Vicki is an incredibly talented writer, freelance blogger, social media advisor, NICU campaigner and mental health advocate. We were fortunate to catch up with her to find out more about her parenting journey…
How did your parenting journey start?
My parenting journey started in 2014, when my first son was born on the 18.9.14. It was not a typical start to being a parent with a 9 day stay in NICU, a CHD diagnosis, a neo natal stroke and taking Elijah down to Great Ormond Street at 6 months old to have open heart surgery. This took a toll on me mentally and I was diagnosed with PTSD when Elijah was 18 months old. Then in November 2016, I fell pregnant with my second son Harlow who was born in the bath at home, delivered by Dad in just 50 minutes! So, far the two journeys have been very different but equally as challenging.
What were your expectations?
Parenting expectations were set by what I had seen on TV, in films, glossy parenting books and magazines. They most certainly did not prepare me for the reality of child birth and the aftermath of a NICU stay. No one spoke to me about what would happen if your baby was ill, if you became mentally ill as a result and I was left feeling lonely, isolated and traumatised. For example, when was the last time you saw someone who was suffering from PND gracing the front cover of a baby magazine? Or a chapter in your parenting books about NICU babies?
How do you feel about those expectations now?
Looking back on what I had based my expectations on, I feel very angry, misled and resentful. They are just not realistic, it is the same post partem, we do not just snap back into our skinny jeans and when we do not we feel like we have failed, as we are force fed that this is what should be happening. I feel as though now I am ready, I will talk honestly about the ugly truths of parenting that you won’t see on TV, or in a film. But, this is real life and if I am going through these things then surely others are too, so why is it not socially acceptable to talk about them?
What has been the easiest part (or parts)?
The easiest part of parenting? I don’t really have an answer for this. I don’t think any of this comes easily especially not for me. There are times I have struggled to find the magic unconditional love and maternal bond with my boys. I have found it hard to get up in the mornings to carry on. If I really had to answer, it is perhaps the automatic pride I have for both of my boys that even on a horrendous day they could turn around and do something that makes me instantly proud of the little people they are becoming.
Where have you struggled the most?
Being unable to live up to the perfect mother image we are supposed to all be. Balancing both boys, work, crafts, organic cooking whilst looking amazing doing it. Oh, and don’t forget the immaculate house too. Knowing I am not that perfect super mum has made me feel like a failure. We have this pressure to do it all, and it comes from all angles. When we do not manage the pressure, we are led to believe we are bad mothers, or failures, but we should not have this pressure at all. Becoming depressed after the birth of both boys and through pregnancy further fuelled these feelings.
Have you always felt supported?
No, mental health support for NICU parents is severely lacking. Health visitors didn’t know how to handle us and would constantly refer us to hospital, when hospital would say we needed to talk to health visitors. There are no follow ups for parents who have gone through their child being in NICU yet the percentage of going on to suffer PND or PTSD is very high. We also live in a country where the mental health support system is too overwhelmed to be an effective support tool. I am lucky to have always had a supportive partner and friends and being able to both give and receive support via social media has been a blessing.
What helps you get through the tough days?
Until very recently and I am talking about a matter of weeks, I wouldn’t have been able to say what gets me through the tough days, but I have spent a lot of time reflecting recently. I have an amazing partner and friends; my Nan helps with housework and childcare. I have also started The Positive Planner which is helping me break the cycle of negativity I have been in for some time and helping me focus on what I can do rather than what I cannot. I am setting manageable goals and finding gratitude each day. Oh, and gin that helps.
What makes you smile?
Even though one is trouble and the other hates sleep, the boys make me smile through and through. One funny look, or when the laugh at each other. In 10 years no one has made me smile as much as Greg and every day he makes me laugh. You must have laughter it is the one thing that has always been in our relationship even when things hit rock bottom, we laughed.
Anything else you would like to add?
If I could go back in time to just after Elijah was born I would tell myself it is okay. It is okay to feel all thee negative emotions and not to feel guilty about that. It is okay not to do it all, to not enjoy motherhood every single day. There is just not enough education out there about the actual realities of parenting. Be honest with yourself and others about the good, the bad and the ugly. Try and keep positive and realise you can carry on.
Vicki confesses honestly about all things parent, NICU, CHD, Maternal Mental Health and Social Media related whilst navigating her way with two small humans and finding any excuse for a laugh and a gin! You can read her blog here. Or follow her on FB, Twitter and Instagram.