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 doesΒ 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 wellΒ 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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Turning Points

No matter how well you know that life with a baby is one phase after another, it’s hard to think rationally when you’ve been woken up at 3am three days in a row and your normally sweet tempered baby has turned into a raging ball of fury due to teething. Off the back of weeks of illness the past few days have been a bitter pill to swallow, and if I’m entirely honest there have been moments when I’ve genuinely questioned my ability to do this parenting gig. Fortunately such moments pass quickly (everything is just a phase after all), and other moments come along to remind me what an amazing little person I’ve helped bring into the world, and why it’s all so worth it. Like yesterday, when we got out in the sunshine and went walking on Hampstead Heath, and C tried his first dairy free ice cream (damn allergies). Funnily enough the real turning point in this latest low patch occurred after yesterday morning’s horrific poonami episode as we were rushing out the door to the doctor. As I stuffed C’s poo-filled (I kid you not) trousers hastily into the nappy bin, deeming them too far gone to save (much as I consider myself to be these days) I realised in that moment I had the choice of laughing or crying. And as I’d done quite enough crying up to that point I chose the former. Turns out it was the best decision.

Since yesterday’s turning point I’ve felt considerably better. I’m sure the sunshine is playing it’s part, but what’s really made the difference is doing some exercise. When the baby is ill and in hospital/off nursery I go stir crazy being cooped up inside, although I don’t always make the connection with needing to exercise until I’m entrenched in another slump. Yesterday, thanks to various appointments, I ended up walking for two hours, and by the end of the day my mind was so much calmer and clearer. Today after dropping C at nursery (finally back to nursery! Praise be!) I went to my first spin class in what I worked out must be six years. I’ve been doing Yoga, Pilates and Body Balance classes semi-regularly for the past few months but have yet to bite the bullet and get back into cardio. Needless to say I was terrified beforehand and pretty close to requiring hospitalisation afterwards (God help me tomorrow when my body’s had a chance to process what I did to it), but there’s no denying the endorphins that have lain dormant for so long were firmly kicked back into action. Exercise is vital for keeping a balanced perspective, it really helps to prevent a negative mind spiral.

Another thing that has helped to lift my mood has been finally submitting my university extenuation claim. It’s been tough seeing my fellow students approaching submission day (which was yesterday), knowing I couldn’t hope to make the deadline. For a while I convinced myself that maybe I could, but last week’s illness and nursery absence was the nail in the coffin. I have therefore been vigilant in collecting all the supporting evidence that I could to give my claim the best chance of success. Now I’ve finally sent it I feel a weight off my shoulders. I’m still pushing myself to complete it way ahead of the September resit deadline, but at least now I’ve accepted I need more time and can relax a little and give myself a break.

All in all I’m worn down but not defeated. This crazy ride called parenting ain’t getting any easier, but somehow I’m finding the reserves to ride out the rough patches and keep my sanity (just about) intact. Every day that goes by I have more respect for my own mother and all the other mums out there, especially those with more than one child, and/or with children who need extra help and attention. Until you are a mother you cannot comprehend the magnitude of the task; the endless demands, the sleepless nights, the sheer relentlessness of the responsibilities laid out before you, not to mention the fact all of this is FOR LIFE, or at least until your child/ren leave/s home. Then there’s the constant fight for your identity, the longing for freedom and fun and carefree, lazy days. You could actually kick your pre-baby self for not appreciating how much time you had to do as you pleased. But on the flip side, having a child changes you in profound and meaningful ways. It makes you less selfish, more thoughtful, more organised, and it brings moments of such pure and unadulterated joy you could hitherto only have imagined. So, on balance, I’ll take the lows if it means I get to keep the highs. That said, I’d sell a kidney for a decent night’s sleep. Any takers for a sleepover with a nearly one year old tonight?

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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).Β Every day as I wanderΒ 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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