I’ve never really spoken about breastfeeding, because it can be such an emotive topic. However, I now also realise that this may be because of my own complicated emotions towards it.
I breastfed exclusively for about 7 months before shifting to mixed feeding after E started weaning, stopping completely at 10 months. I said I loved breastfeeding at the time, but I’m not sure that this was in fact my whole truth. I think I loved the idea of it, the theory and the meaning of it. And yes, I was proud that I was able to do it for so long, particularly after I rocky start: tongue tie, lactation consultant support, high supply and fast let down and flow, always having to use shields – it wasn’t easy, but I persisted. And we were incredibly lucky that we could buy in the support we needed early on, which I know places me in a very privileged position. But it was a complicated journey.
Of course, the closeness it provides, the bond that it can allow you to build and the knowledge that you are physically providing something that is nurturing is wonderful. Living somewhere where you are surrounded by other breastfeeding mums and having access to support groups and lactation professionals meant that there was also solidarity – but maybe also a sense of pressure. Everyone else looked as though they had it nailed. Everyone else seemed to be loving it and didn’t feel the need to cover up. But I just could never really relax into it.
I can’t quite believe that it has taken me a whole year to write Esme’s birth story. Maybe it was due to me finding those early months so incredibly overwhelming; maybe it was PND. Or maybe it was because I have found it difficult to reconcile my feelings towards birth since losing Orla.
The thing is, I was so prepared for Orla’s birth. Not only was I prepared, but I was excited. I had planned a home birth, had practiced hypnobirthing for months and every detail had been planned with love and hope. And whilst I am proud of how Orla’s birth unfolded, I mourned the birth I didn’t get, which has left me with many complex feelings. Anger. Shame. Guilt. I mean, how could I talk about feeling sad for not birthing in the way that I had hoped when really all I should feel sad about was the fact that my baby died?
But I did. And I continue to feel sad, because even if I ever feel brave enough to try for another baby, I don’t think I will ever get the birth that I had so dearly wished for. My anxiety will never allow me to wait for spontaneous labour, and my knowledge of what can go wrong will always prevent me from birthing in the comfort of my own home. And I’ll be honest and say that I always get a pang of envy when I hear these stories from others. I am happy for them – genuinely happy. But I am sad for me. And maybe that makes me selfish, but it is the truth. Continue Reading
Over the past week or so, I have seen a few worrying examples online of people asking for help for their mental health and having some really difficult and invalidating experiences. And whilst psychologists do not take a hippocratic oath, I felt that I couldn’t sit back and say nothing, in case I could share something that might possibly help someone.
My current job involves helping people to find the right mental health support for them as well as training and providing consultation to other non-mental health professionals (e.g. GPs, social workers, housing officers) about how best to support and work with their own clients. After fifteen years NHS service, working with many clients with a vast range of mental health difficulties in the community as well as in-patient hospitals and prison, I feel I have a good understanding of the help available.
Many of the stories I have read online have reflected what can only be described as poor practice and a clear lack of compassion and understanding. However I do want to just take this opportunity to say that GPs have an extremely challenging role; many have limited specific training in mental health, despite so many people presenting to them with these difficulties, and mental health services are often over-subscribed with long waiting lists. This can result in them feeling unsupported and overwhelmed and very unsure as to where to refer their patients. And although this can never excuse bad practice, I always try and hold this in mind. So many people present to them with mental health difficulties, and with nowhere to refer these people, it can become a very difficult situation for everyone. Continue Reading
In January, I completed an 8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course (MBSR) and during the final session, we were asked to write a letter to ourselves that would be posted in a few months time. And a few days ago, mine arrived. I actually couldn’t bring myself to open it initially: I have felt anything but mindful these last few months and I felt ashamed that I had let my practice and acceptance of the skills slip. I have been in a bit of a fog, that has actually been in a very dark hole at times, and I know that I have allowed myself to be at the mercy of my thoughts and emotions. I don’t feel quite ready to discuss all of these just yet, but I hope one day I will, since this is all part of my own journey to motherhood, and it is a path that hasn’t worked out how I had expected. This envelope therefore felt like a very heavy weight when I picked it up from the doormat; a huge wooden door back to pregnancy after loss that I felt scared to face. What I was scared of exactly I don’t know – maybe it is the fear of being catapulted back to a time of intense fear and trauma. Or maybe it is facing the reality that I could potentially feel more scared, more stressed and less like I am coping on the much coveted ‘other side’. Continue Reading
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Today marks my first Mother’s Day since Orla’s birth. I am a mother to a beautiful daughter who would now be almost 11 months old. I am also a mother to a baby growing inside of me. Yet, sometimes it is hard to show the world my status as a parent. I do not have a pram to push or a baby to carry in my arms. I do not go to baby groups or have playdates with other mothers. Yet I feel different to the person I was just last year, as having Orla has changed me irrevocably from the woman I was once. I feel a love and responsibility that I didn’t think was possible. My heart feels infinitely larger and fuller and it aches with pride. Yet I don’t have new photos to show, or new stories to tell. I can’t speak of milestones that have been met or new stages reached in development. But I still have the innate need to parent. It is a natural urge that doesn’t go away even when your child isn’t able to come home with you.
As a result, I have had to find my own way to parent; to parent a child who lives in my heart but not in my arms. A way to parent that isn’t included in any manual or book and in a society that isn’t always quite sure how to respond. I have learnt from other mothers who have bravely shared their stories; I have seen how they have honoured their precious children and kept their memories alive. I parent based on gut instinct, doing what feels right and whatever brings comfort, no matter how different or strange it may look to the outside world. The ‘non-loss’ world. I parent in a way that involves developing a thick skin, in a way that it courageous and brave. I battle against barriers and opinions of what is acceptable and not, of what is right or wrong. I may have to justify my choices, to explain and help others to understand. And in some ways, I see many similarities to the challenges that all mothers face. Continue Reading