Too Fast

Last month we celebrated Leo’s first birthday, and for the first time since I’ve been writing this blog I didn’t post here to mark it.

I could explain it away by saying we’ve been busy (true), happy (very true) and that I’ve been focusing on being present with my family instead of letting my brain go on holiday to creative, rewarding but very distant places. (Creativity is a wonderful thing, but too much and I start to drift and find myself daydreaming about amigurumi I don’t have time for, poetry I won’t write, and chord changes I’ll never play, and forgetting there’s a world outside our four walls.)

But the truth is I haven’t been able to confront my youngest son’s departure from babyhood. Writing about it would mean facing it and I haven’t been brave enough to do that.

Because we won’t be having any more children.

(That’s the first time I’ve committed it to writing.)

Leo’s birthday wasn’t just the anniversary of his arrival, it was a door we walked through, with our past making squishy babies on one side, and our future raising two strong, kind boys on the other. No more morning sickness, no more scans, no more lists of potential names. No more tiny newborn clothes. No more first cries, first cuddles, first baths. No more sons; never a daughter. No more tiny wrinkly fists wrapped round my finger.

It’s the right thing. It is.

Only I never fully realised how quickly the time would pass, and how short the baby years truly are. I dreamed of parenthood every day up until I held my firstborn in my arms, and that dream consisted mainly of the babies I’d press to my chest and soothe, of breathing in their milky newness. I only ever wanted to be a mother, to feel that moment of overwhelming love and know I’d give anything for the tiny person I’d created. Now all that I dreamed of for 28 years is over, and it didn’t last long enough. I never knew.

But of course it isn’t really over. I wake up every day and I’m still a mother, and I still spend my days kissing, soothing, feeding, loving. I just understand better how fast the rest will disappear too. And it’s absolutely terrifying.

Terrifying and exciting, and so very very precious. I have so much to look forward to, and a greater appreciation for it because I know that sooner than I can imagine I’ll be older, greyer, and a proud mum to two beautiful young men.

I’ll be overjoyed to meet them – but I can definitely wait, as long as I can make it last.

Meanwhile, to my youngest son, my little lion –

The first year of your life was one of the hardest of mine, but also the most rewarding and bright. You make everything around you shine. I see so much of myself in you but also a fire and mischief of your own. I’m your favourite person in the world, and I promise never to take that wonderful gift for granted as long as I have it. Thank you for making my heart whole and completing our family, and bringing so much laughter to our home. I love you more than you could ever know – it’s not your job to, you just carry on being you. Keep smiling and keep shining (but try not to pull your brother’s hair). Here’s to another year of you, beautiful boy. ❤

How To Talk About Not Talking

I wrote in December about Little T and his language delay. Since then there have been some big changes – he started going to nursery two mornings a week and seeing a speech therapist on a regular basis. He’s had no problems settling at nursery and his therapist is amazing (I can only admire a woman who walks into my home, takes one glance at me with my hair unwashed and snot pouring from my face and says without hesitation, “You look awful.” My kind of person tbh).

One crucial thing hasn’t changed though; he still doesn’t really talk. I mean, there’s been some improvement and it’s been awesome to see, but with every month that passes the developmental gap between him and his peers grows and grows. And since he turned 3 he’s passed through an invisible threshold and is now considered to have special educational needs (SEN). In some ways that’s been a positive thing for us because we don’t feel so much like he needs to magically up his game in time to avoid the SEN label (why that was a worry for us I have no idea), but in others… Well, labels. And “advice”. SO MUCH ADVICE.

So on that note, here’s my (very personal) guide of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ when it comes to my non-speaking child –

  1. Don’t say “Have you tried reading to him?” (or “You could use flash cards!”or “Just don’t give him what he wants until he asks properly!” etc) Honestly, I’m not a horrible person. I know that when you say this you’re trying to offer help and support and you have no idea how so you just come out with the most benign suggestion you can muster. I really do understand the mindset of wanting to offer solutions, believe me I do. But these aren’t solutions. At best they’re conversational filler, at worst they’re downright hurtful. And given that he has a speech therapist, it’s likely we’re already exploring different approaches. And for the record, we’ve been explicitly instructed never to withhold things from him until he asks. So suck on that.
  2.  Do listen. The uncertainty, doubt, guilt and worry is hard work, especially alongside the day-to-day drudgery and stress of maintaining a marriage, parenting two kids, paying bills and stopping the house falling down, so it’s sometimes nice to be able to say, “This is shit,” to a trusted friend or family member and have them pat me on the head and feed me cake without trying to fix my son or change my feelings. I love my beautiful boy with all my heart and I have 100% got this, but it’s not always easy and it’s great to let my guard down around the people I care about.
  3. Don’t tell me he could be autistic. I’ve got news for you – I know! It’s a very real possibility and not one we’re frightened of. But at this point in time we’re not pursuing an assessment for him. Just because my son has delayed speech it doesn’t mean he owes the world anything. He doesn’t owe the world an answer, and that would be the only reason for us to seek a diagnosis. And yes, the answer could be that he’s autistic. But it could also not. We may find out definitively one day, but while he’s happy and there are no other “problems” with his development we want him to enjoy being a young child with as little scrutiny as possible. That’s our choice and it’s the right one for him. Remember, we’ve got this! 🙂
  4. Do speak to him. His hearing is fine, and while he often doesn’t appear to be listening, I promise he is. And it’s okay to ask him questions, just don’t expect an (obvious) answer then let the “conversation” dry up because you don’t know where to go next. Observe him, talk about what he’s doing, engage in his play. With a child like Tristan you need to get inside his world. Sit on the floor with him, pick up a toy, connect with the child inside yourself and go on wonderful imaginative adventures with my son. He may not talk but he isn’t quiet and his universe is bright, bold and colourful. I promise you it’s worth finding it.
  5. Don’t assume he’s unintelligent. No he doesn’t talk much yet, but try to remember that in all other ways he’s just like any other 3 year old. He loves Pixar movies, being outside, climbing things, small world play and splashing in puddles. He found a ladybird at nursery a few weeks ago and proudly showed everyone. He’s learning to share. He has tantrums. He likes chicken nuggets and chocolate. He loves novelty and trying new things. I don’t really know how smart he is, but it doesn’t matter! Don’t make assumptions either way. Just enjoy him and take him as he is.
  6. Do ask questions. After everything I’ve written above it might seem like it’s a bit of minefield and it’s best to keep quiet and ignore the speech delayed elephant in the room but that elephant is my son and perhaps surprisingly, his development isn’t something I’m ashamed of. I love talking about my kids, and nothing makes me love a person more than when they embrace the subject of T’s speech and ask about it meaningfully and rationally. It’s perfectly reasonable to ask about his hearing or what our plans for his education are should his communication not change much by the time he reaches compulsory school age. Ask away. Just don’t be a dick (see #1).
  7. Don’t tell me about Susan’s nephew’s goddaughter who didn’t speak til she was 5. Truthbomb time – I don’t care. And I know about Einstein. And Mark Rylance. It’s not that these examples don’t make me feel better in the moment – they do. But I want to let go of the need for Tristan to meet certain expectations of ‘normal’. He didn’t meet the goal of talking by 3 so now people try to helpfully move the goalposts for him. Einstein means he has til he’s 4! Mark Rylance didn’t talk until he was 6! The point is that I don’t want goalposts for Tristan at all. What happens if he reaches 5 years old and still isn’t talking, what then? Will he have failed at normality? Why does it even matter? That’s what I’m trying to let go of. He probably will talk one day and catch up with peers, but he may not. Changing goalposts isn’t helping to embrace him as he is now or as he could possibly be in the future, it’s just another arbitrary mark to potentially miss.
  8. Do tell us we’re doing a good job. Okay, so this is more than a little vain, but as I said above this isn’t always an easy journey. I have blamed myself most days for not doing enough to help my son communicate, resented Leo because he gets in the way of me interacting with Tristan, and sometimes had to make do with five minutes of reading at bedtime as quality time with my eldest. It’s crap and I beat myself up for it every day. So if you have a compliment spare, send it my way. My mummy guilt needs it.

There you have it. In short, love me and my son, and don’t be an arsehole. 🙂

The Hardest Thing

I was lost for a while.

I didn’t realise it at first, through every nappy change, every bowl of pasta tipped on the floor, every reading of Tabby McTat. Every chunk of hair yanked out by chubby fingers. And the scarier stuff, like all the early mornings soothing my tired and anxious husband as he wrestled with fears bigger than himself, all the late nights talking about our relationship, picking us up and hoping he didn’t drop us again. Toddler tantrums, baby grumbles, mummy meltdowns. Daddy on the other side of the universe (or so it felt).

Pick up, dust off, get on.

I got lost under the waves that were rocking my family. I tried to hold us together, and I’m proud to say that I did. But it came at a cost. And that cost was me.

Not even my self worth, or my free time; just me, the grasp I had on who I was without the other people around me. Like looking in the mirror and seeing their faces but never mine.

I don’t regret a thing. I carried us all and we made it through.

But I stopped being a person in my own right. I was only mother, wife, counsellor, mediator, therapist, personal shopper, accountant, chef, life coach, cleaner, nurse, teacher. It’s sometimes hard when you’re buried underneath so much responsibility to even notice that you’re struggling to breathe.

So I started to break a little. Bit by bit the burdens grew heavier and I was less able to hold them. My self esteem plummeted with every new ‘failure’. I apologised when I was ill, when dinner was late, when I slept in. Guilt was my shadow. I criticised myself for wanting time alone or checking my phone when I should’ve been playing with my kids. I tortured myself for causing my son’s speech delay. I went from solving our problems to blaming myself for them.

I realised it had gone too far when I spent the days before Christmas focusing on everything I’d done “wrong” and apologising to my family for not being good enough for them. I was too busy hating myself for not being the wife and mother I should be to actually enjoy my beautiful boys. Christmas, a time I look forward to all year and always fills me with magic and warmth, was lost to me. I was lost to me.

So I began the new year with a resolve to find myself again. So far that looks like apologising less, keeping a happiness journal, watching movies alone, listening to music that made me feel alive when I was a moody teenager in bad eyeliner and baggy jeans, crocheting more, sometimes saying no and often saying yes. And it’s working, albeit slowly. I can feel the change in how much enjoyment I’m taking from my sons and how much clarity I feel with my husband. I’m getting there.

When I was pregnant with Tristan someone warned me that the hardest thing I’d have to do as a parent is put myself last, but they were wrong; far harder is having the strength to stand tall and put myself first.

When You Speak

My darling boy,

In a few weeks it will be three years since I first saw your scrunched up face and your serious eyes. Three years since you grasped my heart in your tight little fist and changed it forever. We’ve been through so much together already, it’s hard to believe you’re only three years old. How have you not been here always?

You amaze me daily. You are so kind and quirky, imaginative and playful. When I’m sad you always come to me and gently stroke my arm until I look up and smile. You are cuddly and sweet. You love pesto and play-doh – you’ve been known to eat and play with both. Your favourite film is Monsters University, your favourite book is your pop-up version of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and your favourite place is the woods, or maybe the pond with all the ducks and pigeons. You still wake most nights but your face lights up when you see us next to you in the morning and it makes the disrupted nights completely worth it. You are headstrong, stubborn and frustrating; you do things your own way, but you rarely tantrum. I’ve seen you hurt and angry but able to pick yourself up and move on happily. You eat grapes by the tonne. Your best friend is the cat and thankfully it’s more than mutual. You are adaptable, excited about everything, gentle and rambunctious in equal measure. You are every season rolled into one.

But I don’t know what your favourite colour is, whether it’s constant or changes every day. I don’t know what you dream about. I don’t know whether you know you’re starting nursery next month, even though I’ve tried to talk to you about it. I don’t know what adventures your toys are on when they’re jumping round on the table and diving off the sofa. I don’t know where you want to go on your birthday. I sometimes don’t know what you want when you whine and look up at me pleadingly.

You have a speech delay and there is so much I don’t know.

I don’t know why you don’t really talk. I don’t know if it’s something we have or haven’t done (you’ve certainly had less one-on-one time with us since Leo arrived). I don’t know if you have a developmental disorder, or a hearing problem. I don’t know if you’re just taking your time and you’ll suddenly start speaking in full, grammatically correct sentences and reading the Financial Times over breakfast.

But the whys don’t really matter. I don’t want you to be anyone other than who you are, and who you are right now doesn’t talk. I want you to know that’s okay.

I just wish I knew whether the decisions I’m making are the right ones for you. I wish you could communicate to me somehow that, yes Mummy, keep going, this is what I need.

Because I’m clueless.

And yes, I wish I could hear you tell me you love me. Heck, I’d settle for you saying my name more often. And I admit I’m jealous of all those parents of children the same age as you sharing their stories of the latest funny thing their little one said.

But please understand I’m not jealous because I’m disappointed in you, or in any way ashamed. You are perfect to me. I would never ever change you, not for anything in the world.

I’m jealous because of all those I don’t knows. I want to hear your thoughts because I want to know you better and drink in all of you before time changes you, as it’s meant to do.

Like how sometimes you hug Toru and squeeze too hard because you want to love as much of him as you can, but then he swishes his tail and jumps up so you can’t reach him anymore? You feel sad that he moves away but you’re not angry with him, you just want to keep loving him, don’t you? Mummy feels a bit like that when you don’t talk.

But it’s really okay. You can keep swishing your tail as much as you want, my sweet boy. Keep on being you, keep on conquering the world, keep on laughing at random dogs in the park, keep on dancing to the music you sing to yourself, keep on shining with that beautiful smile of yours. You are doing just fine.

And I promise you that when you speak, I will listen.

tristanmyheart

It Never Stops

The spilled drinks.
Cheese puffs scattered on the floor like toddler confetti.
The bumped heads, stubbed toes and unidentifiable rashes.
The calls to NHS Direct and the inevitable, “You’d best go to A&E just to be sure…”
Then  – “Did they think I was wasting their time?”
The nappy changes, clothes changes, channel changes.
The sticky fingers, sweaty hair, and toenails that desperately need trimming before he learns to catch small rodents with his feet.
(What will people think?)

It’s constant.

The crying, the whining, the wailing as though some great injustice is being dealt even though I’m doing exactly what I thought he wanted.
The repetition, the tedium, the repetition.
The wooden cars driven up my legs, the tiny giraffe in my hair, the hands everywhere.
On me ALL THE TIME.
Bathe, rinse, repeat.
(Except don’t rinse because he hates water in his face.
And never repeat.
Unless you’re a toddler, in which case repeat everything forever.)

The mess. Everywhere. Walls, floors, faces.
The incomparable pain of standing on a lego brick.

(No, wait – standing on a metal biplane is worse.)

Coffee, cake, chocolate.
Must eat better. Could join the gym.

Maybe next month.
I need the comfort and calories after another aborted day out.
I’m sure he liked farm animals last week?

The noise! Shouting, screaming, banging, burping, scraping, throwing.
All when the other is trying to sleep.
Do they do it deliberately?
Why are they doing this to me?

The snapping, the yelling.

The apologising.

This isn’t the mother I want to be.
I’m not equal to this.

The fear.
The guilt.
The worry.

It never ends.

I can’t do this.

Each day the same.
Alarm. Breakfast.
Coffee, cake, chocolate.
The same TV shows (we sing the theme tunes together).
The jigsaws, the play-doh, the painting.
The reading, pretending, bouncing.
Splashing!

Did I mention the singing?

The kisses, the stickers, the Gruffalos and Zogs.
The towers, the tickles, the dancing!
The beaming grins that make hearts skip and wrinkles deepen.
All of us together, the only people in the world.
Feelings so big there isn’t enough space in the universe to hold them.

The glances to the only other person who understands what these moments mean.
And the quiet smiles that say, “I know, I feel the same.”

The mess, the noise, the laughter!
The sticky hands everywhere, on me – don’t care!
We’re tigers today, growling and chasing.
My cubs are loud and I am too.

They’re growing so fast.
I’m running to keep up.

Stamping through leaves, feeding ducks, counting raindrops.
Holding hands. Hugging.
Loving, learning.
Exploring.

Changing.

It never stops.

Family of Four

So I’m back after my unplanned and largely baby-led hiatus. My firstborn consumed my sleep which I’d thought was bad enough, but now his brother has dramatically swooped in and eaten time itself. Not that it isn’t wonderful and fulfilling – it really is – but I do spend my evenings staring into space, scraping bodily fluids out of my hair and gazing upon the day with the awe, pride and incredulity of someone who’s woken up next to an empty wine bottle, an alpaca and a return ticket to Peru.

Our smallest family member is now the grand age of 5 months, from my experience a time in a baby’s life when wakefulness and screaming for increasingly elusive reasons become firm priorities. Also hair pulling. Between Leo and my postpartum loss there’s enough hair embedded in the carpet to weave actual-size replicas of the cats, which will be handy when they inevitably pack their bags and move out because they’re done reaping the consequences of our decision to procreate. (“We stuck it out after the first but then they did it again and I’m too old to be run over with a Cozy Coupe.”)

So to compensate for my absence here I thought I’d take the chance to share a snapshot of our new(ish) life as a family of four via the things I’ve learned over the last 171 days –

1. It turns out my children being within a metre of each other is the BEST THING. Not for them, you understand; Tristan has virtually no interest in his brother, and I get it – objectively Leo is not exciting. He doesn’t have wheels, he can’t play and he wasn’t created by Pixar. Bor-ing. But for me seeing them together makes me positively giddy with joy. The two creatures I love more than anything in the world INTERACTING. My heart explodes every time. It reminds me of the feeling I had when my best friend and boyfriend (now husband) became friends and I’d watch them chatting in the pub and beam across at them like an over-earnest kids’ TV presenter, except with my sons that feeling is even bigger and the smile even more creepy because I love them more than life itself. My attempts to create these moments have led to photos like this –

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And this –

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2. All babies are different, I knew that. But I naively thought fate would be generously selective about those differences when it came to my own children. NOT SO. First time round we had a sleep thief, who at 32 months still hasn’t learned the mythical skill of ‘self-settling’, is rocked to sleep, has milk during the night and doesn’t sleep alone. Fine, I thought, the next one will be easier. We’ve earned it, I thought, and the first time I placed Leo gently on the bathroom floor so I could pee and he instantly drifted off I believed I was right, and that perhaps there was a god who’d seen how tired I was and figured I deserved a break. WRONG. At five months old Leo has never napped lying down (apart from that one time on the bathmat). Never. He only sleeps on Big T’s shoulder or with a boob in his mouth. Suddenly my pram loving, sling loving, dummy loving toddlebeast seems like something off a Mothercare poster. Leo will not go in a pram for more than ten minutes at a time. He quite likes being in a sling, but not for too long and he WILL NOT SLEEP IN ONE, which seems like a matter of principle to him, especially when his eyes are half closed and he’s chain-yawning. And as for a dummy, not a chance. Why settle for silicone when the real thing is available? Suddenly my well stocked parenting arsenal is looking a little sparse. I have boobs and that’s basically it, and those boobs aren’t even his primary food source. I feel like a total novice. I thought I had this! I should be a pro by now!

3. Gender disappointment is real, but in my experience doesn’t last very long.
A year ago, early on in my pregnancy, if someone had told me I could choose what sex my secondborn would be I would have said, “GIRL,” without any hesitation, due in the main to a natural preference for variety. I’m usually a ‘little bit of everything’ kind of gal so it stands to reason that at the buffet where all the chromosomes hang out I’d go for the XX since I already had some XY on my plate (babies-as-hors d’oeuvres metaphor ftw!). Another, much smaller reason is that clothes designed for children with vaginas tend to have more rainbows on them, but that really is a minor issue since Tristan definitely doesn’t have a vagina and still wears clothes not ‘made’ for him because, y’know, his genitalia doesn’t predispose him to liking tractors, football or the colour blue. But I digress…
So we had a preference, albeit not a particularly strong one. And yes, when I saw Leo being born and he was presented to me balls first (seriously) there was a shock of disappointment that lasted all of one second, a sort of lightning strike to illuminate a path I’d never follow. I was the mother of boys. We had boys. And with no other children planned I’d never be a mother to a girl. And what surprised me was how completely okay that felt. Better than okay, it felt good, like it was exactly how things were meant to be. I held my newborn son in my arms in my hospital bed and a new piece of my heart bloomed that I hadn’t known existed before. Where his brother had brought me alive, Leo had made me complete.
And it’s nothing to do with which box is checked on his birth certificate.

4. There is nothing worse than seeing your child sick in hospital. Nothing. Nothing can prepare you for the powerlessness, the frustration, the guilt. But you get through it. You manage, somehow. You don’t sleep, you barely have a chance to eat – but you cope. And you come out the other side more fiercely protective of your tiny human than you thought possible, and with a quiet but steely belief in yourself as a parent.

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5. I found out who my true friends are, and they aren’t all the people I’d have guessed when I started my parenting journey more than three years ago. Some have been in my life for many years, others are new, but they are all very dear to me. They are the people who came round with supplies when we had a new baby and didn’t care that we weren’t dressed and our house was upside down. They held Leo so I could take 10 minutes to finish a cup of coffee. They brought gifts for me rather than him, at a time when I felt all I was was a baby feeding machine, and a failed one at that. They offered to donate breastmilk for my son when I was desperate and spent and had nothing more to give. They sent messages in the middle of the night telling me that I had this. They talked to me the same way they always had, as though I was still just Lindy, not Mummy, not a parent, not a breastfeeder or bottle feeder, babywearer or cloth nappy user. Just me. I don’t see these people every day, or even every week or month – some never – but they are my tribe, my village and they have my gratitude and friendship for life. They are part of why I didn’t suffer with post-natal illness after having Leo. They are why I’m still holding it together. They are fucking awesome. ❤

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6. I understand now why my own mother never had new clothes or shoes, why she mended her old things and why it was a Big Deal when she bought anything new for herself. I had a taste of that when we had just one child, but now we have two I understand more the need to nurture my babies at the expense of myself. Kids are expensive and while we aren’t poor by any means, with only one of us in employment we do have to make sacrifices to give our children the lifestyle we want them to have. If that means I have to sew up a hole in an old dress or Big T has to buy his jeans second hand, that’s more than fine. We’re proud to do it. Seeing Tristan pick out his own shoes for the first time is a gift far greater than having new shoes myself.

7. There are different kinds of love, we all know that. We don’t love our grandparents the same way we love our 6ft hunk of husband, for instance. But I wasn’t prepared for how different my love for my two sons would feel. It’s as individual as their personalities. My relationship with Tristan was more fraught, more tempestuous when he was a baby. Harder. And that shows now in the affinity I feel with him, the sense that we battled something together and came through it even stronger.  With Leo the beauty in my love for him is its simplicity. He is my precious baby, and I am his mother, and there’s a purity about us, a bubble we live in that remains untouched by the outside world, as though he’s still in my belly. Nothing prepared me for the difference. Everyone told me I’d love them equally, and I do, but it absolutely isn’t the same.

8. You can absolutely watch The Land Before Time too often. Trust me. You can try to appreciate the racial subtext, the beautiful artwork and James Horner’s deeply moving score, but ultimately you will want to take Littlefoot and his pals and feed them one by one to Sharptooth just to get the film over and done with sooner. Luckily Tristan isn’t aware of the numerous sequels yet, though at this point I’d be grateful for the variety even if that means singing dinosaurs.

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9. I’ve said before that motherhood for me is a wicked combination of joy and guilt. Since becoming a mother-of-two I’ve had a healthy dose of the former and a less healthy onslaught of the latter. My eldest watches too much television (see #8). He uses his Kindle too much. He goes to bed too late. He doesn’t eat well enough. He never gets enough time with me. He doesn’t socialise enough. My youngest never gets to nap undisturbed. I’m not expressing my breastmilk enough. I put him in the jumperoo too often. I clock-watch. I sleep in on weekends. I scream into a cushion when things feel too much just so I don’t have to scream at my kids. I see photos on Facebook of my childless friends on far away holidays or nights out and I envy their freedom. I sometimes wish I could go back in time and tell myself to calm down with the procreation and live a little. I have ALL THE GUILTS.
But my children don’t need me to feel bad. My guilt doesn’t help them grow or feel loved. All they care about is that Mummy and Daddy love them beyond words and that we keep them safe, which we do. The rest is filler. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to make things better where we can, but instead of letting my guilt cripple me I have to thank it for reminding me I have more to give and then let it go. I don’t want to raise my two beautiful boys in a world of not enough. That shit is toxic and it doesn’t belong here.

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10. Further to #9, and somewhat paradoxically, I’ve learned to try to let go of perfection. I don’t have to be the perfect vision of parenting. When Tristan was a baby I was very hung up on doing everything exactly as the attachment parenting guides told me. I felt guilty if I used the pram, tore my hair out over BLW, wished the earth would swallow me whole when I bottle fed in public. PND and a desire to feel like I’d done something right led to that originally, but Leo’s birth and all the healing it brought gave me the perspective to see how ridiculous it was. Parenting isn’t a sport; I can never be the ‘best’ at it. All I can be is true to myself and try to parent instinctively. When I stop checking boxes I find my values don’t change but my flexibility grows, and I enjoy my children more without the pressure of being the poster girl for all things AP. Looking after two kids doesn’t leave time to worry about how I come across on Facebook, or whether it’s been too long since I carried my kids in a wrap, or whether I can be arsed washing nappies this week. Those things are superficial and I don’t need them to prove to the world what kind of parent I am.

In lots of ways life has carried on as it always has. My boys change and grow all the time, and we grow with them, sometimes not quickly enough to adapt to their needs in the way we want to, but we keep trying. We juggle, we struggle, we love and learn and fill our home with laughter, and the occasional frustrated, cross word.
Our days are as changeable as our current sleeping arrangements, but we’re happy, and while we may not be the perfect parents to our imperfect children, we are all perfect for one another.

(Except for the cats, poor things… But four out of six ain’t bad.)

Every Last Drop

This time would be different.

I told myself every day. I read all the books, joined all the relevant support groups, and revisited my experience with T. What had I done wrong? What should I look for this time? Who could I ring if the same problems cropped up?

I was so prepared. I knew almost everything there was to know about why breastfeeding is sometimes difficult and all the things I could do to avoid it. I studied pictures of tongue ties, talked to my friends and family about what I’d need from them in terms of support, practised positioning with cuddly toys (and at one point with Joey, the Sheffield Slings demo doll). I even expressed colostrum during my final weeks of pregnancy and froze it in tiny syringes to use if we had any latching difficulties in the early days. I wasn’t going to give birth “properly” but I’d make damn sure I was going to feed him the way nature intended!

This time would be different.


The first thing L wanted to do was feed. He lay on my chest and frantically searched for my nipple, and when eventually he fed he stayed latched for 45 mins, constantly suckling, waves of oxytocin washing over both of us. I glowed with happiness and all my fear fell away.

That first feed was as easy as it would ever be.

I worked through pain, sleep deprivation and shallow latches during my hospital stay. I utilized all the help I could. I refused any formula top ups. I WAS GOING TO DO THIS. I told myself it was just a matter of time before it would get easier.

We were discharged and so began nights of constant nursing, my tiny boy attached to me permanently. I cried, I liberally applied Lansinoh, I panicked that I must be doing something wrong, but I never considered giving up. My milk was slow to come in and by the time it did Leo had lost 10% of his birth weight, but where some parents would be worried by that drop, Thom and I were ecstatic as it was nowhere near Tristan’s 14%. I kept going. He fed so much that most nights there was no point in going to bed. I stayed downstairs, surviving on bad TV and lactation flapjacks made by a lovely friend. It was a strange, delirious time, but I was determined. His latch improved and my confidence grew.

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And he gained weight. A baby of mine gained weight on my breastmilk! I wept with relief. I was doing it! I was feeding my baby! I relaxed. I told myself it was going to work, that it would all be worth it. Slowly and steadily parts of me started to heal. I saw so much of Tristan in Leo, so I could feel as though I was atoning for the past and feeding both of them. I started to forgive myself.

But then he lost weight. Not a lot, but enough to make the midwife suggest supplementing, enough to make her want to carefully study my feeding technique, enough for her to blame my fear and negativity for my poor milk production; enough to send my mental health spiralling.

Yet still I refused to top up. When it was just Leo and I together, him happily nursing at the breast, his almond eyes gazing up at me full of love and trust, I knew we could do it. It was just matter of time before it fell into place. This wasn’t Weight Watchers, a small loss could be explained by anything. We had this, he and I. We were still finding our feet, but we had this.

Until he was next weighed and he’d lost yet more weight, this time not a small amount. We were immediately referred to the children’s hospital where my precious breastfeeding relationship with my son became entirely medicalised. I saw everything through tears. A doctor quizzed me on how often I’d been feeding him and outright accused me of lying when I said he was constantly on the breast. My baby was prodded and poked. My heart broke. I carried on nursing him in our hospital bay, tears streaming down my cheeks, as I kissed his head and told him I was sorry. Thom reassured me that it wasn’t my fault but I knew there was something about me that wasn’t working, or something I was doing wrong. The doctor had said as much.

Thankfully Leo was well and healthy, but despite that they wanted to keep us in to monitor his feeding. I simply couldn’t do it. I needed my home, my eldest child, my bed, my cats, my safe haven away from there. I couldn’t take any more scrutiny or accusations of neglect. And so we were discharged and immediately started giving him formula at home.

That first night I cried more than I ever have. I couldn’t bring myself to give him bottles because I knew he’d frantically root for my nipple if I held him so close. I was suddenly scared of breastfeeding him, even for comfort, because my attempts at nursing my children had landed them both in hospital. My body felt toxic, criminal, dangerous. I had failed again, and this time it was even more devastating because I’d had the briefest taste of success.

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For a few days I couldn’t bear to let him try to breastfeed. I was too scared. But with whatever strength I had I started to express my milk and give it to him in a bottle. Seeing it there, actually seeing it and knowing it existed, and watching him drink it happily and hungrily helped me see value in what little I could do. And so I tentatively let him nurse at the breast, and through the pain of knowing I couldn’t do it exclusively there was also a warmth, a lightness and a relief. I could feed my baby, I could give him everything I had, however little that was. I could give him that inimitable nursing relationship and still be strong and brave enough to pull him off my breast and offer him a bottle, even though it would break my heart every time. And so I did.

It wasn’t until later that I gained the confidence to talk to a lactation consultant. She asked me lots of questions about my experiences with Leo and Tristan and some things I didn’t expect about my breast development during puberty and pregnancy. After a long, long exchange and many tears I finally learned about Insufficient Glandular Tissue (IGT). An answer, after 2.5 years of self-loathing and guilt.

I refused to believe it at first because it felt like I was giving myself a free pass. It had to be my fault, it had to be something I’d failed at. To accept there was a reason behind it would mean I had to forgive myself and make peace with my body, a body I’d learned to hate so much.

It’s an ongoing process. Some days I don’t believe there’s anything or anyone to blame but myself, and others when I look at the evidence and vent in my IGT support group and realise I did everything I could. Absolutely everything.

So what does our feeding relationship look like now? It’s formula and bottles. It’s breasts and nipples. It’s pumps and hand expressing. Sometimes Leo will want to switch from bottle to breast mid feed, which I can tell you has put me on the receiving end of some strange glances while out in public. But I don’t care because I will give my son what he wants and needs, no matter how ridiculous it looks to the outside world.

I am feeding my child. I am breastfeeding my child. There are some things it can’t do as well as perhaps it should, but my body is not a tragedy. How can I hate my breasts for not working properly when my little boy adores them, when they are his favourite place to be, when they work so damn hard to give everything they have, however little that is?

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Slowly but surely I think I’m healing and learning that there’s more than one definition of success. All thanks to this beautiful little person and the support of some truly wonderful friends.

I saw a breastfeeding support worker last week who hugged me and told me I was doing brilliantly. Perhaps soon I’ll start to believe her.