We Are One

youandme

There’s snow on the ground tonight on the eve of my darling son’s first birthday. He’s ill with a fever and sickness and my heart is heavy with the motherly ache that comes when he’s hurting in some way. Between chasing his Daddy across the landing and throwing my Yaktrax in his cot (we have snow) he’s curling up on my lap and nuzzling his face into my chest looking for all the world like the tiny newborn who was placed on my chest exactly a year ago.

I’ve cried intermittently today, thinking about where we were this time last year, how scared and unprepared I was. I’m still struggling to come to terms with how he arrived; the c-section itself was okay – calm and positive even, all things considered – but the labour before was undignified, uninformed and disempowering. I’m still angry about it all, from my own fear and ignorance to the medical advice and lack of support I was given during the following days in the hospital. I’m allowed those feelings, because it all contributed to the harsh induction into parenthood I had. My post-natal depression almost killed me and I now know it didn’t have to be that way.

A year ago I held my husband desperately and screamed and pleaded with him to make the pain stop. He brushed the hair from my face and in a voice so calm yet so full of emotion he told me I could do it, I could have our baby. I was naked on top of a birthing ball and leaking fluid onto his shoes, my face a sweaty mess, but he looked at me as though I was the most remarkable and beautiful creature on the planet. I remember that moment so clearly. He still looks at me that way now when I’m with our son, and it helps me remember that I did have our baby, I carried him and nourished him, sacrificed parts of myself to birth him, and have since raised him every day with all I have, sometimes wearing myself so thin I don’t know where ‘Mama’ ends and ‘I’ begin.

During the newborn weeks we spent most of our time, Little T and I, curled up together on the sofa or in bed, dozing. I worried then that I wasn’t stimulating him enough or taking care of the house well, but now I wish I’d treasured those precious moments. He was tiny for such a short time, and while I remember vividly his tiny fingers and toes and his black, shining eyes staring placidly into mine, I was too busy wishing those early days away to enjoy them. I miss that tiny baby with every fibre of my being. I watch videos and look at photos of him and I smile, of course I do, but I’m inwardly crying for the happiness I never felt in his presence then. He really was a beautiful baby. So awake and alert, always watching.

He grew into a happy, chubby baby, far bigger than most his age, with a smile too wide for his little face. Gosh, I loved him. A fierce, frightening love that made me tremble if I thought about it too much. He laughed often and scrunched his face up like a goblin when he looked at us – to this day we don’t know why. He crawled at six months and found glee in everything he discovered – watching him made my soul sing, despite the demons I was battling. He giggled at my hair, the cats’ tails, rain on the window, and his favourite activity was rummaging through my cosmetics’ baskets, scrutinizing my nail polishes and mixing them up so I couldn’t find them again. I allowed him every pleasure as long as it was safe and in return he taught me how to find joy in simplicity.

As he’s approached 12 months he’s grown more and more into a little boy, with his mucky laugh and love of funny voices and his dad’s guitar. He tantrums and sulks, but he is still lit up, a sun ray of a child, all messy golden hair and toothy grin. He’s no longer bigger than other children his age, sitting in the middle for most of his measurements, but his personality has exploded, and he amazes me every day. I sometimes think he’s smarter than we are and he’s simply humouring us while we bumble through this parenting thing. He learns by watching and waiting, then suddenly doing and taking us by surprise, with a look of satisfaction on his face that one day I’m determined to catch on camera and turn into a motivational poster.

I tell him I love him every day and that I’ll keep trying to be a good mum and hope he understands that even where I fail, I’m always trying. I’m never afraid to apologise. I respect him as a human being and my equal, because he is, and if anything he has more definitive wants, passions and desires than anyone I’ve ever met. That they’re almost certain to change doesn’t matter; fickleness is another human trait I accept in others and in myself, so why wouldn’t I tolerate it in a one year old too? My son is the best teacher I’ve ever had, his father’s too, and I thank him for that, for bettering us. In one short year and without being able to walk or talk he’s transformed us completely. It’s scary and wonderful just how much power such a little person can have.

What a journey we’ve had. My head spins just thinking about the enormity of what we’ve achieved. Really tomorrow’s our birthday, all of us, the magnificent family we’ve created together.
We.
I will never, ever grow tired of being a we.

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Happy birthday, my Little T. I love you with every whole and broken fragment of me. Keep shining beautiful boy. xx

A Lovely Messy Christmas

I confess, I didn’t enjoy our last two Christmases.

In 2012 we were newly married and the euphoria of the wedding was just dying down. I’d put a lot of myself into the planning and execution of the day and I was exhausted. Being Big T’s wife felt right and natural, but we drove each other nuts that December. I wanted a break from thinking and organising, but I had to buy and wrap presents (fuck you, organza), arrange to visit family (they’re lovely and everything but we’d JUST seen them), decorate the tree (more sodding fairy lights), and feed us (food is always amazing, the cooking less so). I called it the ‘post-wedding slump’; I just couldn’t be bothered with any of it. In an act of rebellion we spent £150 on food from Waitrose and ate fillet steak with dauphinoise potatoes for Christmas dinner before drowning ourselves in red wine and Disaronno, and it would’ve been bloody spectacular if it hadn’t been so unfestive.

On Christmas Day last year I was 11 days past my due date, unable to walk from SPD or lie down thanks to severe acid reflux. My almost 9lb son was kicking all heck out of me and I was miserable. There was a small pile of gifts for him, including a newborn outfit with the optimistic ‘My First Christmas’ embroidered on the front, and I scowled at them like they were to blame for everything. We didn’t open any presents and I made dinner in the slow cooker so I’d barely have to move for most of the day. But I was scared as well, with the prospect of induction just two days away. I wanted above all not to be induced and it was all I could think about (and I was of course – Little T eventually arrived on the 29th).

This Christmas is different though. We’re a family of three humans, two cats, a giant African land snail, and an inexplicable number of kitchen ladybirds. We make up songs and wave at passing cars and don’t mind when we have pee on our clothes. We eat messily, kiss sloppily and sleep all together in a heap of snores and snuffles. We aren’t particularly sociable and we barely make ends meet, but we’re happy – because we’re together.

I’ve spent a long time searching for that content, wanting-for-nothing feeling, and now I have it and it’s more wonderful than I ever imagined. Christmas is a day for me to bask gloriously in where I’ve come from, what I almost lost, and what I have. Little T doesn’t understand what’s happening and in a way that’s an amazing thing because December 25th could be any day, he’s just glad to be alive and glad to have a world to explore, and it’s that part of him that makes him so much fun to be around.

I’ve always loved Christmas. The lights, the excitement, the giving and receiving, the food. I even love the dark days – there’s nothing cosier than being inside on a frosty morning or outside wrapped up in fluffy layers. I have a habit though of getting caught in the trappings of perfection and wearing myself out trying to make everything as splendid as possible for everyone but me. I burn out and end up sobbing after one glass of wine and a heated round of Top Trumps.
I’m determined this year to take the time to stop and really appreciate why I’m here and what I’m making the effort for. I want to watch my boys playing together, and I want to curl up with my son in front of The Snowman for as long as his attention span allows, and I want to sip a glass of wine without guilt, and smooch my husband as though I haven’t seen him in months (it sometimes feels like it!). Who cares if dinner isn’t ready when I planned or if the wrapping paper stays in a pile on the floor until the 26th; no one’s marking me down and deciding my worth as a wife and mother based on how crispy my potatoes are.

Perhaps one reason I’m worried about potential burnout is that I’ve been working towards this Christmas for the last six months. As I’ve said, money is tight. With only one of us working, a hefty mortgage and car to pay for as well as the usual household costs and other debts, we live month to month. No complaints from me – we’re happy – but it does make the prospect of gifts rather daunting. So I decided with all the well-meaning enthusiasm of someone who has no idea what they’re getting themselves into that I’d make most of the presents this year. With my own hands. While I had PND. And a baby.
And I’ve done it! But now all the adrenalin and motivation I’ve channelled into each little project (which I hope everyone will like – I don’t accept returns) has nowhere to go. I feel like a bubbling kettle, albeit one with a whole new set of creative skillz. I don’t know what I’ll do with myself come January. Maybe I’ll actually have time for myself. *faints*

We also managed to save on Little T’s presents by buying most of them second hand. Some people I’ve mentioned this to have thought it’s a great idea since he’s growing so quickly and frankly his favourite toys are usually found in a kitchen cupboard or my make up bag and not in the aisles of Toys’R’Us, but others are horrified at the notion that we’re happily giving used books and play things as gifts to our son, as though buying something from a charity shop is tantamount to telling him he isn’t worthy of things that only he and an underpaid factory worker have touched. Many of his clothes are also preloved and so far, weirdly, we haven’t been arrested for child neglect. I understand the gut reaction of the second-hand cynics, but please, before you say something critical, ask yourselves why you feel that way. And then, because you’ll have realised you’re totally wrong, come bargain shopping with me (you get extra points if you find a pair of jeans that fit Big T’s spaghetti legs).
I’ve always liked owning ‘used’ things. When I was a child I loved feeling that I was giving an unwanted toy a second chance at life, especially if it was broken. I collected broken things and I loved them, treasured them even, as though I was somehow making a difference. These days I like the money saving element of course, but also the knowledge that I’m not contributing to the churning culture that is killing our planet and making us all poor. Happy Christmas, world.

Our frugal Christmas, stressful though it’s been at times, has helped me focus on what’s truly important, and maybe that’s why I’m feeling so warm and fuzzy. It’s refreshing to step back from the consumption and the cost. It seems lighter and more festive. I wonder what traditions we’ll be starting tomorrow? I wonder what we’ll recreate from our own childhoods and what Little T will put his stamp on? I’m excited, I’m happy, and above all I’m grateful.

Merry Christmas dear readers. Hold everything you treasure a little bit tighter and remember it’s okay to stop, breathe and savour the moment.

Charlotte Bevan and the Media’s Responsibility to Women

***TRIGGER WARNING – SUICIDE***

The tragic death of Charlotte Bevan and her newborn daughter this month affected me deeply. I’ve thought about her every day since the news came in that she was missing. I don’t know Charlotte’s story so I won’t try to tell it, but I do know mine, and I can say with no small amount of guilt that without the right support and a strong element of luck I could’ve found myself making the same horrific decision when Little T was tiny. I thought about and planned my death every day, living in constant fear that I’d be ‘found out’ and what little I had to live for would be snatched away by the relevant services. I wanted both to be a mother and not to be, but not being a mother meant I couldn’t exist any more because my baby was my everything; without him I’d be nothing. It makes no sense, but it was real. Every day was a new bargain with life and my son to simply keep going. Forget being happy and doing things well, those first few months were about survival in the truest sense.

But I did survive, and I’m lucky beyond all measure to be here. I have my little boy to thank for getting me here – him, and the pills I took every day for six months. Which leads me to an issue that the media has completely bastardised, and my reason for writing this post:

As I said, I can’t tell Charlotte Bevan’s story, but apparently the mainstream media feels they can. There has been speculation that CB suffered from schizophrenia and depression but had chosen not to take her meds so that she could breastfeed her daughter. Whether this is true or not is beside the point; what the papers are reporting and how they’re doing it is negligent and dangerous:

This, from the Daily Mail – “New mother stopped taking her medication so she could breastfeed.” WHAT. The Guardian were more measured with, “…she may have made changes to medication she was taking so she could breastfeed her baby.” These two statements are different, but potentially incredibly damaging.

What the Daily Mail in this instance is saying, most likely unintentionally, is that women can’t breastfeed while taking anti-depressants. No, it’s not explicitly stated because the tragic loss of life is in the foreground of the story (as it should be), but lingering in the background like the cleverest of advertising billboards is the message that no mothers, any mothers, can nurse their babies while taking psych meds. It’s either/or. The end. So if it all goes horribly wrong it’s no one’s fault but your own. Just so you know.

And many new mums, mums-to-be and potential parents the country over have taken in this journalistic subliminal advertising without even realising it.

Except it’s utter bollocks. Morally reprehensible and factually inaccurate bullcrap.

SSRIs are regularly prescribed to breastfeeding women, safely. Research done on most types of drugs have concluded that the effects on babies from medication passed through mothers’ milk is minimal, and the benefits far outweigh any perceived risks. These drugs are saving the lives of women every day – women like me – and their children are enjoying healthy, positive and healing feeding relationships with their mothers.

I didn’t breastfeed Little T while I took venlafaxine, and I stand by that decision. I made a choice, one that I now feel empowered by. The NHS doesn’t recommend its use during pregnancy or while nursing. I could’ve taken sertraline (again) and hoped it would work, or paroxetine, or I could’ve had faith and nursed anyway, but I didn’t have the strength or confidence to go against ‘official’ medical advice even though I now know I could have. Had I never tried those drugs before I would’ve snapped them up in a heartbeat, and if they’d worked I’d probably still be feeding my son today.
But I took venla because I didn’t want to die; it’s as simple as that. I knew it worked for me and I chose to stop breastfeeding so I could get better. I made a choice. A choice that saved my life and kept my family together. And all new mothers have a choice too, and it’s not just a coin toss between sanity and breastfeeding.

Perhaps mine is a mixed message and I’m the wrong person to write this post. I took anti-depressants and I ended up bottle feeding. But one thing I’m certain of is that if mothers continue to be denied their freedom to choose and the knowledge with which to make that choice there will be very dangerous consequences. My job before I became a parent was in the publishing sector so I know how to research in order to write a decent, informative and valuable piece. In the media there should be no excuse for ignorance. We should know the weight of our words and use them responsibly. The journalism surrounding the deaths of Charlotte Bevan and her daughter was appalling, both in terms of facts and sensitivity, and the British media should be ashamed.

I hope Charlotte is at peace.
My heart aches for her and her family.
And for her sweet baby girl.

And for any mothers out there who’re feeling torn and scared, you are not alone. There is help. And probably more choice than you think.