Parenting: It’s actually a bit boring.

 

an average day's parenting - Word 15122014 205030.bmp

As a parent, you will experience more contradictory emotions than ever before. This little person that you love most in the world will, in all likelihood, also drive you to complete and utter distraction (destruction??) on multiple occasions. You may be infinitely happy that your baby was born whilst still remembering actually giving birth to them being the worst. The absolute worst. But that’s parenting for you isn’t it? It’s just a roller-coaster. From the sublime to the ridiculous and back again, all in one afternoon.

Well, no, not quite. That would leave out one important detail.

In Hollywood movies mothers usually either the embodiment of all that is kind, wise and maternal or a hot mess. You know those films, with the friend who has six kids (yeah, that’s pretty much all the character development you’re going to get love, sozzers) who is always arriving late with her hair a complete mess and a child on each nipple? Oh what larks! But most of the time parenting is not an extreme sport. You aren’t either completely nailing or basically dead: there are other options. Day to day, it’s more likely to be just a bit dull. Parenthood is so dramatised at the moment that it’s often these normal experiences that trip us up.

Picture the scene: It is mid afternoon. A child, surrounded by an array of educational and expensive toys, sits playing with an egg carton. A few feet away his mother sits on the sofa. She is staring into the middle distance, her eyes are glazed over and her expression is lifeless. What is happening here? Perhaps she’s got post-natal depression, or has she just received some bad news? Maybe she’s just a neglectful mother.

Erm, no. She’s bored. It’s 3 O’clock in the afternoon and she’s been attempting to entertain her children for the past 8 HOURS. She has prepared two meals (one of which was scraped into the bin and replaced with toast). She has picked umpteen bits of crap from the floor. She has embarked on 3 nap attempts (two failed, one successful). And now, just run out of steam, and ideas. So she’s just sitting there.

If you hadn’t quite decoded my cryptic third-person, hypothetical, throw-em-off-the-scent nonsense, then I shall just clarify that she is me.

Yes, Dear Reader, I too get bored. There, I’ve said it. I love my son, he is great company, but spending all day every day with a one-year-old gets a tad repetitive. I love children’s books, but after the 50th reading I feel I have entered into the subtext of the narrative just about all I can. The suspense is gone. I know it’s not your duck. I know where baby’s belly button is. I know which pet the zoo sent you. I know it all. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll keep reading those classics of modern literature, because it makes Bubs happy and it’s educational and all that good shit. But every now and then I’ll be doing it on autopilot.

I do try to mix it up.  I even venture onto the internet for inspiration, even though Pinterest usually makes me want to vomit with jealousy and the creativity and energy some parents seem to have. ‘Today tabatha and I made a fully functioning space rocket using only the contents of our recycling bins and some small pieces of dowelling. #thrifty #ecomum #recycle #educational’ Hashtag keep your parenting successes to yourself, knobend. Ahem, motherly solidarity and all that. Let’s move on…

Honestly, we get all of my scarves out and do lots of wafting and giggling. Or we build towers out of various toys. The other day I actually made corn flour paste and added different food colourings to make a sort of messy play scenario. Of course, Bubs was only interested in eating it and consequently got high on e numbers. The thing is, Dear Reader, that however long I spend coming up with these activities, whatever effort I put in, they only ever last about 10 minutes. 15 max. You look at the clock, you eyes wide with pleading hope, but it was 10.25am when you started playing and now it’s 10.35am. That’s basically the same time.

Then are the excursions. We’ll head off to play groups. I do have some nice chats with mums some of the time but it’s mostly just following Bubs around, making sure he doesn’t poke any babies in eye and that no toddlers step on his hands. Play groups are an absolute life saver, but they aren’t necessarily a particularly social experience for the parents. And what is it with the ones that don’t give mums a cup of tea? I mean what is the bloody point? 

When you have a child, parents of older children will constantly encourage you to ‘cherish every second, it goes so fast’. I have previously expressed my thoughts on saying that to parents of newborns here, but I do think the general principle is absolutely right. Of course you could spend your child’s first years only half-present, scrolling your Facebook feed looking at other people’s kids instead of giving full attention to your own. Of course that would be a terrible shame. I’m not a frickin’ monster! But the idea that every moment, of every day you can be fully engaged with your child, watching their every move and storing it all up as treasure in your heart? Jog on, mate! I’ve got a life to lead.

In all seriousness there are ways I could probably help myself. Bringing some mindfulness into my parenting would be one (there’s a parenting on that, but we all know how I feel about the books). Buying in a massive amount of craft supplies would be another. And I might do one or both of those things, time shall tell.

In the mean time I’m not going to stress. You know that thing that people used to say when you were a kid? Only boring people get bored. Well, that’s crap. Everyone gets bored sometimes. Just because you’re getting bored in the presence of your child it doesn’t mean you we need to have an existential crisis. I imagine train drivers, or accountants, or nurses, often get a bit bored doing repetitive tasks. But it doesn’t mean they suddenly become paralysed with shame and think ‘What have I done? I never should have become an accountant, what if I’m no good at it? Oh my God, I’ve ruined multiple lives!’ Being a parent is a job, and all jobs getting boring for time to time. I bet Beyonce wakes up some mornings thinking ‘Oh damn, another makeover a photo shoot? How dull‘.

So, yeah, just be bored for a bit. There’s no shame in it. Your child will inevitably doing something funny, adorable, stressful or a combination of all three, and that’ll soon snap you out of it.

bored

What bores you the most about childcare? Do you feel guilty about the duller days? Or maybe you think I should shut up moaning? Whatever your thoughts let me know. Comment below, go to my Facebook page or tweet me @aafew.

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“I’m a bad mother”: The constant refrain of a good mother.

It’s been a bit of a rough few days in the (mal)Contented household. Bubs had a bit of a reaction to the MMR jab. Nothing major and a lot better than having measles, mumps or rubella. But still, there’s been some screaming. Quite a bit of screaming. In the night. Like, all night.

I suppose it’s a of a parental rite of passage to finally in give at 5.50am and take your poorly child downstairs to stare a blank television screen until CBeebies starts up (teletubbies is still on, who knew?). Anything to distract from the screamy fever! Thankful it worked; Bubs was transfixed and I could lie semi-conscious on the sofa. There was a lot of TV watched that day, A. LOT. Partly because he was too poorly to want to do much else and partly because I was too tired to be engaging in any way, shape or form. Bleurgh.

That afternoon, as I was carrying the boy upstairs for nap-attempt number 1,385, I thought to myself “hmm, I’ve been a bit of a bad mother today.”

Wait, what?

As I am carrying my fed, watered, talked to, cuddled child, I am simultaneously telling myself I’m a bad mum. Because we watched TV. Have I mentioned yet that I was also ill? I had one of those sore throats that makes your whole neck tender. But how dare I not lay on at least twenty stimulating, creative and educational activities? Someone call social services!!!

I have heard so many mums call themselves ‘bad mothers’. This is usually because they allow their children to eat biscuits, or they occasionally feed them from a jar, or they let the kids sleep in their bed, or never let the kids sleep in their bed, or they leave them to cry, or never leave them to cry, or they don’t own a ‘that’s not my…‘ book or a Sophie the Giraffe, or… Well, you get the picture.

What I think is happening here, people, is that we are getting being a ‘bad mother’ mixed up with being a human-being-who-is-also-a-mother. Easily done. In our weaker moments we think that the only way to be a good mum is to be a perfect one. Seeing as that’s impossible we should probably find a more logical approach.

When Bubs was just a few days old we had a midwife visit. True to new-parent form we bombarded her with a thousand questions. What temperature should the bath be again? Should I wrap him up more? How can I tell if he’s over-heating? Is this okay? Is that okay? She was very good natured and answered us patiently, often just saying what we were doing was fine. When we had finished our onslaught she said “If you’re worried whether you’re doing things right, then we’re not worried!’ Basically, we cared enough to worry, so we’d be fine. (obvs my particular worry grew into new and uncharted levels of bleurgh, but that’s another story)

If someone is actually a bad mother – like that woman in the news today who told her kids she was popping to the shops but actually flew to Australia for 6 weeks – I doubt they advertise it much, or feel guilty enough to categorise themselves in that way. You have to actually care to feel guilty; it seems to be a natural side effect of (good) motherhood.

So, what I am proposing isn’t some complete eradication of guilt. I mean, that would be awesome but I am just not sure it’s realistic. Instead, I reckon we could all stand to take our guilt a bit less seriously. Or even (pushing it?) see it as a good sign; a sign that we are thoughtful and caring mothers who want to do the best for our children at all times. Even if that is massively ambitious and unsustainable.

Dear Reader, have you thought or said that you are a bad mother/father in that past weeks? If so, congratulations, your parenting skills are more than adequate.

 

What do you think? Are you convinced you’re a bad parent? Do you compare yourself to others? Or maybe you don’t give a crap? Comment below, tweet me @aafew or share on my facebook page

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Birth stories: why you won’t be hearing mine.

*trigger warning: despite the title there is a bit of birth talk in this post*

When I was a new mum doing the drinking-coffee-with-one-hand-rocking-pram-with-the-other-attempting-to-maintain-a-half-decent-conversation-thing was part of the deal. Admittedly a much nicer part than the crying at sleep-deprivation and poo-handling bits. It helped me bond with my fellow mums, mostly because we frequently did the too-much-information-thing. You know, talking about the colour of poo; the state of your boobs; your distinct lack of lobedo. Oh yes, small talk becomes a whole new ball game once babies are involved.

Of course, on the top of all our over-sharing lists was the birth itself. With slightly pained expressions, we’d ask each other if the birth was ‘okay’ and wait to see what was divulged. Some would give a short account; 40 hours, exhausting, natural delivery. Others would go into much more detail. This was not because they wanted the attention, nor were they playing bad-birth top trumps, they just needed their stories to be heard, especially by those who could have some genuine empathy.

In those early months I talked birth a lot. The funny thing was I never really wanted to talk about it at all. For me, labour was traumatic. About a thousand people tell you ‘nothing can prepare you for it’ when you’re pregnant, to this you might nod sagely in agreement. But then it happens and you realise: nothing can prepare you for it. Nothing. This isn’t to scare any one or say that antenatal classes are useless; I am very glad that I went to NCT and in some ways it did prepare me. But this is the queen of visceral experiences and, as such, no one can quite put it into words. And I’m not just talking long labours or assisted births (I’ve given my two pence about ‘good births‘ before). I know women who have had 7-hour labours and delivered in the pool and felt, well, frankly, fucked. Feeling like that myself, but not really being able to articulate it, meant it was not easy for me to talk about births, or hear about them. A swell of dread would rise in me at the mere mentioned; sort of like a flashback. It was not pleasant.

Despite my internal panics, I continued with the chat. In fact, often I would initiate the chat. Why, Dear Reader? WHY? Someone would make an offhand comment and I’d follow it up with a question. Then, before you know it, BOOM! This is a proper conversation with details and what not. As if nursing a baby whilst simultaneously trying to drink a luke-warm cappuccino weren’t enough to cope with on 3 hours sleep. Deary me.

The thing is, I wanted to have these conversations with my new friends and I’m sure they brought us closer together. It is an honour to be admitted into that most viscerally private of experiences, even if all that you learn is that they were scared, or shocked, or awed by the whole thing. I’m glad I know what happened to my friends and that many of their experiences resembled mine. I never thought I would shout I shout the words “I had an episiotomy too!” quite so loudly, or enthusiastically over a table in a public place. Once all of the babies were born our groups’ catchphrase became “where are all these ‘natural births’ then???” as 7 out of 8 of us had some complication or other. Sharing it meant we could laugh about it, just a little bit.

But sometimes, when these type of chats were in a group rather than one-to-one, I’d would feel myself slowly disappearing into an internal world. I remember meeting up with a group once, and a mum who I didn’t really know talking about her birth. I had thought we had passed the ‘how was your birth’ stage by then – I desperately wanted to be – even though it was probably only about 3 months after the fact. I found myself not bloody caring that she’d been sent home because she wasn’t dilated enough, and I certainly didn’t want to know home much hypno-birthing helped her. “Yah, so I started doing my meditations…” Meditations?? WTF??? after 2cm I couldn’t bloody see-straight! (FYI I do not think hypnobirthing isn’t good/genuine/etc, but because at that point I was still in the ‘if I’d done that it would have been better’ place. That place is crap.) The more she shared, and others shared with her, the more urgent the sense of dread became in my body became. If we’re talking ‘fight or flight’ reflexes, mine body was definitely telling me to catch the next flight to Kazakhstan.  So I just sat back in my chair and nodded at the appropriate points, trying to do my best interested/sympathetic expression. But I wasn’t really there, I was hiding somewhere in my head. Which was sad.

To be fair, I had worse. Friends without babies who I told I was ‘upset’ by the birth (and the award for understatement of the year 2013 goes to…) and didn’t really want to talk about it, would often respond by asking questions about the birth or, worse, telling me about ‘really bad‘ births they knew of already. I shit you not, Dear Reader, I shit you not.

And you know, I’m beginning to feel all weird as I write this. I’ve got the anxiety tingles. A year on I still find it hard to think about this stuff. And I’m not even thinking about the actual stuff, I’m thinking about talking about the actual stuff. What strange creatures we are.

Now, I shall get to the point. A lot of bloggers writing eloquently and movingly about their births. Some have managed to turn their traumatic experiences into dark comedies for our enjoyment, whilst others have shared their most profound tragedies in order to raise awareness and comfort others. All of these things are wonderful. But I won’t be reading any of them, I’m afraid. Not for a while yet, any way. And (obvs) I won’t be writing one either. Because it is not a day I want to relive.

I used to feel deeply sad and intensely guilty about not being able to remember my son’s birth fondly. But why should I? It was defo, totes, 100% the most physically traumatic experience of my life (and it wasn’t even a ‘really bad‘ one, bleurgh). Yes, afterwards I had my Bubs, but as I mentioned in the post I have just reblogged, my bond with him took time to form. I didn’t feel the Hollywood-sudden-rush-of-love sensation that makes it ‘all worth it’.

Now,, of course, I couldn’t be happier to have my Bubs (okay, I could be a bit happier when he is screaming in my face). As I may have mentioned before; he is the best. person. ever. (Sozzers other mums, but that is an objective fact!) And thought I am happy about the fact he was born (understatement of the year 2014) ; I will never be happy about the act of that birth. ‘The fact, not the act’, is actually a little phrase I coined to help me come to terms with my feelings about the it all. Pretty nifty, dontcha think?

When I realised that I never had to be happy about the labour and delivery, that I didn’t need to amalgamate the memory of a horrid stitches infection (TMI?) into some grand “isn’t motherhood wonderful at all times” narrative, it was a major relief. It is probably not a radical statement to say that women don’t  always have to smile fondly and say “it was all worth it!” when recalling the birth of their children, but it feels radical to me! Because, yes, or course it’s bloody worth it, but sometimes I just want to say it was fucking traumatic without a caveat, without any “but now he’s here and…” stuff. Sometimes, things are just shit. And I think going through labour earns us the right to say so!

So, just in case you were hoping to hear all about my birthing experience (weirdo), you won’t be. But I have created this visual aid, just so you’re in the loop:

Nuff said.

 

If you feel confused or upset by your birth then it might be an idea to talk to a Supervisor of Midwives at your hospital, see more info on my help for you page.

How to feel about retelling your birth? Maybe you adopted and feel left out in these conversations? Have your say by commenting below, go to my facebook page or tweet me @aafew

Mummy Mantras #3: We do what works!

we do what works

 

Dear Reader, this #mummymantra is perhaps the closest to my heart. This is probably because it works in two ways. First, it stops us judging/torturing ourselves. We can’t always do what the books, or the guidelines, or our in-laws say is ‘best’. You will be told that ‘every baby is different’ and that ‘you know your baby best’ until the cows come home, but you will also be told in a thousand subtle ways that what you’re doing is wrong. Not directly, not necessarily by an actual person, but by the acres of advice that piles down upon new parents these days. So it’s helpful to remember that most of us, in the end, just do what works for our family. For some the idea of controlled crying provokes a shudder of dread; for others it is a lifeline and the key to getting your evenings back. The former parents may end up feeling like they are ‘giving in’, whilst the latter could worry that they are being neglectful. Neither is true, of course. We just do what works.

But, unfortunately, it’s not just our inner-guilt factory that churns all these feelings up. There are a few real Judgey McJudgepants out there. Whether it’s an evangelical breast-feeder or a Gina Ford devotee, there are some parents (I’d say less than 1%) who really do think their way is best. But the problem isn’t these people, really, because they are a tiny minority and, frankly, they are a bunch of self-righteous knobs. So there. The real problem is that we often worry that we’re secretly being judged by way more people than just the narcissistic 1%. My big thing is using a dummy. I’ll do a whole post on it another time, but basically I use a dummy to get Bubs to sleep, and sometimes just to pacify him if we’re in church or the supermarket and nothing else is working. I often get worried that I am being judged for this. And that’s mostly because BC (before children) I was totally judgemental about dummies! But now I just do what works! And the thing is, no one actually cares whether or not I use a dummy. In fact, loads of mums I talk to are jealous that my baby will actually take a dummy! And others just know I’m doing what works. So, good. Jog on.

‘We do what works’, then, can become a great thing to say during parent gatherings. It is a blanket statement of non-judgement. It says “yes, I moved my baby to their own room at 10 weeks, but I think it’s great that you still co-sleep, it seems to be working well”. Or whatever; you get the picture. I’ve done loads of things you’re ‘not supposed to do’ and I know my friends don’t judge me for it. Because if you manage to get through the first year of your baby’s life and never diverge from the guidelines then, bloody hell, you deserve a medal, or admission to some kind of band of elite parenting ninjas. And if you don’t manage that then you’re just normal, and you can be my friend.

What’s your #mummymantra? tweet me @aafew, or leave a comment below, and the best mantras will be retweeted and featured on the blog later in the week.

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Mummy Mantras #2: He’s not sad, he’s just a baby!

image

As I have mentioned before, the cry of your own baby is genetically designed to pierce your very soul. Fact. It is then, quite useful to have a few phrases you can repeat to yourself as you are incessantly rocking your screaming bundle at 2am. Because, let’s face it, when you’ve reached that point in the day/night (what’s the difference? I hear the new mums cry!) you’re just not really in a lullaby place. You’re in more of a anything-to-retain-my-sanity type place.

Hence our second #mummymantra (you gotta love a hashtag people!)

They’re not sad; they’re just babies!!

If I ever heard an adult crying the way my son does when he’s hungry/overtired I would immediately assume that one of three things had happened. 1) they had suffered a heinous injury 2) they were dealing with a massive and very recent bereavement 3) they had just been kicked off the X-Factor and were playing up to the cameras in order to squeeze out every last drop of publicity possible whilst still on TV.

Of course, the three are equal in horror, and I hope I would run to this person’s aid showing little thought for my own well being.

If this kind of crying were to begin occurring several times a day however, that kind of response would quickly become unsustainable. Sound familiar?

I got to a point early on with Bubs where I was essentially phobic of his cries. I was on edge almost constantly, even when he was calm, because I knew he’d start up again soon. Of course, I didn’t really notice this until I’d gone partially mad but I can see it now. And why did I feel like that? Because when your baby is doing it’s I’m-being-tortured-save-me-save-me routine there’s a major part of your brain that gets all shouty and says “Do something! You’re responsible for this human, just bloody sort it out!”

The thing is, babies cry. Sometimes they cry because they’re hungry; sometimes because they’ve got a dirty nappy; sometimes because they want a cuddle; sometimes because they’re tired. But we’ve all had times when the crying remains a mystery. We shall never know why that half hour in the dead of night last Tuesday was designated a scream-fest. Partly because within a day your baby will have forgotten it ever happened.

So if we let ourselves believe crying=sad we have a problem.

It doesn’t help when friends make comments like ‘Aw he’s so sad!’ when Bubs has an inconsolable meltdown on a visit to their house. In fact, I often deploy this particular mantra to counteract the gnawing guilt that immediately wells up in me whenever such a remark is made. “He’s not sad!” I snap impatiently as I struggle to get Him into his buggy for a march around the block.

But it’s true. 99.9% of the time any baby is crying it’s just communicating or protesting or shouting or requesting. And we’ll try our best but sometimes they will just carry on. Perhaps 0.1% of the time their sad but they are human beings so, you know, that’s gonna happen now and then.

When I remember that it makes the melt downs just a touch more bearable!

Mummy Mantras #1: “I’ve got a life to lead.”

Please ignore the random and mildly unnerving tapering arm in this picture.

Please ignore the random and mildly unnerving tapering arm in this picture.

Hello there, Dear Reader, here beginneth a little series on what-I-call ‘mummy mantras’. These – you and your clever little brain may have guessed – are a collection of phrases I like to repeat to keep me vaguely sane. Yes, they are naughtily named in gender-specific way but ‘parent mantras’ doesn’t have the same alliterative punch and, frankly,  sounds far too earnest for my liking.

Now, mummy mantras are not to be confused with the other kind of parental catchphrases that crowd our verbal world i.e. those directed at our children. ‘Get down’, ‘can I have it please?’ ‘where’s baby gone? There he/she is’ ‘one more mouthful’ etc do not count. I’m talking about mantras for mums (or dads) by mums (or dads).

I’ve got a life to lead.

When my son got to about 5 months old I began to use this phrase a lot. I used it in reference to things I had started to do that had the potential to fill me with guilt. And, franklly, to remind myself that I was, in fact, a separate entity, with a separate identity to my Bubs (shocking, I know).  You see, at some point in your child’s life you have to make a choice: cater to their every need instantly, or have a life of your own on occasion. I chose the latter, as most of us do. It is a totally legitimate choice, but one that requires you to behave ever so slightly selfishly now and again. And we parents aren’t always very good at that. Well, actually, we are but we just have the potential to feel intense guilt for doing perfectly reasonable things like watching TV and peeing alone.

I shall now demonstrate the use of this mummy mantra, which I have come to find essential.

I decide, despite my previous snobbery towards the method, to give my son a dummy to help him sleep (and keep him from screaming the car/church/museum down). This invokes in me some paranoia. Am I being judged by other parents whose children magically go to sleep without a dummy? Am I retarding my son’s speech? Am I setting him up for an adolescence of orthodontist appointments and train-track braces??

No, he’ll be fine and I’ve got a life to lead.

I decide to use the ‘controlled-crying’ technique after a few nights of hour-long pre-sleep screaming-in-my-face sessions. Am I neglecting my him?

No, I’ve got a life to lead.

I move him into his own room at 10 weeks because he was waking so much and was SO LOUD even when he was asleep.

Because I know what the bloody guidelines say but I’ve got a life to lead. 

I often plonk him down in front of CBeebies for a bit whilst I check email/tidy up/play Candy Crush.

Because I’ve got a (albeit quite unexciting) life to lead.

Sometimes I feed him food out of jars, or pouches, or packets. If I’m out later than planned and haven’t brought his food I will even occasionally give him food with added salt. Dun Dun Der!

But, you know, I’ve got a life to lead.

 

So, I think you get the picture. It’s funny because even as I type this I feel a wave of guilt wash over me. I can’t believe I’m admitting to the whole wide web that I’m a human being who serves their own needs at times. How dare I think about myself? How dare I have days where I just can’t be bothered? How dare I have a life to lead???

Well I do dare, Dear Reader, and so should you.

 

 

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What’s your #mummymantra? tweet me @aafew and the best mantras will be retweeted and featured on the blog later in the week.

Mother’s Hierarchy of Needs: And the winner is…

A couple of weeks ago I took a poll on your needs. What do you prioritise above all else? If you want see what all of the options were  just click hereBut, of course, there can only be one winner. It was a close run race but, by just a single vote, your choice for the most accurate ‘mother’s hierarchy of needs’ is

 

*achingly long drum roll*

 

THE SLEEP ONE!

 

The Sleep One

The Sleep One

 

Yes, though it wasn’t my first choice (probably because it took me about 30 second to design and the others were labours of love, but whatevs, I, like, don’t even care) I think we can all agree that this is pretty darn accurate. Especially in the initial months. Actually, what am I talking about. It’s always accurate. We just came back from a two week holiday on which my delightful Bubs decided to go from sleep through to waking an unpredictable amount of times (always at least two). I’ve never returned from a holiday more tired than when I left. One is not amused.

So, there you have it. Sleep. Everything else. It’s as simple as that.

 

 

Thanks goes to @StephieDoug (sisterhoodandallthat.com) for her Twitter response:

What are your needs?? Time to vote!

In my last post I created a ‘hierarchy of needs’ for mums. Basically just to show that, whatever you’re going through, we all find it tough in one way or another. I also posted the #hierarchyofneeds on Twitter (come in people, it’s 2014, you gotta have a hashtag!)  Loads of people responded offering suggestions of what they would add. Two main themes, not totally unrelated if I may say, arose. The first, of course, was Gin! How could I have been so remiss as to miss out alcohol? Wine also came up a few times, naturally. The second was how much headspace was totally central to getting through this parenting lark. I’d put it at the top of the pyramid, but maybe it was really at the heart of it all. Cuddles, coffee, showers and puke-free clothes also came up.

So I got to thinking, downloaded some free apps (you gotta love free apps) and made a few more #hierarchyofneeds models. I have displayed them for you below. So, what do you think? Which do you feel best conveys your own needs? Have your say in the, frankly quite funky, poll below. I will announce the winner a week from now. Make your voice heard!

(Obvs this is a completely meaningless bloggy vote but, you know, humour me).

 

The Original One

The Original One

 

 

The Sleep One

The Sleep One

 

 

The Venn Diagram One

The Venn Diagram One

 

 

The Thorough One

The Thorough/Complicated One

 

 

 

 

‘Good’ Births, Weight Loss and Sleeping Through: why no mum wants to be told she’s ‘lucky’.

A conversation I had recently:

Me: Oh yeah, he’s just starting to get mobile now, so that’s a bit scary!

Nameless Mum of Two: How old is he now?

Me: Just about 8 months.

NMOT: Wow, 8 months and just starting to crawl. You’re lucky, mine both crawled at 6 months. You don’t want them crawling. *eye roll*

Me: (internally) OK, I’ll be quiet now then.

Dear reader, I’d like to tell you a little bit about why telling a mum she’s ‘lucky’ is one of those things that sounds like a compliment but makes you want to scream in someone’s face…

I, like many (most?) women I know found giving birth pretty traumatic. And why wouldn’t I? There was an actual person coming out of my actual body. Granted, I was aware that this was going to happen for over nine months previous to the event and you might think that the human brain, with all it’s vast capacities, would be capable of imagining something close to the experience. But you’d be wrong. It can’t. In fact, even the stuff I could imagine changed. I was induced so it all started in hospital; I had to have an assisted birth in theatre; and my Bubs was taken out of the room the minute he was born to be checked by a paediatrician (he was very healthy).

My friends’ births all happened in very different ways. From water births lasting less than 8 hours, to emergency c-sections, to labours lasting over 3 days. Bleurgh. Now given the choice, I’m sure most of us would choose a short water birth if we had to pick from that delightful menu. Hmm, actually, would I? You can’t have diamorphine when you have a water birth and that’s about the only thing I’m looking forward to about going through labour again. So maybe I’d choose a short, drug-addled birth. Mmm, diamorphine…

In reality, you are more likely to look like this.

But I digress! The interesting thing is that my friends’ reactions to these births didn’t necessarily match-up with what others’ ideas of a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ births are. When I began open up to my Health Visitor (who is amazing) about how I felt about my birth (crap crap crappedy crap, in case you were wondering) she told me that when she was a midwife she saw that any type of birth could be distressing. You could be in the hospital with a woman having no pain relief, keeping relatively calm and using a birthing pool. You might think what a lovely birth it was, as a midwife who’s seen it all. But that same birth could leave the mother in a state of shock and feeling very vulnerable. Because, you know, as I mentioned before. Actual person. Your actual body. Combined. Actually happening.

But any woman who had a relatively quick birth, or who have managed to not have any pain relief, or even whose baby just had a small head, will inevitably be told that their ‘lucky’ at some point. The problem with this, especially when it comes from the mouths of other birth-mothers is what it implies. Because your basically saying ‘my labour was harder/worse than your labour’ or ‘oh it wasn’t that bad dear, do pipe down’. While some of that might be physically true, it is just plain unhelpful. If a woman is continually told this she may end up feeling belittled. She might begin to feel she can’t talk about her birth in negative terms at all. She might even feel she is being weak and self-important for wanting to express her feelings of trauma. And that would be crappy, wouldn’t it?

Because my birth wasn’t ‘straight-forward’ I generally got the sympathy I desired, but I do have one example of this. Shortly after giving birth I spoke to an old friend on the phone. She, like most people, asked about the birth. I said it hadn’t been very good and that I didn’t really want to talk about it as I found it all quite upsetting. Her response was to ask if had been, like, a bad bad birth, or whether I just felt it was bad? I replied it was probably ‘in the middle’, already feeling quite belittled. Then she launched into a description of a really bad birth. Dear reader, I must confess, I just held the phone away from my ear until it was over.

Now, I’m not saying that there’s no such thing as a ‘bad’ birth. Of course there is! We all know of people who have gone through hell and, in a way, any of us who haven’t are lucky. I feel very lucky to live in a country where I wasn’t presented a bill at the end of my hospital stay and didn’t have to think about whether I could afford it when the doctors started talking about theatre. Come to think of it I’m bloody lucky to have been born in a country where there are enough hospitals to accommodate all births and two of them are 15 minutes from my house! So gratitude for your relative fortune is fantastic, but being told you should be grateful by some stranger who rolls their eyes as if to say ‘you just don’t get how hard it can be’? Well that’s just bloody annoying!

And it’s not just births that are surrounded by this kind of language. Take weight loss, for example. I am the first person to admit that I react with a curious mixture of jealousy and admiration when I see a fellow mum with a flat tummy. But there’s a weird thing in our society where people commenting, slightly bitterly, on someone’s (lack of) weight is totally socially acceptable. Thinner new mums are always being told they’re ‘lucky’ that the baby weight ‘just dropped off them’. But I’m pretty sure my retention of the extra stone around my middle is less to do with bad luck than with the amount of biscuits I eat.

What’s more, just because a woman’s thin we can’t assume she feels good about herself. Any celebrity mag can tell you that! Slimming down doesn’t mean her boobs haven’t gone all weird and changed shape. Or that the skin on her belly hasn’t turned from being all nice and smooth to resembling a loaf of tiger bread. And maybe, just maybe, the weight has ‘dropped off’ of her because she’s stressed and not eating properly. That doesn’t sound very lucky to me. (Look out for my new book The Anxiety Diet out in all good bookstores, spring 2015). Whatever the case, the effect is the same. ‘You’re lucky’ is usually taken to mean ‘you’re luckier than me’. And that can be interpreted as ‘count your blessings and shut up’.

It’s the same with everything. The mother whose baby sleeps well at night feels she shouldn’t talk about being tired. Now, I’m not saying go on about it to your friends who has twins who take it in turns to wake up six times a night, but I am saying that you probably are tired. Very tired. As far as I can make out, all parents exist on a spectrum of tiredness. Allow me to illustrate:

We're all bloody tired, ok?

We’re all bloody tired, ok?

In short, however ‘lucky’ a mum may seem, it’s still really really hard with a new born. So we all need to be able to express that.

Have you heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? Well this dude Maslow was trying to explain why even when people live in safety and have all of their physical, and even intellectual, needs met they can still be unhappy. Basically, if you’re wondering whether your kids are going to be fed today you’re unlikely to have an existential crisis about the very meaning of your life. However, if you’re sitting with a hearty breakfast, having slept safely in your bed, about to go to your rewarding job, you’re more likely to think about people who have no food and wonder why you’re not content despite your riches. Huzzah, an existential crisis!

Well I’ve borrowed Maslow’s idea but adjusted it a little, for mums. What do you think?

An actual graph, what I made myself.

An actual graph, what I made myself.

Okay this isn’t going to make many ripples in the pond of postnatal psychology, but of the spirit of is true I think. Some of us will have it very physically rough. I know that my experience of postnatal depression was bad, but there are a lot worse things that could have happened. I am genuinely grateful for my lot. Even so, I also genuinely suffered. It is possible for any parent in any circumstance to find things unbelievably tough. This is sometimes hard to understand, even frustrating, especially when a mother is going on about how her baby sleeps so much she can barely leave the house (yes, that happened to me and no, I wasn’t totally understanding). But really, everyone needs a good moan. Especially a mum!

 

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This post is linked up to…

 

And then the fun began...

 

The Script. Or how to read yourself.

As a new mother you will have the same conversations over and over again. You will hear the birth stories of others related in every form, from a one-sentence mumble to an unnecessarily detailed blow-by-blow account. You may share your own repeatedly, even if it makes you feel slightly nauseated. You will talk about sleep a lot. In fact, you will probably talk about sleep more than you actually sleep. You will discuss all kinds of things that you would have once considered non-subjects, like what’s up for grabs in the latest Aldi baby event and the fact that you’ve found sugar-free kids’ fruit yoghurts. (Seriously, I tried to enthuse to my husband about the yoghurt; he was having any of it!)

Your interest in and enjoyment of these conversations will yo-yo terrifically. One moment you’ll be ranting on with the best of them about this sleep technique or that annoying midwife; the next you’ll be staring absent-mindedly out of the window just wishing you could talk about something apart from babies!

Occasionally, you will get to talk about yourself. You will talk about all of the unparalleled upheaval you are encountering on a daily basis. Even more occasionally you may actually be able to say how you really feel. I do hope so. But when you’re sleep-deprived to the point of madness it’s not always easy to actually know how you really feel. Ok, well you do know you feel exhausted, but other than that.

In the first months with my little new born boy who had big blue eyes and the even bigger cry, I didn’t pay much attention to myself at all. Even when I got the chance to talk about how I was doing within myself I rarely took it. Looking back I notice that I had a few stock answers I would roll out. They were sort of like mantras I could repeat. I now call these sentences the Script and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only parent who has one.

There were two main lines in my Script that I remember saying over and over again. The first was “I don’t feel like I love him, but I know I do.” This would only be said to a select few, but even then I would say it in a breezy, optimistic voice, as if I were sharing some positive self-discovery. Or (worse?) offering reassurance to my nearest and dearest. The other, which probably came about from week 6 onwards, was “It’s funny because, I sort of know it’s easier now, but I don’t feel like it’s easier yet.” Nice little know/feel motif running through there, don’tcha think? What can I say? I’m a natural playwright.

So why was I saying these things? What purpose did they serve? Well, I think they were both really about convincing myself rather than anyone else. When you don’t get that instant rush of love as new mum it’s scary. So I just kept saying ‘I know I love him’, ‘I know I love him’. I’m not sure I really did know it. There was a small voice in the back of my mind saying “but what if I don’t?” and so I used the Script to counter that. And of course, to ward off the gnawing guilt that would raise its all-too-familiar ugly head whenever I contemplated this point.

It’s pretty obviously me repeatedly saying “I know it’s easier” was my way of trying to speak up over the harassed madwoman inside who was screaming “It’s not getting easier. WHY ISN’T IT GETTING EASIER???” And, much worse, it was a little stick to beat myself with. It’s easier now, what’s wrong with you? You’re supposed to be enjoying this! The thing is it actually wasn’t easier. Ok, he had calmed a bit after the switch to formula because he wasn’t starving hungry all the time any more. Yes he did sometimes sleep for 3 ½ hours straight (big woop!). But I was tired. Really, really tired. I’d been at it for 2 months and there was no let up.

I wonder now what would have happened if I’d taken more notice of my Script at the time. If I listen to those words now they seem to be clear early warning signs. You know that you love your baby but you don’t feel it? So you can’t feel any love at the moment? Well that seems a bit crap. You’re getting a bit more sleep and there’s less crying but it still feels achingly hard? Hmm, that doesn’t sound great either. Do you think you might be depressed? You know, like you have been previously several times in your life? Duh.

But when a new mum is tearful and tired we all think it’s just exhaustion and hormones. Why wouldn’t we? Everyone gets tearful and tired. The image of postnatal depression is one where you are afraid of or repulsed by your child. Of course that happens and it’s awful. But PND can be a very subtle beast. You may not realise you’re in its jaws until you wake up one day and it’s as if of the lights have gone out.

So, do you have a Script? Anything you’ve been saying to friends and family repeatedly that you don’t quite believe? Anything you keep saying in the subconscious hope someone else picks up on it? Or have you heard a Script that you didn’t find believable recently? Mothers can be very good actors; we need someone to see through the performance every now and then.