Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Leaving Narnia

Sometimes lies happen by accident and the truth isn't always obvious, even to the person to whom it belongs.

I have been telling such a lie, but recent events have brought the truth into sharp focus and forced me to confront something that I have been running from for almost as long as I can remember. 

My marriage has been a wonderful one. It has given me eight years with my best friend in the entire world and has blessed us with the two most beautiful children to walk the face of it. However, it hasn't always been easy. I have often found myself questioning whether or not my husband was enough to keep the real me at bay, and for a long time, he was. Unfortunately for us and for our marriage, incredibly foolish actions by the both of us forced me to acknowledge that my love for him is no longer enough to keep the truth in its box.

I'm gay.

There. I said it. 

I've always fucking hated the word 'bisexual', mostly because it is something that I've hidden behind ever since I was sixteen and first began sleeping with girls. I told myself that I liked boys too, and clung onto the bi label like a security blanket that I could deny whenever I felt too frightened by my own feelings. In my late teens and early twenties, I slept with a lot of men and was sure to brag to anyone that would listen about my conquests, desperate to prove to myself that I was enjoying what I was doing. I wasn't.

I have known that I liked girls since I was eleven, when I wanted to kiss my friend on a walk across a field and didn't really understand why. The first girl I ever slept with once told me that she was in love with me and I ran away from her; literally abandoned her in the middle of town and fucked off. We spent time together when we were older, but I never had the guts to tell her how I felt or to even kiss her without some booze inside me first. I will never not think about her with a sad sense of regret; I should have treated her better because she was (and still is) a beautiful human being inside and out.

When I was twenty four, I fell in love with a man and he would eventually go on to become my husband. He knew that I had slept with women and that it was a big part of who I was, but we made it work to our advantage; we used it as a tool to keep things going and, for the first time, I was really enjoying the straight sex that we were having. However, I always knew that there was something else that was more right for me and I never stopped thinking about it; terrified that I'd never get to touch a woman again.

When Adam and I began to crumble, we also began to make mistakes and I realised that I had to face who I was or we were going to implode, taking our friendship and our family with us. He is my soul mate and the thought of not having him in my life was unbearable, so I told him how I felt and that I needed my best friend more than ever. Thankfully, he has been incredibly supportive and understanding and we were able to mutually call time on our marriage whilst still having our friendship to fall back on. Had we waited a bit longer, who knows what carnage would have taken place.

Eventually it was time to come out to my family; not one of whom was the slightest bit surprised by my admission. If anything, they wondered what had taken me so long. I had actually come out to my Mum on a couple of occasions when drunk, but always took it back when I'd sobered up; climbing safely back under my bisexuality blanket when it suited me. 

My relationship with Adam was supposed to happen. I was supposed to love him and to create a family with him, but the time has come to let him go and let the real me have her moment in the sun. During our time together, I have watched his confidence and charm grow and I know that I'm giving him a new chance at happiness; he deserves to be with someone that isn't making a compromise - someone that will give themselves to him completely.

I will always be grateful for what he has given me and will love him for as long as I live, but you can't go changing someone's gender to suit your own sexual preferences.

So, there you go. An end and a beginning. A bittersweet liberation for us both, but I can't wait to see what the future holds.

In the meantime, here is a cliche...

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

I'm Sorry I Was Smug

Dear Other Mums

My first baby was an easy one. He could be a little highly strung at times, but on the whole we never really had many issues to deal with during his first year and my word, wasn't I just the biggest dick about it. When I encountered those of you that were dealing with the curve-balls that I wasn't, I would often make remarks about or, worse, to you about how the situation could be improved; about what you should or shouldn't be doing to put things right, as though a baby's behaviour is somehow down to more than just plain luck (it isn't) and that I was actually in control of what was happening in my own house (I wasn't).

So, to all the mums to whom I offered unsolicited and unwanted advice and to those that I expressed my 'concerns' about to my husband (honestly, what a dick), this post is for you about the things I said/thought that deserved a punch in the face.

"You need to take some time out for yourself." - I'm sorry. I didn't know. It was easy for me to achieve me-time when Blake was small simply because he let me. I could go out and enjoy myself, safe in the knowledge that he would sleep soundly through the night, unaware that I was even gone. It turns out that there is an entire flip side to the scenario in which any alone time is spent feeling anxious and on-edge because you just know that your baby is refusing to settle/feed/chill the fuck out for whichever poor sod you've left in charge. I get it now.

"If they're hungry enough, they'll take a bottle." - I'm sorry. I didn't know. Blake took to the bottle no questions asked. I would provide him with self-righteously expressed breastmilk whenever I had to leave him in the care of others and I knew that he would be happy and satisfied when I returned. I have since discovered that there is a breed of baby for whom starvation is apparently preferable to taking milk from a bottle. I get it now.

"You should try formula to get them through the night." - I'm sorry. I didn't know. I was a particularly enormous dick over this one because I didn't even do it. Blake slept through from early on so I sort of assumed that my milk was somehow superior and far more nourishing than anyone else's. Admittedly, on the odd occasion that she has allowed me to give her formula, Merryn has slept a lot better despite the fact that she is receiving the exact same 'superior' breastmilk as Blake had, but it turns out that actually she doesn't give a shit about any of that. I get it now.

"You should try controlled crying." - I'm sorry. I didn't know. I thought that crying at night meant a bit of angry whingeing and occasional shouting that eventually tailed off into blissful and complete slumber. I didn't know that there was a very real level of distress that existed in the wee small hours in which your baby sobs breathlessly and inconsolably until you pick them up. I get it now.

"You shouldn't let them dictate when the day starts." - I'm sorry. I didn't know. I simply could not get my head around parents that got up with their children at five o'clock in the morning. To me, that was still the middle of the night and, on the slim chance that Blake woke, I would always settle him back down in bed and go back to sleep. Yet there are babies who will thrash, shout, sing, flip over and crawl across your head until you get up with them at four thirty and play with Megablocks on the front room floor, watching the scene unfold through a veil of your own tired tears. I get it now.

"You're making a rod for your own back by co-sleeping." - I'm sorry. I didn't know. Blake would come into bed with us at about seven in the morning for his morning feed, after which we would both doze happily until we were ready to get up. Shortly after his first birthday, he dropped that feed completely and now we can't bribe him to get into bed with us for cuddles. And that was okay; it was good and proper and he didn't form bad habits. I had no idea about the dark, early hours of the morning when all you can do is submit to your exhausted baby's need to be close to you in order to sleep - in order for any of you to sleep. I get it now.

To all of you, I extend my sincerest apologies. I honestly just didn't know.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

When Baby Won't Sleep...

This morning I typed the words 'Can I die of exhaustion?' into Google. In the interests of honesty, I'm not entirely sure which outcome I would have been most satisfied by. As it happens, Google's answer was basically 'We don't really know, but probably' and I think that actually provided me with some comfort.

My son was a great sleeper. He woke twice a night at most from day one and slept through most nights from about three months and boy, was I smug about it? I waxed lyrical about my superior sleep training and highly adaptable baby and felt little sympathy for those at the other end of the sleep scale. The parents who found themselves with a child that wouldn't rest had somehow brought it on themselves, I thought, and weren't trying hard enough to put things right. 

What. A. Dick.

I have done nothing differently with my second baby, yet she wakes almost hourly, screaming to be nursed and refusing to let me put her into her own bed. She then tosses and turns during her brief catnaps, kicking, hitting and scratching us to ensure that we get as little real sleep as possible. I have come to realise that my son's good sleeping habits had absolutely nothing to do with me and that karma can be a bloody cruel mistress.

Currently, my already poor sleeper is going through what I can only assume is her eight month sleep regression as she learns to crawl and I'm about a week deep in almost no sleep at all. Napping when she naps is out of the question when you have a two year old running about the place, trying to stick his fingers in plug sockets and other delights, and he dropped his daytime naps a long time ago, so I get by on a heady diet of caffeine and broken promises of early nights.

Last night I found myself desperate for a pre-nine pm bedtime, and actually Merryn did go down pretty well. Unfortunately, Blake decided that he did not want to go to bed and proceeded to scream so loudly that he woke her up, ensuring that she was overtired, ratty and one hundred per cent certain to not go back to sleep. I don't think I've ever felt anger at my son like it; I actually had to get in the car and drive away, leaving my poor husband juggling two screaming children and the vague feeling that his wife wasn't coming back. I did, of course, but I wished that I hadn't when three am rolled around and I found myself being used as a very pissed off dummy.

My alarm went off this morning to signal the start of the work day and I did a little bit of a cry, because I knew that yet another day laid ahead of juggling work, sleep deprivation and a baby that won't take a bottle (or a dummy now, apparently) and I just long for a day where I can catch up on a little R and R. Instead, I will have to tear from work to home to nurse her, negotiating inconvenient traffic lights and a lunchtime in which I barely get time to eat or drink anything myself.

I keep telling myself it's all temporary, which has long been my parenting mantra when things get tough, but I'm struggling to get the message through at the moment. Of course, I'm struggling to remember my own name right now too. I can't even really recall what the point of this post was. Sympathy, probably, but karma says that I don't even deserve that.

Bloody hell, I'm tired.


Saturday, 28 May 2016

When Motherhood and Mental Health Collide

** Trigger warning: self harm and anxiety **

"But you're better now, right? Happy now? Grown up?"

I nod. I smile. I lie.

I started writing this post a couple of weeks ago to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week. I was in the grip of my long-held demons and I thought that maybe writing down the truth about my mental health would be cathartic; that it would help me to drag myself out the other side. As it happens, writing about those feelings while I had them was therapeutic in its way, but did nothing to portray the cold, hard truth about living with mental health problems as a mother. Instead, it came out too raw, too heartfelt and too much like a cry for help. I don't want help - I've had plenty in my lifetime and know where to turn when I want more - I just don't want to keep nodding, smiling and lying. So, here's the truth. I'm just sorry that it won't necessarily be what everyone wants to hear.


Hi. I'm Dani and I'm a self harmer. 

The scars on my arms and legs are not products of a misspent youth, leftover relics of past issues or any of the other bollocks I spout whenever I'm questioned about them. They are an enormous part of who I still am; testament to a demon that I carry around with me every day, sometimes only just managing to keep a lid on its hellbent anger. I am still a self harmer - I will always be a self harmer - I'm just resisting.

Of course there have been long periods when the urge to hurt myself has been dormant - when I've been settled and in control in almost every other aspect of my life and haven't felt the need to claw some back at the expense of my skin - but then I became a parent and suddenly I wasn't in control of very much any more. Then I had a second baby and I was no longer in control of anything. Here's the ironic thing: I crave control and order, but I get so overwhelmed by life's little (and sometimes quite big) curveballs that I can never seem to get a grip on any of that stuff. I'm shit with money so I don't open my post. I struggle to keep on top of the housework so I close the door on the worst of it and pretend it doesn't exist. I worry that I'm not doing enough to make my children happy so I let them watch TV while I cry in the kitchen.

These problems sound so trivial, but they add up to a tangle of anxiety that feels like white noise in my head and holy shit I miss having a coping mechanism for that. I don't give in to the temptation to cut myself because I don't want to let my children or my family down, and because I know it's dangerous at its worst, but I miss it so fucking much. I've never admitted this to anyone before but sometimes I even dream about it and I'm not talking cold-sweat nightmares; these are dreams filled with longing.

I'm sorry to everyone that thought I was better. Take comfort from the fact that I will go on resisting for the sake of my children; self harm is so insular that I can't afford to get back into my own head like that. The thought of how much of my babies' childhoods I might miss should I give into this demon keeps me out of its embrace.

So I will just go on missing it, because that's the lesser of my two evils.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

A Letter to My Saviour

Holy shit, we've done it. Again. We've survived the first six months with a new child - twice - and on this, our seventh 'unofficial' anniversary (of the day we became an item; now eclipsed by our 'proper' anniversary), I want to write you a love letter. Again.

Let's face it, I've written you a lot of love letters: some public, some not, all very gushy. This one is going to be a bit more real, if you like. By now, everyone knows the story of the two friends that fell in love and finally admitted it to each other. They all know that 'Halo' by Beyonce is our song because you were the one person that got me to let my guard down. They know that I think you look a lot like Shayne Ward and that it's part of the reason I married you. What they probably don't know is how hard we have to work for our marriage sometimes.

Being married is tricky. Being married with a young child is challenging. Being married with two is unspeakably difficult. They say that seven years is when you get the 'itch', and I'd love to sit here and say that neither of us have ever had a wobble but I'd be lying, and those wobbles are never more keenly felt than when there's a small baby around the house and your wife feels like her body belongs to someone else. There have been times that I thought I'd be better off doing things on my own, and there were times that I was certain you'd have been better off without me, but thankfully neither of us gave up.

This being our second time around, we knew that the difficult bit was temporary but, in the midst of our sleep deprived and sex starved fog, that wasn't always easy to see. There were times when I wondered if our marriage was failing and I'm sure you have felt it too on occasions, and there were times when I wondered if there was enough of me to share between three whole people who needed me. Well, as it turns out, there really is. Things have started to balance out and I finally feel a bit like my old self; a bit more like a wife as well as a mother.

Thank you for being so patient with me through the early months - twice. In fact, thank you for being my rock and saviour for the last seven years (and before that, if I'm honest). You took a broken shell and you made it whole and full and you are, without doubt, still the most handsome man I've ever met. Above all else, you are my best friend.

I love you more now than ever, because now I know that, with you on my team, I can take on the world.

To us.



Saturday, 30 April 2016

Six Ways Parenthood is Like Driving

Obvious differences aside - you don't have to pass a test before becoming a parent, for example (sadly) - it has occurred to me that being a parent is a lot like being a driver. Confused? Let me explain...

6. It Costs a Lot

Bit of a no-brainer really, but learning to drive and owning a car is one hell of a money pit. First you have to pay for a bunch of lessons with a driving instructor (if you value personal relationships with friends/family eligible to teach you), then the test, license and eventually a car. The car will then do its best to empty your bank account at every available opportunity with insurance, tax, breakdown cover, MOTs, fuel, tyres, services and shagged cambelts at the worst possible moments. It's an expensive business.

A lot like having children really. You might go to specialist antenatal classes and prenatal yoga, before going home and browsing Mothercare for the perfect (and alarmingly overpriced) crib and travel system. You will buy every single piece of kit that the Internet tells you that you need and, most of the time, you'll use approximately none of it. Then the baby comes along and you're committed to spending every spare penny you get on the little bugger until they're eighteen (and beyond, usually).

5. It's Confusing at First and Second Nature Once You Get It

Everyone who has learned to drive will remember that moment when they 'got it'. Shortly before your test (if you're lucky), the infinitely confusing combination of movements and manoeuvres will suddenly all just click into place and you will just get driving. It doesn't necessarily mean you'll be good at it, but at least changing gears will make some sort of sense. The result is that you will be able to concentrate on the road while muscle memory takes care of the bits inside the car.

Having a newborn is fucking terrifying. Everything about it seems unnatural, from the way you have to bend their flimsy little arms into their clothes to the fact they don't even breathe in a regular pattern, and don't even get me started on their inability to hold up their heads. It's just so scary. Not to mention exhausting; having to think every single second of the day about what you need to do and when is tiring on a level you will not have experienced before. Then, one day, you wake up and it all sort of makes a bit more sense. Your routine will be like a well oiled machine on good days, and even on bad days you'll at least know how to change a nappy without gagging.

4. No Amount of Theory or Practice Will Prepare You

There is a saying that you don't learn to drive until after you pass your test and hardly a truer word has ever been uttered. The first time you take your car out on your own, without your instructor beside you with his extra set of brakes for emergencies, it's one hell of a bloody culture shock; fuck it up and you could literally kill someone. The first time I drove after passing my test, I went about two miles down the road and was so tense the entire time that I had to come home and take a nap.

If you think driving alone is frightening, try taking a helpless newborn home from hospital and being left to keep them alive; fuck it up and you could literally kill someone. Even now, I'm sometimes a bit alarmed that I've been entrusted with such an earth shattering responsibility. 

3. You Think It's Going to Make You Feel Grown Up - It Doesn't

I used to fantasise about pulling up to important job interviews in my super grown up turquoise coupe, wearing power suits and talking about super important things on my top of the range mobile phone. What actually happened was that I put fluffy dice on the rear view mirror and spent any time in the car wailing along to musical soundtracks. The only thing that has changed is the type of car (red five-door hatchback) and the CD (CBeebies - I still sing along). Oh, and I much prefer to text.

I was going to be a parent. Is there anything more grown up? I didn't think so. I thought that my transition into adulthood would finally be complete once I had children of my own. This evening, after putting the small people to bed, I ate Pop Tarts and drank Bitter Shandy out of a can.

2. You Think You Do it Better Than Everyone Else

Everyone thinks they're a better driver than everyone else. You criticise other people on the road from the safety of your own car, even if their behaviour affects you in absolutely no way whatsoever. If you're in a car and someone else is driving, you press your imaginary brake and draw a sharp breath when they get too close to bushes or parked cars, safe in the belief that literally no one can drive better than you.

Parenting works on basically the same principle: you do you and, as far as you're concerned, that's the correct way to do it. You sit at home with your partner and question other people's parenting techniques with raised eyebrows and wry smiles (don't lie, we all do it), certain that you are doing a better job than every other parent on the planet.

1. But Sometimes You Just Can't Do It At All

You know the days: nothing you do inside the car has any flow, you miss your opportunities at junctions and run out of fingers to count the pissed off glares from other drivers. Sometimes it's just the luck of the draw but, more often than not, it's because you're tired, stressed or hungover. But you keep going because the journey has started and you have to finish.

Some days you just can't parent - usually when you're tired, stressed or hungover. Some days everything goes wrong, everyone cries and you question every single decision that led to this point. Some days you will feel like you're the worst person in the world for this job and that your actions are going to lead to a lifetime of therapy for your angry and poorly behaved children. In fact, some days you just want to jump into that car and drive the fuck away. But you keep going because, well, the journey has started... and you have to finish.


My face when I'm driving. And occasionally when I'm parenting.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

My Life is Yours Forever, But I'm Ready for My Room Back Now

Last summer my husband and I spent an entire week creating the perfect bedroom for our little girl. We painted three walls of the tiny room in marshmallow and picked a bright turquoise for the fourth - the one that her cot would be against. I sourced a lovely white, second hand cot and spent evening after evening painstakingly creating felt art based on the unicorn theme I'd created. Once I'd added the finishing touches of bubble gum pink curtains and a rainbow striped rug, it was truly a room fit for a princess.


I'm actually a bit jealous.


We then filled it with a bunch of shit that we didn't have homes for and closed the door on it for nine months. 

However, we have recently made an effort to turn this beautiful, rainbow hued dumping ground back into a bedroom because our baby girl is nearly six months old. I could never be a parent who puts my baby into their own room from early on. I don't have anything against those who do - in fact, for the people that I know who have done so, it's been a very practical move - I just wouldn't be able to do it. In fact, for the first couple of months of each of my babies' lives, I wouldn't even sleep with my back to their cots. I just love having my tiny womb fruits close to me at night; more often than not, they spend a good portion of it actually in my bed anyway because I'm a lazy breastfeeder.

Still, there comes a point, as your tiny baby becomes not very tiny at all, when you really need to think about taking your room back.

It's not that I don't love having her there at night - if anything, it makes my life much easier in the small hours - but it's very difficult to try and live around a child that suffers from the curse of Getting Overtired. I've always been aware of  being overtired as concept, but just not as it applied to me. Until Merryn, I sort of thought overtired meant that you dropped off too quickly and did that weird jumpy thing where you think you're falling off a kerb despite being tucked up in bed. It was certainly never a problem for Blake. If he was tired, he fell asleep - if he wasn't, he didn't; a fact that still sometimes leads to horrific bedtime battles. Merryn, on the other hand, has to be put to bed the second she yawns or all sodding hell breaks loose. And when I say 'bed', I mean in bed, in the dark, or it's no dice.

The effect of all this is that my bedroom is sort of being held hostage. I can't clean or tidy it because Merryn decides she needs a nap every time I try, I can't blow dry my hair after washing it because it's easiest to shower when she's sleeping and don't even get me started on the marital functions of the bedroom (not with an audience, thank you).

So, I'm taking back my bedroom. We're starting with her naps in the day time by letting her sleep in the travel cot in her own room, but I plan to have her in there full time by the end of the month. Well, until 3am anyway, which is when she usually starts waking every hour or two for a feed. I'm not going to pretend it's going well so far, but we'll get there.

I'll find it hard, I know. I struggled when Blake went into his own room and checked on him at least five times a night for the first month, but there's also so much that I'm looking forward to. I can't wait to have extra space between my bed and wardrobe once the cot has gone; it'll mean I can actually get to my clothes and finally retire the baggy jeans and T-shirt combo that I've been rocking since last November. In fact, there'll suddenly be such a drop in clutter in our bedroom that I can finally carry on with decorating it (it's Harry Potter themed and takes a shitload of accessorising). I'll be able to hoover the entire carpet. I can go to bed early and read!

I know, right - I dream big...