This past week on social media was mainly made up of looking through friends photos of their little ones ready for their next steps into the world whether that be pre-school, reception, new year groups or even high school and sharing posts about PND to mark the fantastic first PND Awareness week!
It also marked the first day of Tigger starting in Reception. This is huge for any parent. Our teeny babies starting full time school, having hot dinners on a tray, wearing a full uniform or needing a pump bag. It also brought that defining mum moment of ironing labels into clothes (I feel old whenever I do this!). This was a milestone for Tigger, for me as a mummy and us as a family. It also felt like a milestone in my PND. I don’t know about you but most birthdays and memorable days such as these can shake me in both good and bad ways.
Last week I was shaken. I felt out of sorts. My brain wasn’t functioning as it has been the last 3 or so months (when I’ve been relatively well), my head was foggy but my thoughts were racing, I wanted to sleep so bad some days and I ate lots of crap! I couldn’t work out what it was but after a bit of thinking and crying I realised that I felt that sadness all over again that these past 4 years of Tiggers life although amazing have also incredibly hard. I have fought to stay present in this parenting malarkey, fought to love my girlies as they deserve, fought for good medical help and fought sometimes to just keep going each day. A struggle I wouldn’t wish on anyone and something which has been present in my life for 4 years.
As I thought on this I begun to wonder if I would always think like this. Would I always spend birthdays or other special times thinking about how long this has been? Wondering what life would have been looked like without this horrid illness? How PND has affected my life and those around me? I guess this partly comes down to a choice of what I focus on. Yes, this is a reminder that it has been hard and at times continues to be but it can also serve as a reminder that it is getting better and as I improve hopefully this will be my focus. It can be a reminder of the amazing people around me who have supported me, a reminder of the love and bond me and my girls have even with PND in our lives, a reminder that I have my lovely girls with me each day to love and a reminder that I am definitely not where I was and that it’s worth keeping fighting.
From this point on that’s what I’m going to try to choose on these dates and I hope if you are reading this and wondering how things will work out, if you will feel normal or if you will ever get better, I want to say YOU WILL. Things can and will get better. Spring will come, even if the winter is long and dark.
Talk to someone. Just say ‘it’s hard isn’t it’ to another mum, you might be surprised by the response. Call the PANDAS helpline on 0843 28 98 401 to talk to someone anonymously to begin with. Just sharing your concerns or symptoms with someone can be the first incredibly courageous step towards being well.
Good days, that wonderful feeling of good days, when your head feels clear, you can process information, you don’t feel like you might cry if someone brushes past you or is too nice, you feel pro-active and ready for the world. These days are amazing, for some people reading these, days like this will be few and far between, don’t panic you will get better.
I am always grateful for these days but what about that first bad day after a few (or even just one) of these good days? I’m going to call it ‘The Jolt’ day. The day after a few good days, weeks or however long when you wake up and feel like crap. When your head is fuzzy, you feel like you can’t face the day and you are reminded that in fact that depression has not fully gone. You are jolted back to the reality that your mental health is not as good as it could be. The jolt that reminds you that you are still on the journey to recovery.
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.