Sunday, 25 May 2014

Blurred Lines

Hello valiant blog readers,

It's at this time that I really need take a deep breath before writing these posts. Looking back into the heart of psychosis is deeply troubling and confusing, but I told my illness all the way through that it had picked the wrong Mutha to mess with, and I'm not going to let fear silence me now. Before I started writing today I had to talk to my husband about what I was thinking of including because my memory, and indeed my perception, of reality was and still is very distorted. I am only just realising the impact that postpartum psychosis had on my first few days as a new mum and it is shocking to come face to face with it again. There's a reason why psychiatric wards don't have mirrors; seeing what you have become is to see sheer terror reflected back at you. The horror of what I would endure was only just beginning.

I had always heard of the "baby blues" and I knew that there were massive tsunamis of hormones and emotions related to giving birth, so I was not surprised to be experiencing tidal surges of highs and lows. That was coupled with the fact that virtually everyone that saw I had a bump felt morally obliged to tell me that I would never sleep again (it's great the way people do that!). Needless to say that in the first couple of days after having my son I hardly slept and was very turbulent emotionally. We spent whole nights together watching entire comedy box sets (it was great to know we shared a sense of humour) and I was under the distinct impression that actually you didn't really need much sleep after all. This went on for several days. I never spoke about how much sleep I had or hadn't had, as I just wanted to be present to how I was feeling. I had no way of knowing that psychosis was already casting its wicked spell. Little did I know that a tiny seed was beginning to germinate within. It was growing by the day and would later produce rotten fruit. The only food that insanity would let me feed on.

Reality began to be an option, one that I was increasingly not taking. The beginnings of facial distortion soon set in; I saw many things in people's faces that just weren't there. I remember desperately pleading with my husband to smile at me at 4am when he'd also had hardly any sleep. I can now understand why he couldn't, as he looked at his wife who was more wired than during her stand-up comedy run in Edinburgh (and that's pretty wired!). Seeing others being concerned or worried about me in any way triggered epic panic in me. I would make them tell me everything was great and that it was all perfectly normal. The truth was that everyone was starting to doubt that this was the case.

I was craving fresh air and yet couldn't set foot outside. The disease is vicious and it doesn't want you to have any of the things you need to survive. It had placed its hands round my neck and slowly started to apply pressure. Transitions and visits started to deeply unsettle me. Our lovely midwife came round to see us and I absolutely couldn't bear for her to see me like I was. I was unravelling. Terrified. Something was taking over and I didn't know what it was. Or was this just what being a new mum looked like? Was this normal? Was this what parenting does to you!? I screamed & screamed at my husband to give me five minutes. Just five minutes. FIVE MINUTES. I needed to prepare myself, to calm down, to get dressed, anything to present something that was more normal, more solid, more human than I was feeling. I wasn't fooling anyone. Least of all myself.

Thank goodness for hypnobirthing and positive psychology is all I can say. My husband and I already had a vocabulary, an understanding, techniques to establish and create relaxation. I needed every breath like never before. There was no pause in my speech during my hyper moments, unless my husband reminded me to draw breath. My mind was on fire. Ideas were flooding in, tweets were going out, I was building an empire and nothing and no-one could stop me. I was going to conquer the world. I just needed everyone else to listen VERY carefully, to and follow my instructions to the letter and it would happen. Everything would be OK if everyone just did exactly what I said. I couldn't stop. I couldn't slow the thoughts. I was so high. This is like muMDMA. 

I have got so much energy. I can clean and feed and email everyone back within 3 minutes. Look, look I just wrote all these drafts at 2.36 am and then I send them out at a more reasonable hour. I can do it, I can do it. I'm a woman. Hey, hey, hey, listen I've got and idea. Hey, hey, hey. We need to get any condensation off the windows before we do anything else. It's a must.
It was exhausting.
That was the warm up. 

Writing about this now is so unsettling because I know that this was just the very beginning. We didn't really know what was going on. Or that I was going to be dragged further down, deeper into the depths of my psyche. The devil had his dancing shoes on and he wanted me as his partner. 

Right. That's enough for today. I'm going to go and eat a muffin.
Love & romper suits,

Mutha Courage X 

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Cabbage Leaves & Oblivion

I'd heard so many people talk about having a baby being like running a marathon that I thought I'd run one before I became a mother to find out. Obviously that's not the whole reason I ran the London Marathon. I also wanted a medal. I'd also made a pledge with my 15 year old self that I would run it before I was 30 and as my 29 year old self kept reminding me that didn't leave much time. (My 29 year old self was a bit pushy for achievement and self actualisation.)

Anyway, I digress. What I realised soon after giving birth is that labour is not when the marathon begins. If anything, labour and birth is like the end of the marathon; running down Pall Mall with everyone cheering you on and telling you how strong you are and how well you're doing. Everyone coming to visit the baby immediately after the birth is like all the photos after, holding the medal or the well deserved tub of Carte D'or ice cream. Having a baby is a reverse marathon. After all of that excitement and glory has subsided, and each member of the family goes off with enough photographic evidence of your success to keep them in screensavers until 2026, that is when the marathon truly starts. That is where the isolation of those long training runs sets in, where hardly anyone is cheering on the sidelines. Everyone, quite rightly, wants to give you time to settle in and nest and become a family, but that is when you start to know what you're really made of.

I've always been an achiever, I think I've always needed it to validate my existence. I have a certificate, therefore I am. But babies couldn't give a shit. Well...they do give a shit. Plenty, but everything you thought you knew about work and reward fades into the pages of your life's history once your child arrives. For a start, there's feeding them. I was not prepared for that experience. Absolutely not. The milk coming in. It was insane and intense and it hurt. Now for a woman that didn't want or feel the need for any pain relief during labour that means something. I went from looking like an Amazonian milk goddess one moment to a wonky milk maid that had seriously asymmetric teats the next. Not having a particularly big chest anyway, I was astounded to see my ballooning bazongas. In fact, it was at this time, around day 3 after having my son that my postpartum psychosis heaven and hell began. 

I spent the next 3 days with my udders permanently covered in savoy cabbage leaves (refrigerated for her pleasure!) and could regularly been seen sporting a very fetching tits-out-of-the-nightie look. I'm sure they'll be featuring that in Vogue soon. My hormones were having a 90s rave and I was not so much invited, as invaded by some seriously drugged squatters. I had various visits from midwives, but I became increasingly aware that something wasn't quite right with me, as I was saying things like "I mean they call it the baby blues, but this feels more like oblivion" and "I feel like a cosmic cow". Yes, definitely the sign that something was going somewhat askew. These comments were made during a conversation with a midwife on a home visit. I say a conversation, it was just me talking. Non stop. For TWO HOURS. This, my friends, was one of my first hyper manic episodes, the first of many that would grow in intensity, darkness and pain. 

It's hard to look back on that time, the week after my son was born and assess what was "normal". I was falling into a psychosis black hole on the one hand, but on the other hand I was having the most incredible time feeding and bonding with my baby and working out how to function in this brave new world. 

I've never ever gone through such intense emotions, feelings and physical sensations and this was just the beginning of being a parent. Holy shit balls! If that's the beginning what's the rest like?

Love and nipple cream,
Mutha Courage X

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Then There Were Three...

Ok, my son is on a sling being walked around Brixton by his Urban Grandma and probably wanting a feed in approximately 22 minutes. If anything can motivate me to write it's a deadline, and there's nothing quite like a crying, red-eyebrowed face of a deadline. I'm sure editors would get epic results from their freelance journalists by sending round a hungry, screaming infant when the time for the article's completion had arrived.

However, I am sitting in a cafe overlooking Brixton Square. From my view I can see the town hall where my husband and I registered our marriage (well, my fiancée and I did) and I remember the years that we spent here when we were courting (oh yeah, is that what the kids are calling it these days!?) and where our romance began. I'm sitting here alone, reminded of the time when I became part of a two, and that has led me to remember the moment when two became three (The Spice Girls lesser known track).

For nine months this new human being has been growing a head (and other organs, you know what they are, I'm not going to list them all) inside me. I prepared my body and mind for the birth; I prepared a room, a bed. I got clothes ready for the baby and for me for their arrival and I baked loads of stuff in the run up to the birth, because that's what you do (apparently).

Nothing, Nothing, Nothing could have prepared me for the experience of the first few hours we spent alone with our baby. I went into labour at 8pm on a Tuesday night, by Wednesday at 3.20am our son was born. By 6.30am the two midwives that had been with us since 10pm the night before left. There we were. The three of us. 



I have a son.

Not having seen a new newborn before, I was astounded at this little creature that was in front of me. All images I had imagined of fluffy cuteness faded into oblivion as I saw in front of me this tiny half baked human bean. Like an organ of mine that had been removed from my body for my viewing and nurturing pleasure, I couldn't help but be terrified, amazed, inspired and shocked by what it felt like.

I suddenly understood people's need to get them dressed up and photographed asap in sheepskin rugs, or in their Father's hands or with flowery headbands on. The weight of existential pressure of what has happened is almost devastating, it is almost too intense to bear witness to, such is the power and glory of it. 

I run a bath and sit in it to soothe my body and relax my warrior limbs. I look down and realise. He's not there anymore. He is no longer a part of me. He is separate. He now has a gender, a name, a face. For the last 264 days I have danced every morning with that little boy in the shower, but on this day, my first day as a Mother he is in the other room being held by his Father. My Husband, that was my boyfriend, that I loved from when we were first in Love in Brixton. Where I now sit. Alone. Thinking about those hours when my child was born.

Right, that's quite enough of that. I've got a son to feed.

Love and swollen ankles,
Mutha Courage X

Monday, 5 May 2014

Hypnomutha: You are NOT feeling very very sleepy.

In my hands I am holding a waxy, alien-like body. I can see its eyes blinking at me from under the water. I know that this is my child. I know that despite its legs and bum still waiting to be delivered my son or daughter is here. Our dining room has been converted skilfully and quickly by my husband into an incredible birthing suite including inflatable pool, birthing ball, mood lighting and some generic relaxation music ready for our baby to enter the world. I can hear the midwife saying one more breath and they will be here, as I have my hands surrounding its tiny ribcage, and despite totally knowing what I needed to do I could not, for the life of me, understand what she was saying. What do you mean? One more breath. What? I don't understand. Just a little push. I look to my husband, bewildered. Just like you're doing a lovely poo. Ah, I get it and there HE was. Up through the water to join us in our dining room, altering our life and our sense of love, self and belonging forever. Of course he wasn't aware of that. He had his first breath to take. 

I am very, very happy that I had a Hypnobirth. Now, when you say Hypnobirth most people are like, what the hell is that? Does Paul McKenna come round and help you pretend you're a chicken to distract you from the birth experience? Well, no, not for me (Paul was busy). Basically I was drawn to it because I love all things esoteric anyway and if I learnt anything from drama school it was that breathing is very important (money well spent, as you can see). I knew that I wanted as natural a birth as possible, as calm and gentle as it could be. This was from a woman that years ago had said, "You wouldn't have teeth extracted without pain relief so why not take all you can get during labour!" It wasn't until I came to wanting to have a baby that I started to look into the way I could have a present and empowering experience. I'm not saying that using drugs means you can't, but I wanted to experience it as fully as possible and really enter into the profundity of it. I also thought, if a sheep can do it, I blinking well can!

In fact, it was when I started thinking and reading around the subject that I started to realise that in our culture we have moved so far from the natural order of birth that we now anticipate, view, and deal with it like a medical problem to be solved. I started to understand where and why we had begun lying down in the most unhelpful position for birth (thank you Louis XIV who wanted to see his mistress give birth so insisted she lie flat on her back) and why we associate it with such pain and shame (thank you the Victorians). I learnt that fear encourages the production of adrenalin, which consequently tightens our muscles ready for a fight, flight or freeze response, which then rather inevitably causes pain, more fear, more get the point (thank you overly cautious instinctive response). I realised that if you learn techniques that encourage production of the love and relaxation drug, oxytocin, you are far more likely to keep relaxed, go with your body's rhythm, and have a calm, natural birth.

So many people said to me before I gave birth, "That's all well and good, but when you're in labour you'll want every drug they're offering." 

Firstly, piss off. Never ever in my life have more people told me how I will or won't feel than when I was pregnant. Apparently having a bump gives people free reign to be dicks. 

Secondly, piss off. Other people said, oh yes my mum said she wanted a natural birth and when it came to it the pain was too horrific. Hmmm, thanks for that. The question I always wanted to ask was how much did she practice? The reason for this question is that wanting to have a "natural" birth without having any relaxation and breathing techniques, or without having done any fear release work, is like turning up at the start line of the marathon without having done any training and expecting to come in under 4 hours. In truth. I practiced. We practiced. My husband was a hugely integral, powerful and inspiring part of our birthing experience. Hypnobirthing gives your birth partner such an important role, which is far from the image I had before of screaming "F*£k of you Ba@s%ard! You did this to me!"

Saying I had a calm, gentle birth does not mean it wasn't an epic challenge. Bloody hell. Imagine if you will (many of you reading this won't need to) the energy of the entire Universe moving through and out of your body. Every surge (that's a contraction for any non-hypno people out there - language is very important) is like the foundations of your physical body being taken for a ride into the realm of Oblivion. The experience of crowning is so intense you think that your retinas may pop out. That's why I don't talk about pain. It doesn't even come close to what is actually felt, experienced, and endured by a birthing mutha. 

I can absolutely see why so many women are scared of giving birth and so many men fear for their wives and girlfriends, but until we start having the deepest, open and honest conversations about our visions, fears, and hopes how can we ever dream of cultivating a culture of empowered, brave and kickass women?

So. Let's talk. 

I'll begin...

Love and labial grazes
Mutha Courage x