Parenting lessons in the midst of loss

What is this life if, full of care
We have no time to stand and stare.
– William Henry Davies

These words have been repeating in my head over the last week or so. They’ve been in my head because my grandmother, who brought me up in my early years, died on the Sunday before Easter. I knew it was coming. And yet knowing didn’t make that final news any easier.

I was at my sister-in-law’s house and we were getting ready for a day out. I looked up from the email on my phone telling me the news, and suddenly my world had changed. The colour had drained from it. Nothing was ever going to be the same again.

Grief is a hard taskmaster. It doesn’t matter how long or short a time you had with someone you love. It is not comforting to think that it “was just their time” or any other platitudes people always say. They might be true, but you need to take some time to process your feelings in your own way. You deserve time to reflect, and the person you love deserves it too.

But I had no time to stand and stare. Off we went on the day out, me “not wanting to make a fuss”, chasing around after my children and acting like everything was normal. And it continued through all of the next week. My eldest was home from school and I had all the time off work for once. I’d planned lots of fun activities for us and I didn’t want to disappoint him.

But all week I was wishing I could just stop and grieve. To quote another poem:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone …
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message, [S]he is dead.
– W.H. Auden

I had to keep going, but I wanted to stop. People would ask how I was doing and I felt like it was a stupid question. Everything should stop. She is dead. The world has changed forever. She is dead. Could everybody just stop going about their daily business please? She is dead.

But the world doesn’t stop.

I felt angry at first that I couldn’t stop and grieve the way I wanted to. But now my son is finally back at school, and I have a day off and I can do what I want, I think he saved me as well.

If she had died before I had children, I would have fallen apart. I probably would have gone to bed and felt sorry for myself for days and days. But instead, I was able to focus on these little people who needed me more than I needed to be sad. I knew I would have time to remember my grandmother. But in the meantime I was able to spend time with people who love me just as unconditionally as she did.

And it made me feel grateful that the only mother I’d ever known had lived to see me become a mother. Not everyone is that lucky. And it made me think that, while feeling sad is okay, the reason I feel sad is a blessing. To move away from poetry to slightly more popular culture:

A heart that’s broken is a heart that was loved.
– Ed Sheeran

I am so sad to lose her because she was a good parent to me. And I’m finding the best way I can remember and honour her is to apply her example to my own parenting.

So here are some parenting lessons my grandma taught me.

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My grandma and me on my 1st birthday

She was always gentle

There is no doubt that she told me off and disciplined me when it was necessary. I remember having a tantrum so bad one time when she wouldn’t let me stay up late on New Year’s Eve one year because I’d done something naughty. I was pleading to stay up by crawling on the floor and accidentally bashed my buck front tooth on the floor, splitting it in half. Ouch!

But she didn’t yell at me. She reasoned with me. She told me when I was disappointing her. And I never wanted to disappoint her. She taught me the value of being good for its own sake. And no matter what I’d done, she was always ready to give me a big hug.

So this week, when my children tried my patience, instead of getting cross and shouting, I’ve been giving them big hugs. It’s surprising how easy it is to fix things with hugs.

She always listened

From when I was a toddler who wanted to pretend to be a cat or keep snails as pets, to being the woman who needed to talk about my PND, my grandmother always listened to me. I was always able to tell her absolutely anything and she would just listen. She wouldn’t tell me what to do. She didn’t judge me. She wouldn’t make it all about her. She wouldn’t change the subject. She would just quietly take it all in and say something comforting.

I want my children to tell me important things when they’re adults, so I’m going to listen to them starting now, even if it’s that same knock-knock joke I’ve heard a million times.

She shared my pride and gave me confidence

If I was proud of something I’d done, I could call and tell her about it and she would be just as enthusiastic as me. She would never be unimpressed, or think that the achievement could have been bigger or more prestigious. Right down to when I would try hard to dress up nicely for a meal out. I remember she would always say “ooohhh” in admiration for my looks. She never tried to make me be like her, or like she might have wanted me to be. She was impressed by who I was on my own terms.

Our children don’t always turn out to be who we expect, but we should always love them for being themselves and trying their best.

She taught me kindness

When my grandma first moved to Florida, she found her house was infested by small lizards and tree frogs. They were little green frogs that made noises like puppies barking. She would catch the frogs and gently put them outside. But they would keep coming in.

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Some people’s next move would be to call some sort of exterminator. But not my grandma. She put little dishes of water out all over the house so the frogs wouldn’t get dehydrated. She went to the pet shop and bought mealworms to feed them. Every evening before bed she would walk through her house calling the frogs and would hand-feed them those nasty little mealworms.

She fed the lizards too. And stray cats. Birds. Even the squirrels. They would all eat out of her hand like she was Snow White. If only they would have done the housework for her too!

Her example of kindness even for creatures that others treat as pests is something I remember every day. She taught me to turn inconvenience into a chance to be kind. I only hope that, through example, I can show my kids that it is always better (and easier) to be kind than to be cruel.

Moving forward

And so I am getting used to a world in which I can’t call my grandma and tell her about my day. She can’t share in my successes or commiserate with me about my failures. And it’s going to take me some time to get used to that. And I’m going to feel sad. And some days, I’m not going to be okay about it.

But I know that she hasn’t left me completely. She’s there when I hug my children, when I listen to them and talk to them softly. She’s there when I sing them to sleep. And I will never stop feeling grateful for her giving me a gift of love that I can pass on to my children.

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When my grandma first met my eldest.
Tammymum

It actually is possible to take your toddler to the cinema

I love going to the cinema. The atmosphere, the big screen, the snacks – even the other people (believe it or not) – all add to a sense of occasion for me. There’s a lot to be said for watching your TV at home, but it will never be as special or exciting as sitting in front of the big screen.

But I very rarely get to go … because I have a 2 year old. Occasionally, I sneak off on my own or with an adult friend, and recently have taken my 4 year old to a couple of appropriate features. But while my toddler might pay a bit of attention to a Disney film on the TV at home, there is NO way he would sit through something at the cinema. At home, he can toddle off to play with trains when the film gets boring for him, but in the cinema he would need to stay put.

So I was pretty sceptical when I was recently invited to bring my 2 year old to a cinema premiere. I envisioned myself chasing him amongst the rows of chairs while he giggled hysterically, stepping on people’s toes and making me wish I’d brought a hip flask with me.

But this film was made for 2 year olds. Peppa Pig: My First Cinema Experience opens on 7 April and is the perfect opportunity for families to enjoy the cinema together without needing a babysitter for the toddler.

The film is based around 6 brand new, short Peppa Pig episodes, and they are strung together by interactive interludes in which a children’s presenter and some Peppa Pig puppets encourage the children to sing and dance. This is a great strategy to reduce the problem of short attention spans. The kids enjoy the episodes just like they would on the telly, and then they get a break with something different that gives them a chance to move around. The whole thing lasts about an hour.

My 2 year old is a very active, physical little boy and he sat through almost the whole thing. He got a bit restless in the last 10 minutes or so. But I was amazed that he sat as long as he did. He was entranced by the Peppa episodes and he enthusiastically joined in with the singing and dancing during the interludes.

And surprisingly, I wasn’t bored either. I had been joking along with my other blogger friends who attended that we needed to hide some wine in our handbags so we wouldn’t die of boredom. But actually you could tell that the writers had thought about the parents. There was lots of humour that appealed to me as a (slightly) grownup person – especially in the episode in which the Queen steals a double-decker bus. Check out the trailer here:

So when the Easter holidays are inevitably doused by buckets of rain, you now have an option to hide in a darkened room eating untold amounts of snacks. Some cinemas even do sell wine, completely legitimately. And you can take your very young children without fearing they will terrorise the other punters.

Being an epilepsy mum

A guest post by Leslie from MessyBlog

Last year, I became an epilepsy mum.

Not something I ever had aspirations of being, but life hands you cards sometimes and you don’t get a choice. 

I’d had some experience with epilepsy already, after my sister tragically lost her life at 26. It’s also something many people I know have, including friends and my niece and nephew. 

Dexter’s first fit was completely out of the blue. We were at my sister-in-law’s house and he was playing on the floor with the trains. He was laying there quite happily at first and then something went wrong. 

To give you an idea of what his first fit was like, here is an excerpt from my blog, from the post I wrote after that first one:

He lay on the floor as kids often do and then arched his head backwards as though he was trying to look at the cat but then he started twitching. We called out to him but he didn’t respond. At first I thought he was just playing. You know, just not answering us because he was being cheeky but we all got down to the floor and quickly realised that he was not messing about. Liam got his phone out and turned the torch on. He shined it in Dexter’s eyes. His pupils weren’t dilating. His hands, feet and eyebrows were twitching and shaking. I called 999 while Liam continued to call out to him and bring him round.”

I can’t fault the ambulance for how quickly they responded. They were with us before the fit had even ended. They did some tests, tried to bring him round and after we answered a few questions about what happened, we decided he was going to hospital.

Dexter started to return to his normal self once we were stood waiting to be seen in A&E. Liam parked the car and came to find us.

We were taken to a bed where many more doctors and nurses repeated the same questions: what was he doing when it happened? How long did it last? Has he been ill recently? Etc.

On eventually leaving the hospital either very late that night or early the next morning, we were advised to call our GP first thing on Monday and get a referral for a neurologist.

We did this and had an appointment booked for a couple of week’s time.

Already, based on the info we had provided and the notes from the hospital staff, our neurologist was pretty convinced that it was epilepsy, but wanted to run some tests before medicating, just to be sure. 

Over the next few weeks, he suffered some more fits so we were sent to Addenbrooks for an MRI as well as having an ECG at Peterborough.

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Both tests were inconclusive. By now, they knew it was epilepsy but weren’t able to pinpoint a cause or a trigger. But at least we were able to get him on some medication.

I’ve cried so many times. Watching my sister spend a week in a coma after a seizure caused her to stop breathing, and then being at her bedside when she passed away, makes the reality of what could happen to Dexter so much more real. It’s scary and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Not having a trigger or a known cause of his fits makes it harder because we don’t even know what to avoid. I don’t dare take him swimming; he worries me every time he has a bath, and with most of his fits having been at night time, I’m scared every night when he’s in bed. We have an anti-suffocation pillow for him and monitors in his room, so he’s about as safe as he can be, but it’s always there in the back of your mind.

There are many types of epilepsy. The one most people think of is photosensitive epilepsy, whereby the sufferer is affected by flashing lights or strobe effects.

Some people have full on tonic clonic seizures. This is what Dexter has but we don’t know what causes it. It’s all very random.

There is also another type of epilepsy, which both my nephew and my friend have, where they don’t “fit” as such, but they black out momentarily and come round having little or no knowledge of what happened. My nephew has actually done this several times while crossing the road or while just walking along outside.

Each form of epilepsy, although common (I’m sure it’s 1 in 4 people suffer with it in some form) is hard to live with. As I mentioned, it’s hard for me to even bathe Dexter at times because he could fit at any given moment, and in or around water would be especially dangerous.

He’s on daily medication at the moment, and for now we seem to have his dosage right, as he’s not had a fit since November. That was a particularly hard one, though, as he had 3 in the space of four hours, one of them being when he had gone to the shop with Liam and was walking home. It happened in the middle of the street and I felt such immense guilt that I wasn’t there.

But still, in the back of my mind, I’m wondering if the medication is keeping them at bay or because we haven’t had one for a while, is one due at any moment?

Sadly it’s just one of those unpredictable things.

If you do happen to be around when someone has a fit, there are things you can do to  help and keep them safe:

  • cushion their head if they’re on the ground
  • move them away from anything that could cause injury – such as a busy road or hot cooker
  • loosen any tight clothing around their neck – such as a collar or tie, to aid breathing
  • when their convulsions stop, turn them so that they’re lying on their side
  • stay with them and talk to them calmly until they have recovered
  • note the time the seizure starts and finishes
  • Do NOT put anything in their mouths
  • If the seizure lasts more than 5 minutes, call an ambulance.

I hope this post has helped to inform at least one person on what it’s like living with a child with epilepsy. And if any information has helped to raise awareness in anyway, then I’ve done my job.

For more information on epilepsy, you can visit https://www.epilepsy.org.uk/ or https://www.epilepsysociety.org.uk/

You can also read more of my posts about Dexter’s epilepsy on my blog

Please check out Leslie on social media:

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Mum Hacks – a book to boost your confidence

I remember being pregnant with my first son and stocking up on parenting books. I was going to crack this parenting thing. I read up on all manner of baby and child care, and had plans in place to totally smash any parenting challenge I might possibly face.

I was such an idiot.

There wasn’t a book in the world that could have prepared me for the onslaught of new information, overwhelming responsibility and lack of sleep that came with my first son’s arrival. I was a quivering mess before he was even finished being born, and it got a lot worse before it got better.

I read books on parenting theories. I read books with pictures and diagrams on how to change a nappy or give your baby a bath. I read books on how to schedule every minute of my baby’s day (you know the ones). Seriously, it might make you feel good to read them, but you don’t need them. You will be too tired to care whether you’re doing the nappy right. You will learn by doing. All the diagrams in the world are not going to prepare you for reality.

But one book I wish I had read before I had my children was Mum Hacks by Tanith Carey. When I agreed to review this book, I thought I might find some new tricks of the trade for me to add to my repertoire. And I have found a few (examples to follow in a bit). But where this book really excels is in laying out a blueprint for the sorts of things you actually need to worry about as a mum.

  • How to cater for your kids’ needs in the kitchen while avoiding it looking like a bombsite.
  • How to entertain your kids without getting buried by a toy tsunami.
  • How to get ready in the morning without shouting like a banshee.
  • How to get your kids to do anything without shouting like a banshee.
  • How to vaguely enjoy a holiday with young children.
  • How to keep your house sort of clean with minimum effort.
  • How to keep yourself sane by looking after yourself.

Now, I have to be honest. Some of the tips, to me, felt sort of obvious. For example, buy a good bib and a massive wipeable plastic highchair. Yep, weaning is a messy business – it’s not a secret. But upon reflection, I realise that tips like that are only obvious to me because I’m on my second toddler now. I’ve figured out a lot of stuff already, and often only by trial and error or blind luck. It actually would have been cool to have known some of these tricks beforehand, instead of googling them at 3am while I fed the baby.

So that’s why I’m recommending that this book is best suited to someone new to the entire business of parenting. It offers that sense of control that I was desperately looking for when I was pregnant with my first. It would have helped me think about what things were practical to buy. It would have helped me organise things in my home while I still had time to organise them, making it easier for me to cope with my little whirlwinds when they arrived. It would have given me a clearer sense of what to prioritise in family life and what is less important.

However, there were a few gems in this book even for the seasoned mum. There’s a bunch of really quick ideas for lunchbox contents that I never would have thought about. I now know how to make pretty pinwheel wrap sandwich thingys (although I clearly still don’t know what to call them).

And every mum should know that you can cut up an apple and then hold it together with a rubber band to stop it getting brown! I also liked the quick makeup tips. I’d never even heard of primer, the use of which apparently makes your makeup stay on better and longer.

So if you’re already a seasoned parent, this book might not change your life. But it is a well-written, amusing read that might add a few more tricks to your repertoire. Even better, buy it as a gift for a first time mum-to-be, and save her a bit of early morning googling.

Mum Hacks: Time-saving tips to calm the chaos of family life by Tanith Carey is available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle versions. I received a gratis copy of the book for review purposes.

I know your innocent question wasn’t meant to hurt me…

…but a sibling for my son will just never be possible

A guest post by Suzy from Our Bucket List Lives

I spent over 4 years of my life trying for a baby. Hearing people ask: when were we going to have a baby and wouldn’t we like to have a child? That was tough back then for many reasons. Now I hear different questions nearly every week, and they hurt just as much. Such as “Is Jamie your only child?” or “Are you going to have another?”. They are totally innocent questions but sadly they hurt just as much.

I think it’s so easy for people who have conceived easily and naturally to not think that these sorts of questions could really upset some people. To you they are innocent questions, perhaps a bit of friendly chatter. But to so many these sorts of questions can cut so deep and hurt so much.

I’m sadly one of them. I normally mutter something about “Yes he is the only one”; “He’s more than enough”; blah blah blah. But I’m screaming inside. “Yes he’s the only one and yes I would just love a sibling for my precious miracle. But you know what, he was a miracle, and I couldn’t risk my life again. I certainly couldn’t risk him losing his Mummy to give him a sibling.”

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We went through 4 rounds of IVF to conceive our precious boy. That’s quite enough for anyone to go through. To add to all this, I had an extremely complicated pregnancy, and I fell into the bracket of high risk when it was discovered that I had a placenta accreta.

Definition by Mayo Clinic Staff
“Placenta accreta is a serious pregnancy condition that occurs when blood vessels and other parts of the placenta grow too deeply into the uterine wall. Typically, the placenta detaches from the uterine wall after childbirth. With placenta accreta, part or all of the placenta remains firmly attached. This can cause severe blood loss after delivery. Placenta accreta is considered a high-risk pregnancy complication. If placenta accreta is suspected during pregnancy, you’ll likely need an early C-section delivery followed by the surgical removal of your uterus (hysterectomy).”

Scary stuff hey? But don’t worry; it happens in less than 1% of pregnancies. Yes, I was a rare “case”, and as the chances are super high that I’d get this again with another pregnancy, then the risks are just too much. You can’t really impart all this information to someone when they are asking you such innocent questions. Nor would I want to. Sadly, there’s so many women out there who have been through similar events. Not just having to have so many rounds of IVF for one baby, but who have gone through their pregnancy with such high risks that having another would just be impossible … and crazy!

So yes, I nearly died having Jamie. I lost a scary amount of blood and I was under general anaesthetic for 7 hours while they tried to make me well enough again. I didn’t meet our gorgeous son for 24 hours because I was so poorly, and the road to recovery was long and hard. The worst thing was that I never even saw my son come into this world because I was under anaesthetic. I wasn’t there for him when he needed me. 

The last 4 weeks of my pregnancy were spent away from home – either in hospital because I was bleeding or in a hotel nearby in case of an emergency, as they basically wouldn’t let me go home because we lived too far away. When Jamie was born, we were both in hospital for 10 days after because I was so poorly and because of the strict observations they had me under. 

This is why I could never give Jamie his much wanted sibling. I had always dreamed of having two kids. That’s how I lived my life. I have a brother 2 years younger than me and we played so much together when we were younger. I am ever aware that Jamie will never have this. Sad thing is, this isn’t just me and my story. There are thousands of stories out there. The couples who struggle to conceive at all and the couples who could never give their child a sibling.

In conclusion, I’m not saying you shouldn’t ask questions like this because, hey, it’s only human nature to be interested in others. Just take into account that perhaps for some people these questions could hurt more than you can imagine. We know you mean well.

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Please check out Suzy on social media:

Two Tiny Hands

The anxiety of parenting…

Clare has written this fantastic guest post describing her anxiety about her eldest son starting high school. Even though my blog usually discusses parenting of younger children, I think the emotions she is feeling are something that many parents experience, no matter their children’s ages. I hope that her honest sharing will make people feel less alone when dealing with anxiety.

A guest post by Clare from NeonRainbowBlog

My eldest son Oli is 11 this year and joining the world of high schoolers in September. He is nothing but excited about the whole experience. For him this marks his leap into becoming an adult, where he gets more freedom and more responsibility. However, for me, I feel apprehension. My baby is no longer a baby at all, and I have no choice but to let him grow. If I could stop time right now I would, because in all honesty I don’t want him to grow up.

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I’ve always been an overprotective parent and I often say the words “It’s better to be overprotective than underprotective”. Throughout Oli’s life he has had to deal with his Mum’s anxiety over letting him grow up, and even though to him it’s normal and doesn’t really phase him, I’ve no doubt when high school and the teenage years really do kick in that it may become somewhat of a problem.

As he’s grown up, my anxiety over parenting him has reared it’s ugly head numerous times. For example:

  1. I was always reluctant to let other people babysit him. When I did it would cause me nothing but worry, panic and nervousness.
  2. Trips to the park were coupled with overbearing “be careful, don’t do that, watch you don’t fall, wait your turn, don’t push in” comments. I’d be constantly following him around like he would break or fall at any moment.
  3. The same could be said for letting him walk places with us. This gave me major anxiety: what if he veered near the road, what if he fell by accident and into the road, what if a car came up onto the path and he was in front, what if, what if, what if.
  4. Even learning to ride a bike came with unbearable anxiety over him falling off, going out of my sight, hitting something, something hitting him.
  5. More recently he started playing out in our cul-de-sac and our neighbours houses. This prompted constant worry over where he was; was he being good? Could I trust him to know his boundaries? And lots more “what ifs”. I’d constantly look out the window or just sit there doing stuff while continuously being able to see him. I’d also text the other mums to make sure he was behaving or being good.

I feel like my anxiety does go beyond the realms of usual parental anxieties. I know every parent will feel some sort of panic over their child growing up, making changes and becoming their own person, but when does that panic get too much?

As time has gone on the anxiety I feel when my son plays out has subsided. He can play out in our little street and in the neighbours’ houses and I feel virtually anxiety free. I’ve gotten used to it. He even ventures over to the shop or the Pokestop on our estate (it’s a few mins away) with his friends – he has to have his phone with him, and a time limit to be back for before I go looking, but 9/10 I feel okay with him going – not 100%, but manageable.

However the thought of him going to high school is terrifying me.

High school for me was a terrible experience. Most of the anxiety I harbour today was born in that playground. I was bullied by my own “friends”, no less (though I didn’t really see this until I was an adult). I felt like I had nobody I could fully trust or who wanted to genuinely be my friend. There would be days I had lots of friends to hang out with, but the very next day they could decide they didn’t want to hang out with me at all, so I’d be the loner. There was no stability for me, and that’s why I find it hard to form friendships now I am an adult. I struggle to trust anyone, and those feelings of sadness, hurt and anxiety I felt are always at the forefront of my mind when I think back to my experience of high school.

I feel all those old feelings of anxiety are flooding back to me every time I think about him going. What if he gets bullied? What if nobody likes him? Will he be okay walking to and from school (even though it’s at the bottom of our estate)?

But furthermore, what about when he wants to go out with his friends alone and go to parties? I don’t know how I am going to cope with giving him that kind of freedom, but I know it’s an essential part of growing up.

Is it just my anxiety from childhood that makes me so nervous for my own child? Will the anxiety fade like when I started giving him the freedom to play out in our street?

I honestly don’t know and I wish I had the answers. All I can hope is that it isn’t too much of a rough ride and that I’ve taught my boy enough about the world to make the right choices.

Any advice for this overprotective, anxiety ridden mother?

Check out Clare’s social media:
https://www.instagram.com/neonrainbow_sw/
https://twitter.com/neonrainbowblog
https://www.facebook.com/Neonrainbowblog/
https://uk.pinterest.com/neonrainbowblog/

Two Tiny Hands

She’s just a mother

A good of friend of mine had a little rant on Facebook last weekend about two things she heard on Radio 4’s Today programme that really made her cross. The first was one female reporter talking with disgust about the picture of Tamara Ecclestone feeding her 3 year old. The second was when another presenter made a counter-argument for government funding for parks and green spaces because “aren’t they just for mums pushing babies around in prams?”.

My friend was upset by the way these two moments on what is usually an enlightened radio programme minimised the experience, expertise and contribution of mothers, and even vilified them. Her impassioned post got me thinking about this quite a bit, and I asked her permission to write about it here.

My friend is right that in society motherhood can be seen as mundane – so everyday that it doesn’t bear thinking about. Or it can be put up on a pedestal – a model of selflessness and competence that many feel they can never live up to.

Motherhood is also something to be regulated. She should breastfeed, but not in public and not for too long. Stay-at-home mums are bored and boring. Working mums are abandoning their children.

On a recent Mumsnet thread, a person rubbished mum blogs, saying “Why would you read a blog written by a bog standard Mum? Isn’t there anything better to read?” Many on the thread agreed with her.

Well, there are all sorts of things to read in the world, some more compelling than others, but what is it about motherhood in particular that wouldn’t be worth reading about? Why is it unimportant for mums to have parks to walk in with their prams?

It’s a lie that society tells us: that women bringing up children is something that is merely to be expected.

This expectation – that we are just doing our jobs – is the reason only 4% of Fortune 500 CEOs are female. It’s the reason that maternity discrimination is still pushing women out of work. It’s why mothers who want to work are still told they can’t have it all.

It’s the reason that stay-at-home mums are still asked what they do all day, and modern dads are tired of being called “babysitters”. It’s why dads who take their kids to playgroups or to parenting rooms are often ostracized and even accused of perversion. It’s why there are still no bloody changing tables in the majority of men’s public toilets.

Despite years of feminism, western society still sees women as the primary caregivers for children, and yet sees caregiving as menial work. And as the work we do is menial, everyone thinks they’re qualified to have an opinion about it.

“What does she know about the best way to feed her child? She’s just a mother.”

“Why is she complaining about losing her job? She chose to become a mother.”

“Why does she write about the highs and lows of motherhood? ONLY other mothers would want to read that.”

“She doesn’t know what’s good for her. I have a right to regulate her body and her parenting choices.”

“She’s too fat/too thin/a yummy mummy/a slummy mummy.”

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This is not to say we haven’t made progress. We do have more choices than we once did. We can speak and act more freely than we ever could. But there is still work to be done. We need to let the multitude of female voices – mothers or not – speak for themselves and be heard. We need to carry on defending one another’s choices, even when we don’t agree.

We need to keep telling the world about our “mundane” lives, because they’re not mundane. Our lives are REAL and they are IMPORTANT. And the world needs to know.

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

When you want to stop breastfeeding

I have written before about how I struggled to establish breastfeeding with both of my boys. There is a lot on the internet about how hard it can be to start breastfeeding, but something that gets less attention is just how hard it can be to stop breastfeeding! This is a time that can be difficult emotionally, physically and practically.

Emotionally – because it’s a little sad to move on from that lovely physical closeness with your baby.

Physically – because you have to stop feeding gradually to avoid engorged breasts and complications like mastitis.

Practically – because you worry whether your baby will be getting enough nutrients elsewhere / whether baby will take a bottle or cup / whether baby will go to sleep without the comfort of the breast.

I fed my sons until they were 18 and 16 months old, respectively. When I stopped with each of them, I was definitely ready to move on. At least in my head I was ready to move on. My heart and the rest of my body was not quite so convinced. There were several stages of stopping breastfeeding and at every point I worried and worried.

Going back to work

Obviously if you want to go to work, you have to find a way to be able to leave your baby for a full day without receiving any breastfeed directly from you. I know that lots of mums worry about how to do this and I was one of them. I was mostly okay with my first son because I already was combination feeding him, so he was happy to take a bottle full of formula in the day. I had more trouble with my second, who downright refused to take a bottle or any formula.

Many mums manage to express milk to be fed to their children in their absence via a bottle or cup. I was not one of them. When I went back to work with my youngest he was 9 months old. I halfheartedly suggested to his nursery that they could offer him a cup full of formula in the day. He never would drink it. Eventually, he just got older and didn’t need that milk in the day anyway.

He happily started drinking cow’s milk from a cup when he was 1. So everything just worked out. I worried a lot but it seems my baby just got on with things. I want to tell mums not to worry as much as I did – that your baby will find a way to get on with things without you physically there to feed, regardless of whether you’re expressing / they’ll take a bottle / cup / formula, etc. But you probably won’t listen to me and worry anyway. It’s okay to worry.

Night weaning

There eventually came a point in my feeding, when each boy was about 1 year old, that I thought they were just taking the mickey with night feeds. They were definitely eating and drinking enough in the day, and yet at around this age they started waking more than ever and demanding milk every couple of hours. So I decided to “night wean” them, meaning no more milk in the middle of the night.

My decision to do this was fraught with guilt and worry. First of all, I worried that they wouldn’t go back to sleep at all if I didn’t feed them back to sleep. I worried that I might be depriving them of something they needed. And I felt sad about moving on from those sleepy middle-of-the-night cuddles.

But at the same time I was exhausted from getting up multiple times in the night and feeding for at least half an hour each time. I was certain they were getting enough food and milk in the day. I was desperate to be able to sleep a whole night and let my husband settle them for me if they woke. Or even more exciting, to feed them to sleep at bedtime and then go out for the evening without needing to feed again until morning!

So I tried settling them with sips of water and pushing the length of time between night feeds by 30 minutes each night until they were going all night without a feed. It took ages before they adjusted to the change, but it did work eventually. Both my babies actually slept better when they weren’t having milk all night. I wonder if maybe it gave them upset tummies to feed all night.

Dropping the last feeds

So at some point I got to the stage when the only feeds my babies were having were 1 in the morning and 1 before bed. I did things quite differently with my two at this stage.

With my first, I decided to cut out the evening feed first, because I wanted to break the association with breastfeeding and going to sleep. It took a long time for him to learn to settle without the breast, but eventually we got there. I think carried on with the morning milk until one day he rolled away from me and giggled in the morning instead of latching on. So that was it. I was a little sad about moving on, but it seemed like the choice had been his, so I was at peace with that.

With my youngest I was less organised and less patient. I had such trouble night weaning him, that I just couldn’t face trying to cut out that last nighttime feed. So I just wandered off! I went on a work trip and left my husband to deal with the fallout. As it turns out, with my boobs in a different country, my baby went to sleep just fine with cuddles from daddy. Go figure. I brought my breast pump with me in case of engorgement, but it seems not much milk was in there anyway as I didn’t feel like I needed to pump at all.

Lessons learned

So the reason I thought I’d share my story is because I was emotional, worried, and sometimes even guilty throughout the process of stopping breastfeeding. And I remember googling “stopping breastfeeding” to try to find reassurance, but there wasn’t much out there.

So what I’d like to say is:

  • it’s okay to feed for as long as you like
  • but it’s also okay to stop whenever YOU want or need to
  • it’s okay to feel emotional
  • but you and and your baby will be fine.

If you really need some extra support, consider talking to your local NCT breastfeeding counsellor or visiting a breastfeeding support group. They will be able to offer you personalised support and advice, and many will be able to relate to what you’re going through.

Petite Pudding
Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday
Tammymum

Why we shouldn’t reward children for good attendance at school

This is a rant – prepare yourself!

If you have a child in school, you might understand the constant haranguing they give you about attendance. At the end of last term, I got a note saying that my son had a 97.13% attendance rate (or something like that – they definitely did it to two decimal points) . It said that they wanted to remind me about how important attendance is. I was annoyed by this. His slightly less than perfect attendance record was because of illness – one day for a tummy bug and another for an ongoing investigation for which I provided the school with a paediatrician’s note.

To my ongoing frustration, at every school assembly, they go through each class in the school and announce their attendance rates. Then, the class with the best attendance gets a trophy! At the end of term, pupils with perfect attendance get to stand up in front of the school to be applauded.

I’m aware that Ofsted sets a target of 95% attendance for schools, and schools who don’t work to improve attendance can be penalised. But surely the strategy of rewarding the children is not only completely useless, but also dreadfully unfair for the children?

First of all, many children have less than perfect attendance because of illness. Particularly in the infant school years, bugs are rife. So why should children miss out on a reward because they were forced to stay home puking or trying not to scratch their chicken pox?

Worse than that, what if a child has a chronic illness that causes them to miss large amounts of school? How is it fair to make them feel bad about that further by them never being rewarded for good attendance?

It’s not a child’s fault if they’re ill. Not getting sick does not deserve a reward.

Furthermore, surely the attendance targets are meant to mitigate truancy that is caused by parents. But condescending notes and passive aggressive reward schemes at assemblies are not going to fix the problems. If parents, rather than illness, are causing truancy, there are a few likely causes:

  • They’ve gone on a term-time holiday. I personally believe everyone should be allowed these or schools should have different term times to make holidays affordable. But that’s an argument for another post. Anyway, if a fine doesn’t deter parents from term-time holidays, an attendance trophy sure as heck won’t either.
  • Parents are unwell themselves or in some sort of dire straits with their relationships or finances. These parents probably won’t even come to the family assembly to receive their attendance-related browbeating. And they probably won’t read the condescending notes written on tiny slips of paper and stuffed into their child’s bookbag either.
  • Parents actually just don’t care. I think this is probably pretty rare, but it can happen. This sort of parent will not be motivated to change their behaviour by whether their child’s class gets an attendance trophy.

So, in essence, the notes and trophies are completely meaningless gestures meant to appease Ofsted and other onlookers that the school is acting to prevent truancy. They are going for the low-hanging fruit by guilting and worrying engaged and conscientious parents about their children’s rare days of missed school.

True action to prevent truancy that is actually preventable (i.e. not caused by genuine illness) would involve improving the link between school and parents. I think I’m a fairly engaged parent, and I’m extremely eager to support the school in educating my child. But I also often find the school run intimidating and isolating. Everyone’s rushing. Everyone talks to the people they already know and don’t always put on a friendly face.

I can’t imagine how difficult that might be for someone who was truly struggling with personal, health, social or financial issues.

I don’t have a solution for how things can be fixed. But I do think that schools should focus their efforts on working with social services to truly prevent truancy. I also think they should work harder to build a sense of community within the school and a sense of rapport between teachers and students. How about having the odd social occasion that doesn’t involve more bleeding fundraising? I would love to speak to my son’s teachers when we weren’t all busy and running off to the next thing. I don’t even know the teaching assistants’ names.

So, yes, this is a rant. But it’s also an appeal to stop using an ineffective and excluding method to improve attendance. In order to participate in any community, people need to feel like that community is ready to accept and support them. Building such a community is where the real work of improving attendance could be done.

Does your school reward attendance? Do you think it works?

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday
Two Tiny Hands

‘You are my son. You are mine and I am yours, regardless.’

*Trigger warning: stillbirth/baby loss*

This beautifully written and heartbreaking piece is a guest post by Natalie Louise Oldham. You can read more of her writing on her blog, AfterOtis.

It was 7 November 2015 when we saw those two pink lines on the pregnancy test. As soon as I saw them I loved you. The second I knew you existed, I knew I would die for you … but I was scared! I didn’t know what people would think about me having three children at 22. I just knew, in that moment, that I wanted you.

I started telling family and friends pretty much right away, because if something had happened to you then I didn’t want to ‘do it’ alone –  I knew I would need their support to get through it. I told your big sisters a few days after finding out too. I cannot begin to tell you how excited they were to have a baby brother or sister! Cora and Maisie pretty much had your future planned out by the time I was 7 weeks pregnant with you. Cora wanted you to be a girl, so she could call you Rapunzel and dress you up. Maisie wanted you to be a boy so she had someone to play Spiderman with (she is seriously obsessed!).

Everything went amazingly well. I did have a small bleed when I was around 9 weeks pregnant with you, but a scan showed your strong heartbeat! Fast forward a few weeks and I had a dating scan confirming that we were 14 weeks pregnant; you were perfectly formed, perfectly healthy. I had no reason to worry. We were SAFE.  

We reached 18 weeks and curiosity got the better of me (I say I wanted to be prepared, but I just really wanted to know who you were). So I had a gender scan and found out that we were expecting a little boy – you are my first son! I cannot tell you how happy it made me, knowing my family was going to be complete. I had my princesses, and now I had my prince. We started thinking of names for you. We had Hughie, Lennox, Otis and Alfie on our list. For a while, you were Phoenix, but after a close friend named their baby Phoenix, I changed my mind.

I’m not a very decisive person at all, so I didn’t choose your name for a while after. I wanted to be sure that it was perfect for you; that it was YOUR name; that, when you were born, I couldn’t imagine you having a different name. I completely believe, in hindsight, that I made the perfect choice.

At 20 weeks, I attended our anomaly scan. I wanted to wait until we had this one to make sure everything was okay before spoiling you rotten. You passed with flying colours! Perfect in every single way, growing well, nothing at all wrong with you. How lucky am I?! I was definitely safe at this point.

I started shopping straight away. I bought your cot, your pram, a LOT of clothes, a breastfeeding cushion, decorations for your nursery (for which your older sisters chose a ‘jungle’ theme) …

On April 11th, at 27 weeks pregnant, you decided to give us a scare and you wanted to come Earthside, but it was way too early. The doctors managed, after 3 weeks of continuous trying and constant contractions, to stop my labour completely. You had some more growing to do yet. I had a scan a couple of days before leaving hospital on May 11th and you were still perfectly healthy. It was amazing! I loved seeing you grow, and watching you thrive.

I went home. On May 12th, I moved house – I needed somewhere bigger so there was room for you. The first thing I did that day was organise your nursery. As I said earlier, the girls had picked a ‘Jungle’ nursery theme for you and I couldn’t wait to see it completed. I decorated your walls with animals, I put up your cot, I put up your wardrobe and your chest of drawers, I put up your moses basket and laid down your rug – your nursery was ready for you to come home to. It’s such a cute nursery.

On May 15th, mummy got poorly and I was admitted to hospital. JUST to be on the safe side, and after orders from my consultant prior to being discharged a few days prior, we had a growth scan to make sure you were coping okay. It was scheduled for the day after, on May 16th.

I loved seeing you on that screen again. I couldn’t wait to hold you in my arms but I had NO idea that it would be only a couple of weeks later …

You arrived Earthside on June the 3rd, 2016. You had the most beautiful little button nose, perfect little toes, quirky elf ears and your daddy’s lips. You weighed 5lbs, 1oz, and you measured 54cm long. You were, and are, pure perfection. I had spent weeks growing to love you, getting to know you. The second I laid eyes on you, I fell in love with you all over again …

There was just me, your daddy and our midwife Nicola present in the room when you arrived. Your Grandad Anthony waited in the room next door, excited to finally put a face to your name – Otis. You were born, as the sun was rising, at 4:19am. We spent the morning cuddling in the hospital bed in the delivery room, before being moved into a different room next door. Your Grandad Anthony came in the room to take pictures of us and to give you a massive cuddle – he held you just as he held your big sisters. I saw the love he has for you in his eyes. He is so proud to have another Grandchild.

Later that day, your two big sisters, Cora and Maisie, came to meet you. They were SO excited. They had felt you kick, they had helped choose your name, they had decided on your nursery theme and had been shopping for clothes – they could not wait to have their baby brother home. The second they saw you they fell completely in love with you. They held you, they kissed you, they poked your teeny toes and stroked your perfect little hands.

A photographer came the day you were born, to take pictures of you, your daddy and myself. They are AMAZING! You look so beautiful in each and every single one. Mummy looks a little rough, but that’s to be expected I suppose!

Your aunts Zoe and Jayde, your Godmummy Mel, Grandma Sam, Grandma Thelma and Grandad Bernard came to visit you, too. They all held you; they all kissed you; they all fell in love with you. You are SO loved!

The night you were born I slept with you beside me. I sang to you the same lullaby that I sang to your big sisters the night they were born; I read you a story – the same one I read to you for the 35 weeks you grew inside me; I held you to my chest, your skin on mine, as I nuzzled your perfect head of fuzzy, black hair.

We spent 3 days in the hospital together. Your daddy came up every day, all day, to stay with us. He waited on mummy hand and foot! I had food when I wanted, I had drinks when I wanted … I truly relished every single second I had alone with you, though. I treasured every moment because I knew I would never get that back once we were home.

Then it was time for us to go home! It was about 10am that your Grandad came to get us ready, to help me dress you and to put everything in the car. It took me an hour to dress you into your coming home outfit. You were so fragile and I didn’t want to hurt you. Your Grandad placed you on the bed in front of me, I gently unwrapped you from your blanket and slowly took off your baby grow. I took in every last inch of your beautiful skin. I tried to remember every last tiny detailed feature of your perfect body, from the shape of your eyebrows to the creases on your feet, because I knew you wouldn’t stay that way forever.

You were such a teeny newborn, but so perfectly formed. 

Daddy arrived. We were ready. I wrapped you up tightly in your blanket and I held you to my chest. I cuddled you and gave you a kiss on your forehead, before telling you I love you and laying you down.

Grandad picked you up and he carried you out of the room, down the hall past the nurses station, out of the doors, in to the lift, down to the door. He placed you, so delicately, in to the back of the car.

I looked around me and saw all the windows. I knew that, behind those windows there were new babies everywhere. I knew that people were also celebrating the arrival of their bundles.

Everything was perfect. YOU were, and are, perfect. But taking you home that day, it broke my heart.

It broke my heart because you had just been placed in to the back of a car that would take you to a different home than the one I was going to. I was going to MY home, and you were going to YOUR home, at the Chapel of Rest.

You see, my sweet boy, you were born into the arms of angels. You were born without a heartbeat. You were born forever sleeping.

Instead of registering your birth, I registered your death.

Instead of bringing you home in a car seat, I brought you home in a moses basket in the back of a funeral car.

Instead of organising your Christening, I planned your funeral.

It was as perfect as a funeral could be. I decided to carry your ‘Jungle’ nursery theme through to your forever bed, so your coffin was decorated with animal stickers. Maisie and Cora loved that touch. We sprinkled glitter and stars on your coffin after it was lowered, because you are OUR little star. Your big sisters lit a candle that was placed beside your coffin in the church for you, so they were involved in the day and that was their way of saying goodbye. We had our family and closest friends with us to say hello and goodbye to you, all in the same day.

The silence from people in the church as we walked in, your Daddy carrying your coffin in his arms to Over the Rainbow, was deafening.

I, somehow, managed to stay standing through the service and by your graveside until Otis Redding – ‘Dock of the Bay’, started playing. That’s because it was the song we decided to listen to as your tiny, blue, jungle-decorated coffin was lowered into the ground.

Every single day since has been a struggle. I survive because I have to. You have two big sisters here on Earth who depend on me; who look up to me; who NEED me. I survive because I don’t want them to lose their mother, as well as their baby brother.

I’ve been on autopilot since I was sat in the office of a neurosurgeon at 34 weeks pregnant being told, after a pretty problem-free pregnancy, that you weren’t going to survive beyond birth; that, as soon as you were disconnected from my oxygen supply, you would suffocate and die, in front of me. You wouldn’t be able to breathe by yourself. It was inevitable that you were going to pass away and the chances of you making it beyond the next few days was next to nil.

I spent the next few days in turmoil. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to make the most of having you, alive, with me. But, I knew that you would soon be ‘gone’ … You gave us 7 more days of love before you grew your wings. Your little heart stopped beating, after the most courageous fight, at 35 weeks gestation.

During those 7 days, I had ordered your burial outfit. It got delivered on the 28th of May, while you were living and kicking inside me. I received your memory box on that day, too. The pain I felt in my chest when opening the door to those deliveries is a feeling beyond comprehension. Knowing that you were alive and I was here, partially planning life after your death; I felt like an awful mum.

I WANTED to remain hopeful that you would survive, but there was no chance, Otis. Over 3/4 of your brain tissue had already been destroyed because of a nasty tumour and several haemorrhages, and you had just been diagnosed with a blood condition that, even if the tumour and haemorrhages didn’t result in your death, meant you were incompatible with life. There was absolutely nothing anyone could have done.

It’s hard. I keep trying to put into words how I feel, but nothing justifies this pain of having to live without you.

Instead of reading you bedtime stories in a cosy chair, I read bedtime stories for you sat at your graveside.

Instead of buying you toys, I buy you flowers for your grave.

Instead of cuddling you to sleep, I cuddle the blanket you were wrapped in from birth until the day of your funeral to sleep.

Instead of watching your big sisters dote on you, I watch them cry over missing you.

Instead of kissing you goodnight, I kissed you goodbye.

People have often asked what they can do to help me since you passed away. The truth is that there is nothing anyone can really do to make this better, but simply be there. There aren’t any words to console me, or to justify what has happened. There isn’t anything anyone can to do ‘cheer me up’ … but the presence of those who care is beyond appreciated.

One thing that DOES help my heart is when people acknowledge you – when people write your name in birthday cards, Christmas cards, invites; when people write your name in the sand when they travel, so a part of you is travelling with them; when people talk about you and the fact that you LIVED; when people sit beside me in silence, and just hold me; when people ask to see your special things – your babygrow, your pictures, your hospital band; when people have turned up with food, with face masks and bath salts to try to help me relax; when friends have offered to sit and have a night in, and they spent the night talking about you …

It has been 7 months since you left. We will soon approach your 1st birthday, and I hope that people acknowledge you that day; I hope that people honour you on your special day.

You fought SO hard. I am so, so proud to be your mummy. I am beyond honoured to have carried you and I am blessed that you chose me.

Please, let it be known, sweet boy, that if I could choose you – if choosing you then losing you meant having the chance to KNOW you and to LOVE you – then I would choose you again in a heartbeat.

You are my son. You are mine and I am yours, regardless.

Otis Dominic Anthony Cullen: you are missed beyond words and loved beyond measure. I hope you’re sleeping peacefully, sweet boy.

Love, Mummy x

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Natalie is generously sharing her story here and on her blog because, in her words, “Miscarriage, stillbirth & infant loss should NOT be a stigma, should NOT be a taboo – those precious babies should be more than just a statistic”.

If you know someone who has experienced stillbirth/baby loss, you may like to also read Natalie’s piece, ‘What not to say to a bereaved parent‘.

If you have experienced a loss and need support, you may find the SANDS charity’s resources useful.