Wednesday, 16 September 2015

A Letter to My Daughter

I wrote a letter like this about two years ago, only that time it was to your brother. It was a slightly different letter to this one, mostly because it was a different woman writing it. It was just me and your Dad back then, and I was just a wife looking upon parenthood as a new and terrifying chapter, but things are different this time around. You are joining us as a family; an established unit that you will complete.

It's strange, but you've always been with me in some way. Everyone in our family seemed to have girls, and I just assumed that I would be the same. In fact, for the first half of my pregnancy with your brother, I automatically assumed that he was you. When we learnt that he was a boy, however, you didn't go anywhere; I simply accepted that I'd have to wait a little longer to meet you. Your presence has been with me for as long as I can remember; my little girl, floating by side, waiting for me to give you a body to live in.

Unfortunately, my pregnancy with you has been a difficult one, with ongoing sickness and old mental health issues rearing their ugly heads, so I'm sorry if I haven't been very forthcoming with the happy hormones. I'm also sorry if you perhaps haven't been in my thoughts quite as much as Blake was. It's not that I love you any less, or that I'm not as excited to meet you, I just haven't had the time to give you as much in the way of daydreams. With looking after a fairly boisterous toddler and trying not to puke, my mind has been otherwise preoccupied. Not only that, but I haven't had to spend quite as much time worrying this time around. I know what to expect, so I've spent a lot less time obsessing over the details.

We're coming to the end of this pregnancy now and a big part of me regrets that I haven't been able to enjoy it. Partly because this will be the last time I do it, but mostly because it's the final piece of the journey that brings me my much loved, much longed for little girl.

You are the missing piece of my puzzle, little one. I can't wait to finally meet you.


P.S. Please don't come out a boy; I've decorated your bedroom with unicorns.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Two Brothers

The boy held onto his brother's hand as tightly as he could without hurting him, and made his way forward towards the man at the gate. It was a strange thing; the two of them looked no different to the other people milling around, yet everyone kept turning to them and smiling. He could see their mother following a short distance behind with a proud smile on her face as the crowds parted before them. A few children pointed and whispered wide eyed questions to nearby adults, yet no one seemed willing to speak to the brothers themselves. 

They had lost their father at some point and the boy felt a tinge of sadness as he tried to remember the last time he had seen him. There had been darkness, cold and fear, but the memory of any horror was quickly evaporating with every step that they took closer to the man at the gate. He, too, was smiling at the brothers now. There were still many people ahead of them in the line; waiting to be seen and processed, yet the man with the clipboard kept looking past them, at the two little boys stood in a clearing within the crowd. 

The boy looked over his shoulder to his mother, who nodded her reassurance that they should go on; her face still set into that strange and peaceful smile. 

The boy wasn't frightened, but that didn't mean that he wasn't confused. Their father had explained to him that they were going to live somewhere kinder, and he certainly remembered a few of the children in the crowd from the beginning of the journey, but he couldn't quite recall it ending. He supposed he must have fallen asleep at some point towards the end. 

They were almost at the gate now, the man with the clipboard was smiling so broadly that it looked as though his face might split in two, but still the boy faltered. He was worried that his father hadn't made it and he knew that if he walked through that gate, he might never see him again. Suddenly, his mother was behind him and put her hands on his shoulders, urging him forward.

"Be brave," she whispered and her warm voice next to his ear relaxed him. He stepped forward, still clinging to the hand of his little brother.

The boys had watched countless others walk through the gate without fuss and yet, as they approached him, the man with the clipboard stepped forward and embraced them both warmly.

"My boys," he said in a choked voice, "do you see how happy you have made everyone?"

The boy looked around; people were still staring and smiling at them.

"You and your brother have saved so many," the man continued, "your father included. You will see him again; don't worry."

He turned to the boy's younger brother and ruffled his short, dark hair.

"And you, little one, you have played a bigger part in the lives of others than you could possibly imagine. You're on the minds of many this evening and will be for countless years to come. You have changed things."

Nervous, the younger boy tried to step behind his brother, putting his thumb in his mouth and looking down at his feet.

"Be brave," their mother repeated behind them. This time she wasn't whispering, and seemed to be speaking to herself as much as she was her young sons.

"Yes, be brave," agreed the smiling man with the clipboard, "for you have nothing to fear any more."

Galip tightened his grip on his little brother's hand and took a deep breath as he tried to see what lay beyond the gate.

"Come on, Aylan. It's time to go."

Together, they walked.

* * *
Like many parents, the story of Aylan and his brother broke my heart when it hit the headlines this week. I cried a lot of useless tears, as I'm sure many did.

However, it occurred to me that while it was too late to help the brothers, there was something I could do. I could at the very least give them a happier ending.

Sleep well, sweethearts. 

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Beginnings and Ends

Today is the day that I leave the job I've been doing (on and off) for eleven years of my life. That's over a third of my thirty years spent in various levels of service to the carpet and furniture industry, and I do consider myself to be quite the veteran. It was never a calling of mine; it was a job that I fell into by accident, but I was drawn to the sales side of things, and it's that which has kept me hooked. I get a genuine buzz from helping people to spend large amounts of their money, but however much I enjoy it, sales is a job; it isn't my dream.

So, today I'm parting ways with an industry, and indeed a family, that has been a huge part of my adult life. Living in a fairly small seaside town, most businesses tend to be family run and this one is no exception. The staff turnover is basically non-existent and even those who do leave eventually end up coming back at some point. The people I work with are more than colleagues; they're friends and family and I'll miss them. But the time has come to take my dreams off hold. My life isn't supposed to be spent sat behind a desk or telling people about the benefits of a wool twist over a polypropelene saxony. 

Of course, I'm actually leaving to have a baby, but that's not all. I have made the conscious decision to take some time out from doing a job to make space for a career; a career that matters and that follows the path of a long held dream whilst forging the way for some new ones. Obviously there will be writing. In some ways, there has always been writing, only now that I have small people in my life, this faraway fantasy has taken on a different urgency and meaning. I've made the move from writing 'boohoo' short stories about tortured souls and wronged individuals to writing far-fetched and fantastical stories for children. Children have become my new dream. Suddenly I'm aware of just how important the education and nurture of the next generation really is, and I want to play my part in developing their imaginations and love for stories.

It might be that I'm unsuccessful, although I largely refuse to acknowledge that as a a possibility, but should it become the case then I will finish my English degree and work towards teaching young children in some other way; perhaps sharing my stories in a classroom instead of via print. What was once a vague notion of something I wanted to do has suddenly become an intense hunger and I'm powerless to try and ignore it.

So I'm taking a leap of faith in myself, helped of course by my incredible husband who is having to go out and earn actual money while I indulge in what is seen by many to be little more than a whim. I, of course, know otherwise and I'm so, so, so frightened and excited. I'm also a little sad, because I will miss the laughter I've shared in this building. All I can do is think of the laughter my words might inspire in those who really matter, in our next generation, and keep on pushing on. 

I'm so ready.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

How to Raise a Well Behaved Toddler

Ha! I'm kidding. Obviously I have no idea how to get your toddler to behave, but did you know that there is an abundance of articles out there that claim to be able to? All nonsense, of course. I'm inherently sceptical of advice pieces like that. For one thing, I believe that toddlers do exactly what they want one hundred per cent of the time,  but also I hate that they're not given credit as individual people; as though some formula will work on them all.

Doesn't make it any easier when your child hits the age at which they stop being able to see or hear you, though. Blake has reached that age. He spends the majority of the day refusing to acknowledge my existence, breaking from character only when he senses that my bottom has touched the toilet seat or that I might be secretly eating chocolate in the kitchen. Naturally, at those moments, he can't bear to be apart from me. The rest of the time, however, I'm invisible and my voice apparently functions on a frequency not detected by toddler ears.

Blake isn't naughty... as such. He doesn't throw enormous tantrums, nor does he get spiteful with me or other children. In fact, most of the scenarios you would automatically picture when told of 'bad behaviour' are alien in our house. What he does is ignorance, and he does it very well. In the course of an average day, I can say 'no' about six million times. The problem is: it doesn't mean anything. I know that he knows what the word means, because he used to react to it exactly as you'd expect, but somewhere down the line he has decided that it simply doesn't apply to him. 

There are a few simple rules in our house that I try to enforce. One of those rules is that if the child is outside playing and I'm in the house, then the screen door stays open. That's so that I can both hear him and access him quickly in the inevitable event that he trips over his own feet and hurts himself. Blake has decided that he'd prefer the screen door shut. I have tried everything to try and get him to see my point - from a calm explanation as to why the door needs to be open to basically yelling 'NO' at him as I carry him back into the house, right through basic bribery; when chocolate stops working, you know you've got issues. The fact is, he literally doesn't give a shit that I've said no. Somewhere in his head, a little switch has been flipped. He has gone from revering everything I say and do to thinking 'that one with the boobs? You can ignore her. She talks bollocks'.

Don't even get me started on bedtime. We have never been able to defeat that monster.

"Are we seriously back on that?"

I finish most days feeling guilty that I've spent the entire day berating the poor boy, but I don't know any other way of instilling some sort of discipline into him. My sister babysat recently and acknowledged (with some frustration) that getting his attention was a lot like saying 'Blake' over and over again into an empty flowerpot and hoping for some kind of response. 

As I say, he's not really a naughty kid, so it's difficult to establish any serious discipline routines and I sincerely doubt that any of them would work on a child that refuses to allow any negative communication. Plus, the rest of the time, he is genuinely the cutest little snuggle bunny I have ever laid eyes on. Not to mention the fact that his somewhat defiant nature has spawned some cracking personality traits that I really don't want to discourage. 

I don't know what the point of this post is. I think I just wanted to put it out there; to perhaps reassure myself that I'm not just fucking terrible at this parenting lark. I don't think it's me. Perhaps he just is what he is. After all, haven't I said myself that we ought to treat small people as individuals? Perhaps Blake is just individually as deaf as a post when it comes to being told what to do... I think I'll blame that one on his father.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Fingers (Not Legs) Crossed for VBAC Victory

I can't quite believe I'm already in my third trimester of this pregnancy. It's gone so much quicker than my first, when every week seemed to drag along at a snail's pace as I laboriously approached my due date. Obviously, I've been giving a fair bit of thought to the birth itself and I am pleased to announce that I am officially a candidate for a vaginal birth after c-section (or a VBAC for those in the know).

Well, 90% pleased; the other 10% is fucking terrified. 

Mostly, I feel really positive about the whole thing. I laboured with Blake and got to 7cm without pain relief before my little womb monster decided that he'd had enough, so I think that I can cope with labour without too much trouble. What really scares me is the prospect of something going wrong.

In reality, the chances of that happening are pretty slim. There is such a thing as scar rupture in which the walls of the uterus are put under so much strain by the contractions that the old caesarean wound opens. This puts the life of both the mother and baby at incredible risk, so naturally I'll have a consultant on stand-by, ready to whisk me into surgery at the first sign of any rupture happening. For my part, I have to be super alert to any pain that lasts between contractions because what I feel will be the ultimate indicator to something going wrong. Well, bugger me, that's a lot of pressure. When I was in labour with Blake, I could have barely told you my name, let alone felt a deeply in-tune connection with what was happening in my nether regions.

 The obvious solution to anything going wrong will be to immediately take me in for another section, and therein lies my second biggest fear. The truth is, I just really don't want one. Any of you that might be thinking that a caesarean is the easy childbirth option would be wrong; they're horrible. The surgery is scary (especially under emergency circumstances when you've not had a chance to work out which way is up), and the recovery is long and painful. There are also these awesome anaesthetic shakes that no one tells you about beforehand, but that last ages after the operation itself. It's only when you're lying there, practically shaking yourself off the table and wondering if you're dying, that someone bothers to tell you it's normal. For the first hour of my son's life, I was too scared to hold him in case my violent shuddering threw him from the hospital bed. Not only that, but I had all manner of trouble once they took my catheter out.

Plot twist! I'm also scared of giving birth naturally because, well, ouch. My lady bits have largely remained unchanged in the long term by the birth of my son, but a VBAC will soon put paid to all of that. A day or two out from having Blake, I could go about my toilet business without too much thought; not like my poor episiotomy inflicted sistren. Sex was tricky at first, but eventually returned to normal after a few months; those who have had vaginal births complain of a permanent change in sensation. Also, how the hell do you go to the toilet when you have stitches in your bits? The whole thing sounds bloody brutal.

So, I'm a bit of a contradiction really; I'm thrilled to be given the chance to give a VBAC a go, but I'm basically terrified of every option I have. I know that when the day comes, I'll just deal with whatever happens, but that doesn't stop me from obsessing about it a bit in the meantime.

Isn't childbirth fun?

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Real World Reasons to Breastfeed

It is often drummed into us at antenatal appointments that breast is best. I'm not here to dispute that; as a mother who has successfully fed one child and is gearing up to feed the one growing inside her, I'm a big advocate of what can often be a contentious issue.

Not everyone can breastfeed, and not everyone wants to, but there does seem to be quite a lot of women who are somewhat on the fence about whether or not they want to try. For those ladies that are unsure, there is plethora of information available about the evidential medical benefits of breastfeeding for both mothers and their babies. In my opinion, that's kind of the problem; not only is this onslaught of facts and figures somewhat overwhelming, but a lot of us hear words like 'cancer' and 'SIDS' and immediately close ourselves off.

With that in mind, I'm here to provide some benefits of breastfeeding that women can relate to their immediate lives. After all, isn't it all about stacking up the real world pros and cons?

1. It's free.

A bit of a no-brainer, that one. Formula is expensive, whichever brand you go for, and breast milk is completely and utterly free. Ok, not completely, because you'll need extra fuel and those cakes soon add up, but it's still a whole a lot cheaper than buying milk in.

2. Less washing up.

Bottles are a pain in the arse to wash. You need a special brush to get right up into the teats, and even then you'll be paranoid that it isn't quite clean. Once you're finally satisfied that any trace of earlier feeds has gone, the rinsing starts. The ever-lasting bloody rinsing...

Boobs require a quick wash in the shower, which I hope you would be doing anyway.

3. No sterilising

I have never once popped my breast into a steriliser, which is probably a good thing; I've retrieved bottles from those contraptions shortly after their cycles have ended and given myself third degree burns.

4. Less clutter

Things you need for bottle feeding: bottles, teats, formula, steriliser, bottle brush, bottle warmer... the list goes on.

Things you need for breastfeeding: breasts. Of course, you can get all sorts of paraphernalia to go with breastfeeding too, but if you're anything like me, you'll use approximately none of it.

5. Baby doesn't have to wait.

Picture the scene: it's 3am and you have a hungry infant who can only communicate in shrill screams of despair. You have two options - you can either go downstairs, boil the kettle, mix a bottle, wait for it to cool and try and pacify your angry husband who has a 6am shift that day, or you can pop a nipple into the baby's mouth and provide immediate milk, perfectly mixed and at the exact desired temperature within minutes of them waking.

6. You can eat more.

I mentioned the cake, didn't I? Breastfeeding uses up calories, so it stands to reason that you need to put more in. Bring on the carbs!

7. It's a good excuse.

Don't want to go to that Ann Summers party with the loud girl from work? Best you tell her that little Albert won't take a bottle yet and cluster feeds in the evenings. In fact getting home for a feed is a pretty good excuse to leave anywhere. I once got out of having to go and sit and exam thanks to my magical boobies.

8. You can be a bit smug.

You're doing something that's universally acknowledged to be difficult, so be as smug as you like. But never, ever get self-righteous; just because you can do it doesn't give you a free pass to preach. People don't like that.

9. You get quality Netflix time.

While breastfeeding is being established, it can take a long time. This naturally means an awful lot of time sat in one spot, plugged into a baby. This is time well spent catching up on your television consumption. I once watched four seasons of Misfits in less than two weeks.

10. It sends baby to sleep.

Mastering the side-by-side feed will be a powerful part of your "please nap" arsenal. The baby will drift peacefully into the land of slumber, comforted by the close proximity of their loving mother. Of course, you'll be obligated to wait until they wake up before attempting to remove your nipple from their maw, so bring reading material or a fully charged smartphone.

Still on the fence? Ok, I have to admit it's not the easiest thing in the world and it absolutely isn't for everyone, but my advice is try it; you might love it, and it'd be a crying shame to never really know...

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Why My Brothers-In-Law Are The Real Heroes

Yesterday, I read a news story that made me angry. It was about a local man that was being hailed as a hero for turning a relationship breakdown into something positive, moving to Rio de Janeiro and helping the underprivileged children of Brazil. Very noble of him certainly, except I happen to know that there's one detail the newspapers weren't aware of. In the midst of the catastrophic break up that he did mention, there was a fling that he didn't. From that fling came a child. A child that he actively rejected and then essentially ran away from. A real hero, I'm sure you'll agree.

I have personal experience of growing up with the knowledge that I'd been rejected by a man that had never even met me, so stories like that tug at my anger strings. However, something then happened that stopped my anger in its tracks; I was reminded of the power of stepfathers. Naturally, I have an automatic soft spot for any man that does a wonderful job of raising children that he has no genetic obligation to, and I was reminded of this by a post my older sister put on Facebook. Her husband is father to only one of her children and incredible stepfather to the other four. Her post was about the amount of money she had spent on school uniforms so far, and she mentioned how hard her husband has to work in order to be able to afford such requirements for all five children. It occurred to me then that, rather than getting angry about the men who were walking out of children's lives, my energy would be better spent recognising the ones who made a conscious decision to walk in.

I have two sisters and both of their spouses are heroes. They fell in love with these beautiful women and, almost without thinking, took on the children of lesser men as their own. The husband of my older sister went from a pretty responsibility free lifestyle to father to four children in just a few short months and, as far as I'm aware, it's never even occurred to him how amazing that was. My younger sister attracted the attentions of a man who already had a child, but who was living quite a bachelor existence; one which he immediately dropped, fitting naturally and comfortably into his role of dedicated family man. They are real men because they choose to be and I love them both for it.

My Dad - my wonderful, caring, occasionally terrifying Dad - he's a hero too. He moved in with a woman he had met and her two neurotic daughters. I was only three, but my sister was eight and was fast becoming the teenager that he would have to learn to deal with. I was young enough to be pretty open to the new man our lives, but I'd soon grow out of that. A few years back, I began to serialise my teenage diaries (you can find them here), but stopped that little project in its tracks when I discovered that my teenage self was horrible. I was horrible to and about my friends, but I was absolutely demonic when it came to talking about my stepfather. I was pretty awful to his face too; in fact, I once threw a drink into it while he sat in his armchair. My Dad didn't leave. He didn't get up and say "fuck this shit; these aren't even my kids". He waited for me to calm down and then dealt with me like any father would - with a bollocking and a grounding that he would inevitably let me talk him out of.

So sod the bloke in Brazil, who had the chance to know someone incredible and turned it down. Sod the men all around the World who are failing to be a part of the lives they helped to create. Sod them all, because there are plenty of incredible men who are willing to fill the gaps that they're leaving, and those men are the real heroes.