I felt unexcited about my second pregnancy and planning for the birth, which I felt guilty about because I had planned it to the minute. I said I was going to have my 2nd child around my 30th birthday and she was due on the day!! I had an easy hospital birth and was even able to deliver the placenta "by maternal effort" (what a stupid phrase!) which means without the oxytocin drugs. Breastfeeding was really hard - my daughter had a high palate and found attachment difficult - I got sore, bleeding and cracked nipples but had already mastered the breast pump with my first, so was onto expressing straight away. She got better at feeding as she got bigger. I went back to work when she was 4 months, being the breadwinner at the time. That was hard but I loved the escape. I wanted to keep breastfeeding so ended up working longer days with longer breaks and going home to feed or pumping at work. My husband, already a long-term sufferer of depression, was adjusting to being a stay at home dad of two under 3. Our baby slept really well from the start, and our toddler adjusted to the new arrival easily.
But I felt like I was a stranger in my own body. I had been pregnant or breastfeeding for the better part of 2 1/2 years and I didn't know who I was anymore. I loved my kids and loved being a mum, but the transition back to non-pregnant person was really rough for me. I mourned the loss of my pregnant self and withdrew from sex with my partner. His pre-existing anxiety and negative-self talk, coupled with a high sex drive, meant that he felt rejected by me and often unwittingly pressured me to be more intimate than I felt ready to. Not knowing how to explain the way I was feeling without him thinking it was a rejection of him, I withdrew more.
When breastfeeding, I felt so used. My body still felt like it didn't belong fully to me - and now my husband wanted his piece of me too. I felt guilty about these feelings and my moods were all over the place. Luckily, we already had a counsellor for my husband who I knew and trusted, and our GP was able to prescribe anti-depressants which took the edge off the crazy moods and uncontrollable crying.
Slowly feeling on top of things, I had a terribly incident at my work which set me back several months. I was told off for breastfeeding in a public place at my workplace and this brought all my body image issues back to haunt me, as well as made me SO ANGRY. I fought my employers for an apology and recognition of what they did was wrong (legally and morally) but it was like talking to a brick wall. I was reminded in a meeting with my boss and our union rep that my contract was expiring soon and I decided not to re-apply for my job. I felt my boss was a misogynistic chauvinist dinosaur and not representative of the general attitude of the staff at my work. So, not worth my anxiety – but nevertheless the incident cut deeply.
I channelled my anger and hurt into writing and theatre – as I do – and made a show about all these experiences – along with others – called ‘The Let Down Reflex’. Performing this in August 2016 was my catharsis.
Twelve months ago we moved for my husband to return to University and I have delved into the world of theatre more deeply and am much happier working for myself (also much poorer). My daughter is now 21 months and I’m still on medication – I haven’t found a new GP or counsellor yet that I trust and am finding that creative outlets are working well for my mental health.
I was lucky to have the support networks already in place, but many don’t - and that’s why I’ve become a community champion for PANDA. I’m looking forward to re-mounting ‘The Let-Down Reflex’ in November to raise money and awareness in association with PANDA.
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'But I felt like I was a stranger in my own body. I had been pregnant or breastfeeding for the better part of 2 1/2 years and I didn't know who I was anymore'