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...

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

The Eye of The Sh*t Storm

Having two babies close together is a bit of a learning curve to say the least. There have been tears, tantrums and total organisational train wrecks along the way... and sometimes the children have played up. There have been times when I've mourned life with one child and there have been times when I've mourned life before any children at all. Of course, I wouldn't be without them for the world, but I've definitely found myself yearning for the freedom I once had on occasions.

Until today. Today, I realised that things have balanced out. Today, I realised that I'm totally nailing this parenting malarkey.

Picture the scene...

I was feeling a bit smug after an altogether suspiciously successful trip to the park. Merryn was asleep and Blake was in a fantastic mood after his earlier burning of loads of energy by way of stealing a pre-teen girl's scooter. As I made the boy some dinner, I even found myself humming a bit. Yep, I was completely owning Tuesday, even if the lounge looked a bit like landfill.

As Blake tucked into his fishfingers and watched Tarzan (because, hey, you wouldn't want me to be too perfect), Merryn woke up demanding food. I brought her downstairs and sat down next to Blake's highchair to feed the baby. As she fed, I watched her carefully; poised with a muslin cloth, ready for any sudden unlatches during my hydrant force let-down, and completely took my eye off the ball with Blake.

By the time Merryn finished and I had looked up, Blake had filled a miniature tractor trailer (that came from fuck knows where because I'm sure he didn't have it when I sat him down) with peas, and had proceeded to squash them into a green, squelchy mush. He had then apparently seen fit to smear the concoction all over his face, including a good sized application to his eyebrows and hair. 

It took a while and about fifteen wet wipes, but I eventually managed to de-green Blake's face and was starting to clear the mush out of the tractor trailer when Merryn signalled that was tired. Now, with Merryn, you get a window of approximately a minute and half to get her into bed when she's tired before she crosses the line into hysteria. I dropped everything and stripped her off, ready to change her into her pyjamas. 

Just as I was about to pop a clean nappy onto my naked baby, it occurred to me that I could neither see nor hear my son. 

"Blake?" I said, gingerly, "what are you doing?"

That's when he appeared from behind the sofa with a grim expression on his face and his hand held out in front of him. Since his nappy change about an hour previous, Blake had been wandering about without trousers on (sometimes he just doesn't stay still enough for a full re-dress), and had spent a good portion of the past hour reaching into his nappy and removing his willy to examine it. Upon doing so on this occasion, however, he had apparently found more than he'd bargained for: the hand that he held out to me was covered in poo. 

Time stood still for a moment as I considered the shit-smeared digits hovering in front of my face...

I abandoned a naked Merryn on the floor, her changing mat an island in a sea of squashed peas, Play-Doh crumbs and bits of wooden train track, and took Blake by the arm (not the hand) and ushered him upstairs. I washed his hands in the bathroom sink, trying not to vomit on his head as I stood over him, scraping crap from under his fingernails, and then I led him back downstairs to deal with what was left in his nappy. I quickly fastened a nappy onto Merryn and relocated her to her play mat, temporarily wrapped in a blanket in lieu of pyjamas, plonked Blake onto the changing mat and began using another seventy four wet wipes to try and clean his bottom.

Unfortunately, by this point, Merryn had well and truly crossed over to the dark side of tiredness and was seriously losing her shit, eventually crying so hard that she began to gag. I grabbed her off her mat and held her up in the air, trying not to think about the fact that I'd literally just had my hands in her brother's poo, where she proceeded to vomit all over me and the floor, elegantly crapping her pants as she did so. 

It was at this point that my husband got home from work. And do you know what I did as I explained the carnage that greeted him? I laughed. I didn't lose my temper, I didn't cry, I didn't even get a little bit anxious, and that's when I realised that I'm really, properly coping with having two young children. I was the calm in the centre of the literal shit storm and none of it phased me. Within ten minutes of the catastrophic crap climax, both children were clean(ish), dressed and ready for bed and I didn't lose my shit once. Not once! 

None of us are perfect parents, we know that much, but we have to celebrate the little moments that remind us that we're doing just fine. I've spent the last five months worrying that I was doing a terrible job as a mother, and yet today, in the middle of absolute sodding chaos, I realised that actually I'm doing great. Better than great; I'm fucking killing it.

A picture of just the pea incident because I'm not a complete monster.