Looks like we made it

Dear F,

It’s been a long road, hasn’t it? There are so many things I remember from the last 18 months.

I remember sitting on a vinyl sofa at a soft play centre, cradling you in my arms as you slept, knowing exactly what was wrong with you and being terrified of the journey that it could take us on.

I remember feeding you in the middle of the night only to have you throw the whole lot back up again five minutes later. I lost count of the number of times I blearily changed bedding in the unholy hours between 11pm and 6am.

I remember how many doctors told me that you were fine and what the hell was I even worrying about because you were clearly getting food into your system. I always wanted to tell them that the only reason you fed at all was because I rocked you – sometimes for hours – until you fell asleep, then switched your dummy out for a bottle when I hoped you wouldn’t notice. But I was too exhausted to think straight and I felt like no one really cared anyway.

I remember spending whole days listening to you cry, knowing there was nothing I could do to comfort you and wishing it would all just go away.

I remember feeling like I had failed you in the worst possible way when I had to admit to myself that I could no longer produce enough milk to keep expressing for you. You were nine weeks old and I cried on my bedroom floor until
I was sick.

I remember our Sunday afternoon in A&E, which ended with me going home without you in the early hours of the following morning and under investigation by Social Services. I remember how, as black as that day was, I finally felt like there was some hope for you. And I no longer cared what happened to me.

I remember when things started to get better. How my heart felt like it would burst the first time you took a bottle without any fussing or crying. You may not have cried, but I did that day.

I remember that sometimes we would have setbacks and I would feel terribly afraid for you, that I wouldn’t be able to help you or that the doctors wouldn’t listen to me all over again. But you had a consultant by then and he was on your side every step of the way. I will never be able to thank him enough for what he did for you, and for us as a family.

Before you were born, I used to think that it mattered whether or not I did something spectacular with my life, like I would have wasted some God-given opportunity if I didn’t. There was always a voice in the back of my mind whispering, “You’re meant for more than this”. But sometimes it turns out that destiny doesn’t look a thing you thought it would. Here’s one thing I know for sure: For the first year of your life, being your mother was the hardest job I’ve ever done. In fact, the same little voice that had once told me I was meant for more began to sneer, “You’re not cut out for this”. There were times along the way when I believed that voice and I felt like I absolutely, definitely wasn’t good enough for you. Because even on the hardest days, I knew that there was something really special about you, and I knew that you deserved better than me at my best, let alone my worst.

Despite everything you’ve been through, you are the happiest, most sociable child I have ever known. You love everyone and everything. Your smile lights a fire in my heart every single time I see it. When you climb into my lap, lay your head on my shoulder and sigh, everything in the world suddenly becomes very quiet. It feels like forgiveness, even though I know you don’t remember the times I sat on the floor in your room and cried with you because I didn’t know what to do anymore. I know you don’t remember the day I asked your daddy, “Why did we think it was a good idea to have another baby?” I know you don’t doubt for one second that I love you – and you shouldn’t. Because I do. So much.

Why am I writing this for you today? Because yesterday we saw your consultant and he told us what we already knew; we are nearing the end of this journey. Everything about you suggests that you are getting better. We’ve spent the last six months weaning you off one of your medications and now we have the green light to start reducing the other. The bottom line is this: EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE OKAY.

Do you know what my worst fear was? I was afraid that you would have to deal with this for the rest of your life. I was afraid that you were going to be dogged by this condition forever. Yesterday I finally felt like it was safe for me to hope that your future will have nothing to do with the battle you fought for so many months. Here we are, standing on the other side and I can’t believe how far we’ve come.

So it doesn’t matter how many people try to trivialise reflux. I’ve stopped listening. I saw what you went through and there’s just one thing I want you to know:

YOU ARE MY HERO.

Thank you for teaching me how to be your mother. I thought I knew how to handle motherhood before I had you. I thought I’d learnt everything I needed to know from your brother, but you threw me a curveball and you will never know how grateful I really am for that. No, it hasn’t been an easy 18 months… But I wouldn’t change it – or you – for the world.

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The imperfect mother

Do you know what really, really winds me up about motherhood? The other mothers who want to tell you that you’re not as good as them because you’re doing things differently. The women who never struggled with breastfeeding and want you to know that your child is going to suffer forever for your failure. The mothers whose unassisted home births were the epitome of wondrous perfection, while your “fearful”, “clinical” [fucking painful] birth experience was “unnatural”. The fact that there’s always somebody somewhere, sitting on a soapbox and waiting to tell you that everything you are doing for your children is WRONG.

It must be wonderful to be perfect, to never lose your shit with your kids for crayoning on the wall AGAIN or upending the cat food all over the floor for the gazillionth time or having a screaming tantrum over fucking breakfast cereal every sodding morning. But you know what? I’m okay with my imperfect children and my imperfect life. My kids weren’t EBF for the first six months of their lives and they weren’t weaned on organic spinach and minted pea purée. I did the best I could, and I really doubt that they’ll grow up to be serial killers or those really annoying people who get “you’re” and “your” mixed up all the time.

Do they look unhappy to you?

These mothers are all over the place, and while they present the Earth Mother facade, they can be alarmingly hostile if you don’t share their ideology. We get it; you gave birth to your child in a summer meadow beside a babbling brook while the birds in the trees around you sang an ode to your greatness. That’s lovely for you. And you’re going to breastfeed your offspring until they start school and maybe even beyond. I’m happy for you. I really, really am. But you don’t speak for me. You don’t get to tell me how I should have experienced birth or the “right” way to raise my children.

What I’d love to know is what qualifies these women (and I’m sorry to say this, but it’s usually women) to judge anyone else on anything they do. Is it because they want everyone else to feel inferior to them? To want to be them? To feel like, by comparison, they will never, ever be good enough? Is it because – and I’m going to say this really quietly because I think it’s supposed to be a secret… but could it possibly be that they’re just a teeny, tiny bit insecure?

These are the women who never post a blog or a tweet about their shit day/week/month. They never admit to yelling at their kids or bingeing on chocolate or using CBeebies as bribery. They only ever tell us about the things that make us feel small and crappy. And while I don’t actually believe that ownership of a uterus creates any kind of “sisterhood” or whatever, it really wouldn’t hurt for us to be supportive of one another, especially during the shitty times. Because I don’t know about you, but when I’m sitting on the sofa at 8pm, staring vacantly at the wall and wondering why my three year-old occasionally very closely resembles a gnome with bi-polar disorder, the last thing I need to see is a tweet from a woman who wants to tell me that I’m fucking up his life in one way or another. Guess what? I didn’t ask for your opinion.

I’ve said this before and I will say it again; this is hard. It’s hard trying to figure out what the right thing for your children is when there’s so much conflicting advice out there. It’s hard trying to be patient when you’ve had a rubbish day and you’re tired or battling with a stress headache. It’s really fucking hard to not feel like an absolute failure when something goes wrong, whether it’s a small thing like an upside down bowl of purée on the carpet (which can often feel like the biggest thing in the world), or something fundamentally important to you like deciding it’s time to stop breastfeeding. Having someone point out the flaws in your parenting doesn’t make it any easier; it just makes the harder days even harder.

So, I’m just going to say this, from one struggling, imperfect mother to another; all you can do is your best, and that is enough for your children. Please, please don’t let anybody make you feel like it isn’t.

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Motherhood mojo

I’ve noticed lately that I’m a very different parent to F than I was when O was his age, and I’m not really sure if that’s down to how different they are (and they really are VERY different) or the fact that I’ve kind of found my motherhood mojo.

I mean, the thing is that everything was so much worse than I expected when F was born. I expected it to be hard having two children. I expected that I would struggle to get them up and ready and out of the door in time to get O to playgroup four mornings a week, but I really didn’t expect what actually happened. I didn’t expect the morning breastfeed to take two and a half hours or to never sleep or to feel every single day like I was going fucking crazy. If I managed to get through a day without crying, it was a genuine miracle. There was none of that swan-on-the-water stuff, no illusion of calm or of me having my shit together; it was all panic all the time.

BUT F had his reasons for being a nightmare and none of them were his fault. He wasn’t waking me up 300 times a night just to be an asshole, and things got better. Which, actually, kind of happened without me noticing. It didn’t particularly occur to me at any point that I wasn’t juggling anymore. The “bedtime hour” just suddenly stopped being awful and settled into a routine of being occasionally challenging. And it really helped when F started sleeping through the night, because after that I was still exhausted a lot of the time, but I wasn’t OMG I’M SO TIRED KILL ME PLEASE exhausted anymore.

I’ve never really had much confidence as a parent, and there are a few reasons for this. Firstly – and I think a lot of parents probably feel like this – half the time I’m not even sure I know what the fuck I’m doing. But aside from that, most of my anxiety around going out alone with my kids comes from the fact that I look much younger than I am. In a couple of months I will be 29 years old, but I’m only five feet tall and I have the physique of a pre-pubescent girl. So people who don’t know me look at me and I can SEE them thinking “teen pregnancy”. Like, somebody actually asked me when I was pregnant with O if I knew how it had happened. No shit. And then there’s the fact that I have quite a lot of tattoos and some of them are very visible. So, once I take my coat off, I can then see the OMG SHE MUST ONLY BE ABOUT 18 folks thinking “and she’s trashy as fuck with it.” So why does this make me feel more anxious? Because, in my mind, these people have already decided that I am a terrible, inadequate mother (notice how I said “in my mind”, meaning I am aware of the fact that it might not actually be true), so if my kids don’t behave impeccably, they will be vindicated. And, to be perfectly honest, I already think that about myself a lot of the time, so I really don’t need a whole bunch of other people thinking it too. And sure, I know they’re strangers and I’ll probably never see them again, but I will have to sit through a meal or finish my shopping knowing exactly how hard they think I’m failing.

Nevertheless, O actually was a difficult child to take out and about. It wasn’t just me being a nervous first-time parent; he genuinely was a nightmare a lot of the time. Before he could walk, he dangled over the side of his pushchair and grabbed at stuff as we walked by in a shop. He once trashed a whole card display in Clintons at Christmas while a bunch of employees glared at me and I muttered mortified apologies and tried to pick everything up. When he started walking, he would shake off my hand, wriggle out of his wrist strap and run off. I probably should have bought some reins, but I’ve always felt vaguely uncomfortable with how much they make it look like you’re taking your kid for a walk. And once he was big enough to sit up at the table with everyone else, the mealtime fidgeting began. Taking him out on errands was exhausting and fraught with grumpy strops and tantrums. But going out with F is easy. A couple of weeks ago, I had to go into town to get a birthday present for my brother-in-law while O was at playgroup and my husband was at work. So we stopped off at Sainsbury’s cafe first for a coffee and a snack. F sat in his high chair, chattered nonsense at me, munched a rice cake and generally behaved perfectly. On the walk into town, he pointed at everything and waved at people. To be honest, were it not for the fact that I was pushing a stroller, I probably would have forgotten he was with me. I had to take him to work with me a couple of times this week too so I could catch up on some paperwork while my manager is off sick, and as long as he had something to play with and a drink, he was perfectly happy to just chill out while I worked.

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Here’s a photo of F sitting in my chair at work last week

I’m not saying that it will always be like that. In fact, sometimes he gets pissed off and shouts just like every other kid. Sometimes he throws his cup on the floor, and he is an expert at planking if he doesn’t want to get back into his pushchair/car seat. But, to all intents and purposes, he is a super easy child. After how hard everything was with him when he was a baby, some hopeful and very buried part of me always figured that maybe he would be. And as for O, he’s probably just going through a bit of a threenager stage right now. He was a great sleeper and feeder as a baby, and since I was only 25 when he came along, I’m really very grateful for that.

Maybe none of this really has anything to do with how obliging or otherwise my children are; maybe what it’s actually about is the fact that I feel more equipped to deal with the unpredictability of parenting young children. I feel like I can cope if my kids start acting batshit crazy while we’re out somewhere. I still find it hard to cope with the inevitable judgement of others, but I accept the fact that it is exactly that; inevitable. There’s not much I can do to convince anyone that I’m actually an okay parent if they’ve already decided that I’m not. And does it actually fucking matter what anybody else thinks anyway? Yes, sometimes people will see my parenting fail moments and they will assume things about my parenting in general based on that one snapshot of my life. But they don’t know me and they don’t know my children. I’m only just starting to figure out that their opinions are not important.