As this week marks maternal mental health awareness week, I thought I’d share my own story. For those of you who know me or have read my previous posts, you’ll know my beans were born at 26 weeks – exactly three months early.
Bean#1 weighed in at 1lbs 12oz and Bean#2 was 1lbs 9oz. There is no point in sugar coating it, I was fucking terrified. It truly felt as though the ground had disappeared from beneath me.
We were told that the first three days were the most crucial. If they could get through those days without a brain bleed, a serious infection and come off the ventilator, we could feel hopeful. They achieved two out of those three (because they were born legends).
During those three days I felt utterly useless. I didn’t start expressing quick enough so my milk flow was pretty shit, they’re both a different blood type to me so when they needed their first transfusions I couldn’t give them my blood and I was advised not to touch them (as tempting as it was). Essentially, I just sat there.
For the first time in my life I couldn’t eat, sleep or talk to anyone other than the husband – who was my absolute rock through that time. He was selfless and caring, he knew what I needed and he gave it to me. No one else mattered in my world; just those beans.
Once the first week was over, I was encouraged to leave the NICU. I went to Sainsbury’s…well that was mistakea to makea! I couldn’t handle it. I wasn’t pregnant but I didn’t have my beans. That wasn’t how I imaged my first visit to a supermarket after labour. I thought I’d be proud as fucking punch pushing by brand new bugaboo double pram around whilst everyone leaned over and told me how adorable my little beans were. So I couldn’t handle it. I just bought some massive pants because of my c-section scare and cried.
Safe to say I didn’t leave NICU again for a long time. I just stayed in our little NICU bubble. I slept on the ward, expressed every three hours (which allowed me to check on them throughout the night and give their little hands a kiss through the incubator door) and sat by their side.
The husband was getting a bit worried so decided to ask my sister-in-law (who happened to be one of my besties) to take me to Nando’s. Again, that was a mistake. When we got back Bean#1 had gotten another infection and was having another transfusion.
Seriously, when they say it’s a rollercoaster…it is a fucking epic one.
Anyway, looooooooong three month story short; the beans could come home. On that amazing day me and the husband were not only shitting ourselves (they were both still under 5lbs) but over joyed with love and happiness.
But at the back of my mind I was asking myself constantly “are they okay now?”.
When they’re in NICU you’re continually told about the risks and the dangers, when you leave you’re not told that they’re gonna be okay. You’re never told they’re gonna be okay.
The anxiety was crippling at times, and it was a lonely place. Everyone around me was full of happiness, and though I had no issue with bonding, I couldn’t shake that feeling that I was on borrowed time with them. Basically, I kept thinking they were going to die.
At its worst, the anxiety meant I couldn’t leave the house with them. Danger was every where. What if I crashed the car? What if a car mounted the pavement and hit the buggy? What if it rained and they got wet and then fatally ill, what if they got stung by a wasp and they’re allergic to the venom, what if I have a stroke and let go of the buggy, what if someone sneezes on them in Tesco and they catch their fatal germs…
I know that all sounds irrational, that’s why I never told anyone at the time, but to me it was so real. Those risks were so real and they were everywhere.
Then they got really ill again. I mean they were always getting ill, but this was back in hospital ill. I didn’t regress as I thought I would (toot toot <- that’s me blowing my own trumpet), I was actually a fucking hero; and so were the beans.
We were discharged after a week and I had learned that I shouldn’t be worried about my beans being killed by something; I should be worried about my beans killing the world! They are so strong, determined and powerful. Before they were one they had been through more than many of us ever will in our lifetime. I’m not sure the world knows what it’s got in store, my beans are gonna slay it.
That’s how I got over my maternal mental health.
Just because a parent has clearly bonded with their child, just because they’re smiling and laughing at how adorable their baby is; that doesn’t mean they’re okay. Have they left the house? Are they checking their baby’s temperature, heart rate breathing patterns every hour? Do they let other people cuddle their baby?
We all have a responsibility to look out for each other. If a woman in your life has just bossed child birth after GROWING A HUMAN, just be aware that she may be feeling some shit that is unpleasant.
If you are that mum, you need to know that it’s okay to not be okay. It’s not irrational; someone isn’t going to take your baby away because you think you’re not coping. You’re not failing, try and cut yourself some slack and, no matter how hard you find it, talk to someone. It’s not a weakness; it doesn’t make you vulnerable, pathetic or a victim. It makes you a mum.