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Sleep will come….

I knew my life would change in ways I couldn’t anticipate. People told me it would and I knew it to be true. I knew my body would be different, that my outlook on life would be different, but nothing could have prepared me for becoming the me that I have become.

I am a mess. I am a mother and a mess. I sleep for less than three hours at a time and whoever said that sleep is overrated was talking shite. My skin isn’t the same, my hair is falling out, I forget what I am saying in the middle of sentences and there are times it has been fortunate that I have moved offices at work, because just this Monday, I needed to shut the door when the tears could not be stemmed  – convinced (again) that my unravelling was about to take place.

It didn’t. It doesn’t. Because of you.

You are both the cause and you are my salvation. The way you need me is both intense and intoxicating. I have never known love like it and never will again.

You are so small and so clever. So needy and so wildly independent. So confused and so sure. You are tactile to the point that I think I will become oversaturated from your need to touch me, yet I know I will miss it, mourn for it, when you stop.

I heard your dad explaining to you what your belly button was. Telling you how it used to connect you to mummy. I can hardly remember that time. It’s like you have always been here, on the outside. You are a perfect blend of me and your dad and yet you are you, and always have been so.

In the middle of the night, when I am convinced there is no one in the world awake except you and I, I wonder what I’m doing wrong. But then you smile at me, call my name or climb on to my tummy for a cuddle and I know we’re going to be just fine, and that sleep will come – eventually.


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Hi ho, hi ho, it’s back to work I go

A year is a long time to be absent from somewhere. In a fast moving and ever evolving work environment it can feel like a lifetime, and the thought of returning after 12 months maternity leave can be daunting, to say the least.

I am nearing the end of my first full week back at work after maternity leave. My baby was born in January and I remember gleefully realising that her brilliant scheduling would leave me with a whole calendar year away from work. Imagine that: “I’m not going to work in 2013”. Well, not in my day job anyway. 2013 was a year for a very different and important job.

So it was with some anticipation and some trepidation that I faced my return to the office. I certainly felt like I was morphing in and out of at least four of the seven dwarfs: Sleepy, Grumpy, Sneezy and Dopey.

How would I ever survive a working week with the complete and utter lack of sleep that I am getting? How would I ever remember what I used to do all day?

I have been pleasantly surprised at how my first week has gone, and there are several things that have made it easier for me.

Childcare choices. Whether you choose nursery, a childminder, friends or family to look after your child while you are at work, it is immensely important to be confident and content with the decision you have made. I am nothing but impressed with the care my daughter is getting while her dad and I are at work and it leaves my mind free to concentrate on my job whilst at work rather than worrying about whether she is ok.

Memory aids. I hate the term baby brain but there is no denial that my brain doesn’t function as well as it used to. I guess a combination of sleep deprivation and other priorities is occupying cavities up there that used to be filled with useful information. I hate being forgetful and it doesn’t suit the nature of my job so I am coming to terms with the fact that lists are my future.

Supportive work colleagues. These include my manager who is helping me manage my expectations of myself (I’m a perfectionist after all), and the many many fellow parents I work with who constantly remind me that what I’m experiencing is normal.

From the people who tell me that their baby cried when first left at nursery too but soon settled, to the people that tell me they used to sleep in their cars on their lunch break (more people than you’d think!) as they were beyond tired – they are all helping me realise that it’s ok to take time to adjust to being back and to accept that I’m not as effective four days in as I was when I left, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t be.

I can’t thank them enough for welcoming me and rehabilitating me back into the real world.


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Pointless planning

I’m a planner. Without a shadow of a doubt. I like to know where I’m going, when I’m setting off and what I’ll be doing when I get there. That’s not to say that I don’t like spontaneity, but I can’t seem to stop myself planning. Spontaneity interrupts my planning in the most wonderful way. Because being a planner is exhausting.

It tires my mind when I need to rest, and tires my body when I’m busy ‘doing’ instead of ‘being’.

Needless to say being a planner isn’t really compatible with having a baby. And that was really good for me. I was surprised at how I didn’t desperately plan to every inch how I thought the birth of our baby would go (though my husband may disagree with my perception of myself here!), and admittedly I would have if I could have.

I wanted a water birth, I wanted it not to be snowing in the depths of January when I went into labour, I wanted to not need more than gas and air in terms of pain relief – but I accepted I couldn’t have all of those things when my waters broke at 4 in the morning, and various uncontrollable factors meant that I ended up on a monitor, thereby keeping my birthing experience on dry land, (the deep snow thankfully arrived after we had made it to hospital).

I expected that parenthood in general would curb my instinct to plan. I knew I couldn’t predict or control when the baby would come, and that largely her personality and our parenting choices would determine when she wanted to eat, sleep, play and so on. That doesn’t mean the planner in me lay dormant as soon as she was born. I find the feeling of “getting nothing done” really frustrating and it has taken me a while to realise that taking care of our baby every day is getting plenty done, even if the pots don’t get washed or the clothes for that matter. So I didn’t stop planning. But now I plan differently.

I plan pointlessly.

I make plans to go places or see people, and alter or abandon them completely when life gets in the way. It has been good for me to learn how unimportant almost all my plans are when what materialises in their place can be just as, if not more, fun/enjoyable/refreshing/relaxing/rewarding than I had anticipated from my day. Every day is different, every day brings me something new, something challenging, often something exhausting, but always something utterly delightful, from just being with our baby.

I am going back to work soon. My job needs me to be organised and to plan ahead. It also requires me to adapt quickly to constantly changing circumstances. It will be interesting to see which trait comes out on top when I get back.

Whatever the case, I think this time on maternity leave has shown me how to slow down and appreciate the moment I’m in. I hope I can hold on to that when my other life beckons.


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Sleep when they sleep

Sleep when she sleeps” was the most well intended, ubiquitous and overwhelmingly unhelpful piece of advice I received after the birth of my daughter.

I say ubiquitous because in the early days it really did feel like everyone I met who noticed I had a newborn would say it to me. Not just friends and family, but my midwife, health visitor, the supermarket cashier (upon noticing my baggy eyes and pale face).

I say well intended, because it was just that. The message really being that I was important too and that my rest was also important. After all, if I didn’t take care of myself, how was I going to take care of my baby.

It remains however, one of the most unhelpful things people have ever uttered to me following the arrival of our small person, regardless of the thoughtful intent behind the words. It is even more frustrating to hear when you are sleep deprived and just generally exhausted.

The reason it is so unhelpful is because quite simply – in my world at least – it just doesn’t work like that.

Take my baby for example, she is not a good napper. She also does not cope well with being tired. Trying to persuade a baby that she needs a nap when she is quite positive that she doesn’t, is one of the less enjoyable aspects of parenthood. She naps very easily if she is being pushed around in the buggy, or taken for a drive in the car, or gently rocked in my arms from side to side. A little impractical for me though, to be napping while I am doing any of those things for her.

She often falls asleep after feeding, but she is a light sleeper during the day, and will wake as soon as I move her (regardless of how long I wait to move her!). I often have to weigh up whether it’s more important for me to move to do x,y or z, or whether I should sit still with her on my lap for as long as she needs to sleep.

This post isn’t really about the sleep patterns of my child though.  What motherhood is making me increasingly aware of is our use of language and the failing communication between what people say and what they mean. “Sleep when she sleeps” is just an example. It works really well for babies that nap well and parents that fall asleep easily (I suppose exhaustion might do that to you). For the rest of us – it makes us wonder if we could have pre-ordered the sleeping variety.

I saw a facebook post recently of a response that my sister had given to a desperately tired and sleep deprived new mum. She said “Nap when you can”. A subtle difference in the choice of words perhaps and the same intended message, but if someone had used that phrase for me in the early days it would have made a big difference to the message I received and the associated pressure that I felt because I wasn’t managing to sleep through the day.

I’m typing this blog while my baby sleeps. Trouble is that the reason she is sleeping is because she is in a sling on my back and my earlier walking around the house lulled her to sleep. If I take her out, she will wake up.

So, I don’t sleep when she sleeps.

But I will nap when I can.


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Brains vs. beauty

Today I read an article by Lisa Bloom entitled “How to talk to little girls”.

My initial response was one of agreement, that we should indeed encourage young girls to base their sense of self worth on so much more than their looks. But as I digested Lisa’s words, I knew that something didn’t quite ring true for me.

The statistics that Lisa quotes are horrifying. As parents we should all be conscious of the messages we are sending to our children. I agree that it is vital we talk to little girls about books, and to bigger girls about how they feel about their world. I think we should talk to little boys about these things too. But as a mother to a young baby girl, I also feel it is important to tell her how beautiful she is, and I do so every day. I would do the same if I had a son.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t also tell her how clever she is. Each time she manages a new task, like grabbing a toy, or rolling over, she gets heaps of praise from my husband and I, and wider family and friends if they are present. At the moment she has no idea what we’re saying to her, but our positive messages will, I’m sure, sink in. And so I wonder, why do we have to encourage them to feel clever instead of beautiful? Why not as well as?

I don’t want my daughter to grow up to be obsessed with her looks, or god forbid, the looks of other people and how unattainable they are. I certainly don’t want her to feel that her looks are the only asset she has. But I do want her to have a sense of the beauty she has in her natural self. For a young person to grow up never hearing how beautiful they are, just as they are, would surely be crippling for their self esteem?

Growing up completely unconcerned with looks is unrealistic, both due to the media savvy and celebrity driven world we live in, but also, because of our human nature – physical attraction plays a part in our social lives. But it plays a part, not the only part. If you peel away the initial attraction, you need to have something besides that to sustain a meaningful relationship. That could be intelligence, but it could also be kindness, or a sense of humour.

We are multifaceted as a race. We are shallow as a society. I don’t want my daughter or any other little girl to grow up thinking she has to change her looks to achieve anything. I don’t want any little boy to grow up feeling like that either. The pressure on our youth, of either gender, is immense. 

I will take Lisa’s advice on how to talk to little girls, and ask them about the books they are reading. I will tell them about my ideas and accomplishments. But I wont stop telling mine she’s gorgeous. I’ll just be much more conscious of the order and the emphasis of what I say.

I hope my daughter grows up to believe she can do anything and be anyone. It is my intention to help her believe that. But I also intend to make sure knows how beautiful she is, just as she is, with the hope she feels happy in her own skin.


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Grieving for gluten

Shortly after my thirtieth birthday, I was diagnosed with coeliac disease. The diagnosis came as a shock to me. I hadn’t realised I was unwell, and only found out I had it as the antibodies showed up in a blood test I was having for something I thought was completely unrelated – itchy skin.

The diagnosis threw my world as I knew it into complete disarray. I called my husband from the hospital in tears when I was told I had two positive antibodies and would need a biopsy of my intestines to confirm. His response was comforting: “Can you still have wine? You’ll be fine”! I had a biopsy a few weeks later and by 23 July 2010 I had gone gluten free. For life.

Coeliac disease is an auto immune disease. There is no cure. The only treatment is to cut out gluten completely from your diet. Completely. It’s not like going on a weight loss diet and sneaking a piece of chocolate now and again. Cheating isn’t really an option. One crumb can cause damage to the intestines as it is the body’s reaction to gluten that causes the damage, rather than gluten itself.

It is safe to say that the concept of ‘never again’ was a really hard one for me to come to terms with. It didn’t apply to any other area of my life, and never had. It felt like all my favourite foods contained gluten, pizza being top of the list.

I had no idea what coeliac disease was. I had no idea what gluten was really. And when I discovered how many things contain it, I really spiralled downwards. As melodramatic as it sounds, I began to grieve.

First came denial. “I don’t have any of the usual symptoms”. “There must have been a mistake”. “I really think they could have mixed my results up with someone else’s”. When you see a photo of your own intestines you realise the latter isn’t really likely.

Next came anger – the whole ‘why me?’ phase. It has a genetic connection and I was desperate to understand why I was the only one in my family who has it. Not because I would have wished it on them – far from it – but because I felt I needed to make sense of it.

The anger was followed by a really long period of self pity and, on reflection, depression. I looked longingly at other people’s food and just wanted it. Even finding myself wanting to eat things I would never usually have eaten before just because now I couldn’t have them.

People’s well intentioned comments about how it could be worse only fuelled my anger. I was well aware it could be worse, and that just made me feel guilty for feeling as low as I did and berate myself for not snapping out of it. 

Eventually I moved to a state of acceptance – sprinkled with the odd day where I still really mind. There are several things that helped get me there:

Coeliac UK. They are a charity for people with the disease and were an absolute lifeline, providing advice, support and an essential food and drink directory which lists products that are safe for me to eat. I joined my local support group and met other people who shared tips on eating out in my local area, which type of bread was the best, which shops sold which products and so on. http://www.coeliac.org.uk

My husband. He constantly allowed me to feel how I was feeling without putting any pressure on me to cheer up or get on with things faster than I felt able to. He also cooked and made sure I ate when my relationship with food deteriorated.

My family and friends. There is something so reassuring about having awesome friends who, when you are going for dinner call you up that afternoon to check whether an ingredient is ok for you. Then when you get to their house they announce “this is the gluten free side of the kitchen”. Or knowing your mum’s gravy always did contain cornflour instead of wheat flour so will taste the way it always did. Or having a friend who turns up on your doorstep with a paper bag from a Chinese takeaway and instead of it containing gluten-full takeaway, contains home-made gluten free dishes in a foil tray with a cardboard lid so that you can feel like you’re having a takeaway too!

Time. As much of a cliché as that may sound, as time went by, things really did start to get easier. I got familiar with what foods I could eat, what restaurants could cater for me, and tried to remember to take snacks with me when going out, as it’s the eating on the run that I find the most inconvenient aspect of being a coeliac. The work of Coeliac UK is invaluable in raising awareness and more products are arriving in the supermarket and more restaurants are providing gluten free options.

I still sometimes mourn how simple things were before, how I could eat whatever and wherever I wanted. But I know that my condition could have come with many more complications, such as dairy intolerance or diabetes, and therefore I have it easy compared to others.

So now I am working on opening up my horizons again, and dream of travelling abroad and being able to cope with being gluten free in countries where I don’t speak the language. Coeliac UK provides language translation sheets for that very purpose, so I know that what is holding me back is me.

I’ll get there. I hope those days where I still mind will become fewer and fewer. And when I go back to Rome I’ll come to terms with eating a salad outside the Coliseum instead of my beloved pizza!


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The Hobby of Motherhood

I was recently asked by someone who (in my opinion), should have known better, what my hobbies were. A seemingly innocent question no doubt, but asked by a health professional of a first-time mum it can be, and was by me, interpreted as a loaded question.

The question itself made me cross, rather than cry. As a brand new, and sleep deprived parent, it could have easily gone the other way. I responded, (slightly incredulously), that I didn’t at the current time, have any hobbies. I was then told about a new mum who, after watching Paul Hollywood‘s programme on bread, had started baking her own.

Again, a seemingly innocent anecdote, and I am sure the intended motive behind the question was to see if I was making time for me, and having a life ‘beyond the baby’. The reality is that I’m not.

I am a mother to a three month old and we are getting to know each other more and more each day. Her needs change and my world adapts each time they do. Sometimes I get enough sleep and sometimes I don’t. The important thing is that I feed her, change her, play with her, whenever she needs it.

And if that means I take up abseiling, or basket weaving or playing the saxophone at a later date, or indeed never, then so be it. Besides, Paul talks about gluten far too much for a coeliac like me. Even before my diagnosis and before motherhood, I would never have had the urge to bake my own bread. I’m far too lazy.

So I questioned why I got so cross. I think it is because of the way the question was phrased. With the implication that I should be doing something more than I am, when the reality is that at this stage I am super proud of myself if I get me and my daughter washed and dressed every day and do something radical like, I don’t know…..make it out of the house.

So my life at the moment is all about the baby. I’m ok with that. I just wish people would choose their words more carefully. New parents feel under enough pressure to be the best they have ever been and could possibly be, without feeling judged because they bite the hands off anyone else who, quite literally, offers to feed them.

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