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Anya Hayes for #PNDAW16

When I decided on becoming an official supporter for the first ever #PNDAW16 there was one lady I wanted to have on board. Straight away Anya Hayes (@mama_cheetah) was one of the first people I emailed and I was delighted when she agreed! I had been talking to Anya for a long time about my PTSD and felt I really could share my real story with her. I will warn you her story is more than emotional. I think about 3 paragraphs in I held my breath and didn't exhale until the end. It is incredibly real, honest, raw and one of the most moving pieces of writing, I have ever read. I am honoured to be able to share her story. She really is amazing. You will think so too after reading this, so go give her some love afterwards, she deserves it.

PND…That’s not me…is it?!
I didn’t identify with the label “postnatal depression”…that
means women who are distant, detached, disconnected from
their babies and totally not able to get on with normal life,
doesn’t it? I was just exhausted, yes, just a bit tired and
overwhelmed. But I loved my baby. It’ll be fine. Yes, I’m
totally fine.
It’s only with the clarity of hindsight, 5 years later, that I can
see how deeply stuck in the bottom of a trough I was. The
way your baby comes into the world, particularly your first
baby, has a huge impact on whether you can frame the early
relentless months in a positive energetic light, or if you feel
you’re being washed up on shore and in danger of being
pulled out to sea again.
My birth story was one of those classic “horror stories”, and
so my subsequent malaise, melancholy, depression…call it
what you will…was inextricably linked to my trauma of still makes me feel sad to know that the birth of my
son was probably one of the worst experiences of my life so
After 3 days of labour, emergency crash caesarean
saved his life, although when he came out he was
silent…lying on the operating table I was told I’d had a baby
boy, but that he wasn’t breathing. Utterly helpless to do
anything to change my destiny and that of my baby’s, trying
to breathe although it felt like there was a ten-tonne truck
sitting on my chest. Thankfully (thank you thank you thank
you), he was resuscitated, but he was very tiny (5lb 12). I
was sick, and couldn’t move myself or hold my poorly baby
for the first 8 hours of his life, so there was no skin to skin,
none of the calming hormonal triggers to allow things to get
off to a good start…and then thrown into the breastfeeding
battlefield on a public ward in the middle of the night at the
lowest physical and emotional ebb I could’ve been at,
confronted with a tiny and unhappy wailing creature, both of
us shocked and traumatised by what we had been through.

Not really any time for a rush of love it was more of a “panic
stations state of emergency”, holding on for dear life. My
scar is a grizzly jagged smile across my lower belly, a
testament to quite how quickly they had to tear me open to
get him out in time to save his life.
With every “perfect” birth story I heard, it felt like someone
was thwocking me round the head with a small mallet. That
feeling lingered, like the annoying person at a dinner party
after you’re clearing the plates and doing the hoovering
trying to hint at them to leave. When my son was 2, I
remember one friend who had had a speedy home birth with
no complications, telling me at 3 weeks postnatal she
couldn’t wait to start running again, her newborn was calm
and slept all day, she was baking lemon drizzle cakes and
muffins, she was practically fizzing with energy and
abundant joy. “You know that feeling when you’ve had a
baby that you’re all-powerful and can do anything?!” she
said… I smiled silently on the outside but all I could think in
my head in response was no…no, I really truly do not know
that feeling at all. AT ALL.
Another friend when I was
pregnant with number 2 said “Ah I’m so jealous, I loved that
newborn phase, so calm and peaceful”…and I bristled inside
like I was sitting at the bottom of a well and calling up
tentatively for someone to come and get me. Please, come
and help me get out or show me how to do it, please.
Three weeks postnatal I was a car crash, deep in a sleep
overdraft that had started during my labour with two nights
on the public induction ward. I was in pain with mysterious
pains deep within my scar, and my boobs felt like someone
was merrily stabbing me incessantly with a steak knife.

I was in shock, my newborn was a colicky little soul who cried all
the fricking time and slept maybe 5 hours in every 24. I once
called NHS Direct as he had been crying for over 4 hours
and I simply didn’t know what to do. I was an attachment
mama, wearing him in a sling, singing, shhing, loving, I
wasn’t leaving him on his own to cry alone, but still he cried,
and cried. There must be something wrong with him, there
must be something wrong with me, I’m a disastrous failure of
a mum I can’t even stop my baby crying. Help. Help me. But
I’m not depressed…I’m just exhausted. If I could just pack
my baby safely away in a cupboard for a night and catch up
on sleep, give my boobs a rest, I’d be fine.

I went to the GP when he was 8 weeks old and still crying all the time,
discovered he was losing weight and failing to thrive - he
was tiny at birth (pre-eclampsia) and I was desperately
struggling to breastfeed exclusively because I felt so so
much pressure not to fail at that “natural easy mothering”
thing too – I was told to “top up” with formula (which I felt I
would be judged for, and so that wasn’t a happy solution for
me), and also, most helpfully, to “get some rest”. I looked,
glassy eyed and in the silence beyond tearful, at this GP and
basically laughed/cried in his face. Get. Some. Rest. I still
cannot believe that he didn’t refer me then and there for
some counselling. But then, I wasn’t depressed. Obvs just
needed a bit of “me time”, that’s all.

Every day, little needles of self-blame pricked their way into
my consciousness. It was my body, my birth, it was
obviously my fault I didn’t do it better. Like a triathlon or
marathon, your result is in the training you put in. I obviously
hadn’t trained in the right way, maybe I hadn’t been positive
enough in my preparation, maybe this is what I deserved. I
was a complete failure. I felt quite a lot of pressure from my
inner circle to have had a “perfect” home birth. I did all the
homework and research to prepare myself for a wonderful
birth experience, and according to the laws of adult life so
far: you do your homework, you jump over the hurdles, you
reach your goal successfully and with sanity vaguely intact.
Ah, but so the laws of regular life don’t apply to birth and
motherhood? Bugger.
We had a family friend whose baby was due the same week
as mine. Four days before my baby arrived, she had a
smooth home birth and emerged glowing and euphoric into
her mothering experience. She lovingly would make light-
hearted remarks about how breastfeeding was “too easy to
think about trying bottles”, and I felt like I was wading
through jellyfish infested waters, sting sting sting with every
glowing positive remark. I always came away from mums
meet ups feeling slightly bruised, taking all their loving
descriptions of their babies sleeping beautifully or smiling or
being calm as snippy barbs as to how crap I was doing as
my baby couldn’t breastfeed/sleep/be put down/was always
crying. I once jokingly (I hoped) asked my NCT group on
email (before the days of Whatsapp, we used to email a lot)
if it was normal for me to still be crying every day after 3
months, and was met by a stony silence and the next email
reply much later simply ignored the question. Ah. Maybe not
normal then. Do I have any friends?

So gradually I started to withdraw from meeting up, feeling anxious about being the
“weird” one whose baby was always crying. I didn’t leave
Peckham for 7 weeks…and this was before Peckham got
cool… as I was simply so paralysed with anxiety about
having to deal with a baby meltdown on public transport.
On one of my many lone walks around Peckham rye (trying
to get my baby to sleep I must have walked a gajillion miles)
I texted an old friend, saying “I can understand how women
get postnatal depression”…but I wasn’t depressed. No. Just
a bit tired and it would be fine once he stopped crying so
much and started sleeping a bit more. Can you die of
Depleted, emotionally and physically. I then got pregnant
again when my son was 15 months old. Excited but fearful, I
serendipitously met a consultant midwife at Kings hospital as
she was coming to a Pilates class I taught there. She must
have sensed my trepidation and suggested that we could go
through my maternity notes from my first birth. She came
over to my house, and generously gave me a whole
afternoon of her full ears and shoulders, walking me through
what had happened, letting me cry while my toddler bumbled
around us. It definitely allowed me to understand aspects of
how things had gone so spectacularly wrong, and made me
feel slightly stronger about the reality of facing another birth
and another newborn (surely it couldn’t be as bad again…?).
But, this pregnancy wasn’t to be.

At 9 weeks I had some bleeding, so I went to the maternal assessment unit for a
scan. A perfectly healthy robust heartbeat and the snowzone
whir of a baby’s form wriggling on the screen. The consultant
said with a reassuring smile, “well, now that there’s a healthy
heartbeat your chances of miscarriage go down to about 1%,
so go away and enjoy the rest of your pregnancy”. And away
I went, exhilarated, excited, thinking about due dates and
age gaps and being humungously massive at my son’s 2 nd
birthday party, and all that kind of shizz. Three weeks later, it
wasn’t so positive. At just shy of 12 weeks pregnant I ended
up at Kings again in A&E with a bitch of a miscarriage which
was so painful it felt like early labour – screw anyone who
ever tries to belittle miscarriage as “just a heavy period”. It
was just before Christmas, and the lovely doctor suggested
to me that rather than having an ERPC (evacuation of
retained products of pregnancy – rather lovely name for it),
under general anaesthetic, I should just go home and try to
enjoy Christmas as much as I could. How I came to rue that
We decided to go to Sri Lanka on our belated honeymoon, to
make things feel brighter and better. I won’t go into too many
details (for those of you still with me!), but in a nutshell, I
ended up having a haemorrage as there indeed must have
been “retained products” of my little bean that needed to be
evacuated. So, with me bleeding and faintly terrified we had
to rouse our sleeping 19 month old and take a drive in the
middle of the night to a hospital which was reminiscent of a
Vietnam war film in its hot sticky mosquito-infested dirty
conditions. Maurice was on my lap as I was wheeled in a
wheelchair through open air corridors to a maternity “ward”,
and he called out to the mangy street dogs roaming around
“dog! Dog!”. The ward was overflowing with people, lying on
the floor, seated on chairs, who silently pointed at me, a
weird scared looking foreigner with blood all over her dress.
And I genuinely thought that I might never stop bleeding that
night, and that I might just dissolve and disappear and Ben
and Maurice would have to make their way home without
I didn’t, I’m still here. But depleted doesn’t really cover how I
felt after that. I was anaemic and constantly just feeling
slightly low and lacklustre, probably in shock about the whole
experience, particularly as everyone (understandably) kept
saying “how was Sri Lanka, did you have an AMAZING
holiday?” Errr…no it was actually possibly joint number 1 in
the worst experiences of my life so far.” But I wasn’t
depressed – I was normal, I was totally absolutely fine.
Getting on with normal life just fine. Except maybe a few
lights have gone out. But it’s fine I can still see.
This kind of experience tends to be locked down into your
fibres. If not addressed, it gets packed under many layers,
remembered in your muscular and emotional tissue, even
manifesting as physical aches and pains if the emotional
ones don’t have a release. I got a really bad shoulder injury,
then a knee injury, and felt like a 100-year old woman. I got
pregnant again. I had another miscarriage. And that’s when I
thought, you know what. I’m not fine. Not at all. I’m feeling
shit. I’m not coping very well. I’m struggling. This is crap. I
want to turn all the lights on again.

I made an appointment at my local GP to speak to the
mental health nurse for an assessment with a view to being
referred for a course of counseling. I got my appointment,
and from the moment I sat in the chair opposite to her, I
broke down sobbing. For a full hour – one of my friends
asked me when I told her this, “oh do you get an hour’s
appointment? That’s good”….and it occurred to me that
perhaps it should have only been 15 minutes, but the nurse
was too polite to stop my sniffling snotty blubbing and
unstoppable stream of consciousness of stuff I’d been sitting
on for the past 2 and a half years. I wasn’t crying in my
“normal” life, not at all. I was totally fine. The lights may have
been dimmed but there was a mask with a headtorch on.
I was referred for counselling. But, there’s a lot of pressure
on mental health services and I got stuck in traffic in the
waiting list. For 9 months. Every month or so I would check
in and ask how I was doing on the waiting list, are we there
yet?! I got pregnant again. On a bit of a clock here now
people. I felt pretty sure I could do with having this whole
“possible depression” thing looked at before I had to face a
new bubba.
Finally got my appointment confirmation when I was 38
weeks preggers, and had to therefore cancel the course I
was given.
So, for me personally, acknowledging and letting go of it, like
allowing a balloon to sail up into the skies, involved talking
about it, with the right, sympathetic, empathetic people. After
a few miscarriages I was truly doubting that my body was on
my side in this motherhood whole journey. And once this
“second” pregnancy was well under way, I noticed
aftershocks that began to rumble when it became
unavoidably clear I was going to have to get this baby earth-
side at some point and I couldn't just sneeze him out. I'd
have to face up to the trauma I had experienced before. So I
talked about it, a LOT, found my tribe – including Nicola
@toomuchmotheringinformation – sharing honest
experiences of motherhood malaise without berating
ourselves for not being “better” or fearing not loving our
children enough. Learnt to congratulate rather than berate
myself. Connected rather than withdrew. I also saw a cranial
osteopath, which rejigged the energy in my body and made
me feel like something had been realigned with the stars as
well as with my pelvis, that things were going to be ok this
time round. There is a huge emotional power of reconnecting
to your body and rediscovering a faith in it which may have
been lost. I teach Pilates, and through Pilates, yoga,
swimming, running… by gaining strength in my body again I
was able to forgive myself for my perceived failings and fill
up my self-love tank.

I had an elective caesarean second time round. I thought I
would need a redemptive VBAC, that I would always mourn
and feel like I’d never given birth. But my pre-eclampsic
tendencies saw that notion off and actually I felt a blissful
calm once I knew the decision was out of my hands. And,
truthfully, glad I didn’t have to go through a potentially
horrendous labour again. My second baby was born loudly
protesting at being pulled out of his warm soothing cocoon,
pulled straight to my skin, latched straight to the boob. And I
noticed after his birth that although the sleep deprivation is
the same (an utter bitch), I kept congratulating myself or
noticing that “hey, I’m not crying and it’s 3 weeks in, high five
me…is this weird, I’m not crying, I don’t feel like crying all the
time…?” I got on buses, I went to cafes, I was out and about
and felt like the world was a normal busy sometimes tricky
but not malevolent place. People’s comments about
breastfeeding and about how other mums are “doing really
well” “looking amazing” didn’t feel like personal barbs of how
I’m obviously the opposite. It definitely helped that second
time round I had one of those “normal” newborns who slept a
lot and was generally not an Olympic-standard crier.
Definitely, definitely helped.

I look back on my first-time- mum self and I’m sad for me, I
feel sorry for how battered I was, how mean I was to myself,
how sensitive to others’ comments and perceived
judgements I allowed myself to be. It’s a work in progress of
course. Occasionally the lights get dimmed, but being
mindful of mental state and constantly looking to nurture it
ensures that the lights won’t go out. Much as you would
plant a garden and then have to tend it daily, weekly, rather
than expect it to always look fab year round, neglected. I’ve
got my watering can ready now at all times.

If you would like to find out more about Anya than you can on;
Author of My Pilates Guru and A Little Course in Pilates, Pregnancy, A Naked Guide.

If you would like to donate to PANDAS (Pre & Post Natal Depression Advice and Support) to help them support sufferers of perinatal mental illnesses please text PANDAS £3, £5 or £10 to 70660 or visit their website for further information and support. (Texts cost donation amount plus network charge. PANDAS Foundation receives 100% of your donation. Obtain bill payer's permission. Customer care 01691 664275 Charity No 1149485.)


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