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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Change

The following fictional post was inspired by the certificate ceremony I attended today with work at a youth centre in Islington, where teenagers from four of the schools my charity works with were commended for their participation in the Teens and Toddlers programme:

Change

I never thought I’d amount to much. Why would I? My parents told me every day that I was useless. Then even my teachers started giving up on me. It’s like a downward spiral, see. You start acting up to get attention, but all too late you realise it’s not the right kind of attention you’re getting. You wanted to be popular, not the class clown – the one the other kids laugh at and the teachers label as a troublemaker.

Things at home weren’t great. Dad’s drinking was getting worse and Mum, well, she was so doped up on depression pills she hardly knew what day it was. I pretty much did everything; cooking, cleaning, looking after my baby brother. If I hadn’t been there I don’t know what would have happened to him. He’d probably have been taken into care. Sometimes I wondered if that would’ve been best for the both of us.

When my teachers told me about this mentoring programme that paired teenagers with toddlers in a nursery I wasn’t interested at all; I had enough experience of looking after children with my baby brother, why would I want more? I only agreed to do it ’cause it got me out of school one afternoon a week, and gave me something to do apart from hanging around the recreation ground and causing trouble with my mates because I was bored.

But when I started the programme things started to change. My toddler was a challenge, mainly because he was like me; hyperactive and angry. We even looked alike, with wild hair, dark skin and brown eyes. He didn’t trust me at first, but after a few weeks he started coming up to me when I walked in and holding my hand. It made me feel special, and in those moments the big ball of anger I carried around inside me would get a bit smaller.

I’ve learned a lot about myself through the programme. I realise now the consequences of my actions on others, and I’m not so hell bent on trying to hurt people, mentally and physically. I feel more responsible, more in control. I want to achieve in life. I want to be a success. But above all else I want people to look at me and, instead of seeing the clown, the troublemaker or the joker, I want them to see the responsible man I can and will become.

The beautiful sunset on the last night of my recent trip to Italy.