Author, Blogger, Mother, Procrastinator.
Big fan of honesty.
Why I'll Never Regret Having Children
Last week, there appeared to be something of a furore surrounding mums who admit that they 'regret having children.’ I know this because I was asked, several times and by several different media outlets, for my commentary on the topic. Any parenting blogger will know that to be asked for your ‘commentary’ on a topic is really an invitation to pick a side and then go on the telly or radio where you will (almost certainly) be pitted against a parent on the ‘other side.’ There is nothing new about this format and I generally just ignore invites along those lines – not because I’m rude but because I don’t much fancy the idea of having a barney live on air with another mum or dad whose viewpoint is probably not that dissimilar from my own and who I’d probably get on just fine with if I met them in the pub (but ‘you make a good point actually and I’ve really enjoyed this discussion’ doesn’t make good TV). Generally, when these topics start trending online, an assumption has been made about the ‘side’ I would pick and, if I’m honest, said assumption rarely paints me in a favourable light. 'Sarah! We’re doing a debate on our drivetime show about smacking – do you fancy coming on to say you think it’s OK to smack your kids?' ... 'Hi Sarah, we’re looking for a mum who regularly drinks alcohol straight after the school run, can you get to our studio tomorrow morning?' ... 'Hi Sarah, do your kids have all their teeth or have any had to be taken out due to sugar consumption? We’d love to have you on if they’re missing a few!' ... 'Unmumsy Mum, we’re doing a feature about mums who put heroin in their kids’ Bolognese and thought you’d probably be OK with that…' (the last one is a lie, but you get the idea). To a certain extent, I understand why they contact me. If they’ve managed to find a ‘good mum’ for the opposing side (enter Ruth from stage left), they need a mum who is a bit rougher around the edges to add some balance. Producer Bob probably takes one look at my page before declaring, ‘I’ve found one! She swears, enjoys a glass of wine and relies heavily on frozen beige carbs - she’s bound to smack her kids and not brush their teeth. Let’s get her on!’ It’s mildly offensive that I am continually invited to represent the ‘bad mum’ side of any debate but I generally have far better things to do than dwell on it or reply, ‘Actually Bob, my boys’ teeth are fucking sparkly.' However, the plentiful invites I had of this nature last week ruffled my feathers because this time, the assumption had been made that I somehow regret having children. ‘We thought you might have something interesting to offer on this debate from the side of those mums who wish they hadn’t had children.’ Let’s just let that sink in for a second. Wow. I have poured my parenting heart out many times on this blog and in my books. There have been some admissions I’m not proud of (like the time I called baby Henry an arsehole then cried about calling him an arsehole), bits I’ve found it difficult to talk about (mainly all the times I’ve wobbled over feeling like I’m not cut out for the job) and a whole load of honesty about how I’ve really found the various stages of the parenting adventure. One thing I've never said is that I regret having children and that’s because it is something I have never felt. Yes, in the thick of the sleep-deprived, newborn fog when the baby wouldn’t settle and I tried to breastfeed a pillow I may have said, “We should have got a dog.” And sure, there was that afternoon when I text James to say, ‘What the hell have we created?’ after Henry had a paddy about ‘the wrong ham’ in his sandwich just moments before Jude pulled his trousers down and shat in the DVD cupboard (RIP Despicable Me 2) but never have I wished that I could turn back the clock and not have children. Even trying to imagine a sort of parallel universe where I’m not a parent is just about the saddest thing I can think of and that’s not to say I don’t understand people who decide having kids isn’t for them, I just mean it’s sad because I know now what being a parent is like. I’ve lived, breathed and (house full of boys) smelt parenthood every day for the last six years and on every one* of those days I have counted myself lucky that I am a mum. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s a bit boring (controversial statement in itself, but there we go). Sometimes it’s hilarious. Sometimes, a certain milestone or simply holding a tiny hand makes my heart sing and I mean SING with joy. Sometimes I worry that I’m cocking it all up. Sometimes I just want five minutes’ peace in the bathroom because it’s that time of the month and I’d rather not be interrogated about the ‘little mice’ and ‘Mummy’s willy’ again. Sometimes I think how nice it would be to have a duvet day and watch something that isn’t WWE or Henry Danger. Sometimes the kids do something I’m extremely proud of and I want to climb to the top of a very tall tower and shout “Those are MY kids! Mine!”Sometimes a photo on Timehop reminds me of the days when I could, if I so wished, spend all of Saturday getting ready for a night out and all of Sunday recovering from it. I may look back fondly on those days and sometimes I may even joke, ‘take me back!’ but never have I truly wished to go back there. In the alarmingly wide spectrum of feelings I have experienced since having children, regret is simply not one of them. I don’t know who I’ve written this post for, really. Perhaps it’s a more measured response to all those people who thought I would be the ideal candidate to talk about the regret of having children. Perhaps it’s for the fellow mums and dads who crave a full night’s sleep and have the odd ugly cry when they find dairylea in their best trainers, yet still wouldn’t change it for the world. Or perhaps it’s for my boys who will no doubt read this one day and think, stop blethering, Mother. Henry, Jude, Wilf – if Mummy could live her life one hundred million times over, the three of you and your dad would be in it every time. No regrets. *When I said I'd counted myself lucky on each and every parenting day over the last six years, I was, of course, excluding Legoland.
Wilf's Birth Story
It has, quite remarkably, been three months since our unit of four became a five. I have been meaning to blog our birth story ever since and in many ways, I’m surprised it has taken me this long to share what was an overwhelmingly positive experience. I suppose I’ve been a bit worried that anything written in the newborn-brain-fog wouldn’t do our story justice but I’m not sure the fog is going to lift any time soon (I can still barely string a spoken sentence together) so I’m going to do my best. As most of you will know, Wilf is our third baby. My previous two deliveries were less than ideal and, if I’m honest, had left me feeling pretty negative about labour. I won’t give you the full background on Henry and Jude’s deliveries as this could easily become Essays in the Unmumsy Births volumes 1-100 but in a nutshell, I had preeclampsia with Henry and a ‘failure to progress’ with Jude, leading to two very ‘medical’ feeling births: me on my back, bright lights, lots of bodies in the room, ALL the drugs and a total loss of control on my part – the low point being during birth two, when I went on strike at 10cm dilated, sploshing about completely naked in my waters, refusing to push and declaring that I was dying (out of sheer terror, I think – I can still remember the panic!) Wilf’s birth could not have been more different and three months later I'm still on Cloud 9 about how well it went. Shortly after I’d had Jude (who was ‘definitely going to be our last, thank you and goodnight’) I wrote that in the unlikely event that I ever had another one, I would give hypnobirthing a bash and I cannot begin to tell you how glad I am that I did. I honestly feel that the whole delivery was a testament to hypnobirthing. On the morning of 12th December, I had ‘the show’ (always makes me want to do jazz hands) and started to feel a bit funny. I had Henry’s nativity play at the local church at 10AM and by the time I was sat down listening to him singing Prickly Hay I was having light contractions every 15 minutes or so (way more intense than Braxton Hicks but I could still chat through them). Back at home, they continued in the same manner for the best part of the day (not yet enough to head to the hospital) so I did my best to chill out, watching The Holiday (love that film), drinking tea and eating biscuits. At 4PM, I attempted a nap to bank some sleep and help me relax but found I could no longer sleep through the contractions, which were around every 10 mins. At 5pm, my waters broke all over the living room floor (proper comedy waters gush like in the movies, it was everywhere). It was at this point that I had a bit of a worry as I realised, with all the excitement over things ‘kicking off’, that I hadn’t felt the baby move for a couple of hours. After phoning triage at the hospital, I was told I needed to go in just to check the baby’s heart rate and although I had hoped to relax at home for a lot longer to minimise hospital time, I needed peace of mind that he was OK, so we loaded the car with the hospital bags (yes bags, as James has his own bag with snacks and drinks to 'keep him going') and off we went. I don’t know if it was James’s driving or the sudden change of plan but during the 10 minute car journey I had three contractions and they were pretty intense! With Christmas songs on the radio, I started breathing as I’d been practicing - in for 4, out for 8 – and felt pretty calm and relaxed as we arrived. The midwives were not expecting me to be in active labour when I turned up and I think my calmness on arrival was deceiving, so we were told to wait in the general triage waiting area. This was not ideal as by this point I was having contractions every 2-3 minutes and could no longer sit down. I waddled over and told the lady on the desk that things had changed and I needed to get to a room in the birth centre ASAP (the polite way of saying ‘shit’s getting real’). We were put in an assessment room to check Wilf’s heart rate which was fine, thank God, but my blood pressure was not and it was at this point that I feared my calm birth was about the fly out the window. Given my history of preeclampsia, the rapidly increasing blood pressure was a big concern and after consultation with doctors, I was told that the recommendation was to send me to labour ward and not the birth centre as planned. I was also informed that a water birth was no longer recommended, due to an increased risk of fitting associated with the blood pressure drama. If there was a Sliding Doors moment of the labour, where everything could have changed, this was it. I remembered Siobhan (my hypnobirthing teacher)’s encouragement to ask questions about the risks and benefits of any decision (and needing to change my mind set about ‘not being allowed’ to do things). Given that I was already having contractions every two minutes, I asked if it would be at all possible to get into a pool and reassess my blood pressure from there, as I had a strong feeling the baby would be making an appearance very soon and I was terrified that laying on my back on a labour ward would set me back. Our midwife, Rosie, was brilliant, and given that my blood pressure was not yet an emergency situation (let me be clear: if it had been deemed at all dangerous, I would have waddled at speed to labour ward), she agreed to try it my way for a bit in the hope that the pool would relax me. The next two hours were everything I had hoped birth would be this time around. James put some gentle spa music on, we sprayed some relaxing room spray and I went into my own zone, focusing on breathing and, lo and behold, my blood pressure went DOWN! I had requested to have no internal examinations (as these really stressed me out in previous deliveries) so was left to my own devices, with Rosie monitoring Wilf’s heartbeat with the hand-held Doppler thingy while I was in the pool. For an hour and a half, I barely made any noise except to breathe as I'd practiced and I really made use of the visualisation techniques, particularly a hot air balloon one where I imagined the hot air balloon inflating as I felt a contraction coming on, and then floating away as it eased off. I found it really helpful to have something to focus on and I can’t even begin to tell you how different it was to Jude’s birth, where I swore, shouted and begged everyone to put me out of my misery. At around 11:25PM, I felt like things had changed and that the ‘up’ breathing I’d practiced was no longer working - like something was pushing down into my bum and I knew it was time to change to the ‘down breaths’ (I’m laughing as I type this, aware it sounds a bit wanky but IT WORKS, I promise IT REALLY WORKS!) Despite having had zero internal examinations, I just knew it was time for him to arrive and I can’t tell you how nice it was not to have people saying ‘you’re 10cm, it’s time to push, no you can’t go on strike’ like I’d had before – this time, the midwives just trusted from what they were observing that I knew what to do. After 20 minutes of bearing down into my bum using the candle-blowing-out breaths (which I had practiced when going for a poo, yes really) accompanied by a bit of cow-like mooing, Wilf’s head was out. I felt so calm, even stopping to have a chat about the colour of his hair, and shortly after with one final big poo-push the rest of him followed, just before midnight. The cord was wrapped twice around his neck which made me panic momentarily (“OMG DO SOMETHING!”) but he was absolutely fine and Rosie helped me get to him onto my chest. The feeling at that point was total euphoria. I have never been prouder of myself and after two pretty negative births I almost felt like this birth had put the others right, somehow. Wilf was 8lb 13oz – my biggest baby yet – but I’d had paracetamol and codeine only, as I just didn’t feel like I wanted anything else (I’ve sampled ALL the drugs in previous births and never enjoyed the sensation of being ‘out of it’, though I did find the epidural pretty magic with Henry). Post-birth, things very nearly got medical again when the placenta got stuck and had to be manually manipulated out by poor Rosie (not going to lie, this was basically like being fisted), but again I breathed through it and the atmosphere was not at all one of panic. After tea and toast, some skin-to-skin and Wilf’s first feed we left the hospital just a few hours later and were back at home by 5AM, meaning Henry and Jude had gone to bed like normal and woken up to find a baby brother! I know every birth is different but I am convinced that the reason this birth was so different was due to the time I’d spent with Siobhan and the resulting calmness and confidence I had in my own decisions. I’m so glad I decided not to have any internal examinations and pushed for a water birth (clearly if I had considered this a real safety concern I would have reacted differently but I was so sure the pool would help and that he would arrive soon, and he did!) and the biggest game changer of all was the breathing. The most important tool ever, I felt in control (almost) the entire time. I have had so many messages since I mentioned hypnobirthing asking if I would recommend it and I honestly can’t recommend it enough (and this goes for every type of birth - including induction and c-section - it's not all about drug-free water births). I'd say there is probably a spectrum as to how 'into' the hypnobirthing you get and I reckon I was somewhere in the middle - I never got used to calling contractions 'surges', James never once joined in with reading me any of the 'affirmations' (nor did I particularly want him to) and I would be lying if I said I didn't feel pain but bugger me, it was 100x better than I ever imagined birth could be. This comes from a sceptic - someone who was worried she might have to start chanting or sacrifice an animal under a full moon while wearing tie-dye – when in actual fact, it was just a course geared towards making every type of birth as positive as possible. I did hypnobirthing with Siobhan, founder of The Positive Birth Company, who, alongside classes, also offers a digital download pack with all the hypnobirthing resources you could need for just £35. For more information visit the website or see @thepositivebirthcompany on Instagram. I have not been paid for this post. I am sharing because I would like to give something back to Siobhan who gave me a birth experience I will remember fondly forever (and which has gone some way to drowning out the memory of the swearing and the 10cm strike).
A Grief Encounter
A few weeks ago, I received an email from a PR company inviting me to attend a special Mother’s Day event. ‘A treat for you and your mum!’ the invite read. My heart dropped into my stomach and I promptly deleted it. It’s just an email, I told myself. Deleted. Forgotten about. Only it wasn’t forgotten about. As I carried on with my day, attempting to busy myself with whatever I had been doing before I’d checked my emails, I could feel a little doom-cloud descending. It felt like the light had been turned off on my day and I was annoyed at myself for allowing a single email to switch my mood from good to grumpy. Grumpy is how grief manifests itself, for me. I have never been much of a take-myself-upstairs-to-cry-at-pictures type of person, though on a very small number of occasions that has happened. I’ve always coped far better with being in ‘a bad mood’ than I have with being in a sad mood because a bad mood means I can stomp around with people thinking I’ve simply ‘got a cob on’ and I can still function perfectly well complete with cob. A sad mood is a lot trickier to contend with. I hadn’t prepared myself for the feelings this email would stir up because it came out of the blue and I was therefore completely unable to control my mood. The bad mood pretty swiftly became a sad one and before I could stop it, my mind went there. To the place I try so hard not to let it go. I imagined what ‘a treat for me and my mum’ would look like. I imagined us getting the train to London and drinking coffee and laughing at Mum’s insistence on wearing her backpack on her front so nobody could steal her purse. I imagined linking arms on our way to a spa somewhere, excited about being pampered after having left the kids with Grandad for the day. And then came the usual crushing realisation: Mum is not here. She hasn’t been here for a very long time. In fact, this year marks the birthday where I’ll have spent more years without her in my life than I spent with her in it. I have lived more than half of my life feeling like something is missing and in many ways, becoming a mum has only made that void feel bigger. The birth of each of my babies has been tinged with an unshakeable sadness that I will never be able to hand them over for a cuddle with their Nanny Debbie. They will never know her and she will never know them. The sadness of that thought has been so intense at times that I have felt a physical pain in my chest; the true meaning of heartbreak. Grief never ends. There is never a line drawn or a feeling of being ‘over it.’ You will overhear people say, ‘life goes on’ but you will know that your life will never go on in quite the same way again. Instead, you will make a new life and that new life can be happy and fulfilled and wonderful but it’s still more than possible that you will find yourself alone in your kitchen, fifteen years later, reading an email and having a little cry over the version of your life that you had to say goodbye to. I didn’t reply to the email, in the end, nor did I reply to the chase-up email I received which asked if I’d had a chance to ask my mum if she fancied a Mother’s Day treat yet. I didn’t want to make the sender feel bad by responding, 'My mum's dead, actually. Regards.' She was just doing her job. It sounded like a lovely event. What I did want, more than anything, was to pick up the phone to my mum and ask her if she fancied popping round. To talk about something trivial, like whether she thought it would be good drying weather at the weekend or if she’d caught up with Tuesday’s The Chase yet, as a single player had beaten The Dark Destroyer in the final chase. I wanted to ask if she had any ideas for World Book Day costumes and then I wanted to say, ‘Love you!’ before I told her I would see her soon. Normal stuff. Mum stuff. Bloody lovely stuff. So no, I didn't reply. I did what I have been doing for the last five years whenever things have felt a bit much and I wrote a blog instead. Because every time I do, I reach people who have been feeling the same. There are so many people who will find the upcoming conversations around Mother's Day hard for a wide variety of reasons, of which loss is just one. If that's you, this one's for you. xx
LEGOLAND (Extract from The Unmumsy Mum Diary)
Friday 2 September 2016 Oh Lordy. I am writing the bare bones of this diary entry as an iPhone note in the car while James drives. We have just left the Land of Lego behind us and are now sitting in Friday-evening commuter traffic ahead of a three-hour drive home, so I thought it would be as good a time as any to debrief on the whole experience. I just asked James whether he could help me out by providing a summary of our family’s outing to the brick-themed adventure park and, after a long exhalation of breath, he replied simply, ‘Fuck me.’ So I’m going to try to flesh it out a little bit. Firstly, I should say that the entire ‘take Henry to the place he most wants to go on earth that isn’t Disney World Florida’ endeavour was arguably worth it purely to see his little face when we first walked through the gates and told him he was in charge of the park map. I’m not sure at what age kids are able to start banking long-term memories but as Henry stood tracing his finger over all the rides on the map and staring in wide-eyed wonder at all the buzz and commotion, I felt certain that he would remember this trip. If he doesn’t remember it, I will drip-feed him a favourable version of events until he thinks he remembers it. Whatever happens, it’s safe to say James and I have banked a long-term memory of Legoland. The day started with some vocalised impatience from a pram-restricted Jude. He gets irritated whenever the pram isn’t moving, so things got tetchy as we waited in the Q-Bot line for what felt like an eternity. (There’s something ironic about queuing for a device that alleviates queuing, no?) After finally setting off to properly begin our Big Day of Fun and making our way towards the first ride, it soon became apparent that the day wasn’t going to unfold quite as we had imagined when Henry performed a dramatic U-turn on his chief reason for having begged us to go there in the first place. You know all those rides he’s been telling us he has been desperate to go on ‘all his life’? The rides he has made us watch endless hours of YouTube footage of? The rides we secretly feared he would be too young or too short to go on? It turns out the age and height thing was pretty bloody irrelevant because he didn’t want to go on any of them. Not one. (Deep breath) ‘But Henry, sweetheart, this is the Dragon’s Apprentice! You know, your “favourite ride” that you were telling Grandad about? Shall we get in the queue?’‘No! I don’t want to go on it! I want to watch other people on it. Can I have a snack?’‘Sorry, pudding, Mummy’s just trying to understand what’s going on here. You want to watch other people go on all the rides you said you wanted to go on? It’s not snack time yet. We’ve just got here, to ride some rides. Shall we have a wander along to see if you want to go on a different ride?’‘OK, I’ll have a look at the other rides. Then I’ll have a snack.’ The exchange of glances between James and me at this stage was a mixture of ‘Fuck my life’ and ‘Whose idea was this?’ The entire trip had, of course, been my idea and, in the preceding two days, James had endured several hours’ driving and ‘sweaty balls’ from the sauna-like sleeping conditions at the budget hotel - all as a warm-up act for this outing, to give our little H-bomb his special treat before he starts school. Do you want to know how the day panned out, in the end? Well, Jude, back in his pushchair (after having lost his shit on the only toddler-friendly ride he'd agreed to sit on), ended up sitting on James’s shoulders as I followed behind with one hand on Henry and the other on the empty pushchair, which I had to slalom between hordes of excited families as they made bee-lines for rides their children actually wanted to go on. We parted with the best part of £15 for two lacklustre baguettes and some water which the boys then turned their noses up at. I failed to capture a ‘look at how much fun we’re having on our day out!’ family photo and, overall, aside from the forty minutes they both spent happily playing in the splash pool (a definite hit, but we have water parks in Devon), neither of the boys wanted to go on anything. We ended up having to use the lure of a toy in the gift shop to essentially bribe our firstborn to allow us to take him on just a couple of the rides he had been begging us to take him on for months. After a quick ram-raid of the shop on our way out, we are now sitting in the above-mentioned traffic jam, with Jude having a Danger Nap (anything after 4 p.m. spells trouble), me checking my phone for travel updates, James staring ahead like he’s dreaming of leaving us all and Henry piping up with completely random questions every two minutes, such as:‘Who’s taller? Jude or a penguin?’‘Why are roads called roads?’‘Does Father Christmas wear pyjamas?’And ‘How did pterodactyls die out?’ I bet pterodactyls died out not because of the impact of a meteor or some kind of climate change sixty-something million years ago but because the mummy pterodactyls were so stressed after a day out at DinoLand that they ate their babies. I might tell Henry that if he doesn’t stop talking. I know it’s frowned upon to daydream about alcohol or indeed to rely on a bottle of something as a pick-me-up when things get stressful, but I am now properly fantasising about pouring myself a glass of Sauvignon Blanc as big as my head. What a day. The Unmumsy Mum Diary is out in paperback on 22 February. Available to pre-order here.
You probably won't remember me.
I saw you at the park on a rainy afternoon last week...
An open letter to the mum with the red coat
The birth (no need to cry)
I was asked last week what advice, if any, I would give to brand new parents. I couldn’t help but think back to myself as a new mum. It made me feel a bit sad...
Cherish Every Moment? Nope
The birth (no need to cry)
Following the birth of Jude in September, I spent the last few months of 2014 feeling frazzled. And short-tempered. In fact, I spent at least two-thirds of...
Fuck you, Supermum
the unmumsy mum store
Motherhood like it really is: the messy, maddening, hilarious reality, how there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach and how it is sometimes absolutely fine to not know what you are doing.