queen of faff

Former secret writer. This is my rehab.


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Manchester

My heart is heavy.

 

After Peshawar, my baby was my balm.

Her warm, soft body caught my tears,

and kept me calm.

 

After Manchester, my baby is now four.

I don’t know how to speak to her about the horror

that’s reached our shore.

 

After Nice, Paris, Brussells, and many, many more,

my baby is not my balm.

She has a brother now and I

cannot shield them from such harm.

 

Aged four and one, they dance innocently

to any sound they hear.

I won’t teach them how to fear.

 

This venue, these children – it’s all as senseless as before.

No bullets this time, but the bones were no more grown,

and more faceless men keep score.

 

These small children of mine, will grow

with time,

and are home with me tonight.

 

I will teach them to dance

at every chance.

 

My heart will provide the beat.


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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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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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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.