queen of faff

Former secret writer. This is my rehab.


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Identity crisis

I’m sick of hearing that I should put my kids first. I know how important they are, and I absolutely prioritise their basic needs. But not at the cost of all else. They’re not more important than my husband (equally, but not more).  If I didn’t have him, I wouldn’t have them.  If I didn’t have his love, support, company, ability to keep me grounded, I’d have climbed my tree ages ago with no sense of how to get down.  We’re a team, and because of that we are both better parents.

The sense that mothers (and it does seem to be directed at mothers rather than fathers, or parents generally), should sacrifice themselves at all costs to put the children first is grossly unfair and, in my experience, utterly unrealistic.  If I don’t eat, I don’t function well enough to feed my kids. Sometimes it’s just basic common sense and biology.

But sometimes it’s about recognising that we are people too. I don’t want to be defined by my parental or marital status anymore than I want to be defined by my paid employment role. I am beyond proud to be my husband’s wife and my children’s mother, but it is not all I am and I refuse to feel guilty any more for aspiring or even hoping to feel anything different. To be anyone different.

I don’t think I really knew who I was before my children came along, never really ambitious or dedicated to one particular thing.  Maybe it’s their being here that is making the need to locate the part of me that is just about me more urgent. But as a good friend of mine said to me as I went on maternity leave: “This will not be the last big thing you do”. I have clung to those words like a buoyancy aid and I am determined to prove her right.

I’m a wife, a mother, and somewhere, way down, way way down, there’s a little something that’s just about me.


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Daughters and sons

I have never read anything as powerful, harrowing or heartbreaking as the victim impact statement from the Stanford University rape victim.

I have never been so hopeful for huMANkind as reading Joe Biden’s open letter to her.

Angry and saddened again to read about the conversation taking place in an office this week – and I imagine it isn’t the only one. Yet again the insinuation that she (the victim) had any responsibility for what happened to her.

My heart breaks for the women who have been violated, some I know personally and most I will never meet. Women who have been betrayed, abused, hurt, damaged by strangers, by people known to them, and perhaps worse -by people they loved and trusted. Knowing one personally would be one too many. I don’t have enough digits on two hands to count them.

I will teach both of my children that their bodies belong to them, and them alone. I won’t make them hug or kiss anyone they don’t want to, no matter how long they have known them or how related to them they are. I will let them decide what contact makes them feel comfortable and what doesn’t. I will listen when they say ‘stop’ even if I am only tickling them- they get to choose what happens to their bodies and call the shots at the point they have had enough – even if two minutes earlier it was fun and they were laughing.

But I loathe and detest that I will have to teach my daughter how to protect herself as she grows up. That other people will make judgements on the choices she makes about how much she drinks, the clothes she wears, or the route she takes home, though they are never any excuse for anyone to harm her. I loathe and detest that her brother would never face the same condemnation for his choices.

And so, I will teach my son that no always means no.

That yes can become no.

That unconsciousness is a fucking no go.

That drunkenness is not an invitation.

That any type of clothing, or lack thereof, is not an invitation.

That nothing gives him the right to take something that isn’t willingly and consciously gifted to him.

Nothing.

Nothing.

NOTHING.

 


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I’ve got this

I’m 23 weeks pregnant with my second child. Our nearly three year old, who took over two years to really sleep well at night, has started waking again after months of sleeping for ten hours straight.

I am plagued by pregnancy insomnia, and in those waking hours, my mind is tormented by what will happen to my sanity if the next one is a non-sleeper too. My brain catastrophizing – as it is wont to do.

After getting my toddler settled around 1am this morning, I was still awake at gone 3am, and so when she appeared at our bedroom door at 5.30am, I had no strength – or even desire – to put her back in her own bed. As she snuggled into me and fell back to sleep, I was reminded of the weeks that became months, that became years, when I was the comfort she needed to sleep peacefully. At the time it felt like an enormous pressure. With hindsight I can see it for the privilege it was.

When she woke for the last time this morning, she hugged and kissed my bump, trying to reach her baby brother through my skin.

Those seemingly endless nights, when I truly believed I was losing my mind, actually enabled me to rock, soothe, and love my tiny person into the affectionate, confident, smart and funny little human she is today.

It was a timely reminder of what I’m capable of.

I’ve got this.


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Trampolines and sycamore seeds

As a person I am instinctively, or perhaps habitually, mean to myself. My inner voice isn’t soothing and encouraging, it is harsh, cruel and critical.

Maybe it is inevitable then that as a mother, I am pulled subconsciously towards focusing on the things I don’t do well, on the things I could undoubtedly do better.

Tonight, in my in-laws’ garden, I was given a gift.

” Come play with me on the trampoline Mummy”.

My two and a half year old sought me out to play with her. Me. She talks in full and sophisticated sentences. She is curious and smart. After some time bouncing and chasing each other she says “I’m a bit tired Mummy. Let’s sit down and have a little rest”.

She snuggles into me, puts her hand on my leg, taps it gently and says simply “We’re still best friends”.

As we sit there in a wonderful, comfortable, contented silence, I also sit with the unfamiliar feeling of doing something so incredibly right.

We run and jump some more, sharing fun and each other’s company, then we lie down in the middle of the trampoline, and rest some more.

“Look at the clouds,” I say, pointing, “Aren’t they moving fast?”.

“That’s not fast Mummy,” she replies, “they’re moving slow”.

I wonder at our different perceptions of time and speed.

We turn sycamore seeds into helicopters, then chase each other some more, and as I listen to her delightful squeals, I wonder how long it will be before she thinks clouds move quickly too.


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It’s time to talk

Today, Time to Change is encouraging people to take five minutes to talk about mental health. I’m fortunate to work for an organisation that is doing the same. This is the post I wrote for our staff blog at work today. My friend and colleague Paul, who blogs about mental health (amongst other topics!) at Dippyman, encouraged me to post it here too. So here is my virtual 5 minutes chat:

I’m not in the office today so this is my attempt to virtually take 5. Writing it feels like a confession, which in itself tells me how important it is for us all to be talking to each other.

I’m struggling.

I don’t know why admitting that is so hard, but it is. Most of you who know me know that I have a nocturnal toddler – I talk about it a lot. What you may not know, because I don’t like to talk about it, is the impact that sleeping for less than three hours at a time is having on my emotional wellbeing – on my mental health.

I am altogether less resilient. My reserves are depleted so I am less able to combat illness and less able to combat the negative voices in my head that tell me I’m not good enough.

Anyone who says that sleep is overrated, truly doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

I reached a point where I was convinced I was failing. I started a new job six months after I returned from maternity leave. I wanted to be good at it, I wanted to be brilliant at it, but on such a steep learning curve, on very little proper sleep, every time I forgot something, or didn’t understand something, I thought I was failing.

At home, I have a bright, beautiful, healthy, happy daughter and my god she’s funny. But instead of focussing on what a good job I was doing as a mum, I cursed myself for not being able to understand why her own sleep patterns were so poor and for not being able to ‘fix it’. I thought I was failing.

I felt like I couldn’t be a good parent and a good employee – and I hated that as a mother I felt a pressure (albeit an imagined one) to choose to do one or the other exceptionally.

I didn’t want to tell my manager that I was struggling. I was scared of the response I might get and how I might be seen afterwards. There was no real foundation for this fear. My negative thinking is exacerbated by my sleep deprivation and I’m a catastrophiser (that’s a real thing!). Luckily for me, my manager knew I wasn’t ok and created a safe space for me to say so. Telling him how I was feeling was hard, but it was the best thing to do. I was met with understanding and reassurance.

I am putting things in place to get me back on track, including seeing a counsellor.

I am starting to believe that I am not failing.

I’m just very, very tired.


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Peshawar

My arms are lucky.

The small body I hold is warm, not cold.

Limp, with the right kind of sleep.

 

My heart is forgetting how to beat.

 

In a world I don’t know

Day breaks with mourning and 132 empty beds.

Sons and daughters, slaughtered.

Bullets lodged in bones that are not yet grown.

 

Faceless men seek retaliation like prizes,

So the death toll rises

And the white stone steps run red.

 

My heart is lucky.

It loves this small body, which is not cold, but warm.

A mother’s balm.

She twitches as she dreams.

 

My heart is forgetting how to beat.


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Ostentatious

Ostentatious. This word has festered inside me overnight. A word that I barely use has taken hold and is rising like bile in my throat.
The word, spoken by yet another person who knows nothing of what they speak, seemed, yesterday, instantly dismissible for being ridiculous. But words, although not sticks and stones, certainly can do harm.
Breastfeeding is a choice but it is not an easy one. It is emotional agony for those who want to but can’t, it is emotional agony for those who want to but are struggling. I imagine it is also painful for those mums who know they don’t want to but are judged for making that decision or are pressured to change it.

There was nothing ostentatious about the night in hospital when, after nearly 48 hours and very little sleep, I found myself alone with my new baby. She was hungry and I couldn’t feed her. The tears that flowed were not showy or flamboyant, but an expression of the abject failure I felt as a mother because I couldn’t feed my own child. There was nothing ostentatious about having my boobs squeezed, massaged, by a multitude of midwives and healthcare assistants who were trying to help me and my baby start our breastfeeding journey.

There is nothing ostentatious about the mothers, of whom I am one, who have fed their child through the pain of cracked nipples, mastitis, blebs. I still, despite no longer feeding, read daily posts from these mothers, calling out in dark and desperate times to other women who know how it feels. They need advice, support, they need hope that it will get better, get easier.

We live in a world where lads’ mags, and even a national newspaper, feature faked tanned, photoshopped, silicone breasts; where strip clubs are a normal part of a night on the town; where a calendar entitled “Backsides 2015″ is on a shelf at just my toddler’s eyeline height, on a stall in my local shopping centre – the front cover showing only the ripe behind of an anonymous woman. Yet people go into meltdown if they get a flash of a mum’s sideboob while she is feeding her baby. I am genuinely both perplexed by and angry about this.

A friend wryly mused last night about packing nipple tassels and a flamboyant bra in her changing bag when she next goes out and will be feeding in public. How else can you be giving a ‘pretentious or showy display designed to impress” whilst breastfeeding?

By your baby’s milk always being the right temperature without needing to heat a bottle? By reducing your risk of breast and ovarian cancer, and your baby’s risk of obesity, eczema and type 2 diabetes? By having a free source of food constantly on tap? By burning 500 calories a day without trying? By your womb shrinking back to size with each suck from your baby? By your baby’s body telling you what it needs and your body responding to produce the right antibodies and calorific content?

Is that impressive enough?

Newsflash Nige – this is what boobs are for.

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