Tag Archives: first time mum

Surviving the return to work

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Surviving the return to work

And so we survived. My first week back at work after maternity has come to an end. And do you know what? It wasn’t bad at all. I’d even go so far as to say I enjoyed it. I’m sure I have more stressful weeks ahead of me and I won’t live in this work/life utopia forever. But for one of the biggest worries of the last few months, it’s proved much better than expected. Here’s why I think that’s the case.

My employer

I work for a company who (in my personal experience) have been generous, fair and compassionate with my maternity. I have a supportive and kind manager who provided flexibility for my maternity appointments, and demonstrated genuine interest in how I was doing and what I needed to be comfortable in doing my job and subsequently going on leave.

While on maternity leave she gave me choices throughout. The choice about how much I wanted to stay in touch (i.e. she asked if I’d like to receive the fortnightly staff e-newsletter to my personal email address, and texted me at one point to ask if it was OK to call and get my opinion on a couple of big changes in my team). I told her my availability for ‘keep in touch’ (KIT) days and she made her diary work so that we could have a catch up each time. And early on in my leave, we met up for coffee and cake and she had a cuddle with my little girl, and asked all about how I was finding being a new mum. All of this made me feel confident that my leave was time away from work and that she understood that being a mum was important, and that I had no obligation to get involved in anything unless I wanted to.

My wardrobe

Your entire body changes after giving birth no matter how you do it and how quickly (or not) you ‘spring back’. Prior to my first KIT day I was super nervous about what to wear. I’d lived in jeggings and leggings and baggy floaty tops for months. How on earth was I going to dress to feel a confidence I didn’t feel and feel like myself again?!

I asked for help. And it came in the form of a lovely online community called the Styled by Susie Community on Facebook. Susie Hasler is a stylist based in the South East of the UK and while I’ve not been fortunate to personally experience any of her services yet (they’re on the birthday and Christmas lists), the 3000+ strong group of women she’s curated is supportive, funny, understanding, non-judgemental and incredibly knowledgeable. I posted a shout-out about post-maternity workwear and got links, suggestions, and, in one case, clothes in the post, to get me all kitted out. As a result, this week I’ve felt comfortable, confident and like a bit of the pre-baby me resurfaced for the first time in months.

Our nursery

OK, so she’s only been at nursery for 4 days plus some settling in sessions but my gut tells me it’s the warmest, most nurturing and fun place she could be outside of a family environment. Not once has she cried at drop-off (the tiny traitor) and she’s eaten like a horse, settled in quickly and every single person I’ve spoken to, bumped into or passed in the hallway has been friendly, smiley and kind. I feel genuinely happy leaving her there and I’m so pleased with the choice we made.

My people

I received so many lovely ‘go get ’em’ messages prior to coming back. My incredible NCT ladies (love you girls) provided the support, love and humour that I’ve come to depend on. My best friends each sent personal, kind and encouraging messages. My mum and sister reassured me that Ada and I would both be fine and told me they loved me and my mother in law sent love and luck. My husband told me I was going to be great and everyone would be happy to see me. And my sister and brother in law and nephew sent flowers. I felt empowered and it was because, when my self-confidence had a dip and I got scared, these people provided a much needed boost.

You are not alone

The old cliche that it takes a village to raise a child is so true. It may not be in practical, childcare terms, but I am a better mum because of the people in my life; whether family, friends, colleagues, or ‘online (wonderful) people’ lifting me up, out of the kindness of their hearts. So if you’re due to go back to work, be brave. You’ve got this. And if you have a wobble, don’t be stubborn, just turn around. There is a queue of people behind you, ready to give you what you need to feel strong again.

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It’s been quite the ride, kid

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It’s been quite the ride, kid

Dear Ada,

And so here we are. The last day of my maternity leave and the end of our first big adventure together. People keep asking how I feel and I keep rambling on in a vague kind of way. Thanks to my ‘keeping in touch’ days I’m not dreading returning to work. My few days in the office have been productive, a reminder that my brain still works for more than bottle calculations and nursery rhymes; and a flattering encouragement that I’m valued for something other than being a mum (no offence). And while I’ll be sad leaving you with other people, I know you’ll have fun and you’ll grow and develop and be loved.

So what do I feel? I feel grief. Whether Daddy and I have any more children or not, I will never have this first baby experience again. I’ll never go through the exhilarating, terrifying, challenging, heart-bursting, sleep-stealing, life-changing, crazy, beautiful, tearful, hilarious experience of being a first time mum ever again. And so I feel bereft. Hugely grateful, but bereft that it’s all over. Already. Nine months of me and you and Daddy and cuddles and tears and laughter and learning. Finished already. And I know we have years and years of all kinds of fun ahead of us but it’s scary that this first huge milestone is already here.

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And so I want to thank you. You made me a mother and for that I have no words. Thank you for your first giggle, for your first smile, for your beautiful babbling and your snuggles and your fluffy hair and your squidgy thighs.

I promise to repay you with more love than you can imagine. With support and hugs, a shoulder to cry on and an ear to listen. Daddy and me will be your biggest cheerleaders. We will embarrass the life out of you at every play and prize giving. We will do everything within our power to teach you to be strong and independent. We can’t wait to share the world with you. We will keep you safe and make sure you know love and laughter and hope and happiness.

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I’m sure you’re bored by now, reading this on your holographic watch in 2028 or something. So thank you for the longest, most intense ‘getting to know you’ ice breaker session I’ve ever experienced. You are my night and day, my heart and soul, my highest of highs and my hardest of days…and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Here’s to the next big adventure.

All of my love,

Mummy xxx

 

No more ‘at leasts’

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No more ‘at leasts’

Dear world, I have a frustration that I need to air.

As a new parent, and I speak particularly as a new mother but this also happens to dads, you get a lot of ‘at leasts’. There are a lot of people, (and sadly, they’re often other parents), who want to play top trumps with your experience as parents. If you had a sleepless night, theirs was more sleepless (yes, this is tautology, but you get my drift). If your baby has been an absolute nightmare all day, theirs was the Kim Jong-Un of the baby universe with fists of fury and the voice of a wailing cat.

Why are we doing this to each other? Pregnancy, parenthood and everything that comes along with this life changing experience, is hard enough as it is. Do we really need to make it a bizarre competition that no-one can win and stress ourselves out even more? Here are a few ‘at leasts’ I’ve personally experienced:

On my c-section: “At least your vagina is still intact”…Well yes Betty it is but they sliced through six layers of muscle and I couldn’t get myself off the sofa for about 3 weeks so there is that.

On my struggle to breastfeed (which ultimately brought me one step away from clinical madness): “At least you had some milk. Mine never came in and I still kept trying until my child was basically wasting away”.

On having a child who sleeps through: “At least you get to sleep. I can’t imagine what that’s like. My child is 30 (OK I may be exaggerating) and they still wake me up 5 times a night.”

On my daughter getting her top teeth before her bottom ones (I kid you not, people have opinions on this): *Adopts weird, patronising, pseudo-sympathetic face* “At least she’s got some teeth”

I could go on but my point is not simply to rant, it’s to make a plea.

Parents, we’re all in this together. Instead of one-upmanship, how about we exhibit some compassion and solidarity? Might I suggest the following amendments to the above situations:

On birth experiences: “You’re a legend. There’s no easy way to give birth and your body just did an incredible thing. Here’s a hug and a giant bar for chocolate for your efforts.”

On feeding: “Even when it works well, breastfeeding is hard work. As long as children are fed that’s all that matters. You do what’s right for your family.”

On sleeping: “It’s all relative. You’re doing a great job, this is a phase. It will get better.”

On teething: “I can’t imagine all of my teeth starting to puncture through my sore, swollen gums all at once. The poor little mite. How has he/she been feeling through it all?”

And the most important one of all: “You’re doing a great job. How can I help?”

All the festive feels

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All the festive feels

So here’s the thing. I love Christmas. Always have. The overeating, the prosecco, the festive knitwear…all of it. And this year is no different, except it’s like someone multiplied my feelings by 100. I’m finding myself completely overwhelmed and welling up at Christmas songs I don’t even like. I just feel so incredibly happy and excited that I get all tearful and for a couple of weeks I haven’t been able to figure out why, and then it hit me.

This time last year, we were counting down until 23 December and our 12 week scan. I was terrified, as are all pregnant women. But for us, it wasn’t our first 12 week scan and sadly, the previous one hadn’t ended with a happy announcement and healthy pregnancy. So I was doubly terrified. To be honest, even once we had the healthy scan and saw our little baby wriggling away, it took months for me to accept that this was going to happen and I could start to enjoy it.

So last Christmas was hard. Every Christmas song, every party, every film had me start to get excited, only to have the sensible, protective voice in my head tell me to stop being happy, to brace myself for the horrible, emotional reality that only bad things were going to happen to us. I pasted on a smile for the entire months of November and December and struggled hugely with severe anxiety. Barely a day went by without tears – and when a tiny smear of pink appeared on Christmas Eve, our festive period was a write off (to clarify, our little baby was fine. But there was no support on hand except A&E over the bank holidays so we decided to sit it out in awful, tearful, terrified suspense and tell almost no-one).

Fast forward a year to me sitting in the Bluewater food court playing with our daughter, with tears in my eyes because Wizzard is playing, and it suddenly all makes sense. I can’t quite believe my luck. My baby-sick-covered, exhausted, stinky-pooey luck. She’s here. She’s healthy and a real person and a challenge and a love and just our absolute everything. All things I was 110% certain would not happen for us if you’d asked me this time last year.

So I apologise if you catch me with a tear in my eye during the Christmas songs on the radio, or as we pass a choir singing in the street, or if my voice breaks when the John Lewis advert comes on the TV. I’m just feeling all the festive feels you’re supposed to feel, magnified by 100. I am grateful, and feeling lucky, and I want to hug everyone I love.

And to those currently feeling like we felt last year; I can’t know for sure where your next year will go or what else you might have to struggle through. But I can tell you that whatever life has in store, you will survive. It’s a cliche, but it will make you stronger and  leave you with an incredible gratitude for the important things. You’re not alone – there are people everywhere who on their Christmas-jumper-wearing surface have not a care in the world; but who bear the scars of painful Christmases past. We’re here for you, we understand. Be kind to yourself and know that one day, with a mince pie in hand, you’ll find yourself once again enjoying the festive feels.

The things I want to remember

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The things I want to remember

Dear daughter,

Already time is moving so fast. You are nearly 21 weeks old, that’s almost 5 months and not far off half a year. While I’m fortunate to be taking nine months off work, I’m over the halfway point. You change every day – some nights I’m certain you’ve grown in your sleep.

In the blink of an eye you’ll be slamming doors and screaming at me about your terribly unfair life. With that in mind (and, frankly, because mummy and daddy have been pretty rubbish at filling in any kind of memory/baby book), here are the things I want to remember…

  • The way your face lights up when I tell you ‘Good morning beautiful girl’ and get you from your crib
  • The way your little hand curls around my finger while I feed you your bottle
  • The way you stop crying almost instantly when you’re with a stranger and they pass you back to me
  • The look on your face when your daddy gets home
  • You and Daddy having a cuddle
  • The sound of you babbling to yourself in the middle of the night
  • Your huge smile when Daddy suggests it’s time for ‘splash, splash, splash’ (bath time)
  • The pride on your face when you found your feet for the first time
  • The pride your daddy and I felt the first time you held your head up properly during tummy time
  • The smell of you straight out of the bath
  • The heaviness of your head on my arm when you fall asleep during a snuggle
  • The sound of your first proper laugh
  • The way you screeched like a dinosaur and grinned madly during a choir’s rendition of ‘All I want for Christmas is You’
  • How much you enjoy us singing ‘The Grand Old Duke of York’ and ‘If you’re happy and you know it’
  • Your tired eyes
  • Your chubby little legs
  • Your fluffy duckling hair as it grows.

Mainly, I want to remember how grateful I am for every last thing about you – every day isn’t shiny and wonderful and I’m certain we have numerous hard days together to come. But you are the star I wished upon, the dream I was scared wouldn’t come true, and the very best thing that has ever happened to us. Please, when I’ve driven you mad with my rules and you think you hate me; read this and remember how very loved you are, and have always been.

Love Mummy 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.

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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