The moment I finally broke

Everyone has a limit, a breaking point, a moment where they finally surrender and admit they need to make a change. Mine came in the presence of a complete stranger when my baby was stark naked on a set of scales, and I admitted, out loud, I felt like I was failing as a mum.

Let me take you back to nearly four weeks ago, when Rory was 14 weeks old.

Sleeping like an angel…finally!

As I’ve said in a previous blog post, I hadn’t enjoyed breastfeeding Rory half as much as I did with Isla, mostly because I’m so exhausted from feeding him all through the night to try and get him back to sleep. But “breast is best” right? So I was determined to continue as I felt that if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be giving Rory as good a start in life as Isla had. The official line from health officials is that breastfeeding gives babies “the best start in life”, and while I agree that it has many, many benefits and that I am very pro-breastfeeding, it’s bloody hard and it was this thought that makes life so tough for new mums, and it’s no wonder that postnatal depression is such a common occurrence.

The moment I knew I needed to stop struggling on and seek help came when I went to a Top Tips session run by my local Sure Start centre. The session are run by a health visitor and are aimed at mums of 4 month olds looking to start weaning soon, but when I casually mentioned about Rory’s bad sleep and how I was considering bottle feeding him because I was worried he was just always hungry – although I really, really didn’t want to because I felt I’d be admitting defeat – she suggested that we weigh him just to see how he was getting on.

He weighed a healthy 13lb 4oz at 14 weeks old, but all I saw was that he’d dropped from the 50th centile to the 25th since he was last weighed at eight weeks old.

That was when I burst into tears.

In my exhausted, frazzled state, I thought it must mean he wasn’t gaining weight as well as he should, and as I was breastfeeding him around the clock, it was my fault, and I was failing him.

Bless her heart, the HV was brilliant at calming me down. She pointed out that he was gaining weight, he was happy (throughout this exchange he lay there on her scales, completely naked, with a huge grin on his face!), and was incredibly alert, so he was doing fine. It’s perfectly normal for babies to drop a centile or two over time, and that the percentiles aren’t the be all and end all. As long as he’s putting on weight, he’s fine.

I fully expected her to judge me for wanting to try formula feeding him too, as all health visitors I’d encountered over the years had bleated on about “breast is best”, but she said if I thought it would help, then just do it.

I’m so grateful to this complete stranger who wiped away my tears, helped me put Rory’s clothes back on and assured me that I was doing fine, and the fact that I was so determined to give Rory a good start in life showed that I am a good mum, while also saying giving him formula too wasn’t depriving him of anything. To exclusively feed him for almost 4 months was a really good amount of time, and that as long as he’s fed, changed, and loved, he’s not missing out on anything that Isla has had.

Three weeks on, Rory is now fed roughly a third on boob, a third expressed milk, and a third formula, has two or three feeds at night, and now weighs 14lb 1oz, hovering just above the 25th centile. I feel a lot better now I’m not losing my mind from exhaustion, and I’m so glad i stopped being stubborn and reached out for advice.

I’ll cover the ridiculous pressure put on mums by others to exclusively breastfeed in another post, but for now, the morale of the story is this. Parenting is tough, one of the toughest things we’ll ever do, and if you feel as though you’re struggling, or just need some reassurance, ASK FOR HELP. Take that step and reach out. Don’t suffer in silence. I expected to be judged, but the truth is, the only one judging me was me, with my stupid notion of thinking that bottle feeding would be admitting I was failing at feeding my baby. He’s happy, therefore so am I.


Bring on the Breastapo

Ok, I’m going to say something controversial here *braces self for tidal wave of vitriol.*

I haven’t enjoyed breastfeeding this time around.

There, I said it.

I know I shouldn’t say it. I shouldn’t even be thinking it, because “breast is best”, yes? And while I do count myself very lucky that I’ve been able to breastfeed both of my babies, and while breastfeeding Isla was a more pleasant experience, I just haven’t been able to enjoy feeding Rory this time around.

Our chunky little boob monster!

As I said in a previous blog, Rory is a bad sleeper and a hungry baby, and nine times out of ten, will only resettle after a feed, which means that all of the feeding and night wakings have fallen solely on my shoulders, no matter how many times he wakes in the night. With Isla, who was for the most part, a good sleeper, I was so relieved that I could breastfeed her without any problems from day one that I felt a sense of accomplishment every time she latched on, and actually did feel that warm, fuzzy feeling mums are supposed to get at every let down. With Rory, again while I did feel relieved that he latched without any issues, I couldn’t enjoy it because it’s constant. And therefore, painful, and no amount of Lahnolin will soothe my poor nips.

Still think I’m wrong to admit this truth? Allow me to set the scene. It’s 3am, Rory has woken up for the fifth (yes 5th) time since 7pm and I’m exhausted and sore, yet I know the only thing that will get him back to sleep is yet another feed. But the whole time, I’m worrying that creating a boob=sleep association will make things even more difficult going forward, and I’m crying from exhaustion and despair because all I can see is months of broken sleep and an overtired, constantly hungry baby.

We’ve been trying to get him to take a bottle of expressed from when he was four weeks old and he only took one for the first time last week at 14 weeks. Even when I dared to ask for advice on getting a baby to take a bottle on a Netmums forum, the reply I got stated that there was “plenty of time for dads to share the feeding” and that I should be enjoying all those “sleepy feeding cuddles”. I should be enjoying hourly wake ups and red-raw nips?! I don’t think so Janet. But thanks for the fresh dose of mummy guilt.

So it’s been painful, exhausting, and bloody draining. But “breast is best”, so I shouldn’t be complaining because at least he’s getting all that “liquid gold” as one health visitor called it, am I right? It was this very thought that made me struggle on for weeks because the mummy guilt was eating me up. I CAN breastfeed him, when many other mums can’t for whatever reason, so therefore I SHOULD be exclusively feeding him, yes?

Bollocks to that frankly, and I say this loud and clear. FED is best, a happy baby with a full tummy and whose had a better nights sleep is best, and having a mummy who isn’t about to lose the plot from sheer exhaustion is best.

Rory’s first successful bottle feed.

Which is why we’ve started combi-feeding Rory now that he’s three and a half months old, with the view to start bottle feeding him at night once he’s got the hang of it. I gave him bottle of formula last week just before bedtime once we’d found a bottle he liked (thank you MAM bottles, you saved me!) and on the very first night, between 6.30pm to 6.45am, he woke up just three times for feeds, instead of five or more. Obviously it’s early days, and he’ll refuse to take a bottle if you catch him at the wrong moment, but frankly, this is something I really want to do, if anything so I can have a bit of a rest and be a better mummy to Isla because I’ll have more energy and more patience after a bit of a break.

Part of me wishes I’d been able to exclusively breastfeed him until he was six months old, like I did with Isla, but a bigger part of me is relieved. Does it make me selfish for hoping that the formula will make him sleep longer at night? Perhaps, but it suits us because considering what we’ve been through for me to admit I’m struggling to exclusively breastfeed, it’d be a welcome relief for him to sleep for more than two hours at a time.

So if the Breastapo wants to come at me with flaming torches for daring to give Rory the odd bottle of formula, bring it on. Because all mummies want is a happy baby, and for us, if happy means a bottle of formula here and there, so be it. So there!


Calm among the chaos

There are a few genuine times in this whirlwind we call parenting where we truly do “cherish every moment”. Even after a shitty few days, or in my case, weeks, there will come a moment when you feel a love so deep, so consuming, for this little nappy-wearing dictator that you will save in the memory bank and recall next time you feel like you’re drowning.

For me, this 👇🏻 was that moment.

Rory is a terrible sleeper. He only has catnaps through the day (unless he’s in his pushchair) and on a bad night, wakes up hourly and will only go back to sleep after a feed. Self settling is a skill he hasn’t even remotely mastered yet, and so far, is showing no signs of changing.

On this day, he’d had a bad night (so had I, obviously), had just had his 12 week vaccinations and was sleepy and grumpy (again, so was I). I was wearing my old, comfy leggings and unflattering tunic top, not a scrap of make up, and felt (and looked) like death warmed up. Yet we got home from the doctors, had a cuddle (which he never does, since he learned to lift his head up he would much rather look everywhere but me!) and next thing I knew, he was asleep. We stayed like this for 2 hours, and despite the fact that I was desperate for a wee and something to eat, I didn’t move because I loved having my beautiful little boy snuggled up on me. For the first time in several exhausting weeks, I was able to take the time to enjoy not only some peace (and a boxset!) , but Rory as well. This moment made me fall in love with him all over again. Not only did he sleep longer than he had in weeks, but I was doing what I’d felt like I’d been failing to do for weeks – protecting him, soothing him, and being all he needed.

My point is, we’re being told we need to treasure every moment, and feel bad when we don’t, but it’s about finding the right ones. These moments might be few and far between on parenting journeys, so while I was worried that I’d made a rod for my own back on this day and that he wouldn’t sleep in his bed, I really did cherish this moment. It was a “smell the roses” type of moment. I remembered that as the parenting cliches say, they do grow up so fast and everything is a phase (at least, that’s what I keep telling myself…Rory’s bad sleep is just a phase, right?). And if you find a moment in this parenting rollercoaster when all the bad shit going down fades away, take it. Cherish it. Forget “making a rod for your own back”, enjoy the snuggles while they last.


Why is it still not ok to be not ok?

While we’ve made many strides in mental health over the years, it’s clear that in some areas we’ve still got lots of work to do. But why?

A classic example is the wonderful recent campaign as part of #WorldMentalHealthDay called “Its Ok to Not be Ok”, encouraging everyone to speak out – but what made me think the most was this recent article with Giovanna Fletcher aimed at new mums, encouraging them to admit when were having a tough time instead of trying to soldier on and keep a dignified silence.

In days gone by, new mums struggling with PND may have just been dismissed as having the “baby blues” and were encouraged to just “get on with it”. One lady I know had a miscarriage back in the 60s and her mother in law simply said “well you’ve already got 2 haven’t you? Just get over it, it happens all the time, and you can just have another one.” While this attitude may be rarer these days, the sentiment, or lack thereof, is still prevalent.

Yes, postnatal depression is frequently discussed openly now and there’s so much support out there for mums, but I can’t help but think to myself, why is this campaign necessary? Why are we still having to be convinced that it’s ok if we’re not feeling so great?

Having children is wonderful, but it’s the most overwhelming and exhausting thing to happen to anyone, and the toll pregnancy and childbirth can take on women is immeasurable. Speaking from experience, I still haven’t felt like myself since my first was born – and she’s now three. In short, it’s a big deal, so why is it still seen as a bit of a stigma to admit to having a tough time being a parent?

Speaking for myself, I need to take this advice onboard as when I’m having a rough day (and night!) it’s still there in the back of my mind to just get on with things. Here are just a few thoughts I’ve had when I’ve not been ok, but have tried so hard to be:

  • “I should count myself lucky I have children when so many women can’t have kids” – this is a big one. I’m always wary that so many women would be desperate to have children and go through the sleepless nights, but can’t, so I’ve got no right to moan because I’m so lucky to have them in the first place.
  • “If xxxx can do it, then I’ve got no excuse to not be able to do it” – I have friends and family members who are raising families while suffering from various long term health conditions and mental health issues, including depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, MS, lupus, and so on, so I keep telling myself if they can do this, then I should be able to with no problems. But the truth is, I’m willing to bet all of these supermums feel exhausted and frazzled too, we all do.
  • “I can’t tell anyone, they’ll judge me and think I don’t know what I’m doing” – just re-reading this thought that crossed my mind shows why we need to speak up when we’re having a hard day, just to stop us thinking daft thoughts like this!
  • “I signed up to motherhood, I should expect it to be tough and just go with it” – yes, we all know what we’re getting into, but no amount of preparation cow ready us for the milk guzzling, sleep depriving poo machines we produce!
  • “If I admit I’m struggling, they’ll think I’m a bad mum and take the kids away from me” – yes, this one actually crossed my mind at 3am when Rory was crying and crying and nothing I did would please him, it’s amazing what sleep deprivation will do to you!

I wonder, how many of you reading this have ever had one of these thoughts cross your mind? A few? That’s why “It’s OK To Not Be OK” is so important and needs to happen. We shouldn’t need to be reassured that it’s ok to not be ok, with all the advances in the understanding of mental health, surely being able to discuss one our struggles during one of the most life changing periods in our lives should be a given?

We need to be able to admit when we’re having a bad day and need a bit of help because guess what? Raising children IS hard, and as with all things that don’t come easy, we need to accept that it’s not all sunshine and lollipops and give ourselves a break. Because as the campaign says, it’s perfectly fine to admit that you need a bit of help, so let’s stop suffering in silence and say it loudly: IM NOT OK, I NEED HELP!


Why I love the newborn stage

Yes, I said it. The disturbed sleep, the black, tar-like nappies, the uncomfortable feeling of trying to sit down while your nether regions haven’t healed yet. I love this stage the most.

Once the dust had settled and we’d got our heads around being a family of four, I fell in love with the newborn phase of Rory’s life, just as I had with Isla. And yes, this is a strange opinion, but I’ll tell you why.

As one of my closest friends put it, right now Rory pretty much is in a routine of eat-sleep-poop-repeat, which means excursions out of the house are quite easy as he just sleeps the majority of the time. He feeds every 3-4 hours so it’s relatively simple to plan a trip out between his feeds. I even managed a day out shopping and doing lunch with my mother-in-law when he was two weeks old and he either slept happily in his pram, or watched the world go by. So much easier than keeping tabs on a toddler who wants to touch everything, not hold my hand, and decides halfway round that she doesn’t want to walk anymore.

Plus newborn sleep is brilliant. The average newborn sleeps up to 18 hours a day and we’re lucky that when Rory sleeps, he sleeps. Very deeply, and for a good couple of hours at a time, which means a good amount of downtime for mummy. I can either get jobs done (I’ve even been able to vacuum around him!), eat, enjoy a hot cup of tea, or actually catch up on some sleep – like you’re always being told to. Plus newborn sleepy cuddles are just the best!

Give it a few months and he’ll be napping a lot less, and will be a lot more active, so that cuppa will be left abandoned on a high shelf while I’m chasing a crawling/toddling baby around the house. Right now, I also don’t have to worry that if I pop him in his Moses basket and turn my back for a second, when I look back he’ll have crawled out and will be trying to climb into the washing machine, which I’m enjoying while it lasts.

Because don’t get me wrong, i’m under absolutely no illusions that these blissful, quiet hours will last. I’m very aware that this is the calm before the storm, and that babies can change in a heartbeat from happy, sleepy babies who feed like clockwork to angry little sleep thieves who just want to cry for hours on end. With Isla, that change came on New Years Day 2016 when she turned 4 months old, and then BAM!! Four month sleep regression hit, and Isla stopped sleeping. At all. And because she was overtired, she was miserable as hell, which meant trips out of the house were very stressful and consisted of her screaming her head off, making this exhausted mummy frustrated and weepy.

Then once we were past the sleep regression, Isla started crawling and developing so quickly, so our days were spent trying to stop her crawling under the coffee table and keep her clever little mind active.

So that’s why I’m making the most of these quiet days where I’m actually able to enjoy a hot brew and an episode or two of Game of Thrones. Where I don’t have to worry about packing little pots of puréed food on a trip to the supermarket in case he gets peckish. Right now, just whipping out a boob will be enough to settle him. But not for long!

The old saying goes that mums should “enjoy every minute”, so that’s what I’m doing right now. And hoping that the day it all changes won’t come too soon, as I love sleepy cuddles with Rory. I love watching him sleep and feeling him snuggle into me when he’s feeding. I love watching him flap his little arms and legs around when he’s on his playmat. He’s a little treasure, and I’d love to keep him as the little snuggle bunny he is now!


A tale of two births

They say that no birth is ever the same, and indeed, there were many differences between Isla’s birth and our son’s (yes, it’s a boy!)

While Isla was born nine days late, had to be induced due to reduced movements, and the birth in total lasted 41 hours, Rory James came into the world on August 6th – on his due date – after my waters broke at home, and the labour in total lasted just 12 hours 46 minutes. Recovery wise Rory’s has been better too, as I needed an episiotomy and a lot of stitches with Isla, but just had a small graze with Rory so I was able to sit down without wincing just 2 days postpartum.

I’ll take you back to Sunday August 5th. My wonderful cousin was visiting and staying overnight with her son as we’d made plans to take the kids to a farm park nearby the next day as a last outing before baby decided to join us. (She’d also agreed to be on standby back at home in case I went into labour and we needed someone to care for Isla, so it was lucky that she was here with us and we didn’t need to worry about getting her here in a hurry!)

“Babies never come on their due dates” we said, “it’ll be fine, and all the walking around might even help get things going!” Famous last words…

At 11.50pm, I was woken up by a popping sound and my waters broke all over our bed! So I rang the labour ward at hospital, explained the situation and that I was Group B Strep positive, and was told to come in straight away. We woke my very excited cousin and explained the situation, and off we went into hospital, which is a half hour drive away.

My contractions started in the car and continued once we were taken to our room, and I cracked on with bouncing on the birthing ball and focused on breathing through them. I had my first lot of GBS antibiotics at around 3am, and then again at 7am as per protocol, and I can’t tell you how relieved I was that I’d had the proper dose in time to protect my baby, as sometimes labours happen so quick that there isn’t time for both doses.

Come 8am though, my contractions were getting more intense but weren’t getting more frequent so I was given drugs to move things along, and bloody hell, they really kicked up a notch then! I got hold of the gas and air and was bouncing on my ball for dear life, and I swear I don’t remember my contractions with Isla’s birth being so intense.

But just 4 hours later and 22 minutes of pushing, our little boy was born. I was so exhausted with Isla’s birth I don’t remember her actually being born, and towards the end I didn’t feel as in control as I’d had diamorphine and due to my episiotomy, I couldn’t actually feel much of anything.

But just being on the gas and air I felt more with it (and definitely felt those bloody contractions!!) and clearly remember seeing Rory for the first time – it was amazing. His skinny, wrinkly little arms and legs, his mass of blonde hair, his tiny little fingers, everything.

So although my labour with Isla was altogether a positive one, Rory’s was even more positive. It was shorter, I felt more in control, and actually remember seeing him come into the world.

But rest assured, never again! We’ve got our two children, one of each, and we’re done!


Second child syndrome?

So here we are, officially on countdown to the arrival of baby number two. Baby’s ETA is in five days and counting, and I’m hoping this one makes an appearance sooner rather than later as the heatwave we’ve had over the past month has made this pregnancy rather uncomfortable to say the least. Coping with 30degree heat at 38/39 weeks pregnant isn’t fun, but it won’t be long now until we’ll have an almost three year old and almost a newborn. Blooming eck!

I seriously have no idea where these past few years have gone. It seems like only yesterday we were eagerly anticipating Isla’s arrival, and now she’s a child and we’re about to be joined by another. Scary.

I’ve been wondering a lot while I’ve been on maternity leave what number 2 will be like, in looks and personality. And while I know all children are different, and there’s not much you can do on that front, I’d be thrilled if number 2 is like his/her big sister.

I’m trying desperately not to sound like I’m bragging, but Isla is what you’d call a “good” child (gah, don’t you just hate that expression?!). She has slept through the night since she was 6 months old, eats pretty much anything you put in front of her, is incredibly polite and loves people, does as she’s told (most of the time!) and is really well behaved in public. She’s also really clever, has been potty trained since she was 2 and a half, can dress herself, and she’s a proper little chatterbox, to the extent that her nursery teachers have said her speech is quite advanced for her age.

Which is just a few reasons why I’m so nervous that baby #2 is going to be a nightmare! The amount of Facebook posts I’ve seen proclaiming that good first children are just nature’s way of lulling you into a false sense of security is staggering, plus I have several friends and family members whose second/third children have been non-sleepers, bad feeders, more naughty, or all of the above.

While we plan to raise #2 exactly the same as Isla, again I’m aware that every child is different and that the odds of us having another child as “good” as Isla are dodgy. But we can hope – it’s that hope which makes parents go back for round 2 isn’t it?!

Hopefully my next blog post will be to herald the arrival of number 2, and I hope I’ll be able to say that my second labour was as positive an experience as my first. But as a previous blog explained, I’m Group B Strep positive so I’m just hoping against hope that baby is healthy…keep everything crossed for us!