In August 2009 I was so excited to discover my husband and I were expecting our second child. We already had a beautiful son called Jack, who was two at the time and our family was about to be complete with a sibling.
I am not quite sure why but I was absolutely convinced that we would be having a girl. Perhaps I had been listening to too many people’s opinions on the shape of my bump or I had convinced myself this pregnancy ‘felt’ different, or because I had read a random blog that conception under a certain moon would result in a female (I must confess, I did Google ‘how to conceive a girl’!).
Nonetheless, my husband wasn’t so assured by my unshakeable beliefs and suggested we make a private appointment for 3D imagery, before went ahead and painted the spare room pink.
You can imagine my blushes when the sonographer casually pointed out the scrotum in the image. “The what??” I thought, “My daughter doesn’t have a scrotum!”
It still makes me feel a little guilty that my initial emotion from the scan was disappointment and that I should have been overjoyed to be having a healthy boy.
Fast forward several months of uncomplicated pregnancy, my inner control freak began to plan for life as a mum of two. Jack hadn’t slept through the night until he was one and I was adamant this child would be different. My son would be like all those other babies I had heard about that slept all night from six weeks. Gina Ford? Phuh, I don’t need her help, this time I’ve got it nailed.
The other thing brought me peace of mind was knowing that I had already experienced labour, knew what to expect and the second labour is always quicker than the first anyway.
How wrong I was.
Contractions began on a Saturday morning and my beautiful boy didn’t arrive until the Monday. Believing that the labour would be easier I had chosen a natural birthing experience and requested the ward at the Ulster that feels like a hotel suite, well if I compare with the old maternity unit I had Jack in. The labour was long, complicated, extremely distressing and when I couldn’t bear it any longer and wanted to get pain relief, was too far gone for it to be possible.
Thankfully Archie eventually arrived safely into this world and I could relax that the experience was behind me.
The next day I showered, dressed and even straightened my hair for my triumphant exit from the hospital. I can remember the nurses looking on bemused by how well-groomed I was just to leave the hospital and I inwardly muttered, “No sweat ladies, I’m a second time mum”
The next few weeks felt like the hardest in my life. Hubby returned to work, Archie wasn’t feeding or sleeping and I was at my wits end. He cried for what felt like every hour of the day and relief only came in the very short periods he would nap. Sleep at night was non-existent. This experience was NOTHING like I had had with Jack. I knew that this couldn’t be normal and called on every resource I could to tell me I wasn’t going crazy. The general response was colic. Colic got blamed for everything!
Had it not have been for the grace of a wonderful GP when Archie was just seven weeks old that a referral was done to paediatrics, that I dread to think how long this could have gone on for and how much I could have deteriorated.
Since Archie’s birth I had been desperate to try and take away his discomfort and would spend hours on google researching potential causes and solutions. I had become so anxious around feeding and changing times that I avoided taking him out. If other people saw how distressed he was, I assumed they would think I was a bad mother. I remember sobbing one morning as my husband left for work that I didn’t want to be left with ‘him’ today and felt utterly hopeless.
The guilt I felt was insurmountable. At a time when I should be feeling such joy and gratitude I actually felt desperately low and alone. I am ashamed to say that at times, I felt real anger towards him, a poor little baby that could not help his discomfort.
By the time his Paediatric appointment had come around at twelve weeks of age, my incessant Googling meant that I already had a fair idea of the issue, which was a milk protein allergy. A few weeks into feeding with hypoallergenic milk and I had a completely different child that could be held and soothed and so the dark clouds began to clear.
As a former self-confessed ‘health freak’ I felt like I had lost all confidence in my body and had neglected my self-care. The early months had been so fraught that healthy home cooked meals had been replaced with takeaways and my extreme fatigue from sleepless nights meant I was surviving on caffeine. I felt rotten.
It took me several months to gather the courage to join a gym but I knew I needed to feel like my old self again. Too embarrassed to participate in a gym induction I asked the instructor if he could just show me how to use the power plate hidden at the back of the gym. He was not amused.
So for the next few weeks I visited the gym and stood on that vibrating plate and hoped that it would perform the miracle of weight loss with zero effort!
Whilst sadly the miracle didn’t occur, the gym visits did provide an opportunity to meet other mums at what was an isolating time. Soon after, I put my bravery pants on and began training in the ‘actual’ gym area with the friends I had made.
Exercise provided such a theraputic effect for me and introduced me to the importance of good nutrition for mental and physical health.
This interest led to the enrolment on a ‘Food and Mood’ course, which explored in detail the role of gut health in mood disorders and also how vital specific macronutrients (e.g. protein) and micronutrients (e.g. B12) are for maintaining good mental health.
A passion was ignited and so I trained to become Nutrition and Lifestyle Coach, as I felt this knowledge would provide an essential support in my role as a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist. It has revolutionised the way in which I work with my clients and provides an opportunity to introduce dietary and lifestyle changes as a first line of treatment before therapeutic intervention.
My five top tips for keeping mentally fit are:
- Eat protein source at every meal
Protein contains amino acids, which make up the chemicals your brain needs to regulate your thoughts and feelings, so it really is a mood boosting food! It also helps keep you feeling fuller for longer.
Protein is in: lean meat, fish, eggs, cheese, legumes (peas, beans and lentils), soya products, nuts and seeds.
- Don’t fear FAT
Your brain needs fatty acids (such as omega-3 and -6) to keep it working well. So rather than avoiding all fats, which can detrimental to health, it’s important to eat the right ones.
Healthy fats are found in: oily fish, poultry, nuts (especially walnuts and almonds), olive and sunflower oils, seeds (such as sunflower and pumpkin), avocados, milk, yoghurt, cheese and eggs.
- Manage your caffeine intake
Caffeine is a stimulant, which means it will give you a quick burst of energy, but then may make you feel anxious and depressed, disturb your sleep (it takes SIX hours for caffeine levels in your body to reduce by half), or give you withdrawal symptoms if you stop suddenly.
Caffeine is in: tea, coffee, chocolate, fizzy drinks and other manufactured energy drinks.
- Eat regularly
If your blood sugar drops you might feel tired, irritable and depressed. Eating regularly and choosing foods that release energy slowly will help to keep your sugar levels steady. Ideally each meal should include protein, a slow release carbohydrate (e.g. brown rice) and a little healthy fat
- Keep your gut happy
Sometimes referred to as our second brain, your gut can reflect how you are feeling emotionally. If you’re stressed or anxious this can make your gut slow down or speed up. For healthy digestion you need to have plenty of fibre, fluid and exercise regularly. It may also be beneficial to invest in a good daily probiotic. People often think of cereal as the best way to increase fibre in the diet but I recommend getting your fibre from vegetables and legumes.
Healthy gut foods include: fruits, vegetables and wholegrains, beans, pulses, live yoghurt and fermented products such as miso or kimchi.
In February 2018 I launched my new private practice called Eatology, where I work with women and offer both Health Coaching and Therapeutic services to help them feel their best from the inside out.
All followers of this page can avail of 20% discount of any first session booked. Simply quote HYSTG upon contact.
To find out more about me and the services I offer, please visit www.eatology.co.uk
Do you have a story to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org – we’d love to hear from you!