I’m not sure where you even start with a post such as this; it’s hard to know whether there even is a beginning, and I certainly haven’t reached the end yet, so I guess it’s a case of starting from where I am now.
I have been experiencing postnatal depression.
If I’m honest, these are the most challenging, the most shaming and gut wrenching words I have written since Orla died. They are possibly more riddled with shame because I feel terrified of being judged, blamed and seen as selfish, weak and inferior. When your baby dies, you know that many people will feel sad for you. Of course, you fear that there will be a multitude of other thoughts and emotions, but overall, you know that people will feel sadness and regret. When it comes to mental health however, you can never be so sure.
And when this occurs in the context of parenting a rainbow, the fear of being viewed as ungrateful and unworthy is paralysing. Which in itself becomes a self-perpetuating cycle of self-loathing and inadequacy.
After Orla died, I became a ‘doer’. I got up every day, I showered, I cleaned the house – I even cooked (damn you Gusto for signing up a vulnerable heavily pregnant woman who thought she’d spend the first weeks of maternity leave cooking nutritious meals!). I made keepsakes to treasure memories of Orla, I wrote and set up a blog and we planned our fundraising trip to America. Three months after Orla died, we flew to Canada. Two weeks later I feel pregnant. We spent the first trimester of my pregnancy travelling down the East Coast of the US and then Canada, and when we returned to the UK three months later, I went back to work for five months. I did yoga, I completed a mindfulness course, I saw friends. I was coping so well. Continue Reading
Regret; the sense of sadness or repentance for having done or not done something.
I carry an overwhelming sense of regret in this life I live after loss, and it is something that can be a heavy burden to bear. After all, there is no going back, no changing what has been done or not done. Orla has gone, there is no way of getting her back and no way of making new memories with her physical presence in place of ones that we were not able to do. Death is final.
There are many things that I feel incredibly proud of, maybe more so in what we have undertaken since Orla died; her letters, the fundraising, the blog. Yet there are so many things that I wish I could have done differently. One of the biggest regrets will always be the overwhelming sense that I failed Orla and potentially could have saved her. This undoubtedly goes further than regret and fast tracks to heart crushing guilt and shame. This is not just a tinge of sadness or sorrow, this is full blown rage at myself that I can only sometimes allow myself to unleash, through fear of how it will consume me. This is mum guilt at its absolute extreme: the feeling that I could have, should have, saved her and in not doing so I am not fit to award myself the title of mother. Mothers protect their children and I somehow allowed mine to die. Continue Reading
- Having the power to move heavy weights or perform other physically demanding tasks
- Able to withstand force, pressure, or wear
- Very intense
After losing your baby, this is something that many people seem to say: ‘you are so strong’ or ‘I don’t think I could be as strong as you’. I know this can be frustrating for some people, because being strong isn’t a choice, it is the only way to survive. Baby loss didn’t choose us because we are strong enough to bear the pain, baby loss does not discriminate and it could happen to anyone.
Yes, you have to be strong when your baby dies, because the pain is intense and all-consuming and you need to learn to live alongside this force. Every single minute of every single day. Yet I sometimes worry how this may be perceived by those who have lost a baby – what does it look like? Does it mean returning to how you were before? Does it mean going back to work and carrying on as if nothing happened? Does it mean not needing to seek help for your emotional wellbeing and ‘just carrying on’? Is it good old British stiff upper lip?
And what if you can’t do this? What if you don’t feel able to go back to work or engage in fundraising or something equally challenging? What if you can’t get out of bed each day? Does that somehow make you weak? Does that mean that you aren’t doing this whole ‘surviving baby loss thing’ very well?
I must begin by saying that this is a long one; clearly anxiety was a very big deal in PAL! I must also say that this post doesn’t go into what I did to manage my anxiety, as I want to do that justice elsewhere. This is just me trying to make sense of what it really meant to feel the fear of PAL and how it manifested for me personally.
I would estimate that about 99% of the clients I have worked with throughout my career experience some form of anxiety, whether that be by itself or alongside depression and / or other mental health difficulties. I feel confident in talking about the origins and functions of anxiety, ways in which to understand and manage the symptoms using some basic strategies, as well as some more complex and exploratory therapy techniques. I had anxiety in the bag.
And then I experienced pregnancy after loss.
During a particularly stressful Sunday CTG
I thought I knew anxiety having experienced it on many occasions in different circumstances. I understood the stomach flipping, hands shaking, heart beating faster, mind spinning, difficulty thinking / talking / functioning that comes with being fearful. I understood the, sometimes catastrophic, interpretations I would make of situations and how this exacerbated these feelings. But what I didn’t understand was what it would be like to exist in a state of anxiety every single day. For almost every single minute of every single day. And reassurance was often short lived and in the moment – and for me, worked less effectively and for less time as pregnancy progressed.
This week I caught up with (read: binge watched) The Replacement, and it reminded me of a blog post I started a few months ago and never got around to finishing or posting. Returning to work after the death of your baby is so complicated and multifaceted and there is no right or wrong time or way to do it. In fact, for some people it may not be right at all. However, I know that many have asked me what helped me, so it seemed a good idea to share what I did and what I have learnt from these last few months.
I returned to work six months after Orla was born. I could have stayed away for longer; in fact with the amount of annual leave I am now entitled to with the NHS, I could have stayed off for around 14 months (not all paid). However, for me, six months felt like the right amount of time. We had been away for three months, and once we returned, I knew that I needed the structure and routine of my job. To put this need into context, work has always been a huge part of my identity and plays an integral role in my self-worth and self-esteem. I see my job as a career, a vocation if you will, and it is something that involved many years of training and many, many sacrifices. I moved all over the country, to do jobs that were at times awful and paid a pittance, lived in house shares that made me miserable and then took out a massive loan to do a Masters degree that I hoped would help get me onto the allusive and competitive Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. That then took three years of hard slog, and being single at the end of it, I spent the next few years building my career and working my way up to the grade I am today. Whereas many of my peers started families very soon after qualifying, I busied myself with changing jobs and finding myself in a senior position and managing my own team. I felt confident and competent at work, so I really wasn’t sure how I would manage the shift in identity from ‘Michelle the psychologist’ to ‘Mummy Michelle who also wants to work as a psychologist and achieve the same as she did before she became a mum’.