The Journey is Long

This week (12-18th November) is Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Awareness week. Once again I am posting to help raise awareness for perinatal mental illness and to break down stigma. Women are at their most vulnerable to mental illness in the perinatal period, which includes pregnancy and until baby is one year of age (some sources say 3 years even). This includes the more well known perinatal anxiety and depression or the rarer puerperal psychosis, but may also be an illness she already has or the first episode of an ongoing illness such as bipolar disorder. Men are also more vulnerable during this time as well. While perinatal sounds like it’s confined to a certain period of time, in reality perinatal mental illness can have an effect even long after the perinatal period has finished.

Last year during this week I shared with you my experience of Postnatal Depression and Puerperal Psychosis. If you haven’t read it or would like to again, please read it here. This year, I’d like to share with you a little bit of what the journey has been like over the last year. While this will not be too in depth or graphic, please consider your mental health before reading on, and consider stopping if you’re not in a good place.

As I write write this nursling 2 (or baby 2) is now almost 18 months of age, which means it has been 16 months since my Puerperal Psychosis experience started and 14 months since I left Helen Mayo (the mother and baby unit). A lot has happened in that time. Recovering from mental illness can be up and down, or a few steps forward then a few back if you prefer. When I left Helen Mayo I was no longer psychotic, but I was still a long, long way from being what I consider recovered. In the beginning there was a fair bit of support, from various places. As I began to improve and to feel much more like myself, these supports exited. Eventually, I was left with a plan from my psychiatrist to slowly and carefully wean off my medication  under the supervision of my GP by the time baby 2 was 18 months and instructions to come back if things didn’t go as planned (which of course, they didn’t).

By the time baby 2 was 11 months I was quite well, and with some excitement even went back to work. Even so, every medication decrease hit me hard, and it took weeks to feel myself again. By the time baby 2 was 14months old I was down to a quarter of my original dose. It was, in fact the easiest decrease so far, and for the first few weeks after I felt quite well. But that was when things fell apart again. Quite suddenly, over a few days, manic-type symptoms returned (thankfully though, no psychosis this time). So, I took leave from work and went to see my GP. Medication was increased again, and a new one started, which brought back the unwanted drowsiness, derailed any attempts to lose baby weight and sent me into depression. I then began to seesaw between low and high moods before things began to stabilise.

While things have now improved and I am much more stable, close to a year and a half down the track, I am still a long way from being back to normal (or from discovering a new normal). I am not the only one.

Please, take care of any new parents in your life. If they have a mental illness, don’t expect it to get better straight away. Show them lots of kindness and compassion. They will need it on their journey to recovery. They may be dealing with a lot, including unpleasant medication side effects, as well as the normal struggles parenting entails. Offer them support if you can, beyond the first few weeks. They may need it for much longer. If appropriate, advocate for them and help them to seek out the help they need.

Together we change things for the better!

You can find more information about perinatal mental illness in the following places:

Antenatal Mental Illness
Postnatal Mental Illness

Beyond Blue – Healthy Families

Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia
 

 

 

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Open, Shut Them

Last week nursling one gained the ability to open doors. Yes, including the keyless locking kind that you get on bathroom doors (except if she happens to be on the side even an fault needs a 5c piece for). Also the fridge door, and those with an added suppposedly child proof latch.

It has been a total game changer in our household.
Gone is the ability to shut her out of a room. Gone are the days of casual, “she can’t get into much trouble in there” style supervision. It’s hypervigilance or chaos. Silence is usually met with a sprint to whichever room nursling 1 is in to avert potential disaster.

Her favourite new things to get into so far have been:

  • Alcohol based hand rub
  • Nappy cream
  • Butter
  • A cake that happened to be in the fridge (5 times in 1 day!)
  • Goodies from the bathroom cupboard

The door opening trick has also signed the death certificate of the afternoon nap for nursling 1.

It does, however, make my heart burst to see my little girl with a grin on her face after having very cleverly gotten boots on the wrong feet and opened the back door for the three of us while nursling 2 giggles at the dogs lining up at her feet to lick her hands.

First vs Second

All parents with more than one will tell you that there are differences between their children. Some of then are obvious, boy vs girl, or blonde vs dark haired, others are more subtle like the fact that one has a sweet innocent smile and the other has the wickedest grin you’ve ever seen on a kid so small. I want to share some of the differences between what my girls were/are up to between the ages of 12-18 months and hopefully you’ll have a giggle along with me.

Nursling 1 Nursling 2
Mobility Sat on bottom until 12 months, then did a funny kind of bottom shuffle. Pulled up and cruised from 12 months, but only in one direction otherwise she’d get her feet tangled. Finally walked at 17 months Traditional crawler, skipped the pulling up and cruising stage entirely in favour of toddling. Regresses to crawling when she needs to get somewhere fast (e.g. to steal a toy from her sister)
Addressing family members Mum, dad Dad, sista, Ted (referring to both of our dogs)

What happened to mum?? Well, mostly I’m just referred to as dad

Curiosity about objects what dat? what dis? mine dat!
Learning to share Looks slightly baffled that toy is gone, finds another toy happily Makes a sound best described as the sound played in quiz shows when you get the answer wrong. Snatches toy back.
Obtaining food Learned to say variations on please (eez, weez) early. Prefers someone else to feed her, so it all gets into her tummy faster. Snatches from nursling 1 and forages dropped food. Will say ‘ta’ if needed. Prefers to self feed. Will spit out food three times before accepting it and gobbling it down.
Commonly used words Gok (meaning milk, clock, or any other thing she didn’t have a word for) Neng and Faff (yes, they’re both completely made up, I’ve no idea what they mean) Uh-oh, Yay and Hee Wah Wah (Here you are – usually accompanied by a gift of some sort)
Quirks Loves to suck on jumper cords, and play the in/out game, which involves shoving jumper cords in an adults mouth and then removing them When asked to take an object somewhere, will do superman arms with the object held out in front of her whilst powering towards her destination

In Our Own Time

I still remember the first time I was asked when I was going to stop breastfeeding my first child. Nursling 1 was probably only 10 months old at the time, and I was still well and truly confidently feeding her around family and in public. I’m not sure exactly where we were, but as it was my Gran, who was unwell at the time who said something along the lines of: “You’re not still feeding her are you? When are you going to stop?”

Hold on a second! I thought, We haven’t reached the Australian guidelines of 12 months yet, let alone the WHO guidelines of 2 years and beyond. I chalked it up to generational difference, and the fact that my Gran never did mince words.

Then, when I was in hospital with Postpartum Psychosis with nursling 2 when she was only a few months old, again the question came up, but this time it was around psychiatric illness, their associated medicines and what the doctors were willing to give me whilst I was breastfeeding. “Will you stop breastfeeding, as the drug we want to give you is not advised during breastfeeding?” My husband and I fought to protect my girls access to breast milk, and ultimately we had a good outcome. We found a suitable medication and both my girls remained breastfed without any significant need for ongoing observation.

Fast forward to the last few months, and it being winter here, plus me having some challenges with recent medication changes, we’ve been frequenting doctors offices of late. Once again the question has come up: “Are you still breastfeeding? Just the little one or both of them? When do you intend to stop?” (Nursling 1 is 2 years 8 months and nursling 2 is almost 16 months, just in case you were wondering)

I used to think the answer was simple. Way back when I first started breastfeeding nursling 1, before I was pregnant again, or tandem feeding, and medication became a complicating factor. Quite simply, I was going to breastfeed for at least 2 years. Well, that target has come and gone for nursling 1, and I fully intend to do the same for nursling 2, if God be willing and my health cooperates! I have realised that despite all the complications that have come our way, the answer to when will I give up breastfeeding my girls remains simple: In our own time.

A New Kind Of Tandem

We have reached a milestone! Nursling 2 has decided she is happy to, and now quite regularly does drink a bottle of warm cows milk. Just over a year ago the feed before afternoon nap consisted of a lot of wrangling to get 2 girls attached, fend nursling 1 off of the few months old nursling 2 and then the dilemma of transfers hen everyone was finished and sleepy. Now I make 2 bottles of warm cows milk, cuddle one with each arm as they wrangle their own bottles and kick each other’s legs. When both are finished I put nursling 1 in her adult sized bed, and then rock nursling 2 to sleep in our room. Then walk away…..tiptoe…hush…hope it lasts!

The Mystery of the Missing Pears

Two is a magical age at which many things that previously had to be asked for have become accessible. Nursing 1’s “help yourself” moments are sometimes messy, like the time flour got spread all over the kitchen floor (she did try to help me clean up!), sometimes problematic, when she finds dad’s tools lying around, and sometimes hilarious, like the time she got stuck in a slippery puddle of dog shampoo on the bathroom floor. But by far her favourite thing to help herself too is the fruit bowl. I have often found her helping herself while I’m busy in another room, and sometimes she even shares with Nursling 2.

After putting Nursling 2 down for a nap today, I once again found her sitting at the kitchen table, pear in one hand and pear core on the table. But it wasn’t until after her I put her down for her nap that I realised the fruit bowl wasn’t 2 pears down, but 5. Surely she couldn’t have eaten them all? No suspicious cores… no sticky marks… where could they be? I looked around but they weren’t forthcoming.

After naptime, Nursling 1 finally did lead me to them, where they were hiding in a loot bag leftover from her cousin’s birthday party.

Meanwhile, Nursling 2, who can now stand and walk too, is getting up to some shenanigans of her own and is carefully and methodically emptying the kitchen bin.

A day with toddlers is never dull, that is for sure!

Dear New Mum

Dear friend with a new baby,

Please forgive me for staring at you and your baby.

You see, you can’t possibly know, but your smile when you look at her reminds me of the precious happy weeks before my world turned upside down. Those times I had with my own newborn when she was just a thriving baby and I was just a mum doing well despite the demands of a toddler as well.

Dear friend with a new baby,

Please forgive me if I seem nervous around you, and I feel I struggle to know what to say and stand awkwardly. I can’t help but remember what happened to me, and fear for you as well. I am relieved when you say you are well, but for no good reason remain fearful, and keep looking for signs that things might be going awry.

And sometimes I struggle to relate to all the normal day to day experiences that you have with your baby because mine were so very different.

Dear friend with a new baby,

I’m sorry if I sometimes come across wrong, but above all I am so glad for you! I am glad this new precious bundle is in your life and that you are both well. And I will say a prayer that it stays that way.

Feeding Two

Feeding two girls means wondering how I can possibly fit a 2 year old and 10 month old fit on my lap with access to my breasts at the same time without them being on top of each other.

Feeding two means stacking them on top of each other anyway and hoping that no-one wriggles too much or kicks the other one.

Feeding two means sitting one on top of a pile of books that the toddler has just read to avoid them being stacked on top of each other when they’re already tired and cranky.

Feeding two means rationing the toddlers feeds when the baby is sick and has lost her appetite so the baby gets enough. Negotiating with a toddler defies logic.

Feeding two means feeling like a milk truck some days when they’re both sick and we’ve been feeding on after the other all day.

Feeding two means beautiful moments with both girls when our eyes connect during a feed. It means tickling one while the other finishes, or reading a book to the other when things are reversed.

Feeding two means having nipple thrush is twice as painful.

Feeding two means bites from the teething baby and tooth mark rings from the toddler when she gets lazy and rests her teeth there.

Feeding two isn’t always easy, or comfortable. But it hasn’t been worth it for us, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

In Public?

It’s always been my goal to breastfeed for 2 years and beyond, just as the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends. Nursing 1 has been quite agreeable with this, and, now at a month past 2 years of age is showing no signs of losing interest. In fact, she seems to be showing renewed interest!

Feeding at home, in private, has always been comfortable and easy. But I must admit that the further past 12 months Nursling 1 got the less comfortable I have felt feeding her in public. It’s not that I think there is anything wrong with it. There isn’t! Feed your kids for as long as you and they want to! But I have feared other people’s judgement and having to deal with their reactions, especially on days when I’m already struggling with my mental health, or otherwise just having a challenging day parenting 2 insanely gorgeous, but also cheeky and active girls.

One morning a week I rush the girls out the door to attend a free parenting course with a creche (which, just quietly is very nice). Because I struggle to get up any time before 8:30 due to the anti-psychotics, this usually means Nursling 1 misses out on her morning breastfeed because we’re pressed for time. So after a missed morning feed and 2 hours in creche I was hardly surprised when upon picking her up, she wanted a feed even more than Nursling 2 did.

So, a little apprehensively I picked both of them up, sat down on one of the couches they had at the creche and settled in to feed them both together. I was pleasantly surprised when I didn’t even get one funny look, and the other parents even commented on how cute they were there together and how nice it was.

A shout out to the other parents, thanks for normalising toddler breastfeeding for me, and making me feel comfortable by doing so. You guys rock!