'No one knows what lies beneath!!!'
This was my friend's status on social media last week. A cry for help, or to simply let us know she was struggling. She's so right. Shit happens, we all get on with living, and everyone thinks we are ok. We don a brace face, a fake smile and we carry on. Even when we are dying inside. When realising I'm struggling this week a colleague said to me she would never have known - I seemed to be doing so well (!)
It made me think of this photo:
Everyone absolutely loved this photo and I really didn't know why. Comments such as 'you look so serene' - nope. 'The relief on your face' - nope. 'That right there is love' - wrong again. That look on my face was a silent sob - just caught at the perfect time that it looked like a smile. This was our first cuddle and after about two minutes I tried to hand her back. The NICU sister, lovely Therese, said I needed to have her skin to skin for half an hour. She smiled at me, and I knew she knew, she knew how terrified I was, but she left me like that for the longest 30 minutes of my life. What was actually happening was this:
Guilt - this day and every day since. Guilt that because of my body's failure E was now here, tiny, tubes and cannulas sticking out of her, and fighting to survive. 'You have nothing to feel guilty about.' 'You saved her life,' say well meaning friends and family. It falls on deaf ears I'm afraid. It always has and it still does.
Fear - fear that one of those tubes would come out while I was holding her. Fear that that fragile, translucent, barely developed skin would break from my touch. Fear that she would stop breathing - so listening for every beep and alarm from her monitoring. Also fear that I would hurt her (more than I already had) just by touching her - her skin so sensitive as it shouldn't have been touched for another 11 weeks, we were warned to resist stroking her skin as it could hurt her (or so they thought - no one really knows for sure), so then you just become terrified to even touch your tiny baby, and holding them is a huge deal.
Mourning - I have mourned my pregnancy every day since it ended so abruptly. I have mourned my final trimester - 11 more beautiful weeks of feeling her wiggle inside me. 11 more weeks of showing off my bump, and moaning that I couldn't get comfortable at night, and 'eating for two.' And when you hold a premature baby, their limbs jerk around just like that feeling inside you, but it's outside. Still now I will cross the street rather than have to look at a pregnant woman.
Numbness - when you are warned that the first 24 hours of your baby's life is the 'honeymoon period' and following which - she may or may not survive, you adopt a distanced numb being. And the reason for this is not because you are some hard faced bitch that cannot love your child. It's to protect yourself. You can't get too close because you know in those early days every minute is a blessing, but everything can change in the beep of a monitor. You see it happen to other people, and you pray that the next time it happens, it is not to you, and then you feel guilty for feeling like that. So you hold back, and wait until things are a little more stable. You walk around and people say 'here comes mummy' and you feel nothing. You receive card after card with 'congratulations!!' on the front and you have absolutely no idea why. When you finally let go and dare to fall in love, it then breaks your heart every day you have to leave the hospital and go home empty handed.
So as you can see - with all of those feelings there was no room for 'relief,' 'serenity,' and 'love.' So when I'm mulling everything over (again and again and again) I'm angry that when I look at that first photo of me and my amazing baby girl - that those are the feelings I'm reminded of. I didn't ever respond to those comments - because I felt guilty that I felt none of those feelings that people were so excited about. Fast forward a few weeks though and there was this photo:
This was the one that said all of those things.
Why am I talking about all of this now? Because this is the reality of dealing with prematurity. And because I so often see those 'first hold photos', the beaming parents among the tubes and monitors, and I know that those smiles are fake. But none of us dare say how we are really feeling. Until now.
This week is maternal mental health week and this is the week my mental health turn a huge spiral downhill (my timing for a breakdown is impeccable!!!) We've recently been bombarded in the media with 'heads together' and 'it's ok not to be ok' - which is all very well - yet we fail talk about WHY we are not ok. WHAT is going on in our minds and why we feel the way we do (sometimes we don't even know why - and that is ok too). 40% of mothers of premature babies will suffer with mental health problems compared with 5% of mothers that carry to term. And what about the fathers? So frequently forgotten - yet I know they suffer too - not only worrying about their child but also their partner.
So here is what is going on for me right now. For 21 months I have tried to work through my mental health problems myself, truly believing that I would come through the other side with a bit of positive thinking, blogging and some St. John's Wort! Oh dear how wrong I was. Possibly not helped by a few other life stresses thrown in. And suddenly, like a cork popping out of a bottle of fizz, I couldn't contain my 'fizz' anymore.
Flashbacks of the birth have got so all consuming they take up most of my day, and night. This results in insomnia, terrible anxiety which cause irrational thought processes, an inability to make decisions, panic attacks, and rubbish feelings of failure and worthlessness. I can rationalise it all like this because I can be 'the healthcare professional' looking in at me as a patient! But that's where it ends really as I have no idea how to treat it! So now, a long 21 months down the line I have asked for help. I achieved some pretty impressive scores in the questionnaire from the mental health team (always aspiring to score highly in everything I do!!!) and I'm waiting for treatment to begin. I'm extremely fortunate to be having a relatively new therapy for PTSD called EMDR - eye movement de-senstising and reprocessing therapy. It's like a brain reprogramming thing - almost like a mix of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and hypnosis. I'm so hopeful that it gets the results I need.
So why am I sharing this? Certainly not for attention, or pity. Those who know me will know I couldn't think of anything worse. I'm sharing it because I think it's important that we speak out. My friends and those closest to me would never have believed that me - former focussed, sarcastic, conscientious, hard working, life loving positive thinking control freak could be reduced to this anxious, nervous, traumatised, panic stricken being..........and that's my point.
Mental health does not discriminate. It happens to everyone regardless of gender, colour, sexual preference and social class. It's happening to your friends, your neighbour, your family, your work colleagues. It happens when you keep telling yourself you should be grateful for what you have (thus increasing guilt further). But not everyone admits it or speaks freely about it. And because of that it is still a taboo. Let's speak to each other about these things, and instead of well meaning yet ill thought advice just listen and offer help. Even if it's just company for a walk or a glass of wine! Because there really is no advice to be given for these inner demons - let's leave that one to the professionals. And I will be ok - I know I will xxx
#headstogether #itsoknottobeok #smallestthings #bliss #maternalmentalhealth