So, here’s the thing. I am late for everything. Like, EVERYTHING. So it will be of no great surprise to those who know me well that this blog post is late. It was Birth Trauma Awareness week last week and this little ditty was in the diary to be written to coincide with it. So, basically, now this post has absolutely no common relevance whatsoever. But I’m going to write it anyway. Because, if nothing else, I think it might be quite therapeutic. For me, that is. Not you.
I’ve had the pleasure (and absolute privilege) of bringing two beautiful babies in to the world but neither births were easy. In fact, they were pretty traumatic. My memory of both is really quite limited. I wonder whether that was the drugs pumped into me or whether it is some sort of self defence move my brain has pulled.
What came out of both births is that I do not take for granted that I now have two healthy children. Yes, it would have been nice to have a romantic water birth surrounded by scented candles and whale music whilst being held lovingly by my husband but the reality is it all went a bit Pete Tong. It was crap. But, you know what? I’ve got two healthy and strong children. As much as it was traumatic and I felt the effects of it for a while afterwards, I am now able to move forward and look upon the births as a difficult journey that we had to embark on to get my babies here. A bit like a turbulent long haul flight to get to some idyllic tropical island: the journey was hell but it did its job, I’m now relaxing on golden sands with a frozen Margarita and all was worth it.
I’m not going to attempt to re tell both births in this post. I think recalling them both may result in me becoming a fragile, wet mess. So, let’s talk about my little lass. Chosen purely because it was the least traumatic (and the most recent so my memory is a bit sharper!).
The whole pregnancy with Little Miss was difficult. Whilst I floated on air for several months after finding out I was finally pregnant, it wasn’t an easy ride by any means. I didn’t expect one mind so I was kind of prepared. I had severe morning-noon-and-night sickness until around 18 weeks and at around six months I became really itchy. I itched literally from the highest point of my scalp to the sole of my feet. It was worse at night and it literally drove me insane. I would never have even clicked that it was linked to the pregnancy had I not read an article in my local paper the week before about a lady who sadly lost her baby due Obstetric Cholestasis. If I hadn’t read that article, I am not convinced I would have ever even mentioned the itching to my midwife. Maybe I am completely lacking in intelligence and common sense but in my mind, I wouldn’t have even connected itchy skin to something more sinister surrounding the pregnancy. My heart breaks for the poor family featured in the paper and I only wish I knew who they were to thank them for sharing their story as it most definitely saved my baby. It just shows how critical it is to raise awareness of these things.
So I mentioned it to my midwife or sent me for a blood test. It came back straight away that there was an issue with my liver and I was sent up to the maternity department at the hospital. We were met by a consultant who explained I had Obstetric Cholestasis. He was really patient and thorough but it was a lot of information to take in. We were already considered a high risk pregnancy due to the sheer concoction of drugs I was on to manage the pain of my chronic disease so this was just another risk to worry about. He told us that our baby would need delivered early as the longer the pregnancy goes on, the higher the risk of still birth. He advised that 1 in 200 women with OC go on to have a still born baby. 1 in 200 may not sound scary but when you’re sitting there, nursing your bump as your baby kicks and moves inside of you, so full of life, the even remote mention of your baby being stillborn is about as scary as it gets. A C-section was booked in at 36 weeks and they organised a care plan, I was to visit the hospital every week to have blood tests, to monitor the baby’s heart rate and movements and I was given medication to try and reduce the levels of bile in the blood. I was also prescribed this amazing menthol cream (which I literally bathed in for the next two months!) which was great for reducing the itching. It still itched like hell but I got a couple of minutes of relief at least when the cream was applied.
We were already aware that our baby was going to be born dependent on morphine due to my medication and that was scary enough so when these risks were factored in too, it was a really anxious time. Every week we’d trek up to the hospital in the city and I would have bloods taken and whilst waiting for them to return from the lab, the midwives would hook me up on a monitor machine which measured the baby’s heart rate and recorded the movements I felt by a button I had to press. Most weeks I was kept on the monitor for longer than standard because either she wasn’t moving a lot, or she was sleepy, or her heart rate dropped. It felt like those appointments went on forever. In fact, we headed in to the city today and took the same road we always took for the hospital and I instantly felt that sick, anxious twisting-of-the-stomach feeling that I felt every single time I went up there. I always expected the worse. I’m not sure whether that was a self preservation tactic or what, I was just constantly paranoid that something was going to be wrong with my baby. My precious baby.
We got all the way up to 35 weeks and I was due to have my final monitoring appointment before the section that was literally scheduled for days later. That’s when things didn’t start going to plan. The midwife kept coming back to the monitor and looking at the scan on the paper it was printing out. I could see from her face that something wasn’t quite right. You know when you get sent in to a little side room closely followed by a suited up consultant that things aren’t going to plan. They told me they weren’t happy with baby’s heart rate. I kept dipping and wasn’t recovering as quickly as it should. They said that, ever so matter of factly, they needed to deliver the baby that day via an emergency section. Cue an onslaught of ‘my hospital bag, it isn’t here! What about the big lad? We haven’t organised childcare for him! I’ve not eaten yet! I’ve not shaved my legs yet’ ya-da ya-da ya-da. It turned out that my hubby could actually throw things together in a plastic bag, arrange childcare, prepare eldest child for the premature arrival of his sibling and get back to the hospital in time for the section (even if he did bring a hat aged 6-9 months for the baby to wear upon her birth…). My legs remained hairy but the surgeon didn’t seem too arsed. Either that or I was too blotto to notice. Whatever. I’m sure he didn’t go on his break in the staff room and say ‘You should’ve seen the baby I’ve just delivered, her mum had the hairiest legs I’ve ever seen!’ to his fellow surgeon mates whilst they dunked their digestives in their tea. Or maybe he did. Frankly, I no longer care.
So, my hubby was gowned up and they took me in to theatre. I remember it being so brightly lit and not at all like the theatres you see on the TV. There was a radio playing and the staff were joking about how bad the Healthcare Assistant’s singing was. The Anaesthetist struggled to get the spinal block due to my spinal condition. She had told me that it may have been necessary to have a general if she couldn’t get the spinal in. I pleaded with her to keep trying. I desperately didn’t want to miss the delivery of my little girl. She worked like an absolute trooped getting that spinal block and she made it happen. I will forever be grateful for that.
I had a great medical team surrounding me, with a Baby Doctor on call ready to give our baby girl help if she needed it. It turns out she was an absolute trooper too. She was delivered ever so perfectly, with Daddy catching the moment she was pulled from me on camera (we’re saving that one til she brings her first boyfriend home). Every last ounce of her 6lb 12 weight was absolute perfection. You wouldn’t even know that she was born early, or born dependant on morphine.
But as I was obliviously coo-ing over the beautiful baby girl that was tucked inside my hospital gown, being held tightly against my chest, the rest of the surgery was not going to plan. The nurses did their best to reassure me when the machines started making extra beeping noises and they called the Registrar to come down, I knew there was something wrong. It was written all over the atmosphere in the room. It had gone from a jubilant, celebratory ‘Yay! It’s a baby girl!’ atmosphere to a everyone-looking-scary-worried atmosphere.
The Registrar came down and spoke very quietly with the Surgeon then came and explained that I was suffering Uterine Atony, my uterus had failed to contract after the delivery and it was causing quite a lot of blood loss. She was very upbeat, attempted to distract me with small talk whilst keeping one eye firmly on the developing surgery at the bottom of the table. It took the surgeon, what felt like, an eternity to get things under control. I did nothing but look at the faces of the medical staff, the way you look to air crew staff when you’re on a bumpy flight to see if they look worried, because if they look worried, well then it’s time to worry that the plane may be in trouble.
I tried to focus on my baby girl, my husband – anything other than the beeping of those bloody machines. The more I nestled my beautiful baby in to my chest, the more I worried that I wasn’t going to get out of that theatre alive to enjoy her. I felt cold and my hands were trembling as I tried to hold my baby close to me.
What felt like an eternity later, the Registrar finally looked at me, relieved and told me that I had lost quite a bit of blood but that the situation was under control and that I was now being stitched up ready to go in to recovery. The machines stopped beeping, the jovial atmosphere resumed with the Healthcare Assistant continuing with his rubbish singing and the room literally breathed a sigh of relief.
It turned out that our little baby girl wasn’t out of the woods unfortunately. We had a wonderful first 12 -18 hours with her before the drug withdrawal symptoms started taking hold and sge got sicker and sicker. I have promised myself I will write about our experience as parents of a baby with a drug dependency one day but I don’t feel quite ready to do it yet so I will come back to that another day.
One thing I must say on the subject of both her dependency and the birth is that I am so grateful for the incredible medical team we had looking after us both. Not once did we feel that we weren’t in safe hands. They were nothing short of outstanding. I know sometimes the NHS gets a bashing, and if I’m being honest, I have had my own frustrations with them in the past, but we could not fault the care given to either of us during our stay in Maternity.
Phew! I got through it! Apologies for its total lack of relevance due to my poor time keeping but posting anyway in the hope that one day it may raise awareness in the same way that newspaper article did for me. I owe the family in that article the world and then some.
Thanks for prescribing me a stonking big dose of mummy guilt, Doctor.
So, you know the way it goes. You spend the best part of a decade longing for a baby (although, granted, that was probably just us – we had fertility issues), you look at mums pushing prams and nursing bumps and you are so envious it physically hurts, you dream of the baby you so desperately want and all the things you would do together if your dream were to come true. Then the magic happens and you conceive. You spend nine months yearning to meet your child. Your pride and joy is born and you feel immersed in a great big bubble of love. You look forward to the long stretch of maternity leave ahead of you and you plan all the lovely things you will do with your baby.
Then, like some sort of bad sci-fi movie, your life speeds up, flying through six months of maternity leave at the rate of knots and before you know it, you’re setting your alarm for your first day back at work and rummaging through your wardrobe desperately looking for something semi-formal (and preferably elasticated for obvious reasons) to wear to the office.
My maternity leave came to an end when my baby girl was just over five months old. I would have loved to take more time off but as my husband and I both work for our own business, it became clear I had stretched my maternity leave out for as long as I possibly could and that I needed to return to the office to ensure our business continued to grow. We started looking at nurseries when our little one was three months old as it was important to us that we looked at as many different nurseries as possible and had the time to really consider which one felt right for us and our little lady.
I was always very acutely aware that I was returning to work quite sharpish compared to the length of maternity leave parents tend to take these days. With my son, fifteen years ago, six months was the norm and those who took a year were the really privileged ones. This time round most of the mums I spoke to were taking a minimum of a year off. So, to start her at nursery at five months seemed really young and I did feel anxiety about that. Every nursery we visited would say on their brochure ‘from six weeks to school age’ but yet when we toured the nurseries, there were never any young babies there to see. The youngest we saw in most of the nurseries was around eight to nine months old so every time I left a nursery I would feel crushing guilt that I was starting my baby way too soon.
We saw the good, the bad and the damn right ugly during our tour of the local nurseries. With some nurseries I knew within seconds of stepping through the door that it wasn’t the right place for our lady. We talked to friends and asked if they had heard any good reports of any particular nurseries and I quickly realised that choosing a nursery for your child is a really personal thing. For every positive referral I heard from a friend, I heard a negative opinion from someone else. I concluded that this is because maybe we are all looking for something different when we weigh up the best place for our child. Maybe when us parents look at childcare, nothing is ever good enough for our children and that is where negative opinions stem from.
We did reach a point where we started to feel quite panic stricken. We weren’t being terribly over fussy (or at least I didn’t think so!) but we just wanted to walk in to a nursery and feel that, in our heart, it was the best place for her. She was still so little, so fragile, it was important to us that we felt 100% reassured that she was in a safe place and the right place for her. We had exhausted every nursery in the immediate local area. I’m not for one second saying that we have bad nurseries in our area, because we don’t. There are so many nurseries getting good to outstanding in their Ofsted reports so clearly there were good nurseries; but we were looking for more than an Oftsed rating. We were looking for that feeling in the gut, that warmth in your heart, that lightbulb moment: this is the right place for our precious girl.
Having visited all of the options in our immediate local area, my husband suggested we widened the search. I wasn’t particularly happy with the idea as I knew that would mean a longer commute on the way to and from work and would have far preferred to have been geographically closer to the nursery when at the office incase she was ever poorly and needed to be collected urgently. However, with very little other options, I agreed, and we visited one further nursery that was just outside of our immediate local area – only a few miles down the road from nurseries that we had ruled out.
I knew within two steps in to the nursery that it was the right place. I actually felt excited as the Manager showed us around; excited at the potential role the nursery and its staff could play in our daughter’s life, growth and development. The nursery was very different to that of the others we had visited. It wasn’t a franchise; brightly coloured plastic toys and equipment were exchanged for more natural materials, there was lot of wooden toys and a huge emphasis on outdoor play. I didn’t know at the time that that particular concept would appeal to me, but it did. Within minutes.We clicked with the baby room staff immediately and one of the most reassuring things we heard that day was that they had recently had a six month old baby start. We talked about how nursery would support us with weaning, crawling, walking and other things and everything just clicked into place. Before we were even told the price of the nursery, we had decided that whatever the cost, we would find a way to ensure that our daughter was cared for there.
Finding the right nursery did, in some ways, make me feel less guilty about returning to work so early but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t plagued with guilt about handing over my beautiful little baby to an apparent stranger for seven hours a day, multiple times a week. My little girl knew no different and that was one huge advantage to her starting so young, she didn’t really recognise that I had left her and she therefore settled in really quickly. I, on the other hand, did not settle in to the arrangement very well.
I remember sitting down at my desk on that first day. I put up some new photographs, sticking pictures of my new baby girl on the wall. I changed my screen saver to reflect our new addition to the family. I must have blamed baby brain a hundred and one times for locking myself out of various accounts by trying forgotten passwords incorrectly and I chain drank coffee from the new swish coffee machine that had been delivered whilst I’d been on maternity. I remember staring at the number of emails in my inbox. I can’t remember the exact number but it was four thousand and something. I felt overwhelmed. I felt exhausted before I’d even begun and I felt emotionally drained. I did nothing but watch that clock (actually, I tell a lie, I rang the nursery a few times to check on the baby too). I was very unproductive. But it was the first day back, surely that was expected, yes?
I wish I could say it got easier but for me it hasn’t. My little girl is nine months and is now at nursery full time. I torture myself with ridiculous ideas like ‘since she’s gone to nursery full time she hasn’t said ‘mamma’ to me as much’ and convinced myself that was because she had bonded with her nursery key worker more than me because I had been so absent from her life due to work. The key worker would write the little lady’s diary ‘she’s really enjoyed tummy time today’ yet when I tried to put her on her tummy she screamed until I picked her up. She tried her first finger food at nursery, she stood unsupported for a few seconds first at nursery. She waved first at her keyworker. I know these sound trivial things (they’re not even significant enough to be called ‘milestones’) but nobody brings a baby into the world to have them cared for by other people and miss out on all the good bits. It’s been really tough.
I can’t say that the separation from me has upset or distressed my little lady in any way. She is 100% happy, content and settled at nursery. Not once has she ever cried when I’ve left her (she has once or twice when I’ve collected her though! Argh!) and she is thriving there. And that is what counts, right? That should make me feel better, yes? So why don’t I feel any better about it?! I have, at times, felt really quite low at not being with her. I’m not someone that dislikes work. I am work focused, ambitious and driven. I don’t long to be off work, or at home, I just long to be with my baby girl. I think about all the weeks on maternity I took for granted and wish I could re-live them again so that I could squeeze every last drop of joy out of every single day. But, given time travel isn’t an actual thing I can only go forwards.
I go forwards, however, with a lot of mummy guilt. My little one has caught infection after virus after infection since starting nursery, so I have felt extra guilt about that, a ‘if I hadn’t gone back to work so soon, she wouldn’t have been in nursery now and wouldn’t have got ill so it’s all my fault’ type thing. When she sleeps in and I have to wake her to get her dressed and take her to nursery, I feel guilt then. When I end up picking her up later because work has overran and then have to start the bath/bed routine the second we get home because she’s shattered, I feel it then too. Some days I feel like I don’t even grab so much as one hour of quality time together from one nursery day to the next. It makes me feel low. Like, I’m just not emotionally built to be separated from her so early on.
Other parents haven’t helped. Even some of my friends. They don’t mean anything malicious but the whole ‘she’s started nursery already? I didn’t even think nurseries took babies that young’ gets said quite often. Meanwhile I sink down in my chair and hate myself just that little bit more. Even just today, I took my baby girl to the doctors on the advice of nursery because there had been a case of impetigo within the nursery and my little one had developed a few spots on her mouth so we went to get checked out. The doctor, who is our regular doctor and knows the family well, asked what was wrong, so I explained. He stopped and said ‘wait a minute, she goes to nursery? Isn’t she too young?’. Cue me, rapidly trying to justify our decision ‘ we’re self employed, I didn’t have a choice’ blah blah blah. He raised his eyebrows, in a judgmental and disapproving way and said ‘I’ve never known a baby so young start nursery.’ With a shake of a head, he goes on to examine my baby meanwhile I feel a little bit wounded on the inside. The doctor thinks she’s too young to be in nursery. He must be right, I mean, he’s a Doctor, right? Doctor’s know everything. As he brings the appointment to a close and I leave clutching a prescripton, I feel a little broken. Thanks so much for pointing out that I am a shit mum, Doc. The guilt is going to keep me up all night. But cheers though, have a nice day.
The fact this judgmental comment was said by a medical professional, a family Doctor at that, made it all the more poignant for me. This wasn’t just a flippant comment made by one of my friends who thinks she knows it all when it comes to kids; nor was it a comment from my grandma, who can be excused because times have changed since women stayed at home and raised their babies. This was from a family medical professional. I felt ashamed. Ashamed of having to go back to work to make a living and build a life for my children. Guilt that I couldn’t have stayed at home with her for any longer. I felt like he had attacked my ability as a parent to make the right decision by my daughter. That hurt.
It shouldn’t have upset me. I should have been stronger. I shouldn’t have let it bother me. But it did. He opened the door to mummy guilt and invited it back in to my head and now I’ll be entertaining it for days. Maybe even weeks. Months.
I’m by no means an expert on raising teenagers. I still make quite considerable sized boo-boos on a daily basis but I’m learning. These are just a few things I’ve discovered (mostly by accident) that I wish I’d been told about earlier….
- Pick your battles wisely. Your teen will go head to head with you on various topics multiple times a day. These battles can range anywhere from the daily moans and groans of ‘I want to stay out later’ ‘I don’t want to go to school’ and ‘I wouldn’t be seen dead wearing THAT.’ to the more rebellious, challenging battles that would test the patience of a saint. In the dark underworld of teen parenting, the smallest of things can trigger the biggest of battles. I’ve found the hard way that unless you want to spend every waking minute in a to-do with your teen, you need to be selective in the battles you entertain and the ones you let go as sometimes it just isn’t worth it. If your teen is anything like mine, they have the stamina of a cheetah on steroids when it comes to arguing so it would be physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting to try and keep up with them. Let certain things go – ask yourself ‘is it worth it?’ and if the answer is ‘no’, let it go. Rise above it. It feels unnatural at first to turn the other cheek when your child is saying or doing something you don’t agree with; after all, you’ve spent thirteen odd years teaching them to respect you, listen to you and do as you say. Believe me though, some things just aren’t worth it. Maintaining a positive atmosphere at home and within the family, for me anyway, has always been more important, particularly when you have younger siblings around. Door slamming and ranting and raving doesn’t make for a very harmonious house!
- Loosen your hold of their reins. I don’t say this lightly because this is something that I continue to struggle with. Parenting is about keeping your child safe, supervising them, being there with them to ensure their safety so it’s only natural that as they grow up, as parents we find it difficult to let them go. But this is an essential part of growing up that all teens need to go through. They need to be given the space to experience independence in the real world and the freedom to go out there and make mistakes, learn lessons and develop valuable life skills. If you don’t allow them that freedom, the chances are that, they will rebel against you and take that freedom against your consent and then it is done in an uncontrolled way. Nobody gets given an instruction manual for raising teens so when it comes to making decisions about at what stage or age to give your teen that freedom, you need to do what feels right for you and your child. Build that freedom gradually, nobody expects you to allow your child to walk the streets for three days. Start with allowing them out for an hour or two and build it up gradually, adding in new dimensions like allowing them to travel by public transport, allowing them to visit places like the cinema independently. I have an arrangement with my teen that he texts me whenever he arrives or leaves a new place so that if I ever needed to track his movements, I could. For example he visits his friends via a short train journey so he texts me when he reaches the train station, again when he is on the train, again when he gets off the train and again when he meets his friends. Some may think this is a little OTT (and maybe it is!) but this is the strategy I needed to use in order for me to feel reassured that he was as safe as I could possibly make him when out on his own.
- You need to let them be them. When raising a younger child, as a parent you have control over almost every aspect of their life: which school they go to, the friendships you encourage through invitations to play-dates, what they wear, the media they are exposed to and the hobbies they enjoy. As they get older, we have to relinquish that control a little bit at a time so that they can find themselves, further develop who they are as a person, their likes, their dislikes, their opinions and their interests. Sometimes, as a parent, this can feel like a bad thing. You feel like you are losing that control. Suddenly you are faced with your son or daughter who may be developing their own point of view, disagreeing with the belief system you have raised them with, taking on character traits that you don’t recognise. It’s difficult. But necessary. And, you know, once you go with it, it brings a whole new dimension to your family, and moreover, to your relationship with your teen. I love that my son and I have opposing views on some subjects, it makes for stimulating conversation and we have some very healthy debates over the dinner table!
- When they say they hate you, they don’t actually hate you. There are a whole range of sayings you can regularly hear from my teen when things don’t go his way. These range from the old ‘You’ve ruined my life’ chestnut to ‘You don’t get it’ ‘You know nothing’ ‘I hate you’. These sayings are usually accompanied by thunderous footsteps up the stairs and an almighty door slam. After a couple of years of it, I have developed a thicker skin but I found it hard not to take it personally in the beginning. The one thing to remember throughout any spat with your teen is that it is temporary. Your teen will calm down. They will come back downstairs with their tail between their legs (usually when they are hungry) and they will apologise (be prepared for this to be a non-verbal apology as saying the word ‘sorry’ seems to be a bit of a challenge for teenagers in my experience!). When my teen’s sorry he usually creeps in with those big doughy eyes, gives me a cuddle and a kiss on the cheek and then resumes usual service with a ‘what’s for tea?’ type question. Go easy on them. Hormones do make them go a bit crazy. They are a child trying to find their place in an adult world. It can be tough on them too sometimes.
- You need to involve them in everything you do as a family. As much as your teen enjoys spending fifteen hours a day on their games console competing against a middle aged man in a string vest suffering a midlife crisis on another continent, it is good for them to get out and enjoy family life. They may protest, they may put up a fight. They may well roll their eyes at the thought of a family picnic in the park but I guarantee that once you get them away from their games console / youtube videos / snapchat, they will enjoy it. Even though they are becoming more and more independent at the speed of light, they still need to feel that they have a place within the family. They may not volunteer to go on family days out but with a little gentle persuasion, they will come, offering you opportunities to make more memories as a family. As you slowly start to recognise that your teen is rapidly growing into an adult, it is those precious memories that you will treasure.
‘Know the true meaning of unconditional love: An open letter to my children’
This piece was inspired by a tragic incident that took place recently involving a family I know. I won’t go in to it any further because it’s not my story to tell, but it has served as a poignant reminder that mental health knows no bounds. It takes prisoners of all ages and comes with an invisibility which can lead to it being unidentified for a long time.
Dear my Big Lad, and my Baby Girl,
You, my big lad, are growing up so fast. You will be fifteen in less than six months. I know you are smart (much smarter than I’ll ever be!) and I know you are switched on and might think you have it all figured out. I know you will think ‘I know this already’ but please read on, it’s important to your old mum.
And to you, my baby girl, you are at the very beginning of you long and exciting life. You don’t know much about life yet, and that’s Ok. Take your time. The world is a funny place, you will find your place in it, there’s no hurry. Your daddy and I will be here to help you find your way. But before all that, I need you to know this one thing, so listen up. I don’t expect everything to make sense to you right now as you are so small, but I promise one day soon it will all make perfect sense so read carefully.
I know that there will come a day when you will get fed up of the way I go on. I tell you I love you every time you leave the room, even if you are just going to the toilet and coming back in a few minutes. I sign off every text message with ‘I love you’ and hundreds of lines of kisses. I love to cuddle you at random times, like in the middle of a crammed shopping centres. I pretend to like the same TV as you so that we can sit and cuddle up and make our way through box sets together. I know that you know that but let’s not say it out loud. It would spoil the fun.
If I could physically wrap you both up in cotton wool and bubble wrap and never let you out of my sight, I would. I have had to work really hard to relax a little. I tell you for why; since the day you were born, you were and remain the most precious and treasured thing I have in my life. Both of you. You are my greatest achievement. You are my world, my life.
I know that the cotton wool and bubble wrap approach doesn’t go down very well. And I get that. You want to grow up, you want to do things your way, you want to be free. I continue to work hard at allowing you both that freedom. Big lad, you are growing up so fast that I know I have to ease off, I have to let go a little. I have to let go a lot. You will soon be making your way in the big wide world without me, so now more than ever, I need you to know the way I feel.
A mother’s love is something you can’t understand at your age. Since the day you were both placed in my arms, it has been my job to envelope you in love and keep you safe. It was and is the responsibility of your Daddy and I to raise you to be good people with kind hearts. That’s some job. That is some responsibility. But my goodness are you two making us proud.
Big lad, you will know that I tell you that you make me proud every single day. You will respond, as you always do, with ‘what have I done to make you proud today? I haven’t done anything special’, without knowing that you need do nothing ‘special’ as you put it, to make proud. You make me proud by just being you. I swell with pride every time I look at you.
There are moments, special moments, where I feel like my heart could literally burst with pride for you both. Sometimes it’s an overwhelming feeling. There are times I simply cannot believe that you came from me. You are both so beautiful. Together with your Daddy, I am unbelievably proud of who you are and what you have achieved in your life so far.
As much as I don’t want to even contemplate it, there will come a time (and it isn’t in the too distant future for you, big lad) where you have to fled the nest to be yourself, to work out who you are as an adult, to find your place and make your mark on the world. My heart plummets at the thought of you not being there when I wake up on a morning or not being able to give you a hug at some point in the day, but I know you are bound for incredible things and that excites me. I know that the both of you, whatever you grow up to do, will make the world a better place. The world is so much richer for having you both here and I can’t wait (well, I can wait but you know what I mean!) to see what you both achieve.
But as you are growing up – and beyond that, when you are adults – please remember one thing. I love you unconditionally. Big lad, I know that you will understand what the word ‘unconditional’ means but I want you to understand what it means in the context of a mother’s love. Because, that is unconditional on a whole new level.
There is nothing you could ever do that will change the love I feel for you. Please know that regardless of who you grow up to be, the company you keep, the things you do or don’t do, where you go or what you believe, I love you. Absolutely unconditionally.
I can’t promise to always agree with your opinion; I can’t promise to always approve of your decisions or your actions. But I can promise that we will love you regardless. We have raised you the only way we know how and I sincerely hope that the life you have had with us will give you a solid foundation upon which to build your own moral compass, your own belief system, your own way of living. But please know that if there should be a bump in the road and you make a mistake, know that you are loved unconditionally. Don’t ever be afraid to say ‘I’ve screwed up’. Don’t ever be deterred from returning home to us after you’ve made a mistake or you’ve done something that you know we wouldn’t approve of. We all do it at some point in our lives. Hell, I’ve made my own mistakes. I’ve made multiple mistakes. It’s all part and parcel of the tapestry of life.
Sometimes life goes pear shaped. We make a series of bad decisions and suddenly life has taken a turn for the worse. Don’t ever feel that it is too late to start over. It is never too late. Come to us and we will listen. We will not judge. We will put an arm around your shoulder and we will support you. We will help to rebuild your life and start again.
Likewise don’t ever feel like you have no where to go. Don’t ever believe that you can’t come home because we will be disappointed / disapprove / disagree – we will never turn you away and we will never feel those things. You always have a place with us. Always. So regardless of how old you are, your personal circumstances or what has gone on in your life, please understand that there is always a road that leads home. That road will never be closed off. This is our guarantee to you that we will always be here for you.
And if you EVER think that we would be better off without you, please know that there is no truth in that statement. Your mind is not thinking clearly and is not speaking any truth. Do not listen to it. There could never ever be a world where we would consider ourselves better off without you. So should you ever find yourself having these thoughts (and I pray that you don’t) remember this letter. Let your mind trigger a memory of what I have spoken about today. I love you. I always will. Forever. And unconditional.
It’s not greedy to want two children. My experience of secondary infertility.
Secondary infertility isn’t a subject that is widely discussed. I’m not sure why, because according to many articles that spring to life following a random google search, thousands of couples suffer from it every year. It is very common, but not often talked about.
We fell pregnant very quickly with our first child, in fact, he took us by surprise. He was the best surprise. So we had no understanding of what it was like to actively ‘try’ for a baby whatsoever.
When our gorgeous boy was between two and three years old, I convinced my very unsure husband that it was time for another. Looking back, I can understand where his reservations were coming from. If our first baby was anything to go on, we could potentially be knitting bootees and cooing over cots in less than four weeks time. We questioned whether we were ready as a family. We questioned whether the box room was big enough for a nursery. We questioned whether we could afford to double our childcare costs. We questioned a lot of things when we talked about having another baby. But the one thing we didn’t question, was our ability to conceive again. Not once. So when it didn’t happen, it hit us hard.
We tried to conceive for months and months. The longer we tried, the more we wanted it, and the further away we felt from it. We were totally caught off guard by the whole thing. My body had done it once. Super quick too. Why couldn’t it do it again? We were frustrated by it and we could not understand why we were having so much difficulty.
Little did we know that we were only at the beginning of a very long and painful road spanning ten years.
In the early years we didn’t tell our family or friends what we were going through. That was difficult. Having a second child is a natural progression from having one in society; once our boy reached three, people started to get impatient. They would not-so-subtly tap their feet and check their watch every time the subject was even remotely addressed. Every time we told our family or friends that we had news to share with them, their eyes would automatically well up with joy, they would clap their hands together and screech the words ‘When’s it due?!’ only for us to have to deliver some pretty underwhelming news by comparison, like we’d saved enough nectar points for a free pizza express, or we were thinking about getting a pet gerbil.
I’m not sure why we chose not to talk about it. Maybe it was because it wasn’t commonly spoken about. I didn’t even know secondary infertility was a thing until it, well, became a thing. Amongst child less friends I felt like my desire for a second baby, and my emotional turmoil at not having one, had to be hidden. I felt I had no right to talk of my wanting another baby. I felt greedy. I had one child who was beautiful and healthy – he was pretty damn perfect, actually. I should’ve been counting my blessings, right? Some people can’t even have one child let alone two. I was one of the lucky ones.
And I do get that. I can imagine that couples facing infertility with no children would think that we were being greedy. They’d no doubt give anything to have just one child nevermind two. I know the pain I felt as I longed for a second baby; I can only imagine that their pain was mine ten fold. And more.
But it didn’t matter how much I reasoned with myself. I told myself I was lucky to have my boy (and, by the way, that is not questionable. I am the luckiest woman in the world to have been blessed with my son and I never once doubted that). I told myself that not having a second baby wasn’t the end of the world. But that longing didn’t go away. Yes, I had a child to hold. But that didn’t mean that my arms didn’t physically ache to hold another. In some ways, when you’ve had one child, you know more about what you are missing out on by not having a second child. You know the absolute joy that they bring, the unconditional love that you feel enveloped in on first holding your baby; you fully understand the impact of the walking miracle that they are and the life changing experiences that they bring – and when you know that, and you’ve felt that, it only leaves you wanting a second baby even more.
Our Fertility Professor agreed to put us on fertility treatment. It was mentally and physically gruelling in every way. It was a never ending cycle of hope meets disappointment meets hope meets disappointment once again. We did stints of it for months and then took breaks because at times, it had become all too much. The treatment was all consuming. Repeated visits to the clinic for blood tests and scans on a weekly basis was exhausting, the excuses I made to my colleagues for the repeated time out of work to attend the appointments, the hormones that made me feel and behave in ways I didn’t recognise, bursting into tears if Sainsburys had ran out of red grapes, or snapping at my husband (and when I say snapping, what I actually mean is, ‘exploding’) for offering to do the dishes. This went on for eight years. Eight years.
Then there’s the guilt. The guilt you feel because as parents, you can’t give your child a sibling. You can’t give them that friend for life they expect, someone else who will stick with them throughout their life and offer them unconditional love. This was heightened when my boy started school and realised that most children had siblings. That was a difficult time. He would write ‘a brother or a sister’ at the top of his birthday and Christmas lists year in and year out Every time we passed a water fountain he would ask for a penny so that he could throw the penny in and make a wish for a sibling. They were tough times. Because what explanation can you give to a four or five year old as to why they don’t have the brother or sister that most of his friends have? He was too young for the scientific answer. We aren’t a hugely religious family but we do have a belief system of sorts – a faith. I called upon that system in an attempt to explain to my boy that sometimes in life, things such as these are simply outside of our control. We told him that the big fella in the sky would give us a baby brother or sister if and when he felt we were ready for it. It was an impossible discussion to have because, as a parent to a young child, you would do anything to shelter them from the miserable reality that shit happens and we can’t always have whatever we want, regardless of how much we want it.
The more years that went by, the more we were beginning to resign ourselves to life with only one child. I turned the TV over when babies were born on Eastenders, I avoided channel 4 like the bloody plague to ensure there was absolutely no chance whatsoever of me even accidentally catching a miniscule of a second of ‘One born every minute’. I politely declined invitations to my friends’ Baby Showers (which, by the way, I deeply, deeply regret. I am sad that I couldn’t put my grief to one side to celebrate with them but it was simply more than I could take at the time) and I averted my eyes to the ground when we passed a pregnant lady in the street or a woman pushing a pram. I distinctly remember my sister announcing she was pregnant with her second child. It was Mothers Day and we were out for a special lunch as a family. Nobody expected the announcement. Looking back now, I’m not sure why, but she had never mentioned wanting another baby so it came as a surprise. I’d like to say a happy surprise but I felt it like a punch to my gut. A big, strong punch to the stomach. This metaphorical punch almost left me winded. My mum wept with joy. My dad shot up and shook my brother in law’s hand. I’m not sure how I managed it but I fought those tears with every inch of my being and I gave her a celebratory hug. I don’t think I managed any words. But I definitely tried for her. I felt like a shit sister and shit Aunt. I mean it when I say that I desperately wanted to be happy for her. I genuinely did. I felt envy so strong it made me physically sick. I was physically sick with envy.
Guilt was a prominent feature of our journey. I felt guilt I couldn’t provide my boy with a sibling, I felt guilt that I couldn’t be happy for my closest family and friends when it happened for them, I even felt guilt at my boy not being enough for me; I felt guilt for wanting another. I felt greedy.
We had those sorts of conversations over and over again with our Fertility Professor over the years; she was so supportive. In that consulting room, with her, I felt safe. It had three chairs, a small table with the obligatory box of tissues on it and three framed pictures of some sort of wacky artist’s representation of a woman’s uterus on the wall, that was it. But it felt safe. Why? Because there was an acknowledgement that it was perfectly natural to desperately want a second child, and that it was Ok to feel such pain at not being able to. I slowly came to the realisation that I was justified in feeling that pain. Yes, obviously I was better off than couples who couldn’t have any children. And by God, did I appreciate that. But it was still Ok for me to feel pain at not being able to complete my family. It wasn’t greedy to want two children. It was natural. It was Ok to feel the way we felt.
We fought that infertility with every ounce of energy within us. When it got tough, we took a little break from the treatment but we never gave up. Giving up without our second baby was just never an option then. Until the treatment worked, that is.
In a phone call to the clinic to find out the results of the pregnancy blood test that was completed after every round of treatment, a call I had made every month for years and years, I finally heard the words that I had dreamed of. They told us it was positive. It had worked. We felt like all our dreams had come true. That is, until we went for our early scan at the clinic and found that our baby had stopped developing very early on. It felt like the pregnancy was on, then as quick as a flick of a switch, it was off. Gone. Dreams completely shattered.
We went on to have a number of rounds of treatment but I think we both knew we had reached the end of our journey. We were grief stricken over a baby that had barely got out of the starting blocks and continually trying to get pregnant again afterwards only served as a cold and bitter reminder of the loss we had experienced.
Eight years after we started trying for our second baby, we decided, in conjunction with our Professor that it was time to accept this was highly unlikely to happen for us again. The Professor had said that she would support us with one further round of treatment but that she was pushing the boundaries and felt that it was highly unlikely there would be any success. We were a mess, in every aspect. Our marriage was stretched because of the ups and downs that infertility brings, we were missing a lot of work in order to commit to the treatment and as much as our employers were supportive, it had been going on years and there is only so much you can ask. We also felt that we had become so obsessed with what we didn’t have that at times we had lost sight of what we did have: our gorgeous boy. And he was growing up so fast. It was time to start the acceptance process and make the best out of what we had. We had so much to be grateful for and although it was an extremely difficult time, once we had come through that acceptance process, it was like someone lifted the roof to reveal blue sky and sunshine, bright colours and fresh air. There was a world out there to enjoy. A world, that didn’t include hormone injections, hospital gowns, invasive scans and blood tests. We had a life to lead with our boy. It was time to start living again.
Our boy was growing up fast which meant there was a whole new world to enjoy with him. As an almost teen, he could access a world of different things that wouldn’t have been appropriate before when he was younger. We took advantage of that and we made ourselves busy. We booked trips away, we introduced him to our love of live music and took him to gigs with us, we went to see films that were rated 12a at the cinema, we went in to book shops and sat with a hot chocolate and discussed books that we both liked the look of, we watched box sets on Netflix that we both liked. I absolutely adored it when my boy was little but him growing up did open up a whole new way of life. He now had the maturity to do more adult type stuff with us and it was lovely as we had so much more genuinely in common.
I remember booking tickets to our very first music festival some two years after deciding to give up trying for our second baby. The three of us were going to go and experience our very first music festival together. We talked about hiring a camper van and stopping off at a few different places before making the journey down to the south for the festival; we were so excited. I remember sitting in Starbucks with one of my closest friends and telling her about this festival. I remember going on and on about who was playing and how excited we were as a family. My friend looked at me intensely in the eye and said ‘You’re happy now.’ It wasn’t a question. It was an observation. She saw something different in me. I agreed. I finally felt different. She felt that it was as if that weight had been lifted off my shoulders; She felt that I was finally over what we had been through. I had finally accepted we were going to remain as a family of three. And she was right. I walked out of that Starbucks and I felt ten foot tall. I went home and held my boy so tight. I had finally accepted the cards we had been dealt and I was Ok with it. I finally felt a peace that is quite indescribable. I felt a sense of calm, a real sense of contentment. I was happy.
Less than two weeks later someone at work offered me chocolate and I turned it down. I didn’t even think about it; I just turned it down. I never turn down chocolate. Something in that moment spoke to me. To this day I don’t know what it was. But it told me to buy a pregnancy test. So I did.
Seven months later we were blessed with the second baby we had waited ten years for. She defied science. She defied logic. The only word for her is ‘miracle’. She was and will forever be an absolute miracle.
A fourteen year age gap between children may not seem ideal to most, but by God we are making this work. My big lad and my baby girl have the most beautiful relationship and despite waiting ten years, the timing of it all came together and felt so right. Nobody can explain why or how it happened. It just did. I am so grateful for it.
We never made it to the festival. On the day of the festival I was heaving myself around the place looking like a beached whale on steroids. There was no place I would have rather been.
My response to Karren Brady’s recent article in The Sun. Find it here
I think the word ‘amazing’ gets used a little bit too much these days. And don’t even get me started on that whole ‘sha-mazing’ thing. Boy was that annoying. But when it comes to my children, I’m very happy to tell them they’re amazing. Incredible. Awesome. Beautiful. Wonderful. Precious. They are all of those things and more.
So, when I came across Karren Brady’s article in The Sun this week and I read the title ‘Parents need to stop telling their kids they’re amazing’, I was naturally intrigued. She went on to argue that if we don’t stop telling our children they are amazing ‘they’ll struggle to cope in the real world.’ Uh-Oh, I could’ve thought. I’ve really dropped my kids in the brown stuff. I’ve ruined their lives. I’ve accidentally removed any chance they had of being able to cope in the real world. I’ve failed them. They are doomed. I am the worst parent ever.
I could have thought that. I didn’t. But I could have. Instead I fiercely rejected every point that the article made.
Basically, in a nut shell, Karren Brady believes that we are over praising our children. She thinks that this results in them struggling in the world of work as they get older because they expect ‘continuous praise and instant success’. She goes on to say that one of the key issues she encounters during her work with young people is their ‘raging sense of entitlement’. They, basically, expect the world on a platter because they’ve been told that is exactly what they can have.
I tell my children they are amazing every single day (although, I change up the vocabulary from day to day to keep it interesting). That is because that every single day they do, or say, something that makes me proud. That might be something as little as putting their dirty washing in the right place (although, I must admit, that doesn’t happen very often!) or being kind, understanding, tolerant. My children are pretty amazing. (It’s now even irritating me at how many times I’m using that word!). Sod that. They are incredibly awesome. Without fail, they make me proud to be their mum. Every. Single. Day. Why shouldn’t I tell them that? And if I do continue to do this, is Karren Brady to be believed? Is it really going to hamper their chances of coping with the real world if I do?
I don’t think so.
I used to teach at secondary level a number of years ago. The number of children I met with low self esteem and low self confidence was astounding. It was the type of low self esteem that was as limiting as a ten foot brick wall surrounding them. They couldn’t escape it. They could not break through that wall. For some children it revolved around their appearance. For others it was about their academic ability, or their ability to make friends and ‘be popular’. They felt that they were at floor level and everybody else was up in the stars. That sort of mindset has a long term effect. Karren Brady is concerned about young people turning up for work with an expectation that they will be successful, or an expectation that they will be promoted quickly or believe that one day they’ll be running the place. I would be more concerned about the young people who wouldn’t even have the confidence to turn up for the job interview. Or apply for a job in the first place.
Being a young person isn’t easy. It’s far harder when you don’t feel comfortable in your own skin and you lack the confidence to be yourself. I’ve been doing a lot of reading recently on the power of affirmations and it is no different to what millions of parents are doing every single day in telling their children that they are amazing. If you tell someone something for long enough, they will start to believe it themselves. Tell your children they are beautiful, they are clever, they are going to change the world, often enough and they too will believe it. From that place will grow confidence and self esteem. From that will grow ambition, drive and pride. How can that be a bad thing?
Karren Brady also explores the theory that working parents over praise their children because they feel guilty about not being around more for them. She’s right about the guilt thing – every single time I leave my baby at nursery on a morning I feel guilt. Every time my son asks to do something fun during the school holidays and I have to go to work instead, I feel guilt. But that’s not why I tell them they are amazing. I tell them they are amazing because they are exactly that: amazing.
Karren goes on to say that children who grow up being praised all the time will at some point enter the real world and realise the ‘unpaletable truth’ that praise has to be earned and that you have to work hard to become the best at anything. There is a huge presumption here that because we praise our children, we are not instilling a strong work ethic in them and that’s wrong. I believe that the bigger we build our children up, the bigger they will dream to achieve. If we tell our children they are capable of conquering the world, they will dream about conquering the world. That gives them ambition, drive and determination. As long as we promote a strong work ethic and continue that conversation by reminding them that whilst they are capable of conquering the world, they have to work very hard to do so, they will not expect success to fall at their feet overnight.
Karren closes her article with a suggestion that our over-praised children can’t grow up and even begin to consider working in a business because they won’t even have the capacity to ‘connect with real human beings’. This still puzzles me. I think that one of our biggest jobs as parents is to make our children aware of their capabilities. We should be making them feel like they could rule the world standing on one foot with a blindfold on. We need to reinforce the need to aim high. Dream big. We need to tell them ‘you are good enough’ , ‘you can achieve anything you want’ ‘You are who you are and we are so proud of you’. As long as we use our praise as a tool to drive our children forward, a tool to encourage them to dream big, a tool to reinforce a strong work ethic, then those children will aim high. They will dare to dream big and they will do their very best to achieve those dreams. But without that self belief they won’t get off the starting blocks. We need to believe in them so they can believe in themselves. And we do that by telling them how incredibly amazing they are.
It sounds awful, doesn’t it? ‘I took class A drugs during my pregnancy’. I bet you are picturing the worst mother in the world. I bet, as I speak, an image of a toothless Jeremy Kyle-esque character is unfolding in your mind.
I’ve got friends who abstained from drinking coffee for the full nine months incase it had any ill effects on their developing baby. I’ve got friends who quibbled over taking half a paracetamol when they were hit with a migraine. Me? I took morphine every single day. Twice a day. Sometimes more.
Am I a bad mum? I certainly felt like it. Every single time I swallowed one of those pills, I felt a punch in the gut of my stomach. Guilt. I thought about my poor, defenseless, innocent, developing baby and the damage that was potentially being caused by, what felt like, the most toxic poison I could have been feeding her.
The reality was though, I either took that morphine, or I didn’t continue with the pregnancy. I’ve been on a stonking dosage of morphine for seven or eight years now. With a chronic pain condition, other medications just don’t cut it. It’s not the type of thing you can suddenly stop and without it, I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed on a morning – physically and mentally. I’ve been consumed by pain before and it is hell on earth; life without pain management would be no life at all. Going medication free wasn’t an option and after ten years of trying to conceive a second child and eight years on and off fertility treatments, not continuing with the pregnancy was not an option either.
However, I would be lying if I said that in my darkest moments I didn’t have doubts. I contemplated, very deeply, what I was doing to our baby and whether or not it was fair to continue. I googled way too much. I googled every possible bad outcome I could think of. I felt guilt as the Doctors explained to me that my baby would be born dependent on morphine and that they would have to go through the withdrawal process, being given smaller doses of the drug to help their body copy with the withdrawal. I wondered if it was moral, if it was ethical, to put a baby in that position through no fault of their own.
When I think now about those dark moments, it makes me feel sick to my stomach. Sick to my stomach that I, even if for just thirty seconds, contemplated life without her because I was so terrified of making her poorly.
It wasn’t easy. Nine months of swallowing down a medication that you know is going to directly impact on your baby has its own side effects (pardon the (very poor) pun.) Namely, guilt. It didn’t matter how many Midwives, Obstetricians or Doctors reassured me that taking the morphine was necessary and that the situation was more than manageable with the right plans in place, I still felt guilt.
The sort of guilt that makes your heart pound so hard you can hear it in your ears whilst lying perfectly still in bed during the dead of night.
She was born perfect. A little earlier than expected, but she was born perfect. It was incredibly difficult to watch her go through withdraw in special care and I was utterly guilt ridden throughout it all but that light at the end of the tunnel came three months following her birth when we administered her very last dose of morphine. I will return to this at a later date and I’ll write about our experiences during her withdrawal in the hope that it helps someone else facing the same situation. I found medical journals and articles all over the internet but they definitely weren’t written in a lingo that I understood very well. I searched, hoping to find a parent’s personal experience of it all to no success so I will definitely dedicate a future blog post to our experience of it all in the hope that it helps someone somewhere in the future.
Coincidentally, my hubby and I were looking at photographs of her today, and the difference in how she looks in those early weeks to four to five months later in mind blowing. She looked very poorly. It breaks my heart to see those photographs, even eight months later. She is unrecognisable from the big, wide eyed smiler that she is today. It was a difficult journey but we made it. Do I still feel guilt? Every single day. I feel guilty that she had a traumatic start to life and still feel extremely responsible for that. I know technically speaking I didn’t have a choice, but it doesn’t feel like that to me. I still feel very personally responsible for taking that medication. But the idea that, in those darkest moments, I contemplated not putting her through it, makes my heart plummet to the bottom of my stomach. Because the world would have truly missed out on a beautiful soul who has already, in her short life to date, brought an immense joy that is simply indescribable.
Our first ‘child’ (when your boy starts sprouting a moustache it feels ever so slightly inaccurate to call him a ‘child’. A ‘mini man’ or ‘man in progress’ sounds a bit more on point) is almost fifteen so we’ve been out of the baby game for a number of years. A high number of years, at that. So, when I became pregnant with our daughter, who is now eight months, I was abruptly reminded of the competitiveness that comes with baby parenting. It’s like as soon as those two blue lines show on the pee stick, you are automatically entered into some sort of insane parenting league where you compete against your nearest and dearest friends as if you are life long rivals. And it doesn’t matter if you don’t want to be competing in that league. You’ve got no choice. You’re pregnant now. It doesn’t matter how hard you try to grip on to the idea that it is undeniably ridiculous to compete with one another on such a subject as parenting, you are drawn into it, against your will, and before you know it, you catch yourself saying something like ‘In my twelve week scan my baby signed the lyrics to ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ with its bare hands inside the womb, what did you see in your scan?’ and sounding like one prized muppet.
Months later I sharp remembered the competitiveness that surrounds birthing. This is something I will never understand. There are two camps with this one. You can enter the competition for the ‘Best Birth Ever’ or the ‘Worst Birth Ever’. Who in their right mind would compete against each other for having the worst birth experience? Why oh why? Having had lots of friends and acquaintances who have had babies (and enjoy discussing their birth experience in GREAT detail), I can say with absolute certainty that people do. Whether it’s the biggest birth weight squeezed through the smallest hips, the highest degree tears, the injuries sustained, the longest labour, the worst midwife – mums compete for the ‘worst birth’ title with steely determination.
Then there’s the ‘Best Birth Ever’ camp. This tends to be the competition that the pain free, drug free, hypno birthing, pushed-out-in-fifteen-minutes-while-the-midwife-was-on-her-lunch-break mums enter. I’ve seen mums fiercely compete against each other for who gave their baby the most peaceful, relaxing, smooth and tranquil transition into the world.
As a C-Section mum, one time round out of the two, I have experienced feeling rather lost in these discussions at times, like I don’t really have a place in this oh so special league. Not that I would want to be competing. But, you know what I mean. I’m a none-breast-feeding, C-section mamma. The worst kind! It doesn’t matter why I didn’t breast feed. It doesn’t matter that I didn’t personally elect for a section, or not to breast feed, actually. I’m judged on the start to life I gave my baby, whether I actively opted to give her that start to life or not. And I didn’t, by the way. But the very fact I felt I needed to justify that, is what makes it so sad.
I think that being a mother is the most challenging, the most rewarding, and the most important job in the world all rolled into one. We all know it’s damn hard. It’s nigh on impossible at times. We wouldn’t change it for the world, but there is no denying it is tough. So, why do we compete? Why do we make the job harder by entering into discussions that could potentially leave us feeling extremely inadequate and negative about our own ability as parents? Why are we so judgemental? Why are we drawn in to pathetic conversations where we debate who had the worst / best birthing experience? Fast forward a few months and we’ll be competing about Baby Led Weaning, or whose baby has moved through the weaning stages quickest, who makes the most exotic home made purees, then whose baby is sitting up unsupported first, then crawling, then walking, then speaking – who knows where it ends. My boy is almost fifteen, and I’m glad to say that I definitely haven’t been drawn into silly competitive chat in a while. However, I do take great pleasure in announcing his excellent grades on Facebook. Those posts are 99% fuelled with pride. 1% fuelled with ‘you told me my baby wouldn’t be as clever because he wasn’t breast fed. Well, there you go. A* in English. Boom.’ So, I suppose, there’s an element of competition no matter their age.
I would very much like it to stop, though. I don’t know why, as grown and mature adults, we are drawn into that sort of behaviour. It’s not a fantastic example to set for our little, milestone-meeting darlings. Take birthing for example: giving birth is not a day out at the races. Naturally done or otherwise. It is hardcore stuff. Physically and mentally gruelling. Sometimes it doesn’t go to plan and some of us are genuinely left traumatised by our experiences. To have to listen to others dreamily recall every minute of their ‘perfect birth’ can be hard. Really hard. I don’t think there’s many winners in this sort of competition. At one stage or another we will all come away from a playdate (the type of playdate you have at Costa) googling ‘what should my baby be doing at x months?’ after being made to feel like someone else’s baby, or their parenting, is better than yours.
We need to stand up and acknowledge that us women are nothing short of amazing. What our bodies are capable of doing, when ‘growing’ and giving birth to a baby, is miraculous. We get through those birthing experiences, whether good or bad, fuelled by a mothers love. That love is strong. Powerful. The biggest love of all. What, as human beings, we are capable of doing in the name of being a mum, is astounding.
It’s the same for raising a child or children. It is bloody hard. Exhausting. Draining, too, at times. Yet there we are. Rain or shine. In sickness or in health. There we are, doing the most amazing job in the world: Being a mum. Sod the competition, that’s something to celebrate right there. We are amazing, ladies. Pop the cork on that bottle of Moet that’s been sitting in the fridge waiting for a justifiably ‘good enough’ reason to open it; we’ve got something to celebrate. Withdraw your entry from that competition. It’s not worth competing in. You know why? Because we’re all bloody amazing, that’s why!
Next time you overhear a mum preaching how good or bad their birth was, or arguing that their child is more advanced than yours, congratulate them. Then leave. Leave with the knowledge that you are just as amazing as them. Because you’re a mum. And all mums are amazing.