Recovering from PND: A Kind of Resurrection

I like Easter. I like the whole flow of Holy Week and how it takes in so much of the human experience. I like that the women are always there with Jesus and that when I think about his mother Mary’s story (whether or not you think it’s ‘true’) it teaches me about motherhood; all of it’s pain and love. This blog is usually a place for railing against the things that pin us mothers down, or casting a sarcastic glance at the silliness of our over eager advice culture. I’d like to think, though, it’s also a bit about hope and reassurance.

Today I don’t have much to say, but the sunshine and the Easter story have made me feel grateful, and I notice how far I have come this year. From the stomach-churning fear of anything birth and newborn related to a real relishing of motherhood. From a feeling of love masked by constant self-doubt to a security in my own ability to be a parent. I just love my son so much. And I can feel that love. But more than this, I like him. I really like him.

This is a kind of resurrection.

I want to attempt not to stray into cheesy territory and also be careful not to strike those who are still struggling with any sense of inadequacy or failure. But the on the day that the most powerful story that I know is being celebrated across the world, I want to offer my little piece of hope for all those who are in the midst of postnatal depression. You fear that you will not love; will never enjoy; are not able to cope. But you will love and will enjoy and you are coping. Right now, you’re coping. I have felt all of those things, I have some of them today but not with the same heart-breaking power that they once had. I have had so much help to get here, and I hope you’ll have the same.

Healing comes. Hope springs.

Happy Easter.

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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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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 Mantra #5: Some things we’ll just never know.

well never know

If you had to describe your parenting experience in 3 words would one of them be ‘unpredictable’?  Do you find that whenever you detect and begin to ease into a pattern it suddenly changes again? It’s like as soon as you say anything out loud (e.g. ‘he has a really reliable nap in the mornings now’) it just stops happening. Mildly exacerbating, no?

My previous mummy mantra was all about sleep. ‘All babies sleep eventually’. I did mention in that post that Bubs was sleeping pretty well these days. So, guess what happened that very night? Wakey wakey, mumsy!! What a fool I am!

Now, this time I’m pretty sure I know why he’s waking. It’s the obligatory bi-monthly snuffly nose fortnight. He’s currently pulling of the snot-moustache look with some aplomb and I’m pretty sure it’s that that wakes him up. (Can I take this opportunity to thank Calpol for all it’s done for parent kind??) However, there have been other times when I’ve had no clue why, after 5 nights of sleeping through (aaah, sleeping through, those magical words) he suddenly decides that he needs two feeds a night again. Good one.

How many times have you heard the phrase ‘it must be a growth spurt’ come out of your own mouth? Or said ‘maybe she’s teething’? Or agreed with a friend over coffee that it must be a ‘developmental phase’ as they are ‘processing so much new information at the moment.’? I mean, there’s got to be an explanation. Riiiiight?

In the modern era we are used to having our questions answered. Gone are the days of long drawn out debates in the pub over which actor played So-and-So in that Bond film, or which year it was that Channel 4 came on air. Nope, our pocket Google-machines have rendered all that unnecessary (other search engines are available). Even at work where we may face knottier conundrums there is usually, eventually, a satisfactory answer to whatever the problem is.

So, when faced with our baby’s crying/not eating/being hungry all the time/not sleeping/being in a right mood, it’s understandable that we think we should be get to the bottom of it all. The books (arg, those pesky bloody books again) encourage us to think that way. ‘How to soothe a crying baby’ promises the chapter title, followed by basically a ticklist – hungry? dirty nappy? tired? bored? etc. When we have exhausted these lists and our baby is emphatically not soothed it can be more than slightly disconcerting. ‘What had I missed?’ We ask ourselves.

But, the truth that we all come to learn, Dear Reader, is that sometimes, we’ll just never know. By the time Bubs is old enough to explain why he was so screamy on that night back in February, or why one day he went from eating whatever I put in front of him to throwing most of it on the floor, he won’t remember. In fact, I’m not really sure he remembers now. Babies don’t work like that.

As loving parents we all want to solve every problem our children will ever have. But we half of the time we won’t even understand what the problem is. We’ll just never know. A wise woman (OK, my therapist) said to me last week ‘you can’t solve an emotion’. Sometimes there’s nothing to solve, no question to answer. So we’ll just carry on trying out best. And that’ll be good enough. Promise.

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

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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!

Pincer Grips and Cheerios #2: Test or guide? You decide!

“It’s not a test, it’s just a guide.”

These were the first words of the lovely staff nurse who was about to go through my son’s 9 month health check. I had sat down mumbling something about not knowing what to put for some questions in the Ages and Stages Questionnaire (which I rant about here) . I was supposed to be able to say if Bubs did the random things listed such as poke for a Cheerio in a clear bottle (again, see previous rant). The options are ‘yes’, ‘sometimes’ and ‘not yet’. But the thing is my son hadn’t fancied playing with the blocks I wanted him too in order to make it all into a game “that is fun for you and your baby”. I surround him with stimulating and creative baby activities and he decides whether or not he’s up for them. He can sniff out a remote control/phone/ipad at 20 metres so something like that usually distracts him. That or climbing around the furniture.

Well, it didn’t matter any way, because it’s not a test. Not a test, not a test, not a test. Aaaaaand breathe…

As she went through the form, all of the ‘yeses’ I’d ticked were passed over quite quickly. One section she read over herself and said, almost to herself,  “that’s perfect”, which is obviously good, except that I didn’t really know what she was referring to. However, any time she got to a question for which I’d ticked ‘no’ or even ‘sometimes’ she’d stop and say something like “so, we’ve not got 3 words yet?” and I’d confirm that we hadn’t. Obvs. She always responded to this with the phrase “that will come”, which was lovely and I am sure meant to be reassuring. But the thing is I didn’t think I needed reassuring, because there’s nothing wrong! Of course immediately the irrational anxiety fairy pops up on my right shoulder and starts to whisper “are you sure there’s nothing wrong? I mean you’re not exactly a baby expert are you?”. Shut up anxiety fairy! Shut the F up! 

Then we came to the ‘problem-solving’ section of the guide-not-a-test. I hadn’t ticked ‘not yet’ at all, I don’t think, but I had ticked ‘sometimes’ a lot. Mostly because my son doesn’t often hold two toys simultaneously for a minute or poke at crumb inside a clear bottle. ‘Sometimes’ seemed the most accurate. He’s actually a pretty good problem solver. For example the other day my mum brought round some figs in a plastic box for him to try. She put them on the ground in the garden whilst I went inside to cut up a fig up nicely for little Bubs. Meanwhile, had got into the box and bitten and squeezed the fig until he got at the fruit himself. Pretty nifty I thought. But still, that was not such a ‘perfect’ area according the ‘guide’.

 

Problem Solved

Problem solved, biatches.*

 

I am open to the possibility that there are some really good medical and psychological reasons to test ‘problem-solving’ at this age, but I am not sure I like it. They can say ‘it’s not a test’ til the cows come home but it feels like we’re already assessing children’s ability/intelligence against each other before their first birthday. I’m a bit like, can you not?? Okay, I know comparison is not the objective here, it’s more about catching any developmental problems as early as possible, but some of the stuff it’s looking at is quite advanced (in my humble opinion) so a mum does start to fret. I mean, does the fact that my son only ‘sometimes’ plays ‘pat-a-cake’ with by banging two toys together really point to any significant developmental issue? I don’t think so. O do I? I said SHUT UP, anxiety fairy!

Any way, I think all would have been fine in this “not a test” scenario, except that when we’d gone through the questionnaire the nurse went to get the scoring sheet, and totted up all of my baby’s totals for the different categories. Right…

Sorry if I’m being a bit dense but I thought ‘questionnaires’ that are scored and assessed were, well, you know, tests. The score sheet looked like a bit like this…

 

Yes, you get the idea. I've cropped this image so that my fellow obsessive mothers can't start doing self-assessments on their children.

Yes, you get the idea. I’ve cropped this image so that my fellow obsessive parents can’t start doing weekly self-assessments on their children.

So she adds up it all up and then she says that, yeah, everything’s great and he’s doing really well. All of his scores are ‘in the white’, it’s just problem-solving that is in the ‘grey area’, so can she get in touch about that in a month or so? ‘Yes, that’s fine.’ I reply meekly, despite the fact that I actually think it’s over the top and will just worry me. I then tell her about some other ‘problem-solvingish’ tasks that he does regularly and she agrees that that’s great and says that the questions are specific so there are other examples you can use. But she’s still going to call me to check up. I don’t feel particularly listened to at this point. Breathe, Aileen, breathe.

Does anyone else get this weird thing when they’re with health professionals that they become meek and mild and eager to please? It happens to me all of the time. I mean, I am gobby to put it mildy. I can rant on with the best of them (oh, you’d noticed that?) but when there’s a nurse or a doctor there I lose my nerve. What if I’d said ‘I don’t really see the point of you chasing this up, I’m sure you’re really busy and we are very attentive to our son’s development so I’ll call you if I need to.’? It would have been perfectly polite and within my rights. But I am inexplicably drawn to agree with whatever the person who has the ticklist and the medical training says. Now, yes, this is partly because they have the medical training, fair dos. But these professionals will be the first to say that you’re the best ‘expert’ on your own child.

No, I think I’m afraid. Not quite sure of what. Of being told off I suppose. Of being seen as something less that a perfect, attentive, give-my-all sort of mum. I don’t think I’m the only one with this feeling. There are thousands of mothers out there who can talk the talk of relaxed parenting but, ultimately, can’t bear the thought of not being seen as Supermum. We really do need to chill out, guys, like, seriously. Or even, God forbid, have enough confidence in our own parenting to be open to a bit of criticism without it destroying our very being.

I don’t think the anxiety I experienced was the fault of any of the health professionals I encountered. I am quite capable of whipping myself up, not to mention what happens when that pesky anxiety fairy gets involved! But I do think it was partly the fault of that bloody questionnaire. It is sent out so long in advance you have plenty of time to ruminate over any ‘not yet’ you may have ticked, wondering what the answers to these questions, which are frankly bizarre at times, all mean. Someone may well be screaming at their computer screen right now, saying ‘Well pull yourself together woman, the checks are for your child, it’s not up to them to look after your precious little feelings’. Fair point, except that it sort of is. Especially as this particular centre were key in supporting me through PND. Healthy mother, healthy baby, right? In the dream scenario all parents would look at the questionnaire objectively and not fret on any level about their own child’s strengths and (more pertinently) weaknesses. But that ain’t gonna happen any time soon, so let’s work within the a-lot-of-parents-are-easily-worried parameters.

So, I have two suggestions:

1) Don’t send the questionnaire out in the post. I know it saves time, but you go through it all any way and Health Visitors et al have a MUCH better idea the real issues that the questions are actually getting at any way. (Dear Mr Stupidface Health Minister, this will involve actually funding preventative children’s services, grr).

2) Don’t show the parents the bloody score sheet! The nurse I saw (who was lovely and good at her job, just to say again) pointed at the grey area she had marked next the problem-solving section. This was not the mental image I needed. Then I got to thinking that, actually, what if all of his scores were in grey? Or a few were in black? There are a lot of 10 month olds that don’t do all the crazy malarky on those lists. I know people who didn’t crawl before they were one, or speak before they were two. Guess what? They are very clever and can stand up on their own and everything! So, yeah, we just don’t need to see that. Tot it up after we’ve gone on our merry ways. Because, let’s give credit where credit’s due, these people have trained for 3+ years, they will know if they need to follow anything up with having to look at a score sheet.

Actually, on second thoughts, I just have one suggestion:

1) Scrap the questionnaire! Bin it! It’s a stupidface!

The nurse we saw made a few jokes like ‘who wrote this questionnaire, hey?’ with the accompanying comedy eye roll. She also said this check used to be a more informal chat but that now it’s more ‘thorough’. I have worked in the public sector, ‘more thorough’ may well have been code for ‘a crapload of extra paper work’.

The thing is that when you put a list of questions between two human beings it automatically shuts down any natural conversation. You’re both focussed on the piece of paper and not so much as each other. It can leave parents feeling like they haven’t been listened to, though this is often not the fault of the Health Visitor.

Apparently the Ages and Stages Questionnaire is now being rolled out UK wide. I’d like to read the evidence that says it picks up things better than the previous system of letting trained health professionals talk to and spend time with families. I haven’t had any luck googling it so far (please comment if you know about these things). But I have a horrible suspicion that has more to do with the governmental obsession with standardisation and stats. Oh no, we can’t just trust professionals to do their jobs well and their managers and colleagues to flag up any problems, no no, what they need in more forms! 

And then of course, there’s the fact that sending that getting parents (who are more likely to over- or under-estimate their children’s abilities for varying reasons) to fill in the form and having a more ‘ticklist’ approach in the meeting saves time. Which saves money. Which means you need less health professionals. Which means you can make more cuts. Bleurgh. Boo. Naughty naughty Tories. Etc.

So, parents of Britain. Don’t worry too much about the ‘not yets’. You and your Health Visitor will know pretty quickly if there is a glaring issue. And maybe think about raising the ‘what the F is this ASQ business about???’ issue with your MP. People power and all that.

But, most of all, just bloody chill! It is possible you have produced a child that will not be ‘top of the class’ in every arena at every stage. That is OK. They will still love you. And it takes a lot more than the lack of a pincer grip for social services to be called. 

 

Just to drive the point home, I think Sure Start centres are, like, well good.

Just to drive the point home, I think Sure Start centres and Health Visitors are, like, well good.

 

 

 

*I feel both heartily amused and slightly ashamed that I have captioned my 10-month-old son using a swear. Ah well…

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:

‘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!

 

_________________________________________________________

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.

 

Burn the books!

Are you reading any baby books at the moment? How’s that going for you? Are they offering you an affirmation of your innate parenting ability? Are they giving you handy hints and tips without being dictatorial? Are they offering you useful guidance that doesn’t make you feel overwhelmed or inadequate in any way? Oh good, that’s great.

Wait? What’s that you say? These books aren’t affirming your parenting choices? They are making you feel confused and inadequate? You do feel overwhelmed by the mountains of advice you’re receiving from all of these ‘helpful experts’. Well then, my friends, I’ll tell you what to do with those books; burn them!!

Ok, scrap that. Please don’t actually burn any books. In general I find not-doing-stuff-the-nazis-did a solid rule to live by. But if we’re not going to burn them we should definitely bin them.

That’s right, you heard me. Bin them! That book you read when your baby was five-days-old that told you feeding on demand would lead to childhood obesity: bin it! Or the one that told you leaving your baby to cry would cause long-term psychological damage (you only wanted to go to the toilet but now you’re wracked with guilt) bin it! Don’t give it to charity shop, don’t pass it on to a pregnant friend, put it IN THE BIN. It’s not useful. It’s rubbish, garbage, waste I tells ya! (though it should be noted that it’s waste that’s widely recyclable so put it in the paper bin, but, you know, that’s still a bin).

My problem is less with the demanding specifics of some baby books – though I have a thousand issues with those – than with the cacophony of conflicting advice that is just waiting to leap out of the bookshelves and into the dazed and vulnerable minds of new parents. Even more so that the doling out of this advice is big business. If a book is successful it spawns a sequel, or the author starts putting their name to products. Is this all for the benefit of parents? I begin to think not.

There are a million ways to be a good mum but I am yet to find a book that acknowledges this, let alone one that details a few different choices side-by-side without making a value judgement on any*. As it is, if you choose the ‘attachment parenting’ approach and co-sleep with your baby you’re likely to feel self-conscious about being judged by those who have read that this is dangerous. Then again, others are likely to fear judgement from you because they choose to put their baby in another room early on because you’ve read that this is damaging. The thing is, we don’t judge each other half as much as we judge our ourselves. And this internal awareness that everything we do is potentially wrong just fuels the anxiety and (yep, you guessed it) guilt that can so easily take hold of us as new parents.

I co-slept with my son for the first four weeks because it was the only way any of us slept, then I moved him to his own room at 10 weeks because he was bloody loud and I was completely exhausted. Honestly, I wish I hadn’t read anything about either of these decision, no books, no websites, certainly no forums. Because, 8 months in, I see that they were both the right thing to do at the time; for all of us. But I was constantly questioning myself, feeling selfish or lazy for not trying harder to ‘do the right thing’, bleugh!

The truth is, most of us don’t subscribe completely to the theories and methods of any one parenting style. We do what works. And if the birth of your first child weren’t the most exhausting, surprising, heart-wrenching emotional roller-coaster of your life you may just be able to take what you needed from these books and casually disagree with the rest. But I couldn’t, and I don’t know who many who could.

This is why I have stopped reading about how to take care of babies. I know how to take care of my baby. I’m really good at it. And so are you. Yes, you. And if there’s a book making you feel like you’re not then bin it. Just bin it!

*I really hope a book like this exists, if you know of one please comment and recommend.