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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Parenting Level 2: Access Denied

This week I’ve learned a valuable lesson, namely that just when you think you’ve turned a corner with parenting another hurdle will pop up in the road and floor you. The only way to cope with such hurdles is to try and keep sight of the bigger picture i.e. you may be facing another setback now, but look at how far you’ve come (answer: very far, well done you). Adopting the ‘this too shall pass’ mentality is also helpful. And keeping a sense of humour is (hard but) vital. [See also: Cake.]

For us, by far the biggest issue to date has been sleep. Sometimes I feel I’m going crazy with my obsession to get C to sleep. There are (many) days when it is literally all I can think about. I look at other mothers (big mistake) and wonder why they aren’t tearing their hair out over this issue. They don’t worry that their appointments clash with baby’s nap times, or refuse to leave the house until their little ones have slept at least twice. Are their babies just better sleepers than mine? Or am I making too big a deal of it?

Last week we started a two week sleep routine, working with a sleep consultant in the UK. It didn’t get off to the most auspicious start as, on the very first day, I got struck down with a high fever and stomach bug and C developed a cough that has since turned into a cold (which, as I type this I can feel the beginnings of  in my nose and throat – joy!)

Despite these issues, by some miracle we saw an almost immediate improvement in C’s sleep. Indeed for several nights he slept virtually all the way through from 11pm until 6.30am without any night feeds (you may remember that previously he was waking three to five times a night for feeds). It seemed so easy I didn’t dare to tell anyone of our success, which is just as well because right now I would have a serious amount of egg on my face.

Fast forward a week and we seem to have had another full on regression. Those halcyon nights without wakings or feeds have been replaced once more with broken sleep and – worse even than before – fits of hysterical screaming (to say he’s found his voice would be an understatement) that cannot be abated with the tried and tested sleep methods. It’s hard enough leaving a baby to cry for ten minutes at a time during the day. When it’s the middle of the night and you are in the same room it’s virtually impossible. Last night, after almost a solid hour of screaming I gave in and went against all the sleep training rules – rocked the crib, picked him up, fed him, you name it. And still he cried every time I put him down. His day naps have got worse again too. Last week there was one day he slept for a glorious hour and a half in one go. I didn’t know what to do with all the time! Then yesterday we were back to fighting for a paltry thirty minute nap every few hours. When you only have two (fragmented) hours in your day where baby doesn’t command your full attention it’s a very different experience…

With all the angst of the (not) sleeping it’s easy to lose sight of the wonderful things about being a mum. C is, in the most part, a delight. His little smile lights up my day, no matter how hard things are. I absolutely would not be without him. And in my more lucid moments I know this is another phase and it will pass (and that motherhood is made up of such phases, and I just have to learn to live with that). But by God are some of the phases challenging. This one has been especially so because the sleep training requires us to be at home most of the time, eschewing all non-essential trips out (read: coffee and sanity checks with friends). I have been optimistically telling myself it will be worth it if we manage to crack the sleep problem, but now I’m beginning to wonder if ‘cracking the sleep problem’ is too ambitious a goal. Either way, I’m conscious I am in dire need a mental health break, so today I’m breaking the rules (again – sigh) to meet a friend for lunch. It may mess further with his naps, but if it helps mummy take a step back from the ledge I’d say it’s worth it…

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It’s a good job he’s cute…