So here I am, many weeks pregnant and contemplating childbirth and motherhood for a second time. I’ll be honest, I am looking forward to meeting our baby, but the tricky bits? Well, not so much. I’m 41 and this pregnancy has been challenging both physically and mentally. You would think having been through it all before I would have been prepared, but Mother Nature is a cruel mistress, and with her help, and the passage of almost five years, I had forgotten much of what pregnancy had in store. I’m beginning to fear that my postnatal journey will bring something similar. Nevertheless, I am starting to prepare myself and trying to arm myself with as much information as possible to help me on my way.
When I was asked to review Michelle Bradley new book PANGS: Surviving Motherhood and Mental Illness I was interested to see if, through the book, Michelle could offer me any insight into how I should prepare for the birth and arrival of baby number 2. It has given me so much more than a nudge in the right direction, and here’s just one example of why…
When I first gave birth to Catherine in May 2014 the whole thing felt like a bit of a blur after a long and difficult nine months with constant nausea followed by a long labour. I’ll not go into all the details, but when we left the hospital to return home with our new bundle of joy I had no idea what the months ahead would hold for us. Catherine was a very easy baby, she slept well and was very placid, but I found feeding very difficult. For weeks I struggled with breastfeeding, expressing and topping up. I was so keen to breastfeed, but there just wasn’t any milk. I was expressing every few hours to try and improve my milk flow, but I rarely got more than a trickle. So we found ourselves in a cycle where I breastfed Catherine, gave her the very small portion of expressed milk and then after all that she still needed a bottle of formula milk. I felt like a total failure! No one was aware of how difficult I was finding feeding because I feared if I told anyone they would think I was a bad mummy. Why do we do beat ourselves up like this? With hindsight I can see that all I needed to do was relax! As long as Catherine was fed, did it really matter? Was it worth me losing precious time with my baby, fretting and panicking?
The impact that this experience had on my mental health was huge. It lead to anxiety like I had never experienced, and months of second guessing every little decision and every sniffle or noise that Catherine made that was out of the ordinary. Yet, if you met me then you would never have known. I made such an effort to come across as the perfect mum. I attended baby classes and was so ashamed by my failure to breastfeed that I would hide Catherine’s bottle and remain silent when feeding was discussed. I probably underestimated the people around me by hiding my difficulties, if I had shared how things really were I may have been surprised by the support I received. But anxiety whispers mis-truths in your ear and makes you hide in plain sight.
When I started to read about Michelle’s birthing experiences and post natal journeys I realised that I have never truly worked through the disappointment (at failing to breastfeed) and anxiety that I experienced as a new mum. This book has made me think about how I can protect myself better this time round, and make sure I’m prepared if things don’t go as I hope. This time I won’t beat myself up. This time I’m not going to hide my difficulties. This time I am going to ensure that I take better care of myself while making the most practical choices for our new baby and the rest of the family.
After reading Michelle’s book I feel much more aware of the support available to women who struggle through pregnancy, childbirth and those difficult months post natal. Because there is so much support available, albeit scattered across Northern Ireland, but through PANGS NI Michelle and her team are so well place to point me in the right direction if I stumble into trouble. The Treatment and Resources sections of this book are an invaluable reference point for local mums, and Michelle’s honesty throughout the book is both refreshing and reassuring.
Am I afraid that I will struggle with childbirth, feeding and postnatal anxiety in the months to come? Of course I am, but you know what? I’m ready to take on whatever challenges await, and with a copy of PANGS: Surviving Motherhood and Mental Illness in my changing bag, I AM READY.
The Storybook Mummy xxx