Wednesday 22 April 2015

Hindsight (aka 'rose-tinted glasses')

parental hindsight, hindsight, mother diaries, parenting blog, funny parenting blog, mother blogger, parenting, motherhood, rose-tinted glasses

Enjoy every minute

I will tell you another translation for that phrase:


Rose-tinted-glasses hindsight.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing - it makes us believe silly things, like that children are always adorable and we must enjoy every minute of them. You might see a mother in Tesco shouting at her blue-eyed boy who merely asked her what noodles are made from and think "that's a bit harsh, he was only asking a question." Yes, a question he has already asked her fifteen times today. You have no idea what sort of day she has had, or how much shit she's had to deal with before she left the house.

I've even started to do it myself. My eldest has just received his place in infant school and as soon as I found out, a movie played before my eyes of his first laugh, his first word and all the times he ate his dinner up. See, this is what hindsight does to you; out of the 1,462 times I have provided dinner for my child (a rough estimate), I recall the THREE times he ate it all without a fuss. Three. I look at all my family photographs and they have the same effect of Macdonald's advertising. Such adverts convince me that the burgers are always mouth-wateringly tasty, not shrivelled with limp lettuce and a bad aftertaste. Every time I finish one I'm like, why the hell did I not remember how crap I felt the last time I had one of these?! And I get a similar feeling every meal time when I sit down and I see my boy's face look at the food I've placed before him, as though I've just asked him to eat his own toes. Of course, I in no way want to compare my children to substandard burgers, they do not leave the same aftertaste. Their cute faces, however, have a tendency of convincing me that they are always wonderful.

The lasagne I lovingly prepared for my eldest child last night which he told me looked 'disgusting' and refused to eat it.

I read a blog post the other day by a mother who had regrets about the times she rushed her children to bed. Her poetic blog post, as well written as it was, made me feel like crap. Why? Because I had literally just ushered my children to bed for a bit of 'me' time. Me time: that bit of the evening when I get to clean up toys, put a load of washing on and eat my tea in peace. Ahhhhh. It's hardly the most rewarding 'me time' is it? After all the times in the day when I've had to tie shoe laces, wipe faces and play games on repeat. After all the times I've had to leave a cup of tea I made for myself or forgotten to eat because I'm too busy making food for other mouths, I am now asked that I spend that extra hour or so reading the story I already read twice today. And as well meaning as that lady's blog post was, it was written through the lenses of those highly deceptive rose-tinted glasses.

Please don't get me wrong, I am not trying to rush my time with my children away. There are many times that I enjoy them fully - there are the extreme highs along with the extreme lows, but let's be real here, people. Telling someone to enjoy every minute of parenting is like telling someone to enjoy every minute of a twelve hour hike. Sure, there will be beautiful views and you will enjoy the exercise, but you will also be tired and dirty. Besides which, there is no guarantee of sunshine, on some days you walk through thunderstorms. I dare you to tell a hiker when they're reaching their finishing line, a meal and a hot bath to just go on that extra mile further. I dare you to look at them with disapproval when they act dismayed at the prospect of another hill. Better still, try the "enjoy every minute of your hike" line and see if you come out of it unscathed.

So, if you see me in the supermarket today losing it with my kids, please don't tell me to hold it together, like I'm some sort of machine. Hindsight, although highly delusional, is a gift from God that helps us to carve out rosy memories for ourselves and cut out all the hardships that we wish not to remember. Do you ever hear your mother say to you, out of the blue, "Awww, I've just had a memory of the first time you shat yourself in the middle of Sainsburys." No, she will most likely recall the first time you giggled, or the first time you said her name. 

I have no doubt I will carve out very good memories for myself when I look back on the early days with my children. I have no doubt that, once they are grown, part of me will long for one more squeeze of their little hands or just one more cuddle with my babies. I have no doubt I will look at the family photos with fondness, and no bad memories will remain. I will wish for just one more day with them. And then I will take off my pink spectacles and pick up my diaries; the years of documentation, all the highs and the devastating lows, and I will thank god that I got though it unscathed. Don't feel guilty for not enjoying every minute with your children, in twenty years time you will think you did regardless.

I really fancy a Macdonalds...

Monday 13 April 2015

The forgotten fathers

the forgotten fathers, fatherhood, fathers, parenting, parenting blog, mother diaries, dads, modern dad
photography & lettering by

The forgotten fathers. 

Since having children I have never been more thankful and yet more irritated by the man I married nearly ten years ago. I have never been more in love, yet never been closer to ending it all. They say that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, but these people probably didn't have children. Couples who decided to procreate in order to 'restore their relationships' rarely do so. Parenting is tough and marriage becomes even harder because of it.

Deep down I guess I've always known that love is a choice - not something that is instinctive like Hollywood would have you believe. At three o'clock in the morning, when I've just put my baby back down to sleep, it is a choice for me to love the man who randomly selects these moments to start snoring loudly. Equally, it is a choice for him to continue to come home every day when I snap at him for absolutely no reason whatsoever. 

One thing about this choosing to love business is that we both bought into it on that day filled with confetti and cake back in 2005. We both decided that we were in on this partnering business 'for better or for worse.' We naively said those words like we were revolutionary; like we could take on the world and still come out dancing the tango (or to some rubbish garage track, as it was back then). The reality of love is that even without children it is a pretty challenging commitment, but with them and all the exhaustion they bring, it can be near impossible.

Many people comment on my husband's input into our family life - they say that he is a brilliant father. And he is. But what I find strange is that onlookers will praise him because he changed a nappy or read a bedtime story, as though it is somehow a novelty. People label such fathers as 'modern dads', which in reality means they've chosen to partner in the parenting business, instead of taking the back seat of previous generations. Admittedly, I'm sure there are couples who make a perfectly good marriage out of traditional roles but, thankfully, women are getting recognised as being equal; that in general there is no such thing as a 'pink job' or a 'blue job'. I am grateful for a man who enjoys and excels at cooking and he is grateful for a wife who puts up shelves.

There is a difference, though, from being equal to being the same, and the same we are not. As much as it would be a relief for men to tackle pregnancy, labour, childbirth and breastfeeding, it is never going to happen. These are the pink jobs we cannot avoid if we want to have families. We are, by nature, more vulnerable; we are more likely to endure physical pain; more susceptible to body changes. It is the very nature of how we were formed and we cannot deny it. Women can be left to feel like the underdog when they become mothers and life as a parent can create a chasm between us and the men we married.

But in amongst the whirlwind of those first few years of motherhood are the partners who have to exercise more choice to love us than ever before. They have to choose to overlook our lost sense of self; our new-found yet older-looking skin; our scars and weight gain. They have to choose to step into the chaos and partner with us, or else retreat and become a father of the past: distant or authoritarian. 

And here's the thing we need to recognise when we choose to partner with one another; men have to overcome the years of stereotyping in the same ways that we do. In a world where many men still choose to oppress women, there are those that stick their necks on line and trip up our prejudiced opponents. There are those that choose to love more selflessly, with less public recognition or financial reward. There are those that let go of their power in exchange for giving their partners a leg up where they would have otherwise been stuck.

And amongst them are the men that suffer too. There are those who have to watch helplessly as their wives get torn apart in childbirth. And before you jeer at that remark, imagine how you'd feel sat at the bedside of your hospitalised child. Seeing someone you love suffer and being able to do absolutely nothing is painful, and men are expected to breeze through childbirth as though they shouldn't be affected by it. There are also those who have had to journey with their partner's post natal depression, and there are those who suffer with depression themselves but get no help because they are 'fathers' and don't count. There are those who raise children on their own; whose wives walk out; whose lives are shattered, and we tell them to 'man up' and get back to fulfilling the role of their forefathers: to show no emotion or pain.

It's time we started to truly partner with one another, to try not to fight over who is the biggest martyr or who got up the most times in the night with their children. It's not about tit for tat or making sure we're getting what we need in order to gain power in society. Love is a choice, but it's also a journey, one that is sometimes uphill and difficult, but made all the more pleasant for having someone to lift you over the bumps.  

I still think a lot needs to be done in our society to break through the stereotypes that are all too easily placed on women,  but let's not in the process forget the men who stand by us; who support us; who make us smile. Let's not forget to invest in the partnerships we committed to all those years ago with confetti and cake. 

So thank you to the fathers who journey with us, who encourage us, who change nappies, cook dinners and play games. Thank you for giving us a leg up where you could have chosen to walk away. Thank you for partnering with us, for cheering us on, for loving us. 

And thank you to my lovely husband who gives me space to be myself. Let's crank up the garage.

Tuesday 7 April 2015

What does it take to have a positive birth?

childbirth, birth, labour, pregnancy, motherhood, parenting, mother diaries, positive labour, positive childbirth, pain free labour, natural labour, pain relief, parenting blog
photo: stockup typography:

What does it take to have a positive birth?

I read an article recently about the programme 'one born every minute' being unnecessarily negative about childbirth. The article's general disapproval of the programme was largely based on the fact that all of the births on the show are medicalised: based in hospital rather than in homes. The article felt that more should be done to promote natural childbirth, including home births. I couldn't tell you whether the programme is overly negative or not. I couldn't tell you because I can't watch the programme. I can't watch the programme because it brings back too many painful memories for me.

The fact that I had a bad experience of childbirth doesn't mean that is the same for everybody of course. I have discovered that in my relatively short history of being a mother that what one woman will experience in childbirth will be like no one else. Of all the advice that had been handed down to me, none could prepare me for my own experience of childbirth. But does that mean I couldn't have done things to ensure a more positive one? What exactly does it mean to have a positive labour and birth?

I remember when I was pregnant with my first child, people would be quick to give me their words of wisdom regarding my impending delivery. "Take all the pain relief you can get!" They'd say, "I'm glad I don't have to go through that again!" I would smile and nod and deep down feel utterly peeved that everyone was so negative. They obviously didn't know how incredibly headstrong I was; they didn't know my capacity to withstand pain; they didn't know that I was determined to have a 'positive' childbirth and prove them all wrong. I clung to the stories of women who'd given birth in two hours; those that said they found it enjoyable; those that didn't even need pain relief. My birth would be like that.

I considered a home birth but I'm far too neurotic; I couldn't cope with being far from a hospital should I need medical intervention, God forbid. I plumped for what I felt was the second best option; a water birth. But no amount of willpower or whale music could override nature, and as it turned out I was physically unable to give birth 'naturally'. For a number of years I blamed myself for this - I felt I'd failed my birthing mission, because along with those negative warnings about childbirth, came the praises of the women 'who'd done it for centuries without pain relief'; comments that implied a natural birth was simply a matter of determination.

Since then there has been more of a pull for healthcare to promote natural births and for midwives to encourage giving birth on your living room floor. This is neither a good thing or a bad thing in my eyes, but it begs the question as to whether our nation's view of childbirth is altogether warped. And when I say view I do not mean preference. What I mean is that our society has become obsessed with telling women what a positive childbirth is, or should be, and it is missing the point entirely. They tell women that a positive birth means taking control of their bodies and learning breathing techniques so that they can cope with the pain. They tell women that a positive birth means mind over matter from the start of their first contractions. They tell women that a positive birth positive means believing they can give birth without too much pain relief or medical intervention. Being an advocate for positive births has somehow become being an advocate for natural ones.

Now let me make this perfectly clear, I am an advocate for positive births. I am a believer that a birth experience can be positive no matter how much or how little medical intervention you have. After having two practically identical birth experiences I can tell you that one was positive and one was not. After my first birth I experienced post traumatic stress and after the second I felt like jumping somersaults. I had flashbacks after my first birth four years later and after my second I forgot about it in a matter of days. A similar amount of pain. Two long labours. The same complications. The same cesarean outcome. 

So what was the difference? Despite the fact that experience taught me to trust my instincts and be assertive, I had made peace with the fact that childbirth was never going to be a 'nice' experience (sorry, ladies). The problem with telling women to expect something 'positive' out of childbirth has left them thinking that it should be somehow pleasant or pain free. It has left them feeling failures when the pain got too much or when they couldn't give birth naturally, which is of course completely and utterly unfair. Labour is called labour for a reason, and although there are those that tell you they went to the bathroom for a poo and came out with a baby, these experiences are probably rare. 

You may or may not be familiar with a therapy called 'acceptance and commitment therapy' but my physiotherapist of a husband uses this to help with his patients. It is about accepting the situation, illness or pain for what it is, no matter how hard, and making a commitment to seeing improvement. Psychologists use it to help patients recover from mental illnesses, but what is interesting is my husband's patients with physical pain respond well to this too. Those that have the most acceptance make the quickest physical recoveries.

And there it is; that word: acceptance. One born every minute isn't going to give you a negative view of childbirth, your mind is. Your mind is telling you to hope for something better, something less traumatic- well, of course it is, and there's nothing wrong with desiring it. But when that becomes our benchmark? The acceptance goes out of the window: we can't settle for anything less. We're faced with grave disappointments that are far from positive.

Acceptance has amazing power to transform things. My second birth involved accepting that childbirth is difficult and painful. It involved accepting that childbirth for me is long. It involved accepting that medical intervention was necessary for both mine and my babies lives. It involved accepting that I would never have a natural birth. It involved accepting myself. And because of it childbirth became just a means to produce life rather than a bucket list experience. It became just a challenge in order to bring life into the world. It became something incredibly positive because I'm still alive despite it, and so are my babies, who I am incredibly grateful to have in my life.