Anxiety- Part of the Parental Package?

I often ponder if it’s possible that I may have an actual diagnosable mental condition. Or if the utterly ridiculous feelings and anxieties I experience every day are actually normal parental behaviour.

From the moment I found out I was pregnant, my ‘worst case scenario’ head was firmly screwed on, and unfortunately it’s still not loosened even a tiny bit 5 years later. As a hormonal Pregzilla, I was always in a panic. “It’s snowing… What if I fall and hurt the baby?”. “What if a small glass of champagne on the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee (the only alcoholic drink which passed my lips as an expectant Mum) causes some horrific birth defect?” I obsessed over statistics. Reading that 25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage meant that we were too scared to tell anyone we were having a baby. A 1 in 4 chance that our little peanut wouldn’t make it- and we couldn’t risk putting more people through that than necessary. 1 in 160 chance of a stillborn child, 1 in 33 chance of a birth defect… I decided that if I constantly contemplated the worst, I couldn’t possibly be disappointed, a mantra which I struggle to shake off.

I remember going on maternity leave, before the baby came. I would be home alone, sitting on the nursery floor cradling my bump, sobbing my heart out, terrified at the thought that my precious boy wouldn’t make it. And then when it came to his time to make an appearance, a traumatic labour didn’t help much… The poor thing had his cord wrapped round his neck. But once he was born and the hoard of medical staff had attended to him on a resuscitation table, they passed him to me. And in that moment I felt overwhelmingly that everything was OK, because he was OK. I felt calm, still, and like I wanted to sleep, because for the first time in 8 months, I could sleep without worrying.

That gloriously euphoric feeling lasted for about 12 seconds, then came a whole new level of panic.

Everything changes when your baby is born. As a single non-parent, I used to watch fundraisers like Children In Need and while I comprehended that it was sad, I didn’t really feel anything. Fast forward a few years, and I had to go to bed in the middle of Stand Up To Cancer because I couldn’t bear watching the stories. I was beyond normal crying and into the headache-inducing, snotty wailing. I then couldn’t sleep for worrying about the fact that 1 in 2 people will get cancer in their lifetime, and I prayed (as a strict atheist that was a big deal) that it would be me and not my husband or my son. After an hour or so, I think I finally drifted off thanks to Googling symptoms of cancer in children and deciding that I probably didn’t have to worry quite so much just yet.

I see now how my general insanity has affected my boy. If I’m honest, he’s a bit of a pansy. But can I really be surprised? The poor lad can’t even break into a run without me telling him he’ll fracture all his limbs. He’s ended up in an ambulance or at least at A&E every time he has a cold. Now he’s 4, I finally reluctantly agreed to take down the baby gates, but still refuse to allow him in water and don’t want his stabilisers off for a good 5 years.

I can’t fathom the reasoning of the easygoing parents who say things like, “boys will be boys” and who think that falling in the park is good for them, rather than screaming bloody murder and dramatically sprinting to their rescue as if they had been hit by an artic lorry.

Unfortunately for my little one, I can’t change. I wish that I didn’t get a heart-wrenching feeling of dread every time I see a missed call from school. And I wish that on a lazy Sunday morning, I didn’t have to run to his bedroom to make sure his chest is moving up and down, just because he’s not awake by 8.00am. Sadly though, that’s just me. I will always be ridiculously over-protective.

So to my lovely son, I can only apologise for the wussiness. I accept full responsibility.

The Second Child Debate

As a recently married happy couple with one gorgeous four year old son who we love more than anything, we are constantly asked, “When’s the next one coming then?”

I hate that question.

In this oh-so familiar scenario, I normally shrug uncomfortably and say I’m not sure we’ll bother. Then once I’m alone with my husband and wine-soaked, I yell, “I WANT ANOTHER BABY!” But in truth, I don’t know if I do.

I loved being pregnant. And I love the idea of another baby. I reeeally love the thought of a year off work. But in reality? I’m not so sure.

In honesty, I think we have probably waited too long now. We’re over the dirty nappies and the sleepless nights. We even have ornaments in the house again. The thought of going back to being an exhausted grumpy mess with greasy hair makes me want to immediately run upstairs for an uninterrupted shower, which I can now enjoy every day thanks to Thomas and Friends on Series Link.

And what about our careers? Both of us have big things coming up work-wise and, while I’m aware that it is ever so slightly illegal to discriminate against a pregnant lady, I do believe it still happens, although certainly without poor intention. I have only within the last year reverted to full time work and although I have mostly hated myself every day for it, my career has flourished in that time. Would another baby have a negative impact on that? Also, we’re more financially stable than we’ve ever been (which is still not very), but we don’t earn enough to save anything by the end of the month. Do we really want to go back to scrimping and saving every day and having frozen pizza for our evening meal?

We have also been incredibly lucky when it comes to childcare. I feel it would be unreasonable and unfair of us to assume that we would get the same help again, allowing us to still earn a decent amount at zero expense to us. As everyone knows, looking after children, especially someone else’s, is not easy at the best of times, and several friends have told us that although you can’t get rid of people when your first-born arrives, no one really gives a crap with the second.

As well as the practicalities, I also worry about my emotional capacity. I love my son an absolutely indescribable amount- but would I feel so strongly again? Would every single kick, gurgle and tooth be so special the second time around? I always recall my mother-in-law telling me about her three sons. The eldest had a detailed baby book, completed in its entirety including photos, essays documenting every second from conception to school, lost teeth and locks of hair stuck down with sellotape, bloody everything. The second child’s baby book was, by her own admission, a bit half-arsed. The main bits like significant dates were filled in, but there were far fewer photos and no lost body parts. The youngest son had no baby book. I obviously understand that a mother’s love isn’t measured in completed pages of baby book, but it seems kind of unfair and is the exact kind of thing I worry about.

And how would Baby no. 2 affect Baby no. 1? Sure, at times I think he’d benefit from a younger sibling. It could help with the tantrums when he loses a game or is, heaven forbid, asked to actually share something. But what if he didn’t bond with the baby, what if he wanted a boy and it was a girl, what if he got jealous of me spending time with the baby while he was at school? I don’t want to do anything to make him feel anything other than cherished.

The reason I hate the ‘next baby’ question is the assumption that there’s something missing from our family, that we’re somehow incomplete. Don’t get me wrong, plenty of our friends and family have said that the second child is the best thing they ever did- and that’s great for them. But if it never happens for us, that’s OK. That’s OK because we are already so happy- we are already complete. I’m sure another child would be amazing, but so would our perfect family staying just as it is.

Labour- Knickers and Dignity not needed

After a relatively uneventful pregnancy, bar daily sickness and serious Pinot Grigio withdrawal, I went for a routine midwife appointment two days before my due date. On arriving, I laid on the table while the midwife asked if I was sick of being pregnant yet and told me she didn’t envy me in this heat -Cheers Shirley, feel loads better now.

Following lots of (what I now appreciate to be completely non-intrusive) prodding and poking of my bump, she started asking me about movements and then quietly picked up her phone and rang the hospital to make me an emergency appointment. I remained quite calm (so I thought anyway) as she explained to me that I shouldn’t worry but it seemed that the baby hadn’t grown since my last appointment.

I waddled down to the bus stop in silence and got on the first of two buses to hospital. There were no seats and no one offered me the chance to sit down, but I really couldn’t give a shit. I had a sudden realisation, that much as I didn’t want to, I should probably call my boyfriend at work to let him know what was going on. I played it down massively, and told him there was no need to come along because everything was fine. Fortunately he must have seen through my hysteric tone because he arrived at the hospital about five minutes after me.

Next came about 84 hours of waiting. I love a bit of people watching and I’ve got to say, that day was particularly good. There was a woman, who was not even five feet tall, carrying at least quadruplets (in our game anyway) who waddled in to the waiting area ten minutes after her husband, who had clearly grown weary of waiting around for her and walked at a reasonable pace, while she stopped for several ‘comfort breaks’ from the car up to the correct department.

Once we were called through, the good news was a healthy heartbeat. The bad news was an unannounced stretch and sweep. After I had put my pants back on and recovered from an apparently entirely legal sexual assault, I was told to come in on Friday morning to have my baby… “Sorry, MY WHAT?” For some reason, the end result of my pregnancy being a baby was a complete shock to me, especially from the mouth of a healthcare professional. We were sent home to prepare and generally be terrified.

The next couple of days were uneventful really, other than the joy that was ‘The Show’- thank you stretch and sweep. Despite repeatedly being told that ‘when it happens, you know’, I wasn’t sure so made the mistake of Googling it. I found that firstly, my suspicions were founded and secondly, I got off lightly.

On Friday morning, we both woke up so bloody early, like, still dark in summer early. We were told to phone the Labour Ward as early as we could to check that a bed was available so we rang at 7.00am. They confirmed we could go straight down so we called our designated driver- my cousin. She is late for everything, including our wedding we have since discovered, so by the time we got there, it was 9.00am.

We got to our bed and I downloaded Spider Solitaire on my phone, while the boyfriend bought some reading material from the gift shop and complained about “bloody hospital prices”. After a short while, we were introduced to the lady who was inducing me. She looked familiar but it wasn’t until she was almost elbow deep wedging a surprisingly sharp pessary up my foof that I realised her daughter is a friend of mine. “How’s Sarah?” I asked, through gritted teeth, while the other half awkwardly smirked.

Next came hours and hours of waiting, throughout which I wasn’t allowed to leave the bed unless to use the loo. I was doing incredibly well on Spider Solitaire until I noticed a… damp feeling. Unsure of what had happened, I called for help. A lady doctor came and promptly asked me to take off my knickers. What happened next shocked me to my very core… SHE SMELLED THE GUSSET OF MY PANTS. She had a few really good sniffs then advised that my waters had broken. Thank Christ she didn’t have to tell me I pissed myself.

I assumed that once that happened, I’d put on my headband, spread my legs and out baby would come. But no. Next, I started getting a bit of tummyache, but being the idiot I am, I was unsure it was contractions, or food poisoning from hospital stew and mash. It was contractions, which still didn’t mean I could start pushing (Eastenders is way off the bloody mark).

For a reason unbeknownst to me, I was hooked up to a machine which monitored my contractions. After forgetting about me for over an hour, a midwife came to check the results and told me there was a problem. Essentially, every time I had a contraction, the baby’s heartbeat slowed down. So it could be checked, I was given a drip to slow down the labour while I was monitored. It’s thanks really to the continued period of monitoring that I became accustomed to dropping my pants, spreading my legs and gritting my teeth as soon as someone with an upside-down clock pinned to their shirt walked behind the curtain.

At about 7.00pm, Daddy was told to go home as nothing would happen til morning and he would be more use to both of us if he was well rested. He took that to mean that he should go to his brother’s house to watch England in the Euros. Of course, within an hour, my contractions were coming thick and fast so he was called back… that’ll teach him. When he returned, I was in a private room and he took great pleasure in taking the piss out of my leopard-print nightie and complaining that my pain-induced groaning sounded like a cow mooing. (I must admit, I’m kind of wondering why the hell I married him in hindsight.)

Because of all the difficulties, I was given more drugs to slow things down, and eventually an epidural. I had decided I wanted one all along if I’m honest. I’ve never been to the dentist and said, “I’m alright for pain relief thanks, I want to feel this. You know, really feel like I’ve earned it.” So I didn’t fancy going through the worst pain of my life without feeling numb from the waist down. Unfortunately, I ended up having two epidurals, as the first only worked down one side, which bizarrely I was forced to prove.

Frustratingly, we were told to get comfortable as I wouldn’t be giving birth until the following morning. This led to the most ridiculous statement I’ve ever heard from a fellow human being. As I laid in bed with half an epidural, five needles in my hands and a bag of piss strapped to my knee, my now-husband turned to me in his armchair and said, “Urgh, there’s nothing worse than trying to sleep in a chair when someone else has a bed.” I can’t remember my exact response but apparently it was a brief moment of stunned silence followed by a foul-mouthed tirade.

After some ‘rest’, it was time to get cracking. The actual pushing bit was all very quick and a bit of a blur. I remember that there were umpteen doctors and nurses huddled round a resuscitation table, which genuinely didn’t register with me as being out of the ordinary at the time. I remember having to tell my birthing partners- my boyfriend and my Dad- to try some words of encouragement while I pushed as they were like rabbits in bloody headlights. I remember being told it was necessary to make a small incision (small to the measure of twenty six stitches) to get the baby out because he was in distress.  Then I remember the Salad Spoons coming out, and being told that at 6.55am, our boy was born weighing 6lbs 9oz. His cord was wrapped round his neck so he was taken straight to the hoard of medical professionals. I shouted through tears, “Is he OK?” My Dad burst out laughing, which immediately reassured me, and he said “Of course he is, just listen to him bloody screaming!”

Once he was checked over, I was told to whip off my bra (and got told off for wearing one with underwire) and we supposedly bonded by him sucking the hell out of my sore and tired boobs. Me and the baby then had a sleep while Daddy made the necessary phone calls and told the Bounty photographers to go away. Later the same day (after being stitched up and someone checking I knew how to have a wee), we were given the all clear to go home.

Then it was pretty much up to us to figure out how to be parents without a certified medical professional stood over us telling us what to do. So there we were, a couple in the first year of our relationship, jointly responsible for a brand new human. What could go wrong?

Why We’re All A Bit Rubbish

It’s 7.00pm and I have just got home from work. I left the house at 7.30am this morning, and in the car, I consoled my crying four year old son. He was upset because the other boys and girls go to school with their Mummies and Daddies. And after school, when the teacher brings the reception pupils out one-by-one, the other children spot their Mummy in the playground and run towards her and fling their arms around her neck with such sheer joy, oblivious to the impending interrogation about what was for lunch, what was the book about at storytime, what words did you learn to write today and who did you play with at playtime.

But my son doesn’t get to run to me and fling his arms around my neck. And I don’t get to ask him for a minute-by-minute account of his day while we stroll hand in hand to the car and have an argument about whether we should stop at the ice cream van for an overpriced ’99. My son has a different lady every day, but always in a purple t-shirt and hi-vis vest from the local nursery who drops him off and picks him up. And that’s not OK.

After waving him goodbye at nursery, I set off to work. What happened at work isn’t important. But it was one of those days where the thought of staying til 5.30pm and going back the day after made me literally cry with dread. Probably because of the emotional morning it was worse than normal, but I cried three times at work. THREE TIMES the blind on my office window came down, the tissues came out of my top drawer and the make up bag was poised ready to touch up the evidence of my misery.

I know that stay-at-home Mums want to work and working Mums want to stay at home, and the grass is equally as brown and wilted on both sides at times, but the guilt that overwhelms me is awful. I feel like I’m not being a ‘proper Mum’ to this poor little boy, who (in my head at least) deserves to have every person in the world at his constant beck and call and hanging on his every word. And the worst bit of all, which makes me feel worse, more than anything else, is that by the time I got home from work after feeling so miserable all day, I didn’t do what I should have done. Being the bloody selfish cow that I am, I poured myself a large (…bloody huge actually) glass of wine, and poured my heart out to my husband- complete with appalling language.

At bedtime, we had the usual routine of escaping the arguments by staging a call from Santa to check that he was in bed and can stay on the Nice List. When we went upstairs and tucked him in, he just wouldn’t settle. My husband tells me it’s just stalling tactics to delay the inevitability of actually going to sleep, and in fairness he’s probably right. But he laid in his bed, tucked in to his Thomas and Friends bedding, and asked me, “Why do you never look after me?” Tears immediately started falling down my cheeks. I tried to explain without my voice breaking, that even if Mummy isn’t right there with him, I am always looking after him. He asked me to stay with him for ‘just twenty more seconds’ so I cuddled him and silently sobbed on his chest while he stroked my hair until he fell asleep.

It’s now six weeks since my only child started school and I was not prepared for this. I had read endless advice about children starting school and I thought I was ready. I was expecting to feel depressed about my little boy growing up, I was expecting to feel like my right arm had been chopped off the first time I was actually alone in the house. I knew I’d begrudge the expense of school uniform and never end up buying enough school socks. But I was not prepared for a young boy seemingly comparing his home life to his friends’ and feeling sad.

I suppose a valid question would be, so why work? And honestly, I have no answer better than any reason to explain why being a full time Mum is the best option. Don’t get me wrong, there are benefits… Financial, obviously. I’ve always been very career-driven too, and love my job. I like that I have something for me, and can talk to grown-ups about something other than children (…there’s that guilty pang in the chest again for thinking that a conversation not involving trains or pirates would be enjoyable). But because of my work, I left my son behind with Daddy when he was four months old for three long, miserable days and nights. I missed his first steps. I miss too much.

But while this is all incredibly depressing, the truth is that deep down, although I question every decision, I know that every decision made, including full-time work, is done thinking only of him. It’s all for him. Although I am sacrificing some time spent with him now, I am working bloody hard to give him opportunities that I, and most other people, don’t have. I want to take him to Disneyland. I want to buy him a car on his 17th birthday with a big red bow on the bonnet. I want to fund his studies at university (if he chooses to go).

I just pray that he doesn’t end up begrudging us for going to work. But I know that right now, he absolutely adores us and knows that we provide him with all the love, Hot Wheels and biscuits in the world.

So why are we all a bit rubbish?… It’s not because we work, or because we don’t, or because we might actually enjoy some time to ourselves. It’s because we constantly beat ourselves up about being a rubbish parent when we’re not. I need to give myself a break from the guilt and regret, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Because the longer I spend wallowing in how rubbish I am, the more rubbish I am.

So, in order to be the best parent I can be, I’m off to reward myself with a huge Pinot Grigio for being a wonderful working Mum.

 

Thanks to Anna Lewis, The Sketchy Muma for the brilliant illustration