**For the next month I am dedicating Mother of All Lists to Stand Up to Cancer. Each week will be an account of one person’s experience of Cancer.**
First up; me. We lost my wonderful Father-in-Law Mike to Cancer. We miss him everyday. But his spirit lives on, particularly in his grandchildren. Bertie reminds me of him in so many ways even though they never got to meet one another. Genes are amazing aren’t they?
I originally wrote this account of his battle with Cancer for the Huffington Post:
Cancer. You can’t escape it.
You may be one of the lucky ones who avoid getting cancer. Unfortunately that means someone you know will almost certainly be diagnosed with some form of the disease at some point.
It’d be easier to bury your head in the sand about it.
Pretend it won’t ever happen to you.
But one way or the other, that choice of blissful ignorance is likely to be taken out of your hands.
We lost my Father-in-Law to cancer six years ago.
He was just 60. We lost my Granny at a similar age a decade before that to cancer too.
I haven’t chosen to write about her.
It was an unconscious decision. Though her death was every bit as devastating, in fact the shock of losing her still catches me sometimes. It’s like my head hasn’t truly accepted she isn’t here. Perhaps because I was younger when it happened? Or that my Dad sheilded me from the reality of her battle? Who knows.
Anyway, this is about my lovely Father-in-Law.
With any passing of someone you love it’s impossible articulate the ramifications.
That fateful phone call.
Watching your husband receiving the news that his father has cancer.
The immediate mix of emotions: fearing the worst, but hoping for the best.
From there the cancer happened slowly. Even in a relatively aggressive form.
You go to bed that night as you always did. But wake up with that unconscious innate knowledge that something isn’t as it was.
And then you remember.
But still life carries on.
The first time you see the person that’s been diagnosed they seem, well, the same. They don’t look like they have cancer. They look like the same person.
There’s always a reason to stay positive.
A milestone to look forward to.
A person with a positive story you can to cling on to.
And of course the potential of a breakthrough thanks to the wonderful research and work that campaigns like Cancer Research UK’s Stand Up To Cancer funds.
They both have traits of their Grandad, even though they never got to meet him.
And so cancer seems OK.
The effects are more a sum of lots of small parts than anything sudden, big or frightening.
A loss of appetite here.
A persistent cough there.
A secret wince.
A frailer hug.
But then before you know it, it’s taken hold.
The brave faces are harder to maintain.
Plans bought forward.
Each moment more pertinent.
Goals shrunk. Priorities shifted.
No sky-dives or epic trip. Bucket list ideals go out the window. It’s about comfort. Laughter. Enjoying that favourite meal. Opening that special bottle of wine.
All the while without anyone having admitted that things have changed. If you love someone you ‘just know’.
Those last days of someone’s life aren’t something you can easily describe.
Triplets. That is next level isn’t it? Three new babies all at once!!! Going from a family a family of 3 (they already had a 4 year old henry) to a family of 6.
This is also the second time I’ve ever had a Dad brave enough to write. So thank you @daddy_to_triplets_girls– high-fives all round:
The day we found out I stood at work shaking having been told an hour earlier we were having triplets.
At the scan Mumma C and I laughed. Then cried. Then I had to sit down for a while as the nurses hugged us.
Ironically my Mumma C had been really sick once we had the positive result I mean really sick (as in pull over on the M25 and throw up out the window sick). We thought it may be twins after looking on the net. We even joked there could be more in there……
As the time ticked by and the poppy seed’s turned into sunflower seeds and then Peanut’s and then grapes. The scans came thick and fast. We hit key milestones, 12 weeks then 20 weeks then it was Christmas and we started thinking blimey maybe THIS IS ACTUALLY GOING TO HAPPEN.
Every time we believed it would happen the doctors kept us grounded and focused on the fact that the risks were so high.
Then we found out it was 3 girls, 3 girls ….. 3 girls, I have no sisters, nieces…
What are we going to do? Boys are cool, boys like football and I like football. Boys like mud and I like mud.
But what do girls like? Dancing I can’t dance, apart from when I’ve had a few beers at a wedding.
At 24 weeks the girls hit the crucial milestone which meant they could technically survive if they were born and we announced we were having triplets to our friends (our family knew early on).
The hardest part was the questions from people. We didn’t really know what we should do we just had to wing it and get on with it but we couldn’t do that until the little babies arrived!
We hit the 30’s week and could see the light at the end of the tunnel. We finally got a date 6th of April. As my wife grew from a slim 30 something women to a triple baby carrier we knew in our hearts that it now really was going to happen.
The BIG day
The birth. As we drove to the hospital we both were on top form. The day was finally here, we had the music on the radio and were in good spirits.
That was the first moment we had The Special Treatment: our own big room, we were called ‘The Triplet Parents’ by the nurses and doctors and it was all very good fun.
Then the reality started to kick in. Now I know I am the man in this and I don’t go through the physical pain but I was scared, so so scared.
I was scared my wife wouldn’t wake up.
I was scared one of the babies wouldn’t survive.
And, even though we had a baby previously. I really had no idea what to expect.
Then it was time for my little family to go from 3 to 6 (7 if you include Reggie the beagle).
The room was filled with at least 20 people: 3 doctors, 3 resuscitators, midwives, the anaesthetist, plus many more, that alone was completely daunting.
Mumma C was laying on a bed and when I asked when they were going to perform the cut she said they already had, despite thinking I would want to see the babies leave the belly I couldn’t handle it.
Within a matter of seconds they pulled Annabella out lifted her up for us to see and put her straight into a towel and incubator.
1 minute later Florence was out.
1 minute later Lottie all the same drill.
Within 3 minutes we had 3 children,
I held my wife’s hand and we cried and cuddled. I have never been so proud of anyone in all my entire life. She even beat me to the joke of ‘you wait 3 years for a baby and 3 turn up’ the whole theatre was in hysterics, that’s her to a tee.
It was amazing seeing them all there, the months of worry and uncertainty and here they were just laying so beautiful.
When you have triplets they take them at 34 weeks latest so your told to expect 1 – 2 months in hospital (we spent 3).
Mumma C was poorly after the birth I won’t go into detail but she had a negative allergic reaction. she ended up in hospital for 10 days.
That was incredibly difficult. I was caught in the impossible position of who needs me most my wife or my kids.
The important thing is we got through it as a family.
The girls reached more milestones: breathing unaided, taking all the milk, maintaining body temp and weight and once Mumma C was back to full strength she was able to go home.
As a man, and before the triplet, when the word routine was mentioned I would switch off.
But one of the doctors told me to learn the feeding routine or your basically fucked and boy was he right.
10am feed and change triplet 1
10.30am feed and change triplet 2
11am feed and change triplet 3
Repeat every 4 hours and under no circumstances change this.
It’s a military operation which goes well most of the time.
As a family we decided we were going to ‘get out and amongst it’ rather than let it stope us living our lives
We take them to the seaside, to Costa, to Centre Parcs. We go to farms and zoo’s and all the other things normal people do, I think subconsciously it maybe because I don’t want Henry to miss out and I love our family time.
Is it a nightmare?
Yes of course.
We get through a minimum of 20 nappies a day not including unscheduled poo explosions d 12 bottles on a constant cleaning sterilising cycle, 5 bottles of gripe water a week, 4 tins of premature milk a week, 3 bottles of Colief, a box of gaviscon etc etc.
Whatever way you look at it having 3 babies doesn’t really work.
There are very few buggy’s to choose from.
You can only really hold and feed one at a time each
Women only have two nipples etc.
So you have to think on your feet: one cot will do to start with. We put a rolled up towel to divide the cot into three parts and off you go…
At the start of the journey we knew nothing about what we needed and what we may need, this was one of the reasons why I started my Instagram so I could help others by advising what is useful and what is just not needed in my opinion, 11 weeks in and I still have no idea,
Beg, borrow and steal everything you can, people have been hugely generous to us and we have accepted everything to try out and see what works and what doesn’t.
Donate what you don’t want and need to other people or the preemie stuff back to the hospital, but just don’t expect your house to be clear and don’t worry about it, I know I joke but I seriously don’t care anymore.
I speak on Instagram to other triplet families. We share our wisdom as the reality is that only people who have had triplets know what its like to have triplets.
Even then its different for everyone; some have better financial situations, some husbands work away, some have large and close family networks, some have other kids as well so whilst you can share you are still very alone in a way.
And then you’ve got your other children:Henry is the sweetest and most gorgeous little boy. I had to be persuaded to have children , but he came along and it opened my eyes . I have loved every second.
The hardest juggling act is keeping his life as close to how it was before as possible.
Henry loves the girls. He loves getting hands on and feeding them so I would say involve your other child as much as possible. But also find the much needed time for them as well. Going out on your bike and chucking stones in the river is therapeutic for you as well as them.
Keeping up your standards. People said to me, don’t worry about the housework and the grass and the shopping.
In my opinion, yes do worry, your home is your castle.
I don’t mean spend your life on your hands and knee’s cleaning the corners of the shed floor but do run the hoover round and cut the grass once a week even if it’s at 9 pm, it does make you feel better and like your winning.
It is very hard, of course things get missed and things aren’t as clean as they were but just try!
Same with going out and looking and feeling good, we all go down the shops in our PJ’s now and then but keep trying to dress and eat well – we have spag Bol 4 times a week but hey at least it’s a proper meal and all it takes is a slow cooker!
Do it for yourself, not for anyone else that may pop round!
The future. Who knows what it holds for any of us, what I do know is however much money we have or where we live or where we work we will have 4 amazing kids and that in itself is enough.
Being a parent to any amount of children is so tough at times, they push you and your relationship to the line but we must stick together and embrace what we have, carry on being as silly as we can and having fun.
Ridiculously I want another child as I don’t think I can handle never going through the whole pregnancy thing again but then again I would say that …..
Ahhh the dreaded red book. Every experience I have had with it tells me there is something amiss with my boys. But what if its more than that?
Sally White (aka Wife of a Wig Wearer) talks about her experience of having a child that fails to thrive but that doesn’t yet have a medical diagnosis.
You HATE the Little Red Book with a passion
When my son was born (on the eleventh of September weighing 7.7- my own ‘disaster’ baby) two and a half years ago, he toppled out without so much as a wince. He was three pounds lighter than his brother but his little dot on the graph was there on ‘average’.
A tongue tie, weeks of hand expressing and a lot of heart ache later, he was down to the 9th percentile. Every two weeks I would shunt him to the health visitor clinic where we would weigh him and I would phone my mum and celebrate any weight gain or silently walk home and reflect on all the ways I had caused a weight loss in my skinnyrib babe. No one came up with a plan. No one offered any advice. I just kept on slogging. And tracking. And watching him fall down the percentiles. Fail. Fail. Fail. Fuck you, red book.
You’ve Waded Through the Treacle That is the NHS.
Getting an appointment on the NHS is akin to assembly Ikea furniture with no allen key. GP-Referral- Waiting List- Initial Appointment- Referral- Waiting List- Next step agreed- New waiting list.. I am bright, my husband is super clever, I have time and a support network and free minutes on my landline and I don’t let the public school boy wanker consultants put me off and I still find the whole system exasperating. I’ve been patronised, perved on, dismissed, and put on hold countless times.
I heart heart heart the NHS but it is, at times, woefully inefficient.
You Can’t Watch Mr Tumble. You don’t know if the problem is long-term, genetic, hormonal or even, in dark tired nights, fatal.
You cannot bear to watch anything about children with life-long conditions. The whole future is white noise. You can’t picture a future. Not yet.
You Avoid Things. Playdates. Decisions. Google. I couldn’t face meeting up with friends who had kids the same age. Alex didn’t sit up until 25 months. He still can’t really talk at 30 months. He’s a tiddler. I watch him with his peers and want to weep. I feel an ugly sense of envy towards all the parents of healthy children.
But I love that other kids don’t notice his stumbly, incoherent ways: other children don’t give a fuck about differences.
You Often Think You’re Pregnant.
You wake up feeling sick. You’re packing on the pounds. You cry a lot. Then you remember that having the tightening knot of somethingsnotright anxiety is barely an aphrodisiac and, odds on, you’re not with child. You’re just filled with fear and comfort food.
Paperwork Ahoy. You have a family calendar that has a BBQ for you, a badminton game for husbo, a mufty day for the five year old and dermatology, audiology, speech therapy, physio and dietician for your sickly one. You’ve probably kept all those appointments in your head. You’ve organised cover at work. Your mum’s coming up for the Thursday appointment. Your husband can prob do the one at 4pm. You’ll have to take both kids to the Tuesday one. Ugh!
How is this your life!? Then there’s the daily slog of meds, vitamins, supplements and creams.
Your Kids Think Waiting Rooms Are Soft Play Centres
Even when you factor in the extortionate parking fees (hoard those £1 coins!), a trip up the local A&E can be quite the day out. I remember fondly watching my two children knee-deep in toys and joy in the children’s wing waiting room. Proud moment.
Alex pure struts through the corridors of the NNUH: this is his turf, his second home. Love/hate that.
You Notice Change
I literally kissed someone who said ‘cor, he’s grown’. I beam when he learns a new word or smacks his brother or builds a marble run. I didn’t notice the leaps and bounds and easy-coming progress that my older boy made but having Alex struggle from each milestone to the next forces me to revel in each stumbling step.
You Hope For and Dread a Diagnosis
All the years of appointments, phone calls, long sobbing gulping weeping phone calls to your mum, divisive difficult conversations with your ‘it’s all fine, don’t worry’ husband, snapping at your robust other child, awful damaging trains of thought, finally culminate in a diagnosis. An underactive thyroid. 5ml of meds each day. Done.
Marginal relief then bring on the RAGE that this wasn’t picked up: ‘What could I have done differently? Why wasn’t this spotted? Who is to BLAME?’. And the worst, worst, question: ‘Is that all? Is this a sign of something else? Has it done permanent damage? Can I relax now?’ Is this finally the end of my little, little boy’s medical mystery? Oh please let it be so.
I could easily dedicate an entire blog post to how much I love Steph. But that would be weird. Instead I’d urge you to a) check out her brilliant business ‘Don’t Buy Her Flowers‘ – thoughtful gift packages for all sorts of occasions, b) read her Guest List about the reality prepping for a family holiday.
Honestly, packing is one of my worst ever jobs, not to mention the awful person I become the day of departure. Steph’s list contains SO many home truths.
We’re all going on a summer holiday…
Packing with kids takes weeks of prep. The logistics of what goes in which bag, writing lists, ensuring entertainment for the journey, clothing for all weathers, just-in-case pants for the journey even though they’re out of that phase, snacks, a first aid kit and buying new summer clothes when you realise the four year old is wearing age 2-3, is all mind-numbingly dull but feels critical to the success of the holiday. And your partner appears to have NO IDEA of the effort, lists, headspace and, let’s face it, BRILLIANCE that has gone in to this packing extravaganza.
You used to buy a few special holiday outfits, maybe some new undies, plan in the wax/mani/pedi. You may get around to some of this, but it will be done in a last minute sweat – the difference is before kids this was done at a leisurely pace, it was part of the holiday.
If you run out of time and take to the VEET at the back of your bathroom cupboard not used since Mykonos 2007, be warned – it’s probably past it’s best. It may not be up to the job. Or it could remove part of your labia. Go careful.
I don’t know why as an adult I want to leave the house more tidy than it ever is when we’re living in it, with fresh sheets on the beds, toys all put away, a quick clear out of the cupboards and possibly a food delivery organised for when we get home, but I do. Doug looks at me as if I’m mental as I run from room to room barking things for him to do.
By the time it gets to the day before we leave, I’m in a frenzy and a little unhinged. I don’t know I am, but I am. I can say this with the power of hindsight and after a relaxing holiday. Don’t try to tell me that at the time though. Never tell an unhinged woman that she’s unhinged.
He will pack his own stuff at the last minute, probably not bring enough pairs of pants for the number of days we’re away, and say breezily ‘Well I’m ready’.
He will also view the packing of the car as the pinnacle of holiday prep. Step aside woman, only he can do this. It’s an art. Breathe through the inner rage. Focus on the holiday measures of spirits.
Finally, you’re almost headed for the airport. Hang on, what’s he doing? We’ve calculated for delays, traffic, natural disaster and agreed we’re absolutely definitely leaving at 11.15am. At 11.16am Doug is tidily winding the lawn mower cord around his arm in an almost therapeutic trance as I banshee yell ‘WHAT ARE YOU DOING? WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?’. (I posted about this on Instagram and it has been confirmed that this is a ‘thing’ that many men do. Just before you’re due to leave for holiday, or as guests arrive at your house, or basically at the time you least want them to drift off and become productive on something completely unrelated, it suddenly becomes imperative that they must do this thing. My favourites were hoovering the car, which was going to be sitting outside their house for two weeks, and putting up shelves that had been on the ‘to-do’ list for six months two minutes before everyone was due to leave for a christening. NOW you’re doing this? NOW?)
You notice one of the kids is jiggling from foot to foot. ‘Do you need a wee darling?’ ‘No, a poo’. Excellent.
You’ve learned from the last few years and given yourselves a bit more time to get to the airport. Visions of a smiling family – we’re on HOLIDAY!! – civilised meal and maybe a little pre-holiday drink start to erase the pre-holiday anxiety. We can do this. At this point insert a row as it dawns on you something has been forgotten. It goes something like:
“I said to you, don’t forget the bag on the sofa’ and you said ‘got it’’’
“No, I said to you is there anything else to pack because the car is full and I can’t work miracles. It was like Krypton Factor getting that boot packed”
The leisurely lunch is eaten in pained silence. The woman at the next table gives you the slightest nod that acknowledges everything. She knows. God bless the sisterhood.
One of you goes to check the boards and your flight has changed to ‘Gate Closing’. How the shitting hell does this happen every time? Panic ensues, flailing arms and bags and yells of ‘have you got the…?’ fill the silence as you bundle everyone towards the gate, which is of course the furthest from where you are. Every other person in the airport is strolling – no, meandering – along as you feel like incompetent travelling idiots. You want to stop and yell ‘It didn’t used to be like this!’ referring to your more sophisticated travelling days pre-children. Your other kid interrupts your thoughts with ‘Mummy, I need a poo’.
You board the plane last and try to hold your head high against the looks of the other passengers, which are a combination of piercing glares and pitiful smiles.
And we’re done. The trolley will be along in a minute. Everyone is in their seat and we’re going on HOLIDAY. That wasn’t so bad. You turn to give your husband a ‘we’re ok’ hand squeeze… and the fucker has fallen asleep. Before the plane has even taken off. Where’s that gin…?
HAPPY HOLIDAYS EVERYONE!
I’d like to add, we are just at the end of our holiday and despite all the above (and an inability to hit the gin due to being pregnant – man that was tough) getting away from it all and being together was glorious.
And it has got easier as the kids have got older. I don’t feel the need to pack a collapsible stair gate or bed bumpers (yes, both have been on holiday with us and neither were used) NB it could be that our expectations are also lower…
When your child learns to swim or dive, it fills you with a pride like they’re the only kid in the world to have achieved this feat.
Once you let yourself relax, the letting go feels pretty good. No their usual daily quota of veg won’t be met. They’ll eat a phenomenal amount of ice creams and crisps. But hey, they’re foreign ice creams and crisps and therefore they’re trying something new and evolving their taste buds with foreign delicacies. Ahem.
The kids will still squabble/whinge/fight and you will still lose your temper but everyone can move on a bit quicker when the sun is shining and there’s another ice cream to be had.
Everything, EVERYTHING becomes a little easier with a 4pm aperitif.
I begun writing this list in mid-February. I wanted to share it earlier, to break the silence about that tends to come hand-in-hand with trying for a baby, but I didn’t have the guts. And now I’m pregnant I feel like a fraud.
However, I thought it was important to post it. Partly as a personal record of the experience. Also, it’s recent enough to remember how lonely I felt in those weeks and months felt, I trawled Google searching for people in the same boat .
So here it is:
To give you some context we were fortunate enough to conceive both Bertie and Woody on the second cycle.
In my mind, the first cycle was more like a trial run, a ‘hump and hope’ if you will and therefore didn’t really count much.
Still, when we decided to try for a third baby we did the sensible thing and prepped ourselves by saying (repeatedly) “it might not happen as quickly the third time.”
Truthfully I said it because it’s one of those things you should say. In my heart, I backed our seeds to do what they were meant to, fast.
Cycle one, came and went. No biggy.
Cycle two, not so cool.
No luck Cycle 3 either. It’s safe to say I lost my cool.
‘Don’t get obsessed’ I said. As if. I’m a self-confessed control freak.
It’s around this time every second person tells you: ‘We got pregnant on the first go’ ‘we only had sex once’, ‘we weren’t even trying.’
Well, bully for you. I’m happy for you but JEALOUS! Horribly jealous.
And all the other emotions too. Frustration. Disappointment. And guilt.
Guilt every time I thought of friends on a long fertility journey. Those who had lost babies.
Logically I knew I was lucky for so many reasons.
Logically I knew trying for a few months doesn’t constitute a struggle. Of course it doesn’t.
But even after a few months ‘trying for a baby’ was taking over my life
Making me feel detached. Testing our relationship and my mental health in a big way.
I could only think in extremes. Either you got pregnant quickly or there was a reason to be concerned…
Again logically I knew this was bollocks.
But nobody talks about the ‘in-betweeners‘. The couples who took 5, 9, 18 months to get up the duff.
Statistics say they exist. But noone seemed to admit to being one. They were either ‘one cycle wonders’ or ‘in need of fertility help’.
All I wanted was someone’s else’s story to hang my hat on.
So cycle 3 and my rationale has gone out the window.
Cue obsessive analysis of discharge. Never has the gusset of my pants been so fascinating.
How can a squelch of something between your legs cause such a myriad of emotions?
Joy! I’m fertile and time to bonk or the crushing disappointment of blood on the toilet roll. Again.
It’s such a lonely experience that moment sat on the bog knowing it’s all over.
The vows of ‘no I’m not going to pee on sticks because it’s too much pressure’ quickly turn to ‘I’m DEFIANTLY going to pee on sticks. I want to know what’s going’.
Not only that I upgraded to the fancy Clear Blue Ones. If in doubt throw money at the problem.
Maybe the lube is to blame. Dr Internet says it can slow down his swimmers. Instanstly Amazon Prime Pre-seed. And why not get some pregnancy test while I’m there?
Which inevitably leads to testing too early. A negative result. Coupled with knowing you’ve pissed money away too (buying those pregnancy tests add up). It’s the double whammy.
Other mental behaviour includes:
Staying on your back after sex to keep the sperm in.
Being convinced your eggs have gone off on your 35th birthday.
Asking your husband ‘Why we didn’t start having kids earlier?’
(Because we were too busy having fun, being irresponsible and crucially enjoying being a couple. All the right reasons to wait, which now have gone totally out the window).
Lying to yourself. Any chance the blood it could be implantation bleeding? You know it’s not.
Meanwhile, those imaginary goal posts keep moving. The baby that won’t be there at Christmas, the bump that won’t have appeared by a holiday. The preggo mate you won’t be in sync with.
Nice plans get ruined too. My period showed up on my birthday and then on Mother’s Day. Talk about pissing (bleeding) on your parade.
And then the fact that most of disappointment always comes coupled with PMT. Vicious combo.
The searing pain, when a friend sends a text asking to borrow maternity clothes. Makes sense, you aren’t using them…
And then there’s the fact that your entire social media feed is awash with mums. Torture.
A moment of optimism: at least I can drink at that event, thank goodness my baby-brain won’t affect that work project.
Again, lies. You’d rather have a tiny person inside you than all that stuff.
Stupid stupid body not doing what its suppose to.
But then there is always another month.
And another wait.
And another exciting week full of hope. ‘Could this be it’.
When your body tricks you with PMT symptoms that are just like early pregnancy symptoms.
And my case gives me the longest cycle ever. 36 days!!! When I am normally 28ish. GAhhhhh!!
But you carry on, because its all you can do.
The more open I was the easier it got. I told my mum we were trying, then some friends and my sister. It stopped it feeling like a dirty secret.
I coped by getting my husband really involved. I got him to really understand cycles.
He was uncomfortable at first. But it made a massive difference. He begun to understand the intensity of the waiting game.
I put lots of other exciting things in the diary as a distraction.
I want to tell you I stopped thinking about it and then it ‘just happened’. That is not my personality.
I had acupuncture.
I gave up coffee.
I tried to exercise more.
I learned ALOT about my cycle.
I reminded myself that introducing regular sex into my relationship is a good thing, beyond the baby making,
I include pineapple and brazil nuts in my diet. Could be bollocks. But I didn’t care.
I was reminded that “Everything Happens at the Time it is Meant To” and desperately wanted that to be true.
And I wrote this list. Over all the months I added to it. And it helped me feel better and I hoped that it helps anyone else stuck in that hormonal rut too
And then it did happen. After 5 months. We got pregnant.
And I feel very very lucky. The older I get the more I appreciate what a miracle conceiving and carrying a child is.
I also feel very empathetic to every single person reading this wanting it to be them. I am crossing everything for you too. Because trying for a baby can be very very tough. And there’s me thinking for years well-timed shag. How unbelievably nieve of me.
My parents divorced when I was twelve. It was a difficult time. No surprise there. A marriage breaking-down is never going to be easy. Add to that teenage hormone and it’s a recipe for disaster.
During that period I was so caught up in my own head that I didn’t have time to consider how the experience of taking on 4 kids might have been for either my Stepparents. The challenges they faced, the emotional battles, especially with the lack of support available 20 years ago.
Blended families are the new normal. I love the work Jane of @supportourstepmums is doing via Instagram. I also found her Guest List enlightening and surprisingly emotional:
I became a Stepmum kind of by accident. I didn’t grow up wanting to be one, I didn’t have one in my life and I didn’t fully realise what I was getting myself into. It happened very quickly. I met a guy at a party 5 years ago who kindly offered to hold my hair back when I thought I was going to be drunk sick. I wasn’t, but I think it’s still the most romantic thing anyone has ever done for me…! Somewhere down the line we started going on dates and by dates I mean one meal in a restaurant and a thousand other dates at his house in his bed. I didn’t want anything serious so the fact he had a two-year-old child wasn’t on my radar. Only it became quite serious quite quickly and then it was time to meet his little boy.
I grew up babysitting, loving children and being told I was ‘great with kids’, ‘they love you’ so armed with this extensive(!) experience and endorsement I quite sheepishly met my other half’s son. And so it began. It was a great first meeting and we were lucky enough to get on. I was obsessed with my new-ish boyfriend and opened my arms to all that came with him with complete abandonment. At the time none of my friends had children. I had no children. I didn’t know anyone with a stepchild. It was new territory. I didn’t consider myself a Stepmum at the time and it took longer than expected to settle into this new role which i wasn’t at all prepared for. I wasn’t expecting to have a new role to be honest. I now know I had no idea what was to come and the list of things I didn’t expect got and gets longer as time goes on.
I felt lonely. Strangely isolated in a house full of people. I felt bad for feeling lonely and not being able to explain it. I felt on the outside of two people who were both willing to share their lives with me and I couldn’t put my finger on why. I was really hard on myself and it took me a very long time to share this feeling with my other half because I felt guilty about it. I thought it was a reflection on my stepson and my family when it wasn’t. It was more a reaction to being in a situation where no-one around me felt the same as I did and didn’t understand where I was coming from. Feeling overwhelmed was a massive issue for me.
I wasn’t prepared for my stepson coming to live with us 5 days a week. He did so over a year ago and you’d think after four years of creating a relationship and a life with him in it that the transition would be easy. It wasn’t. I found it really difficult. I wasn’t fully ready to let my old life with my other half go just yet. Although I made a considered decision to support him in his parental responsibility, the reality of it was tough and immediate. And all consuming, verging on resentment. If my other half hadn’t near forced me to talk to him about it I don’t know where we’d be now.
I didn’t expect to form a fierce bond and protection over this little boy. In the beginning, he was my boyfriend’s son. Once removed from me and not my responsibility. Fast forward through sleep training, potty training, picking nurseries, schools, running to dentist and opticians, helping him learn to read, nursing him through sickness etc and watching him grow into the awesome little guy he is…it all made me a very protective Stepmum. That scares me sometimes.
I didn’t expect to care so much about what he wears. I argue with Dad about this. I have a strange obsession with coordinating things. It makes me feel happy to know that the colours on my stepson’s socks match the colours on his outfit. Who knew.
I did not realise how important it was to look after yourself and your own personal mental health in amongst the chaos of child custody discussions, living arrangement battles and major life changes. It’s madness and I suffered low-level anxiety throughout which I thought I had under control from years ago until it reared its ugly head again. All I can say is CBT and meditation. And take some time to be kind to yourself. I didn’t expect to want to look after someone else’s well-being before my own.
Feeling like a fraud wasn’t on my radar either. In the beginning, I would stop myself from sharing stories of my stepsons latest nonsense, behaviour, hilarity as I felt like people were silently judging me or thinking I didn’t have a clue because I wasn’t a real mum. I got over this recently. I’m a Stepmum, I’m happy to own that now.
My other half and I never really discussed how we would raise our children because we weren’t planning on procreating anytime soon so the shock of realising that we had totally different parenting styles was immense. We both thought we knew best. We argued about it, sometimes still do, and every time I’m amazed at how dramatically different we think about things. We’ve fallen out numerous times through not seeing each other’s point of view. It’s ridiculous.
Sometimes I have to take a back seat. That’s hard. Having no control over some of the big decisions in my stepson’s life but having to deal with the result of them is a really strange feeling. That one doesn’t get easier with time.
My stepson drives me mad. To the point where I’ll lock the bathroom door and have a pretend wee to get a little minute to myself and get it together. This doesn’t mean I’m a bad person. It doesn’t mean I don’t like him. I didn’t know that.
People have so many opinions on me and what I’m doing. I’ve been accused of playing Mummy, taking my Stepson from his Mum and referred to as a stranger to him after 4 years amongst other things. This is brutal. I already put myself under pressure as a step parent, this adds to it. No-one really knows what goes on in our house nor the finer details of why my Stepson now lives with us. It’s none of their business and their agreement isn’t something we seek, however, people speak up without being asked and on something so personal I struggle to see why. I like to think I don’t care what people think but when they’re judging you and being vocal about it, it hurts. I just want to be a good Stepmum. Not Mum. Stepmum. I’m not interested in a competition, I wish people could see that.
The level of self-doubt that comes with being a Stepmum is unreal. I automatically question most things I do as I believe I’m missing that magical biological instinct to mother. I over analyse and drive myself mad with it.
There is no social norm to follow as a Stepmum. There’s no way to prepare for it and no book that guides you through it. Navigating a relationship along with it is tricky never mind everyday life. I have scoured the internet for support and advice. It’s hard to pick out the bits that are useful in between the bitter advice and #blessed crew. I want honest, realistic advice and examples of how people have managed this situation with success and ways to improve what I’m currently experiencing. I couldn’t find the right support resource for me so began Support Our Stepmums on Instagram as a way of creating that for myself and others without the negativity of bringing down Bio Mum’s.
Ultimately I wasn’t expecting to really bloody love being a Stepmum. All the bad stuff that comes with it is hard and difficult to manage at times but there are moments of sheer joy and, without sounding tripe, really rewarding. To make a positive impact on a little person life, to help him get through tough times and to see how he grows as a person amazes me.
My other half being a Dad and watching him go through all that he has for his son has been heart-wrenching at times. Feeling powerless to affect the things he goes through as a parent is odd for someone who likes to fix things. His ability to see through the shit and focus on what’s best for his son is brilliant. He does it time and time again. I have so much respect for him as a Dad and a person. His tolerance, patience (at times!) and keeping calm in a crisis is spot on. I love him for it.
I did not expect to be asking myself on a daily basis ‘Is this normal?!’.
All in all it’s a rollercoaster. Through Support Our Stepmums I’ve realised very quickly that a lot of Stepmums feel like this and the first step to helping to fix it is realising you’re not alone. Finding the balance, like any family life I’m sure, is tough. I want to help quash the guilt of admitting you’re struggling as a Stepmum for fear people will judge you or think it’s because you don’t want to be a Stepmum. A lot of us just want to understand why we feel like we’re losing our minds and how we resolve it to be part of a successfully blended family.
Kids hurt themselves. It’s a fact of life. One that is utterly unavoidable. Mostly they are minor bumps and bruises, but once in while they do something more serious. Something that makes your blood run cold.
With both mine it was them getting hold of dangerous substances; Bertie squirted a liquid tab in his eye and Woody ate a fire lighter. They turned out to be fine. But I’ll never forget those horrendous hours in the hospital.
Here Sophie aks @todayIprimed shares her experience of her daughter’s accident and what it’s taught her about resilience.
Knocking a glass of red wine over an impossibly white tablecloth.
Dropping your phone, which was in your back pocket, down the loo.
Reversing into the parked car behind you, somehow not hearing the parking sensors as they beep repeatedly.
I’ve done them all – and the last one, maybe a fair few times (I’ll use this opportunity to apologise if it’s ever been you behind me).
When it comes to kids, they happen with even greater frequency. Paint spilt all over the sofa. Dinner dropped on the floor. Indoor sports gone awry. No doubt you’ve seen them all.
Let’s ignore the messy ones for a minute here. Because the fact is, accidents can sometimes be more serious.
A fall off a scooter.
A play fight gone wrong.
Even a roll off the changing table. You may have been there, too. And if you have, you’ll know that accidents can be frightening.
I know I’ve been there. But last week, while we were on holiday, we went to somewhere else entirely on thelet’s call it, accident spectrum. I can only describe it as the most traumatic thing I’ve ever witnessed.
It was Friday night. As a Jewish family, we traditionally light two candles to welcome the Sabbath. We do this every single week.
I want to tell you how what happened, happened. But it’s difficult. Let me try. Candles. Fire. My three-year-old.
Her hair. Her face.
I’ve replayed the incident in my mind around 10,000 times. I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever stop.
What could we have done to prevent it? We put the candles high up deliberately so they were away from the kids.
It was her hair that initially caught fire. Should I have cut the front shorter?
I didn’t see her clamber up on the stool.
What was I doing?
Why didn’t I see?
I can’t tell you how many different questions like this ran and are still running through my mind.
But the truth is, there was nothing we could have done. Accidents happen. And I have to accept this. As parents, we are quick to blame ourselves. But we can’t and it is how we handle the aftermath that really counts.
My husband put the fire out. With his own hands. He will hate me writing this but he was a hero. He was so calm and collected. He just knew what to do.
If we hadn’t kept her in the shower with cool water running on her face for 15 minutes afterwards, it could have been so much worse.
We flew straight home the next morning. That flight felt like an eternity. At times I struggled to catch my breath. Whenever I closed my eyes, all I could see was my husband holding her, the flames in her hair.
But my little girl, she was incredible. And she has been since. Not one complaint of pain. No crying as I’ve cleaned her face each day. No whingeing whatsoever (and bless her, she can be excellent at whingeing).
She completely understands what has happened and is fine to talk about it. If you ask her, she’lltell you herself: a naughty candle burned her cheek. Her cheek is red. But it will get better soon.
Which leads me to the NHS. How blessed were we to be able to rush into Chelsea and Westminster Hospital’s paediatric burns unit and see a number of phenomenal doctors and nurses – the best of the best for no cost? I don’t have the words.
So what can I take from this? Is there something – anything – to be learned
First and foremost, make sure you know what to do in a crisis. Get yourself some First Aid knowledge.
You never think you’ll be faced with something like this – and I sincerely hope you never will be – but you might. And if you are, and you know what to do, your actions could make all the difference.
Always be grateful. Thankfully, the doctors are confident she will make a full recovery over the next few weeks. I have trouble believing it but I know I need to put my trust in them. And the fact remains, it really could have been so much worse.
You’ll keep on asking yourself those same questions – why didn’t I see? What could I have done? How, HOW did this happen? You’ll have to accept that you will carry on doing this for quite some time. For how long? I simply don’t know yet.
People are kind. They truly are. The messages of support, the knocks on the door, the offers to babysit my little one, to make us meals and to just to call to talk at any time, have been so appreciated.
If you can’t sleep because of flashbacks, a low dose of Valium is very helpful!
It’s ok to be sad. And it’s ok to feel ok. You might feel fine one minute and then as if your breath has been knocked out of you the next. It hasn’t been long since it all happened, but I’ve been told this is normal, whatever normal means.
If you feel you want to talk to someone other than friends and family about it – someone professional – then you must. This is a trauma and you are a parent. You need to look after yourself so that you can continue to look after your family.
Learn from your kids. As parents, we teach them so much – counting, reading, sharing and let’s not forget potty training. But there is also so much we can learn from them. It is Tamara’s bravery, her resilience, her openness and unstoppable laughter that has kept me going. I have never ever been a prouder mum.