I went to an event today called Tea for PND, arranged by the amazing Jo from Lobella Loves. A room full of mums connecting and sharing experiences of motherhood, in a safe space with no judgment. Such an amazing concept. I met for the first time in real life the fabulous Amy, also known as Surviving Motherhood. She has written this week a letter to her new mum self, and I urge you to go and have a look and read what she has to say as she’s an amazingly strong and inspirational, fun, radiant woman who shows that admitting to mental health issues and postnatal depression is never a sign of weakness.
Today is the anniversary of the day before I became a mum, 6 years ago. I’ve written a letter to my new mum self.
Dear new mama Anya
Today is the 6th anniversary of the day before you became a mummy. I’m looking at our nearly 6 year old boy, and his feistiness, his curiosity, his tendency towards easy rage, but his fierce understanding of kindness and fairness (unless it comes to sharing toys with his brother) his love of Paw Patrol and anger about littering, his enthusiasm and brightness. And I’m wishing you could have had this vision while going through the months that followed tomorrow’s date, 6 years ago.
6 years ago today you were in labour, having been induced due to pre-eclampsia the day before. You were still over 24 hours away from meeting your little one. All the preparation you did – the yoga, the peaceful hypnobirthing breathing, the belief that you’d have a “beautiful birth” (whatever that may actually be…) faded as each hour passed into the creases of the blue curtains surrounding you on the induction ward, the relentlessly sleepless public ward for three nights of the induction and labouring process. Just want baby to be ok, his heart rate keeps dropping, please let him be ok, please let it be ok.
Labouring for over 2 days ended in the call for a category 1 (highest level) emergency caesarean. Nothing in my mental preparation had imagined my birthing room being suddenly rushed by medical staff with such a sense of urgency, being sped down a corridor on a trolley so that you can be prepped for surgery and have your baby pulled out within 15 minutes of the call being made. He wasn’t breathing when he was born, and the following minutes of waiting to see how the dice rolled remain pretty much the worst of my life.
In the months after his birth, I kept repeating to myself, with my unquestioned automatic thoughts, that my body had let me down, that I hadn’t prepared in the right way. Maybe I hadn’t shown my baby that I loved him and wanted him here enough, maybe I hadn’t trusted my body enough. I had failed. A close family friend had been due at the same time as us, and she had had a smooth home birth four days earlier, where they had been eating pizza blissfully in bed with their newborn within hours of giving birth.
It felt like everyone around was celebrating how brilliantly she had done, commenting on how amazing she looked, and giving us critical ‘better luck next time, never mind that you were a bit crap’ vibes in comparison. Even the terminology that you find in your birthing notes is heavily laced with judgemental vocabulary: ‘failure to progress’, ‘incompetent cervix’. Dear new mama Anya, I wish you had had the ability to view yourself through a kinder, softer lens, not to feel so judged by yourself and by others’ comments, to perceive such failure in what is inarguably such success.
On the operating table after having Maurice, I was told that I’d had a boy, but that he wasn’t breathing. In the eerie yet busy silence while they set about resuscitating him – no hearty newborn cries to be heard – I remember feeling like a truck was sitting on my chest and I couldn’t breathe. I later understood that this was most likely to be the effects of the anaesthetic reaching too high into my chest, but I didn’t logically know that at the time. I decided to coax myself away from what I thought was a rising panic attack by focusing on calmly counting to ten, then back to one, then up to ten, over and over again.
I now hold on to that as a sign that I didn’t actually break in that moment, despite being put under immense pressure. It’s only now in hindsight that I can see how strong I was. You were so strong, new mama Anya.
It can be bittersweet looking at my beautiful boy, knowing that bringing him into the world isn’t filled with memories of joy and sweary euphoria, but instead fear, pain, shock, being utterly out of control and powerless. I felt like I failed him by not being able to birth him naturally, with all the guilt bombarded upon you about the benefits for your baby of a natural birth. And I now feel sad that I can’t lovingly relay to him what a wonderful day we had when Mummy bounced on a birthing ball happily, listening to Beyoncé and eating Hobnobs, and then popped you out blissfully in a pool on the living-room floor.
I look back on the weeks that followed this date, 6 years ago, all the river of tears that I cried, and the times when I thought, how is it that I can’t do this most natural womanly thing in the world: give birth, and breastfeed? How can I fail at both? How is it that I cannot even feed my own child?
Sitting endlessly on the sofa all night, no point going to bed, endless feeding attempts and screaming. Every single one of the 24 hours in the day. 3am became sweaty, slippery nipples, breastmilk, screaming always screaming tiny too small baby at the breast, not able to offer the comfort that he desperately needed. I hadn’t ever felt despair like it.
I look back at those days, where the black fog of failure and anxiety permeated all of my waking actions and thoughts, and now I think – all of these times when you felt your least Supermum were when you actually were at your most. Striving for your baby’s wellbeing. Holding his little screaming body tightly, soothing, bouncing, whispering, shhh-ing, offering up your painful breast knowing that it would feel like there was a knife slicing into it, but still offering it, with gritted teeth and curled toes, again and again and again.
New mama, you were such a warrior. Your birth and newborn experience wasn’t “your fault”. All birth is different, traumatic births happen – it is NOT YOUR FAULT.
I’m glad that rather than packing away your experience in a heavy rucksack to carry around with you forever, you over time decided to learn, share, spread the understanding and awareness. There is an army of warrior mamas out there. There is strength to be found in challenging experiences, building resilience you only notice you have once you emerge through the tunnel into the light once more.
New mama Anya, you did an amazing, loving, caring job and you just had no idea how strong you were.