A mother in progress...
When I discovered that I was expecting our hugely anticipated second child I was bursting with excitement but that feeling didn't last long, it was soon replaced by complete dread and overwhelming panic. I felt guilty, confused and hugely ashamed by why or how I wasn't able to rejoice of this tiny new life my body was nurturing. Serendipity led me to a woman who quite literally changed my life. Those recurrent nightmares, the erratic mood swings, the inability to even think about my previous birth experience without openly weeping and the desire to detach myself from the life inside my womb was not just a regular part of motherhood as I had believed. I had in fact been deeply traumatised by the highly medicalised and protracted birth of my eldest child. As I write this I sit in disbelief that I did not see it all at the time but with no other point of reference this was my reality because, well everyone else simply seemed to be managing okay. What a revelation to acknowledge the separate processes at work, realising the bond I was actually trying to create with my baby and fighting for the basic primal desire to survive. This caring woman became my Doula, became our Doula, and nurtured our whole family towards a place of healing, love, growth and acceptance.
I didn't know much about perinatal mental health before my own experiences. The inability to acknowledge that I actually needed any help and then battling the feelings of inadequacy and failure left me unable to contemplate speaking about it. Being a mother is the most physically, emotionally and psychologically demanding job I think I will ever undertake. I now realise that with our life experiences, both past and present, being so unique the invisible line that gets crossed where it all becomes too much is as individual as each woman. I have come to acknowledge that I have always been an anxious person. A series of traumas during childhood and adolescence, being expected to shoulder the responsibility and shame of others and having no ‘healthy’ coping mechanisms left me in a permanent state of survival. It was all I knew and at the time I didn't understand the nature of psychological trauma, it was not until pregnancy that I began to adequately process any of my issues. I had prenatal depression triggered by a specific episode during the 7th month of my first pregnancy and undertook extensive therapy to be able to focus myself on the impending birth. I now understand that it was a bit like an emotional band-aid, just to get me through the crisis period. From having previously researched a little on trauma issues I felt like I was a relatively strong person. A capable person who had tried to process and carefully file all of the sweaty mess into a calm exterior. I now think that I was a fabulous actor and played the role of mother convincingly well, appearing to have it relatively together and carefully burying any difficulties that I was having. Truth be told though, I was probably only ever really fooling myself because this is the thing with unresolved issues... they just keep coming back and boy did they ever! The processing and packaging I had tried to do myself unravelled like a loose hem leaving me exposed and vulnerable... desolate. That was okay, I know that I needed to have that happen.
Then this beautiful, wise and gentle woman floated into my life like the first breath of air that marks the beginning of something new. I was embraced, nurtured, listened to, never judged and helped to find the joy in my pregnancy. We cried, we laughed, drank tea, ate cake, read useful books, hypnobirthed, and planned to help me regain control of my body and my birth. I was filled with a joyous light so intense that it left little space for shadows in my pain. I learned what it was to be supported and the sadness seemed to dissolve with the fear that had gripped me so greedily, so intensely. I gained a new perspective, to be flexible and to temper my expectations without relinquishing any of my needs. I learned to advocate for myself and ask for help when I felt vulnerable. I was encouraged to trust my instincts to find an amazingly skilled and thoughtful independent midwife who, along with my wonderful husband, made a formidable birth support team. In honesty my second birth wasn't what I had planned for, a home birth transfer with caesarean, but I have absolutely no doubt that it was the best birth that it could be under the circumstances. This positive experience helped me to commence the ongoing process of closure from my births that I continue to visit as I feel able.
The term ‘sisterhood’ wasn’t something I really understood except as a concept but feeling the tremendous power that is created when women are mutually supportive was a complete game changer for me. The sense of release that comes from being able to rest in a place of serenity where you can safely bare your naked self without fear of scrutiny, ridicule or rejection is the most empowering gift that we can share with each other. It provides us with a respectful nurturing place to learn and grow, to learn about ourselves and maybe even more importantly to learn about the women who share our lives whether these are face to face interactions or in cyberspace. We can choose to lift each other up with honour and embrace the compassion, creativity, friendship, support and love that is inspired. I am often humbled how incredibly strong and beautiful we all are. I see how strong and beautiful YOU are. These are lessons I do and will be sharing with my daughters. Today a lovely mum I know told me that she had had to forgive herself and would in time ask her child for forgiveness too. I found this truth incredibly powerful, it caught the breath from my lungs and caused me to sob. I too will search for the kindness inside of me to forgive myself and when the time comes I will also speak about it with my daughters.
Now I can fully acknowledge the impact of how I deal with my own mental health on my family, I know that I need to activelylive the life I hope my children will learn from. Consciously living the life I want to live, building on something tangible instead of well-meaning words betrayed by inauthentic actions. It is intermittently a struggle but I am learning to find beauty in all my imperfections, strength in my perceived weakness and the peaceful calm that comes from embracing contentment. My sisterhood is teaching me. I love the connections that have been made during this process and the bonds that tie us all closer together. How a friendship has blossomed, how a supportive community has been created, how a woman came to embrace motherhood, how two sisters have bonded to support each other, how these daughters guide their mother, how love and compassion weaves through our lives like threads gently binding us together. Making us stronger. It has been messy, raw, quite bloody in spots and definitely interspersed with some serious piles of shit but also overflowing with gratitude for all that has been achieved. It is a journey that was necessary to bring me to where I am today, to where we are today... still messy but together we are growing stronger, repairing and learning to fall deeper in love with ourselves and each other. I am perfectly imperfect and there is so much beauty in that life.
If you feel like you may be suffering from perinatal depression or anxiety there are various support networks available that might be of benefit to you. Support can be accessed through your midwife, health visitor, GP, Doula or directly through some of the organisations listed below. Please feel free to add any appropriate links you feel would be useful in the comments, especially for access to help and support outside of the UK.
Thank you to Christine and Evangeline <3
Some shorter sized Hygge Monochrome wraps will be available tomorrow, 12 December, at 17:00 GMT