle. Tigger arrived in our room at 5:53 (in the night I refuse to think of this as morning!) so I took her back to bed but then mostly lay awake and let my thoughts begin to take over. When Tigger reappeared at 6:30 (acceptable!) I was already a little anxious and down about the day.

T is definitely feeling the transition to a family of four at the moment as everyone we meet etc asks about the baby and asks her if she can’t wait to have a baby sister etc etc (lovely but tough for a 2 year old). As a result, there is a lot of whinging and quite a few more hissy fits etc.

This is how the morning went really, tantrum, whinge, break, tantrum, whinge etc. We were picking something up at 9:30 so that would get us out but the three hours can seem like a long time when you are struggling. By about 8:30am I was in tears, carrying on but through tears. Not much fun.

Instead of spiralling though I decided that I needed to take control. For me and for today that meant reaching out, I text my mum and shared I was struggling and that I might gate crash their house later on. I also text a friend who was coming round with her 2 yr old and baby and said I didn’t feel up to it today. Then I reached for my bible (I will talk about my faith and depression in another post) for me it’s a place of truth about me and the goodness of God and meets me in both the good times and the dark time too.

After collecting the things we needed I then decided to go to a very nice park bit further away from us, up north the sun is shining and spring feels close. This led to an easy 2 hours spent just watching T on the slide, pushing swings and meeting another nice mum. I felt 100 times better than I did crying in the bathroom at 830 and now we are home and having a bit of beebies time before tea and all that jazz.

Cancelling on friends is something I absolutely hate doing but I knew if I stayed in and waited for them and we stayed in and played I’d have felt terrible by the end of the day so it needed to be done. This is one of the first times I have actively sought to care for myself and it has really worked (I know, who knew??!!).

Why not try making a list of things that help you feel better? Not just in the evening when kids are in bed but also things you can do while they are up?

The following questions helped me today:

  • Would seeing people help me feel better today or will it wear me out?
  • Is there someone I can text/phone?
  • What are the things making me worry or feel down?
  • What could I do to lift my spirit?

I hope this post doesn’t sound patronising and I hope it’s helpful. I find it so hard and this is the very beginning of me applying the theory but let’s see how it goes?! After all, I’d love my spring to come as soon as possible.

But I love her so much

As I mentioned in my first blog, I was diagnosed very late with my postnatal depression. This was partly circumstantial, partly because I didn’t know what feelings were normal after having a baby and partly because I loved my baby so much and felt I had a really good bond with her. Strange thing to say?

My ideas about post-natal depression were very different to my experience of it. In my head someone with PND hadn’t bonded with their baby, felt they wanted to harm their baby perhaps and/or could not cope in anyway with the change that had occurred. Although these can be indicators, this is definitely not a complete picture of all post-natal depression, there are lots of other indicators as well.

My experience was different. I bonded with Tigger right away, I loved her so much and my PND manifested itself in anxiety around whether as a mum I was good enough, whether decisions I made on her behalf with regards to food, sleep, things we did etc were going to have a huge impact on her life. Anxiety was a massive factor at the beginning along with a massive lack of confidence in my skills as a mum. Most mums feel ill-equipped in those first few days but this feeling continued for me and my anxieties were so out of proportion.

I also felt very little joy or had little interest in things I had always really enjoyed previously. I began to find it difficult to go to places I didn’t know something I had never struggled with before. I’ve always been a vivacious, fun-loving and outgoing individual with lots to say (too much sometimes) and a love of trying new things so this new me did not sit well. I also felt consistently tired but again this seemed normal for a new mum and everyone says how tired you will be or how tired they are but I now know that the fatigue was part of me being unwell.

Despite, all these things it took me at least 7 months before I began to worry about my mood. Seems silly now as it sounds so obvious but it’s funny when you are in it, there is a new baby to take care of who completely depends on you and you are desperate to look like you have adapted to mothering well, it’s easy to ignore all the warning signs.

You can find some of the warning signs here on the MIND website and also tale to someone on the PANDAS helpline if you are concerned at all about how you are feeling. Don’t feel that it can’t be you, don’t struggle in silence just share with someone that you are a little concerned about yourself and ask for help. Believe me I know this is hard but you will feel better for not being alone in it and remember spring will appear.

The big event

THIS POST HAS DETAILS ABOUT BIRTH. PERHAPS NOT FOR THE SQUEAMISH!

From horror stories to no drugs and sailed through it. From a quick, didn’t make it to the hospital birth to a 50 hour struggle, anyone who has been near a birth has a story they’d like to share with you as soon as you mention you are pregnant or look obviously pregnant enough to take the chance.

I had one lady say “my cousin had her little boy a week ago and it ripped her to shreds”. Yes she actually said that to me when I announced I was pregnant! I felt so fortunate to be heading for that adventure!

Everyone is an expert but the reality is there isn’t a normal birth. Every single one is different (speak to any midwife)! Your body is different, your baby is unique and there are so many external factors which can impact your birth experience. There are, of course, amazing ways of preparing yourself physically and mentally for it, however the one thing you can guarantee is that it is an experience like no other with a large degree of unpredictability.

I wanted an active birth and preferably in the water and I was fortunate to get most of this. I did a lot of my labour at home and then was admitted to my local birth centre around 7pm. Tigger was born at 9:50pm in thhe birthing pool with all the staff saying what a straightforward and calm birth I had had. There was little concern as I was managing the pain and to be quite frank felt I should be in some pain having just pushed a human being out of me!

Things changed when I was examined after getting out of the pool and I had lost a fair amount of blood. I had a third degree tear, bordering on fourth. I needed to go to surgery. Suddenly we went from a safe, warm, soft lit room to the lift and delivery suite with bright lights and lots of noise! An assault of my senses a little after the calm experience I’d just had. I waited to be examined by the doctor in charge and then after waiting for a couple of emergency c-sections to take place was wheeled down to theatre. I had a spinal and the doctor ‘fixed my bits’ under a spinal.

After this, I went to recovery and around 4:30/5am was transferred back up to a small room on the birth centre. I was still numb from the waist down and unable to do some of the things I wanted to do but it was nice to be back in a more normal space with my new baby and husband.

I’m going to be brutally honest now, I mentioned it in my very first blog, but the first time I could go to the toilet after getting my feeling back in my legs I was so unsure about whether to leave Tigger or take her with me etc that I didn’t make it. A grown woman not making it to the toilet and having to call someone to clear it up is not fun. I remember being mortified even though the midwife was so reassuring that this happened all the time, let’s be honest you still don’t want it to happen to you!!!

Even though my birth wasn’t horrific in many ways, I didn’t spend 10 hours pushing or end up bring rushed for a c-section, I found it difficult to comprehend after. I was embarrassed that it had happened the way it had, I was also not sure whether the tear had happened because of something I had done or not done. Was it because I had a water birth? Did I push too hard? Did I not listen to the midwife? I know now that there are so many differing factors which can lead to tears that it is almost certainly not linked to one choice or action that I did or didn’t do but it took me a post-natal debrief and chats with some of my midwife friends after sometime to help me realise this. It also took a bit of courage to actually speak up and say it wasn’t quite what I had imagined and I was struggling with the experience. When people around you keep telling you that the baby is healthy and you had a quick, straightforward birth it is difficult to feel that what you are struggling with is valid. Take it from me, it is.

So that’s how Tigger came into the world! I wanted as part of this blog to be as honest as possible about my experiences so apologies if this isn’t what you were looking for or it was too much but my hope is that reading this account may help you or others to know that your story matters. That no matter what people say about your birth or whether you feel you got off lightly or had an awful time, talking about it can help and so can accepting that birth is unpredictable and you were not the only factor involved.

Past the first post!

I blog this first post with a sense of excitement, vulnerability and dread. I’ve been wondering about writing this for some time but now seemed as good a time as any. I’m venturing into having baby number 2 this May and so a lot of the memories feel a little fresher with the thought of doing the baby thing again. In this post I will tell you the outline of my story and then the blog will vary between my own continuing journey as a mum with PND and also ways of helping ourselves and finding help when you are struggling.

So where to start… In June 2012 I had a baby girl, we’ll call her Tigger (she has endless bouncy energy!), from this point on. She was perfect and I was so excited about becoming a mum. The labour was ok (as far as labour goes) however after suffering a third degree tear I was rushed to theatre and after a spinal and much stitching was delicately holding my baby girl again. I will share more of my birthing story in another post but it’s safe to say I experienced the shock that so many others experience at the loss of dignity and the difference between my expectation and the reality of what bringing Tigger into the world looked like.

I remember needing the toilet in the early hours of the next morning and not knowing whether to leave my newborn baby in the room while I went or whether I needed to call a midwife?! I had ideas that social services might be called if they found I had disappeared, safe to say that tiredness had set in I think.

I had so much love for my little one and it wasn’t for some time (about 6 months) that I began to wonder if there was something wrong as the feelings of exhaustion, loneliness and anxiety just would not budge. Why did I feel like this? What did I have to feel sad about? Why when I have so much support and love around me, do I keep crying and feeling so low? I tentatively began to ask the question am I depressed?

Next, life happened, my grandad passed away suddenly and as my Nans’ primary carer, it was not only incredibly upsetting but also logistically difficult to work out how we could best look after Nan. As a close family, we all pulled together and without sounding too melodramatic, our own needs were buried. There was also a reason to be sad so when I felt low and tired there was a reason so I carried on. My nan also passed away that year so it was a very sad and also hectic year. It wasn’t until the Christmas, 18 months after my little one had arrived, that I felt like something was going to break. I could no longer see light at the end of the tunnel and thing seemed so hard. This was when I first sought help.

So there began a journey I never expected. It has been and continues to be challenging and distressing but has also shown me so much both about myself but also about the pressures we heap upon ourselves and others when we become mums. I hope on this blog to explore post-natal depression and how it affected me and also provide ways of you seeking the help you need if you are feeling low after having a baby.

I blog with a hope I guess. Hope that telling my story may help someone, hope that support will increase for mums experiencing PND after having their babies and always with a hope that in the darkest of winters, spring will always appear.