Wednesday, 27 January 2016

What to (honestly) expect when your expecting

Pregnancy is often presented to us as a 'journey'.  We expect to float along with our emotions and nesting skills expanding with our bellies.  In reality, the journey often takes you off-road.  It's bumpy, uncomfortable and mucky and we need better preparation for this.  My guide to pregnancy seeks to do just that.

Trimester One 
You have taken that life changing pee that tells you that you are, officially, with child.  You get that giddy, nervous feeling like you’ve embarked on something that could be really fun or really stupid – you know, like at the end of the night when someone says, ‘let’s camp out on a roundabout’ (true story, but for another time) and you say, ‘OK!’ But then you can’t get that niggly voice out of your head that’s saying, ‘are you sure this is you?’

Once you’ve made peace with this decision it’s time to start telling other people.  You will probably have had a scan by now.  This is an exciting day; you get to see your baby for the very first time.  Wahey!  You will also have drunk a gallon of water before you go in (a full bladder is mandatory fr this) which means that instead of being absorbed by the wonder of meeting your child, all you will think is, ‘ok yes, there it is, can I go pee now?’

You will have the same conversation with everyone you tell about you impending motherhood.  Everyone will ask you how far along you are and they will then chastise you for not telling them sooner.  They will want to know if you are finding out the sex and they will then chastise you for being a spoil sport for finding out.  Or for not finding out.  It wholly depends on their own, personal opinion.  They will ask you how many babies are in there.  They will then laugh, nudge you, say, ‘or so you think!’ and then go on to tell you a story of someone they knew who got themselves a surprise second baby on the delivery table.  They will want to know how you are feeling.  It may take a few attempts but you will quickly learn that they don’t really want to know how you’re feeling.  They want a quick, ‘I’m fine’, or ‘oooh, a bit sick’.  They don’t want to know that you are puking and subsequently carb-loading like a hyperactive bulimic,

Trimester Two
You should probably be feeling more human around now and will finally start reading the weekly emails you’ve subscribed to.  These will tell you every single cell mutation and development going on in your baby.  It is fascinating.  Its sex is determined pretty much on day one, it goes through a whole fruit salad of sizes, from grape to avocado to watermelon (OK, the last one is my addition, but that’s how it will feel soon enough).  Grandparents will love to learn where their grandbub is up to.  NOBODY else will.  Everyone else will be satisfied to know that you are pregnant and will then forget about this until Trimester Three when your bump will make it impossible for them not to remember.

 At some point you will learn something that will make you realise that THIS.IS.REAL.  For me, that moment was when I learned my baby had nails.  That was a) fascinating, b)terrifying.  This really is a person growing in there, with nails!!!! But then, could it claw its way out??? No, of course I knew that wasn’t possible.  I was, however, slightly worried that I may get my insides nicked.

You will start to ‘get organised’.  You will go to a baby retailer and look at all of the wonderful things they say you absolutely need.  But you’re above that.  You won’t be drawn in and you will only buy the essentials.  You head for the pram section and realise that you know nothing about prams.  You thought it was simply a wheeled vehicle for transporting small people in.  Wheels, handle and seat seem about all you would need, but no!  There will be apparently identical prams with £300 price differences.  You need to decide if you want a full travel system or just a pram.  Parent or front facing?  Isofix or...whatever the opposite of that is?  Will it fit in your car?  Is the basket underneath easily accessible?  Are there drinks holders? AAARRRGGGHHH! You will turn on your heel and leave, telling yourselves that you will come back another day once you have done the research.  You will never do the research.  You return to the shop several times and finally settle on whatever pram is on offer.  Post-birth, you will realise how inappropriate your pram is.  You will rue the day you didn’t put the effort in to work out just what was what.

Your bump will start to show and this gets you some nice perks.  I managed to queue jump AND pee for free at London Euston train station.  The cleaner saw me and screeched, ‘You! Come here pregnant lady!’ and pushed me through the turnstile.  People hold doors for you, bend down to pick up items that you have dropped and general treat you kindly.  They’re even patient when you have a full trolley of shopping bagged up and realise that your baby brain has forgotten your PIN.  No-one tuts, they just offer to help you unload everything again.  You will remember your PIN just as they finish this but you will decide its probably best not to mention this right now...Small hint: Make the most of this special treatment.  After your baby arrives it will come as a shock that people don’t somehow realise that you have actually grown, birthed and nourished another human with your body.  They will let doors slam in your face, make you wait your turn in line and expect you to know your PIN.

Trimester Three
Now you really do have to get yourself sorted.   You open all of the boxes and bags you have stashed away and realise you have three cot mobiles and no mattress.  You then read up on baby sleep safety and discover that bumpers and quilts and blankets will all kill your baby and so none of that will be used.  You then dash out to buy some blankets with holes in to let the baby breathe and a sleeping bag or two.

Everyone around you will know that d-day is near.  As in the first trimester, everyone you meet will reel of the same list of questions.  Unlike in the first trimester, you will be so bloated and tired that you have no energy to humour them with answers.  You may consider compiling a card to hand out to people to head off such interactions.  Feel free to print and hand out this template...

Finally, your baby will arrive early or late but almost certainly not ‘on time’.  Your birth will be what it will be and you will do amazingly.  Your baby will come out all slimy and screamy and scrawny.  Its umbilical cord stump will stink.  Everyone will coo and aaah and you will smile and wish your nipples would go back to being a part of your body you were mostly unaware of.  The searing pain emanating from them will be worse than the birth.  You will be exhausted, drained, overwhelmed, terrified and confused.  But at some point – maybe in the delivery room, maybe hours, days, weeks, months or years later – you will look at the being you have brought into the world and realise that, true to the cliché, it really was all worth it.

Friday, 15 January 2016

And now for the good bit

15 long, LONG months ago, I gave birth to Dope.  She arrived 4 weeks early and in record time.  My entire labour was 40 minutes long.  She came through her express delivery beautiful and healthy and so did I. OK, I was in physically good shape but perhaps aesthetically could have done with some help.  Everyone told me how lucky as I was.  And I was, but I was also unprepared.  My heart had yet to realise what I was signing up for and my head had yet to learn all the ins and outs of newborn rearing.  I had a rough few months.  14.5 of them to be precise.  Many tears and tantrums, feelings of frustration and helplessness.  Minimal sleep.  Soooooo little sleep.  Soul destroying exhaustion.  Many moments of doubt: what were we thinking?  This was not one of our better ideas...I was a fully fledged member of the 'motherhood is hard' club.  Yes, there were nice bits.  Moments whenI looked a Dope and thought it was all OK.  Moments when my heart swelled with love.  Moments we laughed, felt proud, happy, together.  But overall it was HARD.   

But now, it has all flipped around.  Now, for me, motherhood is good.  Yes, there are hard bits.  Moments when I look at Dope and realise this particular turn of events is not OK.  Moments when my brain is ready to explode with frustration.  Moments we cry, shout, stomp, despair and feel lost.  But overall it is GOOD.  

I don't know what has brought about this change.  If pressed, I could maybe say that this change happened after Dope and I attended a first birthday party recently.  I was there, whinging and whining about how little sleep we get and I realised I’m such a downer.  I’m always the mum complaining.  I don’t like how that makes me feel and more importantly I don’t like the reputation I’m giving Dope.  So I decided to stop blabbing on about my mama troubles and to only share good news stories.  And there are so many of them.  Insomnia aside, Dope is a delight.  She really is.  

I can only think that changing what comes out of my mouth is changing what’s going around in my head.  And, in turn, that has given my heart space to expand and feel all of the lovely, squishy feelings that my grumpy head has been blocking for so long.  Or it could be that Dope has had a cold and has actually slept OK for a few nights.  But I prefer to believe that my own personal growth is responsible for this ground-shift in our house.  I’m loathe to credit it to a germ.

With all of my pesky thoughts out of the way, I’m now simply overwhelmed with love for Dope.  Truly.  I can’t get enough of her.  And it seems to be infectious (the love, not the cold-germ).  Buda also seems more relaxed.  It must be so nice for him to come home to find me welcoming him in to some family time with all of us together.  He used to get home and I would fire some Dope-keeping instructions at him – dinner is defrosting, she needs a nappy change – before mumbling something about popping out for toilet rolls.  I would then spend 2 hours wandering the aisles of Asda to make me feel I was doing something constructive rather than just avoiding my daughter.  Our new way feels so much nicer. 

I know that all of this happy, lovey vibe could disappear.  A particularly sleepless night or a whiny, clingy day could be enough to get me shooting out SOS calls again.  But I hope not.   I hope that I’m grounded enough to keep this mood.  I’m not floating around in a mummy bubble of perfection.  I still have the tough moments.  I still feel desperate to handover parenting duties to Buda at times.  I still take a deep breath before responding to a cry.  But now, I recognise these tough moments for what they are.  Moments.  I no longer string all of these moments together and allow them to become the unbroken narrative of our lives.  I still read amazingly accurate, truthful and funny accounts of parenthood trials like this and chuckle knowingly.  But I finish article knowing that as true as all of that is, becoming a mum is still my finest idea.

And so now, I think it's safe to say that we're into the good bit.  We have finally reached the promised land of parenthood.  The bit where you say 'it's worth it', and you mean it.  And that feels really, really good.

PS - For mamas still firmly inside the ‘motherhood is hard camp’, don’t let my newfound love for motherhood add to your pressures.  Know that if I was with you, I would be making you a hot cup of tea and holding your baby so that you could enjoy it.  I would empathise, share horror stories and acknowledge what a bum deal mothering can be.  But I would also offer you hope.  Reassurance that things can change – maybe not for a long time, but that’s OK.  Motherhood is hard and the longer you’re in that tough place, the sweeter it will feel when you leave. 

PPS – those of you who have visited this post before may notice that it has changed somewhat.  Previously it was a pious, preachy, sickly post about how amazing I find motherhood these days.  It actually had the phrase, ‘we overloading on love’ in it.  Horrendous, gushy stuff written and posted late at night.  Whilst nothing in the earlier post was a lie, I figured it needed some balance added, particularly for people not at this stage of their mothering journey.  From now on, I promise to save and sleep on a post before publishing!

Monday, 11 January 2016

It's hard to be good enough!

A couple of weeks ago I arrived at Dope’s first ever music class 10 minutes early with a HOME BAKED muffin in my bag.  She had napped well in the morning, eaten a good lunch and got in to the car without a blip.  We were the first to arrive at the class.  Dope walked in, waved at the teacher and started bouncing and swaying in her own goofy way to the background music.  The teacher was delighted, Dope was delighted.  I was delighted.  I also had a pram and a bottle of milk in the car.  After the class she was going to drink her milk, get in her pram and nap while I took her for a walk along the beach.  We were then going to drive to pick Buda up from work where we were all going to sit in his cafe and enjoy family time while Dopey ate her muffin (home baked, by me, full of goodness).  I had made a plan that day, and it was happening, all around me, just as it should.  I had a moment of feeling all squishy and light.  And just like that, for the first time ever, I felt like a good mum.  A REALLY good mum.

But then two other mums arrived at the class.  Not just any two mums.  One is a mum I used to be very good friends with.  I’ve made efforts to rebuild our friendship but she has a busy and full life and sporadic catch ups seem to be as much as I can hope for.  Seeing her out with another mummy friend made me feel awkward, uncomfortable and rejected.  Silly, I know.  She didn't intend this.  I have no claim on her time, it's just how I felt.  She was just out with a friend and bumped into an old acquaintance.  She probably went away thinking it was nice to see someone she knew at the class.  I suspect she doesn’t know how much I miss her.

By the end of the class, I just wanted OUT.  Seeing my old friend made me sad and reminded me that I'm useless at making and keeping friends.  With the final song she said, 'I'll text you, we really must catch up soon'.  This was awkward as we both knew this wouldn't happen,  I rushed Dope out and stuffed her into the pram.  She wasn’t happy.  She screamed and refused the milk I’d given her.  I walked her up and down the prom and she still screamed.  I pushed the pram through dog pooh and got freezing cold.  After the LONGEST time she finally slept.  I then attempted to un-poop the pram wheels by scraping them along curbs and tufts of grass.  My hands and face were numb.  And it was late.  It was now the time we should have been getting in the car to pick up Buda.  But I couldn’t wake her because I’ve read all of the baby books and I KNOW that if she misses a nap, or naps too late in the day, she will not sleep through the night until she is a teenager, or married, or in a retirement home.  I figured she needed that sleep.  I left her wrapped up in the pram whilst I froze on the bench next to her.  Then it got really late.  Buda was just wandering out of his workplace to wait for us completely unaware that I was sitting on bench with a sleeping baby 30 minutes drive away.  Finally, I woke her up, endured her screaming protests, wrangled the pram into the boot and set off.  By the time we got to Buda he grumpy from sitting in the cold for 40 minutes.  Dopey was still grizzling at me and it was almost dinner time.  I abandoned the idea of family time in the cafe and we went straight home.  The muffin, in all its home baked glory, was left uneaten.  My wonderful plan was shot.  And just like that, I felt like a rubbish mum.  A REALLY rubbish mum.

There are many positives in this day.  I cared enough about my child to make a plan, and a muffin, for her.  I’m privileged enough to have a child who is healthy, happy and confident enough to walk up to a strange teacher to wave and start dancing.  I can afford to take her to these classes.  We have a car to get us to such classes.  We live in a beautiful area where a seaside stroll is easily achievable.  My husband has a job for us to pick him up from.  We have a home to come back to at the end of a day, however rubbish that day was.  Our home is warm and safe and ours.  There is food in the house to feed my kid with.  My life is so easy that this faded friendship is pretty much the biggest hardship I face.  I know all of this.  Really know it.  Each and every day I thank God for all of these blessings because I can SEE and UNDERSTAND how good my life is.  But I just don’t FEEL like it is.  Life feels like a battle and a struggle, mostly with myself.  I KNOW what I should be doing and I expect myself to do it.  I just seem incapable of getting my sh*t together and I don’t know why.  So that moment, before the class when I felt like a good mum, doesn’t leave me feeling warm.  It frustrates me because I know now how nice life could feel.  That feeling is now the standard that I am striving, and failing, to reach.  I know that getting it all together IS possible because I did it once.  That means that I’m falling short the rest of the time.

I recently read that aiming to be a ‘good mum’ is simply inviting failure, much better to settle happily with 'good enough'.  That's all your kids need.  I get that.  It is advice I have regurgitated to many a mummy friend.  I just can’t accept it for myself.  Being ‘good enough’ is nowhere near enough for me.  I want to be a good mum.  All of the time.  This is a big demand and near impossible, but that’s the standard I set myself.  And every stumble, every meal that gets spat out and thrown to the ground, every nap that is late or cut short, every night time waking, feels like a punch in my gut.  It’s the price I pay for my ineptitude.  I need to fix this.  I know.  I need redraw the criteria by which I judge myself, or even better, STOP judging myself.  

So, what can I do?  I need to try harder.  Not on being perfect, but on being 'good enough'.  THAT feels like a bigger challenge to me that the striving for perfection.  This 'good enough' strategy feels so risky to me.  This little person’s entire life, future and well-being is in my hands.  What if I tell myself that  I don’t need to be a good mum, just a good enough mum. Dopey is fine, happy and healthy. If I drop the ball every now and then she will probably be OK.  But what if she isn't? CRAP! I dropped the ball.  She didn’t nap for the 3rd day running and now she won’t sleep at night and her development will stall because she will be so tired all of the time...and on, and on and on.

But striving for perfection carries its own risks.  It damages my mental health and sets a bad example for Dope.  I don't want her see her to grow up running herself into the ground and then beating herself up when she falls short.  So rather than continuing to push myself towards some un-achievable ideal, I'm going to push for the achievable.  I resolve to accept the hits and teach my kid that sometimes it’s OK to stumble.  I now strive to be ‘good enough’ mum, raising a kid that knows that SHE is good enough, no matter what.

Meet us

1. There's me, my husband and one daughter in our household.  My husband thinks that this is more than enough.  I would like to add a few more little people to this.  It's a work in progress.

2. None of us are dopey.  Our daughter is Dopey.  Nicknamed as such for reasons we can't remember now, but it has stuck.  It will probably be a nickname she asks us to stop using at some point...

3. My husband is know affectionately as 'Buda'.  He is Nepali and Buda is Nepali for husband.  Creative pet name, no?

4. I'm a social worker, Buda is a chef and Dopey is just wonderful.

5. Dopey is now the prism through which I see life.  I see every world event, disaster and celebration as it relates to her.  Everything that ever happens, happens to someone else's Dope.  This makes my heart swell and ache in equal measures.

6. I'm naturally pre-disposed to being glum and defeatist about myself and my life.  This is unnecessary, unhelpful and ungracious.  I'm working on this.

7. I am as positive and hopeful about others as I am negative about myself.

8. I care passionately about humans and their well being.  I actively support and promote many causes.  I have little patience for individuals, particularly those who are intolerant.  I'm aware of the contradiction in this and I'm working on this, too.

9. Until I crack the above, if you believe the Daily Mail, the Express or the Sun spread truth and sense, we probably won't get on.

10. Becoming a mum has transformed me completely.  It has unlocked opinions, thoughts, feelings, fears and emotions that I never realised I had.  It has simultaneously expanded and contracted my world.  I've discovered resources I never knew I had and lost capacities I never thought it possible to lose (keeping track of what month and year we are in.  Seriously disorientated).  I feel I am both emerging and disappearing all at the same time.  I spend a lot of time trying to work all of this stuff out.  The only thing I am sure of that I am Dopey's Mama.  And I wouldn't want to be anyone else.