THE PROBLEM WITH ME TIME

When was the last time you left the kids to their own devices and had a hot bubble bath? Or left the baby playing with her toys in the playpen while you had a coffee and read a book? I’m hoping it was yesterday. But if you can’t remember the last time, then read on Mama.

My heart has been heavy for a long time as I see and hear of how hard many, many mothers are finding their mothering. Too many are feeling trapped, owned, ruled by, and even resentful towards their children. The countdown to bedtime can start at breakfast – the days are so long, there are so many hours to fill! Yet in the next breath these mothers are saying they have no time for themselves, no ‘me’ time as is the current phrase. And to my dismay, the very important ‘happy mummy, happy baby’ mantra, is being forgotten; buried under a load of squeaky toys and piles of laundry.

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Yes, young children require a lot of looking after. Yes there are nappies to change, bottoms and noses to wipe, drinks and meals to make and washing to be done. There are tantrums to be handled, morals and values to instil, lessons to teach. There are stories to read and hurts to kiss and minds to nurture. But within this mammoth and important task, there is, or there should be, time each and every day, for Mama to look after herself. To nurture all of who she is – not just the part of her that is ‘mummy’. Because by doing so, all of the above is sweetened.

It is far more important (and far easier), than you think.

Who are you supposed to put the oxygen mask on first if the plane is in trouble? Yourself. Why? Because unless you look after yourself you can’t look after anyone else properly. Ultimately, if you are happy, your kids are happy. So why are mothers ignoring their own needs and finding child rearing so hard and exhausting and burdensome?

GUILT.

I’m giving that word it’s own line, as it is the trendy blog thing to do. But mainly to illustrate its (poisonous) significance.

“But I feel so guilty!” comes the standard response when a mum is asked why she has cbeebies on for her 8 week old instead of This Morning, or whatever else she fancies watching. Or why she hasn’t ignored the washing up and curled up for a nap mid afternoon after a long night awake with a teething baby. Firstly, guilt is daft and secondly, unless you are harming your child, guilt is utterly pointless.

If this is your first baby there is some inevitable adapting going on. This is your new job and it’s (very) different from your previous post. You may well be working nights for a start. Your tiny baby is just as likely to thank you for your consideration of his televisual needs or laundry situation as he is to berate you for being so selfish as to hog the remote control or have a sleep. His only understanding is how your mood and interactions with him make him feel. He couldn’t give a monkeys whether his babygros are washed, or the kitchen is spotless. All he cares about is you – because you are him and he is you at first.

You’ve swapped the office for your own sitting room and it’s all a bit weird. Your fella is out at work, hanging out with people who can talk and use the toilet by themselves. Maybe the resentment is towards him more than the kid. But the day is yours for the taking Mama; the rule is that there are no rules! You can do whatever you want! If you feel lonesome – go to that playgroup down the road, but only if you met some great mums there last week and loved it. (Your baby doesn’t care where she is.) Or if playgroup isn’t your bag and you prefer your own company then head to the coffee shop for cake and hot chocolate if you fancy. Stroll around a museum or visit somewhere new – use your maternity leave to do all the things you’ve always meant to do. (Slings are your friend.) Do what makes you happy. Get your nails done. Visit an elderly person and make their day. Hang out with your mates. Or just stay at home and watch telly. Read a book. Start writing your life story, knit, make a cushion – anything! Do something to make yourself smile because your happiness matters. You’ll be a better mum for it. Feel guilty? Think you’re being selfish?! Guilt Shmilt. Doing something for yourself is actually the opposite of selfish. Your mood hugely affects your child’s – so if you think about it, it’s actually your duty to make yourself happy. (If nothing else it will take your mind off all the over thinking/worrying and analysing you are probably doing over this tiny new person in your life.)

Maybe the new baby bit is behind you, and you’re now in the land of Peppa Pig and engineered naps. It may feel like your whole purpose is to keep your child from all harm. It can be nerve wracking when your toddler is bumbling about all over the place, but curb those panics  – don’t hover. It makes them nervous too and sends out the message that they are incapable. Each bump increases their physical awareness. (There have been two head bashes since I have been at the computer. Both children are fine). Be there, but get on with your own stuff while they potter. And chill Mama, you’ve baby proofed your house to within an inch of it’s life so relax. Save your worries for actual bad things like not being able to find your kid in the park and losing the remote control for the telly.

When you do stuff with the kids, do stuff you love. Don’t do things because you think it’s what good mothers should do. No use making rockets out of cardboard boxes if it makes you want to eat your own head. No use baking muffins with them if you bloody hate baking. You’ll be miserable and so the kids will too – they’re not stupid. If you love arts and crafts, do that. If you love kicking balls about, kick them. If you love reading – read to them. Leave the other stuff that you hate doing, they can do that at nursery and school. You cannot possibly be a chef, craftsman, sportswoman and artist all in one. You can offer them who and what you are. There are other people around them to offer the rest. Takes a village after all. (We shouldn’t be so up ourselves anyway, most of the time kids learn plenty without any intervention from us at all.)

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Know that you don’t have to play with them all the time. In fact the experts say that playing with your children is stupid and ridiculous; (a) they take learn nothing from it because you always abide by their rules ruining the point of play which is to acquire social skills and (b) you are crap at it – your brain is not developing as theirs is, you do not think as they do, so you make a poor playmate. You are not a bad mother because you find playing doctor’s surgeries with your child dull. Unless you are four, it is dull. Far better to leave them to play with their siblings or peers. Supervised does not have to mean involved. The harsh reality is that they’ll have a much better time without you!

So now ask yourself why your ‘me time’ needs to be away from the children. Children do not need to be entertained as much as we think they do.

“Three kids! I don’t know how you do it!” People say to me.

Awkward pause.

‘Do what?’ I think. What do they think I’m doing? Potato printing whilst singing nursery rhymes and teaching them Latin? More often than not, the boys are wrestling together on the floor, the baby is playing with her fingers and toes at my feet, and I am messing about on the computer or texting. (I love texting and it is important to me to get the emoticons and emojis right.)  Not that I don’t adore my kids with every fibre of my being – I do – they are excellent and I am fascinated by them and want to eat each one whole. I love being with them, but I don’t believe I should be interacting with them all the time. No one likes a kid who thinks the world revolves around them. So don’t revolve! Let them be. Please yourself for a bit. Kids are blessed with imaginations for a reason. Plus what are all their zillions of toys for if not for playing with?

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There will be times when it’s tough. Kids get sick, have tantrums, make messes and break stuff. They can be incredibly loud and annoying. Money may be tight, you may have health problems, you may be a single parent, and everything sucks when you’re tired. All the more important to make yourself happy. Be responsible for getting what you need because it makes everything better – once you’ve had a coffee and read a chapter or two of your book, you don’t mind putting all the clean pants and socks away and playing hide and seek (again).

Lean on your mates, that’s what they’re there for. Scratch her back and I’ll bet she scratches yours. And if you are tired then for goodness sake go to bed when the baby sleeps or hand him over to someone else while you get some shut eye – might make you anxious at first but once your little one learns that when you leave you come back again they’ll be happy as a pig in mud to go to others.  Don’t be tempted to use this time for admin or housework – even if you’re OCD – wait until bedtime! Tidying up before 7pm is just walking up the escalator backwards.

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Rope your fella in at the weekends for some alone time if that’s what you need. Make him aware of the psychology behind your going for a run, or your need to stay in bed on Sunday morning with all the papers/Sky Living. It can take some explaining if up until now you’ve been the family slave. So sit him down and explain. You need time to yourself. Time to yourself will make you a happier mum. A happier mum is a better mum. The end. Repeat as necessary. (When I spent the first two weeks of my third baby’s life in bed with just her, the remote control and the biscuit tin, Mr G needed the odd recap – and once you’re both on the same wavelength everyone is happier.)

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So the next time you find yourself sighing and feeling crotchety about motherhood – do something for yourself. Something relaxing and fun. Whether your children are asleep or not. Whether the house is tidy or a mess. Whether you have a long to do list or not. Don’t be a martyr – invest in yourself – your happiness matters. If Mama is not ok then all the wheels fall off the wagon. So be good to yourselves ladies!

God, aren’t I bossy.

Right! Off to have a bath.

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ONE AND THE SAME

If you think about it, a day with small children is pretty much the same as childbirth.

At first it’s fine. If anything you’re a bit smug. You don’t know what you were worried about – this is easy! A cup of tea and a bit of deep breathing gets you through the outfit refusals, cereal wars and toothbrush wrestling, and once you’re out and about and into a rhythm you feel like you can conquer the world.

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Come mid morning though, it is getting more intense, and the need for extra caffeine is building. Sure in a fit of New Year’s resolutioning you said you’d never resort to it, that you wanted to go natural and do it all on peppermint tea but who are we kidding here. You want coffee and you want it NOW! Soon, you’re borderline obsessed with all the amazing women at playgroup and you hold onto their hands tightly throughout each nursery rhyme; you are warriors, and in this together.

Before you know it lunchtime is over. You’re half way there but there is still a long way to go. Already there have been some hilarious highs (an adorable snuggle with your toddler, heartbreaking smiles from the baby and some hysterical one liners from your eldest), as well as some extraordinary lows, (poo on the inside of your upper arm – how? – snot and no tissue in the park and an almighty melt down in the Sainsbury’s Local). By now the experience is getting more extreme by each wipe of pasta pesto off the wall. Suddenly you’ve had ENOUGH, you’re NOT doing this any more – you need a BREAK dammit!!! All dignity goes out of the window as you go all out with the bribing, pleading and finally, desperate begging; the afternoon nap MUST HAPPEN.

You relax into the bliss of complete relief that is the silence. Almost knocked out by it, you sit, stunned with relief and unable to do much more than stare at Loose Women on the telly. Soon though, it wears off, and then you’re back in the game, inhaling that diet coke, and totally in the zone. You’re past the point of no return, there is no stopping you – you’ve done two loads of washing, made a shed load of baby food to freeze, handled three tantrums and made play dough from scratch. You’re at the top of your game, nothing can stop you now – you can do this!!!!!

All of a sudden, the end is in sight. Although your energy is at an all time low, and you feel you have nothing left to give, you must somehow summon all your strength and just do it. It seems like an impossible task but this is the last hurdle. No one else can do it for you. You reach deep down into the very centre of your being and scream, wail, moan and somehow PUSH on through the fishfingers, bathwater splashes and Peppa pig, until finally, storytime arrives and – oh goodness – you can feel their heads on pillows!

Then, in a heartbeat, it’s all over. You’ve done it!! They are alive, well and ASLEEP!! Great work Mama. You feel incredible, like a lioness roaring at the top of a mountain. You gaze adoringly at your beautiful children as they slumber, kissing them in wonder, elation and delight. The glass of wine in your hand is the best you have ever tasted. A more powerful woman, nor more beautiful offspring have ever existed. You’re utterly spent, completely exhausted, but absolutely beside yourself with pride.

It was noisy, messy, and ridiculously physically demanding. It required all you had to give. It was hard work, completely undignified, boring at times, hugely painful at others and there was of course a bit of inevitable screaming and some poo. Looking back though, the whole experience was utterly mind blowing and really quite beautiful. It didn’t actually hurt that much and it was all over in a flash really. You’d do it all again tomorrow if you had to.

Lucky that.

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THE SCHOOL RUN AND THE SECRET REPORT CARD

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Oh my goodness roll on the school holidays. Roll. On. Them. We have (nearly) made it through the longest, darkest and coldest term of them all and now the finishing line is in sight! Hold onto your woolly hats though – coughs and colds are rife, hangovers are springing up from nowhere (December = sudden social life), and the children need more layers, scarfs, hats and gloves (always one missing!) than ever before. Annoying and unfortunate but true – the time when we need the most energy coincides with the time when it is running at an all time low; The Last Two Weeks. Christmas parties, (at least 17 different kinds), carol concerts, nativities, Christmas fairs, plus more raffle tickets to be sold and elf shaped biscuits to be baked than is actually humanly possible. Really the end of term should be at the beginning when we are all totally on it and mad for anything.

WE HAVE FORGOTTEN THE URGENTLY REQUIRED AND VERY IMPORTANT DONATION OF MANY TOILET ROLL INNER TUBES FOR THE CRAFT BOX BUT HAVE REMEMBERED THE TOY PIANO’S LEG
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If you are anything like me, by the end of term you are crawling, on your hands and knees, towards a break from the madness. I know for a fact that I am not the only one who is nearly dead, and madly desperate for two weeks of staying in pjs,  CHRISTMAS <yelled in excited fashion> and absolutely NO school run. (Whoever invented to term ‘school run’ named it after my family. We have never walked it in our lives.)

If there was such a thing as a report card for the school run, (and I’m 87% certain that many teachers think there should be), I would imagine it to have three main categories, and for my own scores to start off very low:

Punctuality: 1/10 (one mark for managing not to be last, that one time back in September).

We are late. Every. Single. Day. The ‘morrrrrning!’ Smiles plastered on the faces of the classroom assistants (pity, sympathy?) are admittedly dished out generously, but in their eyes the message is clear; ‘must try harder’. I am sure you are in the same boat sometimes? Some of us are just not morning people. Sometimes there are just too many squirming bodies to jam food into, wrestle clothes onto and herd out of the door on time. Maybe our standards are too high? (I know two mums who make all the beds in the morning!) Or maybe it is purely because the catchment areas are so crazy small nowadays; mummies only mess around on their phones/sneaks peeks at breakfast tv etc because of the well known truth that living very close to school gives you an extremely false sense of security about time. Fact.

STANDARD STATE OF DRESS WHEN WE ARE DUE TO LEAVE THE HOUSE IN TEN

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State of child/ren: 7/10.

A much better score for me here as I am vigilant about washing my brood thoroughly, once a day. My boys (and girl now she is on solids) are absolutely filthy at the end of a good day, and since we have what some might call a worryingly relaxed attitude to hand washing, it is vital that they are scrubbed to within an inch of their lives at the end of the day. (If only because it lets me off washing their bedding for another week.) Obviously no parent is ever really sure of the bath water/wee ratio, but I find adding lots of cherry smelling bubbly products to the water extremely effective. So my trio are usually delivered to school clean, if not always in (optional, thank God) school uniform. (I don’t know how well you would score on this but anyone can pick up points here, even if time is of the essence – simply choose the child perceived to have the most relaxed teacher, and let yourself off brushing his or her teeth.)

I DON’T KNOW HOW HE GOT INTO THE SINK EITHER
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Kit: 5/10

This is tricky. There is a lot of kit. Even at my kid’s über relaxed school there is a lot of different stuff needed on different days. Swimming on Mondays, after school football club on Tuesdays, indoor PE on Wednesdays, outdoor PE on Thursdays, and more dressing up days than is probably necessary but we all love it so this can be forgiven (even if I am always the mum running back home for a plastic sword and shield because goddammit dress up like a knight day is today not next week). A LOT to remember so it is understandable that things get forgotten when the baby does a last minute poo-nami seconds after she has been wrangled into her snowsuit.

IF SHE IS GETTING NAKED AGAIN THEN SO, AM, I. 

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Long sleeves, short sleeves, plimsolls, trainers, goggles and swords, reading books, homework and not forgetting show and tell – if any of us manage to get it all hung up by the front door the night before, and to get the kids inside the school gates with full tums and clean bums before the bell goes, then we are heroins. If anyone manages even half of that in The Last Two Weeks, they are superheros and need capes. So join me in tearing up the report cards, and drag yourselves to the end of term alongside me – all of us truly deserve the school holidays in all of their no agenda, no-schedule, leave-the-house-when-you’re-good-and-ready-and-not-before, glory.

I cannot WAIT 😉

STAY RIGHT THERE SUNSHINE, TODAY IS NOT A SCHOOL DAY!!

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WHAT KIND OF PARENT ARE YOU?

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Sometimes, in our ever competing world, parenting seems to be the new olympic sport. Ever wondered how well you are doing at it? Take this handy quiz and find out:

It’s Monday morning and your three month old baby is awake. You:

(a) take her to the baby massage class you signed up to seven months before she was born before heading to the baby pool for her first swimming lesson.

(b) head off with the buggy to your local cafe to meet your friend for a coffee and a natter.

(c) climb onto the sofa to cuddle her whilst watching morning tv in your pjs.

Your child has started walking. You:

(a) install stair gates on each doorway, two on each end of the stairs, and order 20 new padded floor mats for next day delivery.

(b) take a fourteen videos of varying lengths and post them all on Facebook immediately.

(c) are gutted. Where the hell did your baby go?

Your kid comes home from nursery with some ‘art’ which looks like a paint bottle vomited onto paper and then rolled in it. You:

(a) take it to a professional framer.

(b) stick it on to the ever growing collection on the fridge.

(c) put it in the Special Filing Cabinet (bin).

Your toddler is having the mother of all tantrums in the supermarket. You:

(a) abandon your trolley, calmly carry her out, strap her kicking and screaming into the car seat and then sing calming nursery rhymes all the way home.

(b) struggle round the shop with her under your arm, sweating and swearing under your breath whilst giving evils to all the old ladies who are staring at you.

(c) lie down on the floor next to her and join in.

It is the school fair tomorrow. You: 

(a) finish baking your contribution of two dozen organic nut free cinnamon raisin cookies, two Madagascan vanilla sponges, and fifty home-made Danish pastries, before arranging a final meeting with the other members of the PTA to go over the arrangements for the day one last time.

(b) bake bugger all because you are crap at it but vow to turn up and let your kids have ten goes each on the bouncy castle.

(c) quickly buy yourself all the raffle tickets you were meant to sell to your colleagues at work ages ago.

It’s tea time. You feed your kids:

(a) home-made organic lamb stew served with caramelised red onions, green beans and mashed potatoes with home-grown damson jelly for dessert.

(b) leftovers from yesterday and a banana that you found at the bottom of the buggy.

(c) pizza again because dammit that is all they will eat at the moment.

It is 8pm. The children are finally asleep. You are knackered. The house looks like you have been burgled. You:

(a) kneel down on the floor and begin the lengthy process of putting all the toys away in their designated places using antiseptic spray wipes as you go, before pulling your homemade organic lasagne out of the oven and onto the immaculate worktop.

(b) hurl all toys vaguely in the direction of the toy chest, throw a frozen pizza in the oven and then collapse on the sofa.

(c) walk past the mess because you would rather eat your own head than tidy up now, and pour a glass of wine.

Your kid climbs into bed with you at 2.32am, and pees everywhere. You:

(a) strip the bed and rinse the sheets ready for a hot bleach wash in the morning, wash him thoroughly in a bubble bath, re-make the bed and then read stories to him until he falls asleep again.

(b) grab a towel and stick it over the wee, reminding yourself to wash the sheets (if still whiffy in the morning), and roll back to sleep together.

(c) remain asleep and so are none the wiser.

Scores:

Mostly a’s – you are an EXCELLENT parent

Mostly b’s – you are an EXCELLENT parent

Mostly c’s – you are an EXCELLENT parent

Congratulations xxx

THREE BECOMING FOUR – PREPARING FOR YOUR SECOND CHILD

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There are a million things that make your second pregnancy different from the first. Firstly it seems to go so much quicker. One minute you’re peeing on a stick wondering how the hell that happened, (literally), and the next you have a huge bump and having to explain that NO it’s not twins, and YES you’re really only 24 weeks to all the strangers who’ve lost their inappropriate comments filter.

First time, your pregnant belly was lovingly stroked with organic stretch mark cream infused with lavender and ginseng. Second time, your pregnant belly (‘showing’ from approximately 2 minutes pregnant), is forgotten about until you realise you’re knocking furniture over with it. First time, a healthy balanced diet is consumed at all times and you drink 8 glasses of water a day having abandoned caffeine 6 months prior to conception. Second time all you can think about is how to sneak the KitKat and Mars bar into your mouth (along with your third coffee) without your kid ruthlessly nicking them from you. First time you were tired. Now there is no word in the English language for your level of knackered.

THREE MONTHS PREGNANT WITH NUMBER TWO

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Your worries are wildly different second time round. With a toddler to take care of, work to turn up to, a home to run and to-do lists spiralling out of control, there is no time allocated for worrying.  All the ‘what ifs’ are forgotten. What if my hair dye enters my uterus via my skull and harms the baby for life? What if that almost out of date yoghurt makes me sick and hurts the baby? What if my hungover colleague breathes on me  and gives the baby fetal alcohol syndrome?! And other such (perfectly rational at the time) concerns are abandoned.  Because this time it is less about which cheeses to avoid, and more (all) about your firstborn.

LET’S IGNORE THE ELEPHANT IN THE UTERUS

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This time, there is a lot more at stake emotionally. Maybe you already have a boy and are desperate for a girl next, or vice versa. Maybe you’re all pinked up and don’t fancy a boisterous boy who will surely run around and break things? Maybe your whole world is boy-filled and are not sure how you’ll take to a girl. It’s hard to imagine this yet un-met baby and anticipate the love you will (certainly) feel for him or her, (whoever they are). Many women cannot comprehend how they will be able to love another child as much as the one they already have. If your firstborn is all kinds of brilliant, this is understandable. So in love are you that you almost feel as if you are being unfaithful to him for daring to bring another person into the mix. Alongside; ‘How the feck will I manage two?’, is the common nagging ache of ‘How can I be DOING this to him!’ And it has been said that for your firstborn, the feeling of being presented with a sibling is akin to your fella coming home from work one day with a hot blonde in tow and announcing that this chick is here to stay, along with her smoking body, amazing hair and incredible boobs,  and what’s more, you have to be her best friend and share all your shoes. Wouldn’t you would want to slap that bitch?

So what can you do beforehand in terms of damage control?

Prepare your older child. Stories that centre around having a new baby will help your child get their head around the idea. Hang around with new babies and point out how they are feeding and sleeping loads. Prepare your kid for a boring baby. You’d be surprised how many children are stunned to discover their new baby brother doesn’t DO anything. Agree that he is kind of dull at first and then reassure her that he will become fun soon. (This is a lie but say it anyway – kids have a very loose perception of time and before they can hold it against you the baby will be grinning at them.)

WOW. SHE’S REALLY GIVING ME NOTHING HERE.

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Plan ahead – for yourself. Yes you have given birth before but your first experience was no indication of how the second will go. All births are different. Go to enormous effort to ensure that once the baby is here you will be able to spend a lot of time sitting down, and lying around. Batch cook, stock up on kiddie snacks and DVDs and plan in some post due date playdates so that you can rest, rest and rest some more in the early days. You are good for no one unless you take time to recuperate. You may have breastfed before but your new baby hasn’t, so take time to work at it together. You can’t do it on your own – ask for help. (People love to help! It makes them feel special and important, so let them.) Whereas before you needed lasagnes, wine and someone to take the washing away, now you need all of the above andsomeone to take your kid to the park, so that you can rest and then be all guns blazing when you’re flying solo with two. Daddies come in handy here too – paternity leave is a whole different ball game this time round.

DADDY IS A HELLUVA LOT MORE FUN THAT MUMMY RIGHT NOW

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It’s hard to predict how your big one will react to your little one. Most firstborns, whatever their age, have powerful feelings about having a new brother or sister. Children are hugely egocentric until around the age of five, so even the ones who are thrilled about the idea of a new baby can suddenly change their mind once the little bundle of newness arrives and changes the family dynamics. They were the centre of your universe. And now, they have to share that title. They don’t know how brilliant it is to have a brother or sister to play with yet. And they have to wait a good while even for the first smile. Consider buying your child a gift ‘From The Baby’. Go all out on something you know they’ll adore – their gratitude will sow the seeds for some full on sibling love. Don’t panic about behaviour changes. Some children want to climb into the pram, suck a dummy or be rocked to sleep, maybe even before the baby arrives. Some might become fussy over food or start waking up in the night. Your potty trained toddler may start peeing in his pants. None of these things last, so just go with it. If you take their clothes off and they scream because they wanted to take them off, re-dress them and let them do it. If they yell at you because you gave them the orange cup when they wanted the blue one, switch cups. Let them have things their way for a bit. It makes them feel like you’re on their side, and that will make them easier to be around. Most children feel jealous at first. Some children come up with igneous plans to get rid of the tiny new impostor. Maybe they will attempt to squeeze him under the sofa, or cover her up with toys. Maybe they will suggest you send her back, or roll him out of the supermarket trolley into the frozen turkey section (true story). Try not to get mad. But if you do get mad and you screech and yell and swear and cry, just say sorry afterwards and then forget about it. No beating yourself up. When you are so tired you have forgotten both of their names as well as your own, and you’re so weary you could weep, hang in there. Try and understand where your eldest is coming from, (hot blonde), and after the tantrums, stay calm and put the telly on. Lie down with both of them together. Cuddle and kiss and stroke and smell and snooze. Let all the rules go during this period of intense adjustment. Lollipops are your friend.  You want a biscuit? Here ya go. More Peppa pig? Alright then. Wanna be naked? Hey ho. Don’t sweat it, go easy on them, and on yourself.

AND MUMMY THINKS I’M HUGGING YOU!

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Presenting your newborn as someone living a very sucky life can be highly effective. Make your firstborn feel superior. ‘The poor baby can’t move! But you can put your wellies on by yourself!’ ‘The baby has to sleep all the time! But you can run around and climb all the trees in the park!’ ‘The baby has to have boring old milk all the time! But you can eat everything!’

It won’t always be plain sailing. So when nothing seems to be working, everything is going wrong, both children are screaming and it feels like your head is going to fall off, tend to the older one first, make your baby happy, (your newbie won’t remember but your big one will), and then go home and have a cup of tea/gin.

Your firstborn will be getting less attention than before, BUT you’ll have provided him with a sibling to grow up with (which was very kind of you). Your baby will not be getting the intense levels of attention your firstborn had BUT they’ll be benefitting from the confidence that mothering your firstborn gave you. Plus they’ll have a sibling to grow up with too (really, very kind of you).

HERE’S HOPING YOU BECOME COOL

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So, do NOT feel guilty. This is like telling most mamas to NOT breathe in and out but think about it – what does guilt achieve? Feck all. So sack it off. Everything is a learning curve but be cheerful – this is your second time round and now you’re a pro. Soon you’ll nail having two, too. Carry your baby around in a sling so your hands are free for your toddler. (With any luck he will assume you’re still pregnant.) Soon you’ll pick up all sorts of tricks, like never leaving the house without your ‘magic collection bag’, a brilliant idea one of my second time mums came up with when her toddler stopped every three and a half seconds whenever they went out. Make your own and then keep spotting treasures for the bag ‘just up ahead’. (You’ll end up with a bag full of soggy leaves and a shed load of rotten conkers but your journey times will be halved.) Another mum I know has a craft box that she gets out when she’s feeding the baby. Your older child can colour to their hearts content while you feed and watch telly. (If your kid doesn’t give a crap about colouring, get stickers and tell them they can put them anywhere they like.)

Looking after small children is tiring. But you have the power to make these days really special and fun. Surround yourself with people in the same situation. Unless you live in the middle of a field this shouldn’t be too tricky.  Take heart from their stories and absorb their advice. Lend yours. It takes a village after all. Looking after small children is a privilege and an honour. You are shaping the next generation. It’s a big job, but you’re the boss. The rules are there are no rules. It may not feel like it at the time, but it all goes by too fast to measure it in anything other than moments. And although there will be hard days, there will be really, really good moments in every single one of them.

ALL WORTH IT IN THE END

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Share the wealth! What are your tips on having baby number two?

WHY EVERYONE DESERVES A DOULA

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“A birth doula recognises birth as one of the most important experiences a mother will ever have in her life. She understands the physiology of birth and the emotional needs of a woman in labour. She provides objective emotional and physical support and helps the woman get the information she needs to make informed decisions. She can facilitate communication between the labouring woman, her partner and her midwives and doctors. She will stay with the woman through the labour however long it may be.”

Childbirth hurts. It really hurts. The pain is caused by intense muscle fatigue. The womb, or uterus, is a massive muscle. During the first stage of labour it works overtime. The opening has to get from being not-even-a-smidgy-bit-open, to open-enough-for-a-person-to-squeeze-through-please. This asks a lot of the uterus and requires a great deal of effort, and the effort hurts. So much that women can become hugely overwhelmed and very frightened by it, which causes their bodies to fill up with adrenalin. This is a real bummer because it makes the pain so much worse.

To be fair to adrenalin, it can be super useful. Imagine a woman giving birth in a jungle a few thousand years ago. Should she see a woman-eating tiger up ahead, her adrenalin-filled body would do one of two things; either clamp up so that she could keep the baby inside her and run away to safety, or quickly push it out so that she could scoop it up and scrabble away (imagine). Nowadays the birth environment is generally tiger free, but adrenalin still plays an enormous part in the birth process. During the second stage of labour when the baby is being pushed out, this adrenalin is tremendously handy. Its generally makes the ‘holy shit there is a PERSON coming out of me!’ dramatic bit at the end, much quicker and easier. But if the woman becomes frightened in the first stage of labour, (the opening up bit), the adrenalin is a massive hindrance. It makes her clamp up. It tenses and hardens up all her muscles, most annoyingly the uterus, which of course makes it much harder for it to open. Oxytocin, the ‘hormone of love’ which facilities the entire birth process, gets trampled on by all the furious adrenalin charging about, which is most unfortunate.

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A doula has many jobs. Managing the woman’s fear is just one of them. By helping her to stay calm, she increases the levels of oxytocin and keeps the adrenalin at bay which makes everything easier. But sadly quite often nowadays, for many different reasons, birth is not remotely easy or straightforward. There can be all the calmness of a monastery and oceans of oxytocin but if a baby is in a funny position, or if the mother becomes exhausted, things can change. Any number of things can happen. Impossibly unpredictable, birth is full of the unknown. All you can be sure of is that a doula will make whatever happens, easier to cope with.

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In the UK, unless you live in 1952 or in a tiny rural village, it is most likely that you will have quite random antenatal care from any number of sources. Our birth rate is booming, and maternity services are stretched beyond their limits. Gone are the days where your midwife knew your name and shoe size – nowadays you are lucky to see the same one twice throughout your pregnancy. Unless you are planning a home birth (and today only 2% of British women do), when it comes to d-day you will have no idea who will be delivering your baby. And even when you are busy giving birth, the midwife helping you (lovely though she may be), will not be able to spend much time with you as there will be so many other women for her to look after. Many couples are astounded to find that they are left alone in the delivery room for hours. With a doula you are never on your own. With a doula you have your own personal birth assistant, a trusted birth companion on whom you can rely totally, for anything.

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My second son, my darling Toby, was a HUGE baby. Giving birth to him was tricky. (Imagine a baby elephant trying to burrow out of a plughole.) Antenatal teacher or not, giving birth to something the size of a small car left some bad memories in my brain. I know how important calm is, I never stop banging on about it in my classes, so when I found out we were expecting baby number three I knew that I needed a doula.

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Doula and mother-to-be form a relationship with each other throughout the pregnancy. The doula meets with the expectant mother, talks to her, and earns her trust and affection (or in my case, a full on girl crush). Whether the mother hopes to give birth hanging from a tree by her armpit hair or is planning an elective caesarean, the doula is there. Whether she wants an epidural from the onset or plans on going utterly drug free, the doula is there. Completely without judgement, she only serves to support the mother in the birth that she desires.

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When I told Mr G that I was thinking about getting myself a doula his face went a funny kind of shape. (Turns out he thought I said ‘doodler’ and was confused about why we’d need someone scribbling with a biro in the delivery room.) So I explained what a doula is and what doulas do but his face remained funny looking. He felt sad – gutted to think that he wasn’t going to be enough for me in terms of support. I didn’t really notice; when I said I was ‘thinking about finding a doula’, what I of course actually meant was that I had found, met, fallen in love with and hired one. I was really excited about it. When the poor man managed to find his words he explained that he was feeling hugely redundant. A wonderful doula friend of mine, Mariana, once told me that approximately 98.9% of her client’s partners feel unenthusiastic about her at first. (I happen to know that as soon as their babies are safely in their arms they are begging her to be the godmother/live with them forever/accept their kidneys etc). I adore Mariana. A fellow antenatal teacher as well as a birth doula, she’s incredibly knowledgeable about labour and birth, she’s warm and tactile, (lucky – as I can’t seem to stop stroking her), and truly one of the funniest people I know. Also she smells delicious as all good doulas do. Having helped me find my doula, Katy, online, Mariana reassured me that as soon as Mr G met her, all would be well.

When Katy came for supper that night she proved Mariana right. The first of many incredibly sensible and clever things she did was turn up with a bottle of red wine and Mr G’s all time favourite pudding; homemade banoffee pie. During dinner she started explaining how she was planning to help us. ‘Us’ being the key word. As well as worrying about being a gooseberry in the delivery room, Mr G was worried about how Katy would be received by the medical staff in hospital. (He is the type who never sends back cold food in restaurants for fear of being seen as rude – the thought that we were going to be turning up with what he thought was effectively our own personal midwife who may well boss all the other midwives around made his ears go hot.) Over the banoffee pie she reassured him of two important things:

1. She would not be bossing the midwives (or anyone else) about. Her role was to be entirely supportive. As it happens, most midwives are DELIGHTED if you turn up with a doula to help, and ours was no exception.

2. It would not be a ‘Katy and Antonia love in’. (I was mildly disappointed to hear this). ‘Don’t take this the wrong way Antonia’ she said, ‘but I don’t love you like he loves you. I am going to be far less emotionally involved so I’ll be able to help him to help you’.

And help him she did. When the big day arrived Mr G managed to win himself title of ‘Best Birthing Partner Ever’. Labour started on the Saturday night. All through the night and all day on Sunday things limped along at a rather unimpressive pace. Katy and I kept in touch throughout, and finally, on Sunday night after a large glass of wine and a long soak in the tub, things kicked off properly. By the early hours of Monday morning I was losing my sense of humour, and the last text I received from Katy simply said ‘I am coming.” Soon she was with us and gently organising things and making the atmosphere calm and lovely. Mr G was asked about breakfast. (He started to list what he fancied before Katy cut in and gently asked him to make mesomething to eat.) Soon he was feeding me nibbles of honey soaked bagel and giving me sips of lucozade. (Thank you God for lucozade). Unlike when the boys were being born, there were no scary decisions for Mr G to make. Katy took over timing the contractions and it was she who decided it was time to head to the hospital. The boys were safely taken away, the hospital was contacted, the bag and notes were packed into the car, and she took care of it all with absolutely no fuss or panic. Everything was sorted out with all the no nonsense efficiency of Nanny McPhee. All Mr G had to do was look after me. When the pain was engulfing me, Katy helped him to massage my back in just right way. When I wanted to bite my own hand off, she squeezed my pelvis while whispering to him so that he knew what to say to me. She kept me moving around so I could get all the benefits of gravity, she kept me weeing (a full bladder wreaks havoc for the hard working uterus), and she subtly placed waterproof sheets underneath my posterior just in case. When I tensed my shoulders up pushed them down and I was instantly calm. In the car she sat next to me in the back while Mr G drove to the hospital, holding my hand and deep breathing alongside me, and when we arrived she let me hang onto her neck and pull her hair while he parked the car. Once in the delivery ward it was clear that this baby of ours was keen to make an appearance sooner rather than later. Katy was dealing with the overtired and snappy midwives in Reception before Mr G and I could even work out how to string a sentence together. If there wasn’t a person coming out of my uterus I would have concentrated harder on applauding her. Soon she had me in a wheelchair and before I knew it we were settled in our own room and I was making all the appropriate animal noises that signify the light at the end of the tunnel. Katy was quick to introduce herself to the midwife and student and managed to explain the ordeal of Toby’s birth and it’s significance in a heartbeat. I was supported and loved from all sides. Before we knew it, our little baby girl was gently emerging, with Katy snapping pictures of the moment, just as I had asked her to do. It was all totally and utterly brilliant.

HERE I AM SECONDS AFTER ALL 8 LBS AND NO OUNCES OF MAISIE JANE ARRIVED. 
WELL CHUFFED WITH MESELF.

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We couldn’t thank Katy enough. (I’m still obsessed with her. We became friends on Facebook minutes after the placenta was delivered and I have been stalking her ever since.) Mr G was thrilled with every bit of the experience and wonders why on earth we waited for the third baby to get a doula.

KATY ASSESSING HER HANDIWORK

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Everyone deserves a doula! First timers, fifth timers, mums, dads, babies – everyone deserves a doula! Maybe you are single and worried about support during labour. Whoever you are and whatever your situation, a doula will meet all your needs and more. Doulas range in price from around £200 (for those in training), to around £1000. Considering your doula will be constantly on call for you (and abstaining from alcohol), from 38 to possibly 42 weeks of pregnancy, you can be assured that she will be doing it for love rather than money. Doulas need 24 hour childcare in place for their own children, and will make themselves available to you at a moments notice any time of the day or night. Sometimes doulas in training will provide their service for free exchange for the experience. Others will work out a plan with you based on your budget. Sometimes you can ‘pay’ your doula by doing something for her later on. (If your partner is good with a hammer for example, he could do some DIY jobs for her in return for her services.) There are also ways to get a doula for free if finances are really tight. A doula usually has only one client at a time although some take on more and share care with another doula in case of a birth clash.

Postnatal doulas are also available to help you at home after the birth of your baby. Payable by the hour, these doulas ‘mother the mother’, and will do anything for you from making your supper, to hanging out your washing to cuddling the baby while you sleep. If all you need is a shoulder to cry on, she will be there to provide it. Maybe you like the idea of becoming a doula yourself! A very special friend has recently completed her training and is now madly happy being a doula – I know she would not be able to recommend doulaing enough. And it goes without saying that I do too 🙂

For more information on doulas visit:

doula.org.uk

britishdoulas.co.uk

Research shows that having a doula present at the birth can lead to:

50% reduction in caesarean sections60% reduction in epidural requests, 20% shorter time in labour, 30% reduction in analgesia use, and 40% reduction rate of forceps and ventouse

BODIES AFTER BABIES – AN A TO Z GUIDE

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So your baby/ies have ‘ruined’ your body. Sad but true? Not really. Here’s why:

A is for awesome. Your body made a person. How the feck did it do that? All KINDS of awesome.

B is for boobs. Big when pregnant, REALLY big when full of milk, and impersonating those things you hurl over the side of boats when mooring them after that. But they FED and GREW your amazing baby which your awesome body made. Plus you are now entitled to fancy lift up bras because you made somebody else.

C is for caesarean scar. Scars are COOL.

D is for dimples. On butt cheeks. If you have these be proud. You MADE somebody and so if your bum is dimpled because you ate too much cheesecake because you made somebody, then so be it.

E is for everyone. Everyone’s body changes; man, woman, baby or no baby. No one gets to keep their 18 year old body. (Celebrities are pretend.)

F is for funny. Can your teenage baby-sitter fart the alphabet or flap her bingo wings about in an amusing fashion? Thought not.

G is for girlfriends. Everyone has that one friend who inexplicably ‘bounces back’ after childbirth. But if her tummy pings back you can bet the poor love has haemorrhoids. No one goes completely back to normal. Remember – we are all in the same boat.

H is for hair loss. Hormones sometimes means hair loss (amongst other things). Never mind, less to wash and blow dry.

I is for inner thighs. Probably wobblier than they were. Probably touching. That’s ok. Marilyn Monroe’s did too.

J is for jumping. Hard to do without peeing your pants now, but pelvic floor exercises can be done anywhere, at anytime so be getting on with those and soon that trampoline will be YOURS.

K is for kissing. When you feel like a knackered old frump, don’t forget about kissing. Your mouth hasn’t changed much. Use it. Kissing turns ‘have you taken the bins out’ into ‘Mmmmmmmmmmm’. Your fella loves your mummy body. He wants to kiss it.

L is for laughter lines. Loads more now. Because you have been laughing lots.

M is for Motherhood. You are living it. But you will definitely know someone who isn’t and WISHES she was. Be grateful. There are a trillion women who would give anything to have a wobbly belly and a flappy bum if it meant there could be a baby in their arms.

N is for nose. I’ll bet it hasn’t changed one bit! And now you are no longer pregnant things will no longer smell so rank that you puke at the very thought of them.

O is for OTT. Banging on about how fat you are is annoying and boring. You are not fat – you had a baby, and now you have a belly. See the letter M.

P is for pelvic floor. A massive muscle that served you and baby well. Elasticity comes back. You can make this happen. SQUEEEEEEEEEEEZE.

Q is for the Queen. Every single body gets old.

R is for running about. Nature’s postnatal workout. Once a GP asked me what form of exercise I undertook. I told him I had three children.

S is for strangers asking are you having another baby already?! All those sleepless nights will give you plenty of time to think of an appropriate come back. “No, I’m not. This is the left over packaging from the first one”. You may still look a little bit pregnant, but at least you’re not rude.

T is for tummy. The most wonder-fullest place for your baby to grow in, and then lie on.

U is for underwear. Your pre-baby thongs cutting into your lovely handles like cheese wire? Ditch them. Buy some lovely new pants. Comfy ones. Lovely.

V is for vagina. A baby came out of it. See the letter P.

W is for water balloons, AKA post baby buttocks. You could go to the gym or get a personal trainer. Or just use them to sit on whilst you’re watching telly.

X is for x-ray. If you saw one you’d see that even your skeleton has changed. Pregnancy hormones cause the pelvic bones to widen in preparation for birth. This is why your skinny jeans no longer fit – clever bones.

Y is for yummy mummy. You.

Z is for zips. If they don’t do up, don’t worry. See all of the above.