Six Month Check Up

No matter how solid your relationship (and I consider mine to be rock solid, thank God), becoming a parent shakes its foundations. For one, there’s the obvious sleep deprivation, which, as readers of this blog will know all too well, has been the biggest challenge I have faced since becoming a mum. When you don’t sleep more than three hours at a time (yep, still the case after nearly six months) the outcome is a state of permanent crankiness that inevitably puts a strain on your relationship. You don’t mean to snap at your partner over stupid little things (‘Why can’t you put your shoes here instead of there? What is WRONG WITH YOU??’) but find yourself doing so at every opportunity, which only serves to make you angry with yourself as well as with them. But you’re so goddamn bone-tired that you do it over and over again. Gah.

Then – and just as importantly – there is the sudden lack of free time. To do anything. Even basic needs like eating, washing, brushing teeth and going to the toilet come second to the needs of your baby (Note: when you’re a breastfeeding mum not finding time to eat properly is particularly problematic as it interferes with your milk production. I know this to be true and yet still regularly fail to eat my meals on time. Yesterday I actually resorted to eating C’s discarded mashed avocado to avoid starvation. Out of his bowl. With his plastic spoon). You think this will improve as they get older but sadly this is not the case. By the time they reach five months they are more mobile and becoming conscious of their effect on you (read: turning into manipulative demons). This is a lethal combination. Time to kiss goodbye to toilet breaks and buy some adult incontinence pads.

Which brings me nicely onto my next point: There is no better form of contraception than having a baby. Especially when you live in a one bedroom flat. For the past six months my husband and I have exchanged whispering sweet nothings in the bedroom with whispered baby chat over the kitchen sink as we hurriedly brush our teeth before bed (our bathroom has windows into the bedroom so we can’t even use that past 7pm these days – bang go the romantic, candle-lit baths we used to enjoy so much). My boobs may have grown but I feel about as sexy as a dairy cow (not helped by the fact I am constantly having to pump in order to keep up my supply – on the occasions I have tried to supplement with formula C has developed an angry red rash around his mouth, suggesting an allergy. Brilliant). Every day as I wander around in my sick-stained dressing gown, absent-mindedly clutching an organic carrot and humming Iggle Piggle’s song from In the Night Garden, I promise myself that today will be the day I make an effort with my appearance. But by the time my husband gets home I’m so frazzled I’m still wearing the hoodie with bits of carrot stuck to the front (hey, at least I made it out of the dressing gown) and am struck by the realisation it’s been two days since I brushed my hair.

When you become parents you have moments of panic about losing your identity – both as a couple and as individuals. Eventually that panic rises to a crescendo and you decide it’s time to re-enter the social scene. You organise childcare and have a night out, drink too much, stay out late and generally shirk all parental responsibility for a few hours. It is BLISS. But when your small-human-sized alarm clock goes off at half past six the following morning you curse yourself to hell and cry into your (cold) coffee, vowing never to do it again.

In short, being a parent is a bit like being entered into an ultra-endurance race you realise too late you haven’t trained nearly enough for. But nonetheless you’re in it. For life. So you may as well get your fat ass over the obstacles and make the best of it (Note: Coffee helps. A LOT).

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Three Months and Drowning (Literally)

Let me preface this post by saying that not a day goes by when I don’t count my blessings. That said, this week it’s felt as though we’ve angered the gods in some way. We returned from holiday on Sunday expecting to find a clean – and dry – apartment. What we found instead was a home stinking of stale floodwater, with pink residue all over the kitchen floor, damp towels festering in the sink and, to really top things off, a freezer full of partially defrosted food (including a month’s worth of carefully pumped and labelled breast milk). The cleaning lady hadn’t been despite saying she would, so aside from all the other issues the place was a dump.

I’ve mentioned before the building works that have been going on downstairs since March. Well, the latest debacle has been a water leak. About four weeks ago we went out one day and returned to find the kitchen swimming in water. We dried it up and went out again, only to find the same thing had happened a couple of hours later. After that, nothing happened for a week, but then the same thing again. We told our landlady who arranged for her plumber to come, but he couldn’t find the source of the problem. It was evident that the water was coming from above (I mean, it was pissing through our ceiling..), but as our neighbours had no such problem with their place, the mystery continued. Eventually water started leaking into other places – the apartment next door as well as the medical centre and building works below (karma is a bitch, hey?) And so our landlady reported the issue to the building syndic/manager, and various workmen were duly sent to investigate, only to leave scratching their heads as the first plumber had done. Fast forward a week and we arrived home from holiday to find the situation described above, after yet more workmen had traipsed through the apartment in our absence. We cleaned the floor as best we could, arranged for a new cleaner to come on Wednesday to try and get the pink dye out of the tile grouting and went about our business.

When the cleaning lady arrived on Wednesday morning I showed her around the apartment (against the backdrop of a screaming baby – more on that later), and as she started to work on the floor water began seeping out from under the appliances just as it had before, so she ended up having to dry the entire floor before she could even start to clean it. The final straw came at 5am this morning when, after a second terrible night of being up with baby every 2.5 hours, I brought him into the kitchen so as not to disturb my husband, only to find myself standing in a puddle of water, the floor having totally flooded yet again during the night.

Now I consider myself to be a fairly resilient person, but after six months of disruption with the building works (incidentally also the entire duration of my maternity leave) this new problem has, if you’ll excuse the pun, floored me. On top of having a (currently inexplicably grizzly) three month old baby with sleep issues I’ll admit I’m finding my sense of humour to be wearing thin. This wasn’t what I signed up for, does anyone know to whom I should address my letter of complaint?

And then there is my gorgeous baby boy. Gorgeous he may be, but he is also somewhat of a sleep terrorist. And for the past week or so he has been really out of sorts, crying for no discernible reason, demanding attention every time I move out of his eye line and downright refusing to go down for his day time naps. The result being a cranky and overtired baby and a zombie-like mother who is running out of ideas – and steam. Our holiday was lovely, but not quite the relaxing experience I had envisaged. I did manage to grab a little extra sleep thanks to my husband, but taking a cranky three month old to a wedding and on a three-site French adventure proved more testing than either of us had expected.

Don’t get me wrong, I am LOVING being a mother, and I know that in the main we have got more than lucky with our amazing son, whose general disposition is sunny and relaxed. But by God I would love him to sleep a bit more (and more easily). I’m becoming murderously jealous of my friends whose babies are already sleeping through the night at virtually the same age, so much so I’m struggling to even meet up with them. The sleep struggle is REAL.

A friend said to me the other day that mothers don’t tell new mothers how hard it is because they don’t want to scare them. But on the flip side of that, if this secret club of knowing mums don’t divulge the reality, surely it makes it even harder for the new mums when reality bites? I’ll wrap things up with that question, not least because there’s water seeping across the kitchen floor as I type and my son has just vomited on my shoulder.

Ah, these halcyon days of maternity leave…

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The Waiting Game

Today I’m 39 weeks and 4 days pregnant. I’ve been on maternity leave for 3 weeks already and whilst it’s been great, I am now more than ready to meet this little person who has been kicking me relentlessly for the past few months, testing out his motor skills and preparing to make his debut on the world stage.

It wasn’t an easy journey to get here. But neither was it a desperately hard one. We suffered one miscarriage before this pregnancy, something I have since learned is painfully common, despite being so often brushed under the carpet. That was a very sad time, but it also made us stronger, and more grateful than ever when the second pregnancy came around and was viable.

As the end of this pregnancy draws near it feels, ironically, less real than ever. We have all the ‘stuff’ that one is told one needs in order to prepare for the arrival of a baby, and in theory are equipped with at least a rudimentary knowledge of how to keep a baby alive for the first few months of its life. But the enormity of how different things will be any day now is still somehow eluding us.

The waiting is so strange. I know I have to go through the pain of labour in order to get him out, but until you’ve done it there’s no point of reference as to how it will be or how you will feel. Similarly, we know our sleep – something we prize above most other things in this version of our lives – is about to be decimated, but can’t truly imagine how it will be to carry on regardless, in the new version of reality we will be crossing into.

Most of all, until he’s here it’s so hard to imagine having a little person around us all the time, entirely dependent on us to find his way in the world, at least in the early years. The weight of responsibility to be good parents is huge, and to say we aren’t nervous about that would be an untruth.

And so we wait, excitement in our bellies and hearts in our mouths, every night settling into our normal routine – chat, dinner, TV, read – knowing that soon, so very soon, things will never be the same again. Hoping we can hack it. Hoping we can thrive.

Come on little one. Let’s see how we do.

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Week 23 woes

I knew January would be hard, but this is something else. Navigating the rollercoaster of a stressful job all week, then spending every weekend trying to pull off my end of year master’s assignment would be brutal if I wasn’t pregnant. But it is what it is. The only way out is through. So on I go.

Last night I went to see the doctor. When I stepped on the scales she raised an eyebrow and told me I had put on 3kg in a month. Apparently rather more than the 1.5kg she would have expected. She put it down to ‘Christmas eating’ (fair) and told me to cut down my sugar intake (cue immediate guilt about the double sized portion of egg custard tart I had consumed not two hours before my appointment). She told me my blood pressure was low. I told her I was stressed, so she wrote me a prescription for a magnesium supplement, asked if I needed a doctor’s note for some time off work. I’d love that, frankly, but right now it’s not the solution.

I’m trying to manage my stress better. It’s strange knowing that now I’m not just responsible for myself but another tiny human. Whereas before I would have pushed through the pain barrier, stayed late every night in the office, deprived myself of sleep and food and whatever else stood in the way of hitting deadlines, now I just can’t do it. I’ve set myself boundaries – not working past 7pm being one of them. I’m also trying to adopt a ‘one day at a time’ mentality, focusing only on the things I can realistically achieve in each day, instead of the mountain of things I can’t. If it means deadlines sometimes can’t be achieved, then so be it. I’m human, not a machine.

Prenatal yoga three times a week is helping, but it’s not enough. So when it feels the walls are closing in – like last night – I’m just allowing myself to stop, talk to a friend, have a bath, do whatever I need to get my heart rate back down, my blood pressure back up. This baby is more important than work, than course, than anything. I have to prioritise him.

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Chasing Sunset

I wrote this for the Creative Ink Writing Prompt, but also for a special friend, my twin soul, who is forever chasing summer, and who turns 30 tomorrow. Happy Birthday, Twin xx

She had always loved sunset; the romanticism of one day coming to a close, with the promise of another soon to follow. Flying at sunset was the best, that feeling of cheating time. But it was all too fleeting. You could never cheat time, not really. And that was why she had to leave.

Liv’s phone vibrated in her pocket. She slipped her hand inside and pressed down on the power button until she was sure she had killed it. She couldn’t risk the onset of unwanted emotion. The only way out of this was cold stoicism. And when she got there, well, then she could deal with things once and for all. It would be over.

She didn’t know how long she had been asleep, but the red-rimmed sky had finally succumbed to the blackness of night. Liv rolled her neck from side to side, wincing as she cricked it back into place. The cabin was dark, save for occasional spotlights beaming down onto insomniac passengers like alien spacecraft.

Something brushed her hand, making her jump. It was the little girl sitting across the aisle. By Liv’s estimation she was four, maybe five. Tight black curls and fresh pink lips. Cherubic. Liv looked across at the girl’s mother. She too was beautiful, or at least she would have been were it not for the trail of dribble descending from her open mouth.

“Hi,” the girl whispered.

“Hi,” Liv whispered back, ignoring the tightness in her chest. Her heart.

“I’m Becky. What’s your name?”

“Liv.”

The girl regarded her with such a look of scrutiny that Liv felt unnerved. Of course she didn’t know her secret, she couldn’t know it. And yet.

“Can we be friends?”

Liv smiled. “Of course.”

Becky’s face shone from the inside out. Her lips parted to reveal a gap-toothed smile. Liv wondered if she was perhaps older than her original estimation. She watched as the girl reached into the pocket of her pinafore dress, screwing her face up in concentration as she tried to retrieve something. Eventually she pulled her hand out with a flourish, extended her arm and unfolded her fingers. In the centre of her palm was a turquoise stone. “Take it,” she said.

Liv picked up the stone and ran her finger along its surface. It was smooth and round, and though it was dark she could make out flecks of glitter in its swirling pattern. “It’s beautiful,” she said.

“It’s yours,” the girl replied.

“Oh no, I couldn’t possibly…” She offered the stone back to the girl, but she shook her head and refused to take it.

The girl’s mother stirred beside her, opened her eyes and looked down at her daughter. She followed her gaze to Liv, and when her eyes alighted on the stone in Liv’s hand her breath caught in her throat. “Becky, darling,” she said, her voice measured but tense. “Why did you give this lady your stone? Don’t you want it?”

The little girl looked up at her mother and shook her head. Her mother smiled as if this meant something momentous, but Liv had no idea what. “Thank you,” she said to the girl. “I will treasure it forever. Truly.” The girl’s mother smiled, and Liv noticed she had tears in her eyes. She blinked and looked away. Nothing more was said.

When they had touched down and were waiting to disembark the plane, Liv found the courage to turn on her phone. It buzzed immediately. She had known it would. Before she looked at the message she went through the motions of passport control and baggage reclaim. As she stood at belt six, there was a tap on her arm. It was the girl’s mother. The little girl was playing with a doll several feet away, lost in her fantasy. “I wanted to explain what happened on the plane,” the woman said. “It must have seemed strange.” Before Liv could reply, the woman spoke again. “You see, Becky lost her twin a year ago. In a car accident.”

Liv felt her lungs deflate. “I’m so sorry. How terrible for you both.”

Despite her brightly coloured and expertly applied makeup, the woman’s grief was obvious. But Liv sensed something else behind the sadness, maybe a spark of hope? “It’s been the hardest year of my life,” she said. “And for Becky, well, it’s hard to imagine how deeply this has affected her. She’s only five, and the two of them were thick as thieves.” She looked over at her daughter. “The thing is, that stone she gave you on the flight. It belonged to her sister.”

Liv pulled the stone out of her pocket. “Please, take it back. I would never have taken it if I’d known.”

The woman smiled. “But that’s the thing. She wanted you to have it. For a year she’s carried it around with her everywhere, desperate not to let it out of her sight. Her therapist said it was part of the grieving process, that she would let go of it when she had turned a corner. And now, well, now it seems she has. I just wanted you to know. Whatever you said or did on that plane, thank you.”

The woman called her daughter and they turned to leave. As they walked away Liv heard the woman ask why she had given the stone to the lady on the plane. The girl replied: “She needs it more than me Mummy. Turquoise is for strength, she has to be strong for her daughter.”

The arrivals hall began to spin. Liv steadied herself on her trolley. She put a hand to her tummy and stroked it. How had the girl known? She couldn’t have known. Remembering the message on her phone, Liv took it out and read it. It was from Mark, of course. Just seeing his name on the screen choked her up.

Seven words.

The best she had ever seen:

I KNOW. I LOVE YOU. COME HOME. X

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Bank holiday ramblings

Today is an April showery-May-the-4th. Not having anticipated this in the wake of several glorious days of sunshine, this means I am umbrella-less, and therefore at the mercy of the weather gods. The situation is further compounded by two factors. Firstly, not only is today April showery in nature, it is also blustery. This, perhaps, bodes not well for a rooftop (ergo ‘open air’) party in East London. Secondly, sleep deprivation levels are high, my fail safe plan of having a quiet night in to prepare for the weekend having been woefully unmatched by the plans of the other residents in the abode in which I slept. Hence there has been no morning run around Regents Park (though see earlier point about rain-does this let me off the hook on that one?)

In short, conditions for embracing a full on weekend of social engagements are far from optimal. But you know what? It doesn’t even matter. Because not only is it a bank holiday weekend (I’ll admit it smarts slightly that I won’t be paid for Bank Hol Monday, since Mondays are my official days off now I’m part time), I’m also en route for baby cuddles in Herne Hill. And everyone knows baby cuddles make EVERYTHING better.

As i don’t have a snap of today’s cuddle, here’s one that was made earlier (ie last time)

Doing less better (starting with cuddles)

It was a novel feeling waking without Monday blues today; the knowledge that from now on Mondays are my own time to pursue various writing interests and freelance commissions has certainly put a spring in my step. But that’s not to say it’s going to be easy – I’m already feeling the pressure to cram more into my solitary freelance day than is feasible, and I know if I want to be “a success” (whatever that means) I’m going to have to be selective with what I take on. Tempting as it is to commit to lots of small commissions, I fear in doing that I’ll lose the essence of what I want to achieve. Whilst money is of course a consideration, ultimately I’d just like to get to a point where I’m writing for enjoyment and getting paid a reasonable sum in return. Is that too much to ask? I think not.

But in the short term I know I must be realistic. A good friend who I went to visit this afternoon (for cuddles with her gorgeous son – see pic. I have been working today – honest!) wisely told me not to expect to earn anything from freelancing for at least the first few months, because it would take that long to get set up and work out what I want to specialise in. And I know she’s right. I need to play the long game and not get distracted by the shiny nuggets of £20 commissions to write blogs for people too lazy to do it themselves. What reward is there in that, after all? To establish oneself as a professional in any field one must first learn to value themselves, and never is this more important than when becoming a freelancer. If you don’t back yourself who else will? It’s vital to stay strong and confident in the knowledge that your talent will shine through and it will do exactly that – leave those who value themselves less highly than you to take on the menial commissions and keep your eye on the prize.

My old boss’s motto was “do fewer things better,” and it’s stayed with me over the years because it’s great advice. Whenever things get on top of me and I feel I’m juggling too many balls in my life, I remember the mantra and try to strip it back until it feels more manageable. Because there are always things you can cut back on to make time for what’s important – if what’s important is really as important as you say it is.

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Remember way back in January when I started this blog and I posted a pic of my pregnant friend at her baby shower? Well this little treasure is the result – and I love the bones of him 🙂