Continuing with our stories about how women have fought and overcome postnatal issues we received this beautifully written story from Aimee. Aimee discusses what triggered her post traumatic stress disorder and how returning to work and finding her hobbies gave her focus and a sense of achievement. I love her talk about cooking and gardening and her honesty with feeling displaced in another country.
In 2014 we moved to France and that October we had our first son. We were living in a bedroom in rural Normandy in France at my in-laws. We had originally moved from Dubai, where life was busy. In Dubai I had a community of friends around me. We then moved to France with a dream to try it out. Rather than move to Paris straight away we decided to live with my in-laws. I’d like to add at this point that their kindness and patience I’m eternally grateful for but it couldn’t have been easy for anyone. I couldn’t drive so I relied on everyone else. My husband, Olly was working from home or traveling.
I remember being in the bedroom in the attic in France and each day before the baby arrived, Olly would joke about what I had moved around. Boxes of stuff arrived from Dubai, I kept packing, unpacking, repacking and resorting. I suppose at the end of my pregnancy I was unsettled.
I had a traumatic birth with Charles, in hindsight I had PTSD. I was kept in a French speaking hospital for a week (standard procedure there). Then I found myself being responsible for a tiny person (any new mum knows how terrifying this is). I feel this is the root cause of my PTSD.
I remember shortly after Charles had arrived I had a mini meltdown, one of many. We moved into a different bedroom, I put things around me I loved. Not having a nursery and having plastic drawers to store all our shit in drove me crazy.
I needed space, physically and mentally.
I needed to be able to beat my drum. To shout at my husband, let the baby cry without feeling I had to shush him straight away, to walk about in my pants to the kitchen.
I am forever eternally grateful for my in-laws support. Having someone keep an eye on your baby when you needed a nap or cooking you dinner was amazing. The bond that they have with Charlie is incredible and I would not change that, also my bond with them.
But having had independence for so long and then not was weird. It’s strange enough that you suddenly have this tiny human dependant on you!
I felt there were no mothers I could talk to. I was completely isolated in the fact I was a British mother in France. Luckily I had a friend in the UK who had twins and we were in contact over WhatsApp. She was my saviour! I could ask her inane questions. I could whinge. I could laugh with her.
It was whilst visiting my grandparents in the UK with baby Charlie, they knew something wasn’t right.
My Granny suggested I go back to work and I gave it some serious thought for the first time. I realised it was time to leave France. It was so isolating living in Normandy. Even though I was surrounded by people who loved me, I was struggling.
I made the decision to go back to work. I needed to think, to feel I could achieve something tangible. Not that I didn’t love my child, I did. But I wasn’t being the best for anyone least of all me.
We moved back to the UK in April 2015 and I started work (as a teacher in September)
Those few months before even starting work, I changed.
I became happier and found things to enjoy. Gardening! Sewing! Silly projects that gave me a feeling of accomplishment and time away from being mummy.
I love baking, so I would just set myself off in the kitchen to give me some time and a task to complete. When I returned to the UK, my mum did things like helped me sort out the garden. She made me plant sunflowers, I grew pumpkins (badly, bloody slugs!) and she sent me on a dressmaking day, which was great!! She helped me find my groove again.
With all these it taught me something really important which fully applies to parenthood.
Mistakes will happen. Nothing will be perfect but the end result is about the learning process you have been on.
So the pumpkins that got eaten or the mega sunflowers that snapped, or the hilarious dog pin cushion for my mum which took me ages to make and ended up with rice everywhere and a funny looking bottom because I thought ‘fuck it’ and was sewing whilst drinking a glass of wine (I gave it to her for a Christmas rather than her birthday which had been in March), were part of making me laugh again, giving me little things that I achieved and learnt more about me and my talents.
Work started in September and it was a saviour. Not only did I land myself an amazing job but one that challenged me. I learnt to drive. Again, it was physical freedom.
The interview for the teaching job was great and I knew immediately I wanted to work there. I’m lucky that I work in a very special environment which has lovely people. It felt like home.
Being a teacher is my identity. It had been a huge part of my identity before children.
It was the loss of identity, the endless day with a baby that was hard for me.
I knew that my career would give me that sense of completing a task again.
I believed when I was younger that as soon as I had a baby I would be a stay at home mum. I have the utmost respect for stay at home mums, and working mums. Just for mums in general! It’s a tough job. As soon as I announced I was looking for a job there was a mixed response from people. Older members of the family pulled a ‘hmm’ face, others were fully supportive. It has given me my identity back and so much more.
Going back to work has made me a better mother, a better person! I love that I can see something I have been working on come to life. When working on a production for the school (I’m a drama teacher), that first tech rehearsal is amazing, a similar feeling to when your child says ‘I love you’ for the first time.
We are told go to school, go to uni, get a job, get a career, get married, have babies. But what about after that? A friend of mine said about going back to work and her words resonated with me. ‘You deserve it, you worked bloody hard to get your career’. She’s right! And why? Because I love it. Being a teacher is so rewarding.
Then I fell pregnant with my second child, Henry. It was a shock. It had been quicker than I thought. I went in for that first appointment and cried a lot. We had just moved. I loved my job. I felt guilty that I felt guilty. I wanted this baby and was ready but was scared. I knew also how lucky I was to get pregnant.
It wasn’t until I was pregnant with Henry that the midwife on my first appointment diagnosed that I had been battling PTSD. The diagnosis made sense. It fell into place that the way I had been feeling was built from anxiety that surrounded something deeply rooted, it justified my feelings. I didn’t take up the counselling, I felt I had a handle on it. I had counselling earlier in my life and it is having someone that you can openly talk to without fear of being judged. They aren’t a part of what you are living so it’s really useful to have that.
I had a much more positive birth with Henry. We still have our challenges. Bloody hell it’s not easy. But as I take out old baby clothes to reuse that have the familiar sniff of washing powder from France, I don’t have that pit of panic unfurling inside me, instead I take a deep breath, I suck in that scent and smile. I look at the gorgeous boys I have and think each day is a new day ahead of us.
Things I have come to realise recently.
There is no such thing as your story being less important than someone else’s. By all means I know I didn’t have it as tough as many others, but it still has left a scar.
If you feel something isn’t right…acknowledge it.
That mental health doesn’t define you, but helps to shape you and your mental health as a mother is hugely important! You are the captain of the ship.
Since then I have become more open and honest. It’s so important just to listen to other mums. To zip the mouth and let her speak. Let her say the warts and all and be honest without judgement about how she’s feeling. Because we are all human.
The amount of times some people since having Charlie have said ‘I was really worried about you’ makes me tighten because it has taken till today for me to go ‘yes and I was too’. Whilst thinking ‘well why didn’t you say it then!!! ‘ Because unless you say something, there is just the big PD/PTSD elephant in the room and everyone is staring at it like the latest fucking Banksy. And I know people find it harder to say, to acknowledge and to hold their hand up and say ‘I’m struggling here’or ‘I think you maybe need support’. I know because I grew up with a mum who had postnatal depression, who still battles demons, but she’s bloody great and she’s still my mummy. I wouldn’t change her for the world. I hope that my boys feel the same.
For me now, it’s all about turning that negative into a positive. It’s about sharing the highs and the lows. I still have down days but I know it’s just one day,
The start of a new day is what we need.
Never ever underestimate the power of tribes. I am so lucky to have met some amazing people along the way, people who make me smile, who are interesting and who I want to surround myself with. That’s what is important.
And whilst I’m writing this I’ve realised my analogy of all of this is the following. As I’m watching the building work that we are having done, I’ve seen the hard work and the money that is poured into the foundations. The bit you don’t see. And that’s what happens. With or without PTSD or PD the bad bits are the foundations. You pour your heart and soul, everything you have into your child and often without anything given back. But those foundations are what keep the house up. Embracing the shit bits and acknowledging that the day was hard and saying ‘but it’s ok because we are alive’, builds the rest on solid ground. I don’t know if that makes sense. But Charlie the other day was being awful at bedtime, he just wouldn’t sleep and all of a sudden he said ‘you are a star’. That was all I needed to make the two hours of hell just melt away. Because no matter what, with every fibre of my soul since seeing that positive test, I was their mother and I love them. It’s ok to not be ok all the time, because I’m also bloody human but I know I am their foundation and deep down I am strong!