Family fun and frolics in Florida.

We’ve been promising our Big Lad a family holiday in Florida for years. He has, for years now, spent countless hours on youtube watching home videos following families as they experienced the theme park rides and water parks. It has been his ultimate dream to go there for so long. Not that he would admit it, but I think his love for the US was ignited when he was an avid viewer of Hannah Montana at the age of five or six or something. I distinctly remember getting cross at him for saying ‘Sweet Niblets’ to me in an appalling country-bumpkin accent every time he got in to trouble. I banned him from watching Hannah Montanna for a month but hell hath no fury like a child deprived of Disney Channel so we lasted all of around three episodes. He’s not quite an avid Disney Channel fan these days but he never lost enthusiasm for going to the US to experience Disney and everything that comes with it.

For years, a big trip to America just hasn’t been possible due to being self employed with a number of businesses and not having the staff to leave them with but when our circumstances changed, we took advantage of the situation and got booked up. Little did we know that months later we would discover that we would be visiting Florida as a family of four and not the family of three we had initially booked for. I have to admit that once I found out I was pregnant, I did have my reservations about taking a ten month old baby on an eight hour flight to a place so busy and so hot but we had promised our Big Lad we would go so that is exactly what we did.

I had been dreading the flight with our Little Miss. For weeks leading up to the holiday I had built up a goodie bag of new small toys and books in a bid to keep her entertained. I was also acutely aware of the fact that she had developed quite a strong talent for high pitched squealing and I was dreading the impact that may have on the other travellers sitting around us. So much so, infact, that I ordered sixty little gift boxes and filled them with industrial grade earplugs, a few sweet treats and an ‘I apologise in advance for any crying I do’ letter from the baby. We popped these on the seats that were closest to us on the plane. It turned out that I needn’t have bothered because just over 30 minutes in to the flight, Little Miss became poorly with sickness and a high temperature. Her projectile vomiting skills within such a confined space were truly majestic. Sitting in vomit soaked clothes for the duration of the remainder of the flight (only a mere six hours or so) was a particular highlight. On the up side though (Did I really just say there was an ‘up side’ to being showered with warm sick?!) she was so poorly that she napped a lot and just cuddled in to me quietly. She didn’t cry once so the earplugs weren’t needed. I bet they wish I’d gifted them a peg for their nose though. The smell of that vomit lingered in the air for bloody hours.

My husband had holidayed in Florida multiple times as a child so he had planned our trip really well, I had nothing to do with it. We stayed for part of the holiday in a hotel on International Drive and the second part at the Disney Dolphin Hotel on resort. We decided not to accept the car that we had been offered as part of the holiday package (my husband and I argue enough about driving at home without throwing the driving-on-the-other-side-of-the-road dynamic in to the mix too) and instead we have used Uber throughout the holiday to get us everywhere. We took the baby’s car seat so that we could easily and safely fit her seat inside any Uber cab that picked us up. I must say on this subject that I know that Uber has had bad press in the past but we have experienced nothing but outstanding service whilst in Orlando. We never waited longer than three minutes for a car to collect us from the point of ordering one. We always received a full description of the driver and the car that were due to pick us up so we never felt vulnerable in any way and most of the drivers we met were lovely, outgoing and bubbly people who shared with us their local knowledge and recommendations. We used them at least twice daily picking us up from International Drive and driving us down to Disney or Universal and the running total that we’ve spent so far (with only two days to go until we depart for home) is around $250 which I think is really reasonable given we have had almost had a driver at our fingertips for two weeks.

Our hotel on International Drive was pretty basic but did the job. It was in close proximity to bars, shops and restaurants at Pointe Orlando, just opposite Wonderworks, so from that perspective it was really helpful to be central. I struggle to walk distances so we hired a wheelchair from a local company who dropped the chair off at our hotel the day after we booked it. This has been invaluable, and given the usual attractions charge for the hire of wheelchairs on a daily basis, hiring a chair from a local company for the fortnight afforded us a huge saving and it meant we had the chair at all times for if we wanted to head out for a walk or go somewhere local.

Given three days before our arrival Florida was battling with Hurricane Irma, we were greeted by a hot, sunny and calm Orlando. Apart from a couple of ten minute downpours, we had fantastic weather day after day after day. With temperatures spiking in excess of 100 degrees on certain days, it was extremely hot – particularly when going around crowded theme parks. I was worried the weather was going to be way too hot for the baby but as long as we ensured she stayed cool, wore her hat, bathed her in sun block and kept her hydrated, she remained pretty happy. There are so many distractions when walking around the attractions that I doubt she even noticed she was hot anyway! I expected her to spend much of the holiday flaked out in the pushchair in the heat but she napped as usual for around thirty minutes twice daily and that was it. I suspect she didn’t want to nap incase she missed something as she loved every minute, particularly at the attractions.

If there’s one thing I despise about the reality of living with chronic disease and disability it is having to ‘give in’ and travel by wheelchair instead of walking. Call me proud, stupid – call me whatever you like but I hate it. My husband and Big Lad were amazing, one took the wheelchair and the other took the pushchair and acted like it was no problem at all but I knew I was slowing them down and it did make everything a bit more challenging at times. It is harder to navigate a wheelchair through crowds of people than it is to walk through. They never complained once, bless them. After a few days we ditched the pushchair and my Little Miss sat on my knee in the wheelchair instead. She was much more settled there as she had a better view of what was going on around her and it meant that I could easily see to her needs (and give her random cuddles and squeezes along the way!).

Disney were incredibly supportive and have schemes and initiatives to ensure disabled guests and their families are not at a disadvantage whilst in their parks. The staff were friendly and welcoming and constantly asking how they could help, and there were schemes that enabled me to access and enjoy certain rides despite being in a wheelchair. I have never been a typical Disney lover, even as a child, but you can’t help but be immersed in the magic of it all. Walking down Main Street at Magic Kingdom, with my Little Miss not knowing what to look at first, her eyes widening with wonder, and my Big Lad who left the teenage angst at the door and instead lapped up the magic and allowed himself to enjoy it as if a young’en all over again, it doesn’t get any more magical than that. Everything about the place is magical – from the dreamy fairytale-esque backdrop to the emotion evoking music, from the ‘Disney smiles’ given by the Disney crew to the smell of the cinnamon pretzels and popcorn – there is no better place on earth.

I was really worried that with Little Miss being only ten months, she wouldn’t be able to participate in the rides and things but I needn’t have worried. Disney make a very real and avid effort to involve even the teeniest of family members. Obviously there are minimum height requirements for some of the bigger rides but the majority of them were very family friendly and we were therefore able to enjoy them all together as opposed to me waiting outside with the baby whilst the boys had all the fun. Our firm favourites were the Little Mermaid ride and It’s a Small World at the Magic Kingdom, the Toy Story ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the Nemo ride at Epcot and the Avatar inspired Na’vi River Journey ride at Animal Kingdom.

We were privileged enough to see a number of the incredible shows put on by the Disney cast. For me, they were some of the most memorable moments of the entire holiday. We saw the Beauty and the Beast live show at the Studios which was really well put together and had both the Big’un and the Littl’un totally captivated. Nemo, the musical at Animal Kingdom was absolutely outstanding – it was so well constructed and the cast and crew made the entire environment inside the theatre come alive through the use of light, puppetry, music and a live cast. It really was quite special. Our absolute favourite had to be The Lion King show at Animal Kingdom though. I absolutely love the theatre and have seen a number of productions in the West End and what we saw there today at The Lion King far superseded anything I have ever seen before. It was an absolute spectacle – a feast for the eyes and ears. It had everything – from gymnasts cast as monkeys to stilt walkers, fire eaters, song and dance. The show was really interactive, drawing on the involvement of the audience on a number of occasions throughout the show which made it all the more engaging. I am going to sound like a total wet mess but the whole show had me in goosebumps and I really struggled not to become emotional as I watched the kids’ faces as they watched it all unfold in front of them. The fireworks were a real hit too. We found it difficult with the baby to stay at the parks until late to see the late night fireworks but we did manage to rejig her routine a little on one night which meant we were able to see ‘Fantasmic’ at Hollywood Studios which is a breathtaking production combining water, lighting, fire, fireworks and a live cast. I would highly recommend making a point of waiting it out til late on at the park to see this show as it was something special.

Prior to coming to Florida I had been more excited about visiting Universal than I had been about Disney and my Big Lad had felt the same. My Big Lad is hugely in to his action and superhero movies, and loves Harry Potter, so he was really looking forward to seeing what Universal had to offer. We visited both parks at Universal and tried a number of the restaurants that made up City Walks, the strip that joined both the parks. Whilst certain aspects of the parks were incredible to experience – such as the Harry Potter world, Simpsons world and the like, I really felt that neither place accommodated families with very young children. We were really disappointed to find that rides that were extremely similar in style to rides that our baby had been welcomed on at Disney, had height restrictions which meant she couldn’t ride. I didn’t realise the scale of the unsuitability of the place until we got talking to a member of staff at Universal who told us that there wasn’t a single ride without a height restriction and that our Little Miss would not be able to participate in any of the rides. I was gutted for her as she had loved the rides at Disney and my Big Lad had loved us all being able to experience things together as a family. However, as I didn’t want this to ruin the fun for the Big Lad, I sat with Little Miss when the boys did rides and we did use the baby swap initiative a couple of times which allowed my husband and I to swap in and out of babysitting duties so that we could both enjoy the ride without having to queue all over again. I joined the Big Lad on a couple of rides as I felt it was really important that we had some one on one time together too but I was secretly really gutted that the four of us weren’t able to enjoy the experience together as we had done at Disney.

Based on my personal experience, Universal also didn’t seem to be as accommodating for those with disabilities as Disney had been. They do have some sort of access initiative but when we enquired about it, the member of staff wanted me to detail exactly what my disability was and how it affected me (in front of a long queue of people in earshot) despite me having formal proof of my disability with me. I’m way too proud to start shouting about my physical limitations in public and so decided to abandon our request for support with access there. As it turned out, there weren’t many things I could go on anyway so it didn’t really matter in the long run. There was a stark comparison between the way both companies managed their guests’ access restrictions though. Disney were incredibly accommodating and extremely friendly with it whereas I felt nothing but a burden or a hassle at Universal. At the end of our day at both parks, even the Big Lad remarked that he would rather spend more time at Disney than come back and finish Universal. The atmosphere and the way in which families are welcomed and looked after are just in no way comparable. I’m glad we went to Universal as it would have been a shame not to have gone along to see what it was all about but we have already agreed as a family that should we return to Florida for a second holiday, we will not bother with the Universal parks and will instead devote more time doing Disney instead.

We had to take a couple of ‘rest days’, or ‘chill out days’ as we prefer to call them, during the fortnight as doing the parks can get exhausting. I would highly recommend spending a day at the International Premium Shopping Outlets which is situated on International Drive – it is an excellent place for shopping. The place is huge and it is filled with huge global high street brands such as Gap and the premium designers such as Michael Kors and Ralph Lauren. Most stores offer a minimum of at least a 30% discount on the ticket price so there are huge savings to be had. As we visited in late October we took the opportunity to start a bit of Christmas shopping and took advantage of the discounts to buy nice Christmas gifts for the family. We are, at this point, not entirely sure how we will get all the shopping home again but och, we’ve got two days to figure that out. We’ll not concern ourselves with that just now!

Staying in the Disney resort is an experience like no other. Everything is just so easy when you are staying on resort. There are complimentary shuttle buses to all the theme parks running every 20 minutes from the hotel and the hotel itself offered fantastic activities such as children’s clubs, special activities and celebrations etc. There are some fabulous dining options on resort, including a character dining experience which we went for a couple of evenings ago. This was really magical, with characters such as Goofy and Pluto joining our kids for their evening meal. Instead of the ‘photo and run’ you usually get when queueing to see the characters in the parks, the characters really spent a lot of time with the kids during the dining experience, communicating with them in their own way and stopping to play peek-a-boo with the baby and fist bumping with the Big Lad. It was really lovely. The restaurant was airy and spacious with a beautiful big tree in the middle and there were only a few other families eating at the same time so the characters just made their way round from table to table, meeting and greeting the families eating there. I think this sort of thing is offered at all the Disney hotels but we experienced it at The Swan Hotel.

What I loved about The Dolphin and Swan Disney Hotels was that it offered a really nice standard of hospitality and service to us as adults. Naturally a lot of the Disney thing is aimed at the children in the family but these hotels were beautifully presented and the rooms so beautiful that it didn’t feel like we were staying in a themed hotel whatsoever. It felt like we were staying in a high end boutiquey hotel and this really appealed to me. I’ve been called a ‘Hotel Snob’ before, and in fairness, whoever said that was probably bang on the money as I do like my little luxuries when I am away from home, and this hotel really delivered. It was fantastic for the kids as there were numerous pools with water slides and kids clubs galore but also nice touches for the adults such as cocktail pool bars, an on site spa, spa bath and so on.

The food is worth a mention. I’ve really struggled with the food. Like, really struggled with the food. The choice and range of food available over here is nothing short of outstanding. Want steak? There’s a steak house over the road. Chinese? No problem, there’s a Chinese restaurant round the corner. You fancy going to an American Diner? There’s five at the complex across the road. You want pizza? There’s a Dominoes within a two minute walk from here. You prefer Pizza Hut? Well, you’re in luck! There’s a Pizza Hut next door! Literally, you name what you want to eat and I’ll bet you there will be somewhere within a very short walking distance in Orlando that does it. You might ask what my problem was then in that case. My problem wasn’t the choice of food on offer, it was the sheer how much of it that is on offer. Everything seems fried or bread/dough based and the portion sizes are indescribable. Many a time over this holiday my husband and I have been reluctant to order two main meals between us because we knew that sharing one between us would be more than enough but it never seemed very fair to take up a table in someone’s restaurant and share one dish between us! At first it was a novelty – we followed the smell of pretzels and churros and fried dough-nuts and we filled our faces with the most delicious tasting treats ever. But after a few days we really felt it. I felt sluggish and bloated and in desperate need of eating something green. It hasn’t been too easy finding something green based and balanced to eat as meals, particularly at the theme parks. It tends to be fried chicken and chips or pizza on the menu. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love fried chicken and pizza as much as the next person but after almost two weeks on the diet , it doesn’t feel so good no more. It’s things like when we ordered an ice cream each to get us through the mid afternoon slump in the peak heat and we received an ice cream as big as our face (and I’m not even exaggerating), I literally felt like crying at the sheer challenge of getting through it all. Americans know how to do food. They definitely do. Everything I have tasted has been so yummy, I just don’t think the scales are going to be too happy when I get back home, I’ve actually reached the point in the holiday where I am now actually pretty sick of the sight of food to be honest and I’m looking forward to getting back home and regaining a better balanced diet.

We are yet to try a water park as yet but I think we are going to give Volcano Bay or Blizzard Beach a try over the next couple of days. I don’t expect there to be much for the little one there but she loves the water so I am sure she will be just happy to splash about in the pool.

All in all we have had the most magical holiday ever. I can’t believe that in a couple of days we will be back on the plane to fly home but it has been just the most amazing holiday from start to finish and I would recommend it as a destination for anyone with a young family. Our Big Lad is almost 15 and he lapped up every second of the magic but I do sort of wish we had brought him over when he was a little younger. Before we came here we kept referring to the holiday as being a ‘once in a lifetime’ holiday. Within days we were no longer calling it a ‘once in a lifetime’ because it became very obvious that we loved the place just too much to only visit it once. We are determined to return as quickly as possible and have already decided that we will stay on resort in a Disney hotel for the entirety of the holiday next time.

We have made the most amazing memories with our beautiful family; memories we will hold dear to us for many a year to come.

How many minutes a day do you dedicate to yourself?

What does ‘me time’ look like when you are a mum?

Being a mum of a boy who was hurtling through his teens saw me regain a huge amount of time that I could dedicate to myself so when I fell pregnant (incidentally I hate that saying – who ‘falls’ pregnant? Like, woops, I tripped over your foot. Bam! I’m expecting!’) I knew that going back to nappies, night feeds and colic was going to have an impact on the amount of time I found for myself.

In fact, for the first few months of my daughter’s life, ‘me time’ wasn’t even on the radar. At no point did I have time for me; at no point did I make time for me. But actually, at no point did I even register that I was having no time for me. That was the scary bit. Once my husband was back at work after paternity leave, there were many days where I didn’t even find the time to get changed out of my PJs or take a shower. He’d come home from work around 5pm and find me in exactly the same way he left me eight hours previous – hair not brushed, not showered, not changed. I would think ‘how do people do this? How do people have a baby and still manage to shower, get dressed, have a hot cup of coffee, chat to friends?’ I felt like I was failing at life.

Of course the reality was that whilst I was sat there in a zombie like state, my baby girl had been bathed, massaged and dressed immaculately. She had milk in her belly, clean nappies on, she’d been cuddled, winded, rocked, shushed, read to, sang to and played with – she had had my undivided attention all day long (and all night long most of the time too!) so I’d clearly had the time to do all those things; I had simply chosen to dedicate that time to my baby rather than myself. I thought that made me a good mum.

I think she was around the five month mark when I started to feel more than just the ‘I’m tired from the sleepless nights’ type of tiredness. Little Miss was having a rough time with reoccurring chest infections so sleep was at an all time low and I was constantly in a state of panic, checking her temperature, watching her breathe for any signs of struggle. I was not only physically exhausted but exhausted in every meaning of the word. I felt drained. I remember sitting in her nursery for hours, holding her upright on my chest so that she could get some sleep without coughing. I sat there for as long as I possibly could, ensuring she was in a deep sleep, before trying to put her back down in her cot again. I crept up to the cot and gently laid her down, as if she was fine glass. I held my breath and said a prayer internally that she would remain asleep so I could get to bed.

And she did. Until I laid my head on my pillow and closed my eyes and then the coughing started, and then the crying resumed. I sat up and felt so emotionally fragile. I cried. I was so desperately in need of some sleep. But not only that, I was desperately in need of time for me. I felt drained, physically, emotionally and in all other ways. This was more than just tiredness; I felt like I had lost myself almost.

I felt guilty for thinking about ‘me’ when I was so blessed to have a beautiful baby daughter that needed me but in five months I hadn’t left her side once. I hadn’t met a friend for coffee as adults, I hadn’t spent any child free time with my husband, I hadn’t so much as had half an hour to read a trashy magazine or a book. This wasn’t for the lack of offers either, whilst we don’t have a massive family network, we have family members that had offered to look after her, but I had not wanted to leave her. I don’t know whether this was because she had had such a traumatic start to life or whether I’d have felt the same regardless, I don’t know. I had waited so long for my beautiful baby girl, spending time away from her just hadn’t occurred to me.

It was only during a chat with my Reiki Healer about how rubbish I was feeling that I fully realised that I had really done myself an injustice in not ensuring that I had time for me. She asked me ‘what do you do for you?’ and I couldn’t answer. I had a small baby, I thought. I don’t have time for me. She asked me to identify one thing I had done out of sheer enjoyment just for me in the last week and I couldn’t answer it. I hadn’t read, I hadn’t written, I hadn’t sat in the garden and enjoyed the peace and quiet, I hadn’t met a friend – nothing. She told me (in friendly but no uncertain terms) that it was absolutely essential that I find time for me in every single day. I almost laughed. Time for me? Every single day?! That was going to be impossible. She maintained that it was essential for my wellbeing though. She told me to start by reserving one ten minute period for me every single day. It was acknowledged that we all need more than ten minutes of ‘me time’ a day but we needed to be realistic here or it just was never going to work.

I thought about what I could do in ten minutes. I could (probably) drink a small coffee (whilst hot maybe!), I could read for ten minutes, I could meditate or listen to some music, I could pamper myself or you know what? I could just lie down in a dark room and drink in the peace. Ten minutes isn’t long but when you have deprived yourself of any time for you for several months, you’ll take it with open arms and you’ll run with it. Fast.

I scheduled these ten minute periods. I mentally popped them in the diary for when my husband got in from work and could take over on baby duty, or for when I got Little Miss down for one of her naps. Instead of opting to get the bottles cleaned and sterilised or hoovering or being in a rush to do something practical like changing the beds, I took that time and thought ‘this is for me.’

Happiness is created through our enjoyment of things. I enjoyed my baby so much but there needed to be an acknowledgement that I had a right to enjoy something for me too. The Reiki Healer was right, once I started to dedicate time for me, doing something I enjoy, even if for just ten minutes, I felt happier. I felt more balanced. I felt stronger. This had a hugely positive impact on my ability to be an upbeat all-singing-and-dancing mum too.

Those ten minutes each day may not be much but they are a nod to the fact that us mums are people in our own right. We shouldn’t need to accept that every minute of our day should be dedicated to doing things for others. It’s Ok for us to be selfish some times and say ‘this is what I’m doing for me,’ not for the husband, for the dog, for the kids, the mother-in-law or the neighbour down the road – for us. For me. In fact, that isn’t selfish at all. It’s doing what is right for us. What is healthy for us.

When that Reiki Healer asked me what I did for me, I was confused. The fact that I found that question so confusing is exactly what was so very wrong. In my head somewhere, I subconsciously believed that as mums, our whole lives should be dedicated to our little people. And for all we love our little people and for all they make our world go round, it is not good for our health, our state of mind or emotional wellbeing to neglect ourselves in the process.

Ask yourself the question, what have you done for you today? If you can’t answer it, I hear you. You are probably just as exhausted as I was. You may be thinking it’s not possible to have ‘me time’ and be a mummy but please, give it a try. Reserve ten minutes out of your day tomorrow and find something to do that you enjoy, do something that makes you happy. See the difference it makes to how you feel.

I know that having time for me makes me a better mum. I’m more patient, I’m more energised, more balanced and I’m happier.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this! Have you found the right balance?

Going away with your baby soon? Read these top tips to avoid a whole load of stress!

In the last three weeks we have been away twice with our brood in tow. Each time just for a few nights in this country, either to see family, or to just get away and spend time as a family somewhere a bit different. We go on our proper holibobs in a couple of weeks so it was a bit of a test run if you like. Boy did it test us, at times. Here’s my top tips for taking a baby away:

 

  • Plan your packing and only take what you need.

From someone who literally packs a suitcase of baby stuff just to nip to Asda for some bread, I struggled with this. We were travelling by train for one of our trips away so it was essential that we travelled as light as possible as we had the pram and travel cot to carry also. I over packed ridiculously, packing an outfit for every sort of weather you can imagine. Not sure why I thought my little miss would need a summer romper in Birmingham during the British summer time, but I packed it anyway. I also packed ‘dressy’ outfits for her in case we went out for dinner on a night time (It had totally escaped my mind that you can’t really do ‘posh dinners’ on a night time with a baby.) It turned out that instead, we ate at Nandos in the middle of the afternoon, each of us shovelling in our food as quickly as possible whilst the other entertained the baby. No dressy outfits were required. Not one.

We bought some sterilising tablets that you use with cold water and these were a godsend and allowed us to sterilise her bottles and dummies in the bathroom sink at the hotel – much easier than trailing the steriliser with you.

We packed items that were really not needed such as calpol, in case her teething got bad, pouches of food in case she didn’t eat what was on offer at the hotel/restaurant, a hundred and one nappies just in case we had unexpected nappy explosions and enough packets of baby wipes to sink a small ship. What we had totally lost sight of was the fact that we were staying within the UK and that there were a wide range of shops close to where we were staying. We could have gone and bought food pouches, extra nappies, calpol or wipes if we’d needed them. We really shouldn’t have trekked them all the way there on the off chance we’d need them – because, as it happened, we didn’t.

 

  • Do some research on where you are going and the facilities on offer where you are staying.

This is something we didn’t do. I wish we had, in particular, researched the facilities available at our hotel before booking. They were only little things but things like not having a bath in the bathroom and only having a shower, made things tricky as our Little Miss is used to having a bath every night as part of her routine. It was hard for her as it was, to be in an unfamiliar environment so not having a bath made it difficult for her to wind down for bed on a night.

We also failed to take our gro anywhere black out blind with us (which was a monumental sized error, by the way) and as the hotel curtains were not the best, our Little Miss was waking a lot earlier and as we were all staying in one room, she then awoke the teen (who, incidentally, does not do ‘tired’ very well) and it made for very long days.

Researching things like the times the restaurant is open on an evening or if there are restaurants near the hotel that open quite early would also be very useful and would avoid you being left in a situation like we were with a hungry baby whilst trying to find somewhere we could all go to eat together.

 

  • Relax the routine.

I’m a huge advocate for routines with a baby. I think they are so important. But, trying to maintain that routine when you are miles away from home, in an unfamiliar place, will only result in massive stress. I spent a good couple of days stressing over nap times, meal times, bed times and in hindsight I wish I hadn’t. I worried that if I relaxed the routine while we were away, our Little Miss, who is an absolute creature of habit, would never get back into the swing of things again when we got home. I couldn’t have been more wrong. As soon as I relaxed the routine a little, I was able to enjoy it better and so was she. Yes she stayed up later some nights and yes some days she didn’t nap until tea time (which would usually put the fear of God in me) but going with the flow allowed us all to spend some relaxed time together as a family without constant clock watching and that was really important not only for us and Little Miss, but more importantly for our big Lad too. And, as it happens, as soon as we got home, she relaxed back into her usual routine absolutely perfectly.

 

  • A baby crying is not the end of the world.

Both on the train and when in the hotel, there were times where Little Miss was screaming and crying and I felt really aware of the strangers around me. I worried that we were bothering them, keeping them awake, disturbing whatever it is they were doing. My husband, on the other hand, couldn’t care less. He firmly believes that we should never have to apologise on behalf of our crying baby because, let’s face it, we have all been there and done it at some stage or another (even if we can’t remember it!). The further the trip went on, the more I realised that if Little Miss cried, she cried. Yes I would attempt to console her, distract her, offer her cheese puffs and rusks, give her whatever ridiculous objects we had to hand to play with such as random water bottles and car keys, and give her cuddles, but I soon realised that sometimes babies just cry. And when you’ve used every trick you can think of to distract them, there’s very little you can do to stop them crying. It’s just as simple as that. As much as I was very sorry for any discomfort the crying may have caused fellow passengers or hotel guests, it really wasn’t the worst thing to happen in the world and it was only ever temporary. It shouldn’t be a massive deal.

The more stressed I was getting about the situation, the more upset Little Miss was getting and the worse the situation felt. I have definitely learned that I need to relax more and roll with the punches. Of course, I remain sorry if my baby’s crying does cause any distress to complete strangers but, there needs to be a realisation that babies cry. That’s what they do. Sometimes it’s crap to listen to but she’s just a baby, it’s not her fault. And it’s not mine either. Us parents do our best but we can’t raise a brood of muted children just to ensure that strangers around us have a peaceful day.

 

  • Be Realistic.

This final tip is a biggie. When you plan your trip, don’t romanticise it. Don’t allow yourself to envision yourself lounging around the hotel spa sipping on Mojitos or having lazy lie ins on a morning with breakfast delivered to your room so you can remain in your hotel dressing gown whilst watching morning TV. Whilst, yes, you’re going away for a few days, you have to be realistic about what to expect when going away with a baby/children. It’s not going to be a romantic rose-petals-on-the-bed and double-rain-shower type of trip. Those days may return (if you have a very kind babysitter!) but it certainly isn’t going to be like that with a baby.

Yes your trip will be stressful -even chaotic I suspect – but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing. Our trip was totally full on (and to be honest, I could have slept for a week when we got back and still would have been exhausted) but I honestly would not have had it any other way. It was wonderful to relax the routine, go with the flow, visit new places, do new things and experience all of those things as a family of 4 with our Big Lad and Little Miss.

 

I’ll admit I am a little apprehensive about taking our Little Miss on an eight hour flight for our holiday in a couple of weeks but I am so, so, very excited to spend more quality time as a family. Even if it is sure to be total chaos most of the time.

 

 

 

 

I’m Late. Again.

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.

My Doctor Prescribed me Mummy Guilt.

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.

Cheers Doc.

Know the true meaning of unconditional love: an open letter to my children.

‘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 isn’t greedy to want two children.

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.