This week is Maternal Mental Health Awareness week and I have to be honest that I’ve struggled with what exactly to write. Although I am a mother and sometimes have struggled with mental health, I’m not what you would call a “normal” mother but then I guess no one is truly “normal”. So for the last day of Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week here is my story of motherhood.
I have friends who have struggled with post-natal depression. I know friends whose mother’s have had it 40 years ago when it was dismissed as minor and called the “baby blues”. The difficulty I have is that motherhood for me has been a real rollercoaster. The struggle for me is writing about my own experience without seeming to diminish anyone else’s experience of post-natal depression. I have had friends tell me that they feel they can no longer share their tales of depression or worries as they think they seem minor compared to what I have been through. They have said that actually I make them feel worse about themselves because they should be happy when they compare their lives to mine. Well that doesn’t make me feel guilty, bad or worse at all for sharing!
So apologies in advance if my story of Motherhood makes any of you out there feel worse about your own situations. I don’t want to diminish anyone but hope that by sharing my story some of you who feel alone might feel less so.
I have never had a “normal” motherhood experience. I have not known what it is like to go into a baby scan at 20 weeks full of excitement and to come out elated with happy news afterwards. Our first baby Violet was diagnosed with a heart condition at her 20-week scan. Second baby Arthur was diagnosed with a serious brain condition at his 20-week scan resulting in a TFMR at 22 weeks of pregnancy. Third baby Aurora luckily had clear baby scans all the way through pregnancy but we never entered a scan room full of excitement or even left elated afterwards. More we left smiling with relief that we hadn’t yet had any bad news. Those were my three motherhood beginnings already a little different from the majority of mothers out there. You can read more about stress with a rainbow pregnancy here.
When Violet was born we had a natural induced labour as that was deemed the safest for her but she ended up being undiagnosed breach so I had a breach birth naturally with no pain relief. I am still having counselling for that experience alone, never mind the on going medical treatment because of the wounds I sustained. Violet was also transferred to Alder Hey hospital shortly after birth without me and at 4 days old she had open-heart surgery. It had only a 30% chance of success but she survived and the operation was a 100% fix.
It was, at that point, the most stressful time of our lives and we were relieved it was over. We finally took a 2-week-old baby home from hospital with serious health needs. She needed specialist round the clock care, whilst her heart and rib cage healed up. You can read more about Violet here. Despite her start she was a healthy little girl who had mild developmental problems because of her surgery and also issues eating solid food. We found that a challenge and extremely frustrating. However she was extremely clever, musical and a happy little soul considering her start in life. She was a joy to be around and made everyone who met her happy. This summarises my first year of motherhood started off extremely stressful and finished happy.
The loss of Violet
My second year of motherhood wasn’t anywhere near as good as my first! Violet got sick and was admitted to Manchester Children’s Hospital. We sat by her bed for weeks where she finally died, suddenly from a rare form of pneumonia aged 15 months. We had to wait nearly 2 years to find out why she died, as the autopsy was inconclusive. We had to endure a coroners inquest too. You can read more on this here.
First rainbow baby
My third year of motherhood I think was possibly the most challenging as this year we enjoyed a second pregnancy. Until the fateful 20 week scan and then, whilst still grieving the loss of our beloved daughter, we lost our son Arthur too. You can read about it here.
Second rainbow baby
My fourth year of motherhood is still in full swing and I have to say it is by far the best yet as we have our gorgeous rainbow baby Aurora. Named after the goddess of the dawn she has brought light back into our darkness. She certainly does this as she’s a bright, cheerful, smiley little girl.
People looking at our social media feed might be forgiven for thinking our lives are pure happiness now but as anyone who has suffered child loss will know they aren’t. The happy days are still tinged with sadness, as to what should be and what we are missing.
For example the other day I was “subjected” to a conversation by other mothers talking about how lovely it is that their three year olds and their babies play together. They interact now all the time. Well that’s what we should have Violet as a big sister playing with her younger siblings. Instead Aurora will probably grow up alone. Having grown up with a brother and sister that thought alone makes me want to cry. My siblings are still close to me and we remain an important part of each other’s lives.
I still have regular counselling to help me to try to deal with everything as I have horrendous nightmares on a regular basis. Sometimes extreme anxiety and times when I feel sad. I also have PTSD (read more here) caused by my first birth experience, my daughter having open-heart surgery and also from watching her die. I am told all this is “normal” for a grieving parent but it does draw parallels with how other mums say they feel who have post-natal depression. Whilst I don’t know what it is like to have a relatively normal experience of motherhood and still feel depressed, I do understand and have lived through all these feelings on a fairly regular basis.
I feel that lots of health visitors also need more training and guidance for how to deal with mothers who perhaps are slightly more fragile mentally than others. This is in light of a recent experience I had with a health visitor who reduced me from a confident mum of a rainbow baby to a crying anxious mess in the space of one baby weigh in session.
I also feel that more support should also be given to fathers as often they have no support at all, especially after the loss of a child or after they have witnessed a horrendous birth. They can suffer PTSD too.
Sending all mothers (and fathers) out there lots of love as parenthood can be tough whether it is simply sleepless nights. Or sitting by a sick child in a hospital bed or crying at a graveside. At the end of the day everything is relative to your previous experiences too. I thought the toughest thing I had to endure was watching my child sick in hospital that was until they died. Motherhood can be beautiful and wonderful but it can also be extremely cruel.
Always Violet Skies x
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More of a mother – does a natural birth make you more of a mother?