8 things I wish I knew would happen postpartum

Before Olivia was born, I didn’t give very much thought to what would happen postpartum. The extent of my worrying into that period was limited to my mental health, as I was already suffering from antenatal depression. But, actually, there are a lot of things that I wish I had known about what I would experience in the days and weeks postpartum. Warning, some of them are gross, but childbirth is gross so I’m not apologising!

1. The first poo
Sorry to start off on possibly the most cringeworthy one, but holy mother of Christ… the first poo is a bitch. I tried to go for days. Days of needing it but not being able to get it out… it’s such a glorious and magical time… not.
A friend of mine who has just qualified as a midwife and was training at the time recommended that I try Lactulose (a liquid laxative). Hey, presto! It worked! But it takes a few days to kick in – so if you’re expecting, get some in the house ready for when you need it!
2. The first wee
I promise these aren’t all toilet related…
You may or may not know that you will be expected to produce a certain amount of wee in a bowl and present it to your midwives. However, if you’ve just been stitched up down there, and even if you haven’t, it bloody stings! So for your first wee, I recommend sitting on the toilet backwards and leaning forwards over the tank so as to angle the wee away from your very sore lady parts.
3.  You’ll be expected to leave the hospital ASAP
It’s no secret that the nhs are in crisis and need beds to be available, but sometimes it can seem like the midwives are simply trying to discharge you as quickly as possible. It didn’t make a huge difference to me either way as I wanted to go home the following day, but if you are struggling with any aspect of your postpartum physical or mental wellbeing, breastfeeding or your newborn’s health, then STAY IN THAT BED! Don’t move until you get help from someone. They cannot kick you out before you’re ready (unless you’re obviously taking the piss), so make sure you’re comfortable to leave those hospital walls because once you do, assistance is that little bit further away.
4. Don’t wash your hair
Thankfully after giving birth, my midwife could tell how much pain I was in and I was still pretty weak and shaky from throwing up throughout my labour. So she, being a wonderful kind soul, gave me personal wash down so that I didn’t have to go and brave a bath just yet. That being said, I did take a shower the next morning… and I washed my hair… with shampoo. Am I an idiot? I’d like to think I’m not, but it was pretty stupid to think that as I washed the shampoo out, I would form a magical protective bubble around my vagina that would prevent any shampoo going near my stitches… Think again!!!!!
5. Maxi dresses are your best friend
I wish I’d had more, because that first week, at least, postpartum, is so painful downstairs that you need to have absolutely no pressure on the area. A maxi dress will also conceal the hairy legs you’re 100% not going to shave and is just the most comfy thing that you can possibly wear after just giving birth.
6. Stock up on maternity pads/mats
For the car journey home from hospital I had to borrow maternity mats from the ward to put on the seat of the car. I say borrow… I didn’t give them back, don’t worry! I hadn’t even considered that. Even more shockingly – I hadn’t even considered that I might need them for when my waters broke on the way into hospital! They didn’t (they broke over a midwife’s hand instead), but it is still a possibility and you really don’t want to be cleaning that out of your car when you’ve got a newborn.
7. You will need separate bags
I don’t think I was quite realistic about the hospital stay. I assumed my birth plan would be totally accurate and so only packed one outfit for me, far too many for Olivia and absolutely nothing whatsoever for Jamie. Obviously, he then had to leave me with Olivia’s godmother in the hospital while he went home for provisions. Put whatever you want in your bags, but do pack separate ones for each of you!
8. Finally, it will go too quickly
All of the pain you feel and the sleep exhaustion will make the days and nights seem never-ending. But I promise you this, I wish I had known that it flies by in what feels like a blink. I don’t even remember my baby as a baby – she is a completely different child in both appearance and personality. I’d give anything to go back to having my tiny Olivia again and at the same time I love the way she is now (except the tantrums). For all of the stress, emotion and being so physically and mentally drained, it is worth it, and you’ll realise that all of those people who really pissed you off by saying that in your last weeks of pregnancy we’re absolutely right.

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Mental Health Monday: PND and bonding

Having trouble bonding with your newborn isn’t something limited to those experiencing PND – it actually happens to most mums after giving birth, and is a common part of the “baby blues”. There’s an expectation that everything will be wonderful and magical, but in actual fact your body has gone through an immensely traumatic experience, and for the next 2 or 3 months you will be sleep deprived beyond belief. It’s no wonder that sometimes the bonding isn’t automatic, or just takes a little longer.

Immediately after I gave birth to my daughter she was placed on my tummy for skin-to-skin, recommended to keep baby warm and to benefit baby straight after leaving the security of the womb. She stayed there for all of 10 seconds before I had to ask someone to move her. I had been throwing up throughout labour and was still being sick into a paper bowl, shaking too much to hold her properly.
After that I didn’t hold her very much, except when she was being fed. I didn’t know what I was doing with her. It was the single most daunting experience of my life that first day in the hospital – a midwife huffily “helped” to latch her on to me, told me I was doing things wrong and fixed them for me, not advising me but just doing it for me because I seemed so incapable. Even nappy-changing was a struggle, and with 4 younger siblings that was something I’d done my fair share of in the past.
Around 2 or 3 weeks after she was born, my mother-in-law got back from her holiday to New York so we went to visit, driving from Kent to Essex. The drive wasn’t so bad, but when we got there, it was impossible to settle her to sleep. She just screamed, for hours, and I didn’t know what to do.
My husband and I drove around Corringham with her, hoping that the motion of the car would settle her, but, if anything, it made her worse. Usually, that would have done the trick. We started to suspect it was colic, something I’d never heard of, and, of course, that made me feel even more unprepared and inadequate to be a parent.
Don’t worry – this story gets better, I promise. That night I received the best advice I’ve ever been given, though I didn’t use it straight away. My mother-in-law asked if I’d tried singing to her, took Olivia, rocked her and sung a song her mum used to sing.
Poof!
Just like that, the screaming, crying baby was gone. She was asleep, and peaceful.

At first, I didn’t think it had anything to do with the singing. I thought my baby had had enough of me already in the first month of her life.
The next night, the outbursts started again, so I tried it, not holding out much hope that it would work.
But it did.
And not only that, but I cried tears of joy for the first time since she had been born. Partly due to the fact that I’d found something that would allow me some sleep for the foreseeable future, but mostly because for the first time I felt needed for something more than just milk. I felt like my baby loved me because she felt safe and secure enough in my arms for me to soothe her to sleep with a song.
I forgot that she had spent 9 months listening to me singing and talking from inside the womb. I forgot that she was already so familiar and comfortable with my voice that she would recognise it now that she was on the outside. I didn’t know that, at the same time as calming her, it would calm me, too.
So, if you’re one for singing in the shower, your baby has heard it and fallen in love with it already. Try it. Even if you’re not one for singing at all! Try singing to your baby and see if it has the same effect. You don’t have to be Mariah Carey or Beyonce… You just have to be you.
Your baby knows you and your voice better than anyone else in the world.

Monday Stumble Linky

Mental Health Monday: Speak Up

Although we may have all spent our teenage years trying desperately to get away from embarrassing parents, parents are a class of people that we will all come across in everyday life. Hopefully, many of you reading this post are parents – mothers or fathers. It’s so important to understand and raise awareness of not only maternal mental health but of parental mental health generally.

Particularly important is raising awareness in our workplaces, because of the progress that has been made towards diversity and equality across this sphere generally – though much still needs to be done. Gender equality is increasing and this progress cannot be undone by a lack of support or awareness of the issues faced by new mothers and fathers, who, of course, make up a significant proportion of our working population.

Work-related stress is something which has affected so many people, so it is increasingly crucial to make sure that parents have no further stress upon returning to work, either by making admissions that they are seeking help for mental health conditions, or by suffering in silence and perhaps struggling in the meantime. Postnatal depression is not normally a topic spoken about widely enough for others to recognise that it can affect both mothers and fathers equally, and potentially adoptive or other kinds of parents as well.

At the moment, postnatal depression is diagnosed in around 1 in 10 mothers (though the actual number affected may be much higher!) and, according to recent NCT research, it also affects 1 in 10 fathers, though it may sometimes be called paternal depression rather than postnatal.

But I truly believe that nobody should have to suffer in silence in fear of a backlash if they do make a public admission of his or her postnatal depression. Encouraging an open dialogue around parental mental health brings us one step closer to ending mental health stigma altogether.

In some respects, the stigma of postnatal depression is more difficult to overcome, as many people can’t even fathom how a happy event such as the birth of a baby can lead to depression, psychosis, PTSD or anxiety as a result. The truth is that there is no logic to mental health conditions, and the expectations we are given to feel a certain way can make us feel inadequate, or undeserving, which can be where it all begins.

So how do we overcome the stigma surrounding mental health concerns? It’s necessary for the proper functioning of society that we’re able to move forward, and we have to raise awareness in order to do just that.

Personally, I believe that we should endeavour to be accommodating in our lives and particularly in our professional careers for new parents, encouraging and helping people to speak up, as they may be fighting battles unknown to the rest of us.

This post was written as part of our Raising Healthy Minds campaign.

Postnatal Depression: An open letter to every mum…

It’s not an easy road, this parenting thing, and it’s okay if you’re struggling, just take steps to get better! It feels like a huge weight being lifted once you’ve made that first contact to someone. Be strong my lovelies, it will get better. It always does.



If you haven’t seen my personal blog, it’s full of letters to Olivia, so you could say that these are what I do best.
 
This one, however, has a twist. Not to Olivia, but to you, the one reading this. 

 

 
Mums, mamas, mummies, I beg you all to be your best. Not the best mother, the best cook, the best anything, but just the best version of yourself. 
 
What do I mean? I mean, get that help, use that support, it’s okay not to be okay all of the time. In fact, it’s normal. But sometimes it might be slightly worse than normal, all that means is that you are vulnerable and you need a little bit extra. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, it’s DEPRESSION. And that is NOT a dirty word. It’s a feeling, a battle, a setback, but with the right help, you will come through the other side a stronger person, and you will be a better version of yourself having done so.
 
Sometimes you may feel like you’re sinking, and when you do it’s so hard to come up for air. But you will. And here is my little checklist of things to remember when I do feel like I’m slipping back underneath the surface.
 
    1. Help is not far away…

      Whether it’s my GP, my health visitor (before I moved away, I still haven’t managed to find the children’s health services in my new town yet), or my family, help is always close by and easy to access. My experience with the doctors surgeries is that even if their appointments are full up, they will always try to book you in asap if you tell them it’s for mental health. They will also be able to provide you with crisis numbers, and although I’ve never had to use them, I have friends who have and they have been dependable in their time of need.

    1. Don’t cut off your lifelines…It’s so easy to feel isolated, to send that text saying “no, sorry but I’m busy”, or to reject that phone call because you can’t face other people seeing you when you’re not feeling 100%. The best thing to remember is that true friends will be there for you through thick and thin, and just like having a sickness bug, it’s okay to want to hole up under your duvet and binge watch a tv series until you feel better. When you do feel better, seize those opportunities and see your friends and family.  Even if it’s momentarily, you will feel better for seeing other people and having adult conversation, trust me.
    1. Your baby thinks you’re perfectThis took me a long time to realise, but your little bundle that you carried for 9 months and went through all of that hell to bring into the world thinks YOU are the most amazing woman on earth. Yes, granted, a newborn baby doesn’t understand who you are yet, but you already provided them with a safe place to grow until they were ready to come out to meet everyone, and now you are their one and only source of comfort (especially if you’re breastfeeding). Sorry, dads, but you just can’t beat the power of the nipple. Hungry? Slip the nip. Tired? Slip the nip. Ratty? Slip the nip… You get the idea. You are providing them with everything they could want. They’ve already memorised your voice, and soon enough will learn your face too. That baby will love you unconditionally, no matter how imperfect you feel, you are perfect to someone.
    1. Baby’s daddy owes you big time…Seriously, nearly 15 months later I still play this card. “Honeyyyyy, make me tea please”, “No”, “But I made your baby”! It doesn’t really work anymore, I won’t lie, but in those first few weeks when he has paternity leave, soak up all of the help you can! Usually I am a staunch believer in independent womanhood but for the love of god you just delivered a 7/8lb something gorgeous lump, so don’t lift a finger. If you’re doing this alone, the same applies, take the help and the rest from people you love, you’re taking on double the work for th
      e foreseeable future! You totally deserve to chill out and not have to worry about anything. If, like me, you have terrible anxiety, you are definitely going to spend enough time worrying later on, so just sit back, and look at what you made! Look at that beautiful baby and your family and just cherish those memories. It’s so hard to forget all of your worries, but I promise you will have those moments where everything else slips away and you can only see the beauty in front of you.
  1. Forget your looks, they’re different but no less beautiful…This is a big one for me. I had enough trouble with my body confidence before having Olivia, but the one thing I actually liked was my nice flat tummy. Aaaaaaand POOF! It’s gone. It’s now covered in stretch marks and I can’t wear a belly bar anymore as the hole closed up. Plus there’s still a bit of extra fleshiness from the mumtum. But do you know what? What you see in the mirror isn’t what everyone else sees. My other half genuinely made me cry recently after I asked him what he would change about me. I expected it to be something superficial, because that is what I would change, magic me up some visible abs or something. No, instead he said he would change the way I see myself so that I can see what he sees. So to you all, YOU are still attractive, your body is still phenomenal, and there will always be someone who sees you differently to how you see yourself. Next time you look in the mirror, try to love yourself, see what your significant other sees. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so BEHOLD IT!
 
 
I think 5 is enough and I feel like I’ve rambled on a lot, but if you’re struggling you know you have people to turn to. If you truly do feel alone and you want someone to talk to who can’t and won’t judge you then you can contact any of the mummykind gang via Facebook, twitter or email – go to our contact us page to get the links!
 
Harriet and I also started a Facebook group for mummies suffering with PND, a safe place where you can share experiences and ask for advice without having to worry what people think of you.
 
I hope that this helps someone. It’s not an easy road, this parenting thing, and it’s okay if you’re struggling, just take steps to get better! It feels like a huge weight being lifted once you’ve made that first contact to someone.
 
Be strong my lovelies, it will get better. It always does.

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