Once More Into the Light

Last weekend the baby got ill again. It’s happening so often these days it shouldn’t come as a surprise, and yet somehow it always does. This time, through careful following of the NHS wheeze plan we were discharged from hospital with a few weeks ago, we at least managed to avoid another middle of the night A&E dash. But whilst we didn’t go to hospital, two nights of sleeping in the baby’s room, feverishly listening to his breathing for signs of worsening wheeze and administering inhalers every four hours does take it out of you. As does having a soon-to-be-toddler who, despite being under the weather, still manages to push all of your buttons simultaneously several times a day (I realise now why babies are made cute. It’s hard to stay cross with the face of an angel, but by God behind those angelic features a devil sometimes lurks).

On Tuesday night I had a pretty impressive meltdown, the culmination of the mental storm that had been brewing for days. It’s hard to explain the maelstrom of emotions that happen in these dark spells. There is exhaustion. There is anxiety. There is worry. There is resentment (against my husband/people without children/the world). There is embarrassment. Shame. And there is guilt. A tidal wave of guilt, so oppressive it literally feels like I am drowning. Which as I type this sounds dramatic, but at the time it feels dramatic. The thoughts that go through an exhausted mother’s head are not pretty; in fact sometimes they are downright scary. In the more lucid moments you are able to grasp the olive branch of reason and talk yourself down from the edge. But other times you shock yourself with the levels of vitriol you are able to muster towards people you deem more carefree than yourself.

As I type this I am constantly resisting the urge to hit delete. Because it’s not socially acceptable for a mother to feel this way. Or at least to publicly admit it. I know full well how fortunate I am to have a baby. I know it’s all a phase. I know this too shall pass. But the fact of the matter is this: Parenthood is like being on a giant hamster wheel; you don’t realise before you step on it that once you’ve started running you’ll be running for the rest of your life (or at least the next eighteen years). And no matter how well prepared you think you are, that comes as an almighty shock. I’ve had moments where I’ve felt I’ve been mis-sold this parenting gig. That I just can’t do it. I’ve doubted myself and my abilities to the core. I’ve felt selfish, ungrateful and downright miserable. And you know what? I won’t pretend I haven’t felt those things, or that I don’t sometimes slip back into the quagmire of despair. I won’t sugar coat this pill of parenting, just like I wouldn’t sugar coat the pill of miscarriage. These issues are real. Maternal mental health is something that should be talked about, openly, by men as well as women. Because as wonderful as it is, motherhood can also be really bloody hard.

Sometimes, as a mother, you just need to hit the reset button. Fortunately I’ve been able to do that today. After missing nursery yesterday (for the thirteenth day since February), my son was well enough (just about – insert guilt here) to go in for the afternoon, so I packed my laptop in my bag and sought out an excellent coffee shop in which to spend the afternoon. I spent 45 minutes having a belly laugh-inducing conversation with one of my best friends (also a mum), which defused most of the tension of the last few days. I finished sorting out the logistics for my son’s first birthday party this weekend (no small task). I people watched (listening to a conversation about the forthcoming series of Love Island, which, I’m embarrassed to admit, I’m rather excited about). I tried to get my addled brain back into study mode (this part has been harder. There’s always tomorrow). I drank a flat white and ate a sugary pastry. And with every sip and every bite and every breath I have somehow made it back to the calmer, happier version of myself who has made it to the end of this blog post. Praise be.

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Royal Babies & Mat(/Et)ernal Guilt

“He’s the dream. He has the sweetest temperament. He’s really calm.” I can’t be the only mother to read Megan Markle’s comments on her newborn baby this week and reflect upon the naivety of motherhood in those first few hours and days. I mean, I hope for her sake it’s all plain sailing from here on in, but experience tells me she may have some nasty shocks in store (or maybe not, given that she probably has an army of nannies to care for baby Sussex when it all gets too much. If I sound bitter, it’s because I am. As you were)…

This week we had yet another middle of the night dash to A&E when C developed a sudden cough which quickly progressed to wheezing and breathlessness. Only the day before I had been thinking how great it was that we’d had two weeks of good health, which must be a record since the beginning of this year. But it wasn’t to be. So, just two weeks after his three day hospital admission we were back in an Uber to A&E – just me and the baby because my husband had to be up at 5.30am to catch the Eurostar to Belgium for a meeting. Almost four hours and three nebulisers later they sent us home, only for C to wake up two hours after I put him down sounding worse than before. By 10.30am we were back in A&E for another six hours. Fortunately this time it didn’t end up with an overnight admission, but it was borderline. The consultant paediatrician said we were right to take him and was very sympathetic. She also said she sees a lot of babies with this problem and it’s hard to manage. The jury’s out on whether any of the medicines actually work for viral wheeze/bronchiolitis (especially steroids which seem to have medical practitioners divided – all the junior doctors in A&E have told us to stop giving his steroid inhaler but the senior paediatric consultants tell us to continue. Needless to say the lack of medical consensus is frustrating and stressful, but on balance I’ll always go with the most senior advice). Fortunately our son is what they call a ‘happy wheezer,’ which means he usually presents as being better than he really is. I always feel a bit of a fraud when I turn up at A&E with a grinning baby, but when they examine him they are always shocked that his condition is worse than it first seemed.

I don’t mind admitting I’m struggling a bit at the moment. Not in a constantly-tearful-and-unable-to-cope sort of way (which I have been in the past), more in a tired-resigned-and-frustrated sort of way. I suppose it’s not exactly a secret that motherhood is hard, but until you experience it for yourself you really have no clue. Because us women are very good at putting a brave face on it. We don’t like to complain, less so to appear incompetent, or – God forbid – ungrateful with our lot. This last point is really true for me at the moment. I have friends who’ve had a bloody awful time of it this past year, from cancer to infertility and everything in-between. I hate to admit I’m struggling because compared to the things they have gone through this doesn’t compare. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t sometimes hard. And I’m trying to cut myself some slack for feeling this way, because sometimes the guilt is like a monkey on my back, it’s all-consuming.

Being a mother is a gift, and it’s wonderful. But the truth is there are moments when you wonder what the hell you’ve done. You wouldn’t trade your baby for the world, but my God you’d love a few hours to yourself, to just be, without worrying about everything to do with your baby’s welfare. And when they get sick it’s just the worst, there is nothing more heart-wrenching than seeing your baby in a hospital bed (even if you do have a ‘happy wheezer’ like us – and believe me I do realise how lucky we are that he doesn’t have more serious health problems. The one he has is hard enough). Then there’s the constant maternal guilt – ironically the focus of my Master’s research proposal, as I think I’ve mentioned before – which is beyond draining. Is baby eating well enough? Is he getting the right stimulation? I feel these worries even more keenly when he’s off nursery because of illness. What if I’m doing it all wrong? Will he suffer when he’s older?

And then, cards on the table, there’s the guilt about wanting time for me. With hindsight returning to studying ten months after having a baby was a brave decision. At the time of my re-enrollment it seemed perfectly achievable, because C would be going to nursery three days a week and I’d have all that time to study. In reality, he’s now missed four full weeks of nursery since the beginning of February, and despite my reluctance to admit I was falling behind, I’m now having to submit a claim for extension due to extenuating circumstances. The deadline for my proposal is next week and I’ve managed a paltry 750 words out of the required 5,000. There’s just no way I can achieve it. And whilst I know this wasn’t my fault and couldn’t have been foreseen, it doesn’t stop the guilt about not having done it. Or the guilt I feel every time I manage to grab half an hour to myself – something which is getting harder to do when, like now, C is off nursery and also inexplicably fighting every nap time – and I just want to sit down with a cup of tea and a magazine instead of returning to the 750 page textbook on qualitative research methods (although, in my defence, having spent the last two nights waking every 4 hours to administer an inhaler to my baby, my brain isn’t really coping with anything more taxing than reading Closer magazine atm..).

There’s also the (*speaks in whisper*) ever pressing issue of another baby. I can hardly believe we’re even thinking about it given how stressful having one has been (and again I reiterate how lucky we’ve been with him – he may have a lot of issues with his chest but generally he’s such a happy little chap, everyone comments on it), but I’m hyper conscious I’m not getting any younger (38 in October – how the hell did that happen?) Plus, after having a miscarriage before there’s an increased risk of it happening again, alongside the other risks associated with being a ‘geriatric mother’ (God I loathe that phrase). Hypothetically I love the idea of another child but there’s a (big) part of me that wonders how on earth I’d manage. I know people do, of course they do, but how much do they sacrifice to do it? Am I too selfish to have more than one child? There, I said it. I’m a 37 year old mother of a nearly one year old who would, quite frankly, like a bit more time to read, to study, to exercise, to set up my business, to drink wine, to shop, to gossip with my girl (are we too old to be called girls now?) friends, to have FUN. And let’s face it, another baby is going to put more of a strain on all of the above. But despite that, and the still-fresh memory of the somewhat traumatic birth (the nurses commenting he had the “biggest head we’ve ever seen” being a particular low point moments after finally pushing him out), I can’t ignore the ticking of this goddamn body clock. Actually, that’s a lie. I fully intend to ignore it ticking until after my girls’ holiday to Ibiza in October. I would say you’re only young once, but as that particular ship has now sailed I will instead say you only have one child once….

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Look at that face, he makes it all worthwhile… ❤

 

Eight Months In: All Change

The last three months have been, for want of a better word, insane. In November, after weeks of searching for – and finding – a new (two bed – more room for baby) flat in Brussels, it was all-change on my husband’s job front and we had to abandon signing the new tenancy agreement at the eleventh hour and re-focus our attention on finding a new flat in London to move into the first week of January. With a seven month old baby this was not the easiest task, but somehow I managed a two day trip to London with a ridiculous amount of luggage and my son for a series of back to back flat viewings, half of which I had to cancel due to a 1.5 hour delay on the train (thanks for that Eurostar). And the good news is that despite the cancellations and the tight timeline we were hugely fortunate to find a place that ticked almost every box.

Upping sticks and leaving Belgium so suddenly has been difficult to adjust to. One minute we thought we would be there for at least another year, the next we were moving back to London, the city where I lived on and off for 10 years but in all honesty didn’t see myself returning to live in, especially with a baby. But here we are. And now the dust is starting to settle I am seeing the many positives to this move. For one, we are closer to our friends and family. For another, I have been able to switch from a distance learner to an on campus student to complete the remainder of my Master’s course, which has just re-started after a year’s hiatus. The move also forced my hand where returning to work was concerned. I knew I didn’t want to to return to my job, but had been feeling nervous about quitting with nothing else lined up. Now I have the freedom not only to re-start my studies but also pursue my dream of becoming a freelance coach. And we have managed to find a lovely nursery for our son to attend three days a week whilst I pursue my goals.

In short, everything is positive. And as much as I don’t want to put a ‘but’ in here, I have to be honest and admit the last few weeks have been really tough. Our son is wonderful and he lights up my life, but the nights are still not great and besides being chronically tired I am constantly battling the inherent mum guilt about his well-being (Is he eating properly? Is he stimulated enough? Am I doing any of this right?) Since we returned to London my anxiety has returned ten fold, for reasons I can’t fathom other than a combination of tiredness, hormonal changes and a latent reaction to the stress of the past few weeks. C starting nursery the week before last was also anxiety-inducing, and since he started he’s had back-to-back coughs and colds which is inevitable but has nonetheless been tough to deal with. As his mother and the one who is not technically working in a nine to five role, the responsibility for his welfare lies with me. If he’s sick, I’m up all night with him, and I have to pick him up early from nursery. If the nursery is closed for bad weather (which is on the way, apparently – wonderful), he has to stay at home with me. Suddenly, the three days I have earmarked for work and study disappear, and my stress and anxiety levels increase. On the two week days I am scheduled to have him with me I worry that I should do more with him. The one downside to our new home is that the nearest park (Hampstead Heath) is a half an hour walk away, and in the immediate vicinity the pollution levels are very high (another thing I worry about, especially given our son is showing signs of having a weak chest). Whereas in Brussels I would take him out every day in the local area, here I wonder if it’s good for him to be constantly exposed to all of the pollution. But if we don’t go out my mental health plummets and he gets bored.

I hope I don’t sound ungrateful. Not a day goes by when I don’t count my many blessings. But burying emotions isn’t healthy, and maternal mental health is an important issue that needs to be discussed. It’s been eight months since I had my son and at least three days a week I still feel like I’ve been hit by a freight train. I do think the sleep deprivation is a big part of that, especially after a recent meeting with friends whose babies sleep through the night. But it’s more than that. Having a baby is wonderful, but if you already had issues with self-esteem and anxiety before baby came along, the addition of tiredness, raging hormones and the overwhelming feeling of responsibility that comes with being a mother can really mess with your head. Nobody discusses it but they should, because I’m certain I’m not alone in feeling this way. Some days are good, others are really, really bad. Even now. Especially now. Because now is when I thought I’d feel completely normal again. And sometimes I feel anything but.

But. Today is a good day. It didn’t start well, admittedly (son crying non-stop from 5am), but now C is at nursery, I am at my computer with (hopefully) a good few hours of study ahead of me, I have (much-needed) coffee and the sun is shining through the window. It is in moments like this I remember to breathe in, breathe out, to cherish, to soak it all up; the good, the bad and the indifferent. This crazy life. My life. Is. Beautiful.

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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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