Even typing the title of this list made me feel sick and sad and angry. How anyone can hurt a child is beyond me. Then the fact that that child has to live with the experience for the rest of their lives breaks my heart.
This writer wishes to remain anonymous, but I am blown away by her bravery for sharing this:
I was abused when I was 8 and a half. Writing these words (at 30) still send my body into unavoidable panic – palms sweating, my heart beating out my chest, tears running down my face. I’m back there in an instant, unable to escape.
He was a family friend, I use the term loosely, but my parents (who are sensible people) trusted him and his wife to look after me one evening whilst they went out on a rare date night.
I woke up to find him in my bed, he raped me. It felt like I was going to die as he held my mouth shut. I’ll spare you the details, they are not important. I couldn’t have screamed anyway, I was paralysed, overcome with pure terror like nothing I had ever felt or (thankfully) have felt since.
He told me it was my fault and that my parents would be ‘livid’ with me if they found out.
I believed him.
Yes, I can hardly comprehend that now, but I wholeheartedly believed him and I kept quiet. To this day only a handful of people in my life know that this happened to me.
This is stuff that happens to ‘other’ people right? That live in dysfunctional families, who have dysfunctional lives.
NOT true – it happened to me. I’m from a middle class family, with two loving parents, an only child, their only focus, who went to private school, who they worked every evening and weekend to give me everything they possibly could. I was an intelligent child, the child that would have spoken out if this had happened to her…
I realised, by the time I was 11 or 12, the gravity of what had happened to me – that is was wrong, illegal, awful, but in my head it was too late – who would believe me now after 3 and a half years? Everyone would think I was making it up, attention seeking? Maybe it didn’t happen like I remembered it? Maybe I did do something to provoke him? I still didn’t tell anyone.
I shut it out, I locked it up, it was the only way I could be normal – I kept myself busy. So busy, I could never ever not be doing something – I played all the sports, I revised incessantly for my exams, I got a part time job. I became obsessive about filling my time – every spot in my diary would need an entry, otherwise the panic would set in.
The alone time was the time I couldn’t cope, when I went to bits, when I felt like I couldn’t carry on when I experienced panic attacks so real I felt like I wanted to jump out the window to get away. I suffered from dreadful insomnia all through my teens and night terrors when I would wake the whole house up screaming. I still didn’t tell anyone.
I started worrying about other children and my responsibility towards them, it would be my fault if he had done this to someone other than me. I could have stopped him, I could still stop him if I just spoke up. I still didn’t speak up.
I avoided boyfriends, I was too busy studying or working or training to have a boyfriend. I turned down date after date – all the boys thought I was a dick, I always remember being at a party and one guy saying ‘you’re so up yourself, you think you’re too good for everyone.’ I wondered if I would ever be able to have a normal relationship.
I went to Uni, it felt like a new start, away from my home where it happened.
The same year I heard the man in question had died. I was so angry at myself he’d got away with it, he would never have to face up to what he did, never be exposed for what he was. But I also felt an enormous sense of relief that a part of this was now gone forever.
I met my husband, we dated on and off for a few months and one night I woke him with one of my night terrors, screaming the place down. I told him, everything. I was 21.
I didn’t stop crying for 4 days afterwards, it was a huge burden that I had been carrying around all those years that suddenly seemed so much lighter but it also brought every feeling that I had buried flooding back.
I booked in for counselling, I saw her for 5 years (I still see her occasionally now), it helped, a lot.
I still haven’t told my parents, they would be heartbroken and they would never forgive themselves. There’s no good for any of us that would come of it, it wasn’t their fault and it wasn’t mine.
So how am I now?
On the surface I’m great – I have an lovely husband, a wonderful child, a great job. I’m that person who you think has landed on her feet (and don’t get me wrong, I have, in lots of ways).
Underneath it all – overall, I’m still pretty good, I have some dreadful days but I learn each time how to cope better with the downs and sometimes just accept that feeling and know that it will pass. I still suffer from anxiety and panic attacks, I think I always will, but I know my triggers and I try to avoid them.
Finally…why did I feel like I should write this list?
I haven’t written this list to scare anyone, the likelihood of this happening to your child is very low. However I wanted this to remind everyone not to get into a ‘this wouldn’t happen to us’ mindset, because I’m proof that it can.
Please talk to your children, you don’t need to be specific, but just for them to know what is right and wrong and that you will always be on their side no matter what. I know there are some really good guidelines on how to have helpful (not frightening) conversations with children.
To remind us all (me included) to be kind to people. Everyone is fighting some kind of battle you’re not aware of. Even the people that seem to have their shit together all the time, really don’t.
For people who have experienced something similar to know that 1. it really wasn’t your fault 2. talk to someone, it really helps 3. Know that you will feel better, even if you feel like that is impossible right now.
Natalie aka @stylemesunday hardly needs any introduction. But if you haven’t already come across her Nat is fashion-savvy-force-for-good, who is fighting the fight for all us gals when it comes to body positivity.
She is the brains behind the #warriorwomanproject and somehow convinced a whole bunch of us to strip off and celebrate the skin we are in. It was a powerful, up-lifting experience that made me re-evaluate the way I see myself.
Here she enlightens us about what happens when you start to love yourself:
The other morning I gave my daughter her breakfast, I had asked her what she wanted, she’s 8 so she knows what we have on offer and she chose Cheerios. Whilst she was eating I then proceeded to make myself toast with the last two slices of bread. She started complaining that she didn’t think of toast and that she wanted mine. I thought about it. I don’t like Cheerios or any breakfast cereals that we have, she does. I knew I had a busy day and I wouldn’t be eating lunch until much later than lunchtime that day. I knew my daughter had nearly finished her HUGE bowl of Cheerios and that she wasn’t really hungry but had food envy like we all get sometimes. It’s life right? So, I decided I wasn’t going to give her my breakfast, I felt satisfied that she wasn’t hungry and I also valued myself enough not to have to sacrifice my needs over the whims of my daughter. Was I being selfish? Possibly. Is it acceptable to be selfish sometimes? I think so. Even if that means putting yourself before your children sometimes? Because you love yourself, you love your family and we all deserve to be treated with love and kindness. Do my children love me any less because I don’t selflessly always put their needs before my own. I hope not, I sincerely do. The above example was just a tiny little example of what’s happened since I’ve started to love myself. Here’s some others..
You start to be kinder to yourself. You start doing things that you know you need, like when you need a little break from everything or when you need a massage for example. You know you need it and you actually do it.
You don’t let people treat you like shit. You know when people are being unkind or throwing shade, well when you love yourself you are fiercely protective of yourself and value your feelings.
You stop self- harming and punishing yourself. With food, with extreme exercise routines, with unkind thoughts, with standing on the scales.
You are kinder and nicer to those around you, because you have looked after yourself first. You have more petrol in the tank.
You doubt yourself less and start to value your opinion, you don’t just sit there quietly, you have important things that need to be shared and heard.
You start to really believe that that dream you had could maybe one day be a reality.
You start to dream bigger. Why limit yourself. After all what’s holding you back now?
You stop worrying about what other people think of you, especially if those people don’t need to be in your life.
You stop doing things just to please other people or to make people like you.
That little voice in your head that says you’re dumb, you look ugly, you’re fat, you’re not worth anything starts to grow quieter and quieter.
You stop comparing yourself to others. We all know that can be tough on Instagram but you start to trust that that’s not reality as you know life isn’t like that and we all have our own battles to battle every single day.
You start to be nicer to people around you. You don’t feel compelled to compete with people so therefore you really value what they have to say without constantly feeling envious.
You will feel freer, and lighter and you will have more head space to focus on things that are really important to you and enrich your life. Like starting up that new venture you’ve always wanted to do, being a good role model, injustices that you feel passionate about, travelling to this places you’ve always wanted to visit.
Things that happen when you start to love yourself – you start to live life.
It’s rare that someone asks to remain anonymous when I share their list. Its such a telling sign of just how brave the person has been in writing a list which is clearly so personal and raw.
This one is a prime example of that, where the author shares her experience of deciding to have ‘Just One Child’:
My daughter’s birth was the conclusion of many years of heartbreak, bravery and emotion for my husband and me. First, we faced down an incurable, terminal genetic illness when my husband bravely took a genetic test to find out that he would not inherit the disease that had killed his father, and that he would also not pass on any risk to any future children. We then, having thought we’d faced our great trial to have children, found the months of trying pass by and slowly realised we would need outside help to make the children we’d been fighting for a reality. Four years and one very fortunate round of IVF later, we held a tiny bundle in our arms and couldn’t believe our luck. Our prayers of “just one, please just give us one happy healthy baby” had finally been answered.
After the newborn fog had lifted, I discovered a couple of things;
First, my daughter was the most amazing person I’d ever met. She was and remains, beautiful, charming, calm, loving, sparky and very cheeky. She is also everything I ever wanted to be and I felt my main job as her mother was to help her keep her happy personality as she grows up.
Second, I had made the most wonderful group of mum friends. I’d somehow found an NCT group who all immediately clicked. There was not and never has been any competition, judgement or negativity. I feel I’ve got great individual friendships with each of them and the group as a whole is an enormous source of strength. We have been there for each other through sleepless nights, feeding dramas, terrible midwifes, and much more. All with different approaches, backgrounds and expectations of our lives as parents, it just worked from day one.
When maternity leave came to a close, I threw myself into a new job and so was surprised when first one friend, then another, then another, turned up at our regular nights out sheepishly ordering lemonade, and then announcing a second pregnancy.
It just hadn’t occurred to me that while having one baby for me was the end of a huge battle against the odds and a once in a lifetime experience, for others it was phase 1 of a bigger plan to build a family.
As these new bundles of joy arrived in our lives, and our ranks began to swell, a new version of the infertility conflict of joy, envy and sadness crept up on me.
For my friends, I feel real joy for and awe at anyone who decides to have more children. My daughter has always been very easy going, but we still feel thoroughly beaten a lot of the time, so anyone who takes a bad sleep situation and throws another baby into the mix has my upmost respect.
Similarly, anyone who can keep their head while getting more than one child out of bed, breakfasted and out of the house in the morning is a much more zen being than I am.
I sometimes see my friends struggle to attend to two, three or four children, or to deal with squabbles, or rivalries and I breathe a sigh of relief. I know myself well enough to know that the big family world of happy chaos is not one I would thrive in.
I see the need for bigger houses, bigger cars, more ruinously expensive childcare, and I feel grateful for my straightforward little triangle.
But at the same time, I would like to have made a choice. While we could, theoretically, embark on more IVF to have more children, the already low odds are far more stacked against us now with the passing years. I also don’t want to let myself fall into a mindset of “just seeing what happens…” because I know that the chances of anything happening are very, very low, and I would quickly find myself back in the heartache and misery of wanting something that isn’t going to happen. It feels better, kinder and healthier to say no, this is it, and this is wonderful.
And it really is wonderful. Our daughter brings so much joy and happiness. I don’t feel anything is lacking from my life, but I wonder what I am denying her life in not giving her siblings.
Before, I always assumed I would have more than one and imagined the jumble of family games, fights and jokes that characterised my childhood. It wasn’t all plain sailing, and my sisters and I have thrown enough slings and arrows at each other over the years, but then I remember one sister telling me she was only coping with my parents’ divorce because I was, or another ringing me for a long heart to heart and at the end saying “I’m so glad I have a sister”.
At the same time, an only child will never have the labels that siblings have; the loud one, the naughty one, the quiet one. In our family, I am very much the eldest; responsible, anxious, law abiding. The others are more creative, risk taking and adventurous. While this is us, these are also labels that stuck to us from an early age. My daughter on the other hand will only ever be herself, and the character of our family will be shaped by her personality, her likes and dislikes, far more than the other way around.
There’s no right answer of course, and no correct path or way to feel about it. I’m so lucky to have my family, and I’m just as lucky to have wonderful friends, who mean so much more to me than their fertility track record compared to mine, and all our paths happen to be different. And most days I remember that.
First time round I got my knickers in a right-old twist about weaning. I spent many weeks thinking and talking about when to start. Reading books. Investing in fancy gear. Planning how I’d introduce one veg a week. So complex!
5 years later Bertie’s fave foods are houmous, pesto pasta, cheese and crisps. He eats an ok amount of veg but still is irrationally fearful of anything that constitutes ‘salad’. I’m almost certain that his choices have nothing to do with the way I steamed and mashed stuff when he was 6 months old.
One things for sure I would LOVE to have had someone like Beth Bentley @young_gums around when I did it:
Oh my god. Anyone else find weaning to be the most confusing stage of new motherhood (so far)? The conflicting advice. The equipment. The supermarket shelves laden with jolly products emblazoned with vague pleasantries…‘no nasties!’…‘pure!’. The feeding strategies. The feeding schedules. The constant questions and the unsolicited advice from that bloke in the corner shop (this one’s full of sugar love). The cartoon advice leaflets and that talk you went to, the one with the flashcards. The knackered-out feelings of guilt, whatever choices we make. The Google searches. The oneupmumship.
I was so wigged out by the whole experience that I’m writing a book about it. To try and demystify all the conflicting advice and bring a bit of real talk to the pretty simple question of what a balanced, healthy baby diet looks like, and how to make nice baby food yourself at home.
Here’s my list of things not to stress about while weaning your baby:
What anyone else thinks. First and most important. Everyone around you will have an opinion, almost always shared in a way that’s well-meaning and lovely. Sometimes that’s great but sometimes you’re knackered and it’s a pain in the arse. You know your kid. Trust your parental instinct.
Fluctuating appetite/interest in food. Honestly, you hear this all the time but every baby is different.
Some are brilliant, curious eaters from day one. Some are wary and need a bit of encouragement – to see you eat a bit of it, or to touch and smell their dinner before they’ll put it anywhere near their mouth. Some get upset about different food touching each other. Some like waggling things about to mix them up. Some seem to like foods at a certain temperature, or eat more at a certain time of day.
Teething can see off a baby’s appetite for what can seem a quite worrying number of mealtimes. They all go through little phases: ravenous one day, high-chair averse contortionist the next. For the first few months of learning to eat their milk will remain the major source of nutrition, so just chuck the uneaten meal and keep offering their usual milk.
Weaning stages. This might be controversial but I don’t think month-by-month stages are very useful. Gradually introducing certain flavours, ingredients and textures can add an extra pressure to parents and mean your baby’s not getting the chance to eat as widely as they’re physiologically able to. A 6-month-old baby can safely eat a staggering range of ingredients and flavours (we’re omnivores – look at how babies are weaned in other cultures).
It’s a myth that young babies need, and like, only bland, plain foods. In fact there’s compelling evidence that a weaning baby’s more receptive to new flavours, textures and tastes than they’ll ever be again in their lives. Of course there are some foods that pose a safety- or allergy-risk so we shouldn’t be cavalier. But babies are braver than we give them credit for.
Spoons vs. baby-led. It’s not a decision you need to make. You can do both. Even in the same meal. There are good things about both strategies: finger foods help develop motor skills, independent choice and familiarity with what different foods look and feel like, and the important skill of chewing first before swallowing. Spoon-feeding can be a nice bonding experience that allows for eye-contact, chatting and socialising at the table, and can help a hungry baby avoid becoming frustrated and upset trying to get food into their mouths. But you can have the best of both: blend half of the meal and leave some pieces whole for biting and dunking.
Your equipment. You need less than you think, and it doesn’t need to be fancy. I started with a £5 stick blender from Lidl and a hacked-together vegetable steamer I made by clamping a metal sieve between a pan of simmering water and its tightly-fitting lid. Rubber-tipped spoons are nice because they’re soft on sore teething gums and don’t get hot on contact with warm food. Bamboo-fibre bowls and plates are lovely, dishwasher-safe and have a lower impact on the environment than plastic. I also use mini-sized enamel Falconware dishes for my baby.
The amount of food your kid eats. One of the most confusing bits of weaning is how much to give. At the start of weaning a meal can often be really tiny…the equivalent of just one or two teaspoons of food (although plenty more than that might end up all over the place). Once they get used to eating, their ideal meal size can ratchet up quite quickly or become a real slow-burn.
Don’t be concerned if your baby can’t seem to finish anything like a standard portion size of shop-bought baby food – even if it says 6m or 9m, it doesn’t follow that every baby that age can manage that amount. And some might want more. Encourage and help your baby to eat their meals, of course, and offer as much as they seem interested in, but there’s no need to cajole or stress about the amount. A baby doesn’t know about finishing the amount in front of them and will naturally stop when they’ve had enough (or demand more). There’s evidence it’s good to let our babies learn to recognise that ‘I’m full’ instinct as it will help them when they’re older. A baby or toddler will probably give you back half a banana or whatever (nice sticky handful when you’re trying to push the pram/lift the kid/carry your bag/find your keys), but by the age of around three lots of kids have come to understand that food comes in units/portions and keep eating until the packet/portion is gone whether they’re hungry for it or not.
Spending every weekend batch-cooking. I rarely do this. I prefer to cook quick little meals as and when I need them. Most of my recipes can be made in 15-20 mins max, and some of them require no actual cooking at all. I freeze leftovers, which can be really useful to grab when I’m busy, but it’s not often I spend the afternoon batching up 20 pots of baby stew.
Making a different meal for your baby vs the grown-ups. Generally speaking if you leave out the salt (and the super-fiery chillies) until the very end of the process, there are loads of meals that you and your baby can eat together.
We make coconut curries, tagine, pot roast, pasta sauces and stews that I just plonk in the middle of the table and we all share, with some rice, cous cous etc. Sometimes the dish needs a bit of mashing/whizzing for her, but often she can eat straight out of the big sharing pot with us. I tag those recipes #OneFamilyOneMeal.
Gagging and spitting stuff out. Weaning babies gag and spit things out all the time while they’re learning to eat. It’s a sign they’re figuring out how to chew and move food around in their mouths, and how not to.
But know the difference between gagging and choking. Gagging’s loud and usually a bit messy. But choking can be silent so make sure you’ve had a demo from the health visitor or watched a decent online video. And stay with your kid when they’re eating and drinking.
The mess. Oh the mess. No point stressing about something you can do literally nothing about. Maybe put the highchair on top of a few sheets of the Sunday newspaper. And away from any soft furnishings. And ornaments. Maybe get yourself a haz-mat suit to zip on over your clothes. And a helmet. And a shield. Or maybe don’t bother and embrace a life where everyone has porridge in their hair. Resistance is futile.
It may sounds hackneyed, but before sharing this week’s list, I wanted to take a moment to say thank you to every single person who has written a Guest List for Mother of All Lists.
Being able to share these raw, personal unique insights into people’s lives is such an honor. Over the last couple of years I have laughed, gasped and (mainly) cried at the remarkable journey’s people have been on. It’s really made me appreciate how much every person, no matter who they are, has a story. Not only that, but that their story is always valuable and worth sharing.
This one from Ruth Drake AKA @mum_making_lemonade is no exception. Here she shares a glimpse into life with a child with Cerebral Palsy:
My daughter, Elin, was born following four years of fertility treatment and a successful round of IVF, with a catastrophic brain injury, or as we came to know it ‘Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy’. This occurred due to a prolonged starvation of oxygen at some mysterious point during my labour. We had no warning after what was an uneventful full term pregnancy, no idea that everything we planned for and thought we knew was about to be turned upside down and inside out. This is my list, highlighting just some of my experiences of life since our miracle daughter was born.
Elin was born ‘flat’ in July 2008. Her Apgar score was 0. She was my first baby. I was 26 years old.
I felt like I was floating above myself as the doctors worked to resuscitate her next to me. I would like to say I thought something profound but believe it or not in my shock and drug addled stupor all I can remember is thinking ‘Oh, right, this is just like an episode of Eastenders’ (I mean, what?!?)
This was until I became really annoyed by someone in the room who was desperately screaming and pleading. It took me ages to realise it was me.
Before they whisked Elin to Special Care ICU they told us we could quickly look at her. My husband pleaded with me to look at my baby but I wouldn’t. I thought that if I looked at her I would love her. I didn’t want to love her because I thought she was going to die.
This was massively stupid. I loved her from the moment the two lines popped up on the pregnancy test- who was I kidding? I should have looked. It’s my biggest regret.
Not holding Elin until she was 11 days old, due to the spaghetti junction of wires and tubes keeping her alive, is something I struggle to think about to this day. I have her baby ID bracelet and other things from this time sitting in a box that I still cannot open.
I felt like the biggest failure of all time. Barely a Mummy yet and already failed. I couldn’t keep her safe. Millions give birth safely each day and yet I couldn’t even manage that. I felt like I’d let Elin down in the worst possible way, as well as my husband and my family. I don’t think this feeling will ever fully go away.
After four long weeks including complications such as the development of seizures due to the brain damage, Elin was allowed to come home. We were exhausted, numb, reeling from shock and buzzing with medical information. Not the homecoming I had spent four years dreaming about.
Things at home were not easy. Elin had lost her swallow reflex and had to be fed through a tube which I had to learn to insert into her stomach via her nose. If I got it wrong I could feed into her lung and kill her. Absolutely NO PRESSURE then!
She had horrendous reflux and seizures and cried for about 20 hours a day. We were in and out of hospital. Each cry pierced our hearts and slowly suffocated us. Each time her face twisted in agony, we felt like part of us was dying.
At five months old, a Neurologist ordered a brain scan. He sat us in an office and asked if we wanted to know the full extent of what he had found. We said yes and in my head I walked over to him and punched him, hard. Of course I didn’t ‘want’ to know. But what choice did we have?
He pulled no punches (unlike me, in my head, to his face). She would never walk, talk, eat, understand much, see properly or move with any real purpose in any way. The brain damage was too severe. She would be susceptible to regular infection and in and out of hospital all the time. She wouldn’t, he said, ever be a ‘thinking person’.
The floor disappeared from under us. I felt my heart shatter into a million tiny pieces. We were broken. I cried until I dehydrated and couldn’t get out of bed or function for days.
What followed was a period of intense grieving. Grieving for the daughter we lost the day she was born. Grieving for what would never be, our hopes and dreams of parenthood, grieving for the life our little girl so deserved, the life that had been robbed from her in the moments of her birth.
Accompanying this grief was massive, all consuming guilt because Elin had not died. She was still very much alive and this grief felt like a betrayal of her. It was an awful, complex, gruelling, confusing and shattering time.
THE NEW NORMAL:
We are now nine years on and have come to accept every aspect of our lives raising a child with severe disabilities as our ‘new normal’
I have become an unwitting medical expert who was terrified of hospitals in another lifetime. Maybe I’m not quite up to Nursing standard yet but I reckon I could write a few realistic scripts for Holby City!
Our house resembles a specialist equipment warehouse. You can’t move without tripping over a standing frame or physio roll.
Elin is fed through a gastrostomy now- essentially a hole in her stomach. This sounds gross but is actually a godsend- we can ensure she keeps up her fluid intake on hot days, we know she’s getting all her meds and nutrients and I never have to fight with her to eat her broccoli. Woo hoo! It also saves loads on food shopping and washing up. Result.
Although, when she was little I would have given anything to have been on Team Breastfed or Team Bottle. The fact that I couldn’t do either means this particular debate has never held much water with me.
Fed is best. If you’re doing it in any way other than a tube stuffed into your baby’s stomach then believe me you’re winning.
I need a P.A. Elin’s appointment schedule for the past nine years has my calendar looking like Banksy has been at it.
My husband largely ignores the calendar and treats me like a human version of Siri instead, to which I respond with the utmost loving patience of course (ha). My head is so full of dates, facts, figures and meds doses that I reckon my brain could give Stephen Hawking’s a run for it’s money in the information overload stakes.
As Elin slowly began to heal, so did we. The darkest time in our lives slowly gave way to light. Elin learned to smile and learned to laugh. She hasn’t really stopped doing either ever since. Material objects are meaningless to her, she teaches us so much about the human soul. She is incredible.
Elin attends an amazing SEN school and is learning to hit switches, activate toys, indicate choices and other rudimentary forms of communication. She loves it there and is loved. We are forever in the debt of the amazing professionals that surround her every day.
I wish the Neurologist that dark day had told us what Elin would do, instead of what she wouldn’t.
That she would challenge every ideal we ever had and turn our priorities in life upside down (for the better). That she would be joyful and happy and beautiful. That she would unite family and bring friends and even the community together with her incredible spirit. That she would show us what pure, unconditional love truly means and inspire our attitudes to life in general.
That every times she grins when she hears her Daddy’s voice, or laughs when we blow rasberries on her stomach or she hears a favourite song our hearts burst with pride and love. I wish this is what the Neurologist had told us.
I will never stop being grateful for what she has brought to our family and most of all for making me a Mummy.
“We must let go of the life we had planned, so as to live the life that is waiting for us”- Joseph Cambell.
Hands-up if you play the ‘Rightmove Game’ every time you spend a weekend outside of London? Not just me then! There’s so much that appeals about leaving the Big Smoke, but yet we still haven’t been bold enough to commit and make the move out.
Here Kate Starkey aka @cheltenhammaman sings the virtues of life in the West Country:
I lose count of the amount of Mums I meet at my events who have recently moved to Gloucestershire from the capital. The relief in their eyes when they realise they’ve found a little mum community to help them acclimatise to their new lives makes me giddy every time. Just like we all need time to adjust to life as a mother you can’t expect to just up sticks to the country, swap your heels for wellies and just ‘get’ this whole new way of life.
But give it some time, and find some fellow Mothers who like fresh air but still like to party and you’ll be just fine. If you’re agonising over the decision to up sticks and live a greener life here’s a list of why you should just do it.
You’d think I’d start this list with a ‘do it for your kids’ rant. Well yes…. no-one can argue that children will live a healthier lifestyle away from the city but just like that very dull and never ending breast feeding debate, kids will actually be happiest if their parents are happy. So do it for you… do it because you want to wake up on a Saturday morning and hear the birds sing.
A few years ago Cheltenham was voted by the Telegraph as the Number one place to raise a family in the UK but the shops, nightlife, cafe culture (and the addition of CheltenhamMaman of course) means that it’s now even better. You can shop until you drop, dine at a different first class, ecclectic, or vibrant restaurant every single weekend and never get bored.
When considering where to move to outside of the capital don’t forget your needs – you may find somewhere with the lowest crime rate and best schooling but if they don’t have a Topshop…. is it really a sustainable decision?
Ok – so now let’s talk about the kids. The grass is always greener – but outside of London the grass really is greener. The air is fresher and the schools are better (and more accessible) and crime rates generally (in Cheltenham particularly) are lower. Which means your children can grow up a little freer. I’m not suggesting that you all move to a barn conversion on the outskirts of a remote hamlet you have to open a cattle grid to enter (though they do exist…) but living in a beautiful spa town or smaller city means your kids can be street wise but that you’ll sleep a little sounder at night.
There’s still Deliveroo…… ok well I actually don’t have Deliveroo in my village but Cheltenham dwellers do. And you’ve still got Amazon Prime and Ocado and all that shit that means it doesn’t actually matter that you don’t have a Mango on your doorstep. Who likes trying on clothes in those hot and stuffy changing rooms anyway, especially if you’ve got the kids with you!
Stuff to do….. This last decade the towns and cities outside of London have really upped their games. In Cheltenham we are now basically a festival hub. The literature festival brings all of the world’s great authors to town including some incredible events of the kids (many of them free!), the jazz festival sees some awesome names and parties (Laura Mvula is always ace) and the science festival just recently is a mecca for smiling children with little brains buzzing with ideas and learning. Park runs, Giffords Circus, Jamie Oliver’s The Big Feastival – it’s all happening on our doorstep and I know other towns and cities around the country have a similar packed schedule of top notch events.
Travel – the commute ain’t so bad if work needs to remain in the city. My husband drives to Swindon where there are hourly trains. Kingham, Cheltenham and Evesham all have a great service into Paddington and if it’s just you doing a trip in for some culture or shopping The Oxford Tube costs £19 and takes you straight to Marble Arch and it runs all night so you can even catch up with friends for a party. With modern ways of working most of you should be able to mix up commute days with working from home so it can be a sustainable way of working if you are smart and your employer can offer some #flex.
THE DOSH – Let’s be honest – this is the main reason you might be paying attention to this list. I know most of you really really love London. But I really really love lobster – it’s just that fish and chips are much cheaper and actually just as good.
You know you will get so much more house for your money outside of the city – you don’t need me to tell you that but just think about the kinds of properties your home could buy out here. Kirsty and Phil would be salivating at the thought. £350,000 would buy you a really lovely family home in a nice part of Cheltenham or one of the many truly stunning villages outside.
ME! (and others like me.) So organisations that connect Mums and offer events targeted to making your lives easier, helping you meet people and reminding you that it’s ok to say parenting can be a bit shit sometimes are popping up left, right and centre outside of the capital. Obviously I’m looking after Gloucestershire but checkout Mums The Word Online in Tunbridge Wells and Brighton, The Oxford Mama Club, The Parent Pause in Warwickshire, Love for the Mama in Birmingham and Social Butterflies in Bristol plus so many more up North and in Scotland.
Anxiety has is an all too familiar feature of my life. Although it saddens me to hear that anyone has or is suffering too, there is something so reassuring reading about a shared experience.
Here Kate Tweed tells us about how, for her, Motherhood was the trigger for her anxiety.
My beautiful baby was a result of IVF….. of 5 years spent wondering if I’d ever become a mother.
I’d never been a particularly anxious person. I’d never really experienced anxiety until the day that one fertilised embryo I had from 9 eggs harvested, was put back into my uterus. From that day I knew. The constant stream of internal worries/questions/negative thoughts/desperate hope.
Two weeks later, when my pregnancy test was positive, I was ecstatic but also terrified and completely overwhelmed with emotion. And the anxiety didn’t go anywhere once the news truly sunk in. In fact, it intensified.
Was everything OK with the baby? Was it still there? I didn’t have any symptoms (no sickness or nausea, no sore boobs, nothing) so I did pregnancy tests daily until I was 16 weeks pregnant, even after my 12-week scan. I only stopped when I felt the baby move.
My husband thought I was ridiculous.
Then when I was 17 weeks pregnant, my dad died. Really suddenly. He had a stroke and that was that. A precious life, gone. He was on the organ donor list, so was kept alive for 18 hours whilst they found matches for his organs. Which gave me and my husband enough time to get back from Barbados where we had flown the day before for our babymoon, to say goodbye. We landed and rushed straight to the hospital.
Once they took my dad’s organs we were given an hour with him before life support was turned off. It was truly the hardest experience of my life, saying goodbye to my dad. I now take strength from the fact he saved lives with his liver and kidneys, and two seriously sick babies with the valves from his heart.
I was given a scan in the hospital minutes after my dad died. They could tell I was freaking out. The absolute horror of finding out about dad in a frantic phone call from my poor sister. Two long haul flights in 30 hours. Just the emotional turmoil. The nurses were so so lovely. And seeing that perfect little spine on a screen was so reassuring at such an awful time.
The next few months were a bit of a blur. I loved being pregnant. I loved the feeling of that little creature wriggling round in my belly. Except when it didn’t. I went to the hospital 3 times in my third trimester in absolute floods of tears because I hadn’t felt the baby move for a while. I found it hard to concentrate at work because everything in me was just focused on the baby.
Weirdly, the only element of my pregnancy I didn’t feel anxious about was the birth. I just knew it had to happen and would be fine. I did hypno-birthing and found the breathing techniques so helpful. I now try and remember them whenever anxious thoughts start to creep in.
Unfortunately though, I didn’t have a totally straight forward birth. I was given pethadine too late in the labour (I went from 5-10cm dilated in 1 hr and my midwife didn’t realise how far along I was). When Scarlett was born she was grey and floppy and was rushed to the SCBU. Luckily she was absolutely fine, but so it began.
The love that I felt for my newborn baby was completely overwhelming. I just didn’t know what to do with myself. I couldn’t stop staring at her. But that said, it didn’t translate into me finding motherhood easy by any stretch (does anyone?). Instead the word I’d use to describe it was (actually still is) relentless. How can this little thing need feeding so constantly?! Why doesn’t she sleep! Does everyone feel like this?!
Feeling so completely helpless. How can two people with no experience be left with a newborn?! It’s the scariest thing when the nurses tell you it’s time to leave the hospital, even though you are desperate to get home.
I remember walking through the front door, getting into my PJs and sitting on the sofa just thinking ‘now what’? We came home from hospital at about 6pm, so straight into the long night. Very frightening.
Babies make fricking weird sounds. And sometimes they don’t take a breath for like 30 seconds. I remember lying in bed (the baby & my husband were both sound asleep), with my eyes wide open thinking something terrible would happen if I fell asleep. I felt like someone had to be watching the baby at all times. I think I got about 20 minutes’ sleep the whole night.
The worst thing for anxiety is lack of sleep. The more tired you are, the more anxious you feel. Your brain plays tricks on you. You think the absolute worst things and your brain convinces you they’re real/true. I’ve since learned this is called catastrophising. It’s zero fun.
At this point, Google is not your friend. The first tip all new mothers should be given is stay the f**k away from Google. I was guilty of Googling at 3am whilst feeding. My husband would find me absolutely sobbing because I’d convinced myself something was seriously wrong with my baby. I can laugh about it now, but at the time the fear was debilitating.
When she was first born, my baby was fairly small (6lb 4oz) and the nurse told me she needed feeding at least every 3 hours. I took this very literally and set alarms for feeding. However, I didn’t stop using these alarms day and night until she was 5 MONTHS OLD. Every 3 hours. When she was about 9 weeks, she slept from 7pm until 4am – I was so tired I’d switched my alarms off when they went off in the night and I woke up in a blind panic convinced something had happened to her. She was asleep but I woke her up to feed her. With hindsight, I think the fact I constantly woke her up is probably a reason why she didn’t consistently sleep through the night until she was 21 months old.
Lack of sleep pushed me into a weird place. I was OBSESSED with Scarlett’s routine. Because nap time was also my “recovery” time from another sleepless night. I couldn’t understand those mums that put their babies down for a nap and did housework. My house was a bit of a state but I took the ‘sleep when the baby is sleeping’ advice very seriously. I pretty much still always have a lay down when Scarlett naps and she is now 2. What will I do when she eventually drops her nap?!
Eat. Proper food. I hate to break it to you but, as necessary as they are, cake and caffeine do not count as proper food. I remember saying to my mum when I was pregnant, how do people forget to eat?! That will never be me. But in my early days I would get to 4pm and not have eaten anything except a couple of biscuits. Giving birth and breast-feeding is so depleting, you need nutrients. And a lot of them. I used to wake up STARVING. My husband would leave me malt loaf, fruit & digestive biscuits on my bedside table in the early days so I could eat something in the haze of feeding and sleeping til lunchtime in those early days. He actually did it until she was 7 months old. What a LEGEND.
I found my love for my baby very overwhelming and combined with the anxiety and grief I was experiencing, it was TOUGH.
I would cry because I loved her so much.
I would cry because I was so angry that my dad never got to meet her.
I would cry because I was so tired.
I would cry because my husband was such a lovely dad. Because my family and I were so lucky to have Scarlett in the dark months following dad’s death. Because my nipples were shredded/bleeding. Watching ‘Save the Children’ ads on daytime telly. Because someone in Mamas and Papas was nice to me. I did a lot of crying. Still do. FUN TIMES. My emotions have become very out of control since having a child.
New mums have it seriously rough. We are affected by hormones, lack of sleep and overwhelming feelings just pouring out of us. There is a new thing to worry about every week – are they gaining enough weight, are they awake enough, are they asleep enough, are they getting enough milk, are they eating enough, are they hitting developmental milestones. I could go on. There is just so much to process.
It’s also very easy to compare your baby to others. But now I look back on those early months, I wish I could go back and tell myself, THERE IS NO NORMAL. Every baby is different, just as every mum is different, just as every human is different.
I have found that lots of people are also worried that if they say something about how they are truly feeling (i.e. not perfect) they might have their sanity questioned or ultimately, have their baby taken away. I certainly was.
If you are feeling anxious or worried it doesn’t mean you are a failure or that there is anything wrong with you! I think it means that you are pretty normal.
The best thing you can do is to say out loud some of the things you are thinking and feeling. Internalising is the worst thing you can do. What have you got to lose? At worst, someone may think you’re a bit nuts, at best they will reassure you nothing is wrong (or help you find out if something is actually wrong). If you don’t want to say it out loud, write it down. Just tell your partner/mum/health visitor/friend. PLEASE. I promise they will listen and help.
Remember that social media is a one second snapshot of someone’s life. Not the reality. Scrolling through Instagram (or FB, etc) makes everyone’s lives look a bit more glamorous and calm. And unrealistic. Everyone is fighting a different battle you know nothing about.
And MUMS. Whether your baby is 7 months, 7, or 27 years old. You are all amazing and I salute you x