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Posts tagged ‘motherhood’

Sep 24 / Caro

Five Minutes of Fame in Mother and Baby Magazine

This month, I’ve received my five minutes of blogging fame! You can find me, sharing my secondary infertility and IVF story, in the October edition of Mother and Baby Magazine.

Magazine

According to them, I’m a “Woman Redefining Motherhood”, which is a lovely way to be described. As much as I may have blanched when I heard the headline, I suppose I have to admit that it does fit. I have had to reshape my vision of motherhood based on the circumstances that we’ve found ourselves in. It also seems a very apt description for the other bloggers in the same feature – Alice who writes very successfully about single motherhood at More Than Toast  and Emma, whose blog Treatment For Ted supports her fundraising for her son who suffered a brain injury at birth.

What I think all three of us have shown is that motherhood takes many forms, and often it doesn’t turn out quite how you might have imagined, planned or chosen, were choice something that were possible. But blogging can certainly be an invaluable aid and support no what your journey.

And even if you don’t write a blog yourself, finding others who have written about the issues you may be facing can be enormously helpful too. My story may not be as “inspirational” as the others, but I’m still glad to have had the opportunity to share it with a wider audience. Secondary infertility is surprisingly common, and becoming more so, but it’s still rarely talked about, smothered by the assumption that “you’ve had one child, you’ll be able to have another.” I’d be delighted if my writing could reach and support even just one more person going through this issue in silence.

Mother and Baby Magazine is on sale now.

(And no, my surname isn’t really “Love”, “love”ly as that would be! The magazine selected that name for me, since I don’t share my real surname online!)

Jun 25 / Caro

Hurtling in to Childhood

Lately, when I look at my little boy, I can’t help but realise how fast we are hurtling away from baby-hood, and now even toddler-hood, on in to full-on childhood.

It’s in the way he looks. His face, suddenly so much more grown up, the trademark fine and curly baby hair now just a memory. His bottom more streamlined, without the added bulk of nappies. His limbs ever more gangly – not that he ever had much baby pudge, the wriggle-monster that he is. It’s also in the way he speaks. Vociferous from the outset, he was an early talker, and a clear one at that. But his sentences grow ever more complex and the strangers he approaches to share his stories with can’t help but comment on what a great conversationalist he is!

Most of all, though, it’s in the way he acts. Confident to run wide circles well away from me, hardly even checking back over his shoulder. He’ll ask for exactly what he wants in a restaurant or shop, adding the appropriate pleases and thank yous. I see the child in him when he intones “oh pleeeease” whenever he has been denied something he wants to do or have. It’s a stark contrast to the fist thumping tantrums that immediately followed such denials just mere months ago. Now the tantrums are the last resort, instead of the first.

I see other, older children when we’re out and about, and I see clues already of what our future might be like. At our local carnival this week, Thomas was still content mostly to run around and take it all in. But there was insistence at a turn of the miniature flying chairs. The beginnings of pester power. Every way we looked were slightly older children, begging their parents for a turn on the various stalls, and carting around the associated winnings. And i see these children all the time too. At the park. In the swimming pool. Even at work. Recently I’ve started to properly take them in. All of a sudden, I see the pathway in front of us illuminated a little better.

Ever since Thomas was born I’ve known, of course, that I would one day have not just a baby, but a child. Although there is so much focus on having a “baby”, they can’t stay babies forever. But leaving baby-hood behind is something that is hard to imagine when you’re pregnant or a new mum. It feels particularly bittersweet at the moment, of course, since we haven’t managed to have another “baby” and it looks increasingly unlikely that we ever will. But all of that aside, when I think about Thomas as the child he is becoming, my biggest reaction is terror.

I don’t know what I’m doing.

The last time I felt like this was immediately before Thomas was born, when I realised that they were going to let me take my baby home and I had absolutely no idea about what I was supposed to do.

It seems ridiculous, because I know this parenting thing is pretty organic in its development. We’re all up-skilling all the time, as each new challenge came along. And when I look at my record, even I have to concede that we haven’t done too badly. We’ve negotiated various hurdles from the early days, through mastering breastfeeding, on to weaning, then walking, talking and this growing independence. It seems daft to feel so unnerved now, but it’s that word that does it: independence.

Of course I want Thomas to grow and spread his wings, hopefully go on to achieve things that make him happy and fulfilled. I really want him to do that. But already, at the tender age of two, I’m afraid of this pulling away too. I’m afraid of the shift in our relationship, because knowing that it’s coming is akin to walking on unstable ground, never knowing quite when you may trip, stumble or fall.

This probably sounds self-indulgent and over-protective, but that’s not my intention. In fact it’s really the opposite. I don’t want to give the impression that I don’t want these changes to happen, but I am afraid of them too. Once upon a time all that Thomas needed for happiness was cuddles and breast milk. Things that were, for a long time, easy to provide. I’m afraid of not knowing how to support him as he grows up, and not knowing quite how to let him go to do the things he needs to do now that mummy cuddles and milk are no longer all he needs. It feels like more of a challenge than any of those we’ve so far encountered.

Only time, of course, will tell.

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Apr 2 / Caro

How My Two-Year-Old Has Saved Me {Where We Are}

Dear Thomas,

It’s been a while since I published a public letter to you. The older you get, the more it seems like an intrusion to post every nuance of your burgeoning personality, and to reveal every aspect of our evolving relationship. So though I still write to you often, I usually do so privately, saving my reflections for the future you, whatever you may turn out to be.

But what do I blog for if not in part to tell the world about you, and about how loved you are?

So here is where we are right now. You, just shy of two and half years old. Me, just past the third Mothering Sunday I have spent as a mother.

One of your favourite new phrases right now may be “Thomas first”, but let’s focus on me for just a moment. (After all, the only other time I ever get to go first lately is when brushing your teeth. And believe me, that’s tough for a mother who once was just like her son in her desire to always be first! I’m sure you’ll hear all about that from your grandparents.)

Right now I still feel that I may be a little lost in motherhood. I’m often exhausted, at times anxious and unsure exactly what I’m doing. I know that I don’t have it all figured out, and I’m absolutely sure that I never will. I vacillate between worrying that I’m not doing enough for you, and fearing that I do too much and, hence, stifle your independence.

And right now, I’m busy worrying about how motherhood hasn’t ended up shaped quite the way I would have imagined. I’m feeling very acutely the hole in our midst – the missing second child, the sibling you will probably never have.

You, on the other hand, couldn’t care less about that. To you, I’m still everything. Me and your Dad are more than enough for you, and you find new ways to prove that to me all the time.

And that is how you, my two year old, have managed to save me.

You’ve kept me from slipping helplessly towards the deeper pits of depression, for how can I be sad when I have you in my life? You’ve given me perspective in the moment that you interrupt a massive tantrum over the availability, or lack thereof, of further biscuits to tell me that “it’s okay, I had one biscuit”. (I may have cried, and given you a second one.) You’ve reminded me that there is so much joy to be had in simple things: digging in the dirt with a stick; tossing stones in to puddles; dragging a branch along railings to play a tune; discovering the world around you and treating it all with utter awe and reverence. Not a day passes without you literally jumping for joy, and it’s a joy in itself to behold.

Each of your days sees great moments of triumph for hope and optimism over logic and experience. It’s a lesson we can all learn from. Especially your Mummy, who lately has been rather prone to negativity.

Right now you’re bright, outgoing, confident, curious, vivacious, imaginative, argumentative and strong willed. You’re still train obsessed, but are bringing increasing amounts of creativity and storytelling to your play. You literally never stop talking and never stop moving, managing to do both simultaneously whilst also sleeping. You’re my bundle of energy and my ball of chaos, yet you’re also so loving, with all your frequent requests for cuddles and kisses that you reciprocate so beautifully.

Our relationship is as much summed up in the quiet moments where you snuggle against me and gently stroke my hand as in the times I am the truck to your engine, racing about the house through imaginary tunnels, chasing to keep up with you. It’s as much about the cuddles and kisses as the impromptu dance parties and tickle fights.

We are each other’s warm and tender comfort, and each other’s fun and laughter too.

Right now, we fit together. And with you, I can just be.

All my love, always

Mummy xxx

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This post is partly inspired by Rachel – whose blog I have fairly newly discovered – and her letter to her boys on Mother’s Day, which I’m linking up to.

Oct 29 / Caro

How to Make Friends In the Playground

Working in any branch of frontline healthcare brings you in to contact with a huge variety of people. Thankfully most of them are lovely, polite and straightforward to communicate with. But there are plenty of “difficult patients” too; the kind that won’t listen, or that want to tell you their irrelevant life story; The demanding and downright rude; The drama queens. I seem to attract more than my fair share of “difficult” dental patients and it’s not gone unnoticed by my colleagues.

My manager gave me a rueful smile a few days ago when she commented that the only way I’d stop getting quite so many of them in my surgery if if I were to stop making them like me. “And that’s not going to happen” she laughed.

She was winding me up. But it was also a massive compliment. The truth of the matter is that one of my huge strengths in my profession is communicating with people on their level and making them like and trust me. As a result one of my biggest daily challenges is that too many people want to see me and I just can’t keep up. I suppose you could say that I’m popular.

Outside of my professional arena, however, things are a bit different. I’ve never, ever been one of the “popular” kids. Although I might not seem conventionally shy, I’m plagued by a deep lack of confidence in meeting new people. Despite liking myself, I tend to assume that other people won’t, which probably in itself doesn’t help, but at the ripe old age of thirty-three I still have no idea how to translate an acquaintance in to a friend, even when I really want to.

This, of course, is why work is different. There, I know how to make people like me, and I have confidence in myself and my skills. But more importantly, I’m not investing anything personally in these relationships. I don’t want them to be friendships and I don’t care whether I like the person back or not. Perhaps it’s easy there because it doesn’t actually matter so much.

I don’t want to give the impressions that I don’t have friends. Of course I do. I have some wonderful people in my life who I know that I can depend on to be there for me, and who I will always be there for in return. These are friendships which mostly date back years and are tested and true.

What I seem to be increasingly hopeless at the older I get is making new friends, which matters, so I am discovering, when you are a (relatively) new mother. New motherhood obviously turns your world upside down and it can be a confusing and indeed isolating time. I’m not sure many people would dispute the value of “mum friends”, who’ve been there too, to help them get through it. Yet despite the fact that I often see the same faces over and over at toddler groups, at the swimming pool, at nursery pick up and at the playground, and despite the fact that I smile, that I interact and that I even initiate conversation, I’ve never been able to cultivate any of these chance meetings as friendships.

It may, of course, be nothing to do with me. It is far more likely that these mums are simply just as clueless and just as shy. Or maybe they simply don’t need any more mum friends in their hectic lives. But I can’t help but wonder why this doesn’t seem to be the case for other people. My closest friend throughout my university years was the sort of girl who could strike up a friendship in the bus queue. Walking across a crowded bar was always a challenge because she knew everyone and everyone wanted to stop and chat. I always wondered how she did it, but even our years of friendship haven’t taught me the secret. And now, my closest mum friend (met through an ante natal group) is similar – she is the one who has collected a string of new friends from the toddler groups she has attended and a simple coffee always results in her bumping in to someone who wants to arrange their own coffee date soon.

So I can’t help but feel that I’m doing it wrong.

Even online I struggle to make the friends that everyone else seems to celebrate having made through social networks and the like “without having ever met in person.”

In my deepest crises of confidence, I tend to assume that I must be unlikeable. Or perhaps embarrassing. Odd. Too intense. Too quiet. Or maybe talk too much with too many opinions. At other times I just wonder if I seem too comfortable in myself and as if I don’t really need anything more.

Inside, though, I worry. I’m already aware that my lack of friendships is limiting the number of relationships that Thomas is forming with other children outside of nursery. And whilst that won’t be a problem just yet, I wonder whether this will affect Thomas in future – if my inability to form friendships with the class mums at school will stop him being invited for play dates. And how on earth will I go about arranging things like birthday parties?

I watch children playing in the playground and the ease of their friendships. Young ones, like Thomas, who are content to simply play alongside one another, and are unequivocally happy just to see again the toddlers they see most often, but have no expectations and no real emotional attachments. I see the older children who form friendships as quickly as they exchange names, and all because they have a shared love of the same colour, or they ride the same type of scooter.

I see the easy interactions of children and look at the other adults around me, wondering just when it all got so complicated.

Frosty football game

Feb 4 / Caro

Diabetes and My Son

I was going to entitle this post something like “The Fear That Diabetes Might Affect My Son”. But then I realised that although he doesn’t have it himself, diabetes has affected Thomas almost since the moment he was conceived.

He managed to dodge the higher risk of birth defects, and the increased weight gain that comes from exposure to extra glucose in utero. But he was still evicted from my body by medical intervention before he, or I, were ready for it. And consequently he came in to the world through the sunroof, rather than by the more conventional route. No matter how much the medical profession debate it, we still don’t know all of the potential long term effects of being born by caesarean. An increased risk of developing diabetes is, ironically, one topic under scrutiny. If anything should crop up that could be related to the mode of delivery, then ultimately I’d have to attribute it to my diabetes too.

But it didn’t stop after the birth. My diabetes put Thomas at risk of low blood sugars in the early hours of his life as his pancreas tried to adjust. Fortunately he was fine, but as a result of the risk he endured heel prick tests in those precious first hours. I know they didn’t really hurt him, and he’ll have no memory of them at all, but as a new mother, those pricks may as well have been pricks through my heart and I couldn’t help but cry as his screams pierced the delivery room. If it weren’t for my health condition, he’d have been left in peace to enjoy his first feed. It was my first taste of the guilt that comes with being a mother. I felt, however irrationally, as though I personally had hurt my child. My brand new baby.

Since then, diabetes has cropped up infrequently, yet persistently, in Thomas’s life. There have been times when I couldn’t feed him, no matter how imploringly he looked at me or how much he pulled at my top, rooted around or screamed at me, simply because my blood sugar was too low and I needed to sort myself out first. Likewise there have been occasions where I have had to leave him to cry in his cot because I wasn’t safe to pick him up and carry him down the stairs. It’s heart breaking to say no to your child when they want to play because your head is full of cotton wool and fingers tingle with numbness from a low blood sugar. Or when you head bangs a beat and your tongue is drier than the dessert for the opposite reasons. There are tear stains on the pages of one of Thomas’s books, from the time that I cried when the words swam in front of me and I knew I couldn’t read to him.

I know that, once again, Thomas is too young to remember these things. In the grand scheme of things, they won’t matter at all. He may look at me with an expression of confusion and hurt, and he may stick out his bottom lip, or even scream at me, but I know that ten minutes hence all with be forgiven with a cheeky grin and a big hug. And I also know that I sometimes I have to put myself and my health first in order to be the best parent for my child. Anyone who thinks that sounds selfish doesn’t live with chronic health issues, or more specifically, with diabetes.

But knowing those things in my rational brain doesn’t stop my heart from hurting each time diabetes edges in to a moment of motherhood. It doesn’t stop the omnipresent mothering guilt from eating away at me. Diabetes is an impossible beast to control perfectly all the time, but that doesn’t stop me pressuring myself to achieve the unachievable in order to give my son a childhood where diabetes does not feature at all.

If it’s an impossible dream, though, I want the only diabetes that affects Thomas to be mine. Not his own.

And no matter how strongly I feel the guilt about the impact of my health on my parenting or relationship with my son, it pales in comparison to the strength of my fear that one day Thomas may be dealing with this too. It’s a fear that on a day to day basis I fold up and squash deep down inside me, right next to the place where I lock away any hope of there one day being a cure. But from time to time it rises to the surface in a rolling boil that I can’t temper or tame.

It’s usually provoked by something that might a seem completely innocuous to other parents. Like the time I arrived to collect Thomas from nursery and his key worker mentioned “He hasn’t stopped drinking today”. A “normal” parent would probably put it down to a virus, a sore throat, to hot weather or the fact they hadn’t drunk much the day before. Immediately though, the fear is stalking me that this could be the beginning. The first time his nappy leaked in months and months, down to it being completely saturated in only a couple of hours, I didn’t care about the extra washing or change of clothes and I didn’t rush online to find out how I could better boost his cloth nappies to prevent future leaks. Instead I let the fear swallow me up.

So far, however, I haven’t acted on my fear. I haven’t pricked his heel, or toes, and tested his blood sugars. I haven’t pressed urine dipsticks in to his nappies to see whether there is any sugar lurking there. I’m determined to try to keep this in proportion. To remember with my head that the scientifically calculated risks and probabilities are on our side, even if that means nothing to my heart. Because if I spend his entire childhood watching him with fear haunting my gaze, that will be just as bad as actually living with diabetes.

A phrase that crops up a lot in parenting circles is “I don’t care, as long as they’re healthy”. It’s always said with the best of intentions, but as time has gone on I’ve realised how much I hate it. It often seems to imply that the speaker somehow wouldn’t be happy with their child if they weren’t healthy. I know it is not what is meant, since no one wants their child to be ill, or to live with a chronic health condition, but it’s what the phrase makes me think. I can tell you now, though, that one thing is for sure. If it happens, I’ll love my son just as much as I do today. And it will be my job to make sure that even if he is living with it, it still impacts his childhood as little as humanly possible.

That’s the best that I can do.

Jan 9 / Caro

A Blog Comment is Not Enough to Respond to Kirstie Allsopp

I ventured back on to Twitter for the first time in over a year last week. That very morning happened to be the morning that Kirstie Allsopp vented her spleen at the NCT via Twitter. Since it seems that I follow Kirstie, I happened to catch it. I was a bit indifferent, to be honest. I could see where she was coming from to a degree, but it wasn’t something I felt strongly enough about either way to get involved.

Back on Twitter last night, I followed a link to a blog post which she made as a follow up: 140 is not enough for the NCT. If you haven’t read it, the general gist is that the NCT cause women to feel guilty if they fail to deliver their babies via a natural, drug free labour, or fail to breastfeed, because of their pro-natural stance and their focus on natural birth in their antenatal classes. The NCT is allegedly responsible for a widespread feeling of inadequacy amongst new mums.

And suddenly I was drawn in. To the point that I actually left a comment.

The problem is that my comment, despite being on the first page, is now lost amongst so many others. So I wanted to get this down here as well, because I really believe in what I wrote (and was heartened to see a couple people specifically agree with me).

I still agree with Kirstie, up to a point. She’s absolutely right that in an ideal world, women shouldn’t be left feeling guilty about their birth experiences, or feeding choices. She’s also right that the NCT are potentially in a position to spearhead the sort of changes women in this country need to see.

But she’s fundamentally missing the point about what those changes are and why they are needed. It is bordering on naive to assume that it’s simple to stop women feeling guilty about anything to do with parenthood, when it’s a cornerstone of the experience. And I think she is wrong to place blame so directly at the door of the NCT, apparently crediting them with some sort of power or influence over women that I simply don’t believe they have.

The fact of the matter is that women do feel guilty and disempowered by the experiences they have during labour birth. But this isn’t, cannot be, due solely to what one parenting organisation allegedly teaches in its popular antenatal classes. In fact, I find the assumption that women are incapable of making up our own minds about what sort of birth experience we would prefer, and that we have no expectations at all about birth until we step in to our NCT classes at 30+ weeks of pregnancy ridiculous at best, and patronising at worst.

In reality, women feel guilty when the reality does not meet their expectations. But there are multiple influences on women which shape their expectations. The media, books, friends and family experience, cultural expectations and just plain personal preference. Not what they are told from a single source. Most women have far more intelligence than that. And most women are also their own harshest critics.

I’m a case in point. If you’ve read any of the archives, you’ll know that I desperately did not want a caesarean for lots of complex reasons. But almost as strongly, I simply wanted, still want, to give birth vaginally. I find it difficult to articulate exactly why I feel this way, and this post is not really the place. But from a discussion I started on a popular parenting forum last year, I know that I’m not alone in feeling this way.

I was destined to feel disappointed in myself if I failed to achieve a vaginal birth. I was well prepared for a caesarean by – you guessed it – my NCT classes. I knew all about the practicalities of the surgery and what would happen before, during and after. But no parenting class could have dealt with complex emotions and prevented the feelings I was left with. Even if the NCT had told me that caesareans were actually the very best thing and we all should be having them, I’d still have felt the same way. I felt as though my body failed me – for not the first time in my life – because it failed to act in the “physiologically normal” way, and the way I wanted it to. At then end of it all, my son was born, but I did not give birth. I didn’t resent the medical intervention per-se, I just hated the fact that it was necessary. I feel sad because my reality was very far removed from my ideal birth experience – an ideal that was formed in my head long before I even fell pregnant, let alone signed up to NCT classes.

I have been fortunate to be able to breast feed Thomas, but given how important that was to me, I’d have been similarly devastated had breast feeding not worked out. But my feelings of failure and fear would have been related to my own concerns about the potential risks of cow’s milk based formula and autoimmunity – bugger all to do with whether an antenatal teacher, midwife or health visitor had simply told me that “breast is best”. I’d have felt awful because my belief was that for us breastfeeding was indeed best. The mismatch between reality and desire would have have been hugely difficult to overcome.

Obviously it is impossible to ignore the very many comments that Kirstie has received from women who claim to have been negatively affected by their NCT experiences. The NCT has a responsibility to provide accurate information in a balanced and non-judgemental way. Clearly there is room for improvement if women are genuinely being excluded from post-natal reunions because they had a caesarean or epidural (for the record, that would have left a post natal reunion of one in our group – and even the one had a ventouse!). However what we cannot know is exactly how those women would have felt had they never been involved with the NCT. I strongly suspect that self-imposed expectations would lead to the majority of these women still feeling exactly the same emotions regardless.

So the question becomes, who is there to pick up the pieces? And the answer, all too often, is no one. It was certainly a battle for me to get follow up and support to deal with my birth experience. Other women I know who had traumatic experiences have still not been able to get any follow up support to help them deal with this. Antenatal classes cannot cover every possible outcome before the event, but tailored, individualised follow up support could, and should, be available.

It may be true that the most important outcome is a healthy mother and a healthy baby, but to tell a traumatised new mum that she should simply “be grateful” for those things is an enormous insult. It implies that she isn’t. But being delighted with your new baby and regretful about what you experienced to get there are two separate things. One doesn’t cancel the other out, and women deserve proper support and help to cope.

This is the issue that Kirstie is missing: The almost universal lack of post natal support for all women. Not just women who attend NCT classes. Not just women who have caesareans. Or those who can’t breastfeed. But every woman who becomes a mother. Every woman who wants it deserves access to proper post-natal support to help them deal with the unique experience they have had and the challenges they are facing in the early weeks.

We are facing an epidemic of women feeling traumatised, guilty and inadequate about many aspects of parenthood. Rather than pointing fingers of blame, rather than attacking the NCT for what they are, or are not, doing in their antenatal classes – which in reality affects only a small minority of new mothers – let’s start looking for proper solutions to benefit ALL women.

Dec 31 / Caro

2011: The Year of Baby Making

There is no way of putting it that isn’t an enormous cliche. 2011 genuinely has been quite a year. If you’d told me this time a year ago that I’d be sitting here now with my newborn son – that I’d be a mother – I’d have hoped with all my heart that you were right, but wouldn’t have dared to believe you.

This has been a year consumed with the process of becoming parents. From receiving an HbA1c result of 5.9 in the first few days of the year that signalled the best possible start for a child we were yet to conceive, through the process actually trying to conceive that child – and then succeeding. As the year progressed my belly grew with the life inside it, as I juggled the fears and anxieties shared by many new parents-to-be, as well as those unique to a mother with diabetes thrown in to the mix. And then, seven weeks ago Thomas burst on to the scene, changing everything in an instant.

There is nothing I can write that doesn’t sound cheesy. It is cheesy. But waiting for midnight to roll around with my husband and baby, at home, on the sofa with just a single glass of bubbly (owing to the fact that I’m breast feeding) beats hands down any New Year’s Eve night out. Now I’m doing this, I think it is what I was made for.

Next year will be full of more exciting firsts as we watch Thomas grow and develop, and we grown and develop as parents, and as a family. I can’t wait.

Happy New Year!

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