Parenting in my shoes – I struggled with postnatal depression

Susan, originally from Sligo but living in Cavan is a 38 year mum to 15 month old Alex and brand new baby girl, Chloe. Susan is a stay at home mum now but prior to having her children she had mainly worked in Montessori.

After the birth of her son Alex, Susan struggled with postnatal depression (PND). Here she shares her deeply personal experience of PND and explains why, even now, an element of guilt remains with her.

Pregnant with my son…

Overall my pregnancy was good, no major concerns or complications. A rise in hormone levels however did cause a lot sleep issues, where eventually I had to learn to sleep sitting up. Coming from someone who could not function on less than eight hours sleep at night, this was a challenge. I was quite sleep deprived before he was even born and somehow thought I was prepared for all the sleepless nights to come.

His birth…

The birth was quite quick. He was born 10 hours after I went into labour. It did become difficult in the end as I had trouble pushing him out. After an hour of pushing I had to have an episiotomy. Soon after that it was obvious he still wasn’t coming and he had to be suctioned. Within minutes the doctors noticed his breathing was very fast and initially thought he was distressed but by later that afternoon he was in an incubator in ICU. After days of test I was told he had been born in congenital pneumonia. He spent 48 hours in an incubator then a further 5 days in special care.

Feeling different…

He was born on a Monday morning and I knew by the Wednesday having suffered from depression for years and through my pregnancy that the way I was feeling was not just ‘the baby blues’ or depression –  it was far more than that. I was due to be discharged on the Wednesday but my stitches had burst and I was put on IV antibiotics for 48 hours. As upsetting as I found it, I was also glad to not leave my son. We lived an hour from the hospital so it was a comfort to me to have him one floor down.

Susan with Alex (3wks) – a smile hides a multitude

How it manifested… 

Initially I felt both numb and emotionally overwhelmed. I would sit and look at him in the incubator and think ‘is he really mine, did I just have a baby?’  In some way I felt completely disconnected from him but knew we needed to bond.  There was so much going on with different tests, some of which I wasn’t allowed to be there for, that I just could not process anything – all I could do was cry. I felt so lost and lonely, like no one else would get how I felt, yet I knew there were plenty of woman out there who could totally relate and understand.

Somehow though when you’re in that situation at the time you feel you’re the only one. Over the next few months, I experienced feelings and behaved in ways I never thought I would. My need to control everything was overwhelming. I was not me, I was living someone else’s life. I became someone I didn’t recognise and had no control over my thoughts or emotions. It was one of the worst times on my life yet it was meant to be the happiest.

Hiding my feelings…

My mum and husband had noticed before I left the hospital. I hid it from everyone else, afraid I’d be judged for how I was dealing with motherhood and decisions I made or even things I would do in relation to my baby.

My support…

My mum and husband were my greatest support. They were amazing. Mum stayed with us for weeks after my husband went back to work and honestly without their love and constant support I don’t know how I would have got through it.

My lowest moment…

To be honest I had quite a lot of lows but the one that stayed with me the most was the overwhelming feeling of wanting to get in my car drive away and never come home. I never wanted to hurt myself or do anything serious, but I felt like I couldn’t be a wife anymore or the mum  to my son. To me they both deserved better. I had myself convinced they’d be fine on their own and my husband would get more that enough help from his family.

How PND affected my relationship with my son…

For months after I found myself looking at him and not recognising him as mine. I was afraid to hold him, to love him, to be his mum. I did my best to bond with him because I knew how important it was, but felt bad for missing out on that first week of his life where I didn’t get to hold me much.

It took a long time before I started to feel like a mum and to even enjoy him. As hard as that is to say, my for the love didn’t really start to grow till he was almost a year old, even though deep down I knew I loved him with all my heart.

Susan and Alex (13mths) – happier times!

How PND affected my relationship with my partner, family and friends…

Throughout all of my post natal, my husband was my rock. I always knew I had a good man but I realised it more as time went by, however good or bad my days were. He was always there to hold me, to support me, and even backed me when I’m sure at times my idea of handling things seemed crazy.

He never once questioned me and I will always love him for that. I was also very lucky to have my mum stay with me during the week when my husband went back to work. She was not just my mum but a friend I needed to just be there, I’ve always had a great relationship with her and I feel blessed to have her in my life.

Getting help…

Within a couple of weeks of coming home I asked my GP to refer me to counselling.

I had been referred to my local health centre to speak with a psychiatrist. Unfortunately I could only be offered 30mins every 3weeks which I thought was very poor and not really of any use to me. I thought how that restricted time could not possibly help me process everything that was going on in my head.

I could not afford to go private at the time and made the decision not to continue but to work on my mental health at home. In the past I have had a lot of counselling for my depression and took what I learned from those sessions to deal with it all. Slowly over time and with the support I had around me I was able to work my way back of the dark place I was in.

My recovery…

I had cut myself off from the world, including close friends and family. I felt it was easier to not talk to anyone rather than having to talk about what I was going though. I was ashamed and afraid no one would understand.

It was at least twelve months after he was born that I honestly started to feel like me. A year before I believed I was doing a good job, felt happy and that yes my son deserved to have me as his mum.

The fear of relapse…

Yes the thought has come into my head every now and then. I’ve often wondered if it did happen again, would the same thoughts and feelings return, will I recover as quick, or how it will all play out. But then I stop myself and think it may never happen again and even if it does, I’ll be ready to take it head on.

Having more children…

I’ve always wanted to have more than one child, and even when things were very bad I kept telling myself, I cannot let this experience stop me from having my family.

One week ago I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, feeling completely free of post natal there is no comparison in how I feel towards my daughter. I look at her and I know she’s mine, there are no words to describe the love I feel for her and I am not afraid to be her mum.

With that however comes a sense of guilt towards my son. Guilt that I although I knew I loved him I couldn’t feel it. I missed out on so much bonding in the first few months, it’s a part of my life I wish I could change but can’t. I know the guilt will ease in time and I know that my son feels very much loved by me. Now that I am in a much happier place I can move on with my family and love every bit of being a mum.

Advice for other women going through the same thing…

I’m honestly not sure what advice I could give, I can only share what worked from me. I would encourage any woman to talk to someone when they are ready. I found writing about my journey starting from when I found out I was pregnant the most effective way of processing it all and to help me move on.

There is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. We need to speak out more, have our voices heard and create an awareness that will encourage more women to come forward and share their story so we can all help each other through it.

Susan, Alex and new baby Chloe

 

 

 

 

 

Parenting in my shoes – Our family has two mums

Ranae, who lives in Dublin, is a 30 year old actress, singer and writer who has a particular interest in natural health.  She’s married to Audrey, a freelance assistant stage manager currently working in the Abbey, and together they have one daughter.
Ranae is pregnant with with their second baby and here she talks about the life as a same sex parents, why she chose to carry both their babies and the reactions of other people to her family.

Meeting my wife…

We met in Bull Alley Theatre Training college 11 years ago. We started dating a year later- next week it will be our 10 year anniversary. We got married 2 and half years ago. We waited until it was legal in Ireland. There of course was the option of going abroad to marry, but we always said, if we can’t do it at home, then we won’t do it at all. So we were thrilled when it passed in 2015.

The baby question…

Since day 1 we always knew we wanted kids. We both come from huge families and are both baby mad. It’s a natural thing for us both. We’d have 10 kids if we could afford the IVF!!! So yes, we’ve always been on the same page about that. Deciding how to do IVF and when we decided to do Reciprocal IVF, was always a joint decision and we always trust what the other has to say about it. With something like IVF you have to be 100% a team. It’s such a hard process, I can’t even imagine if you were at odds over it.
Ranae, Audrey and Ava

Who gets to be pregnant…

We made this decision very naturally together. I have always wanted to be pregnant and to breastfeed, whereas Audrey had no desire to go through pregnancy if it was at all possible to avoid. Besides that, her work is a lot more stable and wouldn’t make sense for her to be the main stay at home parent. It just made sense this way for us. And it has worked so beautifully. I can’t even describe how beautiful it is to have carried our baby and then see every day a little mini Audrey. The 3D scan picture of baby number 2 looks identical too. It’s so precious.

Ava

Whose eggs to use…

Because we decided that I would carry our babies, we thought ‘wouldn’t it be cool to use Audreys’ eggs?’ We didn’t even know it would be an option. Way back when we first were dreaming of these things we didn’t realise there was an actual name for it…Reciprocal IVF or Shared Motherhood. When we started looking into it, we found it was one of the most popular ways for female couples to do IVF. Well the most popular in basically every other country besides Ireland, where it is not legal/not legislated for.

Choosing a sperm donor…

This was done through the clinic. Because we were forced to seek treatment abroad, in a lot of Europe the only option is for anonymous donors. So our donor was anonymous and chosen for specific features to match as closely to my own. That how donors are usually chosen, to match the features of the non genetic parent (in this case, me. So basically the male version of me!)
Ranae, Audrey and Ava

Reciprocal IVF… 

Reciprocal IVF is IVF with a female couple where one partner gives the eggs that will be used to form the embryo along with donor sperm, and the other partner will carry the pregnancy.
IVF was one of the hardest things to go through. It’s such an uncertain time. It’s a massive burden financially, physically and emotionally. And there is no guarantee of a baby at the end of it all. But at the same time, it is amazing that we live in a world where all of these scientific advances have been made and that this is something available to those who need it.

Supporting each other…

We just really stuck together as a team and made sure that the other was ok every step of the way. When we first went to Spain for the first full cycle, we stayed for a month in a lovely Air b & b by the seaside in Barcelona. We just relaxed and cooked really nice meals and went for walks and then walked TV in the evenings. It was bliss and we felt like we were in our own IVF cocoon!
The first attempt worked but I had an early miscarriage. The 2nd embryo transfer a few months later was successful and resulted in our now 2 year old, Ava. We had another failed transfer recently when trying for baby number 2 and ended up changing clinics (and countries!) and we went to Portugal to a clinic called Ferticentro. We actually blogged about that whole journey and we were so lucky it worked on the first attempt.

Family and friends’ reactions…

Everyone has always been so excited for us to have babies. Well aside from the fact that we could no longer be the number 1 babysitters for all our nieces and nephews. Ava is absolutely adored by her cousins and the whole family.
There was definitely some ‘getting used to it’ from my mom, who is a conservative Christian and has had to come to turns with the fact that her daughter is in a same sex marriage. But to be fair to her, since Ava has come along, she has been an absolutely incredible Nana to her and a great source of support for us. She is very hands on and always willing to babysit or do whatever we need. It’s funny how babies can change peoples perspectives sometimes isn’t it?

And reactions of the wider public…

Aside from a few internet trolls (no surprise there!) we’ve generally been met with positivity. Any questionable comments that we’ve ever heard, usually come from a place of ignorance, not of hatred. I think as more and more different family types are shown in the mainstream and in our societies, it becomes less of an issue.
However I do think that because we are two females, people are more ready to accept it. I’ve seen how hard it can be for gay dads, I definitely think that they are treated differently.
Ranae, Audrey and Ava

The biggest challenges same sex sex parents face…

Financial- as I’ve said, IVF is a massive burden. You could spend as much or more on IVF as you could on a house deposit.
Legal- currently I am considered a single parent. Audrey is not recognised as a parent to Ava. There is legislation coming in soon that will change this, but it’s a very narrow bill which will only include certain family types. It totally excludes those who have done at home inseminations and excludes gay dads. So it’s not good enough by a long shot. We need legislation NOW that will protect all of our family types and also much more legislation in the way of IVF.
As I said before, Reciprocal IVF is not legal in Ireland, which is an absolute disgrace. If egg donation is legal, and sharing genetic material between a heterosexual couple is legal (this is just standard IVF) then not allowing Reciprocal IVF is just blatant discrimination to female same sex couples.

Future questions about the biological father…

It’s absolutely something that we have thought a lot about, but it’s just something that we will have to deal with when the time comes. Hopefully our children will have been raised in a way that they understand that there are lots of different ways to make a family. Unconventional families like ours come in all shapes and sizes and with all the challenges that go along with it. We plan to be open with Ava from the start about how she was conceived. And we hope she will see how much she was wanted and loved from before she was even a tiny poppy seed in my belly.
 I think children are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. I remember my nieces Juliet(8) and Robyn(6) asking about our IVF just before we were due to travel earlier this year. For a split second I thought, will they understand this? But I decided to just tell them. That Auntie Audrey and I would go to a special hospital where we would use Audreys’ egg and some ‘seed’ from a kind man (donor) to make a baby. Then we would put that baby into Auntie Naes’ tummy and hopefully I they would then have a baby cousin 9 months later!
I expected a lot follow up questions, but they kind of just got it. And then moved onto a more exciting topic. Gotta love kids. Much more open minded than most adults.
So yes, we will just have to cross that bridge when we come to it.

The best thing about parenthood…

It has been the absolute best thing we’ve ever done. To create a life together is incredibly special. We absolutely adore Ava and cannot wait to welcome her baby sister. I’m really looking forward to breastfeeding again, even though it was so challenging for me, it was still one of my favourite things I’ve done. Also the newborn snuggles. And seeing Ava with her sister might just kill me with cuteness. I’m really looking forward to seeing how they interact with each other.

Advice for same sex couples who would like to have a child…

Get in touch with other Same Sex couples who have been through the process. When we first started there was NO information about reciprocal IVF, and there still isn’t much besides what I’ve written. That’s the whole reason I started blogging. It’s such a lonely place when you feel like you are the only one going through this crazy time. Fertility treatment is no joke. Its hard in every sense. Physically, emotionally, financially. Feel free to get in touch with me via hello@ranaevonmeding.com and I’d be very happy to chat to you.
Ava

Parenting in my shoes – My child has a clearly visible birthmark

Christine from Dublin is 37 and married to fellow Dub, Stephen. They have one child, Elizabeth who is 15 months old and Christine is just over 5 months pregnant with their second baby.

Little Elizabeth has a visible strawberry birthmark in the middle of her forehead, which has resulted in  plenty of stares and other unwelcome reactions from others in public.

Here Christine talks to me about coping with these reactions, her future worries for her daughter and how it feels to be the parent of a child with a prominent birthmark in an age that’s obsessed with appearances.

The pregnancy…

I found out I was expecting in December 2016 and had a really normal pregnancy (although I had nothing to compare it with!). I had morning sickness up until about week 14 but nothing severe, mainly nausea. I was able to continue with work, had normal blood pressure and attended the ‘Domino’ Scheme where my maternity appointments alternated between my GP and Midwife. I’m quite tall so Elizabeth had plenty of room to stretch out and it was quite late in the pregnancy before I had to start wearing maternity clothes. So all in all pretty much the dream pregnancy!

My due date was the 27th July so when I started having twinges on the 8th July I presumed they were Braxton Hicks and honestly thought I’d have another 5 weeks of pregnancy ahead. Even so I’d also had a bit of “show” that week so my husband, Stephen said let’s get the hospital bags in the car to be on the safe side (like, how thick was I when I look back on it!!). I went to work that day, came home, got changed, and went out for dinner with my friends, all the while Elizabeth was planning her big entrance. Stephen collected me from town and I went to bed around 10 or 11pm. I was restless and was starting to realise that the twinges (contractions you fool!) were getting more intense and were actually quite regular until pop went my waters at 1am. We started timing the contractions then and realised it was time to hot foot it to the Rotunda. I arrived around 1.30/1.45am and was assessed as being 2 or 3cm so we had “plenty of time”. There was no delivery room available so we waited in the public waiting room and then the assessment room until eventually it was time to head upstairs. I got to the delivery room at 4.03am and promptly asked for an epidural however, the next words from my mouth were “I need to push” and Elizabeth arrived at 4.16am on Sunday 9th July weighing 7lbs 7oz. A squidgy little bundle of amazingness.

Early indications…

There was no indication at all beforehand and in fact, there was no birthmark visible when she was born. The Haemangioma (also known as a Strawberry Birthmark) appeared as a tiny red dot when she was around one week old.

First impressions…

Elizabeth had some broken blood vessels around her eyes from the delivery so I presumed that this new red dot on her forehead, between her eyes, was something similar. She had a really faint, small red dot on her stomach too and the “stork mark” on the back of her neck which I think is fairly common. I don’t remember being concerned initially, it was so small and I had no clue what it was so I guess I just assumed it would disappear. Over the weeks as it grew we were obviously concerned but were reassured that they were common and that they tend to disappear themselves.

Baby Elizabeth 1 day old

Medical opinions…

It was the Public Health Nurse that visited us at home that first took note of it and advised that we keep a check on it. It’s amazing how quickly they grow and week by week it started getting bigger and bigger. We started to research them through “Dr Google” of course but there is a lot of mixed information and when we visited our GP he said they were common and didn’t seem worried by it.

Historically the “watch and wait” approach is taken with Haemangiomas and with us being completely naive and uneducated about them, that’s what we did. We waited and watched as it continued to grow, and grow. It was at Elizabeth’s 3 month check up with the Public Health Nurse that things finally got moving. The Nurse was not at all happy with what she was seeing and recommended I push for a referral to a dermatologist to get it checked. Some Haemangiomas are slightly raised red areas but Elizabeths is “mixed” so has the red part but also has a large bump underneath that makes it more pronounced.

Our GP referred us to Temple Street straight away but we were initially told it could take a year to get an appointment. From what we had read online this was fairly useless as haemangiomas grow quite rapidly up to age one before they start to recede. We decided to request a referral to the Private Clinic instead and were seen by Dr Fiona Browne within 2 weeks. In fairness to Dr Browne she said that even if we had been referred to her on the Public list she would have prioritized Elizabeth because of the location of her H (being close to her eye the skin is thinner and susceptible to ulcerating/scarring plus there was the possibility of her eyesight being affected). So we saw Dr Browne and within a couple of days were back in Temple Street to undergo tests and start treatment. Elizabeth takes an oral medication called Propranolol twice a day. It’s a beta blocker so her blood pressure and blood sugars were monitored in hospital during her first dose and we have monthly appointments now to get these checked and also to get weighed and have her dose altered as she grows bigger.

Not all babies with haemangiomas’s are given treatment, it can depend on the size and location of them but usually if they are large or near the eye, mouth or nose, treatment will be given.

The reactions of others to Elizabeth…

It varies but the most common reactions are:

Ignoring it, shock, telling a story about someone they know that has/had one

Elizabeth at 2 months

Its impact on my experience of parenthood…

I can’t express how much I adore Elizabeth. She made me a Mammy. Something I didn’t really know I wanted to be until I had her. She has the most beautiful blue eyes and a little button nose and squishy cheeks. She loves animals, bubbles and going to the park. She’s amazing. Most days I don’t even think about the birthmark. It’s a part of her and a part of what makes her unique and individual.

Except some days there’s that “if only” thought that pops into your head. If only she didn’t have the birthmark. If only it was somewhere else and not in the middle of her forehead. If only we didn’t have to spend every visit outside the house waiting for a look, frown, stare, question, comment. If only we could have baby photos without it. If only I wasn’t such a horrible, superficial person and could just ignore it. There are a million and one things that she could have that are a million times worse…

The treatment plan…

So, the disappointing thing for us has been that the Propranolol which is a miracle medicine for so many people has had little to no effect in shrinking Elizabeth’s H (it’s as stubborn as she is!). In saying that there’s no way for us to know how big it could have grown if she hadn’t started taking it so in fairness, at the very least it may have stopped her H from ulcerating or affecting her vision.

We visit the Dermatology Dept. in Temple Street every 4 weeks. The Nurses and Consultants there are brilliant. They check that Elizabeth’s blood pressure and blood sugars are normal. She is also weighed to make sure she is on the correct dosage of Propranolol for her weight and for now that’s the treatment we’ll continue on until we make a decision about whether to seek to have it surgically removed or leave it to see if it will involute naturally.

The hardest part of having a child with a visible birthmark…

In some ways I think this will change over time but the silent looks are probably the hardest thing to deal with. Should I ignore them? Should I pull people up on them? I always try to catch the eye of the person and give them the big smile if I can. It’s funny how this sometimes takes them off guard and they realise they have been “caught out”.

Worrying about what to teach Elizabeth to say as she gets older and making sure we instil her with enough confidence to ensure she’s not affected by future comments is another thing I think about a lot. It’s not something that we want to make a huge issue of but at the same time, it’s there and we’d be stupid to think that it won’t be something that she’ll become more aware of as she grows up.

Thoughtless comments…

Kids are great and much more open about asking about it (much to the mortification of their parents which makes me laugh). I always try to tell the kids a little bit about it before the parents embarrassedly whoosh them away.

Kids comments

“She has a big red lump on her head”

“What’s that thing on her head?”

“Is it sore?”

“Eurgh” followed by recoiling in horror dramatically

Adults comments

“What happened to her head!?”

“Did she fall?”

“God love her”

“You must have gotten a terrible fright when you saw it”

(The parent of the recoiling child above) “That little girl won’t be bold again will she, her Mammy gave her that because she was bold” – I’m not sure why I didn’t tell that man to STFU actually.

To be honest a lot of the worst ones are the “looks”. I think if someone comments it’s easier to open a conversation and explain what it is but I get really upset sometimes when we’re out and I can see someone up ahead clocking it and then proceeding to stare with a frown on their face as they get closer.

I often say it’s like they don’t even realise that they are staring at a human baby like she’s an alien or a curiosity (OK and now I’m crying, sorry). I have left our local shopping centre in tears because of the stares. There are days it doesn’t bother me at all and then there are days when I feel like shouting at people. Sometimes I think about getting leaflets printed with an explanation about haemangiomas and keeping them in the buggy so I can hand them out to the people who stare…

Elizabeth with Mum Christine

Elizabeth’s prognosis…

Generally haemangiomas grow rapidly until age one and then start to shrink or involute naturally. The involution is very gradual though and could take up to age ten. The Propranolol usually speeds this up but in our case this hasn’t happened.

We have been offered steroid injections as a next step but Elizabeth would have to go under general anaesthetic for these and we have decided that as the haemangioma is not growing or causing any complications with her eyesight, we’ll hold off getting these done. There’s also no guarantee they will actually work.

For us, it’s looking like we would have to leave it and just continue with the Propranolol and see what happens or we could decide to have it removed. Again, this would be under general anaesthetic so not over the moon at the idea but I think if we do decide to go with the surgery it’ll be before she starts school. This plays on my mind a bit though. Who would we be getting it removed for? Elizabeth? Ourselves? Other people? The kids in school?

Elizabeth aged 1 year

My fears for Elizabeth…

Thankfully she’s too young now but as she gets older my biggest fear is for when she starts to notice people looking at her differently or understands the comments. School is obviously a big worry too although younger kids are generally more accepting and once you say “that’s her strawberry birthmark, it doesn’t hurt and will disappear when she’s older” that’s basically that for them!

I think part of my fear is that we equip her with the strength of character to be able to respond confidently to any queries or remarks herself if/when the time comes… All anyone wants is for their child to be happy and healthy.

If you meet us…

Personally I prefer to be asked about it. It means I can explain what it is and educate people a little bit. We meet lots of people that have experience with them and tell us the stories of their sisters, friends or neighbour who had one on their arm, leg, head and it just disappeared. But for every one of these people you meet more, just like us at the beginning, who don’t really know what it is or anything about them.

Advice for other parents in the same situation…

One of the best things that happened to me was when I came across a couple of Birthmark Support Groups on Facebook (Hemangioma Parents Group and Birthmark Support Group). Thousands of parents of babies and children with haemangiomas, some bigger and more complicated than ours and some smaller. Some on topical treatment, some on oral medication, some having surgery and some deciding not to treat at all. No judgement, no staring, just understanding and support.

Knowing that we weren’t the only people out there with these feelings and worries, and coming across so many other parents who felt exactly like we do was amazing and a huge relief to me. It gave me a lot of perspective, took away some of the guilty feelings, and gave me more confidence in handling comments when we’re out in public.

I would recommend any parents of a baby with a birthmark to ask for a referral to a Paediatric Dermatologist who can assess it and then help you decide whether to treat it or not. You don’t have to just watch and wait.

 

 

Parenting in my shoes – I am a single parent

Ellen is a 37 year old single mum of 3 children – two boys and a girl aged 8, 6 and 4. She’s originally from Kilkenny but moved around for about for about 14 years before coming back to her home county when her relationship broke down.

Ellen is a qualified Health Care Assistant and Beauty Therapist but right now is a stay at home mother. She spoke to me about some of the difficulties and rewards of single parenthood – the challenges we often don’t think of and why we should be mindful of our language.

 

Meeting my ex-partner…

We met online when it was still very much taboo. When we told people they were shocked. Our relationship progressed quickly and we moved in together after 3 months. The joke used to be that I moved in one weekend and then never left. We were engaged but never got around to getting married.

I was actually 5 ½ months pregnant on my daughter when the relationship came to an end. The boys would have been 2 and 4. A very young family.

The emotional impact of the break-up on me…

I knew I was doing the right thing but it didn’t make it any easier. I was so sad for my children. I was sad for him and I was sad for me. Paired with being pregnant I was an emotional wreck and my family were amazing. My sister was just out of this world.

I never needed to worry about the boys being taken care of on the days that I found it hard to function because she was always there. There was also the worry of what was to come. How would I support myself? Where would I live? Would I be able to cope? Taking one day at a time is difficult when your world has just fallen apart.

And on the children…

Thinking back, the fact that they were so young meant that they just got on with things. Of course they were sad and we had tears but they adjusted very quickly. I was always honest with them. I never gave them false hope or made a promise that I couldn’t keep. I met with a child psychiatrist and took advice on how to deal with explaining the separation to them. She advised that you tell the truth in child appropriate language and that’s what I did.

Ellen and the kids

The impact on my career…

At the time I was training to be an Intellectual Disability nurse. I had to stop. I had no way of getting from Kilkenny to Dublin because I had no car. I think I probably wouldn’t have been able to continue even if we had stayed together but at the time I felt that everything that was going wrong was a direct result of my decision to leave.

The most challenging aspects of single parenthood…

I think this would be different for everyone based on your personality and your strengths. For me it’s maintaining my energy levels to get everything I need to get done. I have suffered with depression and the lethargy that goes with that can be debilitating at times. I try to get as much as I can done when I’m feeling good.
Finding somewhere to live was a massive challenge. Even though I qualified for support there were no houses to be rented. I was lucky to be with my Mam but I felt enormous guilt that the decisions that I made in my life were affecting others. I wanted to leave not because I wasn’t welcome but because I felt it was unfair to her.
I did get a house and it was the best feeling in the world to be able to have a home for my family.

The bits people don’t appreciate…

I’ve seen a lot of mothers lately saying things like, sure he doesn’t help I might as well be a single mother. Or people who have spouses working away saying that they are like single mothers.

I appreciate when you do all the hard work that you may think it’s the same thing but the one aspect of being a single mother that people don’t
realise is that sometimes, in some cases, you not only have no physical help but you may have somebody actively working against you. Waiting and watching for you to drop the ball. It can be very draining feeling animosity continuously.

Negativity, prejudices and assumptions…

A common question I get asked is if all three have the same father? This just proves to me that the stereotype of the single mother who pops out kids to get houses is alive and well. I can’t say that I have had it aimed directly at me but I do feel it when you see things in social media about single mothers. Why did you have so many children if you couldn’t afford to support them? I had my life planned out. I was being supported to rear my children and things just went wrong.

The last thing I thought I was ever going to be was a single mother of three children. I do feel the need sometimes do fight against the stereotype which is just ridiculous. It’s just more pressure I put on myself.

My support network…

I have amazing family. My parents and sister and aunts and uncles are all hugely supportive. The kids are so lucky to have them around. I’m not sainting them. We drive each other nuts but I’d be lost without them.

Sharing the load after a bad day…

Ah with who else but the aul mother! She has always been my best friend. I have such a renewed respect for her now that I’m a mother myself. She is a rock even though she doesn’t realise it herself.

Managing loneliness…

I am not lonely I have great friends and family but sometimes I sit and I think I would love to meet someone to share some experiences with. In another breath I’m terrified of all the complications that come with that. If they have kids and an ex and I have kids and an ex and …… well it’s a lot.

What would make the biggest difference to me…

I think this is the same for all families regardless of their composition. financial security. I would love to be able to give my children experiences that they’ll never forget. Unfortunately all the basics take priority and there are many months that there isn’t enough in the pot to do the fun things.

What I’m proudest of…

At 38 weeks pregnant on my second child I was referred to the psychiatric
department of Port Laois Hospital. I did not want to continue living. I wanted to close my eyes and for it to be all over. So when you ask me what I’m proud of…. It’s literally everything. I’m proud that my children are healthy and warm and feel love on a daily basis. I’m proud that although I have blips I’m still going.

Final thoughts…

Other mothers say to me, you are amazing I don’t know how you do it, I wouldn’t be able to cope. I always answer the same way. Of course you could because you would have no other choice. Women are amazing and resilient and adaptable and have been blessed with a bottomless pit of love for our children.

That’s what keeps you going. Sometimes I think I’m luckier than people with partners. I get two nights a month that I’m child free and I don’t have to share the remote after they go to bed. I’m on to a winner!

Ellen’s children