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.
Poogate! Extract from The Unmumsy Mum Diary
Friday 26th August 2016 Oh my God, I can’t breathe for laughing. This tale of early motherhood, from a mum who has asked to remain anonymous, is, quite frankly, the sort of stuff I wish I had heard at antenatal classes – not that it would have prepared me for anything (there could be no preparation for this, and you’ll see why), but it would have made me laugh and given me a snapshot of reality, which is a darn sight more than the Bounty pack ever did. The message is pretty lengthy but I couldn’t bring myself to condense it when she has described the unfolding events so well. Enjoy. Oh, and maybe don’t read on if you’re eating . . . So I was reading a ‘things no one tells you when you have a baby’ article the other day – you know, the ones that circulate on Facebook, and it made me think of a particular occurrence in our house, from not long after I had our son, my second baby. My husband and I lovingly refer to this day as ‘Shitgate’, and I think I’m ready, after two years, to share it with the world. This is something that nobody warned me about. I arrived home after a few extra days on the ward, having had an elective C-section (thanks to problems with previous labour, but that’s a whole other horror story), and, after probably a few more days, I felt that familiar rumble and decided it was that time ‒ time for my first poo. The fear hit me, as it had last time – what would happen, would I be able to poo? Would my bum fall out? Would I burst a stitch? Would I end up with piles? Would I even be able to go? It occurred to me that I couldn’t actually recollect my last ‘motion’. It was certainly before I went into hospital, so it must have been at least a week ago, and with someone bringing me three square meals a day, which I didn’t have to cook myself (or wait to go cold while feeding everyone else before eating), I obviously didn’t turn any of it down. A considerable volume of additional boredom snacks, late-night feed snacks, and any-excuse-for-extra-snacks snacks had also been consumed. This might be a bit of a biggun, I thought. Little did I know. So I told hubby what I was up to and could he keep an eye on the kids, and off I went up the stairs, with no idea of the events that would unfold. I sat down and, at first, there was nothing. How could this be? I definitely needed to go, why couldn’t I go? As the minutes wore on I started to worry. I tried moving about, walking around, feet up on a stool, you know, all the normal stuff. This was starting to hurt, I was getting desperate, I really, REALLY needed to go. I asked hubster for some laxatives, but no luck, they didn’t help, so in a bit of panic now, I called the out-of-hours doctor. He (yes, a man, fab) was very understanding and said he’d email a prescription straight to Sainsbury’s so I could collect it. Several phone calls to Sainsbury’s and nearly two hours later, hurrah ‒ they have my suppositories there and we can collect them immediately. By this time, it’s the middle of the night, I’m glued to the loo, afraid that I’m gonna have an epic bum explosion at any given moment, but at the same time petrified that I won’t. The only person my husband can get hold of to come and sit with the kids, so he can nip out and collect the prescription while I’m stuck on the loo, is my father-in-law. Arghhhhh. He’s one of those manly builder types, so over he comes (did I mention that our bathroom door, at the top of the stairs, directly in front of you as you come in the front door, doesn’t close?) and now he’s sat downstairs in probable silence with my brand-new baby while I’m sat on the loo trying to shit. Thank God, he’s had four of his own, so I try to convince myself that he’s seen it all before and that at some point he’s surely already encountered some sort of labour/pregnancy/ baby poo situations. This was painful now. I felt like I was gonna poo, but no poo (plenty of sodding wind, though), and I felt like my stitches were just about to burst open. This was hideous. Hubby arrived home with the thing, with THE most fear I’ve ever seen in a man’s eyes, as he bounded up the stairs two at a time it crossed his mind that he might be asked to administer his bounty. Over my dead body. So I did the deed alone and, bloody hell, it did do what it was meant to do, in some respects. If you didn’t know this, apparently glycerol, which is what suppositories are made of, is a mild irritant – they basically make your bum muscles angry. So angry that, hopefully, you poo. Is that what I needed, to make it MORE ANGRY?! This was an epic fail. Now I felt EVEN MORE DESPERATE to poo, like more desperate than ever, and EVEN MORE ANGRY. I couldn’t understand it, why couldn’t I just poo? I’d felt permanently just on the brink for the past five hours, FIVE HOURS on the loo. I did next something that I will regret forever: I decided to reach around and have a feel. There were piles. Lots of piles. Could this get any worse? I asked myself. Yes. Yes, it could. Ah, I’ll call NHS direct, they’ll help. They wanted to know everything ‒ my whole medical history, my life story, my every movement since the moment I became pregnant. On their clever multiple choice ‘yes go left, no go right’ flow-chart thingy, one of the questions was ‘Do you have any pain in your chest?’ Well, by this time, everything ached, so innocently, the response that fell from my mouth was ‘Well, yes, a little actually.’ That was it. I was informed that, because I had answered yes to this question, they’d be sending an ambulance. WTF? I didn’t need an ambulance, I just needed a poo! I pleaded, I begged, please pleeeeeease don’t send an ambulance, it’s a total waste, they’re not THOSE kind of chest pains, Christ that’s not what I meant. No, they’re sorry, they have to send one, it’s on the screen. Fucking hell. There was a knock on the door as the dark bathroom filled with flashes of blue, and in they came, perched now on the side of the bath, while I sat there, pants round my ankles, horrific wind, piles the size of small countries, a desperate look on my face, and toilet-seat marks imprinted on my arse. I could not have apologised enough as we all sat there together, making small talk in our now foul-smelling bathroom, while I tried to poo and everyone else tried badly to pretend that this was ‘all in a day’s work’. Unbeknown to me, there was a small crowd of neighbours gathering outside, who’d seen the blue lights and, knowing I was about to have the baby, put two and two together and got God knows what, so my husband went out to let them know that all is OK and Mum and babe are fine, thanks for the concern. But all was not well, Mum is definitely not fine. If Mum doesn’t poo soon she is actually and genuinely going to explode. Her stitches are going to burst and a fortnight’s worth of poo is going to fly out. The ambulance crew – satisfied that I am not on the brink of a poo-induced heart attack and having fulfilled their duty of care – make their escape. A couple more suppositories and close to half a litre of lactulose later, and finally, through gritted teeth, and with tears in my eyes, it happens! And Jesus Christ does it happen. Once I start, I literally cannot stop. It goes on for what feels like forever, it’s like a labour all on its own – I swear the evacuated material was close to the weight of a newborn. As I turned in fear to observe my creation, it was with utter shock that I discovered that I hadn’t just blocked the toilet: no, no, I had filled it. YES, FILLED IT. Right to the top, the very top. How was this even possible? Exhausted from my ordeal, I had a quick shower and flaked out on the couch as, by this time, we were in the small hours and the baby would need another feed any moment. I had no idea, then, that my husband was about to undertake a task no husband should ever have to undertake. Yes, I’m pretty sure all husbands or partners see things or do things that they definitely didn’t foresee or sign up for when they got us up the duff, but that night, my husband, with a dustpan and carrier bag in hand, silently did the unthinkable. The toilet was finally clear and my husband had the same look on his face that he had after his first peek of me crowning in my first labour – the look of a man changed forever. Only this time, instead of a beautiful bouncing baby to hold at the end, he had a pegged nose and a Bag for Life full of his wife’s poo. Two years later, and we are thankfully able to laugh about it, but I’m surprised he’s been able to look at me ‘that way’ since then. It’s certainly something I don’t recall being warned about before I got pregnant. The Unmumsy Mum Diary is out in paperback on 22 February. Available to pre-order here.
“Oh, Wilf.” I must have said this a thousand times during the four and a half weeks that made up January. They were long weeks. In fact, though my calendar told me otherwise, I’m pretty certain Wednesday 31st was, in fact, the 87th of January. I am not a hater of Januarys, generally. I hate New Year’s resolutions but I combat that by not making any. I hate the cold weather but that’s only because our house is damp and it gets tedious wet-wiping mould off the walls. This year, however, I was pretty fecking glad to see the back of January after I’d spent almost all of it in close proximity to a baby who was either screaming in my ear or head-butting my boob in a state of agitation. January was loud. And a bit sad, if truth be told. After the loveliest of starts to the third-baby adventure, we soon found ourselves with a baby who could not be settled. At first, we told ourselves that this wasn’t unusual. Our bigger boys had probably been just the same as babies and we’d simply forgotten. However, as James paced the bedroom with an extremely upset Wilf for what must have been the seventh or eighth night in a row, and I sat up in bed falling in and out of sleep, completely off my tits due to the fact that the baby was never off my tits, we conceded that ‘something wasn’t right.’ We’re not new to the baby thing. We had expected to pace around ssshhing a colicky baby in the hour or two before bedtime. We knew that feeding ‘on demand’ meant my boobs would be out more than they would be in. But Wilf was miserable. He spent every waking minute of every day crying and every sleeping minute (which were few and far between) looking like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders, occasionally waking from his slumber to cry out as though somebody had dropped something on him from a great height. Though on paper, breastfeeding was going well (he was putting on weight, my nipples were never once sore and comments were made about the ‘perfect latch’), the word I would use to describe the majority of our feeds was fretful. He would feed for a few minutes, get extremely upset and then give up. Worrying that there was a problem with my supply, I tried expressing some milk and found I had enough to feed him ten times over. He was also extremely sick. Puddles of it, over his shoulders, our shoulders and our bedding, so perhaps there was too much milk? I read up online about problems with oversupply and ‘forceful let-downs’, so started pumping milk off at the start of each feed so he wouldn’t be choking on an initial fast flow. That didn’t help either. Every day we hoped we’d turn a corner and every day he seemed more cross. Having experienced babies with reflux before, I took him to the doctor and we started on good-old Gaviscon to thicken his feeds. It lessened the sick puddles but he was no happier. I took him back to the doctor and we started on ranitidine. I also decided at this point to cut out dairy from my diet, after I’d read lots of stories about extremely unhappy babies who had turned out to have cows’ milk protein intolerance. Nothing seemed to help. I took to Instagram and Facebook to gather advice. I gathered a lot of advice. If I was cutting out dairy I should probably try cutting out soya, too. We should try a dummy. I should wear him in a sling. We should try cranial osteopathy. I needed to drink fennel tea. We should try this magical hold guaranteed to stop babies crying as demonstrated by a doctor in a viral YouTube video. I soaked up these suggestions like a sponge and tried them all. Nothing helped. If anything, he was getting more upset. I had stopped wanting to take him out because it always ended in us having to leave or come home. Then one evening, as I Googled ‘My baby is broken’ or similar for the umpteenth time, I stumbled upon a thread about tongue tie and remembered that this had also been mentioned in the social media comments. I had, perhaps mistakenly, dismissed the suggestion that he could have a tongue tie because I knew it had already been checked. And yet the more I read about it the more I became convinced that it was his tongue that was causing us problems. I booked yet another appointment to see the doctor and tried to push to the back of my mind the worry that I was becoming one of those mothers who diagnoses her kids’ ailments via Mumsnet threads. The third doctor I saw agreed that Wilf’s tongue didn’t look ‘quite right’ and said he would make an appointment for us to see a paediatrician. How long will that take? I asked him, over the sound of Wilf’s crying which I’d become so used to I was starting to wonder if I was going deaf. He couldn’t be sure, he’d send a letter, and I knew in that moment that I wouldn’t be able to wait for the letter. We were at breaking point, all of us. James was glum. Henry and Jude had stopped even trying to interact with their baby brother because all he did was scream at them. And I was sad. Really bloody sad. So, when I got home I emailed a lactation consultant who advertised having a specialist knowledge of tongue tie and I booked an appointment. It was the best thing I did. It took her five seconds, if that, to confirm that Wilf did indeed have a tongue tie, which, she believed, had meant feeding had been really hard work for him. As a result, he had been giving up before he was full, then demanding another feed an hour later (a pattern we’d been repeating on a loop until he had a permanent stomach ache and I’d lost the will to live). She was able to snip the tie then and there (not nearly as harrowing as it sounds) but advised it might take a couple of weeks for his tongue to build up enough strength to feed efficiently. Unfortunately, just the thought of having two more torturous, crying-filled weeks stretching out in front of us was too much for me to even contemplate. Even one more week seemed unbearable. So, on Thursday morning, after three further days with an extremely unhappy baby and a genuine worry that I was making myself unwell, I woke James up and told him that he needed to go out and get some formula. After almost eight weeks of stressful feeds, the tongue tie diagnosis had sadly come too late and I was no longer feeling positive about breastfeeding. I would express a few more bottles but I was done. It’s a funny old thing, breastfeeding. I was almost too scared to admit here that I’d ‘given up’ because although I have written extensively about the importance of not beating ourselves up and of doing what is best for the whole family, I have also been on the receiving end of stick about my feeding choices in the past. It’s almost not worth the hassle of being honest. But only almost. Because the most remarkable thing has happened since my near-breakdown on Thursday and I want to shout about it from the rooftops … Wilf has started smiling! And sleeping. And enjoying his feeds. We've been out for walks where he hasn't screamed, Last night, I even watched Coronation Street and when you've spent a month or so at the end of your tether feeling completely helpless, the normality of sitting down for thirty minutes of telly feels like heaven (even more so because I made up for the lost two weeks' dairy by inhaling some chocolate). He still has reflux but it's only causing us a headache in terms of washing. I can cope with washing. We're only a couple of days into February, I know, but we have turned the corner I’m sure of it. Anyway, I wanted to write this update blog post mainly so I could say a massive THANK YOU to each and every person who took the time to message me with support and suggestions. It was down to you that a seed of doubt was planted about whether his tongue had been assessed thoroughly and ultimately gave me the kick up the arse to seek help and finally get to the bottom of what has been making him so unhappy. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I have got my joyful baby boy back. xx
One Month of Wilf
And just like that (well, after nine months of human-growing followed by a memorable trip to the Royal Devon & Exeter) I am now the proud owner of THREE children! Having only just ‘come back’ after a month away from social media (good for the soul, I’d recommend it), I feel like there is almost too much to update you on so I’m not really sure where to start. I’d like to document the birth at some point but I’m existing on such a tiny amount of sleep right now that I’m not sure I could do the story justice (quick summary: best birth of all three by a country mile, it started with contractions during Henry’s nativity, hypnobirthing was an absolute game-changer and the bloody placenta got stuck again). The most important piece of information is that at 11:50PM on Tuesday 12 December, exactly one week before his due date, Wilf Nicholas made his way down the lady-garden slide and into the birthing pool, all 8lb 13oz of him. We’re now almost 5 weeks in to life with our new bundle of baby boy goodness and so far, it has been a tale of two halves. The first fortnight was a blissful Christmassy bubble. Wilf did a lot of sleeping, I did a lot of staring at him sleeping and, after school had broken up for the holidays, our days revolved around lazy cuddles, Christmas films, short bursts of fresh air and the occasional trip to the shower so I could hand-express my boobs, which to start with seemed to produce enough milk to feed the five thousand. The hormones hit me in a good way this time and instead of the WTF is this? face of terror I wore for most of Henry and Jude’s earliest days (or Henry’s entire first year, to be honest), with Wilf, I had that sudden rush of love I thought was an urban legend and spent the night feeds stroking his little ears and beaming like a (happily) mad woman. In fact, at one point I started wondering if I was going to have to shut this blog down or at the very least change it to The Mumsy Mum because I had never felt more at home or at ease with the role. This was it. It had clicked. The competent-mum gene or whatever it was that had been missing for the best part of six years and had made me swear under my breath and sometimes cry, well - it must have found its way to me at last. This was probably going to be the start of a new parenting chapter for all of us. Henry and Jude would benefit from this new mum who was kind of gliding around the house with a baby and a muslin draped over one shoulder as she rustled up sandwiches with the other hand, laughing at their jokes and making a mental note to sign Henry up for after school football practice and Jude up for something, anything, that wasn’t an afterthought or an add-on to that of his big brother. To tell you the truth, I was absolutely bossing it. Our mate Ruth would have been proud. And then came the shit-hitting-the-fan day. Christmas had been and gone, things were starting to feel a bit more like normal (or the after-Christmas limbo version of normal, where you eat a whole Chocolate Orange and some leftover cold meats for breakfast, because you can), and slowly but surely the bubble of bliss started to unravel before our eyes. Wilf became both ‘spirited’ and refluxy at the exact same moment that somebody kidnapped our charming three-year-old and replaced him with a behaviour-malfunctioning lookalike who smears his eczema cream on the walls for fun, screams blue bloody murder at everything and generally has zero fucks to give when it comes to guidance or instruction from his parents, particularly in public. We expected this to some extent, of course – our little Judy Pops has gone from being the baby of the family to the ‘middle child’ (nobody say ‘difficult,’ I can’t be hearing that right now) – but his ‘adjustment’ has been slightly more alarming than we’d anticipated. The WTF is this? face of terror made its appearance on the day when, after a clash of heads and lots of crying from Henry and Jude who had been wrestling, Wilf joined in with the crying and didn’t stop crying until he projectile vomited all over the sleepsuit I’d just put him in, having changed him out of the one he’d decorated with his korma-coloured excrement a few moments before. And that’s pretty much been the balance ever since. A mixture of days when we’re doing fine – sometimes more than fine, some days I smile and coo at Wilf and somehow manage to squeeze in a bedtime story for my other two babies to ease my cheating-on-them feelings of guilt - and other days when quite honestly, it’s purely about survival. Where James and I look at each other and shout, over the sound of the white noise that we had hoped would soothe his windy fussing, "Isn’t three a LOT of kids?"
Cravings, Cleaning and Birth Plans - 33 Week Update
I realise I have been neglecting this blog recently and although there are no hard and fast rules about how often you have to blog to legitimately still call yourself a blogger, I’m pretty certain the eleven week gap since my last post puts me in the Shittiest Blogger Ever danger zone. The truth is, despite having greatly missed the typing and sharing of blog posts (undoubtedly my ‘happy place’, particularly when coupled with a hot chocolate and my dressing-gown), I’ve been at a bit of a loss as to what to say. Should I be providing something by way of an update? Does anybody actually care? But then this evening, as I found myself lining up my cleaning products in an orderly manner after having sprayed today’s favourite cleaner on an already spotless surface (just so I could rub it in with a sponge and sniff it), I realised that all of a sudden I am feeling so very pregnant - proper pregnanty (not a word, but it should be) - and that not recording this stage of the third baby adventure would be stranger than doing so, somehow. I can only apologise in advance if you’re not much interested in hearing about my obsession with all things anti-bacterial, or the trouble I’ve been having sleeping, or the crisis conversations I’ve been having with my husband over the state of things down there, but with just 7 weeks or so to go until D-day (arghhhh!), pregnancy has well and truly taken over. I know many of you are already aware that I haven’t been sleeping very well for the last couple of months (I'm wide awake between midnight and 4am, sometimes longer) and I can’t really be arsed to further dwell on it here for two reasons: 1) I’m really fucking bored of saying ‘Nope, still not sleeping!’ and 2) I have tried pretty much everything (reflexology is on this week’s hit list) and I genuinely fear that if one more person suggests Lush sleepy cream, some kind of audio download or an increase in my magnesium intake I might not be able to stop myself from spraying them in the eye with my expensive relaxing pillow spray. You have all been so, so helpful (thank you!) but if it’s legal, I’ve already tried it. Illegal ideas welcome (just kidding, sort of). There are a great many other pregnancy quirks that have materialised since I last blogged and the biggest two - not my boobs, though they are mahooosive - have been an obsession with cleaning and a love of ice cubes, both of which are repeat behaviours from previous pregnancies. I was told after the ice-cube crunching habit last time that I might have been suffering from an iron deficiency but I’ve just had all that stuff checked and we’re all good, so it’s not that. Whatever it is that is driving me to chomp frozen water it’s really quite bizarre and even as I type this, I am thinking ahead to my next glass where I will add one whole tray of cubes to a third of a glass of water (I’m not really that fussed about the water to be honest but it does lubricate the cubes and stop them from getting stuck to my tongue. I know how to treat myself). When it comes to the cleaning, I am mainly spraying cleaning products and then scrubbing surfaces (just the thought of spraying and scrubbing with certain products instantly makes me feel calm) but there are also other things I feel compelled to do, like cleaning the shower tiles with an old toothbrush, disinfecting all the door handles in the house and using the tiny hoover attachment to get into the hard-to-reach room edges. I wrote in my first book that the Barry Scott adverts (‘Bang! And the dirt is gone!’) had practically become a turn-on at one point and this pregnancy is much the same. Footage of cleaning is like porn. Physically, I’m feeling pretty good, though the waddle has set in now. I don’t weigh myself (not ever – we don’t have scales) but I can see that the ‘baby weight’ has spread to unexpected places like my neck, back and chins. In fact, everything has got bigger and I mean everything (even bigger than at the last update). Last week, after a shaving session in the shower, where I was trying to address the Chewbacca state of body hair, I was so alarmed by the swollen appearance of things down below that I ran into the bedroom, dropped the towel and declared, ‘My vagina is a monster!’ to a startled James who then had to try to say all the right things when I begged him to have a look at it. He went with: "It looks fine, babe! If a little puffy. It’s certainly not hideous." IT’S CERTAINLY NOT HIDEOUS?! That's a relief, then. All of the above pales into insignificance beside our little boy bump himself, of course, who we had the pleasure of seeing on the screen for a third time this week at our scan to check the progress/update of the low-lying placenta. The good news is the placenta has indeed moved (hurrah!) and the cervix is no longer obstructed. The bad news is that he is now breech, though I have it on good authority that seven weeks is plenty of time for him to assume the head-first position (Jude turned at 36 weeks) so I am not allowing that to worry me. Now that I’m back to Plan A of the lady-garden slide, and noting that my second labour was not the best experience (by ‘not the best’ I mean I completely lost my shit, panicked, shouted a lot and subsequently don’t really allow myself to think about it) I’ve decided I’m going to have a bash at hypnobirthing this time, with my first session on Wednesday. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? I’ll be heading into hospital for the birth again (I just feel safest there) and I am still very much hoping that I won’t miss Christmas dinner, though obviously more than anything I just want him to arrive safely … any other day though, buddy, ANY other day (I am having guilty pangs in advance about the possibility of missing Christmas with Henry and Jude) And that’s pretty much it by way of an update! I think it’s unlikely that I will do another pregnancy-specific blog before he’s here, but I have got a couple of other half-written posts in my drafts which if I can get my larger-than-usual arse in gear I will finish and publish soon. In the meantime, I will get back to my cleaning and ice-crunching and try my very best to stay calm about the Megafanny. xx
Sickness, Sex and Placentas – 20 Week Pregnancy Update
Yes, there is a bun in my lady oven! I know most people who follow me on social media will already be aware of this fact but I haven’t blogged about this pregnancy yet (bar referencing my constant urge to wee in the recent tale of the pissy frying pan) and now that I have whizzed past the halfway mark it felt about the right time to offer something by way of an update. I suppose I should start at the very beginning. Well, not the very beginning, you probably don’t need know how and when the bun got there, though evidently there are some people who would like this information (slightly disconcerting that Bev from Warminster reckons she's 'pinpointed the weekend of conception' and messaged to tell me so - she wasn't far off actually, round of applause for Bev). I found out that I was pregnant at around four weeks but decided to wait until sixteen weeks to ‘go public’ with an announcement and I did so for a number of reasons. The first was that I had an almighty ‘do I really want to live this pregnancy online?’ wobble which culminated in a dramatic ‘I’m going to shut down all my social media accounts until after the baby is born!’ episode. I am mostly blaming my hormones for that one, I just felt in that instant that I wanted to protect our baby secret and not start splashing him or her on the internet before they were the size of a fig. I’ll be totally honest, I also had an underlying feeling of dread that people would think our decision to have another baby was somehow grounded in a desire to produce more blog/book material, which couldn’t be further from the truth. There are, in fact, a multitude of reasons why we felt three was our magic number and I think perhaps those warrant a blog post of their own (I know, I know, it may not have been the motive but being preggers really does provide a wealth of blog material). So, how have the first five months of pregnancy been, this time around? Well, I’m feeling pretty spritely now but I would be lying if I told you that the first four months were anything but shit. The pregnancy sickness was by far the worst I have ever had, kicking in at around six weeks and lasting until week seventeen. I wasn’t alarmingly ill during any of those weeks and having read several accounts of Hyperemesis Gravidarum, including this one from Susie Verrill (who was effectively bedridden for two months and spent Christmas Day trying to nibble a potato over a sick bag), I considered myself lucky to be functioning at all. I promised myself that I wouldn’t moan, constantly reminding myself of how fortunate I was to be carrying another baby and yet there were days when I struggled to see the light. Feeling sick all the time is simply exhausting. I don’t think there was a single moment in those eleven weeks when I didn’t feel nauseous and at around 4PM every day 'feeling off' turned into retching and vomiting. I counted forty-three consecutive days when my evening meal came back up and sometimes that ‘meal’ was half a slice of dry toast. At week eleven I gave myself a ‘mind over matter’ pep talk and headed out for dinner with friends where, after catching a whiff of moules marinière, I threw up in the toilet, blamed my lack of appetite on a large lunch and then cried all the way home. There were several bizarre occasions when I craved massive platefuls of carbs, almost to the point of compulsion (frozen Yorkshire puds with gravy were a go-to snack) yet after eating them I would feel so rotten that I would either have to be sick or go to bed to sleep off the dirty carb-coma. My freelance articles went completely by the wayside, I made feeble ‘stomach bug’ excuses for almost all my pre-booked work engagements, I snapped at the boys for making too much noise and I stopped replying to texts from friends who were in the know because I was just not in a positive enough mindset to start thinking about baby names and pushchairs. Even writing this is making me sound mardy but I wanted to share it because I have had so many messages from women who are beating themselves up for not ‘cherishing’ the first trimester (and beyond) and I believe so strongly that saying, ‘Jesus, this is a bit shit’ doesn’t make you ungrateful for the bigger baby-carrying picture. Sickness aside, there are a great many pregnancy quirks, for want of a better word, that I’d forgotten about and some of these have proved more comical than others (now that I have shaken off the feeling-rotten cloud I am laughing a lot). My boobs are massive, which, as the owner of ‘B cup on a good day’ breasts (the bra-fitter’s words) is no bad thing. However, they are also dry and itchy (I guess from where the skin has been stretching?!) and when I removed my over-shoulder-boulder-holder the other day a shower of body dandruff flaked out. I know. I’ve become so sexually disinterested that I think my vagina has gone inverted. Figuratively speaking, that is, because in a literal sense quite the opposite has happened and there are now parts down there that look like they are on steroids. This is at month five. I can only assume that by month nine people will be renting out the inflatable space for a quick game of Total Wipeout. The cellulite on my arse and upper thighs has quadrupled in surface area and the growing baby pip in my tummy has given me the world’s worst wind. I also have the chin of a pubescent teenager, with new spots appearing out of nowhere. You have all been so kind with your comments on the pregnant photo of me on holiday but you should know that I made my husband take at least twenty snaps before deleting nineteen of them and putting two filters on the sole survivor because I have never felt less attractive. If my first and second pregnancies weren't evidence enough then the first half of this pregnancy has well and truly confirmed that I am a grower and not a glower. On a more serious (and non-fanny-related note) I’ve found myself worrying a LOT. The more time I have spent on social media, the more I have come to realise that carrying a healthy baby to full term is not something that should ever be taken for granted and I can’t help but feel that, on reflection, I was a bit blasé (albeit unintentionally) during my previous pregnancies about the enormity of bringing another life into the world. I am way more on edge this time, like it's all too good to be true somehow. My brain went into overdrive on the way to our 20-week scan and hearing that everything was as it should be with the baby at this stage was just such a relief. We do have to go back at 32-weeks for another scan because at present the placenta is covering my cervix (and if it doesn't shift it’ll be delivery via the sun-roof) but my thoughts about that are: a) there’s ages for it to shift yet, and b) I honestly don’t care how he comes out as long as he’s ready. So there you have it, a slightly rambling write up of how things have been and how I am feeling at this halfway stage. I am not planning a regular ‘pregnancy update’ style feature as I’m sure there is only so much you’ll want to hear about my body dandruff and blow-up vulva but I will document any significant developments because despite my initial wobble about ‘oversharing,' it struck me while writing this post that oversharing is all I know. And I am truly very happy to be oversharing this third-baby adventure with you. 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Out of the Frying Pan ...
Do you ever look at families doing spontaneous, adventurous things and think I wish we could be like that? I do. One of the great many things I have admired other parents doing (from afar) is taking their kids to festivals. With an almost-three-year-old who is at times so ‘spirited’ it causes a stop-and-stare scene in Primark, I’ve often wondered how we would fare in a tent for three days, particularly noting that we are regularly forced to separate him from his five-year-old brother when their naked wrestling ends in crying and/or head injuries. That said, as a family who enjoys spending time out in the fresh air of Dartmoor or the seaside (the perks of living in Devon), the non-tenty part of going to a festival started to appeal more and more. After doing our annual Glasto-watching, from the sofa, we decided our time had come and booked weekend tickets, with camping, for our first family festival. We strongly believed it would be the start of something. We’d probably get the camping bug and for every year thereafter there would be pictures of us all on Instagram doing peace signs in a field full of flags. We couldn’t wait. A few days before our great festival adventure, a friend alerted me to the weekend’s weather forecast. ‘Sunshine with a chance of showers’ had slowly morphed into ‘you’re absolutely fucked’ and we started to fear that we may be ill-equipped for a weekend of soggy bottoms. Undeterred by this latest development, we headed to one of those massive camping shops to stock up on waterproofs and wellies (I am truly very sorry to anybody who ventured into the display ‘Force 10’ mountaineering tent after my kids last Wednesday, I'm afraid one of them decided to let rip with a force ten of their own). We knew, as we set off early on Friday to black clouds and surface spray on the roads, that we were probably not going to make use of the camping chairs we’d optimistically ordered when we’d pictured sitting outside with a glass of something cold listening to live bands. We also knew that the ‘ginger’ hair spray we’d ordered so Henry could dress up as Ed Sheeran (alarmingly more neon orange than ginger, turning him into Johnny Rotten), would almost certainly run down his face and neck, transforming him into a giant wet wotsit and yet still we were excited. Perhaps the rain would make it even more fun. We’d still get to create the peace sign festival photo, we’d just be caked in mud as well, which let’s be honest is even more festivaly. We just needed to embrace it. And we tried. We really, truly tried. With kids on our shoulders we bounced along to Mister Maker, whooping as The Shapes appeared (the actual ‘I am a shape’ shapes off the telly - it was practically the same as being front row for The Killers at V Festival in 2009). I reminisced about my youth as All Saints took to the stage and the four of us snacked on churros and chocolate sauce. We went on the ‘spinny ponies’ (the carousel), whizzed down the Helter Skelter, tried on silly costumes in the fancy dress tent and watched a variety of comedy and music performances. The whole thing, it has to be said, was bloody well organised. But it rained. It rained and it rained. We cracked out the emergency ponchos and repeatedly told ourselves that despite having wet pants, we were still enjoying it (easier to do when you’re drinking, I imagine, which of course I was not). We went back to the camp for tactical respite from the downpours only to find the tent itself was damp inside as was everything of ours that wasn’t inside bin liners. Having packed a coolbox full of food to cook up like proper happy campers, it was raining too hard to cook anything so we sat and ate cheese sandwiches with a side helping of Haribo. It was just not quite what we had pictured.. And finally, there was the incident. In any holiday or weekend away there is almost always an event or a moment that will forever stick in your mind and for me, that incident happened the early hours of Saturday morning. After returning to the tent on Friday night, sodden, we’d changed into pyjamas and snuggled down in our sleeping bags. Though the usual levels of bedtime hyperactivity ensued (‘No YOU’RE a poo-poo fart head HA HA HA’ and so on), it wasn’t long before we were all drifting off to sleep to the sound of rain on canvas. Then at around 3am, I woke up bursting for a wee. If you think you know what’s coming you probably do, though I surprised even myself with the detail of what happened next. When I say I was bursting, I mean I had a genuine fear that I might not make it to the toilet - this always feels like even more of a threat when I’m pregnant, I seem to lose all ‘holding on’ ability. This worry was only worsened by the fact that I didn’t pack my glasses and without my contact lenses I am not far off needing a guide dog, so there was simply no way I could successfully locate my waterproofs (it was still raining hard) and find my way down a slope to the portaloos and back to the tent again. So, after rummaging around in the dark for an emergency container, I did what I could with the tools I had to hand. I did a wee in our frying pan. As I tried to assume the squat position it occurred to me that the shallowness of the pan could possibly present an aiming accuracy issue and so, to combat this, I decided to switch positions and straddle it. It was at this very point that my husband stirred and I froze, terrified he would turn on the torch and discover his pregnant wife with her trousers down, riding a frying pan. It was also the exact point at which I decided that festivals, in the pouring rain, are just not my bag. After another day of trundling around in further downpours we had a soul-searching emergency family meeting back in the tent (yes, I washed out the pissy frying pan) and decided that, all things considered, we would rather be at home. Which is exactly where I am typing this blog this morning. I wouldn’t say that the weekend was a disaster. The boys behaved well pretty much the whole time and that alone has given us the confidence to know that we can do these things in future. It just turns out we are not a ‘make the best of it’ ‘#therainwontstopus’ type of family. The rain did stop us. It was too wet and driving out of the field with our windscreen wipers on full speed felt quite liberating, in the end. There’s always next year though, right?(Or hotels. There’s always hotels). Our Camp Bestival adventure wasn't sponsored - we paid for both our festival tickets and camping passes - but I would still like to say that bar the shitty British weather, we were very impressed.
10 Things I've Learned in My 1st Year as a School Mum
1. Schools still smell the same as they did in the 90s. Like PVA glue mixed with cabbage. 2. It doesn’t matter how nice they are, teachers make you feel like you are ten. You'll want to impress them and, despite being a fully-functioning adult who left primary school decades ago, you will find yourself at parents’ evening sitting on Borrower-sized chairs worrying that you’re about to get told off. Yes, Miss. 3. Your level of parental organisation will have a direct correlation with where you are in the school year. For the first few weeks, when you are as keen as mustard, a crisp uniform will be lovingly laid out the night before, books will be read dutifully in the evening and you’ll arrive at the classroom on time. By July, your child will be dragged out of the door wearing something resembling a uniform (including odd socks and a greying polo shirt you had to sniff) as you bust a bollock trying not to be late, again. 4. Phonics seems like the most cock-arsed way of doing things until you realise your child has developed the tools to start reading themselves. Which, after a year, is pretty marvellous. (Just don’t attempt reading when either of you are tired – I nearly had a breakdown in the first term over Tim’s Din). 5. Schools can’t get enough of Comic Sans, a font which most of us thought had died out at the turn of the century. I think they must use it because it makes the letters in the book bag seem friendly.* 6. Extracting info from your child about what they have been up to requires a snack bribe and/or Chinese water torture. It might as well be classified info. What the chuff do they do all day? The only information freely offered relates to school dinners - I can confirm that Henry has consumed upwards of 150 jacket potatoes since September. Oh and ‘school roast dinners are nicer than Mummy’s!’ Super. 7. There is no pride quite like the pride of watching your child in their first Nativity play or end of term dance performance. 8. There is also no guilt quite like missing Sports Day (sorry H-Bomb, Mummy had to work). 9. On the very last day of term your child will look like a giant compared to how they looked on day one. They will also have developed an attitude, a sassy eye-roll and quite possibly knowledge of 'naughty words'. ('Please don't call your brother a 'penis butt crack.') 10. Teachers have a bloody hard job and don't get enough credit. I will be forever grateful to the reception team in Henry’s class for taking care of him when he cried every morning and then, when he found his feet, for putting up with his daily renditions of Despacito. Respect of the highest order. If you are worried about your little one heading into school for the first time in September, please know that it will all be okay. You can see how emotionally charged I was the day before Henry started school and we have lived to tell the tale. *MY MIND HAS BEEN BLOWN by the response to this question! It seems Comic Sans is widely used by schools because it has the right form of letters e.g. the 'a' kids learn when reading and writing. So there you go. I promise not to wince at it in future ;-)
A Response to THAT Mail Online Article
Dear Anna May Mangan I would usually start a letter with some textbook niceties, perhaps 'I hope this finds you well' or something about the weather, but I am just about to stick some fish fingers in the oven and crack open another bottle of Sauv Blanc, so I'll cut to the chase. When I woke up this morning I discovered I had an unusually high number of social media notifications alongside several 'Have you seen the Mail Online, yet?' messages. A couple of years ago, this early morning flurry of online activity would almost certainly have thrown me into a sicky panic but this morning there was no such fear as I clicked through to your article. I already knew what it would say. In fact, if I had put money on it, I would have been on the lookout for a five-point attack: Something about being slummy. Check. Something about swearing. Check.Something about alcohol. Check.Something about fish fingers. Check.An overarching message about how mums should cherish every single moment. Check. I do think it's a bit of a shame that you felt the need to attack a group of mum bloggers and authors but I completely understand why you did. We are terrible parents, or at the very least we are all masquerading as terrible parents simply for likes and shares. That's not how us mums should behave, I can see that now. It would be so much healthier for the maternal nation if we all swept our bad days under the carpet and captioned every photo with #blessed. I promise I will try harder. The thing is, if you had actually taken the time to properly read any of my stuff you would have come across the many heartfelt chapters I've dedicated to my boys, and indeed my own mother, who died of cancer when I was young. You would have known that I regularly beat myself up for not cherishing every sodding second but that on balance, I have decided that sharing the good, the bad and the ugly is more important. Potty training is ugly. Fact. You say that you, 'appreciate how this 'honesty' could make new mums feel less isolated and more reassured' but I couldn't help but mutter 'bullshit' when I read that token paragraph, particularly noting that you also say, 'these arrogant women shouldn't forget that, as well as being hard, a new baby is a gift.' That was the point at which I knew I had to say something. For all the mums out there who, like me (and Katie, Clemmie, Steph, Helen and Ellie - all good pals of mine, actually, we like to have Slummy Mummy Squad meetings), might read your bile and feel bad for having the odd moan. Admitting to serving up beige frozen goods ('freezer tapas' we like to call it, we're very middle class), confessing to the odd hangover and occasionally ranting about the inability to go to the toilet without a small person trying to unwrap our sanitary items is not boasting, Anna. It's just real life. Whether or not you choose to believe that what we are documenting is in fact our real lives is not really any concern of mine. I shan't lose any sleep over a lack of endorsement from the Mail. The point of this post is simply to say shame on you for failing to recognise the wider importance of this so called 'slummy mummy movement.' If taking snaps of fish fingers, cursing the bastard stray Lego impaling my feet in the middle of the night and offering a virtual hug to mums who are having a shitty day is wrong then shoot me down, I don't want to be right. I would like to conclude by saying a massive thank you for sending an extra thousand or so followers my way just this morning, and pushing both my books back up the chart (I'm guessing that probably wasn't your intention but I am ever so grateful, thank you). I couldn't help but think your mention of our bestselling books smacked of jealousy, which I can't for the life of me understand when your own parenting manual, The Pushy Mother's Guide, sounds like an absolute classic. Have a lovely day, I know I will. Yours sincerely, Sarah TurnerA boastful slummy mummy from Devon.