Updated: May 3
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.
Ahoy there, my name is Cate. I’m on the cusp of 35 and am a suffolk girl born and bred. I can often be found looking confused in the middle of a field due to having mislaid one of many things, either a dog, horse, child or my sanity. I am the proudly put upon mother to 6 money drains (commonly known as children) 5 beautiful girls aged 13, 11, 10, 22 month and 16 weeks and 1, 6yr old boy (or the token male entity as he’s more often known as) We are also surrounded by many animals some of which we chose others that chose us. It’s safe to say that we have a rather busy life.
I first became a mum at the tender and naive age of 21. Much earlier than I had ever imagined. I’d often joked with my mum that I’d wouldn’t have children till I was at least 35 when I had accomplished writing a bestselling novel, owned my own Georgian town house and married Colin Firth/Prince Harry (whoever was available at the time). I would have two children, a boy and a girl, who would be polite, pretty and never answer me back. We would bake cakes, go for coffee and they would never have stepped foot in Maccy D’s.
I often thought “how hard could it be? So many people have children so it cant be that tough. It also gets you out of having to work so its a win win.” And anyway I’d totally had my own pony since the age of 16 so I blatantly knew what commitment was.... little did I know!!
Despite being the supposed oracle of my destiny, life had other plans and at the age of 18 I met the man of my dreams. We clicked, we got on like a house on fire and we fell in love fast. We got engaged after 4 weeks, married 18months later and 6 months after the wedding we found out we were expecting our first baby. I was overjoyed. This was what was expected of me, I was the centre of attention and I was going to love being pregnant. Unfortunately, after the initial burst of happiness the sickness crept in. For 26 weeks I was sick as a dog. I rolled around on the sofa moaning, life was tough, I couldn’t do it (little did I know how fun it would be when the others came along). Obviously I did make it through and everything became a little easier. Looking back now, I envied myself with that pregnancy. I was ignorant as to the complications that can happen, the heart ache we can experience and how dark life could be. In the run up to the birth I used to sit rocking the car seat, imagining what it would be like with a little person with me. I would obviously be one of those mums that would easily breastfeed, my body would ‘snap’ back and I would be infinitely calm and unflappable when it came to knowing baby’s needs and desires. Nothing was further from the truth. The birth didn’t go to plan and our daughter ended up in the NICU after which the first 6 months went by in a haze of post natal depression, self loathing, fear of complete failure, putting on a front to all friends and family but spending each and every evening crying my eyes out not wanting to be near my newborn. A very dark time for both myself, my husband and our little daughter. My breastfeeding journey wasn’t smooth either and with a difficult start where our daughter was tube fed to begin with, it seemed destined to end badly. I had been led to believe that it was the most natural thing in the world and having a bottle fed baby meant you’d failed. So with a superhuman effort I managed to get her onto the breast and feed her exclusively for a few weeks.
Great I hear you say but on the flip side my baby was losing weight rapidly, she was unsettled until the point that she just switched off. Because I was so detached from her she reached a point where she stopped crying. She just lay there on the floor hoping that someone would pay her attention, show her some love. Looking back now, I am horrified by these memories. How could I have let her suffer like that? Why did no one help me? Why didn’t the mothering instinct kick in? It’s taken me many years to realise that it wasn’t my fault. My mental health was in the gutter, I didn’t have the support I needed from professionals and family. I was told frequently that I just needed to express more and she would be fine. No one spoke to me about latch support, ways of feeding, supplements to take to help milk production and ultimately no one to sit me down and say to me that ‘you haven’t failed if you use a bottle’
It took a paediatric appointment (follow up from the NICU stay) for a Doctor to say ‘This baby desperately needs a bottle!’ So that is what we did. We mixed fed her until she turned 1 and although things didn’t miraculously get better, they definitely improved. This poor start has and will continue to effect my relationship with my eldest child. The bond that is so often expected wasn’t there at the beginning and I will forever feel guilt about that. It is something that I cannot change but will spend the rest of my life trying to make up for. She was effectively motherless for a few short weeks but to me and my memories of it, it felt like an eternity. I’m happy to say that she has no recollection of it and is now a fully fledged hormonal teenager who is constantly embarrassed by her mother! Since then I’ve gone on to have another 5 children, I think in some ways to right the wrongs of the first one. I unfortunately suffered an early miscarriage with my second pregnancy but luckily it had no lasting effects. What I’m finally coming to realise is that I don’t birth well and I frequently joke that if I was a cow then I’d have been shot...
To be fair my second birth was text book, long but ok. Epidural from the get go, 15 hours of established labour but a lovely healthy baby girl at the end.
Third birth not so good. Baby got stuck (they are all back to back) heart stopped, had to get her out quickly so the ventouse was deployed. Also a code brown that my husband will never let me forget!! Anyway healthy baby girl weighing in at 9lbs 3oz.
I was lucky enough to only go 2 days overdue with fourth birth, but he descended on the huh so they had to break out the induction drugs which meant that with the stress he covered himself in meconium. But after a bit of observation he was all good and we went home the same day.
So when it came to the fifth birth you would assume that it would all be plain sailing. Literally fall out like the famous Monty Python sketch. Turns out, no! After going 10 days over and me frequently saying to midwives from 36 weeks that she was a big baby (they don’t do anything if you’re measuring big and have no health issues) they booked me in to be induced.
They threw everything at me, all the standard stuff but after 2 days in hospital it was time to break my waters (in theatre because her head wasn’t engaged and they were concerned about a cord prolapse) Then followed 12 hours of established labour only reaching 7cms dilated and finally an emergency Caesarian. No one was really expecting (except me) the 10lb 3oz baby that was plonked on the resus cot and long story short I went home with a humongous baby, exhausted husband and abs that would never be the same again.
Sixth birth was a bit of a cock up. I was urged to go for a VBAC as after 4 natural births I had an 90% change of a successful vaginal birth. I had thought at the start that I would opt for an elective section but was persuaded because there was much less risk to baby and me. Unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be and after 12 hours of established labour, countless stretch and sweeps, artificial rupture of membranes and syntocin drip being hooked up, I was told that it was far safer to deliver her by emergency section as the risk of haemorrhage was becoming very real. So after my husband going very pale and quiet for a few minutes, getting his scrubs on and the surgeon running through a very long and very scary list of things that could go wrong and what they would do to sort it (much longer with a second section) they wheeled me round and we got to meet baby girl number 5. The recovery has been longer and my abs are definitely shot to buggery but I would do it all again in a heartbeat for another little gorgeous addition. Again we had some feeding issues with this one. I really wanted to try and breast feed so I could try and erase some of the trauma from the first go (I hadn’t managed to feed any of the others in between) but although we seemed to be off to a great start, with me managing to exclusively feed her, by day 12 she had lost 10% of her body weight and was admitted to hospital for observation (this was Christmas Eve, which really put a downer on the whole holiday) Of course all this dragged up the worry, anxiety, feelings of failure I felt with the first one and what felt like the confirmation that I was a shit mum who couldn’t do the most basic thing, despite me being surrounded by 5 happy and healthy children. I knew the drill, I could dole out the advice to myself but something made me push to keep trying to feed her. I found breast feeding groups, I rang helplines, googled it and had a stern word with myself that a bottle top up was not going to kill her.
The midwives and health visitors were amazing this time round and I’m pleased to report that 4 months on she is predominantly breast fed with the occasional bottle. Although it may not seem like it, I am very much a fed is best person, bottle or breast it really doesn’t matter. I think that it was just something I had to do to try and overcome the trauma of my first experience. If I ever have any more babies I don’t think I will be quite so strict with myself because feeding a baby is bloody hard, which ever way you do it!! What all this palaver has taught me is that you need to trust your instincts and body. Stick up for yourself when you are pregnant, in labour or a new parent. Yes you will meet many people who will know more in general about babies and birth but only you truly know your body and your baby. Have courage!! So as you may have imagined all these trials and tribulations have had an effect on me mentally and I always have flare ups with my PND after each birth. I have never been a fan of medicating the issue as I was the sole carer of my manic depressive mother who was medicated up to the hilt which just zoned her out and created problems in itself. I do believe that there is a place for medication just as you wouldn’t leave a broken leg, you cant leave a broken brain, but for me its not an option.
So I find the joy from little things. Little coping mechanisms I surround myself with to keep me on the straight and narrow. These are obviously not foolproof and I will have dark periods but I have trained myself to recognise them and force myself into the routines that give me clarity. Using a favourite mug, asking for me time, a restorative scent, fresh flowers, getting outside, making a room just so and telling everyone to bugger off so I can sit, listen to music and breathe deeply.
Exercise is a wonderful tool and something that can really change a mindset, as does a good book, film or tv series. All these little things may seem trivial but if you surround yourself with things that make you smile then your heart and mind will inevitably be lifted.
Ultimately my biggest and best coping mechanism is talking!! If you are struggling with your mental health for any reason the best thing to do is open a dialogue with someone, anyone just so you are not alone. There are so many wonderful mental health advocates out there that will always have time to listen. Instagram is brilliant because all you need do is send someone a DM asking for a chat or saying you’re struggling and suddenly you’re not alone. Just search for #PND or #anxiety and many posts from people will come up who I’m sure would always listen or point you in the right direction.
Don’t get bogged down with all the picture perfect scenarios you see on social media now, most are staged and we are lucky that if you search you will find a very real and very helpful side to social media. We are after all, all in it together. Also the moment that you realise and accept that you are you and they are them the better! Be you because you are awesome!
For me I have found great solace in talking to people and offering advice where I can. I have been through a lot and triumphed over many hurdles but I know I’m not finished yet. I have good days and bad but I am surrounded by my amazing husband and 6 beautiful (if a little twatty) children. I am not a perfect mother but I am present. They know I am trying my best and frankly my dear you cannot do any better than that, even if it means that they eat chicken dippers and chips every night for a week!
Take the time, smell the roses, learn to floss and dab, watch the crappy films with them, eat the cake or kale (which ever floats your boat) and don’t put too much pressure on yourself. They are only young once, the days may seem long but the years are short and as Giovanna Fletcher says ‘Happy Mum, Happy Baby’