Lookin’ sexy, looking’ fly (Destiny’s Child)

Since becoming a mum my own personal grooming can sometimes take a bit of a back seat.  I’m not saying I am some kind of stinking Beast of Bodmin with matted hair where my toes should be, but I am definitely more lax than pre-Bella. So it was with great excitement that last night I made time to descale my legs (you know you are officially past-it when the same term applies for both your skin and the kettle), remove the thickets from my knees and get the angle-grinder out to turn my talons back into toes. I even PLUCKED MY CHIN WHISKER. I once asked a guy to stroke my whisker on the first date. Needless to say, there wasn’t a follow up.  So as I slid my SILKEN legs under the duvet that night and didn’t get my claws caught on the sheet (you’ve all been there) I thought to myself, I should do this more often.

 

Making time for you, whether that’s to grapple control of your own leg hair, to do your life-min, or to just simply SIT DOWN BY YOURSELF and let your mind go wonderfully blank whilst necking gin, is so important.  I have been rather bad at this. I have felt the dastardly mum-guilt when I have done this. But time for me is essential.  It allows me to retain my sanity and makes me feel like I am more than a rodent on a wheel, running so fast that I can’t see my feet anymore.

 

When I had Bella the single biggest shift was that I went from being all about my own needs to being all about hers.  Pre-baby I was pretty selfish. Not sociopath-selfish, but I was definitely top of my own list. Now I care so much about Bella that her needs have become my needs.  Seeing her happy makes me happy, seeing her having fun makes me have fun.  I even think sitting in a fetid ball pit is the epitome of LIVING MY BEST LIFE now (and we all know how much I loathe ball pits after the false teeth incident of 1996. Gag). It seems that Bella and I are in some kind of emotional symbiosis.  And over time the things that were once important to me (when I was just ME) have decreased in intensity.  I sometimes don’t know what I want, in fact a lot of the time I don’t even ask myself this question.

 

And when you go back to work full-time there is even less time for you.  I can feel myself getting trodden down amidst the maelstrom of “get up, get ready, get Bella up, get Bella ready, drop off, wrestle pram into hideously overfull pram room, get on Tube, stand in someone’s armpit, get to work, work, get back on tube, sweat, wrestle pram out of hideously full pram room, get Bella, bath Bella, put her to bed, finish off some work, shovel in dinner, go to bed. START AGAIN”. Ad infinitum.  And arguably toddlers make it even harder to do the stuff you enjoy.  Vagina-fresh babies can be taken anywhere, so they might drain you of energy, sleep and milk, but you can still sit down in a nice café with your mates and have a rousing cup of industrial-strength caffeine. Toddler-divas will have none of this.  Sitting and chatting is not tolerated by Conan the rampaging toddler.  So you have to do what they want, like soft play (she shivers), or risk a DEFCON 1 meltdown in the middle of Costa, which let’s face it, is fun for no one.

 

So I have made a pact with myself to make sure I carve out time for me, time that’s not just hiding in the loo having a solo pee.  In fact next week I have booked a WHOLE DAY off work for just that. Bella will be in nursery and I will not look at my emails. I will probably lie prone on the couch in a pool of my own dribble watching Say Yes To the Dress whilst eating Nutella with a spoon and eying up the booze cupboard. But what sweet solo joy it will be.

A diva is a female version of a hustler (Beyonce)

Mariah Carey is rumoured to not speak to anyone for two days before a concert and has a personal chauffeur for her Jack Russell. But I bet Mariah has never lobbed broccoli in someone’s face whilst trying to bite them.  Or thrown herself on the floor whilst shrieking at a pitch only Alsatians can hear (actually she probably has done that.) She might be one of the world’s most infamous divas but she has nothing on the average toddler. It strikes me that babies only continue to get more diva-ish with every milestone until they reach the peak that is TODDER-DIVA.

 

For us this delightful phase is currently exacerbated by what I like to call “the nursery comedown”.  Bella will not sleep for more than an hour there, for fear of missing out on hilarious sandpit japes.  So by Friday she has the toddler equivalent of an epic hangover and we spend the weekend with a cross between Naomi Campbell and Bez (you know, all rheumy eyed, shouty and suffers NO fool).   We as her parents are basically her entourage, there to indulge her every whim or risk being fired for sheer incompetence.  So here are our current top toddler-diva behaviours:

 

1. The outstretched arm of demand. Bella will thrust out her arm, hand clutching at the empty air, accompanied with high pitched panting. She wants SOMETHING, but can she tell you what it is? No.  Can you guess what it is? No. So we proffer plastic items ad infinitum, only for each one to be tossed away with complete disdain.

2. Pram Rage. Bella is going through a phase where she WILL.NOT.BE.CONSTRAINED. It happened just before she crawled, and now, just as she almost walks, here it is again.  Any journey longer than fifteen minutes in the pram rapidly descends into anarchy. I end up frantically pushing a puce, wailing beast as fast as I can to my destination, sweat pouring down my brow, salt stinging my eyes, whilst the streets of Tooting stare on, wondering what could possibly have upset the squalling child so much. Indeed.

3. Carrier Rage. As above but with the carrier. This time you are even closer to the action, as the angry custard strapped to your front tries to dismount in a frenzy.

4. BLOCK.WILL.NOT.GO.IN.THE.HOLE. Cause for said block to be lobbed across room accompanied by wails of frustration. Bella has little patience for toys that do not immediately succumb to her will.

5.  Everything is a toy. In the world of the toddler diva, everything is a toy, and shall be treated as such. From the cat’s tail, to the plug sockets, to phone chargers, to the bleach cupboard, to the box where wires go to die, these are all fair game.  Or else.

6.  Let’s talk about walking. Or not, as the case may be.  Bella wants to toddle, but will only do so holding my hand. So it is clearly my job as chief lacky to walk up and down the flat/street/café/market (delete as appropriate) until she tires of such high jinks.

7.  All of the attention, all of the time. If I am in the room I must give my 100% undivided to Bella. And woe betide if I LEAVE the room to do something unthinkable like PEE BY MYSELF.

8.  Nappy Rage. Clearly one cannot expect the toddler diva to sit in their own shit, but the sheer degradation of a nappy change unleashes a whole new level of IMPOTENT rage, which comes complete with bucking bronco.

 

I Love My Momma (Snoop Dogg)

 

It’s Mother’s Day.  I am a MOTHER.  Sometimes I still double take at that, like I am playing in the dress up box and someone is going to tell me to take the costume off soon.  The last seventeen months have sped by so fast.  I can barely remember those early days of bleeding nips and brushing my teeth with Sudocrem by mistake (and WHAT. A. MISTAKE).  Looking back now on my motherhood journey, here are ten things I would tell my newly mummed self:

 

  1. The emotional rollercoaster of oxytocin driven euphoria immediately followed by sleep-deprived despair is totally normal, especially when you first get home from hospital. It’s normal to feel a tad emosh. You are at the mercy of a powerful cocktail of progesterone, oestrogen and anything else your body can throw in there (the hormonal equivalent of a Long Island Ice Tea). You aren’t going mad.  You will even out.

 

  • It’s OK to feel trapped, like the walls are closing in on you and your squalling newborn. Having a baby in the darkest, dankest depths of the British autumn, when you can’t go outside or you’ll end up with a gangrenous trench foot, is hard. Expect cabin fever and don’t fight it, instead RELISH the time you have to lie prone on the sofa watching every Netflix boxset going. This won’t last forever and you’ll wake up one day and realise you haven’t watched Say Yes to the Dress in months.  (PS I love the US version of this because it’s always clinically obese brides trying to squeeze into ill-advised, strapless fishtail dresses, whilst their skeletal and “angry because they are hungry” bridesmaids tell them they look great whilst secretly smirking behind their skeletal hands. Car crash TV.)

 

  • Don’t turn to Dr Google for everything. It is a false friend, where all roads end in cancer or a rabbit hole of barely disguised parental despair.

 

  • Don’t worry about what everyone else thinks ALL the time. On one hand it’s great that we live in a world where we can access information at the tap of a finger and where we can see how everyone else does it, all laid out on a rose-tinted grid. But on the other, it means we constantly judge ourselves against yardsticks that really don’t matter.  All that does matter is that you do what’s right for you, and you get through it all with your sanity intact and your little one intact.

 

  • Hug Bella all the time. Hold her close and breathe in that lovely baby-biscuit smell (that somehow heady combo of pee, milk and sweat). For she will soon be a rampaging toddler, aka “Conan the wrecker of living rooms and chaser of cats”, and will only want cuddles when ill.

 

  • Physically, birth is like getting hit by a truck (slowly). Expect to feel like your vagina has run a marathon, and don’t try to do too much too soon. Enjoy. The. Sofa.  (I realise a lot of these centre on the joy of a nice sit down).

 

  • Take care of your relationship as well as your baby. You will be cross with your partner at the beginning, for sleeping more than you, for not having leaky tits full of milk, for not having to wear an adult nappy, for not smelling of milk and sick…the list goes on. (And let’s face it you will be cross at EVERYTHING on two-hour sleep increments. You may even find yourself kicking the Hoover just for being, well, a Hoover: guilty.). But don’t let things fester, men are not mind readers (thank god) and you need to keep talking.

 

  • Travel anywhere and everywhere whilst she is small. When they are tiny you can strap them to you and off you go. And you can sit in cafes for hours, knocking back flat white after flat white until your eyes bleed and your hands start to tremble, with them slumbering on you.  When they get to rampant toddler age, and the PRAM RAGE kicks in, suddenly you are confined to the vicinity of your immediate postcode.

 

  • Don’t be afraid to talk to other mums (AKA don’t be so British). Maternity leave will be lonely, so you need other mothers around you. Don’t be scared to say hi, no one will tell you to piss off (let’s face it, we are too British for that too).

 

  • Eat more cake. You need it. You deserve it.  Eat it all.

 

me 2

Here Comes the Hotstepper (Ini Kamoze)

Yesterday I was walking Bella to nursery and this guy staggered up to me, at least three sheets to the wind if not more, and slurred in what he thought was an alluring manner “woooah you still got it, sexy mamma”.  Being eminently British I of course thanked him whilst simultaneously speeding away trying desperately not to make eye contact.  Now impaired judgement aside (it was circa 8am, I had not a stich of make up on and was sporting basically my outdoor PJs), I was actually a bit offended by the “STILL”.  Why is it when you become a mum that people think you lose “it”, whatever “it” is. To be honest I am not ever sure I had it.  When I was younger I had precisely NO game. I was always the cannon fodder on the night out; the meat in the room.  I towered awkwardly over any given dance floor at a statuesque 6ft whilst my fitter and more confident mates pulled hotties left right and centre.  But say I did have the elusive “it”, why would I lose it by virtue of pushing a baby out of my vagina?

 

I have never been super confident in how I look, I have always had a bit of a gunt (“the pouch”) and because I was so tall when I was younger my posture is appalling, I basically walk around at half mast.  But I actually feel more assured in myself since I had Bella, because if my body can do THAT, if it can birth a 7 lb beauty, and birth her backwards no less, then who cares what it looks like.  And it has also made me more confident with fashion.  Before Bella (BB) I was over-fond of the Cos-style smock, aka the minimal marquee.  But now I am more open to trying different things, as my body changed so much over pregnancy and post birth that I couldn’t stick to what I knew.  So here are my favourite five mum fashion faves, my MUM-SSENTIALS (not a thing?)

 

Dungarees

Ahhh dungarees.  Since being pregnant I have invested in MANY a dungaree.  My wardrobe is basically that of a 90s children’s TV presenter. I look like Pat Sharpe 90% of the time.  And my boyfriend hates them, ‘handyman’ or ‘decorator’ not being a look that lights his fire.  In fact they are total passion killers (if having a 15 month old baby wasn’t enough to dampen ones ardour).  But they are also a breastfeeding mother’s best friend, with the benefit of super easy access.  If only they had a pee flap I would actually never take them off.

 

Leopard print

Now I love me an animal print.   I used to be scared of wearing it, haunted as I was by the ghosts of Pat Butcher and Sporty Spice.  But not only have animal prints become the new neutral over the last year, they also hide a multitude of baby-related sins. Uncontrollable boob leakage? Milky baby vomit? Mucus trails? Calpol-tini accident? Mucky avocado hand prints? Your clothes used as a crayon canvas? No worries, an on-trend leopard print hides everything.

leopard 2
Pat Butcher called – she wants her onesie back…

 

Midi-skirt and jumper combo

I never used to be a fan of the midi-skirt as I never knew where to do them up – under the waist and I looked like a beer-bellied drag queen and above the waist I looked like Simon Cowell.  However stick a jumper over the top and no one can spot this waistline CONUNDRUM.  And you can pick from Nordic fisherman knit or 90’s slogan sweater depending on your mood (“girl about fjord” or “girl about Lino”). Sorted.

Sequins and/or glitter

It’s not about showing tits or leg any more, it’s about accessorising the bejesus out of everything with sequins and/or glitter.  It has the added benefit that Bella LOVES the sparkly stuff, and it can distract her for at least a minute (worth every second). So if it looks like Unicorn Jizz, I am in.

 

My fashion hiking boots: aka my “fiking” boots

I have literally worn these every day since I bought them last year.  Not only do they work with any outfit, they are also essential for avoiding catching trench foot whilst trudging the pram round Tooting Common in the pissing rain.

 

 

I’m lost in the world (Kanye)

So when I was on mat leave I became good friends with the guy behind the till in Aldi. Well, as good a friend as you can be without knowing someone’s name. And that was for two reasons. Firstly, we were in there pretty much every day. It had all the heady excitement of Supermarket Sweep for the new mum (how many value treasures can you find before your baby gets bored and starts throwing her toys out of the pram? Literally.)  And secondly, whilst on maternity leave I became a chit-chatter; a small talker; a purveyor of “isn’t it hotter than the surface of the sun/colder than the Tundra” (delete as appropriate) bants. I would sidle, nay, scuttle up to other mums in the park, like a hopeful crab, prepared to coo at length at their little ones. I did this in supermarkets, coffee shops, on the train, everywhere (except on the tube, I drew the line there, I didn’t want to get shanked).

 

Before Bella I wouldn’t talk to a stranger, I wouldn’t even make eye contact, this is LONDON and I am BRITISH after all. But that all changed on mat leave because as well as being one of the best years of my life it was simultaneously one of the most lonely. Suddenly I would talk to anyone, ANYONE, just to hear my own voice. I was used to spending twelve hours a day with other adults, dashing all over London like some kind of human pinball. Then overnight all that stopped and a tiny baby whose only words were “dada” (traitor) and occasionally “mama” (punches air) became my constant companion. There were days when my voice went all Mariella-Frostrup-on-40-fags-a-day because I hadn’t spoken actual sentences in hours.  When I started engaging in out-loud debate with ITV’s Loose Women I knew I was in real trouble.

 

This isn’t apparent at first though. At the beginning you are besieged by visitors, visitors with cake and/or booze (FYI the BEST kind). Not only that, when babies are vagina fresh they are super transportable, so you can travel far and wide to see your mates and fam.  Then this furore tails off; everyone goes back to his or her normal life and you are left in the confines of your immediate postcode with the days stretching out in front of you, tumbleweed heavy. And it’s worse in London, where your friends are scattered all over the place by the time you get to your mid-late 30s (OK, late). Gone are the flat share days when your besties all lived but a room away; the days of five bottles of pink wine on the Ikea sofa before you even leave the house, of guessing if someone has got lucky because there are MEN’S SHOES by the door, of picking the vestiges of last nights kebab off said Ikea sofa in the morning. Now my best mates all live over an hour away, in every far-flung corner of London that’s not SW17.

 

So mat leave life was solitary at times. Many a moment was spent trudging solo round Tooting Common staring at groups of people frolicking with gay abandon and wishing I was one of them. And it was difficult without my normal support group front and centre, especially when you think about the monumental changes your body and your mind go through having a new baby, and how you need mates there to help orientate your sense of self as everything else shifts. Then add into that heady emotional cocktail a regular dose of confidence crisis. Some days I worried whether I was doing ANYTHING right (the days of brushing my own teeth with Sudacrem as Bella cluster-fed like a rabid terrier) which meant I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone for fear of being judged heartily incompetent.

 

However I was saved from becoming a full time street-mutterer by the gorgeous ladies I met through NCT. We joke that we are the best mates we have ever bought. The course itself served to scare the bejesus out of both Phil and I, specifically with the graphic vertical diagram of the baby coming out of the uterus stage by stage (both of us felt faint), and allowed us to establish that we were the only ones who hadn’t even agreed what hospital I was going to give birth in. Great. But more than that it gave me amazing friends who have been there day and night for fifteen months. Having mates who are going through EXACTLY the same things at EXACTLY the same time and who live within ten minutes of me was invaluable. Who else could you text at 1am, 2am, 4am, 6am with the WHY IS HER POO GREEN questions, sometimes complete with pictures (sorry for that in retrospect)? In fact we probably sent at least 700 WhatsApp messages a day. We have also all met up pretty much every week since our babies popped out. This has taken us from inhaling vats of caffeine with our sleeping, drooling newborns strapped to our chests, to chasing our rampant snot-ridden toddlers round the fetid soft play venues of SW17.

 

So now, as I re-integrate into work, a big part of me still misses mat leave, despite the loneliness. And I must say a massive thank you to my NCT friends for saving me, or as they have now become, just friends. And of course the guy behind the till in Aldi. Maybe tomorrow I might even ask his name.

 

NCT
Wine Wednesdays. What a great mum-concept.

 

 

Work, work, you better work – Ciara feat. Missy Elliott

So I have been back at work just over a month and am really enjoying speaking to adult humans all day.  I was vastly out of practice at first. Turns out shouting at TV’s “Loose Women” doesn’t count as actual human interaction.   For the first couple weeks I crawled home exhausted, nay spent, at the end of each day. I would lie in a foetal position on the sofa, drooling, staring at the wall, unable to cope with any stimulation at all.  But now I am acclimatising and I am glad to be back using my brain on a daily basis. I am also getting used to compartmentalising my two lives, work me and mum me.  (I sound like a really dull, domesticated double agent, who goes from the thrilling world of Powerpoint to the equally thrilling world of changing nappies.) And actually having both lives makes me appreciate the other one more.  HOWEVER, saying all that, there are four things I have not enjoyed about leaving mat leave life behind, four thorns in my side, four constant niggles.

 

Mum guilt

The mum guilt is the hardest thing.  It’s always with me, like Quasimodo’s hump, bowing me low by the weight of my own expectations. After a year spending every day with Bella we have effectively achieved an emotional symbiosis, where we are like two halves of one person.  So when I left her for whole days at a time it felt like I had torn off my right arm and left it in the sand pit.  I can’t think about her when I am at work or I would just break down and slowly weep, like a leaky tap.  And mum guilt is such a strange beast.  I feel bad for leaving her, even though she is having the BEST time.  Let’s face it we don’t do singing time, story time, bubble machine time and light display time at home…we put the tele on and hope for the best. I also feel bad that I actually enjoy myself when we are apart.  So it’s a tenacious double hitter that keeps on giving.

 

It’s Relentless

So when we were little we had a hamster, called Hammy (yep, see what we did there).  Most of the time Hammy was trying to gnaw our fingers off with his razor sharp needle teeth, but when he wasn’t doing that, he was on his tiny hamster wheel.  And on that wheel he raced, his little feet moving so fast we could barely see them, his eyes bulging, his expression one of delight and stress in equal measures.  And he thought it would never end. This is me.  I am Hammy on his wheel.  Being a working mum can feel absolutely relentless.  Although I love both parts of my life, I feel like I can never get off the wheel to just have a little rest.  And maybe a Jaffa Cake.

 

The Commute

The thing I loathe most about being back at work is the commute.  The northern line between 7.30-9am is like the start of an Armageddon movie.  “London was saturated, BURSTING at the seams, when one day an evil corporation tried to get numbers down by turning them all into zombies. The end.”  I did not miss being squished into several armpits like human Tetris.  I did not miss folk standing so close that I could feel their breath on my skin.  And I did not miss getting buffeted by the dirty breeze, which surely carries the dead skin cells from all Londoners since Victorian times.  And don’t even get me started on the commuters who have what must be Tuberculosis and cough into their hands and then PUT THEIR HANDS ON THE POLES. Patient Zero, keep your mucus-covered mitts to yourself. (And I can say this as someone who has had a non-stop cold since September thanks to living with the human petri dish that is Bella.)  Last gripe. Since when did trains start stopping three times between every station so your ten stop journey becomes thirty, inching forward at a jerking yet glacial pace.

 

Nursery drop off and pick up

So yea, commuting is NOT fun.   Nursery drop is also not fun.  Not because Bella cries, on the contrary she now leaps from my arms into the waiting bosom of her favourite carer, Odeffe, with gay abandon.  But they keep the nursery at sub-tropical temperatures at all times.  So you arrive all freshly coiffured and with your face plastered on, and leave sweaty and dishevelled and smelling slightly of the dish of the day.   And the pram room.  The pram room.  Which is basically a “how many buggies can you fit in a cupboard” challenge, where if you snooze you lose.  Last in ends up having to construct some kind of winch out of their scarf and the rain cover and hoist their prams onto the ceiling for safekeeping.   Nursery drop off also has its challenges.  Bella is apparently fine there all day, doesn’t sleep too much as she is TOO EXCITED to close her eyes and miss anything, (ahhh I have a FOMO baby). But she eats everything, plays with everything and generally romps around after the other kids trying to gum their heads. But the moment I get there….BOOM….floods of tears, prompting a fresh bout of mum guilt for leaving her. So racked with sweat in the morning, racked with guilt in the evening. Great.

It’s the hard knock life (Jay-Z)

So Bella recently turned one, and part of me can’t believe we made it through the first year, navigating the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. It’s been a year of extreme contrasts. I have experienced the purest happiness (fuelled by a heady cocktail of oxytocin and Hobnobs), but also some of the most emotionally wrenching, soul questioning troughs (fuelled by lack of sleep and crushing self doubt). And what I have learnt as we have grown this amazing little human is that it will always be hard. And what I have found most difficult about being a mum is admitting that. I don’t like acknowledging that everything isn’t perfect all of the time. I desperately want to enjoy EVERY SINGLE SECOND, because I am so grateful for what I have. I want the “grid-perfect” view of motherhood, with the perfectly content and well-behaved child and the perfectly confident and well-adjusted mum. But it’s not that. It’s the most amazing thing I have ever done, but it is also, without question, the hardest. I expected the first three months to be hard, as they aren’t known as “100 days of hell” for no reason. But I didn’t expect it to continue to be hard when we left this phase behind, just a different kind of hard.

 

And that’s the key word there: “phase”.  As your baby grows from mewling newborn to door-slamming three-nager you will go through a never-ending series of difficult phases.  And when you are in the midst of one you are CONSUMED by it; you eat, drink and Google it. You end up lost down bottomless internet rabbit holes, wading through obscure blogs from ten years ago, trying desperately to find anyone who has been through exactly what you are going through. But no matter how frustrating that phase is, however much you want to scream into a pillow at the end of every single night, everything stops eventually, because it is (let’s hear it) JUST A PHASE. So in the spirit of full disclosure and admitting what I have found tricky, here are my five hardest “just a phase”-s (so far):

 

First three months, aka 100 days of hell: This is everything people say and more. It is a phase where you completely suspend life as you know it. I went from a feral birth where I discovered a side of myself I never knew existed (and some swear words I didn’t even know I knew), to a sleep deprived fog, with my battered body enthralled to a tiny human.  This was a time of vomit encrusted nursing bras, waddling round Tooting Common in the pissing rain with my adult nappy on, weeping into my breast pads and onto Bella for no reason other than ‘hey I just pushed a human out of my vagina’, and all the time besotted with this miniature slave driver cluster feeding from my bloodied nips.

 

 

Napping in the house: from three months onwards we tried to get Bella to nap in the house, in her cot, in her lovingly prepared (and hideously expensive) sleeping bag. You would think we were putting her on a bed of nails wrapped in a blanket made of nettles complete with a pillow of crushed glass. She would sleep for about thirty minutes and then scream and scream, a pink browed nap-resistant banshee. This went on for 65 days. 65 days. I counted them. In desperation I used to Skype my mum into the nap free warzone, as I sat slumped on the floor outside Bella’s room in floods of guilty and frustrated tears.

 

 

The fussy food phase: From six months Bella would pretty much put any food in her mouth (she would pretty much put anything in her mouth, edible or not). But then she hit ten months and suddenly turned into a highchair bound Gordon Ramsay. Food was subject to extreme scrutiny before being rudely lobbed at us (I imagine inside she was swearing at us and telling us we better pull our f**king socks up or she would never come back to this shit restaurant ever again.). “Don’t react, don’t react” went on a loop through my head as I scraped mashed up broccoli heads out of the floor boards and scrubbed dried Weetabix off the walls. Thank god the cat will eat anything, really very helpful.

 

Crawling frustration: Bella was relatively late to crawling, preceded as it was by weeks and weeks of the zombie shuffle. For about a month this was cause for extreme frustration, as she would dry hump my leg and wail because she couldn’t get to what she wanted. Toy offerings were deposited in front of her with hope in our eyes, like she was some kind of tiny goddess who demanded plastic Day-Glo sacrifices, only for them to be slung heavenwards with abject disgust.

 

The black lung:  For twelve weeks now Bella has suffered from the black lung, the cold that just keeps on giving. We have a daily battle with a tide of mucus, where snot trails are left all over my clothing like the calling card of a diseased slug and where wiping her face (the very cheek of us) is met with high pitched sobbing and attempts to dive off the changing table. We also have the Alsatian hack, which makes her sound like she has actual consumption. And there is nothing you can do about it, despite being willing to THROW money at whatever parental placebo comes your way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I feel like that (Kanye)

So a bout of mega anxiety snuck up on me a few weeks ago.  I was merrily plugging along, eleven months in, adjusting as I went to the ever-changing task that is looking after a baby.  I wasn’t smashing it by any means but we did have some great days.  One day we discovered Babease food pouches for 4p (4p!) in Boots. Another day I caught (not literally caught) a giant turd JUST before it leaked all over her clothes, the new pram liner and probably me.  Things were ticking over.  Things were good. Then all of a sudden I turned into an anxious mess.

 

When you have a baby there is always a base level of “what the fuck” and “shiiiiiiiiit” as you adjust to the weight of first growing another human inside you and then continuing to grow that human outside you.  You gradually accept that responsibility whilst at the same time thinking  “pretty sure this is not what I signed up for”.  You agree to make sure they are fed, watered and developing into a well-rounded person who doesn’t want to set fire to ants and turn them into necklaces to sell in the school playground (I have gone a bit Silence of the Lambs meets Richard Branson there, sorry.)  And you start to get into a unique rhythm, where you bumble along constantly searching for reassurance but at the same time growing more confident.  So I was shocked when I suddenly turned into a gibbering wreck of a human.

 

I think it was triggered by Bella’s nursery insisting on FIVE WEEKS of settling in prior to her official start date. That meant that my head, which had been firmly and happily planted in the sand, was suddenly wrenched out and made to face real life.  Nursery was not happening in five weeks, it was happening now.  My sloping, lazy days of going to budget supermarkets and sitting in fetid ball pits frantically wishing I had a Michael Jackson flu mask were ALMOST OVER.  And I desperately wasn’t ready to give them up.

 

I also wasn’t ready to think about Bella going to nursery.  Her stranger danger radar has been fairly aggressive thus far, which gives me scant hope that she will settle smoothly into nursery life.  I fear that she will be one of those babies who cry from the moment I leave to the moment I return, with brief breaks to pull her own sock off and gum the floor.  All you want as a mum is for your baby to be content and the thought that leaving her will upset her so much is hard to stomach.  I say this even though my rational mind knows nursery is the best place for her.  She needs to socialise and get the stimulation that trained professionals will provide (let’s face it, she doesn’t like This Morning and there’s only so many Cup and Cushion obstacle courses I can create before she fires me for being incompetent).

 

So how did this anxiety manifest itself?  Well I was suddenly overemotional at everything, like the worst case of PMT but with no “M” in sight.  Even TV adverts sent me into floods of tears, “but the meerkat was left by himmmmmmself” I would wail.  I sat in the diseased play areas of SW17 with tears leaking down my cheeks like a broken tap for NO REASON. And I felt too nervous to eat, which let’s face it has NEVER happened before.  There is no bad thing that a tub of Nutella and a dessertspoon can’t fix, but this time, nada, I just wasn’t hungry.  And I found myself getting really scratchy at night time, again for no discernable reason.  I was also supposed to go and visit my parents up t’north but had a borderline panic attack at the thought of the journey (well, Northern Trains do prompt that reaction in a lot of people).  And more than all this, I just didn’t feel like me.  I am known as a “glass MORE than half full” kind of person, not a person who questions the very existence of the glass.

 

According to the Royal College of Midwives up to 20% of women experience perinatal mental illness during pregnancy and/or the first year of their babies lives.  Whilst many people are aware that you can become depressed after giving birth, it’s less well known that many women experience anxiety.  Yet it is so reassuring to know that others have felt the same way.  When I realised that this might not just go away I slowly started to talk about it, even though it wasn’t easy to admit something was wrong because that made it real.  I also felt embarrassed that I was feeling anxious at this stage, almost a year in, when surely I should be taking everything in my stride.  As well as talking, I created lists; lists of what triggered my anxiety.  This helped, as when you put shape and structure to overwhelmingly amorphous bad feelings they become more understandable and less daunting.  I also started counselling two weeks ago, and plan to write more about how that goes.  I selected a counsellor from an Awareness Centre near me who uses Behavioural Cognitive Therapy, which, as I understand it, is a practical way of helping you cope with anxiety.

 

I wasn’t sure I should share this as I have never experienced anxiety before and was a little afraid to let people under my mental ‘hood’.  But I do believe mental health is as important as physical health and we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about it.  I also want Bella to grow up in an environment where she is free to share how she feels.  And if MY teenage years are anything to go by she will have plenty of feelings to talk about; adolescents practically make anxiety an art form.  (I remember in my teens I used to chat to the Paul Nicholls poster on my wall when I felt down.  Yes Paul Nicholls.  Circa 1995 he was F.I.T.)  So apologies, this story has no conclusion right now as I am at the start of a journey and I am not sure where it will go.  But I will write about this again because it has definitely helped me.  Turns out a “problem shared is a problem halved” isn’t just a nice sounding idiom after all.

Wondering why, crying, pouring out my heart (Dr Dre feat. Mary J Blige)

No one talks about miscarriage.  According to Tommy’s one in four women in the UK have experienced it, yet the topic still seems taboo.  It feels like it has a stigma attached to it, like you are tainted goods.  I cope with my problems by talking out loud to anyone that will listen so I found this very hard to deal with.  I had two miscarriages before Bella.  The first was only six weeks along, so we barely knew it was there. The second was nine weeks in, and by then I had practically started a college fund.  I am writing about this now because it is baby loss awareness week. And because I believe that talking about miscarriage and sharing your story is a good thing.  It definitely helped me.

 

The second time it happened I started spotting at work, but ignored it as looking at Dr Google this could be “normal” in pregnancy.  However it didn’t stop so I went into St George’s hospital for a scan.  When the doctor went silent and my deepest fears rushed in to fill the void and were then confirmed it was truly awful.  There was no heartbeat.  It was over before it had even begun.  I felt completely numb and yet completely distraught at the same time.  When you become pregnant, from the moment you see that blue line or smiley face, you start to plan your future with your unborn child front and centre.  It might be the size of a kidney bean (or other bean of choice) but you cannot stop your imagination going for it, it practically writes the screenplay, even as you urge yourself to calm down.  You start to plan names and suddenly everyone you meet is fodder for that ever-growing list. You start to imagine telling your boss and going on maternity leave (a particular favourite after a tasking twelve hour day at the office).   You start to think about holding this child who you won’t meet for nine months.  And you wonder what the butter bean will look like, this chromosomal cocktail of you and your other half.  Then, when you miscarry, not only have you physically lost a would-be child, you have also lost all the dreams that your imagination conjured up.  You grieve for all the beautiful moments that you won’t now see.

 

Physically I did not know what to expect.  After the scan they said to leave it a week and see if I passed the material naturally. Already the baby had become material. If not they could book me in to have it removed.  I had akin to a heavy period for a few days and thought that would be it.  But then I started to bleed like the clappers so I called 111 and they sent an ambulance to pick me up. In another example of being oh-so-British (see birth story) I apologised profusely for bleeding all over the seat, whilst simultaneously trying to mop it up with a hand towel.  I stayed in hospital overnight so they could put me on an IV and keep an eye on the blood loss. By the next day I had passed most of it, or so they thought, so they let me go home.  That night I went to the toilet and out came the foetal sac. I have never been more shocked, as no one told me this might happen.  I was on autopilot so I flushed.  I then broke down and cried for an hour because I had just flushed my would-be baby down the loo.

 

Getting over miscarriage was tough physically as my body still thought it was pregnant for weeks afterwards, so I had all of the hormones rushing through me, a poignant and constant reminder of what I had just lost.  Mentally it was even harder.  I felt like a complete failure.  My uterus, my body, me, had fallen short of my biological imperative.  And I thought it MUST be my fault, because I couldn’t accept that genetic roulette was the only cause.   It was that double shot flat white, it was that night out where I drank ALL of the Prosecco before I knew I was pregnant, it was that BAD THOUGHT I had about someone on the bus, it was that fight with my partner, it was…it was…it was….And then I went wider than direct cause and effect, I also started thinking that it was cosmic retribution for that time I cheated on my boyfriend in 1996 (sorry Nigel, but let’s face it you were called Nigel), or that white lie I told Phil “oh no it’s not new, I have had this top for ages” as I shoved the carrier bag and receipt into the bin.  The only way I started to feel better was by talking about it all, with Phil, with my friends and family.  It was cathartic for me, like I was gradually squeezing a gangrenous spot.  Although be prepared, people will say things like “at least it means you can get pregnant” and whilst this is true and meant well, it will also make you want to punch them in the crotch.

 

When I got pregnant with Bella I was overjoyed and at the same time petrified.  My entire pregnancy was nerve-shredding and I never let myself enjoy it or let go properly.  I was constantly worried that it was going to end.  After every scan or appointment I would cry with relief, a proper chin-wobbling, red browed “Clare Danes crying face” (Google it).  I even cancelled a holiday we had booked for when I was about 7-8 weeks along, as I was convinced, CONVINCED, with an unshakable certainty that had no evidence in fact, that flying was bad for the baby.   I also did nothing to prepare for her arrival, as I believed this would be bad luck.  So we had no clothes, no pram and the nursery was still the spare room complete with double bed until about a week before her due date.  I didn’t even think about names until 3 days before she was born.  My fears slightly relinquished their chokehold when Bella begun to move from 21 weeks, but even then I would wake up at 4am and push my stomach around until she started to kick.  Now I am beyond grateful for every single moment with the beautiful creature that is Bella (maybe EVER so slightly less grateful when she shits four days worth of poo on my knee).

 

I hope that writing about this helps anybody who has experienced miscarriage themselves.  It has also helped me to put fingers to keyboard. So if you are still with me thank you for reading.  I wanted to end with the best piece of advice I was given, from a doctor.  She said take it was important to take time to grieve for what you have lost, but know that you are NORMAL.  Ultimately that is what is so frightening and yet so reassuring about miscarriage, it is just so normal.  Knowing that it was not my fault and that it could happen to anyone, as scary as that was, also allowed me to finally let go.

 

 

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