Category Archives: Life

Motherhood and Mental Illness

They are the strangest and most uncomfortable bedfellows. For some; motherhood heralds the beginning of mental health struggles, for some an improvement and for others motherhood entangles itself in a pre-existing mental health condition.

For me, my mental health was the best it’s been since I was thirteen. Pregnancy seemed to soothe the anxious waters of my mind and, despite a traumatic birth and my son arriving with a chest infection, the calm and contentment continued.

Motherhood is everything I hoped, quite a bit like I expected but more demanding than I could have imagined. My son has so far been what some might call “an easy baby”; we escaped the newborn phase without colic and he generally eats, poops and sleeps as one might expect.

What I’ve discovered however, is that an “easy” baby doesn’t mean that parenting is easy!

There are shades of difficulty; I for example was an objectively difficult baby for my poor parents (I didn’t sleep through the night until I was nine), others seem to breeze through babyhood as if they got an instruction manual in utero. Most are somewhere toward the middle of the spectrum, but wherever on that spectrum you find yourself in, there is the uncertainty, less sleep, recovery from a child’s arrival (however that happens) and general “winging it”!

For my little family, learning to navigate parenthood alongside pre-existing depression and anxiety has been the steepest of learning curves. For whilst I’ve been better than I can remember over the past year, I constantly feel as if I’m walking a tightrope. I want to be the best Mum I can be – but I don’t want to get unwell.

The things I have done for the last decade to manage my conditions are exponentially harder with a baby. You can’t be a freelance Mum, for starters! Whilst I would usually protect my sleep at all costs to prevent my mind going into free fall, it’s almost impossible to ensure a solid nine hours a night every night, but I am beginning to navigate this new normal.

And my new normal wouldn’t be possible without my village – not my actual village, although I do live in one, – but the people who step in and step up.

A few weeks back, I found myself stumbling (I’m mixing my metaphors quite spectacularly, aren’t I?!) I started to sleep less, laying awake for hours after getting up to do a night feed. My mind began to spin with anxiety and I felt shame shroud me like a dementor’s cloak.

And then the tears started to fall.

This is a well worn path for, a scarily predictable descent into what we euphemism as “a dip”.

Usually, I would hide; cry and sleep for a couple of days and re-emerge slowly into the world when I felt stronger.

Instead, I had a six month old baby who needed me to feed, play and care for him.

The curious thing is, that this responsibility made the situation simultaneously harder and easier.

Harder because when I could barely think straight, I had to think on behalf of a helpless baby. But it also made me take care of myself and take action in a way I don’t think I’ve been able to before. I rang my husband, we arranged for my best friend to take my son for a day long play date so I could get some rest, and I took a break from trying to be both full time Mum and full time freelancer, working out a new rhythm that wouldn’t completely exhaust me.

Motherhood and mental illness are the strangest and most uncomfortable bedfellows, but they can and do co-exist.

The bright side, if there is one, is that it has already taught me that taking care of myself is not an optional extra of parenthood – but vital. It doesn’t mean candles and massages (although I do quite like the both) but getting enough rest, food, exercise and fresh air. It means allowing people to help out without feeling guilty and being honest about how I’m coping.

For some, mental illness is a far more disruptive and difficult bedfellow, but taking care and being taken care of are universal needs- even for those without any mental health conditions!

 

 

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Maternity Leave Lessons

Last Monday my five months of maternity leave ended. Before I left work, I was dreading it. I left my first baby (ThinkTwice) in other people’s hands for the first time ever and although I trust the hands I left it in, I was worried about what would happen whilst I was away. Was I going to forget how to do my job? Was I going to hate being at stay at home mum? Would I be bored? Would I want to go back to work?

And now I’m back,  working in a strange hinterland. I am a stay at home Mum but also a freelance writer, trainer and charity founder. I get the best of both worlds because I get to do the job I love and be with my son lots; and the worst of both worlds, because I’m trying to do two jobs at the same time!

But back to the lessons I’ve learnt over the past five months:

  1. Rest. It’s taken me twenty-eight years to begin to get my head around this one, but looking after a small person has taught me that I’m much better at doing life when I listen to my body and mind and get some rest. I’ve tried my hardest to rest or sleep when my son sleeps (and whilst that’s a little harder now I’m working) I’m hoping that I can continue to remember that I don’t need to try and be superwoman. Self care isn’t about candles and bullet journals; it’s about doing the things you need to do in order to function.
  2. The Village. There is a reason why people bang on about it taking a village to raise a child – because it’s true. Babies are demanding creatures and having people around you to cuddle your baby, make you laugh or cry to is invaluable. Our village have been incredible; I don’t think we cooked a single meal for the first month of our son’s life and since then people have been amazing at checking in, spending time with us and on a couple of occasions, looking after our baby so my husband and I could go out and remember who we were before we became Mummy and Daddy. Not forgetting the amazing world of baby groups where I’ve made new friends after fearing that I didn’t know how to anymore. Parent or not, we were made to live in community and whether it be your work colleagues, friends or actual neighbours, I’m learning not to be afraid of asking for help and giving it back!
  3. Trust. I like to read things to help me understand the world and my place in it, I like to read things to see that I’m not alone and so it came as no surprise that I devoured blogs and books on parenting and babies. And whilst some of the information I’ve gleaned has been incredibly helpful; it’s also taught me that I can actually trust my own instincts. I don’t think I ever truly trusted myself before; perhaps it’s a fallout from the decade living in self-destruct, but I do know deep down what my body needs and I’m also learning to know what my baby needs.
  4. Wonder. There is nothing like being with a baby to teach you about wonder. Whether it’s his own face (my son is particularly fond of his!), watching the wind blow through trees or slapping his hands on a coffee table (apparently can provide minutes of fun – until he hit the table too hard and made himself cry!), being able to watch the amazement on my little boy’s face as he discovers the world has reminded me just what an incredible world we live in and how beautifully crafted our bodies are.
  5. Thankfulness and Difficulty are not mutually exclusive. When you have longed for a baby, when you are acutely aware of those who are desperate to be in the position you find yourself in as a new parent, it can be hard to find the balance between expressing the gratefulness you feel as well as acknowledging that parenting is flipping hard! But good things aren’t necessarily easy things – and parenting definitely falls into that category. Sometimes, I haven’t wanted to share the parts I’ve struggled with because I never want people think I’m not grateful for my son and the gift he is, but neither do I want to present a shiny instagram version of motherhood. My middle ground balancing gratitude and grace. To be grateful for the gift that parenthood is and receive grace for the days when it feels more like a grind.

There are many other lessons I’ve learned; not least that you should always pack one more bib, nappy and feed than you think will be necessary, but these are the ones I will hold dear and probably need reminding of the most in the months to come.

Love and Grief

On Thursday, it was our fourth wedding anniversary, a day to look back at the day our journey of married life began. I flicked through photographs, remembering the joy; the funny stories (as I left the hotel for the church my shoe got stuck in a grate and I had to be rescued by a rather bewildered maintenance man!) and the overwhelming sense on the day that all was right with the world.

Phillip & Rachael Newham Wedding-345

On Thursday, it was also the day I attended the funeral of my Grandfather-in-Law (is that a thing? I’m not sure, but let’s go with it). It was a sad, hope-filled day to remember a man who you couldn’t speak about without speaking about his faith, the two so intertwined.

It was a reminder to me how closely grief and love sit together.

One cannot be had without the other; we only grieve when we lose things or people we once loved. Perhaps that is part of what it means when it talks about death being beaten?  That not only will there one day be no more death or crying or tears, but that here and now loss is not felt without love.

On a calendar in my Grandfather-in-law’s house, there was a verse given for each day, and on Thursday the day of his funeral the verse was this:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”

His life and death proclaimed this; and 1 Corinthians 15 was read at his funeral service along with the words which have featured in countless hymns:

“Where, O death, is your victory?

Where, O death, is your sting?

I’ve been wondering recently what that means in the here and now. Because I lost my own beloved Grandpa a couple of weeks ago and I don’t feel like there was victory, I don’t feel like death has lost its’ sting when he was so cruelly eaten away by dementia.

Death was not part of God’s original perfect creation. It is the consequence of our fallen world, and so it doesn’t always feel like it is beaten, that we are victorious.

And over the past few days I’ve been wondering if, this side of heaven, the victory we have in Christ over death is found in the love that is shown as we grieve.

Because I believe that we can and should grieve our losses. Even with the knowledge Jesus had, he still wept at the death of Lazarus – it was a sign of His love for his friend. It says in 1 Thessalonians that we should not grieve without hope, it doesn’t prohibit grieving, rather that our grief can be marked with hope.

Beth Slevecoe writes in her beautiful book “Broken Hallelujahs”:

“Grieving always involves love. We can’t grieve until we are able to recognise our love for what is lost.”

Death is not the end, it has been defeated and one day it will be banished.

But in this now-and-not-yet land, when death does still sting; it is still swallowed up in the victory Christ established over the grave. His victory is our hope and the love of God that drove Him to the cross is the balm that comforts death’s sting.

In this fallen world waiting for a new heaven and new earth, we can’t experience love without  grief to go with it – because human love has an end in death – but God’s great love is eternal.

God’s love and light were not extinguished on the cross because God’s love and light are the very things that lifted the man Jesus from his grave.

This is the balm for death’s sting, and the victory that swallows death.

 

 

Treasure in the Dark?

Since the arrival of my son, I’ve seen more hours of darkness than usual, and it got me thinking about whether darkness is all bad. There is something about those silent hours in the dead of night that have a kind of peace to them (except when the baby is screaming!)

So often, darkness is demonised, and yet we need it. We need the darkness of night as much as we need the light of day and many beautiful things have their beginnings in the darkness. As Barbara Taylor Brown writes in her excellent book “Learning to Walk in the Dark”

“New life starts in the dark whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb.”

It seems obvious when you think about it, Jesus wasn’t resurrected in the sunshine, but in the darkness of the tomb, flowers need the darkness of the ground to bloom, babies need the comforting darkness of the womb to grow before they face the light of the world.

Darkness wasn’t created, it’s an absence not a presence – but God didn’t eliminate it from the creation He called ‘good’. Perhaps it’s because, as Psalm 139 recounts, “Even the darkness is not dark to You, And the night is as bright as the day Darkness and light are alike to You.”

So I wonder if it’s time to rethink darkness, to the wonder and potential that it holds. The late poet Mary Oliver understood a little of this I think when she wrote the words:

“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”

What can we learn in the darkness, that we couldn’t learn in the light?

In the darkest days of depression, I learned to lean on God in ways I never would have done without it and I’m reminded of the things that are revealed in the darkness throughout the Bible.

Jonah in the darkness in the belly of the whale, David in the cave at Adullam – God transforms people in their darkness.

And I wonder what treasure can be found in whatever darkness you face? (Isaiah 43:5)

 

A New Story

Our births were both induced.

Our births both spanned three days.

We were both tested in a Special Care Baby Unit.

We both had antibiotics and stayed in hospital for a while after birth.

Our stories are similar, but they are not the same.

There are undoubtedly parallels, and it’s hard not to compare the way I came into the world with the way my son came into the world twenty eight years later.

The events of the first month of my life have, in many ways, set the course for the years which followed. The multiple antibiotics affected my immune system, being woken every few hours for medication affected my sleep, the worry and uncertainty marked my family.

But that first month has not defined my life – and my son’s first days will not define his. I feared so much that his first chest infection would mean that he would always be unwell and prone to catching every infection he is exposed to – but then I was reminded that his life is not my story – he’s got a brand new one.

The life God has given to him is his own – his story only just beginning. It will have its own joys and challenges, it’s my prayer that he will know his heavenly Father and know that he is loved by us.

All too often, I’ve allowed the worst bits of my life to be defining features, but as I look at my son, I see that the best bits can be defining too. I’d forgotten that we have a God of creation, as well as a God of redemption. He gives a brand new life to each and every person.

As Don Herold so wonderfully put it:

“Babies are such a nice way to start people.”


Remembering Scripture

I write this, not from the kitchen sink a la “I Capture the Castle”, but underneath a baby who has  finally decided to succumb to sleep.

He’s two weeks old and I’ve never felt more inspired and yet unable to write.

Babies do strange things to your brain.

It was a difficult start for us as a family; a long labour followed by a chest infection for the baby and soaring blood pressure for me meant a week long stay in hospital and now we’ve finally had a whole week at home, Phil’s gone back to work and we are trying to find a new normal.

And amidst the madness, I’ve relied on memorised chunks of scripture like never before. It’s not something I’ve ever done to be honest; recited scripture, I’ve always preferred to read it. But in the semi darkness of the a hospital ward at three in the morning, I leant on the words that I’d memorised by accident.

Psalm 40 (or an approximation of it) circled around my mind for hours on end and I chewed upon each verse, drawing something that looked like strength from its contents.

“I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he turned to me and heard my cry.
 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
    and put their trust in him.”

I didn’t wait very patiently to be discharged from hospital – quite the opposite in fact – but I felt tangibly that God was hearing my cries and that He would put a new song in my mouth.

I’m beyond grateful for the scriptures my mind stored away for a rainy night and for a God who speaks through ancient words remembered in the dark of night.

And in this new phase of life; when time is both short and plentiful, I want to commit to memorising passages, not only so that I can call on them in times of need, but so that I can soak them up and experience more of the God of scripture that I may be transformed by Him.

As Eugene Peterson wrote so beautifully:

“Christians don’t simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son.”

Pregnancy After Loss

It’s taken me a long time to write this; I found out I was pregnant back in March and I’ve wanted to write about it ever since we announced that we were having a baby.

So what’s stopped me?

Pregnancy after loss is an incredibly complicated time; for me, it can be described primarily as a loss of innocence.

The first time, the idea of anything going wrong was something vague, something that happened to other people.

This time, miscarriage has been at the forefront of my mind most days, particularly before the first scan.

The fear has been omnipresent.

And yet, so has faith.

Fear and faith have sat side by side, in an uncomfortable alliance.

They have not negated one another, as I might have expected, but I’ve lived in between the tension of the two.

I have had faith that God does and will work, that He is love, that He is trustworthy.

And I have feared the loss that I’d only just begun to get my head and heart around when I fell pregnant again.

I have written very little; in part, I think that’s because so far, pregnancy has been good to me. I’ve felt almost guilty that I’ve (so far) escaped the worst and in part because I’ve not wanted to sound like I’m boasting in any way.

I also haven’t written because losing our baby in December changed the whole way I relate to God, it pulled away my certainties. Shortly afterwards, I lost my voice after a virus and all of a sudden I couldn’t use my voice to sing and lament, I found myself silenced in worship.

And in my silence, I began to listen. Sometimes there has been comfortable silence, but at other times I was able to reflect on scripture in ways I have never done before.

As I wrote in my last blog, I felt the call of the those truths which drew me to faith in the first place.

Now, as I enter the second half of pregnancy the hope and the fear are growing still – but what is growing more than I’d imagined is my faith – whatever happens going forward, I’m trusting that God is moving and God is present in the darkness, but also in the light.