A Coffee Break with Gemma from Life at Floor Level

This weeks coffee break chat I have chosen based on mental health as May is Mental Health Awareness Month and there has also been the introduction of Maternal Mental Health awareness week. It is a subject I feel very strongly about and feel more awareness should be raised on both mental health more generally but also on maternal mental health because how can you care for your baby or child if you are not well either mentally or physically. Gemma from Life At Floor Level talks about her experiences and Tokophobia, something you may have not heard of but it is worth reading about.

First things first do you drink tea or Coffee? How do you drink it? And what’s your favourite biscuit? We can’t have a chatter without a cuppa!

I am a definite coffee drinker with milk and sugar (until I feel guilty for my body and drink decaf tea with no sugar but that never lasts long) I will literally eat any biscuit but my favourites have to be jammy dodgers.

I’ve read lots of your blog but my readers may well have never seen it so can you tell us a bit about you, your family and your blog please?

Well, my name is Gemma and I am first time mummy to Erin and wife to my amazing husband Chris. I am currently still on maternity leave but will be returning to my job in Higher Education Welfare Support after the summer. My blog is mostly all about how I have found learning to be a mummy for the first time, I focus mainly on my day to day dramas but I also tackle mental health issues such as my experiences with postnatal depression and also my experience of being pregnant with extreme anxiety. I do however like to try and write my ramblings with an air of humour and a huge dollop of honesty.

As it’s mental health month I love how open and honest your blog is about your tokophobia and how that impacted on your pregnancy. Can you share a bit about this with us?

Tokophobia, in a nut shell, is a phobia of pregnancy but this can include many different factors such as fear of experiencing pregnancy, fear of the actual birth, fear of medical procedures or all of these things and, like any phobia, comes in varying degrees of severity and has many different triggers. The main difference between Tokophobia and other phobias is that it can impact a persons mental health so massively. I knew for years before having Erin that I would struggle with my pregnancy due to this fear and was diagnosed with extreme anxiety and antenatal depression whilst pregnant. It stopped me being able to enjoy my pregnancy as I was constantly filled with fear and at times wanted nothing to do with my own body. Its a tricky phobia to deal with as not only do you have your own feelings to tackle but also many people are not accepting of the way you feel and there is an assumption that if you are pregnant then you much be overjoyed. Yes I was overjoyed at the prospect of having my little girl but the journey was a long and difficult one for me and for many others in a similar situation. It can be a very complicated phobia to try and get people to understand so I set to work writing a piece trying to explain and after I published it I was really delighted to see how many people, who have never even heard of Tokophobia, contacted me to say they have really learnt something. You can read more about it here – http://www.lifeatfloorlevel.com/terrified-to-be-pregnant-understanding-tokophobia/

Do you think enough is done to help mum’s to be during pregnancy who are suffering with mental health difficulties?

I think this is largely down to where in the country/world you are. Help is definitely out there its just a case of being able to access it. I am based in West Lancashire and the help and support I received was brilliant, I am very lucky. I was given access to a specialist mental health midwife who, along with my consultant both constantly had my wellbeing as their main focus. I think it is important to be open with how you are feeling otherwise help cant be offered.  From day one I told my district midwife that I was going to struggle, I told my GP too and was referred for therapy to help my through the pregnancy. There are also online support groups available which can really help as often they are a safe place to go to and discuss how you are feeling and ask questions. Support for mental health issues during pregnancy is defiantly starting to be more heard of but talking to someone if you are struggling is certainly the first step to being able to access this support.

How old is your little one now? Have your experiences changed the way you have parented do you think?

Erin is now almost 8 months old! I have no idea where the time has gone, she is growing so fast I cant keep up. I struggled with postnatal depression after Erin was born and it wasn’t until she was around 4 months old that I finally started to feel more in control and started to enjoy motherhood. I don’t know if my experiences have changed the way I have parented or not but I certainly spend a great deal of time feeling grateful these days and often look at my little girl and think of what a journey it has been to get to this point, both through my pregnancy and since she has been born. Even though I have found becoming a parent extremely difficult I am so thankful that I have my beautiful daughter to show for it and would do it all again in a heartbeat.

If anybody my readers are in a similar position to you with tokophobia but maybe don’t realise that is what it is or have never asked for help what advice would you give them?

I would defiantly say talk to someone, be it a friend or family member or your GP or midwife if you are already pregnant. Many women realise they suffer with this phobia before they are pregnant and it can be a huge influencer on their decision to have children. The more it is talked about, especially in the medical world then the more support will become available. If your are suffering with this and feel your healthcare providers are not understanding, because some of them have often never heard of Tokophobia, then arm yourself with information and take it along to your appointment and educate them yourself.

What do you enjoy most about parenthood? And what do you enjoy least?

I love watching my little girl develop, seeing her explore her world and smiling as she does it lights up my heart daily. She has such an infectious smile that she brightens my day the instant she wakes up. As hard as parenting is she has definitely being a wonderful tonic in my mental health recovery. I would say, like most parents, my least favourite part of parenting is the lack of sleep, I am convinced that Erin has a built in sensor that lets her know when I am really warm and cosy in bed just drifting off to sleep, that’s always when she wakes up…for no apparent reason mostly!

What made you decide to start blogging?

I started blogging for my own sanity really. I struggled with my feeling after Erin was born, both from my experience through pregnancy and dealing with PND, Erin then had months of issues with an undiagnosed milk allergy and reflux so I had a lot to take on all at once. I found myself constantly processing everything in my head, especially through the night when I was up with Erin and annoyingly I was still awake thinking when I should have been getting precious sleep. I decided to start writing things down as a way of getting them out of my mind, I didn’t actually expect anyone to read it but after publishing my first few posts, and getting some really lovely feedback, I felt spurred on to continue and I really enjoy it now so I carry on.

Do you feel blogging has helped you accept the struggles you have had?

Definitely! As well as it being a way of me getting things out it has also connected me with so many people. After I posted about PND and about Tokophobia I had so many people contact me and who I now keep in touch with. The blogging world is a really nice, supportive world I discovered and it has been great being in contact with some like minded people. It has really helped me see I am not alone in a lot of what I have been through. It also got me talking to people local to me, people who I now call friends, and it allowed me to get involved in my small community and feel more confident.

How do you see your blog going forward what kind of things do you aim to wrote about? 

I would really like to start doing other things with my blog now, as much as it has been a great way of helping me overcome a great deal that is not all there is to my life. Yes there have been some real hard times that I have written about but we also have a lot of fun. My plan is to start writing about some other topics, I would still like to keep the pathway open to be able to support others that may have been through, or be going through, similar things to me and if I can help them then that’s great but I also want to start looking at my life with Erin more. Going on days out and writing about it, reviewing all the weird and wonderful things we do and the ridiculous amount of products we try to make life easier. I am still fairly new to the blogging world and I don’t know where it will all take me but for now I am really enjoying how its going.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Never try and be the ‘perfect mum’ it doesn’t exist and you will drive yourself insane trying to achieve it. Getting up each day, laughing with your child, accepting whatever happens and rolling with the punches already make you super mum. Make sure you take the time to enjoy the small things and give yourself a break!

If my readers want to follow your story more how can they find you?

If you have enjoyed reading this you may enjoy my other Coffee Break series posts, click here to have a look through the others!

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