A little update about my mental health progress for those following my journey…
I had a long talk with my CPN today (who is so wonderful that I’m almost embarrassed to tell her how ill I am) and it looks like my medication may increase when I visit the GP on Monday, from 20mg of Citalopram to either 30 or 40mg.
We discussed my ‘manic’ episodes, which she thinks may be being caused by me taking the Citalopram too late in the day. I often forget in the mornings so take it late in the afternoon, and sometimes before bed with the Mirtazapine. I’m going to order one of those fabulously chic pill organisers in the hopes that it’ll keep me on track, meds wise.
My referral for Talking Therapies won’t go through until I’m feeling more stable. I’m due to discuss my birth notes further with the psychiatric doctor in early May, although if I don’t find this helpful then I can be referred elsewhere. My wellness plan is almost complete, so that family, friends and professionals know the warning signs of me becoming ill and can support me best.
My CPN was concerned about my diet. I’m not really eating much and am developing anxieties around eating full meals. She also suggested some exercise might be helpful. I know that there are lots of things I need to do to help myself, but it’s often so exhausting just doing the day to day things that it doesn’t leave much mental or physical energy for anything else. I’m hoping the increase in meds might give me the strength to fight a bit harder.
I’ve been doing little things to help myself. Charting my moods so I can see improvement, listening to music, lighting candles and incense and reading a book to try to relax. I also need to make sure I don’t commit to too much when I’m feeling a little ‘high’ and then struggle to cope in fulfilling it all.
Yesterday I was frightened and agitated, but today I feel more focused on recovery. The way I see it, there are three options. The first is to stay as I am, wallowing in misery, vacantly parenting. The second is to kill myself, and not be here at all. The third is to do whatever it takes to beat this. I need to choose the third path, not for me, but for my Moo.
There are no groups running. I usually attend two or three of these ‘mother and toddler’ things a week. Mostly for the tepid coffee and occasional home made carrot cake. Moo mingles (I say ‘mingles’, I mean claws and scratches other children out of the way for the best toys) and I get to talk to a human being that can annunciate. During the breaks, I get none of this. Not a slab of sugary goodness in sight.
If you do decide to venture out, there are children everywhere. Public places are riddled with them. The pavement becomes an obstacle course of cape wearing speed demons on scooters and tweens looking at their shoes with iPods blaring. Soft play is a jungle and the queue for the swings is 100 yards long.
An alternative is to stay in, and do the all round entertainer mummy thing. So much pressure. Pinterest provides a smorgasbord of arts and crafts and baking activities, all of which are entirely unachievable. The disappointment on your child’s face when their cake pops resemble turds will live with you forever.
I’m sure there are many mothers that relish the chance to spend a week or two with their darlings. Me? I’m filled with anxiety about the whole thing. I’ll do what I can to amuse Moo and make some happy memories, but the change in routine is an unavoidable mental health nightmare.
I don’t get primary school attendance rewards. Genuinely don’t understand it, my mind boggles. I can’t think of any logical reasoning behind it. I’m sure the idea is to give parents a kick up the arse. Perhaps their children crying in assembly because they didn’t get a laminated certificate and chocolate treats will encourage them to ensure their child attends daily without fail. There are very clear issues with this whole system. How the powers that be can’t recognise them is beyond me.
There will always be parents that just don’t give a shit. The reasons for their apathy towards parenting could produce many a blog post, now isn’t the time. But if we’re blunt about it, there are mothers and fathers that just aren’t that bothered if their child goes or not. No amount of little Johnny whining that he wants the end of term award will convince them to change their ways.
There are parents with health issues, mental illnesses, disabilities and generally a lot else going on. The impending divorce, the cancer scare, the appointment with the community psychiatric nurse; things that *probably* overshadowed the need to get Janey to school every single morning for the last six weeks. Again, not much the child can do about that.
Many children have complex needs. A five day school week may be too much for the child born prematurely that struggles to keep up. Paediatric appointments sixty miles away usually mean making the gate for 8.45am a little tricky. Children have nightmares, disturbed sleep, treatments and therapies. Cut them some slack, their lives are pretty tough right now.
Kids get ill. While you recover from the shock, here’s a rough break down: colds, flu, tummy bugs, chicken pox, broken bones, asthma, ear infections, tonsillitis…
I’d much rather Susan stayed at home when ill, tucked up warm with a tin of Heinz’ finest, than at school spreading it to a class of 30, thanks. But the child that snots on everything all day and falls asleep over her lunchbox is the one that gets the sticker.
And it’s not just the attendance thing. Children miss out on edibles and a round of applause because mummy forgot the PE kit. No ingredients for cookery? Tough titties Declan, you’re sitting in the corner by yourself. Left your reading book in the car Jeremy? No lollipop for you.
It seems utterly cruel, to either give or take away rewards from children who have no control over the game. Where’s the inclusion? Stories of children on the ‘bad carpet’ or excluded from play break my heart. I know I’m not ok with the idea that my child might sit and watch her friends get chocolate when all she got this term was the norovirus.
I want children to *want* to go to school, no rewards involved. Maybe I’m being ridiculously naive and optimistic here, as a parent of a child not at school yet, but shouldn’t kids go to school because it’s fun? They skip with their friends, receive warm smiles from the teacher, get stuck in and find out some pretty cool stuff? And school should be awesome for *all* children, not just the gifted and talented ones, or the ones with the neatest hair and freshly polished shoes, or the ones that are the first through the gate. Every. Single. Day. When did school become about winning stuff? Are we preparing children for a future of rewards just for being on time? That’s not life.
These things are playing on my mind at the moment. I’m having to make decisions about Moos future. I think I’ve picked a wonderful pre school for her, nurturing, safe, fun – and not a bloody reward chart in sight. Whether I’ll find something similar for primary school in a years time is a little shaky. I have many dreams for her, but being subdued to silence by the threat of ‘being on amber’ is certainly not one of them. No child needs to see a sad face next to their name on the board. Primary school, all education, in fact, should be about building self esteem, enabling a child to develop into a well rounded human being, whilst discovering the world around them. It should not be about coercion, fear, embarrassment and disappointment.
It’s been a year since I started The Pumping Mama Facebook page, as a way to escape abuse on my personal profile when sharing images and articles that I found to be interesting and/or inspiring. I became free to discuss breastfeeding in a way that I couldn’t before, and soon connected with other mamas on the same journey of exclusive pumping. The WordPress blog followed, along with Instagram and Twitter accounts. I’ve been profoundly touched by the messages of support and encouragement, particularly when my writing became much more focused on my ill mental health. Depression and anxiety can take you to very dark, lonely places so I’ve deeply appreciated every kind word typed to me over the last twelve months.
The Facebook blog has developed from being a pumping diary, to a support page. Being able to post questions and worries on behalf of other women has been a gift, something positive coming from a very difficult time. I’ll always be heartbroken that I didn’t breastfeed, but contributing something to the exclusively pumping community has eased the pain. The range of topics I write about has broadened, to parenting in general and mental health. Blogging about postnatal depression and my mental illness has been free therapy for me and my online support network is invaluable. Although my pumping journey has come to an end, I hope that this new direction of blogging continues for a long time to come.
It’s funny that this anniversary falls on Mother’s Day. I’m not sure how I feel about it. On one hand, it’s lovely, and somehow fitting. This whole chapter of my online life came about because I became a parent, a mother. But on the other hand, Mother’s Day is a difficult time personally. Something about the whole celebration doesn’t sit right with me, as though I’m some kind of fraud. I don’t feel deserving of a special day of recognition for my mothering skills. I’m barely a parent at all most days and often don’t want to even be a mother. Brutal, but true.
I had hoped that Mother’s Day would be a very different affair by now, that I’d be much more ‘sorted’. But as it turns out, I’m not quite there. I shall try to enjoy the day, embrace it. I know I’ll savour the lie in and the restaurant dinner and I’m looking forward to holding Moo pretty tight. As with all parents, I’ll muddle through the next year as best I can, potentially making (hopefully not too catastrophic) mistakes and learning about myself along the way.
Here’s to all mothers, of Earth babies and angel babies, mothers to be and mothers of the future, to all women raising children, doing the best that they can with the hand they’ve been dealt; I hope you have a beautiful, beautiful day, filled with love and peace.
This is how getting a toddler to eat goes.
You carefully consider the meal choice. You don’t want anything too fussy. With too much chopping. You need to include lots of veg of varying colours. That’s the healthy thing to do, right? You must dig to the very depths of the freezer at turd’o’clock to ensure that the necessary items are defrosted in time. You settle on spaghetti and meatballs. Who doesn’t like that? It’s quick, it’s tasty, you can hide some nutritious type food products in the sauce. And Mummy gets to eat garlic bread.
You contend with the ‘helper’ with gritted teeth. The simple act of chopping an onion becomes full blown culinary warfare. There’s no distraction tip in the world that will shift the toddler from around your ankles so that you can approach the work top. It’s finally cooking, the meatballs are on the heat. Two toilet runs, a spilled drink, a story and two DVD changes later and they’re cemented to the bottom of the ‘non stick’ pan.
Once the ingredients have been almost literally thrown together, it’s time for the precious, life changingly important act of sitting to the table together. If you don’t do this, your kid will grow up to smoke crack. You must get this bit right. You seat the toddler, whose future hangs in the balance at this point, and return to the kitchen for the plates. A maids trolley would come in handy here, with a seat on the back for the offspring. At least then you could get the two vital components of this meal to the table at the same time. She’s not there upon return. As the once ‘blow it, it’s hot’ meal slowly cools to a ‘could have done with a quick ping’ temperature, you wrestle the child back into any one of the four possible seats. A game of musical chairs ensues. But finally, the breaking of bread can begin.
Now, I’ve shortened the following events into a concise list. For the full effect of the actual time taken to complete these tasks, read in your best ‘Dory’s Whale Voice’ impression, approximately one word every three seconds.
~ Roll up child’s sleeves, twice. Potentially clip back hair to minimise the bathing aftermath, depending on fringe length.
~ Load a fork. Unload and load the spoon. Unload and chop it smaller. Load on fork (that you’ve sent out a search party to find amongst the previously edible debris on the very recently cleaned floor) and watch with eyes wide in horror as toddler misses her mouth.
~ Endure several rounds of the ridiculous aeroplane game that you swore blind you’d never reduce yourself to. And the train game. Basically insert any mode of transportation you’d like, you’ll exhaust them all.
~ Play dinner plate switcheroo. Why just eat your meal when you can sample them all?
~ Pick out all the mushrooms to avoid the mother of all hissy fits. (Keep in mind that your dinner is rapidly becoming room temp.) Put them back. Pick out all the peppers. Then put them all back. Pick out all the *green* peppers. Pile all these slippery, half chewed, cold items on the side of your own plate.
~ View every carefully deployed tactic to avoid eating anything of sustenance. Nose picking, show and tell, the top ten run down of CBeebies theme tunes.
~ Fetch drinks, new cutlery, more pasta, a cardigan, squeeze in a toilet run.
And then, somewhere within the chaos, you realise, the meal has been eaten. The goal has been achieved. The high five playing out in your head is one of the greatest ever witnessed by yourself. Thank you Lord. The gargantuan hurdle of the day has been overcome, and until darkness falls and the monumental task of ‘Sleep, Child, Sleep‘ begins, you can breathe out.
The tidy up operation is intense. You’ll never get that tomato sauce orangey tinge off of the table cloth, however ‘wipe clean’ it claims to be. Unless you adorn the child with a shower cap, there’s no amount of sweeping back that will avoid the hair chunks. The face is flannelled, the floor is swept (is spaghetti coated in No More Nails?), the dishes washed up, along with the four cups, seven spoons and plastic sea horse that was dressed in slices of aubergine.
Parenting is very much about reflection. You balls it up, realise you have and then try to come up with ways to balls it up less the next day. What could you have done differently in this scenario? Less sauce? Cooked the meal whilst she slept instead of watching Dawson’s Creek in bed? Fixed her to the chair with cable ties? You hatch a plan to dice the vegetables smaller next time, have the full armoury of cutlery already on the table to avoid completing a half marathon while you eat. Would classical music playing softly have the desired calming effect? A new placemat? Her own pretend cooker so she can play chef while you prep? Maybe she’ll grow out if it? Bribery? Blackmail?
And then as you lie awake in bed, mentally and physically drained, and yet wired at the same time, it comes to you.
Fuck it, tomorrow we’re having fish fingers.
Moo needs someone to wipe her nose, put her hair in bunches and pull on her wellies. She needs someone to kiss it better, hold her hand and roll out the playdough. She needs to snuggle in, feel the warmth and comfort of a beating heart, be read to and sung to.
She’ll need someone to walk her to school, to pack her lunch, to carry her home when she feels unwell. She’ll need someone to cheer her on at sports day, listen to her practice her spellings and film the nativity. Someone to guide her, lead the way and be an example.
She’ll need someone to confide in, to cry to, to stick up for her. She’ll need someone to explain the birds and the bees, give her a lift to the party and recommend her for a part time job. Someone to buy her Tampax, build her up and boost her confidence.
She’ll need someone to help her pack her things, test her on the Highway Code and badger her to get up. She’ll need someone to wave her off at the airport, collect her newspaper clippings and someone to call at 2am. Someone to never judge, to help her find her way.
She’ll need someone to help her choose that perfect dress, weep with joy and get stuck in to the decorating. She’ll need someone to take the photographs, crochet the blanket and rock the baby while she bathes. Someone to support her as she mothers, be part of the village she needs.
She’ll need someone to encourage her, support her, enable her to grow. To pick her up when she falls, celebrate her successes and hold her tight. Someone to depend upon, to bounce ideas off of, to be her crutch when she feels she can’t go on.
She needs a mum. I can’t take that away from her. I mustn’t.
Here are a few links to my random ramblings that have appeared on other blogs and in publications. Feel free to have a browse!
I dreamed of being a parent when I was young, and the fantasy looked very different from the reality. Sure, I pictured chaos and piles of laundry, but I certainly didn’t predict postnatal depression and a catastrophic mess. I imagined home-cooked wholesome meals and a tidy, organised play room. I could not have been more naive.
A lot of my blog entries are kinda ‘woe is me’, pity parties and totally self absorbed, which is pretty much what depression is about. But, you know what? I’m still here, I’m still being a mother, I’m still pumping, which is a lot more than I thought I’d achieve around this time two years ago.
Thank you for letting me down.
Thank you for not reading my birth plan, for ignoring my wishes, for arguing about my care while I laid bleeding to death.
Thank you for forcing Moo to the breast, for making her first nursing experiences as traumatic as possible. Thank you for not calling on specialist help.
You dreamed of breastfeeding. You hoped to nourish your baby with your body, to watch them gently suckling at your breast. I understand that desire. I too wanted that experience more than many will ever understand. I’m not sure why I wanted it so much myself. It was instinct, natural, one of the strongest, most intense needs I’ve ever had.
LLLGB: Breastfeeding Matters Magazine March/April 2014
Every day is such an up hill struggle. Every waking minute, a fight. Even the simplest tasks become akin to climbing Everest. Every ounce of energy I once possessed has been entirely sapped from my body, eaten up by the rabid monster that is depression.
It destroys all that is light and good, diminishes hope. All that is left is a barren wasteland of intrusive thoughts, gnawing away at my insides, crippling my soul and accelerating my beating heart. How can my pulse and thoughts race so quickly when every movement feels so weighed down, so much effort?
I don’t have the strength within me to fight this demon. So much energy is expelled achieving the most mundane and trivial of tasks, dressing, moving, speaking. How can there be anything left for the war? Just summoning the words and hand mobility to write this is draining.
This mental illness is strong, it’s relentless. It seeps into every pore. Nothing is pure and wonderful, even the happy moments are tainted. It lies in wait until it catches you smile, then taps you on the shoulder to remind you it’s there. It’s unforgiving, reminding you of every flaw, every moment of weakness. It plays out every mistake and fear and upset on the big screen in your mind, on a continuous loop.
I must try to soldier on, if not for mine, then for my child’s sake. I’m plodding, movements heavy, muddling through as best I can. I don’t want to have to think and feel and act. The responsibility of managing my own life seems too much for me. I need a hand to hold from somewhere, some divine being to carry me so that I can rest a while.
Where can I muster some energy from, for this fight? I need a source to plug in to, to replenish myself, to begin to heal. I’m surviving by sucking the life out of those around me. I can’t let the toxicity of this beast destroy the lives of others too. For now, I’ll envelop myself in my little cave, my sanctuary, and rest. I’ll try to clear my mind, empty it of dark thoughts and muster up the courage and strength to fight the upcoming battle; another day with mental illness.
You may not be parents yet, or you may have chosen a different method than breastfeeding to feed your baby. More power to ya, that’s your right, your choice. But many millions of women do choose to be parents and breastfeed their babies. I get that most of you are cool with that. You just don’t wanna see it, right? How could you possibly enjoy your club sandwich with friends when there’s a woman with her boob hanging out with a baby dangling on the end of it? How can you focus on your conversation or work meeting or newspaper with such a spectacle going on?
Have you ever considered why you find such a sight disturbing? Perhaps it’s because huge formula companies advertise the shit out of powdered milk in plastic bottles, creating an image that that’s the more normal way to feed a baby, to sell more cartons and make more money. Maybe it’s the papers and magazines and companies that make lingerie leading you to believe that the best way to see breasts are pushed up together as much as possible, seductively oiled and used for sexual gratification. Either way, seeing a baby suckling on a nipple isn’t a common sight and you can’t be blamed for that.
What you can be held accountable for is voicing the damaging opinion that mothers with nursing babies should be shunned, hidden away, locked in dirty public bathrooms or kept at home. That the natural biological function of feeding a baby with ones body is disgusting, should be kept behind closed doors, that it’s perverted. You’re isolating a group of people, making women cry with shame. Is that the kind of person you want to be? Why not just take a look, raise your eyebrows at the rare sighting. Hell, why not take a second look for good measure? Then just resume whatever it was you were doing, completely unscathed from the horrifying ordeal. Maybe next time it won’t be such a biggie.
‘A baby attached to the breast? Nobody wants to see that!’ You’re wrong. I do. I want to see it everywhere. I want to see it in the street, on the television, in children’s books, on the bus, up a mountain. I want to see babies being fed wherever they want to eat and wherever a mother wants to feed them. It’s most likely just *you* that doesn’t want to see it. The majority of people in that restaurant/library/shopping mall won’t have even noticed.
‘If she can get her boob out for the baby to suck on in a cafe then I’ll get my penis out for a woman to suck on in a cafe.’ No. Just, no. Likening the act of nursing an infant to one of sexual pleasure? Pretty low. One of these acts is legal, the latter, not so much. Feel free to try getting a blow job in public, it’d be great if you could prove my point. And I’m sure the police officer would love your reasoning. Comparing breasts, designed for nourishing a child, to a sex organ is just idiotic. Where were you when they discussed basic human biology at school? Although if your school was anything like most, breastfeeding wasn’t even discussed. I can’t fault you for that.
If you don’t want to see natural, every day parenting when you leave your home, don’t go out. It’s the best way to avoid suffering disgust and displeasure and means you’ll be able to each your lunch without being grossed out. And while we’re at it, stay off Twitter too. #AintNobodyGotTimeForThat
Exclusively Pumping Breast Milk by Stephanie Casemore
This review has been a long time coming. It’s taken a while for me to read as I’m now the other side of this pumping journey and have found it quite emotional to look back. Oh how I wish I had known about this book, and the wonderful Stephanie, 31 months ago when I needed guidance and support that was so hard to find.
The book is very obviously written by a mother that knows what she’s talking about, without being patronising. Who knows more about exclusively pumping, the practicalities, the emotions, than a woman that’s been there herself? It’s a comforting reminder that many others are on the same journey. It’s not written by a cold, emotionless health care professional, but a mother that has also faced the battles and learned a lot along the way.
Exclusively Pumping Breast Milk touches on a wide variety of topics in the exclusively pumping spectrum, from the science of breastfeeding (mind blowing!) to D-MER. Subtitles help point you in the direction of the subject you need at a glance if you’re in a hurry for information. Perfect for steadying middle of the night wobbles, or if expressing needs to commence hurriedly.
Stephanie is fabulous at presenting both sides of an argument, the pros and cons of dropping a pump, for example, and then giving tips to help make the decision, rather than leaving the reader hanging. There’s a wonderful balance between the passion for breast milk and pumping, and the harsh realities of it, meaning that mothers go into this with their eyes open, prepared for the hard work, but with a fire in their bellies to make it through.
I’m truly devastated to not have had this book with me on my pumping journey, it would have been a most welcome and essential companion. I haven’t been paid to do this review and I don’t do lip service, so when I say that I’d recommend this book to every pumping mama, I mean it. It’s my hope that midwives, health visitors and lactation consultants all read this book, to enable them to better support women facing breast feeding struggles, mothers that balance breast feeding with work, mothers with a whole myriad of reasons for exclusively pumping.
You can buy Stephanie Casemores wonderful book here.
Read more about my own pumping journey here.