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… ❤