It was supposed to be the first day of the rest of my life, but instead it was nearly the last. On the day my first daughter was born my life took purpose and was nearly taken from almost immediately afterwards.
One week after I first walked into hospital I finally left. Life with a new baby is intense; particularly if, like mine, your new baby has colic and reflux and especially if you are breastfeeding. Every feed was a struggle for me to produce and my new-born would respond, in thanks, by throwing it back up over me again. We would repeat this dance all day and then spend our evenings with her constantly screaming out for something I couldn’t quite identify or seem to provide. I was plagued by intrusive thoughts, so much so I refused to leave the house most days as I was convinced my baby was going to die if we did. The house was no safer as I worried I might accidentally knock my baby’s head on the stone wall of our spiral staircase or that I might throw her against the fireplace and how her head might look after. I was convinced these thoughts meant I was a terrible mother so I hid them from everyone for a very long time.
It was when I became pregnant again that what I had been through reached crisis point. I was terrified I was going to die this time after my previous experience. I was classed as “high risk” because of my previous haemorrhages but this meant little in the way of medical reassurance and my concerns about my mortality were belittled or ignored. I spent my entire pregnancy feeling like a prisoner on death row until I started going to a pregnancy yoga class; it was the one time in the week where my brain was quiet of its questions and its flashbacks; where the panic didn’t stick in my throat causing me to feel like I couldn’t breathe, where there wasn’t a full time project that needed managing or a toddler who wanted snacks and me to play elaborate pretend games. It was my time for me and my baby. A moment; a pause in the chaos. A reminder to just breathe.
I was eventually signed off work with my anxiety in the lead up to my due date. I confided in my yoga teacher about my situation and it was she who mentioned post-traumatic stress disorder. Was that not just something people who had lived through wars had? Having a diagnosis, albeit a self-diagnosis helped me put my symptoms into perspective; I wasn’t crazy, I had suffered through a great trauma; I believed I was going to die and then this message was reiterated to me several times throughout the next few days. I was forced to confront my own mortality at a time when I was most vulnerable to mental ill-health already.
I still couldn’t control or see into the future but I could prepare for it. I started plastering positive birthing affirmations around my house; one on my bedroom mirror, one behind the hob. I spent ages on my hypnobirthing music, focusing on a smooth and easy birth. Whenever an intrusive thought sneaked in I reminded myself that my body was literally made for this. Knowledge was power and I knew what I needed to do this time from my own side to avoid haemorrhaging. There were things that I could take control of.
I never felt ready for what was to come but when my labour came I embraced it with my full force; employing all my techniques and tactics I had learned at yoga and through my own studies. I had a relatively easy time of it and text my friend after she was born proclaiming “she’s here; that was a walk in the park!”
I now think of yoga as part of my daily routine, like brushing my hair. At times I find motherhood difficult and some days remembering to exhale feels like a conscious act. Knowing that I have that time to breathe after they are both in bed can keep me focused on getting through an epic bedtime stand-off. When things are hard I hold onto something my yoga teacher once said to me: after a contraction there is always an expansion.