I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly (Destiny’s Child)

Autumn is now upon us, and part of me is very glad. As we make the switch from tropical to Tundra I can legitimately hide my mum-gunt back under a series of extremely baggy sweaters.  Over the past six months I have been suffering with a bout of body loathing.  Well loathing is quite a strong word. It’s more like the way you might feel about a pair of saggy old jeans. They are comfy, they get the job done, but you wouldn’t wear them on a night out where you saw actual PEOPLE.  My shape completely changed after having Bella.  Specifically the saggy, recently vacated basement flat that is my belly, the flaccid spaniels ears that are my desiccated boobs, and my now ACTUAL child bearing hips.  And let’s dwell on the bosom area for one moment. Before I got pregnant my general maxim was “if it’s a handful it’s a waste”.  At school I was a late developer, in fact I wore a VEST til I was fifteen, only succumbing to a bra due to heavy locker room disdain.  And then it was basically pouring two fried eggs into a lacy crop top from Tammy Girl.  But when I was pregnant and then breastfeeding I suddenly developed enormous veiny barrage balloons for boobs.  The muffin bra became a thing, as they bulged uncontrollably out of the side of my normal A Cup. Then I stopped breastfeeding and BOOM. All gone.  And not only that, they are smaller than before.  HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE? There was nothing there anyway.

 

But for the first year post partum, I didn’t really mind how much my body had altered.  Partly that’s because I was still in awe of its ability to grow a whole human inside it and then push her out.  And when you are the proud owner of a newborn no one expects you to look all abs and sinew, like a hungry Madonna. They are just impressed that you are a) upright, and b) not openly weeping.   Also, adjusting to life with said tiny creature took up all my attention for the first year.  I didn’t have any energy to care about what I looked like.  If I made it out of my milk-encrusted sweatpants and brushed my hair then that was a GOOD DAY.   But 20 months later my body has changed irrevocably and I have just realised that it’s never going to SNAP back to what it once was.  It seems to be carrying a permanent muscle memory of being pregnant, like a fat ghost. And I am struggling a bit with that.

 

So I am now party to a somewhat unforgiving internal monologue.  Things I now believe people are thinking when I walk past:

Is she pregnant again? (That’s a new one, thanks.)

What’s that coming over the hill, is it a monster, is it a monster?

Why are those girls (my mates) out with their mum (me)?

Wow, it looks like Lindsey ATE Lindsey (don’t tell me you haven’t thought this about Christina Aguilera on a number of occasions).

She’s big boned, or (worse) statuesque.

 

I do recognise that I am not obese, and my BMI is in a healthy range. I think it’s more the change than the absolute that’s sending me into a spiral of self-doubt.  I feel like a Russian doll version of myself. The old me is in there somewhere, desperate to get out but not desperate enough to stop stuffing croissants in her mouth like some kind of rabid pastry hamster.  And this is worse in summer. In the depths of the British winter, as I push the pram round the tundra that is Tooting Common, the baggy sweat shirt can hide a multitude of gunt-based sins.  I can wrestle my stomach into a pair of skinny jeans and vacuum pack it down.  I could be ANY size under there.  But SUMMER, season of tanned nubile flesh, floaty dresses, tiny shorts and (shudder) CROP TOPS, brings me out in chills (ironically).  I now hate fabric too ephemeral to hold my mum-pouch in check.   The one sartorial saving grace this summer has been the ascendance of the BUFFET DRESS. This is the fashion equivalent of a marquee and comes in a variety of patterns and lengths, but all reassuringly tent-like.

 

So until I a) put down the pastries, b) get some masochistic PT to get me to do more exercise by shaming me with their rock hard abs, or c) accept my changed body for what it is, I will instead do d) wear every buffet dress going and fake it before I make it.

Make me wanna scream (MJ and Janet)

 

The other day we were in the local supermarket, doing a routine shop in what passes for a fun day out nowadays.  I gave Bella a carton of soup to hold, because the outstretched arm of demand was reaching for it. I thought to myself “how helpful of her, carrying that when my hands are full”.  Idiot. Then we had to pay, so I had to remove said carton from her grasp. THE. TANTRUM. THE. TEARS.  THE. SCREAMING. This incident is now known as “Soup-Gate”.  With the terrible twos looming on the horizon like a malevolent thunderhead, Bella is warming us up with an array of tantrums.  These come on like tropical storms. They appear from nowhere at a moment’s notice, leave a path of devastation and lobbed toys in their wake, and then are gone as fast as they arrived. Here are six of the classic toddler-diva tantrums:

 

The “exit” tantrum

When you need to leave the playground/softplay/park/shopping centre (insert scene of japes), because they have been on the slide 100,000 times and it’s gone dark and you feel like time has actually stopped.  So you pick up your toddler diva with hope in your eyes, praying that this time, this time, you will get away with it. No. Never. Cue epic tantrum as you wrestle your FURY-FILLED, biting banshee into the pram.

 

The “strapping in the pram” tantrum

Similar to the exit tantrum, but this one can occur whenever the toddler-diva feels like it (which is most of the time).  They generally want to walk by themselves and do not appreciate having their freedom curtailed.  So putting them into the pram becomes quite the feat, akin to an obstacle course.  You frantically BUCKLE, BUCKLE whilst you toddler turns into a rampaging bronco, all arching of the back, bucking and ramrod legs.  A parental double act is recommended here.

 

The “how dare you give me beans again” tantrum

So yesterday beans were fine. Yesterday beans were delicious.  Yesterday there were not enough beans in the world. Today they cause abject hysteria. Today they are thrown back in your face with all the force of jet propulsion. This is one of the messiest of all the tantrums, think one sided food fight.  You end up peeling dried bean-juice off the walls a week later.

 

The “Changing Mat” tantrum

The toddler diva obviously does not tolerate being sat in shit for long (and very sensible too). But if one should have the temerity to try and CHANGE the soiled nappy then this can often cause one of the most ferocious of squalls.  In fact the mere sight of the changing table seems to turn Bella into Baby Jekyll.

 

The “other child has the thing that I wasn’t interested in until they picked it up” tantrum

Bella is generally pretty good at “sharing” (I know this is not really sharing, it’s more she has no longer any interest in the thing she has given away), but the other day we were at soft play and there were two IDENTICAL rubber rocking creatures (it definitely wasn’t a horse) next to each other.  Both her and a boy toddler wanted the same one. Natch. Coordinated tantrums ensued, like an orchestra of angst.

 

The “Who the f**k knows” tantrum

It could be because you put the dolly in the buggy the wrong way (trick question, there is no right way), it could be because you put the toy cow next to the toy sheep (WTF), or it could be because you TOOK A SOCK OFF (call yourself a mother).  There is no point trying to guess the cause, just get into the storm shelter and wait this one out.

 

tantrums 2
Tantrum stopping bribery

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

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.

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.

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