Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Dear Struggling Mummy...

... This post is for you and you alone. Only you're not alone. You are one of hundreds, thousands and probably millions of Mummies all over the world who are finding being a first-time Mummy or a Mummy for the second, third or fourth time a whole load more challenging than you had hoped or expected.

I was one of you. Some days I still am but with a lessening frequency as time goes by and over the past 2 and a bit years I have slowly pulled myself out of the very dark place I once found myself in so, from the bottom of my heart, I truly know how you feel and I'll say it again, you are not alone.

I felt compelled to write a post about how hard being a Mummy can be because having been through it myself and coming out the other side, I now find myself watching some of my friends far and near going through the same thing and I can’t stand by and observe without trying to at least do something to help them through it. I know how it feels to feel completely alone and as though you are the only person in the world struggling this way and I know how crucial fellow Mummy support is at a time when you are feeling utterly helpless and desperate and can't see the light at the end of the tunnel.

So here are some thoughts I wanted to share with you. Because you are not alone. Because you need support. Because you are no doubt doing an awesome job but don't believe it yet.

Being a Mummy isn't always enjoyable and it isn't always fun. And that's OK.

If I had a pound for every time I heard someone utter the phrase 'Enjoy every moment, this time is so precious, you must cherish all of it' or words to that effect, I wouldn't still be doing a job that I effectively hate, I'd be lounging around by a pool in my luxury mansion in Beverly Hills. I know it is said with the best of intentions, really I do, but it has to be one of the most unhelpful things you can ever say to a struggling Mummy. What new Mummy wouldn't think her newborn is the most precious thing in the world and have every intention of cherishing and enjoying every moment?  I believe all Mummies want to do that but here's the reality. Children (of all ages) are not always fun and being responsible for them and being their Mummies is sometimes incredibly challenging, exhausting, upsetting and as far from enjoyable as a thing can be. Enjoying something can only be done when something is enjoyable. Feeling like you should enjoy something that isn't enjoyable and being reminded how quickly it is passing so this is kind of your only chance to enjoy it only puts added pressure on you at an already difficult time. Sometimes, when times are tough, merely surviving it (whatever difficult phase it is) is the absolute best you can do and makes you a total hero in my eyes.

I am comfortable with saying this now as it feels like a lifetime ago but for me, the first 6 months of Dalton's life was the worst 6 months of mine. Without a doubt. So hard in fact that I can’t risk putting me, Ron or Dalton through it again to have that second child I always wanted and thought I would have. I loved my baby (as I will forever) so much it hurt but I sunk in to a deep depression that I didn't even know I was capable of. I know that feeling of not being able to see the light when it feels like everything is falling apart around you.  I can think of no circumstance other than being a new Mummy in which a person suffering with depression is urged to enjoy it.

You don't need to enjoy every moment my vulnerable little flower. When you can, that's great, and there are lots of enjoyable and wonderful moments even in the darkest of times, but when you can't, don't feel bad. You are only human and if all you are able to do is survive and just about keep everyone in one piece, do that, that's enough. You will get through it and you are still doing a great job.

If you find yourself in a position where the best you can do is get through it, whatever ‘it’ is, resist the urge to fix things. The pressure I put on myself in the early months trying to fix me, fix me and Ron and fix Dalton (who wasn’t broken – he just didn’t much like being a baby!) led to nothing good and everything bad. It was just more stuff to fail at and, in the end, once I stopped trying to fix everybody and everything, those things that felt broken fixed themselves all on their own.

Oh, and this is very important to say, too. Not enjoying every moment you have with your child (no matter how old they are) doesn't mean you love them any less. It is because you love them so very, very much that you sometimes find it so very, very hard.

Other Mummies aren't finding it as easy as you think.

When I was at my lowest point, I remember feeling so upset with myself that I was coping so terribly when all around me, every other Mummy I knew and every other Mummy I saw on the street seemed to be coping so bloody well!  But here's the thing. Apart from the fact that I chose to have my emotional meltdowns in public via a popular social networking site (the support from which I gained pretty much single-handedly got me through the hard times), anyone who hadn't seen those posts would probably have thought I was coping brilliantly too. You see, the hours / days when I was having a particularly hard time, I didn't go outside, I sat inside sobbing, or I walked Dalton in the pushchair crying (both of us), trying to get him to nap for the God knows which-th time that day up and down a road by the creek where you hardly ever see anyone. What I am trying to say is that no one really saw me on those days. On the days when I felt together enough to face the world, I did, and on those days, I probably looked like I was coping well. I realise now that all those other Mummies I saw walking about in the street in plain public view looking like they were coping so well were probably just having a good day too. I didn't see them at their lowest points so I irrationally deduced that there weren't any.

Equally, it is only natural for Mummies to share updates and photos of the good times. The times when bubba is doing something hilarious, cute or impressive. The times when Momma is feeling good and happy and smiley. People deal with the tougher Mummy experiences in different ways. Some, like me, send out an SOS in the hope of some much needed support from other Mummies. Some, probably most people, are more private and turn to those nearest and dearest for support and some withdraw, somehow ashamed or embarrassed for finding things so tough and say nothing at all (these are the people I worry about most and the people I hope to reach with these blog posts). Whatever the method, it’s easy to have a distorted view of how other Mummies are coping and I have learnt not to assume everyone else is finding being a Mummy easy just because they aren’t melting down in public – that just isn’t the way some people roll!  I was astonished at some of the wonderfully supportive messages sent to me at my darkest times from people who I thought were total SuperMummies and finding it all a breeze. It turned out they weren’t at all and whilst I would never take comfort from other people feeling the way I did, I took comfort from knowing I wasn’t alone and that what I was going through was not necessarily the norm, but certainly not unusual. In the end, knowing this was my saviour.

Some Mummies DO genuinely cope with Motherhood better than others. This doesn’t make us failures.

I’m always conscious of putting the fear of God in to expecting parents and worrying them about how tough the road is that lies ahead of them so I don’t want to give the impression that all Mummies find it such a tough experience. I think if I had known how tough my journey was going to be at the beginning, I might not have gone through it. But that would have been a tragedy as I would never then have been able to experience the wonderful aspects of being a Mummy that I now get to enjoy. The truth is though that some Mummies just genuinely seem to cope brilliantly with being a new Mummy so if you are expecting, I hope you will be one of them but if you aren’t, don’t beat yourself up.

There are a million reasons why some people cope better than others. Perhaps they have an easier baby than you. Perhaps they get more support than you. Perhaps they are in a position where they can take a break more than you. Perhaps they were around babies a lot before having their own and were better prepared. Perhaps they cope with sleep deprivation better than you. Perhaps their personalities don’t lead them on a constant quest for absolute perfection. Perhaps they are just the type of person who is able to go with the flow better. Whatever the reason, don’t worry and don’t compare yourselves to them. It isn’t a competition. This is your journey and if your journey has a bumpy start, that’s OK. It will only make you appreciate the smoother road ahead more when you get there. And believe me, there is a smoother road ahead.

So, that’s all I really wanted to say. I hope the tough times pass quickly for you and I hope you will take some comfort from knowing that a) you are not alone and b) things get a whole load better.

Don’t get me wrong, there will always be challenges ahead and things will always come in phases. My current biggest challenge, for example, is finding a way to have the career I want to have whilst continuing to be the Mummy I want to be. I’m finding it particularly difficult to cope with not being able to go for the jobs I want and know I can do without giving up seeing my sweet baby for most of the working week but it is what it is and I’m sure I will find a way to make the balance of being a working Mummy work better in the future. The fact that this is my only real challenge at the moment is an indication of how much easier life gets as your beautiful ball of fluff grows up.

Another indication of how much easier life can get is that I now have been able to make a little room in my life for hobbies – such as my new found love of food art!

Banana Caterpillar!

I wouldn’t have dreamt of having the time, energy or desire to create my nutritious little works of art 18 months ago but I consider each plate another symbol of how much happier and confident I feel as a Mummy every day. And congratulating myself on these small achievements is something I now feel comfortable doing.

Love and hugs to all you special Mummies – those who are struggling and those who are not.

I leave you now, as ever, with a couple of pictures of the boy who rocks my world (and sometimes my house when swinging from the chandeliers!).

Smiling because he is looking at his favourite person - himself!


Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Five Things I have Learnt in Two Years of Being a Mummy

I have been Dalton's Mummy for a little over two years now and decided it must be time for another post.

Many things happen every day in this challenging but glorious world of motherhood that fascinate me, make me laugh, make me proud, make me cry and I'd love to share them all with you but, apart from the fact that 'free time', as previously mentioned, is at an absolute premium, I am conscious that I would drive you all to distraction with my constant quips about and photos of the boy who is the centre of my world so I shall try to keep my posts timely but not irritatingly frequent (unless you cry, "More, Woody, we want more" in which case I shall respond accordingly).

So, here are five things that I have learnt about being a Mummy over the past two years:

      1.       It really does get easier.

At least, it has for me. I guess it depends on how well prepared you were for motherhood (can anyone actually be well prepared for motherhood?!) and how well you cope with sleep deprivation but for me, it was a case of not at all and absolutely not at all. The first 6 months of Dalton’s life feel like a blur looking back. It wasn’t a happy time for me and I still feel sad when I visit my friends with newborns and am reminded of how dark a place I found myself in when I first became a Mummy. Half of this was due to the shock of my life effectively being over and half of this was due to sleep deprivation and I am delighted to report that as time passes, you get used to having no freedom, no control, no free time, saggy boobs and a lifetime of wearing panty liners and that the vastly improved situation with sleep allows you to actually embrace and enjoy this completely new way of life and all of the wonderful things that come with it and deal with the challenges you are presented with in a more rational manner. Don’t get me wrong, not a day goes past when I wake up / am woken up in the morning and don’t feel like a mahoosive bag of spanners but I am definitely in the ‘acceptance’ stage that I will forever be tired and that tiredness is manageable. With matchsticks. And coffee, lots of coffee. And a little Prozac

           2.       The bad phases really do pass.

One of the things that has always surprised me about being a Mummy, and still surprises me today is that whenever we are in a particularly challenging phase, even though I know it will pass, because it always does, it feels like it will last FOREVER! No matter how many people tell you it will pass and that one day you will barely remember it, at the time, you can’t help but find yourself on the brink of despair furiously begging anyone who will listen to tell you if this will ever end. But then it passes, as quickly as it came, and you promptly realise that it wasn’t so bad after all and then get back to enjoying the awesome bits in the middle of the tricky phases. These days, Dalton’s really bad phases are generally linked to teething so I can’t complain as he is pretty fabulous outside of teeth moving phases. We are four teeth short of a full set so I am already planning the ‘Complete Nashers’ party that the whole of the world will be invited to to celebrate the end of all bad phases from which point forth, being a Mummy to Dalton will be a breeze, right?!

           3.       Being a working Mummy is great if you have a supportive manager and pretty terrible if you don’t.

I remember when I was getting ready to return to work after spending a challenging but, on the whole, wonderful year with my baby boy, many people telling me how tough being a working Mummy was. At the time, I was still finding being a Mummy to Dalton, physically, incredibly exhausting and it seemed impossible to get anything done so I dispelled these warnings hoping they were untrue and instead dreamt of lunch hour shopping, eating with two hands, walking, sitting, whatever, any activity really that I could enjoy doing alone and without stress. I dreamt of finishing a cup of tea or coffee again. I dreamt of wearing make up again and making myself look presentable (as presentable as a Mummy with matchsticks holes in her eyelids can look anyway). I dreamt of me being me again and having something I was in control of again – this was really important to me.

Initially, when I returned, all of these dreams came true and more. To be honest, for me, working was a breeze compared to looking after a little person and I had more free time than ever before, even just sitting on the train for the long commute again became less unpleasant as it was a treat to just sit and watch the world go by. I started to find myself again. I had a supportive manager at the time who had helped me to negotiate flexible terms that allowed Ron and I to manage childcare (one of the biggest challenges for two working parents – especially if you both work a long way from home) and me to spend one day a week with my bubba, a day I have come to really cherish. I was pleased with this. I was aware that it was going to be difficult to progress up the career ladder easily whist working flexible hours but I had convinced myself that that didn’t matter. I would do the best job I could do and adjust my view of why I was working to being a means of allowing me to continue to buy Dalton things he will definitely never need but that Mummy enjoys playing with rather than a means of further skilling myself, progressing career-wise and ‘owning that shit’.

After about ten months of being back at work, a couple of things happened. Firstly, my generally supportive manager left. Secondly, the inner ambition in me was fighting to get out and I found myself, as a 4-day-a-weeker who actually works the equivalent of 5 days a week but only gets paid for 4, starting to feel a bit peeved about being, what I perceive as, left behind. I can’t deny that I am a career-driven person and it turns out I’m quite partial to a spot of shit-owning. It’s not easy to have a family and a good career but I don’t believe the two are mutually exclusive – as long as you have a manager who also believes this and peers who understand this. Work can become somewhat unpleasant if you don’t.

What has also become apparent recently is that whilst it isn’t that difficult to negotiate flexible working hours when you return from maternity leave, trying to negotiate these terms at a brand new company who don’t have the benefit of knowing your skillset already is much, much harder so then you have to start asking yourself very difficult questions like ‘do I really hate working here more than I love spending Fridays with my baby?’ – an impossible question to answer as I feel quite passionate at opposite ends of the scale about both. Of course, being unhappy at work doesn’t just affect you while you are at work and I have to take that in to account too when working out the best thing to do. For now, though, being a working Mummy is tough and one way or another, I need to find a way to make it less tough.

The two bits of advice I would give to any lady who is thinking about having a baby and returning to work at some point – one of which I followed and one of which I regretfully didn’t – are:

a.       Try to find yourself at a company you’d be happy to stay working for for a long time before you get pregnant if possible.
b.      Only negotiate terms to return on that you will be happy to sustain for a long period of time. Working more days than you’re happy to will only come and bite you on the butt cheek when you return.

           4.       The ‘Terrible Twos’ really aren’t that terrible.

I may live to regret this bullet point and I reserve the right to stand corrected if they haven’t yet arrived. I’m pretty sure they have arrived as the daily tantrums about very seemingly insignificant things are outer space-reaching but I am pleasantly surprised at how not that terrible I am finding them. Don’t get me wrong, two year old tantrums are hard work and annoying and definitely no fun to deal with if you are unfortunate enough to be going through a bad sleeping phase as well but as long as you are consistent and don’t give in to them, however easy it would be to do that, they are short-lived and, at times, amusing! I found Dalton crying when he was little very stressful and very upsetting but the biggest difference is that the crying of a little baby is more about needs rather than wants. The crying and tantrums of a toddler are all about wants and as quickly as they are screaming as though you have chopped their arm off, they are chuckling because of the funny face you are making. I see it also as a very interesting and critical point of development – a chance to seize an opportunity to shape a little person in to a truly awesome individual – and I enjoy that challenge and watching the fruits of our hard work start to pay off. When I’m not too sleep deprived anyway.

           5.       Finding childcare for your child that you are happy with is essential.

I can’t thank my lucky stars enough every day for the childminder that we eventually found for Dalton. I can’t imagine a person in the world I would rather have bringing up our boy 4 days a week than Dalton’s childminder. Not only is she awesome but she truly loves Dalton like he is her own and he has blossomed since starting at daycare with her. It was almost very different. When I first planned to return to work when Dalton was 10 months old we tried to settle him in to a local nursery and, for whatever reason, it just really didn’t work for him and my boy was miserable. It broke my heart and made me feel like the worst Mummy in the world for wanting to go back to work and putting him through that. I felt completely desperate and helpless with only two weeks to go until my return date but I am so glad that I listened to my instincts and negotiated a later returning work date to allow me time to find a childcare option that would make Ron and I, and most importantly, Master Dalton, happy. I am so glad we did as having a childcare solution that we are all happy with makes it possible for me to go back to work and never once worry about whether Dalton is having a good day. I know he is always having a great day and, in fact, I feel sorry for the poor mite when he has to spend a whole week with Mummy! If you are returning to work and not comfortable with the childcare arrangements you have, I highly recommend speaking to your work and trying to negotiate a delayed return to allow you to find something / someone you are happy with. To be honest, if they deny you that, they probably aren’t the sort of place you want to work as a Mummy anyway. For us, a childminder worked better for Dalton but I know many parents whose children are equally happy and blossoming at nursery so you’ve just got to try a few things out until you find works for you and your child.

There are so many more things I want to share, so many hilarious moments, but for now, I will leave you as always with a few recent pictures of the best thing I ever did.

Dalton and Chocolate Cake!
Trading and Bathing
Christmas with Mummy & Daddy