Rainbows & Reality

I’ve been contemplating how to write this post for a while now. A big reveal, in big bold capitals maybe, or perhaps just slipping it in casually as though it’s no big deal. And then I thought; rainbows and MS Paint, obviously.

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Pretty awesome, huh?
Since I came off venla in August things have been steadily getting better. Big T hasn’t had to take any time off work (with the exception of a Dominos pizza food poisoning incident – guys, trust me, do NOT order the chicken wings), which feels wonderful, as those regular dollops of guilt were the icing on a spectacularly shitty cake. I no longer feel like I’m enduring my time alone with my son or counting down the hours until Big T’s return, and I now believe without any doubt whatsoever that I am the person best equipped to take care of my precious little bug baby, including his father, a wealth of parenting ‘experts’, and every health visitor in existence (no offence to any of those, particularly the former – mwah, love you). And those fairytale emotions that I never got to feel when Little T was born, well, I have them now, and it’s as wonderful as everyone unhelpfully told me it would be at the time. My days are filled with laughter and exhaustion and discoveries and big sloppy open-mouthed kisses and it’s all I’ve ever dreamed of since I was a little girl.

I’m not celebrating though, and there are two reasons for that:

The first is that I’m angry. I’m absolutely, gut wrenchingly furious that I had PND in the first place. What cruel, messed up world is it where a mother can want and yearn for a child her whole life, be lucky enough to fall pregnant quickly and easily, and then be denied any shred of true happiness when she finally holds her precious baby in her arms. I can’t begin to describe the dark place I was in. What separates PND from any other depression I’ve experienced is the horrifying juxtaposition of vast love and utter devastation. My heart was in pieces. I’m angry for me but mostly for my son because he didn’t have the mother he deserved when the world was its most scary and new. I’ll never get the chance to make that right.

The second reason I’m not dancing on the rooftops is that I’m a realist. I may not have PND any more, but I still live daily with other mental illnesses. My PTSD is manageable at the moment and has been for a while, though it’s a constant undertaking to keep it in check, but the agoraphobia is only marginally better than it was when it was first diagnosed. I’m anxious too, though that could well be an irritating personality quirk, or even a cautious mental response to everything else going on in my head, who knows.
I don’t say these things out of self-pity – I don’t feel sorry for myself at all. I’ve just learned over the last 5 years or so that I need to keep a level head to stay sane (as much as is possible for a bona fide crazy lady). It doesn’t do me any good to become giddy when things improve in one area if it usually results in me taking my eye off the ball in another. It’s great that the PND is better, but there’s no rest for a brain like mine, not with other conditions that have been neglected and need their chance to be cared for. I wish I could break out the champagne and embrace a new phase of my life, a completely joyous one with no worries – only light, buoyant optimism – but there’s too much at stake for me to pretend this is happily ever after.

I am happy though, and I’m proud too, because despite the darkness I lived in for a while I’ve still raised a healthy, bubbly and content child. Nothing can argue with the sheer fact that Little T is a wonderful little boy, so for that perhaps I will celebrate, and this gorgeous autumn weekend with my son and his Daddy is the perfect place to start.

(P.S. It’s my birthday tomorrow, and I’m planning on cuddling my boys and staying in bed until the urge to pee gets the better of me. Woop!)

Two

Two years ago today I woke up at an ungodly hour in an unfamiliar bed, butterflies in my stomach and my hair a medusa-style mess. I opened a letter from my best friend and lover and read it under the covers, using my phone as a torch. The words in that letter soothed my heart and reassured me more than anything else could that day. It told me that all the choices I’d made up to that point had been the right ones, and I didn’t feel nervous any more. I got up, had my breakfast, and changed my life forever.

Our relationship was difficult then. We didn’t talk to anyone about it because what right minded couple gets married when their relationship is on the rocks? We didn’t need the criticism. We’d just bought our first home, decorated and furnished it on a shoestring, while simultaneously planning a wedding that truthfully only Big T was keen on (I wanted to elope because agoraphobia + a room full of people = freak out). It was a stressful time, even objectively. But on top of that, we were both going through personal transformations away from one another. For my part, I’d just finished therapy and my outlook was new, and my feelings were fresh and raw. I felt anger that had previously been dormant – suddenly chair covers and centrepieces seemed utterly trivial. As for Big T, well, that’s his story and I can’t speak for him, but he was wrestling with his own issues. We weren’t part of each other’s problems, but we couldn’t help each other either because what we needed more than anything then was tonnes of chocolate and some serious self-care, which meant that just before we got married we seemed separate and far away, like we were circling the earth on different moons.

But I’m grateful for that – because it meant we married out of sheer love. Nothing at that point really aligned apart from how fiercely we loved one another. Through the personal battles, frustrated arguments, and tears at midnight in our freezing Hyundai in the supermarket car park, there was never a question of love. We looked at each other, open and vulnerable, metaphorically bedraggled, and said, “I want you more than ever.”
So two years ago we got dressed up, stood in front of our families and friends, and committed ourselves to the unknown. And what an unknown it turned out to be!

Just four months into our marriage we began trying to conceive. We unexpectedly succeeded first time, and so began the crazy, beautiful, sometimes tragic journey that has brought us to this place now, with the amazing little person we created. It feels as though we haven’t stopped since we said “I will.”

So what of our relationship now, amidst the chaos of real life, PND and our whirlwind baby?
It was rough for a while. But adversity has a clever way of bringing together or pulling apart, and in our case we’re lucky enough to be stronger than ever for everything that’s happened. I would never claim that Big T and I are the ‘perfect’ couple, but by my own grossly lopsided definition of perfection we’re pretty darn close. Perhaps we cuddle and kiss a little less now, and we never have the chance to curl up with popcorn and a dvd (that’s our ‘refuses to sleep alone’ baby for you), but we communicate well and often. We really talk, the kind of talking that film characters do from rooftops and laid out in wheat fields under the stars, except we do it in bed with cats on our bellies and our baby’s white noise track playing in the background. We are real with one another, down to our bare bones. We’re vulnerable, and we trust each other with our insecurities and fears. We always apologise. We are trying constantly to better ourselves, for each other, for our relationship and for our son.

I’m not trying to brag. Like I said, we’re not perfect. Big T is stubborn and reluctant to admit fault and I have a cruel tongue and a tendency to lash out with it when I’m upset. What I’m proud of is that we work hard every day to be the best we can be, and in the poopy, dribbly storm that is parenting we haven’t forgotten one another. More than that, we see each other more clearly and with more depth. I adore my husband not just for how he loves me, but for how he loves my child.

Becoming a parent has been the making of Big T in many ways and I’m so proud of him. He is never stronger than when he’s holding our son, never more gorgeous than when he’s elbows deep in a dirty nappy, never more talented than when he’s crooning yet another rendition of L-O-V-E over a tiny stirring face, and never sweeter than when he’s sleeping with one hand resting gently on our boy’s chest.

I’m so very, very lucky. ❤

Eat (Please?)

So you’ve cracked feeding your baby! You’re either a pro breastfeeder, whipping your boobs out in the supermarket/library/park, all while overtaking those childless friends on Candy Crush who don’t have a clue what multitasking really means; or you can wash and sterilise bottles faster than most people can prepare instant coffee and manage to hold onto your child and the bottle with minimal spillage.

You rock, mamas!

But then six months rolls around, and suddenly everything you think you know vanishes faster than your sex life. It’s a minefield of purees and finger foods, potential allergies and weaning poo. Spoon feeding or baby led weaning? When to give water? How to give water? Are shellfish and nuts okay under 1 year? Is it really supposed to be so messy? Is my child eating enough? When will he drop milk feeds? Are his nappies meant to look like that? I’ve asked myself all these questions and four months on I’m still not sure of the answers.

As with most of our parenting choices, we wanted weaning to be baby led. There are deeply considered reasons for this that involve giving Little T freedom to make his own choices, but truthfully a big part was rooted in our desire to sit  back and do naff all. No blending, no aeroplane spoons, no need to specially prepare anything. Bliss! But as is often the case, things that sound too good to be true usually are, though that’s not to say baby led weaning hasn’t been a success, it certainly has – Little T has tried a wealth of foods and has only ever eaten from a spoon that he’s held himself. The problem, for me at least, is that I have absolutely no control. I realise that’s the point, and it’s great that he’s making choices for himself, but man, I had no idea how uptight I really was until we started weaning! It’s amazing what children teach you.

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The very first thing Little T ‘ate’ was an asparagus spear he stole from Big T’s plate at around 5 months. He picked it up and placed it delicately in his mouth like it was the most natural thing in the world. Which it is. He gummed it thoughtfully for a while, then dropped it on the floor before wriggling his way to freedom and stopping dinner time in its tracks. And so went every evening meal time for the following four weeks. He’d sit with us in his highchair or on a lap and play with our food. Sometimes he’d put it in his mouth, sometimes not, but he never swallowed anything. Not a problem, I thought, he’s only five months old. At six months we started taking his involvement in meal times more seriously, preparing his own little bowl of food, filling a cup with water and bracing ourselves for the mess by covering all visible household items with towels.

Two months on, nothing had changed. He was tasting everything we put in front of him – from curry to pineapple to steak to hummus – but rarely swallowing. I suspected that when he did swallow it was more by accident than intent. He was drinking at least 1 litre of ready-made formula a day and showing no signs of being ready to stop, and all the while I was hearing of other children Little T’s age eating three meals a day and only taking milk at night.

Water became a headache in and of itself. We tried two different sippy cups with valves but he just chewed on the spouts. We tried a doidy cup, feeding him with it ourselves (he only wanted to swish his fingers around in it) or letting him pick it up and tip it over in the hope that through trial and error he’d eventually ‘get it’ (lo and behold, the first time we gave it to him he held it on both sides, brought it to his mouth, and took a calm and deliberate gulp – and never since). Recently we’ve tried a freeflow sippy cup and had more success, both holding it for him and letting him do it on his own, but we’re lucky if he has so much as 5ml on the average day. More stress, more guilt, more ‘OMG I’m a terrible mother!’ brain attacks.

When Little T was eight months old I admit I lost my way. He stopped being interested in food even as a toy or curiosity – with the exception of blueberries. All he’d eat was blueberries, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and aside from them sullying my beloved cloth nappies, I felt more and more that I’d missed something or got something wrong. I’d never hated fruit with such passion. It was then that I caved in to my need to see him eat something, anything that wasn’t a sodding blueberry, so I grabbed a spoon and tried to feed him. It was the first time I’d ever pushed him into anything and it felt terrible, which isn’t to say that spoon feeding is awful – it’s not – but for Little T who’d always been in total control it felt like I was betraying him. I’m lucky really that he didn’t shout at me or cry. He simply closed his mouth and looked at me quizzically, as if to say, “What are you doing Mummy? That’s not how it works.” And that was that, bless his heart. He was calm and determined enough that my blip didn’t even have the chance to reach full blipness.

He’s 10 months old now (where the hell has that gone?!) and over the last few weeks he’s shown more and more interest in food. He eats at every meal. He’s still a fruit fiend, but depending on his mood, he’ll have at least a few bites of whatever’s in front of him. He’s even taking less milk throughout the day. All the worry and craziness I felt is melting away, because yet again my son has shown me how well he knows his own needs. Even when I misguidedly tried to derail his progress he kept on going, and now he’s eating more than ever, and loving it.

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It probably sounds as though I haven’t enjoyed the process of weaning, and it’s true I’ve found it frustrating and even distressing at times (he almost choked on a chunk of pear in September – I haven’t had the courage to give it to him since). But there are incredible moments that make it all worthwhile –  the way he scrunches his nose up when he tastes something new or unexpected; how he laughs with a bulging mouthful of cheese; the huge amount of mess he makes and how it really doesn’t matter; washing blackberry juice out of his ears in the bath in the middle of the day; how he joyfully mixes banana with tomatoes and explores the new taste; the way he smiles at us over a meal; the possibly misplaced glee I feel over a nappy that shows evidence of what he’s eaten (there is no moment comparable to that of finding a ‘grown up’ poo in your child’s nappy, trust me).   He’s gone from a small, unsteady newborn who could barely grip a finger to a little boy who can pick up food and nourish himself with hardly any outside input and it’s totally amazing.

Meal times are precious to us. We’re a vision of a functional family in those moments, talking and giggling, and taking turns to help Little T wrestle with a particularly slippery piece of whatever. It’s not about eating for me anymore, it’s about togetherness, laughter and joy, and I have my son to thank for every second of it.