The transition to motherhood is something that is difficult to put into words. It is greater than the shift in role and identity and shines a spotlight on every part of you that you thought you once knew. The feelings are intense and often contradictory. And even when you are surrounded by people, it can be a lonely and confusing time. But if you too are struggling with the adjustment to this new role and identity, you are not alone, and as Emma captures in her letter, there is help and there is hope.
Emma Cottam is owner of Isabella and Us., editor and creator of the Positive Wellbeing Zine for Mums and mummy to Isabella. This letter is written from personal experience of the past year of becoming a mum, her struggles with the transition and diagnosis with PND.
To the mum who is struggling to adjust,
I’ve been there. When my daughter Isabella was born last December, just 9 days before Christmas Day I struggled to adjust to my new ‘role’. I struggled on for 5 long months without asking for any help; I struggled alone with the thoughts racing around my mind. Thoughts that my daughter didn’t need me, thoughts that I wasn’t a good enough mother, thoughts that my husband no longer loved me because he now had my daughter and didn’t need me anymore. I was embarrassed for feeling like I didn’t want to be a mum anymore and feeling guilty for feeling that way after I had longed for a baby. I spent months just going through the motions, never feeling fully present, not enjoying anything. Continue Reading
Since I started blogging, I have come into contact with some absolutely incredible people, many of whom have faced tough challenges and intense heartache on their road to parenthood. Amy Campbell is one of those people. Amy lives in Yorkshire with her husband Connor, their children Charlotte and Archie and their two Labradors, Hattie and Mila. Charlotte is a surviving twin to her sister Esme, who Amy tenderly describes as the ‘brightest star in the sky’. Esme and Charlotte were born three months premature and Amy blogs with such grace about her experience of their time on the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), saying goodbye to Esme and parenting her three beautiful children.
You can find Amy at This is My Brave Face and on instagram @this_is_my_brave_face
This is her heartfelt letter from one mother to another, which I have no doubt will resonate with many.
To a mother on the neonatal unit,
Firstly, I want to say to you, that you are doing amazing.
I am a mother of twin girls. Charlotte is my surviving twin. Charlotte’s (Twin 1) waters went at 24 weeks pregnant and I spent the next seventeen days on the antenatal ward in Leeds General Infirmary. At 26 weeks pregnant I was rushed into theatre, when Charlotte and I caught an infection and her heart rate plummeted. She was born extremely poorly and we lived many days by the hour. Esme was born trying to breathe by herself. For many weeks, Esme was the strongest twin. However at seven weeks old and after a week of battling with meningitis and ventriculitis, she was left with no quality of life. The kindest, most hardest decision was to take her off the ventilation. She was with us for a further twelve beautiful hours and has since taught me many things I value most about life; to love, to be brave and to never give up on hope.
Dear Orla, I don’t think I’ll ever forget the moment I first wrote those two words, almost exactly twenty four hours after you were born. I woke at home and my eyes immediately fixed on the empty crib beside our bed. Empty. Empty crib, empty arms, empty belly. It’s a feeling that you can only truly know if you had been though loss. For a while, I wondered if this was just how it was when you had given birth; to go from feeling stretched and fit to burst, to utterly empty to the core. Empty within your bones. But I can confirm that it is not. Loss carves out something from within you that is more than the physical. It scoops away a part of your soul that you didn’t even know existed, let alone would miss so deeply.
Dear Orla. Two words that were written every single day from there on until your first birthday. The letters that followed were varied; some long and heartfelt, others brief but no less meaningful. They were words that I found grounding at a time when I felt as though my place within the real world had been compromised. Severed. Words that connected your dad and I to each other and to you, and created a story of your existence in the space that belonged to you, and you alone, even in your absence.
Humans are social beings; we like to belong to a group. We need to feel included, connected and to have people who we feel allied with. Friendship, work, social and hobby groups; we find comfort and affiliation with those who have common ground, those with similar likes and dislikes and those who we feel will ‘get us’. People with whom you can be yourself and share your thoughts and feelings on a subject, and whilst they might not necessarily always agree, they will likely understand at least where you’re coming from.
We all want to belong.
And it is this sense of belonging that I have struggled with since the moment that Orla died. In which group did I sit? I quickly exited the NCT WhatsApp group chat because I couldn’t bring myself to share our news in the midst of other joyful live birth announcements, and we were never in contact again. I was clearly no longer part of a group that was going to be my ‘mummy crew’. I had no friends who had experienced a similar loss, so I felt somehow distanced and separated from those I loved the most. I could no longer even look at pregnant women in the street and share a knowing smile, because I was no longer in their team. Baby loss is excruciatingly painful exclusion that permeates almost every aspect of your life. 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