This post contain subjects which you may find triggering; if you have been affected by any of these issues, please do seek help. Resources for support can be found here.
I would like to remain semi anonymous due to the nature of my job. I am a perinatal support worker, I have two children, now ages 4 and 7. I’m 37 and married. I’ve been living with an eating disorder for almost 20 years with no NHS support as I don’t meet their criteria for support. My husband has a degenerative illness which means my home care duties have been slowly increasing- majority of home and childcare duties fall on me.
Before having children, I thought I knew it all! I was working with older children at the time, supporting families who were going through challenging times. I had all the training on supporting emotional literacy, managing behaviour and attachment theory. I knew parenting could be tricky, but my training said ‘here’s how to do it so you can get it right’. I was judgemental and would see parents as to blame for the difficulties their child was facing and if they did what us professionals were telling them to do then it would all be better and we could move these children on.
I sat and listened in my first hypnobirthing class and had an epiphany moment, I realised that society had failed these parents, it was not these parents who had failed. I realised that I was working at the wrong stage of a family’s journey, trying to fight fires when a child was 10 rather than supporting them to never light the match in the first place. There’s a bloody huge battle to fight, lots of historical BS that is fed through from a young age, but slowly slowly changes are happening and I’m so hopefully for the generation of my children and the parents they will become.
First time around I was swept up in the excitement of this next stage. I was in a place where this was the next milestone expected of me, moved out, married, baby next. It was an opportunity to pour myself into something new, a chance to get something right. I dreamt of the parent I was going to be, how securely attached my baby would be, how all my training and knowledge would support me to be an amazing parent and get it right.
I was 8 weeks pregnant when we set out to see our families face to face to tell them our news. Sat around the table for a roast with my family we threw it into conversation. Everyone was happy and my dad joked about giving the baby one of his names as his birthday and the due date were a day apart. This was one of the last things he ever said to us as a week later I got a phone call to say he had died unexpectedly. The joy of pregnancy was suddenly masked by the pain of bereavement. I didn’t know how to cope.
Prior to pregnancy I had been using food and eating as a coping mechanism, at different times engaging in different behaviours and at different levels of severity. I headed into pregnancy with a firm head space of needing to control my diet to be as ‘healthy’ as possible, obsessing over eating the ‘right’ foods. These behaviours were my mask, but one I knew I’d have to let go during pregnancy. It was actually quite freeing. I could eat how my body and baby needed. Well, at least that’s what I thought. Instead things swung the other way and I moved back into more binge eating behaviours as the issue was never the food but my mind.
I told my midwife at my first appointment, I don’t want my weight being taken as I have a history of eating disorders. She didn’t ask any more except saying that she could see I wasn’t overweight for her ‘risk assessment’ on weight in pregnancy. And I was scared. I was scared that I wasn’t going to be able to stop eating, I was scared my body was going to change and I couldn’t deal with it, I was scared I was going to go down the other way again, trying desperately to lose weight when my baby was here. No one ever offered me help, even though it was asked by another midwife why I didn’t want my weight taken and I had to explain again. I didn’t feel worthy of support, no one had flagged it before, why would they now? I was holding my head above water enough that no one saw me, I was scared to admit that I was struggling because I was worried I’d be judged, I didn’t even know how to say anything other than ‘I’m fine’ when asked how I was.
The story is much the same second time around. This time I went to the maternity unit for my booking in appointment and saw a midwife I didn’t know. She proceeded to argue with me in a corridor when I declined to be weighed. She did ask me when my last episode of disordered behaviours was and I lied and told her a few months ago, even though I was engaging in it up until I fell pregnant. She took my ketone measurements and said they were low and asked if I had eaten that day, which I had but she didn’t seem convinced. She wrote in my notes and said she had to make a safeguarding call to my midwife. I was fine with that, I knew she already knew my history and maybe someone would offer me some help. Nothing was said about it, ever again. Nothing came up at any of my appointments and I was back to saying ‘I’m fine’.
I was researching local antenatal classes for my pregnant friend a little while before I fell pregnant myself and I stumbled across Hypnobirthing. I was set, I’m definitely doing this once it’s my turn. And as soon as I could, I was there! I took it all in, at that first class I was hooked. I came out and turned to my husband and said- I wonder if the teacher would want a business partner, because I really want to teach this stuff. I practiced and practice, I went to positive birth meetings and watched hypnobirths on YouTube. I spent hours in the bath listening to the meditations and highlighted and notes the manual. I was set for my positive birth experience. I chose a home birth, and thought I needed the make it dark, calm and quiet. I wanted a text book hypnobirth.
The midwife who came didn’t get it, she wasn’t right for me, and things didn’t go to plan. By the morning, I was blue lighted in. I felt like the obstetrician had no patience with me- silly first time mum trying to have a home birth. She wouldn’t explain things to me and spoke mostly to my husband. I was wheeled into theatre and my baby was born with vontuse. I hid my disappointment, I pretended it was still a positive experience as I didn’t want to have failed, like I always felt I did. I shut it down and focused on my baby.
It didn’t change my desire to teach Hypnobirthing though, and when my teacher came to visit us following the birth she actually asked me if I wanted to train and join her business. I felt wanted and like I had a chance to change people’s lives.
Being an instructor there was added pressure second time round, but also I was much more relaxed ans clued up. The birth was incredible, 9/10 of my preferences were present and I loved the experience. It was very healing. Is still recommend hypnobirthing to anyone approaching birth, as even though my first birth wasn’t great, I was greatly helped by the Hypnobirthing.
After my first birth I was in a haze. I didn’t know how to process my birth aside from the lies of ‘it was wonderful- an amazing hypnobirth despite the interventions needed’. People appeared left right and centre to see this baby, turning up unannounced when I couldn’t even sit in the sofa properly. She cried, a lot. She didn’t want to sleep anywhere but on me, she wanted to feed constantly and she despised being in anyone else’s arms. I just wanted to shut the doors and close everyone out. And once the visitors stopped, I did this well. I found groups hard, my baby seemed to be the only one crying, everyone else seemed to have it all together, no one wanted to be my friend. I spent most days feeling very alone, walking the streets of my town while my baby slept or watching endless episodes of homes under the hammer with a feeding baby attached to me. My evenings were spent in my room, lights off, TV on mute with subtitles as my baby slept in my arms, my husband downstairs playing video games. It was the most lonely I’ve ever felt, despite never being alone as my baby wouldn’t leave my side.
After my second I was up and about, baby in sling, putting my make up on and heading inti town before she was even 24 hours old. At this time I had been scammed into a business cult, you may know it as multi level marketing or network marketing. I was being fed the message of ‘you can do it all- work with the baby in your arms’. The toxic positivity and the pressure to never stop grinding meant I missed out on my maternity leave and of course, as the pressures of parenthood with a toddler and newborn, trying to run a Hypnobirthing business, and perform in a business cult meant that I turned to the only coping mechanism I knew, disordered eating.
Things improved once I escaped the cult and stopped the Hypnobirthing business. When my eldest was 11 months, I found myself in a role which was salaried and supporting families during the perinatal period, so I was still able to fulfil my important work in this field without burning myself out trying to run my own business.
I was already experiencing mental health challenges, but having a baby changed the way I dealt with them. I never asked for help, I didn’t feel worthy of it as when I had asked in the past I was told there was nothing for me. I felt so ashamed of how I felt and so fearful that I would be judged or that saying it out loud would mean that the failure I felt was real. To be honest, my girls are now 4 and 7 and this is still my story. I have had one of the worst mental health years of my life, and again, I have been told I don’t meet the threshold for support. I feel very alone and find solace in podcasts and social media. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way and I know that there are self care and self preservation tweaks I can make to my life which make these big feelings easier to face. But I still wonder why my life and health isn’t important enough, especially in a year where we have been sacrificing so much to preserve others lives. I worry every day that my anxieties and behaviours are going to lead to an early death and my children will be left without me. I’m still just saying ‘I’m fine’.
I started out last March with all the activities, ready to go. I sat and stared out of the window every day longing for connection. Every message that went unanswered i convinced myself that I had no one left who cared about me. I started shrinking myself. I stopped the activities and spent everyday sat in the garden while the kids watched TV. I checked out. I found juggling work and children at home the most stressful though. I was expected to call families to check in on them, to see if we could help them and support them. I wondered everyday when my family centre were going to call me to check in and if I could say more the ‘I’m fine’. I sat in meetings and wrote ‘what about me? I’m a mess’ whenever we spoke about making sure the families in our communities were okay.
My husband bought me the most amazing collection of cakes and donuts for my birthday. My eating disorder was back in full swing. I still feel so guilty and shameful about what happened to those cakes. But the most shame, is from the rage that bubbled inside me. It was all spilling over ans my children saw a side of me that was sad and angry all the time. I cried, I threw things, I shouted, I screamed. I can see the effects on my children now from those times. I’ve been actively trying to work on this recently by doing a mindfulness course. It’s been really helping. The eating disorder is still in full swing, but the rage has reduced. I just wish I could get some therapeutic help that was more than a few of weeks of taking to someone through my work. The NHS have left us behind.
I’m making a real effort to carve out time for me. Be that moving my body, spending time with friends, doing yoga or mindfulness. I love work, my job is so important to me. Knowing I’m out there helping families navigate those early experiences fills me with warmth. But it’s even the little things like putting on nice clothes I feel comfortable in, wearing my favourite pair of vans or doing my make-up in the morning. Despite my issues, I always make time for a good breakfast, loaded porridge or smoothie bowls or cereal covered in fruit and yoghurt. Oh and a cup of coffee, or maybe 2!
That despite all my training and all my knowledge it’s still bloody hard and I don’t have my shit all together. But that even in the darkest moments there’s a little sense of joy, be it the knowledge that I’m loved, the future plans we might have or even just a look from one of the children.
It swings both ways, it has been a place where I’ve been able to be more open, been able to seek out likeminded people and find support. But it’s also been a place of comparison and consumption. At times I just need to shut off the noise but in others the noise is a place of safety and support.
My advice to new Mums... Figure out who your pillars of support are and what you might need from them. Carve out time for yourself. Be kind and compassionate towards yourself, even when you’ve done something you didn’t like or feel guilty about. Don’t be scared to ask another mum if they want to meet up, they are probably as lonely as you. And know that no matter what is being portrayed on the outside all human beings are imperfect, no one has it all together.