Behind the smile: the internal rantings of a new mum’s mind

These days I become wildly protective of new mums whenever I meet one. Panting like an over-enthusiastic fat labrador in my efforts it can get a bit embarrassing if the new mum looks at me nonplussed and says she is absolutely loving every minute…Better safe than sorry though, eh…

I do feel bad when this happens though. I feel like the angry person scowling in the corner of the tastefully decorated monochrome gender-neutral nursery, spoiling the ambiance with my CLASHING SWIRLS OF RAGING COLOUR grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, whereas occasionally most of the time, being a mum is easily the best thing ever for me too.

My assumption of the worst for new mums in fact comes only from a good place. I’m several years past those precious early days (treasure every minute, they’ll be gone before you know it bleurgh… sorry just vommed a little – gone soon, you say? Er, yes please) but the memories of the unsettling storm of rampaging hormones, sleep deprivation, uncertainty, anxiety and the pressure of keeping a whole other human alive rocked, rolled and turned my world upside down.

Not least to turn me inside out was the fact that my previously reptilian skin, thickened by years of catering to that toughest of crowds – The Teenager – was not immune to the pummice stone that is motherhood. Like the best exfoliator the friction of parenthood sloughed away cell by cell, layer after layer, my bullshit identity – the person I thought was me – until there was nothing left except a tissue veneer loosely keeping my organs from jelly-like splashing all over the floor.

I might have become a bit “sensitive”.

On one occasion, I cried because a family member wondered whether pregnancy yoga relaxed my first baby so much that she didn’t want to be born. In the fragile emotional state I was in, knowing that this was absolutely bloody bonkers was not enough to have me rolling my eyes and moving on. She continued to wonder whether this was why my labour was so (fucking horrendous – my word, definitely not her’s) challenging and my bullshit-deflectors failed me completely.

I just heard yet another shitty judgement on me, my body and my ability to be a mother. And I cried. And I cried. And I cried.

Part of the problem is that much of the shit that gets fanned in a new mum’s direction often originates in helpful intentions. It’s really hard to say “Oh just fuck off would you” when you know this would be seen as an “over-reaction”, not to mention the fact that lots of the most hurtful things are said by family members (no escape), or (even harder to negotiate) your partner’s family members, or even your friends.

These will probably be the people you have to draft in at some point or other to babysit. Piss them off at your peril.

Instead, tell yourself that they don’t realise their offer of unsolicited advice is not going to evoke feelings of gratitude. That your response might in fact be, “Oh well, if s/he thinks I need to be told this then I must look like I can’t cope”, won’t have occurred to them.

Tell yourself this so you don’t drive yourself crazy, or sad, or both.

The fact is that some people left their sensitivity bone behind back when two cells were becoming four, so protect yourself. Tell the boneless ones “Thanks” or “because I want to”, and entertain yourself by reading some of these internal rants that otherwise will never see the light of day because I need babysitters…

You should/ you must/ you will… Oh just fuck off would you? There is no should, must, will about it. This is my baby and I am going to do it my way. I don’t give two flying fingers of fudge that you have three children of your own, have cared for the entire under-5 population of a small Pacific island, nor that you have a PHD in offering unsolicited advice to anyone unfortunate enough to have ears and a baby, this is STILL not your baby and I’m STILL going to do it my way.

And besides, I have spent the last four night’s at ninety minute intervals reading ev-er-y-thing in the internet so I already know there are approximately seven THOUSAND conflicting pieces of advice out there about how to get my DC/ DS/ DD2 (wtf?) to sleep through the night. AND I’ve already tried eight thousand of them.

What works for one baby, might not work for ten others so please go and file your “expertise” under sh for “shut up”.

You’ve got to be strong now… Ok then, look at me. Look me right in the face – it might be a little drippy right now, but this <circle your head with a very pointy forefinger> has also just grown a person and pushed it out of her body/had it hoisted from the escape hatch.

Do you see me?

I AM the dictionary definition of strength – I am a chuffing HERO.

And if you don’t believe me, take a look at my strung-together under-carriage. Like an abandoned Halloween mask left draped over the pumpkin flame five minutes too long, that thing is terrifying right now, and who KNOWS if it will ever mould back into shape.

Still need convincing? Well how about I flash you my cracked and bleeding nipples – it’s not just milk dribbling out of those butt-ends right now, you know… Was that a WINCE? These are WORDS motherchuffer, just imagine how it FEELS.

I am a WARRIOR – who may be feeling a little unstable because, hormones – BUT Bow. DOWN.

Reassess your judgement of me as WEAK because I am crying a little – I am a GODLY-GOD-DAMN-GODDESS.

The baby is ok – that’s the main thing… Oh is it? So me, mum, the person who changed her life, wardrobe, eating and drinking habits, who has not slept properly for months (sleep in the late stages of pregnancy is a cruel, cruel joke – like preparing for a freaking famine by going on a diet) and who has just had her body torn apart in countless ways so that “the main event” can journey earthside, is not the most important person?

Are you high?

I’m a freaking hero (there may be a theme developing here). And if I tell you that the birth was hard, just fucking listen, people. It was HARD. I have just been through the most traumatic hours of my entire life and you need to make space for me to talk about it.

I might talk about it a lot at first, I might bore the tits off you. But as my tits are being pulled and pummelled, are growing and shrinking, stinging, cracking, bleeding and oh, yes lactating; as MY tits are doing all of this a little bit of boredom for your’s is no big deal.

So no: the main thing is not that the baby is ok – the main thing is that I am ok. An ok mother is an ok baby.

He/ she is/not hungry/ tired… I DON’T CARE. Even if you KNOW-KNOW – you’ve had seven children of your own, bottle fed three, breast fed four and tandem fed two of those, if you’ve co-slept AND cot-slept, sleep-trained AND gone insane, this baby is NOT YOUR’S so BACK OFF.

Let’s face it, there is a VERY small list of things that can go wrong – hungry, tired, wet, poo-y, hungry, hungry, wind, hungry – so even if you’re right, it doesn’t matter because we’ll get there eventually, without being made to feel like a twat for not knowing immediately like you do, apparently.

*Also see You should/ you must/ you will…*

You’re making a rod for your own back… Maybe. But it’s my back, right? I’m not going to actively “teach” my child to sleep nowhere except at a precise angle of 45degrees on top of me, but only when I’m wearing the green pyjamas and have the top two buttons undone so his little shell-like can rest on my pumping life-force, just so I can leave him/ her with you to scream for a few days while I go and party in Ibiza, am I?

So why are you so bothered?

Besides, maybe I don’t care. Maybe right now stuffing enough rods to build Trump’s fence down the back of my breastfeedingfriendly shirt is worth it, if that is all that stands between getting some sleep and getting none.

Maybe picking him/ her up whenever he/she cries makes ME feel calmer.

Maybe carrying him/ her in a sling all day instead of in the pushchair means that no one has to listen to the screams.

Maybe this is all just MY way and is none of YOUR business.

And maybe, just maybe, you do have something valid to add to the conversation.

But maybe just maybe, I’m not ready to hear it.

And maybe, just maybe, you need to respect that, button it, and say “You’re amazing. Well done.”

Say nice things to new mums

It’s a while since I was a new mum, but some of what was said to me back then still lingers, less with the tears attached, but more with the dregs of, Why the fuck would you say that?

There’s a reason why I’ve not said “new parents”, by the way. It’s not because I think dads are unimportant (the contrary in fact – I wish society judged them to be just as important as mums in the lives of their children), but because when a new baby lands Earth-side, I think the role the woman has played in that spectacularly special event should be given the respect it deserves.

In our culture however, it’s all about the baby. Which seems odd when you consider that a bit like Kim Kardashian, he/she has simply turned up: all the hard work behind the scenes has been done by someone else.

Perhaps then, we should spend more time and effort celebrating and congratulating a woman that she has grown a whole person.

She has changed the way she looks, walks, wees, works, eats, drinks and spends her free time (assuming she’s first time mum otherwise, nope) for this mini-dictator but in our haste to celebrate the driver of the vehicle, we forget to marvel at the engineer.

Instead, I would go so far as to say rather than asking the parents how the baby is sleeping/ eating/ feeling, these are the things we should be asking the parents. And they are definitely the ones who need the biggest cuddle.

And all the while that I say this, I’m aware there are people somewhere (I’ve never been), somehow (I’ve never experienced), someplace (I’ve still never been there), something something (who knows, really?), who swear they embrace every second of motherhood as a blessing.

I admit that I want to stab these women in the eye never completely believe people who say this, and so would say that unless someone corrects you, work on the assumption that they too are finding it HHAAAAAARRRRDDDDDDD.

Essentially, just be kind and say…

  1. You’re a (fucking – for some reason, this always makes me want to swear) hero. Whether the baby surged out with the assistance of nothing but some grunting and a Golden Thread breath; whether that brand new human was air-lifted out of the sunroof; or whether the mum had a giant set of spoons shoved up her foof, wrapped around the baby’s head and heaved on like a stubborn cork in a bottle… whatever the story, that woman is a (fucking) hero.

Even more importantly, she needs to be told that. I might even argue that she needs to be told that MORE if she has had a difficult experience, such are the dreadful mind tricks that a new mum can play on herself.

 2. How are you feeling? Asking this and receiving an accurate answer is highly dependent on your relationship with the mother. But even if you’re not that close, you might find that talking openly (but always briefly) about your experiences might encourage someone else to share something they otherwise would have not.

Sharing can lift the burden, not necessarily of the feelings themselves, but certainly of feeling alone with them. It’s easy to feel like you are the only terrible mother/ human being who ever wanted to keep walking past the bins, to the end of the street, onto a bus, to the airport to fly away and never come back.

“She just took out the recycling,” you imagine your confused other half lamenting, and then you dutifully turn around and trudge back into the house.

Sharing means a new mum can realise that these feelings are normal – the adjustment is huge, and it’s ok to struggle with it. And while I don’t wish to insult anyone who genuinely enjoys the weeping (eyes, boobs, wounds) and wiping (hands, bums, noses, floors, your clothes, the baby’s face) of early motherhood, it is my experience that as soon as I venture “It’s a bit shit, isn’t it?”, the floodgates open.

Because it’s NOT easy – for most people – and we need to talk about this, normalise it, so that no one feels shitty for finding it so.

3. I’m going to wash my hands and then I’ll hold the baby – you drink some tea/ use a knife AND a fork/ wave-your-arms-around-in-the-air-like-you-just-don’t-care-just-because-you-can. But read the situation – if the mum keeps staring with intent at the baby, ask her if she wants him/ her back. Some mums feel a fierce protective instinct over their new baby, and seeing someone else hold him/her can provoke anxiety, so if you’re not sure, then check.

4. I’ll change his/her nappy. Say this, sit back and watch as, like a slightly suspicious Labrador hearing the crunch of a crisp, the new-parent’s head lifts at the sound of your words.

Alert, eager, hopeful but slightly confused, they will double and triple check your intentions lest their hopes be dashed, “Really?…Are you sure?… You don’t have to… really you don’t have to…”

A friend insisted she do this at my birthday meal just weeks after my daughter was born, and to this day I remember the peculiar and welcome sense of relief and freedom I felt for a few short minutes.

I stared at the Mr in bemusement as it dawned on me that I hadn’t looked him in the face for weeks, and I resolved there and then to offer to do the same whenever the chance arose.

5. I’ve brought you some food. Especially if you are visiting over a meal time. Under no circumstances turn up and expect to be catered for – at least take pizza. The new mum might be totally on top of her shit and be showered, dressed, with a freezer full of batch cooking and a lasagne bubbling away in the oven, but don’t be the person who expects to be fed.

She might also be the mum who is surviving on bourbons dunked in thrice-microwaved tea – the last thing she needs is someone else to look after, who simultaneously makes her feel shit about her inability to adult.

6. I’ll make the teas. Not knowing where the teabags are is no excuse. Unless you have reason to suspect their kitchen might double up as a set for a remake of Indiana Jones: The Temple of Doom, you should be safe opening some cupboards and firkling around to find all the accoutrements you need.

This manoeuvre is especially welcome should you visit in the first couple of weeks after childbirth when the mum may well have just tried 3487 different sitting positions before she is passably comfortable.

And then has to get up to make everyone a drink.

Let her sit. Make the tea…

Clearly this isn’t an exhaustive list of the nice things you can say to a new mum, but some of them are things that made a difference to me in The Early Days. Some of them meanwhile, are things that I wish someone had said to me.

But why, you might be wondering, is it even necessary? Haven’t babies have been born since the dawn of time – what’s the big deal? Well, in some respects this is true but what our society fails to acknowledge, in contrast to the reverence offered by other cultures around the world, is that this is still not a simple thing.

New life should certainly not be taken for granted, but the mothers who grew and delivered it should also be treated with as much love, gentleness and consideration as you can find.

Basically, mothers are awesome. So don’t be a dick – be the person who makes sure they know it.

Why there is no winner when Home plays Away

I’ve been moaning a bit recently. Mostly about how bored and frustrated I feel being at home more-or-less full time with two small children.

It is true that my job was far from being my dream and, to be completely honest, there were elements of it that made me fantasise I was a unicorn and could stab people in face by nodding I disliked.

But when all is said, done and dusted, I do miss it; not just, but also not least, because there were things that I loved about going to work.

I loved earning my own money.

I have found being “kept” like a pet cat distinctly disempowering. And while cold hard cash struggles to survive the onslaught of childcare costs, a little will hopefully be yours. You earned it. And you earned the right to decide how it should be spent.

Staying at home full time means I feel like a passenger in the financial affairs of my household. My inner voice laments, This is not how it was supposed to be, and stumps up a pathetic defence against the uncharitable thoughts I had in the past about women who did not work (karma btw, is a snippy bitch, sitting on a bench with teething, sleep deprivation and no friends).

My thoughts come back to sneeringly haunt me and even though I fight the good fight not to use the word “just” in front of “a mum”, like the babies I grew who used my bladder as a bed, that feeling is a heavy weight on every penny I spend.

I loved leaving the house alone.

Leaving the house with one bag, one coat; opening, walking through, then shutting the door behind me, without breaking into a sweat or a swear-word, is an under-appreciated pleasure.

So, on the mornings that you get to shower, dress, drink coffee, eat breakfast and leave the house alone please take a second to breathe in the peace. I know you’ll be on the clock, I know you’ll probably be stressing about the day ahead, but please appreciate that the soundtrack to your morning is not Paw Patrol, no one is crying because you wouldn’t let them drink the mouthwash, no one repeatedly slammed the toilet lid as you attempted to complete a thought in the shower, and when you stepped out of its steamy warmth no one asked you why you were wobbling.

I loved sick days (or the ability to take them, at least).

Not that I took many. But I could take them. That is all there is to say on that.

I loved the opportunity to concentrate.

Sometimes I get through the day by thinking of my children as my employers. Choosing between park or soft-play is the stay-at-home-and-feel-my-brain-slowly-shrivel-and-die equivalent of choosing between answering emails or making phone calls – they’re not the things that dreams jobs are made of, but its all part of the job.

Also part of the job when you’re actually at work however, are times when you need to concentrate on one thing for an extended period of time. This is when international office code for Chuff Off comes into play: out come the earphones, in they go, and regardless of whether you actually have anything attached to the other end, you just crack on uninterrupted. Bliss.

Being at home with small people however, means being relentlessly subject to the whims, fancies and bodily fluids of someone else Every. Single. Second.

Even if you snatch a moment of peace behind the fridge door, the universe dictates you’ll be left forcing down a sticky, half-chewed chunk of Dairy Milk because those noisy little fuckers you live with have somehow set to mute, sniffed out your enjoyment, and snuck up behind you with the question, “Wha’ you got?” Your time is never your own.

Conversations not about my children; that buzz of getting something really, really right; being measured, assessed and found to be good at your job; the freedom of being able to call and say “I’m going to miss bedtime”, knowing that someone else is there to keep the small people alive; being me-me not mum-me; are all things that I miss about work.

But I also know the grass ain’t all that much greener on the other side of the fence.

It is tempting to romanticise any situation that is not your’s, especially if the over-riding mindset that accompanies your current position is one of, How did this happen? I don’t want this. But perhaps there are things to be grateful for on this side of the fence too – perhaps the grass isn’t green just yet, but maybe the soil is fertile and there is an opportunity to grow there too.

I love mornings.

Neither of my kids are at school so I know this won’t last forever, but for now I don’t have to drag children out of bed, rattle a toothbrush around their resistant teeth, wrestle them into some clothes, then fling them in the car for the hurtle to nursery. I don’t have to shove them through the doors still rubbing sleep out of their eyes, then drive like a lunatic to get to work five minutes late. No longer having to do this is excellent.

I love the laughter.

Parenting has brought with it an awful lot of tears. Some – stitches, exhaustion, PND – are justified, others – not being able to find the charger for the laptop, the John Lewis Christmas advert, DIY SOS – less so. But goofy happiness and laughter also feature large in the landscape of my parenting.

I laugh so much I sometimes cringe at what my shining-pride-face must look like to people immune to the charms of my children. My face hurts with the effort and while the smile is often turned upside down mere seconds later, it is not long before the full-beam is switched back on.

Whether it’s The Boy saying he is “Bahn memmeh’s baosh [bouncing Mummy’s balls]”, or The Girl informing me that she was going to the toilet to have a wee and a baby (a misunderstanding that arose after I told her that babies “get out” through a woman’s “noonoo”), the lols roll in several times a day and I would hate to miss out on any of it.

I love the flexibility.

Admittedly I’m not able to go to the gym or the hairdresser basically ever, and come to think of it I don’t really get to eat my meals or wee when I want to either, but I do get to go on nursery trips to the seaside. I can take my son to his hospital appointments, and I’m able to visit primary schools for my daughter over the next few weeks without feeling like a burden on anyone.

If I were still working, I know I’d be fighting the guilt that I was prioritising my children over my work, I’d be taking great pains to show how appreciative I was, and would repeatedly reassure anyone who would listen that I would be logging on later to make up the time… I don’t miss any of that.

The truth is that there are good things and bad things in play whichever team you are on. Mentally throwing golf-balls at your partner/ friend’s face because he/ she wears the Home kit, is pointless and self-defeating, because she/ he might be envying the “me-time” your commute to work represents to him/ her.

The reality of course is that attired entirely in Away, you spend way too much time trying to avoid sniffing a stranger’s sweat patches.

Meanwhile his/her days resemble being forced to eat cake all day, every day. She (ok I’m dropping the pretence of she/he, because we all know this mostly affects women…) loves cake it’s true, but if it’s the only thing she ever gets to eat, all day long, and she has to eat it whether she is hungry or not, and she knows she might be startled awake multiple times a night to eat more cake… well, I’m sure you can forgive her for looking a bit sick.

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What do you mean you don’t want to eat all of them? You said you liked cake. God, you’re so ungrateful.

The thing is that this should not be a competition. It is not about winning, losing, or who has it best, worst, hardest or easiest, it’s about recognising and respecting the various difficulties that our journeys represent.

Instead of glaring through green-tinted spectacles, we need to take the glasses off and really see the desperation in one another’s eyes. Then we simply need to give each other The Nod.

Because the over-riding truth in this hardest ‘hood of all is that, when we’re forced to choose between home and away, for many of us there is no winner.

Second time lucky

While I prepared dinner a few days ago, The Eldest created a train from the kitchen chairs and (miraculously) kept herself and her brother busy.

Let’s be clear though, this was not a calm and quiet affair. The room looked like a school hall after a rainy-day lunch break, the chair legs repeatedly scraped across the kitchen floor, The Boy was shouting “Dane, dane, dane” like an Brexiteer in pursuit of those pesky Scandi-types who keep showing us how it (life) should be done, and as the train turned into a tunnel, The Eldest shouted her encouragement to him to hurry because the monsters were coming.

How accurate a picture of world politics they unknowingly painted in that moment I mused… but also, isn’t he lucky.

Like many parents before and since it has crossed my mind that we might have done the little man a disservice by denying him of baby sign, music classes and elaborate birthday parties.

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This is The Eldest’s first birthday celebrations (look, even my postpartum hair joined the party). I can’t find the pictures of The Boy’s first birthday. I’m sure we have some. Somewhere…

His status as one-plus-one means that contrary to child one who had time, money and interest invested in her every breath, blink, and bodily-function, his cultural capital has been curtailed. I mean, who the chuff has the time to sing “Wind the bobbin up” when the savvier, and far better-stimulated older child is having all of the fun winding mummy up.

But as I watched him, tombstone teeth grinning in all their glory, clumsily copying every move his sister made, I had to re-evaluate.

The boy stopped playing every so often to spray the floor with birthday cake crumbs. And while uppermost in my mind was the fact that this meant wiping the floor for the 7239 time that day, I was also thinking about how long we had made his sister wait for cake. Her first taste was on her first birthday, and I think she waited another year for her second go at the good stuff – healthy types might disagree but I’m pretty sure he’s one up in those stakes.

Totally unaware of his relative wealth the boy continued with his preferred method of munching.  He hates carrying food and will shove as much as he can into his mouth at once so he can continue playing/ sticking his fingers in his belly-button (another of his “habits”). Like the efforts of a weary parent wrestling a pop-up sun-tent back into it’s impossibly small packet, he pushed this bit in, held that bit there, argh another bit has popped out, push that in, oh no, hold on, ah shit it’s all over the floor again.

Meanwhile, I reflected on the freedoms from domestic servitude I used to enjoy he has enjoyed to create AALLLLLL of the mess with a big, brilliant sister on hand to help.

They spend their days together, share a bedroom at night, and in general are as thick as thieves. Daily she aids him in his endeavours to rob me of my sanity by assisting him in accessing our household contraband. Glue, biros, scissors, knives, soap, tampons, makeup, and multi-packs of Petit Filous, are all items which have been misappropriated by the boy while my eyes have been elsewhere.

I used to think I was a shit-hot parent because my child had never drawn on anything except paper. I now know this is purely because I had only one child. One child, one pair of eyes – easy. Two children, two pairs of… wait… oh shit…

Whether helicopter-hover-er or overbearing-smother-er it is true to say that his big sister got more of my attention whereas (I tell myself) the boy has benefitted from being neglected left to his own devices a little more.

There have been times however that I have worried that he doesn’t get enough love, but how true can this be? He has a whole extra person covering him in kisses, telling him what to do, and giving him access to the permanent marker pens.

Second born children are not 50% down, they are 100% up in the attention stakes compared to the first born.

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The baby toys were too safe. His eyes were on the ones with tiny parts he could inhale.

Besides, as ably demonstrated by The Boy, if the second born does feel neglected then he/she can always take matters into their own hands by never sleeping. The Boy didn’t sleep through the night until he was nine months old, and to this day he ends up in our bed at some point most nights.

There are many long…long… night-time hours during which cuddles, kisses and whispered curses can be gratefully received by the second child starved of such attention during the sunshine hours, and our one-plus-one has certainly made his need to bank some bodily contact clear.

First time around we were disciplined in the sleep stakes, and even on the nights that The Eldest switched to rave setting, we would resolutely remain in her room. Looking back, I think we must have been high/ crazy and this time we have taken an altogether more sane/ permanently exhausted approach to sleep.

These days all four of us sleep wherever is necessary to get some sleep. I mean, I’m not certain whether anyone has ever actually died from tiredness but I’m not going to test the theory – staying alive it would seem is a significant factor in successful adequate parenting.

I’m also certain that the boy is entirely happy. While he snuggles down between me and his dad, whacking us in the face with his feet/ hands/ teeth whenever we fail to hold his hand or otherwise assure him of our presence, there is no way that he is thinking “I wish they were as strict with me as they were with my sister.”

So I suppose what I am trying to saying is, if you’re feeling like you’ve dropped the one-plus-one’s balls on the development or boundaries front, then just don’t.

I can’t promise they won’t end up with trust issues because “In a minute” from mummy’s mouth, could mean anything from I will play with you in 60 actual seconds to, Are you chuffing insane? I’ve had fourteen minutes of sleep for every day you have been alive. I am going to die of tiredness. Please leave me alone FOREVER. But, I can (kind of) promise that by being a sibling, they have gained much, much more than they have lost.

On the many days when it feels less like raising the future, and more like raising the dead, be kind to yourself – survival has to be number one on the list of things to do when you are a parent.

And besides, it seems to me that second time really is lucky.

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NB: this is about second children because by a third (or more) parents have given up already know this shizz…