As it is mental health awareness week, I thought I would share some of my own personal experiences. I wanted to shine a light on the mental health struggles we face as parents; something we don’t talk about often enough.
Let’s roll back the clock to 5 years ago when I found out I was pregnant.
The joy lasted a few days before the fear started to creep in. What if I was a terrible mum? What if I couldn’t do it? What was I going to do about the career I loved? What if my marriage failed and I became a single mum?
Then the morning sickness hit and I felt terrible constantly. I genuinely hated being pregnant. If one more person wanted to tell me how wonderful being pregnant was, I think I would have hit them with the Gaviscon bottle I now permanently had in my hand.
Then to top it off, I developed severe symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD). This meant I couldn’t walk and was bed bound more or less for the final 3 months of my pregnancy. I was very bored of Netflix (but what I would now give for a few hours of uninterrupted viewing time!).
Henry was born and instantly all my fears faded, I had never in my life loved anything as much as I loved him. I am not one for gushy phrases but I felt complete the moment he was placed in my arms.
Soon after, though, issues started to arise and I knew something wasn’t right. Feeding was difficult, he didn’t take to a bottle , he was sick all the time and cried constantly, and I mean constantly. He was in pain and I knew it.
However, could I get the professionals to listen? No! One (male) doctor told me that babies cry and it was normal. The next few months were a blur of genuine hell. Henry cried constantly, my husband went back to work and I was so overwhelmed and exhausted. Eventually, Henry was diagnosed with severe reflux and a Cow’s Milk Allergy (CMPA).
I spent my days trying to calm what seemed to be a totally pissed off child and we (me and my wonderfully supportive husband) spent our nights holding him and feeding him.
How my husband then went to work the next day is beyond me but also, how I actually functioned is a mystery. I just spent each and every second watching the clock, waiting for my next 5 minutes of peace. There were times I would sit on the stairs (after placing Henry somewhere safe) and I would sob until I was almost sick. I HATED it. Of course I told myself it would pass but I had this fear that chilled me to the bone that all of my fears during pregnancy were correct. I was a terrible mum.
I once said my husband could not go and see his friends on a Saturday because the thought of him leaving me alone for one more second terrified me.
I loved Henry with my entire being but it felt so unfair. Why even after the meds was Henry so hard? Why did he cry constantly? Why was every feed a challenge? Why when I tried to take him to baby groups was he the only one screaming? The amount of groups I left after 5 minutes because Henry was screaming is too many to mention.
Now I look back and wish I had never left because I know now that those groups were EXACTLY where I needed to be. I needed someone to listen, make me a cup of tea and just take Henry for 10 minutes whilst I had a moment.
On reflection I was embarrassed and so sad. I wanted to have what they had; I desperately didn’t want to be the mum everyone pitied. I don’t think I have ever felt so alone. Who could I tell that I was so sad? They would just think I was an awful mum? So I just carried on pretending. I just got up and did it again, day in day out… hoping and praying that the next day would be better.
Books told me that I would know his different cries… well I didn’t… he just had one level of crying… EXTREME!
One of the lowest points for me was in a shop where I had taken Henry and he was kicking off. A woman turned around to her friend and said ‘They should not let babies out that cry like that’. I abandoned my trolley and sat in the car for 40 minutes sobbing with Henry still screaming in the background.
I longed to go back to work, my mum friends were desperate to stay at home with their bundles of joy but I longed for the day where someone else had the responsibility for a few hours. I missed my old life so much. I missed everything about my old life and to be honest, I missed the old me. I did not even know or like the new me.
My marriage suffered and we just existed in co parenting but never actually saw the pain the other person was in.
Then we discovered sleep training. It was our saviour! It genuinely changed so much in our lives because we went from only sleeping 30 minute stretches to sleeping through the night and taking good naps in the day. It made the intense waking moments so much more manageable now we were getting more sleep. Having experienced ourselves; it gave me the inspiration and convenient to become a Sleep Consultant. I was driven to help parents who might be facing the same struggles. I know if I can just ease their pain by a 10th then that is job worth doing!
I won’t give you a blow by blow, day by day account of life in the first few years but it was a cocktail and sometimes a blur of sadness with moments of love and joy.
I spent the first few years of Henry’s life fighting with professional after professional trying to get them to listen… I knew the challenges we were facing as a family were far above and beyond normal baby issues. Finally, Henry was diagnosed with a genetic condition, autism and sensory processing disorder. I felt vindicated in that moment that I was right all along. I knew from day 3! A mother’s instinct is incredible isn’t it?
Let’s skip to today, whilst we are still fighting for access to some services, we now have more support and help for him. Things have become easier tiny piece by tiny piece.
I am writing this as I am about to go and collect Henry from school. He is a happy, thriving , incredible little boy and I adore spending time with him.
My husband and I are now finally starting to ‘see’ the wood for the trees and have taken steps to be something other than Henry’s parents. He is an incredible dad and husband. There is nobody I would rather have taken this roller coaster with.
I’m excited for each tomorrow. What shall Henry and I do tomorrow? Who knows but what I do know is that I am enough, he is enough and as a family we are more than enough.