queen of faff

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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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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.



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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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.


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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