Category Archives: Family

Muslins, guilt and mocha-lattes

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Muslins, guilt and mocha-lattes

So, here’s the thing about parental leave…while absolutely necessary while you navigate the paths of parenthood, it’s also a huge adjustment. For those of us used to working full time, suddenly framing your entire day around a small human and desperately trying to secure at least a little adult interaction for yourself every day is both tiring and expensive. I should have shares in Costa, and they should rename the decaf, skinny mocha-latte; ‘the Hilary’.

And as you suggest coffee dates to your family and friends, book lunches and walks and shopping trips, it will creep in. The guilt.

You’re a terrible parent for filling your days with going out. You should be sitting on the floor with your 10 week old daughter, developing her language and development by lying under her jungle gym and making vowel sounds while encouraging tummy time, showing her a mirror and shoving various rattles and small toys in her hands to make her grip them.

And this guilt doesn’t stop at the way you spend your day.

You’ll beat yourself up for walking away from your sleeping little darling for even a moment. Even across an open plan room, while they’re safely ensconced in a travel cot, with a video and audio monitor pointed CCTV-style at their face.

You’ll look down at your little angel and realise that their face, neck, adorable double chins and often, hair, is covered in baby vomit and wonder how long it’s been there. The nearest white muslin is now a yellowy colour because (despite owning over a million of the cotton squares), you’ve been carrying this one around with you for a week. Regardless, you use the yellow, slightly crispy linen to wipe off the latest round of vomit.

You’ll have your first glass of wine or night with friends since pregnancy and immediately worry about ‘how it looks’. Before you can take a sip your poor, tired brain has transformed your innocent (and well-deserved) glass of Sauvignon Blanc into 20 shots and an arrest for drunk and disorderly behaviour.

You’ll catch your baby staring at the television as you take a moment to drink your (lukewarm) tea and panic that you’ve already, in 10 short weeks, become one of ‘those’ parents who leave their children with a TV as babysitter.

You’ll breastfeed, formula feed, combination feed; and no matter what you choose you’ll convince yourself it isn’t right. That you’re doing it wrong. That your baby won’t thrive as a result.

Here is a checklist of things you actually need to worry about:

  1. Is your baby content (most of the time – occasional meltdowns or decisions not to sleep do not count)?
  2. Is your baby healthy and gaining a steady amount of weight?
  3. Are you content (most of the time – a raging thirst for a glass of prosecco at 11am on a particularly tiring Tuesday is all part and parcel of motherhood)?
  4. Are you feeling supported (by your partner, your friends, your parents, your siblings – whoever your tribe is, are they taking good care of you)?

If the answer to these four simple questions is yes, you’re doing a great job. Put down the hair shirt and guilt-ridden beating stick and pour that glass of wine. You’ve earned it.

 

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The things you didn’t see

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The things you didn’t see

Dear husband,

First of all, high fives on surviving the last couple of months without killing each other! We have successfully kept a small human happy and healthy, and remained relatively sane and content ourselves. Good work, us.

I know it’s been hard, returning to work and leaving us cooing and giggling and warm in our bed. To come home and see the small, but important changes in our little lady. To start to think about first words, first steps and know that these things could happen while you’re in the office. But here’s what you didn’t see…

That first day you left for work? I cried. Not because I couldn’t cope. Not because our daughter was being anything but an angel. But because our newborn bubble had burst and our daughter was already taking those first tentative steps towards growing up. Life was slowly but surely returning to normal. I would miss you by my side for those minute by minute decisions (does she really need changing again? Does that sound like a hungry cry?) and I’d miss your easy, chilled out wit and your warm hugs to get me through the harder weekday moments. Weekends were going to become so much more precious.

You didn’t see me smiling in the middle of the night as our little one fell asleep in my arms and snored, matching the cadence of your snore exactly. I swear my heart actually swelled just watching and listening to you both, and realising that quietly but irrevocably, our little family puzzle had already expanded to fit her beautiful little piece.

You didn’t see me staring at her as she stretched and yawned (and normally, farted) waking from her nap, and welling up because she looked so much like you trying to wake yourself up in the morning.

You didn’t see me clock-watching as it approached 6.15pm and I knew you were on your way to the front door. Again, not because I wanted to hand her over like a ticking time bomb but because when you step in the door, our family feels whole again. Between 5pm and 6pm I’m genuinely excited – it’s the same feeling I used to get at 5pm on a Friday afternoon, knowing that ‘our time’ could begin.

Mainly, you didn’t see how much you mean to me and to our daughter. How our relationship has changed but for the better, since having her. How grateful I am to have such an awesome partner (not a sidekick, not a ‘helper’, but a partner) in this adventure. And finally, how excited I get thinking about all the things you’re going to show her and teach her, as you carry on being the greatest dad she could wish for.

We love you,

Me and Miss R xxx

The arrival and the aftermath

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So it’s taken a while to share this here, but our little bundle finally made an appearance!

Only 3 days late, little miss R arrived on 8 July after something of a tricky labour, by emergency C-section. She’s happy and healthy and we’ve spent the last 5 weeks adjusting to life as a family of three.

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She’s absolutely beautiful, and as anyone who has read my blog previously will know, very much wanted; but life as new parents is tough and I wanted to share a few of our lessons.

Before I do, I also wanted to say a very specific thank you. We attended NCT classes prior to having our daughter and it was the best thing we ever did. Not only for the information and guidance, but for the new parent network we’ve since developed. My husband has a group of new dads to talk dad-stuff with, and for me, I’ve got a group of newbie mums muddling along the same way I am.

To those girls – thank you. For the 3am Whatsapp company, the reassurance that my boobs, tears, baby (insert other paranoid concern here) are in fact, normal and nothing to worry about. For the banter, the memes, the TMI, the giggles and the compassion.

I’ve included your pearls of wisdom below. They’ve got me through the last few weeks and I have no doubt you’ll continue to be awesome in the months and years to come.

It’s OK if it’s crap sometimes

I know. I’m a terrible mother. I should be beatifically smiling and glowing because I have a gorgeous little bundle of joy. Only she isn’t always joyous, and I’m not always smiling. Between hormones and sleep deprivation and that piercing newborn cry, it can be bloody hard work. You’ll cry, you’ll get fed up, you’ll yearn for your pre-baby life sometimes. I categorically ADORE my little girl. But that doesn’t mean I don’t find motherhood a challenge.

NCT advice: It’s all a phase. Babies go through growth spurts and developmental leaps and changes all the time. Breathe, and remember things will get better soon – this bad day is not forever.

Don’t hate the mirror, hate the game

I hate how I look right now. After a C-section I have what I’m affectionately calling ‘the overhang’. I have stretch marks. I have a permanent scar. I have weird boobs that don’t feel like my own. I rarely have time for make-up. My hair is super-fluffy and uncontrollable. My clothes all make me look like a sausage that’s about to burst out of its skin. The numbers on the scales are far too high for my liking. On top of the sleep deprivation and hormones (see point 1) it makes me want to cry daily.

NCT advice: It took 9 months for your body to grow that baby, give yourself a break and a chance to find your new shape. You won’t look the same anymore – you grew a small human. Be proud of that, and let yourself take time to recover and renew. Happy and healthy is the important thing.

Fed is best

There is so much wonderful advice and support out there for breastfeeding mothers. And on the whole, it’s really well-intentioned and really helpful. However, in some cases there is a fine line between support and pressure. My daughter took her sweet time to regain her birth weight. Cue worried noises from the health visitor, despite her behaviour, nappies etc all pointing towards a very healthy little lady. I therefore trundled off to a number of breastfeeding support groups and followed advice about latching (which she was fine at), positioning (no, I do not want to try to hold my daughter like a rugby ball in the middle of the night), and lactation aids (imagine McDonalds straws taped to your boobs, next to your nipples while you wear a bottle of formula/expressed milk around your neck like a cowbell). She still didn’t gain weight, so I continued to breastfeed (no cowbell contraption – I drew the line) and topped up with  a small bottle of formula after each feed. She put on 10.5oz in a week.

NCT advice: Breast is great, and if it works for you to exclusively breastfeed, seriously well done because it’s not easy and it’s a brilliant thing to do. But honestly? Fed is best. Our NCT group feed a variety of formula, combination and breastfeeding and all of our babies are thriving.

Trust your gut

Nope, not another reference to my post-baby body but a seriously important point. You will receive soooooo much advice from people – family, friends, professionals. And unfortunately, it won’t all tally up. You’ll feel lost in a sea of feeding on demand, co-sleeping, poo-splosions, bottles, colic, wind, soothing, dummies and more. Everyone knows what’s best for your baby…except they don’t.

NCT advice: In the immortal words of one of the NCT girls, Mammy and Daddy know best.  Do what feels right – pick and choose the advice that feels like the best thing for your child and your family. As long as your child is fed, rested, safe and healthy – you’re doing it right.

 

So to any sleep deprived, tearful, bemused new parents reading this, you’re doing an ace job. Stop beating yourself up – look at your little one and remember why you did this. Think about all the ‘firsts’ you have to look forward to – the first smile, the first laugh, the first steps, the first birthday and Christmas, starting school. You have a million happy moments ahead of you and you will get through this period like a champ – you have an army of parents behind you, cheering you on and holding you up.

The final countdown

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So we’re really here. 38 weeks pregnant and our little one could arrive any day. 2 more days at work before maternity leave, and 2 weeks until that magical due date.

It’s a weird old time. I thought I’d be veering wildly between ‘so excited I can’t sleep’ and ‘so terrified I can’t breathe’. But actually, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

I’m sad. After months of anxiety at the beginning, in the last 10 weeks or so I’ve finally learned to love my bump and to be excited about this pregnancy. Just in time to not be pregnant anymore. Now, I know that the whole point of pregnancy is to have that little bundle at the end – and I know that’s going to be brilliant; but nonetheless I’m going to be sad not to be pregnant. We’re really not sure if we’ll do it again, for reasons of our own, so it’s possible that this is the last time I’ll experience pregnancy. Me and the bump have had a unique bond that (selfishly) I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. Like a secret club of two, with clandestine nighttime meetings and secret handshakes (well, maybe not handshakes but definitely bum wiggles and kicks). I’ve enjoyed our little journey so I’m letting myself feel sad so I can say goodbye to the bump before the next stage.

I’m worried. This baby will change everything – not just practically but for us as a couple. I know we’re tough enough to weather the change. I know we love each other enough (yuk, vom, I know) to make sure we communicate and stay in love, and make time for each other. But nonetheless, we won’t be the same. Spontaneity is going to be harder for a while – no more last minute trips to the pub. We can’t be as selfish with our time – it’s not all about us anymore as a twosome, but about our family of three. And yes, practically we will be tired, we will find it hard to be on time and to see everyone we want to and to function and to get all those niggly jobs around the house done.

I’m excited. I can’t wait to see if we’re having a boy or a girl. Just imagining if the baby has my husband’s eyes, or my nose, and what their personality develops into gets my heart pumping and makes me all emotional. We. Are. Having. A. Baby. It’s like a self-belief mantra I have to repeat. A teeny tiny part of me still doesn’t quite believe it’s going to happen and when I realise it is, I can barely contain myself!

I’m actually not that scared. Physically, this baby is coming out of me. One way or another it (and I) doesn’t have a choice. So I don’t see any reason to be scared. I can’t keep it in there (nor would I want to), and no matter what happens it’s going to hurt. But I’m going to have great care, from great midwives, and great support from my husband and my mum. In the grand scheme of my (hopefully) long and happy life, a day or two of pain with such a wonderful outcome is completely worth it.

So there we are. Depending how long this baby wants to cook, the next blog post might well be a birth announcement. In the meantime, rest and relaxation are the order of the day with a few lunches with friends thrown in for good measure. Bring it on baby, we’re ready for you!

Bend me, I won’t break

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Bend me, I won’t break

I think we all have moments when we worry about our physical abilities – after an accident or injury, after too many drinks (!), when pregnant, when especially tired. For the most part, these are well founded fears – our brain’s way of keeping us safe and uninjured. But sometimes, they’re the result of unfounded or exaggerated anxiety and recognising these worries as different to the reasonable, justified ones, can be tricky.

As anyone who has read the blog knows, I’m currently pregnant. 31 weeks pregnant. Pregnancy is a time when you absolutely have to be careful and aware of your body and how you’re feeling (please note this careful disclaimer to avoid a horde of angry midwives at my door). However, I think sometimes we can get so caught up in our anxieties (particularly when we’ve suffered prior complications or losses), that we miss out on opportunities to get stronger, healthier and better prepared for what’s coming.

I’m one of the worriers.

After two previous early miscarriages, and despite a normally good amount of common sense, I was terrified of everything. Eating the wrong thing, lifting too much, sneezing too hard (completely serious), passive smoking, exercising.

Now, all of these things can absolutely be a danger to a pregnant woman and her unborn child (except the sneezing thing, that was just daft) but they also all require a bit of reason.

Food guidance is there for a reason, and it should be observed. But it should also be understood. The risk of getting food poisoning from soft cheese or uncooked meat is the same as it’s always been. You’re not necessarily suddenly more likely to get it. The danger is, that should you be unlucky, the damage will affect more than just you – it can affect your baby too. I followed everything my midwife told me – ensuring that I stuck only to her advice (not the forums online filled with fellow unreasonable worriers, not family, not friends). This served me well and quickly quelled my worries. It also meant I could eat medium rare steak.

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When I was about 18 weeks pregnant, I picked my friend’s little girl up without thinking – she had no shoes on and we were popping out to say hello to my husband, who was waiting in the car. Picking her up was the logical thing to do. As we later drove away (having deposited my little friend back to her mum – we’re not child snatchers), I turned to my husband and said, anxiety stricken, with crazy, manic eyes and a wobbly voice, “I shouldn’t have lifted her, should I?!”. To which he held my hand and sensibly replied, “Mums with more than one child all over the world continue to pick up their toddlers throughout pregnancy. Stop panicking, you’re fine.”

I have very little to say about passive smoking, except that walking behind a smoker on the street once or twice during your pregnancy will not have an impact. Something I had to convince myself of, despite being a normally reasonable person.

And now, exercising. For any Sex and the City fans out there, I had a Charlotte moment. I panicked that any exercise would somehow pull the wrong muscle, causing my comfy, cozy womb to become a dark, dank cave that any self-respecting baby would quite rightly up sticks and leave. So despite recently starting Pilates and enjoying it, I stopped the moment I found out I was pregnant…just in case. It was only upon reaching 24 weeks that I decided I’d be brave and try the antenatal Pilates class instead, something I could have done weeks earlier. I checked with my midwife, who told me any strengthening exercise run by an individual who is trained in supporting pregnant women, would be a great thing to prepare me for birth. 7 sessions later and I absolutely love it.

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So I guess what I’m trying to say is, of course there are times in our lives when we feel more fragile, more vulnerable, less sure of our bodies and their capacity to continue to support us. But you know what? As long as you’re sensible and listen to medical advice; 9 times out of 10, the things we’re most scared of sit within two categories: Utterly ridiculous, or exactly what we need.

And to my fellow pregnant women – it’s OK to be frightened. But you’re not a fragile, delicate crystal, you’re a diamond – tougher than most grown men, and doing something absolutely incredible with your body.

Be brave, try that exercise class, get involved in decorating the nursery, eat that steak. You are so much stronger than you know.

Weirdly and wonderfully ‘with child’

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Weirdly and wonderfully ‘with child’

Pregnancy is such a odd time. Millions of women have written or spoken about ‘the things no-one tells you’, so this is just general rambling about some of the very weird (and often wonderful) things I’ve experienced since being pregnant.

1 Random touching

This one’s well documented, but I have had the most bizarre selection of people just stroke my stomach without so much as a ‘how are you?’.

If I encountered someone who told me their eye surgery had gone well, I wouldn’t stroke my hand over their eyes in a ‘go to sleep’ style movement; nor would any other sane person. And yet, apparently, baby bumps are exempt from this general rule of touching etiquette.

I’m certain all mums feel the same, but I’m incredibly protective of the bump. It’s precious, and ours, and (and this is, you’d imagine, the most obvious point) part of my body. Please ask before you reach out to touch it (particularly if I barely know you in the first place). And if I say no, regardless of how well you know me, please accept that it’s based on how I’m feeling, not you.

2 Friendly faces

Since being noticeably pregnant, people have been so kind. I dropped my parking ticket the other day, but before I could begin the slow descent (and inevitably difficult ascension back to full height), a random stranger had picked it up for me with an understanding smile.

Various retail staff have asked when the baby’s due and finished our transaction with a ‘congratulations’ or ‘good luck’.

People smile at me more – pregnant women in particular have been very un-British and actually made eye contact and started conversations in waiting rooms. It was a little disconcerting at first, if I’m honest.

3 Everyone knows better

As first time parents, we’re under no illusions – we have lots to learn, and no matter how organised, we’ll never be ready for the huge change that’s coming. Nonetheless, we didn’t emerge from an alien pod only days ago with no knowledge of the human family.

We’re certainly not too proud to ask for help or advice, but when we describe the midwife’s most recent observations/guidance, we don’t expect a random relative or friend to launch into an unasked-for and opinionated diatribe about how the midwife is wrong. They are, of course, human and susceptible to mistakes, but they’re also the experts.

Every pregnancy is different, everyone’s medical history is different, and guidance and advice changes annually – my midwife knows both me, our baby, and the up to date clinical guidance best.

4 Sticks and stones

Your throwaway observation that ‘Ooooh I was much bigger than you by this point, haven’t you got a small bump?’ brought me to tears later that day. It weighed on my mind, had me googling like a good’un, and worrying that my much-wanted baby wasn’t growing right. All this, despite knowing from regular midwife appointments that things are right on track.

I know that nothing is meant maliciously, but just think about the impact on an anxious, tired, hormone-ridden first time mum before casually declaring that their pregnancy is noticeably abnormal (in your humble opinion). Instead, tell them they’re looking good, ask how long they’ve got left, share your funny pregnancy stories.

5 Love and understanding

I recently went on a hen weekend in Liverpool. When we originally booked the weekend, I wasn’t yet pregnant. So despite loving the bride and wanting to be involved, a part of me was dreading being away from my husband for the weekend, and worrying about being boring and sober and tired, and a big fat burden on the other girls.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Women I’m close to but also women I’d never met before picked my suitcase up to carry it upstairs, gave up their seats, and checked on me. One of my fellow bridesmaids made sure soft drinks and mocktails were part of the activities she’d planned so I wasn’t left out, and I laughed and chatted and thoroughly enjoyed myself all weekend.

My point is, my worrying was unfounded. Throughout my pregnancy people have understood that I’m tired, not judged when we leave a meal/gathering/party earlier than we would have done a few months ago, but also continued to treat me like me.

So I guess, in summary:

  • Don’t touch me without asking (this is, you’d think, an obvious request)
  • The world is kinder than you think
  • Trust your instincts (and your midwife)
  • Be sensitive in your observations (and pregnant superheroes, try not to get too upset about clumsy comments)
  • Your people/tribe will always understand

 

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A muddle of emotions

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A muddle of emotions

I feel like this should be an official collective term, like a gaggle of geese or a murder of crows. Official or not, a muddle of emotions is how we’ve been feeling lately.

Our muddle is partly fuelled by hormones, tiredness and huge life changes coming our way. But it’s also fuelled by other people. People who unwisely don’t heed the previously mentioned hormones. Here are some silly/ignorant/just plain mean things that people say/do which have made us even more muddley.

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Ignorant things people say

Perhaps it’s because of our previous experience. Maybe for those beautiful, happy pregnancy announcements which don’t follow a loss of some kind, people aren’t so stupid. For us, most people were kind, thoughtful, and understanding that we weren’t dancing on the ceiling. But one or two were just gobsmackingly heartless (whether intentional or not).

One person genuinely asked ‘Is it real this time?’…I know. There are no words (well, there are but I won’t repeat them on this public forum).

Mistaking cautious excitement for full-steam ahead spotlight time

Here’s the thing. I’m a talker. I love being social within my own little groups. But generally, I’m an introvert. Time at home in our bubble is vital to my energy levels, ability to function, and avoidance of grouchy, snappy comebacks at people. This is something I’ve learnt to embrace as I’ve got older. We are much better at turning down invitations when we know we need to. Our time at home is as protected (if not more so) as remembering key family birthdays. And that’s what makes our situation difficult.

At 24 weeks, we’re now cautiously excited. We’ve bought stuff for the nursery, I’ve bought maternity clothes. I have a rapidly expanding football shaped bump that won’t be ignored, and a teeny tiny kung-fu artist to remind me they’re growing inside me. We’re happy to talk about the baby. But that doesn’t mean we’re comfortable with discussing every last aspect of it just yet, or rolling out the parade and party poppers. We need to take the lead. Some days we’re over the moon. Others we want to quietly get through without a panic attack.

It’s ours to celebrate

Now that we’ve reached this cautiously optimistic stage of pregnancy, we’re proud of it. It feels like a huge achievement that we’ve made it this far, after our experience last year. That means I proudly wear the ‘baby on board’ badge on my coat, even though I don’t do the daily London commute. It means that when we’re asked how far along we are, what our due date is, whether we’ve found out the sex; it would be nice to answer for ourselves before overenthusiastic family and friends jump in for us. I completely get that family and friends are excited too. But please, after everything, let us have this for us. This baby is ours, ours to celebrate when we’re ready, ours to protect and ours to get used to.

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A thank you

I want to finish this by saying that I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. I completely understand that a lot of what I’ve ranted about above comes only from a place of love and excitement by those we love. We love you all too, and we’re so grateful we have you all.

We just need you to understand that (like all first time parents) we’re a little overwhelmed. And when you top that off with our anxiety, our utter disbelief that this is actually happening, and our introvert personalities; well, you’ve got a pretty muddled couple of people.

To those who have somehow seen through the muddle, the ones who’ve discovered the perfect balance of excitement for us, and space for us to breathe. The ones who’ve remembered the painful milestones related to last year, referenced them with a simple ‘I love you’, and let us move on. The ones who’ve given us plain facts and honest truths when I’ve asked daft pregnancy questions; and who have quietly drip-fed baby clothes, nursery paraphernalia, and recommendations at a pace we can manage. Thank you for accepting us as we are, muddle and all.golden-letters-thank-you-design_1095-240