Thursday, 29 May 2014

Welcome from Hayley

Thank you to Laura, for setting up the blog and getting things started. I'm Hayley. My son Edward was born on 3rd February 2014. I'm 35, married to Martin (who I met on Twitter) and have lived in Staines since November 2012. Before that, I lived in London for 12 years.

Laura and I have been through a lot in the short time we've known each other. It occurred to us that if one other person found our experiences helpful, then it would be worth writing it down. The main thing I've found since being a mum is that so much of the stuff that's written about parenting seems to be designed to make you feel paranoid, inadequate, competitive and anxious, in varying degrees. I'd hate for you to think this was an "advice forum" of some kind. Every baby and every family is different, so being told what to do is, for the most part, pointless. I can only say what's happened to me and our family, in the hope that it perhaps helps you in your journey.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

'They fuck you up, your mum and dad...'

It's a very famous poem, and a very true poem, and it terrifies me. Everybody's parents fuck them up in some way or another - it's unfortunate but unavoidable. Following on from my last post, what worries me is the unique challenge of parenting with mental ill health: not so much that it's hard for me, though it is, but what are the implications for my son? How do I prevent it from ruining his childhood, from creating some kind of role reversal where he's looking after me, from messing with our relationship? When I look ahead to Arthur's becoming increasingly aware of what's going on around him, it is this challenge that daunts me the most.

It's about stability. Children need stability. Everyone knows this. I cannot provide stability, at least not at the moment. I have been in mental health services since I was twelve or thirteen, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at fifteen, and recently I was additionally diagnosed with complex PTSD (often given the erroneous and outdated name of 'borderline personality disorder' - despite Wikipedia's claims, I was assured by the consultant that they are one and the same). But it's not really about labels. The problem is that I am a chronic drama llama and I can't seem to help it.

There is always something going on. Always. It's one crisis after another. Some of them are genuine bad luck - I have led an eventful life thus far - but many of them are of my own making. I overthink things; I overreact; I make mountains out of molehills; I am bizarrely black-and-white about things. I am intense. I genuinely can't help it. It's really not ideal. I honestly do not enjoy it. I experience enormous amounts of distress and I am constantly exhausted. My close friends all eventually get fed up and leave. It all gets too much, they're knackered, they have their own lives, and they drop me. And I don't blame them - it hurts but I don't blame them. I would walk away from me if I could. With everyone in my life that I care about, I am watching the clock, waiting for them to leave. But Arthur can't leave, until he's old enough. He's dependent upon me. I cannot bear the thought of his being hurt, especially by me. Yet I cannot miraculously and suddenly fix myself (or fix myself at all, it seems) just because he's here.

Constant crisis will do him no favours. Nor will growing up too fast to take care of me. I cannot model good boundaries, self-esteem, self-control. I don't have these things most of the time. I need to learn them fast, but how? I fear that I can't have a healthy relationship with my son because I don't have a healthy relationship with anybody. The closest I get is with my husband and that only works because he is endlessly patient. I'm afraid that Arthur will end up like me. How much can I hide from him? How can I change? I have self-awareness coming out of my ears but it doesn't seem to help. I'm supposed to be embarking on a hardcore, year-long course of dialectal behaviour therapy. I'm waiting for the referral to go through. Let's hope it helps.

Sick and Tired: My Story of Postnatal Depression

We didn't have the best start, Arthur and I. There are things you can do to increase your chances of a good birth, and I did all of them, but, at the end of the day, birth is a lottery. I will do a separate post about the birth at some point, but, to summarise, Arthur was in the occiput posterior position. I laboured for almost five days, eventually had the pethidine and the syntocinon and two partially successful epidurals and finally a spinal block. It has been helpfully suggested that the way the birth went was my fault because I was insisting on a natural birth throughout, but, in truth, I did everything the doctors told me and I believe we made good choices. I pushed for four hours. Then they attempted forceps, because I was nearly dead from exhaustion and no Arthur was forthcoming, but I tore badly and Arthur's head and face were damaged. Then it was time for the emergency caesarean, but the incision tore at the side and I haemorrhaged. When I was younger, I imagined having a baby and I saw us lying, blissed-out in our oxytocin bubble, while the baby latched on to my breast for the first time and we gazed lovingly into one another's eyes. The reality was that we were in the observation bay of the labour ward: Arthur's dad gave him his first bottle whilst I slipped in and out of consciousness.

The next few days were a continuation of that struggle. Visitors came and we posed for photographs. But in between Arthur was hacking up the mucus in his lungs. His tongue tie, which they refused to fix because, as I was not breastfeeding, we were 'not a priority', meant that every feed was a nightmare. It took an hour or more to get 30ml or 40ml down. I could feel him slipping away in my arms. The midwives coached me in keeping him awake to continue the feed - tickle his feet, tickle his chin, blow on his face - but nothing worked. He had jaundice and was placed under a UV lamp in his nappy, with a mask on to protect his eyes. I was not allowed to pick him up or comfort him when he cried. This was overnight and, despite the fact that we were in a private room and it was two days after that birth, my husband was forcibly sent home and I was made to sit up, alone, watch and reattach that mask when it slipped. I remember digging my fingernails into my hands and biting my lip until it bled so that the pain would keep me awake. Eight hours later, I was told to switch off the machine and put it away. When I protested that it was heavy and plugged into the floor and I could still barely move, I was lectured on the importance of keeping active after a caesarean. So I did it.

A few days later, the tongue tie was eventually done and Arthur was better and I was recovering, so we went home. Things were looking up. I was flagged up as at high risk of postnatal depression, due to my colourful mental health history and the fact that my mother had it. I had the baby blues and cried for hours on end but that passed. We all thought I'd got away with it. Three weeks in and I had had an infection and been back in hospital on an antibiotic drip and I was still very anaemic from the blood loss, but miraculously I was emotionally fine. Then, when Arthur was a month old, the cracks started to show. The lack of sleep started to get to me. There were night feeds, of course, but Arthur was and is a good sleeper. The problem was that the tongue tie had re-emerged but the GP refused to believe me, so Arthur was sucking in air when he fed, making him windy and incredibly noisy at night. I began to dread the nights, to cry simply because it was evening. I began to have flashbacks to the birth. I started to cry uncontrollably in public places because other mums were swapping birth stories.

Then, when Arthur was almost six weeks old, I went downhill very suddenly. I went AWOL because I couldn't face the night shift and walked the streets and contemplated jumping into the Thames and sat in Wetherspoons, crying into nasty red wine. I fought to keep it together for Arthur's sake but I was a mess. I would come out without bottles for him. At one point, I nearly threw him into traffic. I was admitted into the mother and baby unit at Winchester. It was a good place. They cared for me and I got some sleep and spent a month piecing myself back together. I had gone private and got Arthur's tongue tie done again, so he learnt to use the muscles in his tongue and got quieter at night. Then we came home from hospital again and, a few weeks later, I am still fighting the blackness but mostly I win and we are still here.

My friends have been invaluable. Two resources I would recommend: PANDAS (Pre and Postnatal Depression Advice and Support).  The women on their Facebook group coached me through the week leading up to going into the unit. And PND and Me, which also does chats on Twitter and is the blog of my friend (well, Facebook friend - we've never actually met), Rose. Despite having three young children and no easy life, Rose campaigns tirelessly for awareness of postnatal depression. She blogs and tweets and networks and connects and generally keeps the conversation going. She is one of my mum heroes. To anyone reading this who may be struggling with PND, keep going. Keep talking. Find support. Help is out there. Hope is real.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Welcome from Laura

Welcome to The Intrepid Parent!

The Intrepid Parent is a parenting blog (unsurprisingly), set up by myself and Hayley. I will allow Hayley to introduce herself, but I am a 26-year-old, married, mother of a three-month-old boy named Arthur. I met Hayley at antenatal classes and we have become firm friends. We haunt cafes and pubs during the day, drinking merlot and putting the world to rights, anxiously comparing our babies' poo, and generally supporting each other through motherhood. There has been a Pampered Chef party; Rhyme Time at the library (never again); preserving our sons' handprints and footprints in salt dough; tongue tie practitioner visits; shopping; attempts to pluck up courage to take our boys swimming (not done that yet - Arthur would love it and I have bought him swimming trunks but it does sound like a bit of a pain in the arse and no one's seen me in a swimming costume since the year dot); lots of tears and note-swapping and Calpol and baby-cuddling. I don't know how I would have got through the last three months without Hayley. She's a rock.

I have another blog, also shared, called Unable to Move for Drums. It's a blog exploring feminism but I have posted about pregnancy, about returning to work, about breastfeeding (or not), about belly-gropers, about the importance of community in parenting and about the specific challenges of raising boys. Topics that I hope to cover in this blog include postnatal depression, the tongue tie, keepsakes and nostalgia, antenatal classes, more on returning to work, and birth itself, and I'm sure other stuff will arise as our boys grow and new challenges present themselves.

In terms of an ethos, I guess the biggest thing I am against is anything that makes parents and children feel inadequate. This can be the Gina Ford method, why isn't my baby sliding seamlessly into this or that routine, or it can be the earth mama ideal of attachment parenting, why am I not this serene, co-sleeping, babywearing, breastfeeding, glowing vision of motherhood. I'm not against routines or breastfeeding or babywearing (actually loved babywearing before my back gave out) but I am against parents being made to feel that they and their baby should fit any kind of prefabricated mould. I want to suggest a new ethos: down-to-earth parenting. Let's be authentic and let's be real because this is fucking hard sometimes. Let's be supportive and non-judgemental of one another. Nobody's baby came with a manual and we all just muddle through and do the best we can. So let's muddle through together.