THERE’S a tradition here in Ireland every Christmas Day where people gather at The 40 Foot, a bathing spot on the coast, to do a charity swim in aid of whatever particular cause they feel passionate about.
It makes the news every year and every year I look on in amazement thinking fair play, because trust me, although we’re in Europe, the Irish Sea is never warm. There are no balmy Mediterranean temperatures here. Think ‘going for a swim in your freezer’ and you’d be halfway there.
I’ve always wondered what goes through the swimmers’ minds before they take the plunge into the icy waters, whether they want to back out or whether they relish the challenge.
Yesterday I got a flash of insight into what it might be like to line up to take a dip into the unknown as I decided, with the help of my doctor, to come off my anti-depressant medication.
(Ok, it’s not the same as leaping into the Irish Sea in deepest winter, but work with me here, it’s an analogy!)
This is a big deal for me. I had never had depression nor taken antidepressants before I had my son, so post natal depression was my first experience of it and it terrified me.
The meds helped so much, they worked quickly and they helped me to feel back to myself. I’ve been on them for roughly 18 months now and at various points I wondered about coming off them but never felt quite ready.
My fear is that I only feel well now because of the meds, not because I’m actually well. I worry that the occasional down days I have means that I’m still ill, that I’m not healed yet.
My doctor assures me that all of this is normal, that even people who have never had depression can have down days, that this isn’t a reason to continue to take meds that I might not really need.
We had a long chat – I’m sure the rest of the patients in the waiting room were making Voodoo dolls out of me I was in there that long – but he was so kind and so helpful that I now feel ready to take the plunge.
For the next month I’m going to be weaning off my meds, reducing the dose down to nothing and after that I’ll be on my own.
I’m excited and terrified all at the same time. But I really do feel like I’m ready. I’m sick of post natal depression, I really am. It robbed me of so much and I’m tired of giving it space in my head and in my heart.
I’m done. It may take its last breath because over the next month I’m going to be inching closer and closer to the edge of the waves, then I’m jumping in and washing it all away.
Of course there’s a chance I might sink, but I’m really hoping I can find the courage to swim.
(How’re you all liking these swimming analogies? Doing anything for ya? Anybody? No? No? Ok, I’ll stop now.)
THE Beast decided today that he wasn’t going to have a nap.
I can only liken the panic I felt to that felt when I was being rushed to theatre to have an emergency c-section.
I felt short of breath, horrified, I had a sour stomach. I could not believe this was happening.
He lay there, occasionally opening an eye to see if I was still there, still, but resolutely NOT asleep.
After a while I sighed and pulled back the curtains and said ‘You’re not going to sleep today, are you?’
“Seán AWAKE!” he bellowed, delighted with himself, before hopping off to
destroy the place play.
He’s always been a good sleeper; sometimes his naps would be short 45 minute bursts, but every day without fail he would drift off and there would be peace – and an episode of Say Yes to the Dress – for a while.
It seems things, they are a-changing. Of course he’ll probably nap fine tomorrow, but it’s a symptom of the fact that he’s getting older. He’s almost two now, so of course he’s not going to sleep as much as a tiny baby does.
I don’t want him to get older. I don’t want him to grow up. Is that a terrible thing to wish? I want to put a brick on his head, to stop him stretching.
When he was a newborn and I was so desperately ill with post natal depression, I couldn’t wait for him to grow up. Anything other than that endless cycle of feeds and night-time wakings. Anything other than the self-doubt and the questions and the fear and the constant wondering if he was ok.
But then time passed, as it does. And time healed, as it does. And I started to enjoy the baby cuddles and carting him around in his sling and being close to him.
Suddenly I didn’t want time to pass anymore. I wanted him to stay as he was, a little bundle parked on my chest. But of course he grew and started solid food and sat up and crawled and walked and talked.
It was ok for a while because he was still a baby, still my baby. But now as he approaches two, I see him turning into a little boy. A big boy. He can feed himself and hold a conversation, play independently, run and jump and cause mischief. And apparently he can get through the day without needing a nap.
I think this time there is no going back. This time he really is growing up and there will be no stopping him. All those dark, oppressive nights when I wished his life away are finally catching up to me and the regret is overwhelming.
The past isn’t a place to live though – and I would never want to go back there, back to her, to me, then.
So I can only look forward to hopefully wonderful times. Not with a baby, but with a boy. My boy.
My amazing boy.
WHEN I was five years old, I came second in the Miss Junior Cherry Orchard pageant. I won a stuffed parrot.
I was supposed to come first, but word on the street had it that because my sister had won Miss Senior Cherry Orchard the night before, they didn’t think it was fair to give a second crown to the same family.
So, instead, a six month old baby got the crown and the trophy, and I came second and won the bloody parrot.
Over the years though I’ve been glad of that parrot as it’s been pretty much the only thing I’ve ever won in my whole life.
Sure, I’ve won a few giveaways, a CD here and there, some bits and pieces of nice make-up, but awards and trophies have been sparse. Very, VERY sparse.
Until last weekend. Reader, after 30 years I broke my losing streak and only went and won the Best Blog Post award at last weekend’s Blog Awards Ireland event! Can you believe it? Because I couldn’t!
I wasn’t able to make the awards themselves (bloody Crohn’s, more on that another time) but holed up on the sofa with my laptop and Twitter, watching the awards hashtag like a hawk.
They started announcing winners around 8pm, but Best Blog Post wasn’t announced until close to midnight, so it was a long evening. I think the ‘refresh’ button on my laptop is broken. Tense was not the word.
I was psychotic.
I hadn’t expected to win. At all. But when it came down to it, I wanted to. I really, REALLY wanted to win. I was up against some serious talent, not least, two colleagues from the Irish Parenting Bloggers group that I’m a member of so I genuinely didn’t think that it would be me. But I hoped it would be.
I’ll admit that as well as biting the fingernails off myself, I also sent a prayer up to my Dad, asking for him to put a word in with the Big Guy for a little help.
I’m not so great with the prayers, so it was along the lines of ‘Dad, if you do this for me, I won’t ever tell Mam about the time you fell into a bush when you were locked and made me carry you home.’ It might not have been the most poetic of prayers, but hey, it worked!
Some friends who were at the ceremony said when my name was called out that a ‘massive cheer’ went up, which is so flattering and so lovely. I was just beyond excited to have won and so grateful.
You might remember that the first round of the competition was a public vote, so in order to even get to the judging rounds I had to get enough votes to get into the top ten, so thank you to all of you who voted for me. It meant so much.
I’m still on a high after it all and still receiving messages of congratulations and it’s all so lovely. Thanks to you all, I couldn’t have done it without you.
Big congratulations also to all the finalists and all the winners on the night too, all well deserved.
To end then on a serious note: I won this award because of a blog post I wrote about post natal depression. In it I said that depression is as real as a broken leg or an asthma attack. That’s still true. No matter how many times you hear that you should just ‘snap out of it’ or how many times you’re asked ‘what have you got to be depressed about?’ remember, depression is a real illness that deserves real treatment. Please, don’t suffer in silence.
Thanks again for all the votes, support and kind messages. I’m only delirah!
I had no idea I had been nominated until I received an email to say I had been, and I didn’t know for which post until this morning when the Longlist was released. And boy, is it a long list!
There are loads of brilliant blogs and posts in the running for this and I’m so so happy to be among them. I’m also so happy that it is that particular post I was nominated for. It’s a post that means a lot to me.
It was written as a visceral response to an interview with the journalist John Waters which I read in the Sunday Independent where he said he didn’t believe in depression, that the condition was ‘made up’. I was hopping mad, I couldn’t sit still and the words just poured out of me.
I couldn’t let that go, I couldn’t sit and read that article and do nothing. Depression does exist, it’s very real and it affects millions of people very day. So it means so much to me that it was deemed worthy of a nomination.
The way the Best Blog Post category works is that there is a two week ‘public voting’ section where the long list will be whittled down to ten finalists. After that then, the ten finalists will be judged by a panel of judges and the winner announced at the awards ceremony in October.
This is where the shameless plug comes in – I’d love it if you could vote for me to be a finalist. All you have to do is follow this link and click on the little circle beside Beating Myself Into A Dress and then click Vote. That’s it! Ah sure go on, what else would you be doing of a Friday afternoon? And if you don’t vote for me, well, I’ll just have to get Mammy Dunne after you and she’s a whizz with the oul wooden spoon so she is.
Thank you in advance for your vote and for your support and most of all for reading the blog. I appreciate it so much.
THE Beast started walking this week, just like that, all by himself.
He returned from his holidays down in Wexford on Tuesday, pulled himself up on the sofa and just took off towards me, not a bother on him.
Like a drunk uncle at a wedding he tottered and weaved and swayed but managed to stay on his feet and by his second or third try he was already running.
Two days later and he’s almost an expert. Next stop the Olympics – seriously, I’m going to become one of those pushy parents who insist that their kids actually LIKE alfalfa sprouts and doing 17 hours of training a day. Love it so they do.
It’s been a funny week because by his sudden progress to walking, my son has taught me a valuable lesson. About baby steps.
He’s almost 16 months and truth be told we had been getting a little anxious that he hadn’t shown any interest in walking. I’m a member of a few different parenting groups and forums and most of their little ones around the same age as Seán were up and walking by 12 months.
One mother I know turned around one day to see her nine month old casually strolling around the kitchen. Now THAT kid is destined for a bright future.
But Seán, not so much. He was perfectly content to bum around the place, shuffling as fast as his arse would allow him, not a notion of using his legs at all. He took his first independent steps about six weeks ago, got a bit of a fright and point blank refused to do it again, until this week.
Of course, rationally I knew that there was nothing wrong with him, but I was getting impatient. All it amounted to however was Seán doing things his way, at his own pace, nothing more, nothing less. Baby steps.
When I realised this, something clicked in my own head, something that had been niggling away in there, compounded by an article I read in a newspaper about childbirth.
Among other things, the article asserted that women feel ‘euphoric’ after giving birth, full of pride and accomplishment and that birth opens a ‘trapdoor’ of emotion and love in you that you didn’t know you possessed.
That had annoyed me because I hadn’t felt that after giving birth. In fact I hadn’t felt very much at all. I felt simply relieved that it was all over.
I had an emergency c-section so spent a couple of hours in recovery before being brought up to the ward and being reunited with my husband and baby. In the recovery room, I slept. I felt happy, of COURSE I did, that I had a baby, but I wasn’t pining for him. I could happily have stayed in recovery another few hours, it was warm and peaceful in there.
I felt tired and sore and sick and stiff up on the ward, and very overwhelmed that I was going to have to look after this tiny baby, when I still couldn’t feel my legs. I remember holding him in my arms, looking down at his perfect peachy little face, smiling and saying to my husband: ‘Hand me that basin, I’m going to puke.’ That’s how it was for his first few hours.
When the nurse arrived to ask if I wanted the baby brought down to the nursery for a while so that I could sleep off the epidural, I jumped (not literally) at the chance and handed him off to her. He was about six hours old at that stage, but it truly didn’t cross my mind to keep him with me. I needed the rest and time to recover.
When I got out of hospital, as I’ve written about before, I unfortunately suffered from post natal depression as well as a sudden bout of acute pancreatitis so again wasn’t able to give myself 100 per cent to my son. I entrusted him to family while I sorted myself out.
At that stage while I knew that something deep and primal within in me loved my son, with all my heart, I hadn’t yet fallen IN love with him. That took longer to come.
That bond, that feeling that your heart is so full that it might explode from love, came later. Much later.
I have, at times, beaten myself up about this. How could I not be in love with my own flesh and blood? How could I not want to spend every waking moment with him? How could I put myself first, when I should have been sacrificing myself for him?
The only answer I have is that it’s what I had to do, to get through. Love for me was a slow burn, I had to give it time to grow, forcing it wouldn’t work.
Now this week as I watch my son literally walking to the beat of his own drum I can say that I’m in love with my son, that the bond of motherhood holds us together in her silken web, that he is an extension of me.
It took time. It took me doing things at my own pace, just like my son. It took those around me giving me that time. It took baby steps.
A LOT has happened since I posted here last, some good, some bad. In April of this year I had a beautiful baby boy, Seán. The post below details my experience of birth and post natal depression. It has been really cathartic for me to write this and I welcome your comments.
WHEN my son was four weeks old I unexpectedly had to go into hospital with acute pancreatitis. A gall stone had become caught in a bile duct causing inflammation of the pancreas along with excruciating stomach pain.
I spent almost a week in hospital so, to allow my husband to continue working, my lovely inlaws took care of our son both during the day and overnight. When I was released they offered to hold on to him for a couple of more days, over the weekend, to allow me to recover and catch up on some sleep. It was supposed to be a temporary thing, just to get us over that emergency period.
By the time the weekend was over however, I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to take my baby back, I wasn’t going to be able to care for him – the baby blues that had been bubbling for a time had developed into full-blown crippling post natal depression.
I didn’t ever want to be alone with my son, I knew I couldn’t be. At times I could barely look at him. I felt scared and alone and overwhelmed, I felt like I had made the worst mistake of my life.
I cried while changing his nappy, while feeding him, while holding him. I cried while cooking dinner; while eating; on the sofa cradled by my worried husband; secretly in the bathroom; even one day while walking around Tesco.
I made the decision that I needed a total break so my husband and I asked his parents to mind our son almost full time for a few weeks, while I started on the medication my very supportive GP had prescribed. I saw the baby every day but was rarely alone with him. My parents-in-law were there in the mornings, my mother arrived in the afternoon and my husband was there in the evenings. Every night I packed him up and sent him off to his Nana’s house, waving him off with a sense of relief mixed with shame that I didn’t have to deal with him again until the next day.
I felt like the worst mother in the world, but I couldn’t help myself, I simply could not cope with everything that had happened to me starting with his birth – flashbacks of what I went through and how I was treated and belittled began to needle at me every day and contributed in no small way to how horrendous I felt.
I had a brutal, horrifying failed induction culminating in an emergency c-section. I was induced because of a medical complication and the c-section happened because the baby got into difficulty so I knew these things were necessary but nothing could have prepared me for how barbaric the whole thing was and how terrified and vulnerable I would feel.
I felt violated by the induction process, particularly when my waters were artificially broken, which was excruciating. I was left to walk the corridors and told to have a shower to control my contractions which began immediately after this procedure. They began thick and fast, no more than two minutes apart leaving me bent double with pain. Yet time and time again I was told I wasn’t in labour yet, that I’d just have to wait it out. I spent a long night sobbing in the shower, throwing up with the force of my contractions and getting no relief or respite from pain whatsoever.
By the next morning the contractions were so bad I was moved to a delivery suite, begging for an epidural, only to be told I still wasn’t in labour, that I hadn’t progressed at all. As I gasped and moaned my way through another contraction I turned to my equally terrified and shocked husband and desperately said “I can’t do this, I can’t” only to hear the midwife in charge of my delivery tut and mutter “Oh come on now” under her breath.
I was in her care for several hours and she didn’t smile at me once, she didn’t hold my hand, offer a pat on the shoulder or any words of encouragement at all. I was heavily monitored so she was busy with machines, drips and catheters, bustling around filling in charts, almost as if I wasn’t in the room. I did eventually get the epidural and it helped somewhat with the pain and allowed me to take a breath, but I couldn’t relax, the midwife’s patent disapproval hung heavy on the room. I felt like I had done something wrong by not being able to handle the pain and kept apologising to her for the trouble, which seemed to annoy her more. Looking back I can’t believe I apologised for being in pain during labour, but she was so ice cold towards me I felt I had to.
I had expected the day I gave birth to be an emotionally charged one, whatever happened – a few weeks before, my wonderful Dad had died quite suddenly from lung cancer and he was to the forefront of my mind that day – but I hadn’t expected to be made to feel like a burden, like I was unimportant and like I didn’t matter.
When the doctor announced that the baby was in distress and that I would need a c-section, I felt almost elated that I would finally be away from this horrible woman. What I didn’t realise was that the midwife in charge of your case comes to theatre with you in a situation like this. While she didn’t have anything to do with me directly during the birth, I hate that she, with all her negativity, was in the room at all. I hate that she saw my son before I did, that she touched him before I did. She treated me coldly and dispassionately and she didn’t deserve to be there. At the time I was only concerned with getting my son born safely and his first cry was like the sweetest music, but afterwards I felt so disappointed with the whole thing.
My post birth experience wasn’t much better. Staff were lovely on the ward but were woefully understaffed and I was left, mostly, to my own devices. The morning after my surgery I was brought to a shower at 6am, trailing my drip and my catheter, bleeding heavily and then abandoned. The nurse was called for something and never returned, so I painfully managed to get myself and my equipment in the shower, washed and then somehow struggled into my clothes and back to my cubicle. I’m not quite sure how I did it as I was almost completely incapacitated but it was either survive or pass out naked on the bathroom floor.
I have no doubt that my negative birth experience contributed hugely to my post natal depression. I was probably going to end up with a c-section anyway, the odds weren’t in my favour, but the whole thing could have been handled more sensitively with more kindness. I could have been made to feel I was Wonder Woman for going through so much and eventually birthing my son safely, no matter which way he came out, but instead I was tutted at, belittled and made to feel about an inch tall.
I missed so much during those dark days of depression, so much of the tiny newborn stage, I even missed my son’s first real proper grin. I have a photo of it, but I wasn’t there in person as I simply couldn’t be. It breaks my heart.
There is a happy ending to this story though. With the medication and all the support from my GP, my husband, my in-laws, my mother, friends and family I am better. Much, much better. My son is now back at home with us full-time, I love caring for him, his beautiful smile and chubby cheeks light up my world every single day. I feel strong and in control, I feel, finally, like I’m on my way to being a good mother. It’s an amazing experience and I wake up each morning excited for what the day may bring.
I am not yet fully healed, but I’m getting there. Thank you for reading.