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.
Nicola’s instagram @lifeofpea is one of those which I stumbled on quite by accident and then found myself lost in it. It’s a beautiful diary of life after her son Winter Wolfe who died the day after he was born.
Nicola is now heavily pregnant with Winter’s younger sibling and I am honoured to share this brave account of that emotional journey:
On October 23rd, 2015, we welcomed our beautiful baby boy Winter into the world. On October 24th, 2015, we held him in our arms as we said our goodbyes. There really is nothing that can prepare you for the sudden death of your newborn baby. The days, weeks, months and years that follow are unchartered territory, a war field of consuming emotions. Our pregnancy was entirely textbook, my labour problem free. We were handed our new human, pink and crying, his life had just begun when it began to end. He stopped breathing on my chest in the delivery room, he couldn’t be saved, he died in his daddy’s arms at midday the next day. We felt his little heart drum it’s last beat, we felt the life leave his little body, and with it, we felt ours had vanished too.
In the time that followed our son’s death, it quickly became clear that we wanted another baby, and we wanted one as soon as we could. Never a replacement baby, but a baby to bring home and keep, that was always the end goal after all. We just wanted something beautiful amongst the heartache, a positive focus as we rebuilt our lives. Having fallen pregnant with Winter so quickly, we were expecting to have good news quite soon, but it was 14 months until I took the positive test that has since flourished into my rainbow baby bump. During those long and arduous grief-filled months, I fell pregnant and miscarried twice. Each time my lungs were filled with fresh hope, only to have the air stolen cruelly from them again and again. Multiple miscarriages on top of an already painfully broken heart felt unbearable, but we could not stop trying, we wanted a bring home baby. In December, two little pink lines marked the beginning of our rainbow journey. Now I find myself with a full womb, a baby that we are hoping to hold safely in our arms in August and douse in both the love we have for them and their big brother. But pregnancy after loss… well… it’s not quite the experience I was gifted with Winter. It’s frightening, exhausting and full of continued grief for our son. I’m now 6 months in, and my experience so far has prompted me to compile a survival list, not only for others treading this explosive pathbut also for myself for an ongoing future referral.
This pregnancy will be different to a pre-loss experience, this is just something that has to be accepted. Yes, I was carefree before, I took my vitamins but I sometimes ate soft cheese. I lived comfortably with the fact that being pregnant meant I would have a baby, I had forgotten the real fact that life exists with death in it and nothing is ever for certain. I was oblivious to the heartbreak, I learnt the hard way. There are moments when I feel robbed of this beautiful life changing experience, cheated out of a joyful pregnancy. But I work hard on not feeling bitter about that. This time I feel anxious, frightened, running low on trust, but that’s ok, it the way it will be, it’s ok for me to feel vulnerable, I can just accept it and try my best to enjoy what I can of it.
There is no such thing as jinxing, running out of luck, or investing in this pregnancy so much that it will end. It is forever the balancing act between caution and courage. How much can I celebrate this pregnancy when I’m so afraid it will end? I need to protect my heart, I daren’t entirely believe it is a possibility. I look back over my own personal experiences; one pregnancy that was perfect and ethereal that ended with the sudden and unexpected death of my son, one which began several months later when we were full of hope, where we shared the news with our parents on Father’s Day and then lost the baby the day after, and one pregnancy where I declined scan photo’s for fear of becoming too attached and lay as still as a stone for weeks begging the baby to just stay in my womb. All ended in loss. I take from those vastly different experiences the knowledge that whether I celebrate the pregnancy and frame the scan photo’s or hide away and decline a picture, the outcome is out of my hands entirely. Nothing can end this baby’s life except the course of life itself.
Which leads me to this giant point. I have learnt from my past experiences that losing a baby hurts whether you have celebrated it or not. So, big note to myself here, enjoy what you can. Those sporadic carefree moments, embrace them. Have a baby shower, take the bump photo’s, allow yourself to hope and dream. I will want to look back and have special memories of my time during pregnancy, and that goes for whether this baby lives or dies.
There are feelings of guilt. At times when I look at my photographs of my son, I feel guilty that I am giving another baby life when I couldn’t give that to him. I feel guilty that I will be fulfilling all the dreams I had for him with another baby. I feel guilty that from now on I won’t be able to spend so much time on his memory as I juggle maintaining his legacy and another growing baby. But these are such wasted emotions. Don’t ever forget the bottom line; That you love the baby you lost, they know they are loved, and they love you back, why wouldn’t they? And when you love someone you want them to be happy. Your lost baby is floating around, sitting on a cloud, or wherever you believe them to be, and they are loving you and willing you to be happy. Banish the guilt, allow yourself the happiness.
If you’re anything like me, then you will swing from excitement to doom on a daily, hourly, minutely basis… ‘Ok yes, we are having a baby, it’s happening, I can’t wait to hold them…
Oh my bump feels hard, it’s aching, something’s wrong, my baby is dead, it’s over… They just kicked, I think everything is ok…’ It’s near on impossible to not be hyper aware of kicks and movement in a pregnancy after loss, and my mind always races to the most darkest of places that tells me my baby has died. I can’t help but hear those words that were sprung on me in the delivery room, when the words ‘baby’ and ‘die’ forever became a package. If you are afraid for any reason, call the midwife, go to hospital to be monitored, it is just the smart thing to do for your baby and your own peace of mind.
Just because you are pregnant, it doesn’t mean you stop grieving for your lost baby. It’s ok to feel sad. No matter how many babies I have, there will always be one missing, I will forever go through life without one of my children. I’m so thankful to once again have an occupied womb, I feel incredibly fortunate and this pregnancy has bought hope and a welcome relief to the onslaught of grief that has enveloped my life in the past 18 months, but it also does not erase the loss of my son. I’m happy to be pregnant and I still cry for my missing firstborn, that is normal, healthy, and ok.
Ask your midwife for all the support you can get. Kicks Count make bracelets that help you track baby’s movements and stickers for your notes that allow health workers to see you have previously lost a baby at first glance of your notes. Lullaby Trust offer Care Of Next Infant packages that include extra health visits, baby first aid training and sleep apnoea mattresses on loan. I discussed with my consultant about what support will be in place during my labour and have been offered detailed scans and appointments to check baby’s development. There is a huge amount of support available from the NHS so don’t be afraid to take what you can.
Do things at your own pace. Buying a romper might seem harmless and exciting for many expectant mothers, but if it is a big deal that you have prepare your heart for, then wait it out until you feel confident and comfortable. It took me until 22 weeks in to feel brave enough to buy a baby outfit, I was just too afraid of another forever empty outfit folded into a drawer. I’m glad I waited, it felt special to bring it home. And now, we are looking at Moses baskets… one step at a time.
Allow yourself the difficult days. For some mothers, it is passing the gestation in pregnancy when their baby died at that can feel mountainous, for me it is labour which suddenly feels one hundred times more terrifying. Take any support you can get and know that you’re not alone in how you feel when you are confronted with such doomsday dates.
I think Dads – or partners – can feel out of control on the pregnancy after loss path. I keep my husband included by always texting him when baby kicks and reassuring him when I’m feeling well.
Is this your first? How many children do you have? A simple passing question can feel like a lorry hitting you full force if you’re not prepared. Take some time to think about how you will answer these questions, it’s a personal choice and different for everyone. It can be easier to say ‘yes, this is my first’ and that is perfectly ok, no you are not letting your lost baby down by erasing their memory, you are making a decision to protect your heart and keep some difficult personal information to yourself. I have role played this out to myself and my growing bump has provided many opportunities to practice. I choose to say ‘It’s my second’ and then I only give a deeper explanation if the conversation continues as such, where I will say ‘Our first baby was poorly and sadly we didn’t get to bring him home from the hospital, we are looking forward to meeting his brother or sister’ then I smile and give my belly a rub, I feel like it’s a gentle way of ending an emotional blow and hopefully doesn’t make a kind passing stranger feel unnecessarily uncomfortable.
It’s hard. Pregnancy after loss is a really tedious and terrifying journey. Tell those people around you that it is difficult, that you are full of happiness and hope but it’s not always easy to be optimistic.
Remember that healthy, live babies are born all day every day all over the world. It is entirely possible that yours will be too.
I turned 35 in February and my sister text me saying “heading towards 40 now Clem!”, which I thought felt a bit harsh. I haven’t got a problem with turning 40. But I’m not keen to wish my life away. That said, I am intrigued to know what I might expect from the next chapter. Here Claire Goodall tells all:
You ache, even if you work out regularly; attend boot camp; lift weights; run; do yoga – your body aches, and you bend down to pick things up in a really odd way.
Said exercise will open you up to a great gang of people, similarly minded, and all with pelvic floor issues – which will be discussed with abandon.
Your teeth become sticky. You need a permanent hand mirror and your own set of toothpicks with you at all times. EVERY morsel sticks to your teeth.
You like subtitles, not just on your favourite Scandi drama, but on BBC, Netflix and Amazon Prime (no hearing problem here).
You love Zoflora and stock pile it, from Poundland and Savers, cleaning, air freshening and general splashing around the loo, or anyone in the way.
If you aren’t yet into gardening, this is the decade it will hit. You will be able to name plants and flowers and will say things like “we need the rain”.
You will become invisible to those under 30. You will seem insignificant … little do they know that you are more of a power house than ever before.
2 glasses of wine will have the same effects as a bottle used to and will stain those sticky teeth immediately.
You become a detective as your tv viewing is dominated by Vera, Broadchurch, Line of Duty, Hinterland and any Scandi crime which you also love because you have to stop and watch the subtitles and not scroll through social media.
If you are parenting children under 11, they will exhaust you with their need for fresh air: cycling, rugby, football, frisbee.
Once your children hit senior school you will be exhausted by having to drag them out into the fresh air so that they are not in front of screens all of the time.
Caroline Hiron becomes your all time favourite woman, ever as things happen to your skin that you have never suffered with – acne, cystic acne, rosacea etc.
You don’t pick at the children’s leftovers anymore, you save them in a bowl for lunch the next day – genuinely.
Your teen children will relentlessly take the mickey out of you about any slip of the tongue. They will also think they have created coolness until you say “we used to do that”.
Your children know that if they come to you with any ailment, you will say “have a glass of water”.
You will be a part of the ‘sandwich generation’ looking after children and parents (they don’t mix, their needs are too diverse and they can’t tolerate each other for more than an hour.)
The primary school playground holds no interest at all; however senior school seems very interesting if only they’d let you in.
Education will shock you. You will say to primary school pupils “I’m sure I didn’t learn what an adverbial phrase was until senior school”; to teens you will say “I didn’t learn that for my GCSE’s, it’s new” – truth being you never ever learnt it, even if you did A Level maths …. it’s all newly created and I don’t know by whom.
You will introduce your teens to Friends re-runs (also Gavin and Stacey, Friday Night Dinner and Fawlty Towers) they, in turn, will introduce you to Game Of Thrones and Breaking Bad (genuinely).
You will tell everyone with worries about their babies (breastfeeding, dummies, potty training etc.) that no one will ever ask their precious bundle of joy about whether they were breastfed, had a dummy, when they stopped wearing nappies. You will say “just do what is best and don’t take any notice of anyone who seems critical”.
Finally, once you have teenagers, you will realise that anything that went before was a bloody breeze. Gin helps (in moderation obviously, because you can’t show a teen that alcohol is good).
It’s sounds like a massive cliche but life really is a journey. I am learning more about myself and who I am as a Mum along the way. And in turn more about what I want from blogging.
I’ve realised my main objective is to be real. So here is a list of the ways me and my life are perfectly imperfect:
I sometimes (more often than I’d like to admit) forget to brush the kid’s teeth.
We change our bed linen about every three weeks.
Sometimes my eldest’s bed linen has a faint whiff of wee.
I only remember to wash the towels when they start to smell damp.
1 in 5 plants will die in my care.
I never iron.
I do occasionally use hair straighteners to sort out the worst creases.
I pass off homemade cards from the kids as a cute craft project. The reality is I forget to pick actual ones of from Paperchase. Also, four quid for a card is a piss take!
My kids often eat pesto pasta more than once a week. I change the side vegetables though. So that’s ok.
Or fish fingers. Obvs.
I own several pairs of knickers that are older than Bertie.
Truthfully my biggest granny pants are my favourite.
Until recently there was a dress at the bottom of the laundry basket that I last wore in my twenties. I will never a) get round to getting it drycleaned b) fit back into it.
I am a jealous friend. I get a pang envy when I see two mates hanging out with out me.
I aspire to buy classic high-end fashion pieces. But am still a sucker for novelty fashion bits.
I sometimes drink milk straight for the carton. It’s posh almond milk though, so….
I sometimes (always) pretend to ignore that the bin needs taking out.
I haven’t kept-up with my first born’s baby book. I didn’t even start one with my second. Documenting their entire lives on social media an excellent alternative though. They’re sure to treasure those pixelled squares in years to come
My cupboards and draws are all a mess. And not just a bit.
The wendy house has become a very small garden shed where we shameless shove random shit.
Our car. How do I even begin to explain how hideous our car is?
Most of the play dough is either mixed to a nondescript brown shade, either that or its rock hard.
Our jigsaw puzzles are in complete.
The majority of lego men are headless
The olive oil hasn’t got a lid.
The pestle has no mortar.
I only buy grated cheese because I am too lazy to grate it for the kids.
Often the garlic, onion and potatoes have sprouted.
I never clean the oven.
Can never find the sellotape.
There are 3 layers of varnish on my toes. I couldn’t find the remover.
And as for the Plastics/Tupperware drawer. It only consists of mismatched sets and untouched pink Ikea plates, cups, bowls and cutlery which my boys CATEGORICALLY REFUSE TO USE.
I NEVER listen to my voicemails.
I recently had to remove my knickers midway through the day because they were cutting into my thigh.
I then went to dinner commando.
The boys end up in our bed every single night.
And no. The Gro Clock doesn’t work on them. Partly because I’m incapable of learning to set it even though I’ve read the instructions 67 times.
I know for a fact there’s a Christmas decoration (a large sparkly reindeer) on the shelf downstairs. It’s July. But hey we are nearer to next Christmas than last. So may as well leave him there.
There are at least 3 unsheathed tampons at the bottom of my bag.
They are frequently accompanied by a flaccid Babybel.
We still haven’t written Thank You Cards from The Boys Birthdays. In November and January.
That one genuinely makes me feel sick with shame.
Now I have started this list I don’t know if it’ll ever end.
You see there are SO many things that fall short of the ideal version of my life.
I reckon I could write it indefinitely.
But the reason I am writing them is not as some sort of list of shame.
I want to make prove to myself how minor they are.
How they aren’t worth worrying about.
I HOPE that these imperfection don’t make me rubbish or useless. They just make me really really normal.
Our house is respectable and homely.
My children are loved and healthy (although currently recovering from Chicken Pox).
My husband and I like each other the majority of the time.
We sometimes have sex.
I have a circle of incredible mates. We may not see as much as we once did. But when we do we have an excellent time.
My body isn’t as firm as it once was. My face isn’t as flawless. But it’s holding up OK.
The dog gets walked. (He only drinks from the potty once a week).
The dishwasher gets put on.
The mortgage gets paid.
We are happy. We are safe and we are trying our best.
Someone recently DM’d me with this AMAZING piece of advice.
It’s so good that it requires capital letters:
WE JUDGE THE WORST OF OURSELVES BY THE BEST OF EVERYBODY ELSE.
Take a moment to take that in.
It’s true. So so true.
Don’t believe the versions of peoples lives what you see online or even when you go round to have a glass of wine.
Everybody has crap hidden in their cupboards or stashed under the bed.
Everybody argues about the fact that men are incapable of seeing the stair pile.
Nobody has an underwear drawer of expensive, well fitting undies. Surely even the ones that do have a pair of ‘period pants’ lurking at the back?
Life is far too short to worry about immaculate bathrooms.
Truth is I’d rather my kids described to me as fun than pictured me as tidy but uptight.
I don’t expect them to be perfect. I love their flaws.
I want them to strive for happiness, not perfection.
I figure the way to do that is to lead by example.
To give ourselves a break.
To focus on feelings, not appearances.
Better a home filled with headless lego men and sticky Marmite jars, than a perfect facade with no space for soul, fun and the occasional spot of madness.