Young Motherhood and Mental Illness

Young Motherhood and Mental Illness

Mentally ill people have sex. Teenagers have sex and sometimes the stars align and mentally ill teenagers have sex and it produces a little person with Disney princess eyes who laughs when she farts.

My daughter Niamh was born on the 25th of May 2017, a whopping 2 weeks before the first of my A-Levels, and 3 and a half years after my first diagnoses of mental illness, anorexia nervosa and body dysmorphic disorder. In the years between I have had a handful of diagnoses, depression, anxiety and bulimia. I have tried a cocktail of antidepressants and in September 2016 things were looking up. I had reached a healthy weight, although I was back in treatment for Bulimia, I had a medication I was used to, I was making friends, catching up to being a healthy teenager. I finally fitted in, no longer paper doll thin. I self harmed for the last time on the 18th of September, I found out I was pregnant on the 21st.

(Me and my boyfriend, Niamh’s father, June 2015- my year 11 prom.)

Immediately I was taking my vitamins, eating healthily, trying to repair the damage that had been done. For the first trimester I was ecstatic. I’d chosen to continue with my medication, thankfully a pregnancy safe antidepressant. My body was making minimal changes, I actually lost a little weight. My stomach was no longer concave, but still flat.

At 20 weeks I found out I was having a girl. Her name was decided straight away, Niamh Luna. I was overjoyed, but a knot of trepidation formed in me as I remembered screaming on the grass of a park, 2 or 3 years before, asking my mum why she had even had children when she knew that I would be the way I am. I come from a long line of women with a bad relationship with food. I am unusually close to my mum, despite drifting from her when I was 12. We are one person in two bodies, my soulmate. She was the the only thing that could dissipate the fear.

By 24 weeks I had a bump, and feelings of inadequacy, panic and unattractiveness flooded in. I weighed more, and no longer looked like my friends. I was still tiny, nobody could tell I was pregnant, even at 33 weeks a floaty top kept it concealed. I obsessively compared my bump to those of celebrities, wracked with guilt. I was too big, too small.

At 35 weeks I couldn’t breathe. I made my way to A&E where I was prodded and poked. Words like pulmonary embolism rushed by. I had an X-Ray, a CT scan of my lungs. I had an injection to break up a blood clot. The diagnosis, in the end, was a panic attack. Nothing had triggered it, just the panic that had been festering inside me as long as I could remember. Schoolwork, motherhood, being unsure for the for the first time in my life. It had piled up and my coping mechanism of starving was unavailable. I filled Pinterest boards with diet and exercise, a virtual eating disorder that I fell in and out of love with.

(My mother and I, summer 2015)

Then Niamh arrived and in an afternoon my world was changed forever by tiny hands and a fluffy head. She was perfect, I had made her and she was perfect. She was bundled up in my arms, small, quiet and beautiful. Not only had my world changed but my body had, and hours after she was born I was gazing in a mirror at my soft, stretchy, empty tummy. The fear that had followed me since I found out I was having a girl was on my heels. Would I be able to set a healthy example around food? I searched every magazine, every mummy blog for tips but all I could find was dieting tips. Blitz that baby belly, 30 day diet for a killer post partum body. I was obsessed. I am obsessed.

I spent my year 13 prom, a mere month after my daughter was born sobbing in the toilet because I didn’t look like my glamorous friends. As I am breastfeeding I’m trying not to diet, but my body is exhausted from lack of nutrition because I hadn’t relearned how to eat healthily.

Things are looking up again now. I’m becoming healthy, despite the odd day where I have cake and nothing else. With perinatal mental illness, it’s like being at a campfire. You have your baby and they are the fire and they warm everything up, the light blinds you but you’ve still got the woods behind you and around you with the cold and the dark, always ready to suck you back in.

A Guest Blog from Ciara Austin
About Ciara
Ciara is mother to Niamh Luna.  She is living in Cheltenham in a very busy house with her parents, brothers, boyfriend Danny, daughter and two pet goats called Ziggy and Gatsby before starting at Bath Spa University in 2018, and aspires to use her voice for good. The first picture of the blog is Ciara’s year 13 prom with her best friends and Niamh aged 4 weeks exactly. The final picture is Ciara and Niamh, October 2017.

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  1. Lesley Soden
    November 22, 2017 / 7:46 am

    This is a really brave and well written blog post thanks for sharing your experiences. I hope youre getting the right perinatal mental health support. I love your analogy of how your feeling.

  2. Laura Pickering
    November 22, 2017 / 11:13 am

    so brave! Lots of love and luck to you and your adorable little girl! xx

  3. Laura
    November 22, 2017 / 3:57 pm

    This is a really inspiring piece, congratulations on becoming a mum and for battling your demons. You convey yourself and your experiences in such an articulate and mature way (which I hope doesn’t sound patronising!) and I’m sure you will continue to set a great example to your daughter.

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