Monthly Archives: September 2011

Depression isn’t just for post birth

I don’t think I was particularly good at keeping healthy during pregnancy and I do feel extremely lucky and blessed to have had two full term pregnancies and to have two healthy daughters. However, depression is something I have experience of and I hope my story might help others to look for help when they need it.

Warning: Potentially upsetting content, depressed thoughts during pregnancy.

When my eldest daughter was 18 months old, my husband and I were blessed with another pregnancy. Except I felt far from blessed. On seeing the word “pregnant” on the test (it would be a digital, no squinting for a line here) I burst into tears, and they weren’t tears of happiness. I was taking fluoxetine for depression as it was (for the past 11 months) so I went straight to see my GP. “Take one every other day for 2 weeks and then stop taking them” she said…

So I dutifully did. I bought folic acid. I tried to feel happy. I was too tired to feel anything really. Inside my head these little thoughts kept appearing “It will go wrong, I won’t have to have it.” The baby was always “it”. I vomited daily from 6 weeks pregnant, just as in my first pregnancy. This time with added all day nausea.

At my booking in, my BMI was 40 so my midwife put me down as consultant led and gave me Slimming World vouchers. I never used them, I didn’t care. I never went to the consultant appointments, what was the point? At my 12 week scan, there it was: a little jumping bean. “Lots of movement, good strong heartbeat” said the sonographer and gave us scan pictures. On the way home, I burst into tears, I had been hoping that I had a missed miscarriage.

To the outside world, I faked it. I showed the scan pictures, I talked about potential names, I talked about gender guesses. Inside I just hated “it”. At 17 weeks the sickness and all day nausea were more than unbearable. I went to the GP and begged for something to make it go away. She gave me blurb about how it could harm the baby but prescribed something because she knew what it was like. I didn’t care what it could do to “it”. I didn’t want “it”.

Every day I thought about terminating “it”. I talked to my husband about the 20 week scan: If there’s anything wrong with it, we won’t keep it? I got him to agree. I hoped there was a problem. There wasn’t, it was a perfect 20 week scan. There were more scan pictures, an actual baby looking creature in black and white. I still felt nothing but despair.

At 24 weeks all the thoughts and feelings were just too much. I planned to go to my GP and beg for a late termination. I couldn’t have this thing. I couldn’t love it. I couldn’t keep it.

I went to my GP. I asked to go back on the fluoxetine because of how I was feeling. I was referred to see a psychologist because of the risks of anti-depressants in pregnancy. I had to manage another week trying to keep a vague grasp on sanity. I was missing so many work days from sickness I only just scraped missing a disciplinary (I found this out a long time later, the fact I was pregnant was a mitigating factor.)

Almost as soon as I started back on anti-depressants, the thoughts of terminating “it” faded. I still feel so much guilt for those feelings. I can never forgive myself, although I know it was the depression, it was the illness, it wasn’t really me.

And where were the health professionals during all of this? My midwife had an operation so I saw her at 12 weeks and 38+ weeks of pregnancy only, in between was a different cover midwife every time. My GP was on a sabatical so I saw a different GP every time. The psychologist approved my anti-depressants but didn’t think the fact I wanted to kill my unborn child was an issue, I’d get over it…

Although the anti-depressants removed my thoughts of termination, I still didn’t want “it”. I looked up how to put “it” up for adoption (not an option, both parents have to agree). I’d talk to my toddler daughter about how much I loved her, how we’d feed baby and keep it alive and well when it was born but wouldn’t love it. I loved my eldest with an intensity bordering on obsessiveness, focussing all the love I wasn’t feeling for my unborn child onto her.

At 26 weeks, the sickness and nausea finally stopped (the same as with my first pregnancy) and something amazing happened: I met my lovely health visitor.

It was my eldest daughter’s two-year check and the first time I met this health visitor as she was new to my surgery. We talked about eldest’s development (fine) and she asked about the baby, saying she’d probably be my health visitor. And it all came flooding out…

Surprised that I’d been feeling like that for so long she suggested she visited me for “talking therapy”. And she did. Before my second daughter was born, after she was born, months later when she heard my mum had been admitted to hospital for an emergency heart operation… Sometimes weekly, sometimes monthly, she would visit and we would chat. About families, about raising children, about what her children were doing or had done, about anything and everything. I can never thank her enough for that time. I didn’t know I needed it but that small amount of time and those uncritical chats were the most valuable health care I’ve ever had.

Tommy’s 5 Point Pregnancy Plan – Make a difference
This is part of a blog hop started by Merry from Patch of Puddles. She says: “I joined up with Tommy’s Baby charity and Bounty UK to help them launch their new 5 Point Plan for healthy pregnancy. This is a plan aimed at empowering women to make small changes to improve the health of themselves and their baby. It’s about making thoughtful choices and making a difference. Too often women feel there is nothing they can do once they are pregnant to keep themselves healthy and that all the ‘inevitable damage’ that they do during pregnancy can be fixed afterwards. This campaign is about supporting women to make good health choices, small changes that can make big differences.

The 5 Point Pregnancy Plan
Tommy’s and Bounty UK are encouraging women and health carers to address 5 areas of wellbeing:-
Nutrition
Weight Management
Mental health
Exercise
Smoking

Women have a right to good information and supportive assistance in these areas, whether it is help to know what foods they should eat, or managing stress, which can contribute to pre-term labour, finding a gentle exercise programme to suit them or giving up smoking. 17% of pregnant mothers still smoke. 1 in 5 pregnant mothers are obese. There are common misconceptions surrounding ‘dieting’ as opposed to nutritional and healthy food and how safe exercise is during pregnancy. Tommy’s and Bounty UK aim to help women get easy access to this information by placing an information card in all new pregnancy packs given to expectant mothers.”

How You Can Help
Join in the blog hop hosted at Patch of Puddles. I can’t add a linky, please click for the original post, there’s an incentive for joining in – not that you need one, do you? 🙂 Use the #healthypregnancy hash tag on twitter to spread the word.

Work and School

I took voluntary redundancy at the end of May this year and here I am, less than 4 months later, back at the same organisation… It’s only for 8 days spread over 4 weeks and I did the first day today. In some ways, it was as if I never left. In other ways, everything is completely different. After one day I have a killer headache and although I do enjoy the work and am appreciating the change in routine from being a stay-at-home-mum, I don’t think I want to return to the ‘workforce’ just yet. I do realise I am fortunate to have the choice.

Mighty Girl started school last Wednesday, so has done nine school days now. Walking to school she says she doesn’t want to go and school is boring… When I collect her she says she’s loved the day and she wants to go back tomorrow! So far (early days I know) I am very happy with her school experience. I am not parenting my girls as well as I’d like to and having the break from each other is good for both myself and MG at present. I do miss her though.

On Tuesday it was Roald Dahl Day and everyone at MG’s school had to dress as a character from a Roald Dahl book. Erk, my first creative challenge. Fortunately I found an easy-looking idea for The Enormous Crocodile and we made her snappy croc arms together the night before.

Today was MG’s first day with before-school and after-school with her old nursery because I was at work. I left before drop-off time but Daddy said she was quite shy as no one else had arrived yet (I thought she’d be in the Casa before and after school but she was upstairs in the after-school area) but she was with people she knew and when we picked her up she was running and playing happily in the garden with her friends.

Destructo Girl has been sad that her big sister has been going to school so I sold nursery to her telling her she was going to school. She had three one hour settling in sessions as it had been three months since they were last there (MG had one one hour settling session) and generally screamed at being left but was okay during the session if a bit unsure. However, her first full day she completely loved. Daddy said there were screams at dropping off but the IC (infant community) staff said it was as if she never left – she knew where to choose materials and put them back and she joined in with everything. She was also playing happily in the garden when we collected them and chattered away happily about her day at school, singing songs. It’s made me realise that I’m not really doing enough with her. She loves singing and joining in the actions and she had that at nursery but I don’t do it at home. I must do a ‘circle time’ with her. She’s always been the one to get on with things happily while MG took all the attention but now she has one to one time with me I really should use it better. One of the things I really want to do is start some Montessori ‘tot school’ work at home, I should start with this Montessori Minute post from 1+1+1=1. Or this post on setting up a Montessori toddler environment from Living Montessori Now.

In four weeks I shall be back to being a stay-at-home mum again, I’m not sure how I’ll feel about that. I’m hoping this brief return to work will remind me why I left in the first place. And maybe the structure of a work day will influence a structure into all our days and a little less chaos 😆

Six Books

Six picture books from my childhood that I bought for my children

1. The Very Hungry Caterpillar – Eric Carle (1969)
This was the first book I bought for my then unborn first child. It’s just an essential book for every child. I remember as a child loving the different sized pages and the holes where the caterpillar has munched through. The art is gorgeous and iconic. Not only that, but it also teaches the lifecycle of a butterfly, counting, days of the week… It is an absolutely perfect book. So much so, I think I may upgrade the board book version we have to a paperback version so it can be enjoyed in our house for many more years to come.

2. Meg and Mog – Helen Nicol & Jan Pienkowski (1972)
I still love Jan Pienkovski’s art and our house is packed with examples of his work from Meg and Mog to pop-up Haunted House; from 1001 First Words to The One Thousand Nights and One Night… But this is where is all began for me, with the story of Meg the witch, her cat Mog, Owl and the spells that never work out. There’s nothing not to love about the Meg and Mog books but the first one is my special favourite, it’s probably one of the first books I read independently. The fantastic easy to read lettering and the bright contrasting colours means it catches the attention of even very young babies. I never tire of reading it.

3. My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes – Eve Sutton & Lynley Dodd (1974)
I always wonder what happened to Eve Sutton, I don’t think she wrote any other children’s books. Lynley Dodd of course went on to create the fantastic Hairy Maclary series plus many more. But this is still my favourite of her books. The Cat from France may well like to sing and dance but MY cat likes to hide in boxes, and that’s just fine with me.

4. Mog the Forgetful Cat – Judith Kerr (1970)
It seems to me that most people think The Tiger Who Came To Tea when they think of Judith Kerr, but it was always the Mog books for me. I love cats, we had a tabby cat, and I love how poor Mog accidentally saves the day in this story. Mog is such a lovable character in all her stories that I can’t bring myself to read Goodbye Mog (2002) as I know I’ll just sob the whole way through. Fortunately there are many more Mog books that I also haven’t read that I will get to share with my girls at some point, but this is the one I read and re-read as a child.

5. Big Sister and Little Sister – Charlotte Zolotow & Martha Alexander (1966)
I am a little sister with a big sister, which is probaby why I loved this book. I remember reading it when i was about 8, it was borrowed from the library and I tried to copy all the words before it was returned but never finished. It’s one of those random old memories: sitting at the bottom of the stairs reading this book. At 36 I no longer think of myself as being the ‘little sister’ but by virtue of birth order Destructo-Girl is and I think she will relate to this story too. Most importantly, I hope my girls do learn from each other so that they too ‘both know how’.

6. Dogger – Shirley Hughes (1977)
Dogger, the well-loved toy who gets lost. With one ear in the air and one folded over, Dogger was quite like a pet dog we had at the time. I loved this story of losing a favourite thing and regaining it, the kind big sister and the wonderful pictures that take me back to being very young. I still love the story and am happy to read it again and again to my girls.

All these books are still in print (except for possibly Big Sister and Little Sister) and will probably be on the shelves of your local independent bookshop, although Big Sister and Little Sister can still be found new online. I recommend them all for books to be treasured and to not get boring as you read them again, and again, and again…

What books from your childhood did you keep or buy again for your own children? Please comment and share your favourites!

Advice for new Parents

I’ve just read this post by Mamasaurus and it reminded me of the advice I wrote for a friend of mine expecting her first baby. I am by no means an expert, but these were things I found useful (and she didn’t mind me writing this for her…)

1. Ignore all advice. Except this one on ignoring advice 😆 Every baby is different and you will be the number one expert on everything to do with your baby (Daddy too, but you most of all). What worked for someone else doesn’t mean it will work for you. It’s nice to get ideas, it’s nice to talk to other people and it’s good to ask for advice when you need it. But don’t feel obliged to follow anything, trust your instincts and definitely ignore well-meaning but unsolicited advice – it’s nice but it’s usually not useful.

2. Don’t stress breastfeeding. Definitely try it, persevere if it’s something you really want to do, there are breastfeeding peer support groups etc and plenty of help. It’s not easy. But if you don’t want to, can’t for any reason or just don’t like it (like I didn’t) then don’t stress it. A happy mummy is better for baby than breast milk. If it comes easily and naturally, enjoy it – no sterilising, no bottles to carry around etc.

3. Slings are fab. A stretchy wrap sling is best for a newborn – for example a Moby or a Close Carrier.  Certain structured carriers are not good for babies (they hang by their crotch, rather than being supported by their bottom). A stretchy wrap snuggles baby and allows you freedom to do other things. I never had one with MG but did with DG and it was definitely essential with two: MG in a buggy, DG in the sling. But with one, it saves having to always take a buggy out, if you just want to go for a walk etc. Also apparently you can breastfeed in them, but I know nothing about that. But I definitely recommend. It’s lovely being close to baby but also having hands free to read a book or make lunch…

4. A digital ear thermometer – definitely an essential. Much quicker and non-obtrusive than other thermometers. They’re £30-£40 but well worth it for the peace of mind. I got one when MG was born and it’s still on the first set of batteries. On a similar note, newborns should never have a fever. If an under 8-week old has a fever (over 38C or 37.5C depending on what you read) then take them to the GP immediately, out of hours if necessary. It happened to me with DG at 5 weeks and a friend with her 2nd baby at 3 weeks. Both of us didn’t think it was important, both of us ended up in hospital with the babies. In both cases it was viral meningitis, of the kind that is not dangerous but as it takes a test of spinal fluid to find out, it’s treated aggressively to be on the safe side. In our cases, the babies would have recovered and didn’t need to be in hospital, but it’s best to be safe.

5. A baby gym – essential to leave baby lying under so you can do other things like go to the toilet, or eat! Any will do, I had a plastic 2nd hand one that did fine for both girls but there are also lovely fabric or wooden ones. Basically arches with things hanging down for babies to look at and to reach for when they get bigger. They only last until they start crawling (from 8 months ish) so not worth spending a fortune on. NCT sales are good for picking up 2nd hand ones.

6. Nearly New Sales – search online for NCT nearly new sales. They are fab for picking up bits and pieces that are “nearly new” for very little. I’m now selling more than buying at my local one but have got a lot of bargains at them.

7. Visitors in the early days / weeks / months – let them do things for you. I know it’s hard, I never managed it, but especially with baby’s grandparents, let them cook and clean and do your clothes washing and get their own cups of tea. You and baby are the most important, you need time to get to know each other in the early weeks too. If you don’t feel like visitors, don’t have them. Concentrate on you and baby. The house can stay a mess. You can live in PJs. On a similar note, preparing easy to cook meals for the freezer before baby arrives is good, or live on microwave meals for a bit if you need to! Let your friends come round and cook for you at your house. Let yourself be looked after, you have the baby to look after and nothing else matters when they are tiny and helpless.

8. Routines and baby books – your baby won’t have read the book, it won’t do what the book says it should. Every baby is different, sometimes you get one that fits one book, sometimes one that fits another, more often than not they don’t fit any recommended routine. Sleeping through is a myth – tiny babies have tiny tummies, they can’t eat enough to keep them for 12 hours. If they’re feeding every 2 hours, don’t stress it. It will change. A 4 hourly routine sounds great, but if you’re trying to get baby to stop crying for 2 of those hours then it’s not worth it. I managed to get MG into a 4 hour feeding routine, but she took an hour to take a bottle so night feedings were hellishly long. DG I never bothered with any routine. She fed every 2 hours but took 10 minutes so night feeds were no trouble. DG settled into a day-night routine in about 8-12 weeks, the same as MG but without me trying to enforce a routine. Having tried both ways, baby-led was much easier. But then DG was also a much more laid back baby. So back to my first bit of advice – ignore other people’s advice! :-)

9. You don’t need to buy everything that the lists tell you to buy – most lists are written by people who want to sell you stuff! This is a good list, but again you don’t need everything: The List

10. If you haven’t already, join the Boots advantage card and sign up for Parenting Club – the changing bag that you get free with a pack of nappies is the only changing bag you need. You could spend a fortune on them if you like, but really this free bag is a great size, has enough compartments and has a good changing mat in a bag, will hang over a buggy’s handles etc.

11. Did I mention ignoring other people’s advice? 😆

So what advice would you have given? It would be lovely if you could comment with any advice you would add, or take away… 🙂