Zzzzzzzzz…. what is sleep?

This image makes me smile, as it’s one of the big tips you get given when pregnant, ‘Sleep when the baby sleeps’. Ok, so that might work when you only have 1 baby, and that is still banking on the baby having good naps in the day, and you being at home and vaguely in a head space for sleep. But this doesn’t work when you have a toddler.

Yes my toddler still naps, but invariably not at the same time as the baby. It is also currently the only space where I can eat my lunch in peace, without my food being stolen. It’s also the hour or so in the day where I’m able to watch adult TV! And by that I mean indulging in my trashy tv love of old soap reruns! There really is a limit to how many times I can watch Paw Patrol in a day!

So daytime sleeping with 2 is a rarity! But recently for us, night time sleeping has also been a bit of a rarity. The baby had been waking every 2 hours for feeds, which when a feed can take 20 mins meant I was only getting sleep in 90 minute blocks. But then the toddler decided to embrace the sleep regression that can come at 2! He decided that for about 2 months, the day started between 4 and 5am! He was also waking at least once in the night. And generally it had to involve mummy cuddles no matter how many times daddy would go.

I am very blessed to have a husband that will get up early with the toddler, and take the baby if she’s not feeding, so I can get a couple of extra hours sleep. (We’ve also learnt the hard way that for me this can be quite essential, as I stuffer from migraines, and not getting enough sleep is a huge trigger.)

You’ll notice that I’ve been writing this in the past tense, and that’s because we’re starting to see a change…. the toddler has gone back to sleeping through the night and also not waking till 6am! And in the last week, the baby has done a huge shift and is only waking once! I’m not counting my chickens, and I know it can all change again at the drop of a hat, but for now I’m making the most of a bit more sleep.

Sorry to friends who are about to start this journey with a second, if I’ve shattered any dreams! And I’d love to me the person who first coined the phrase “Sleeping like a baby”! I would love to meet the baby they were referring to!

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A mouth smile and not a heart smile

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I’ve been honest before about my struggles with depression and post natal depression. I wasn’t truly surprised by being hit with it again this time around, but I have been surprised by how hard it has hit me, and how it has affected me in different ways.

This time it really hit me hard. I had days where all I could do was cry. A black cloud had come down, and it wasn’t shifting. I started retreating more and more into myself. Not communicating with people and wanting to be in my own safe bubble. I also felt my anxiety levels shoot up and I became  worried about so much. From little things like what my children were wearing and what people would think, to bigger things like what would happen if…. and imagine extreme situations. And then on top of it all my need to control and have things in an order I can cope with have spiraled.

This time I have taken the step of medication. Small tablets that have the power to stop the tears falling daily. But they have also had the power to stop other emotions too.

I have been really struggling to connect with the joy that I should be feeling with my children. I have struggled to rejoice in all the positives. It has been heartbreaking when I have been smiling at my daughter, as it helps her learn to smile, but they have been mouth smiles, not heart smiles. Celebrating milestones has never been a struggle before, but this time it is, and it hurts.

At the same time I am struggling to connect with my toddler, and struggling to find time for my teenager. They all need me. They all have their own needs as children, and as a parent, my role is to meet those needs. But at the moment I know there are days when I can’t. My husband is amazing, and he does so much, but I also know I am not meeting his needs at times either. My parenting guilt has never been greater than it is at the moment. I constantly feel like I am failing them.

But I have learnt that I also need to prioritise. I have learnt that while for some, going out daily helps, for me, being busy is exhausting. I need to find the balance. I need to know I have people I can see when I am able, but that they also know if I don’t see them, or respond immediately, then it is nothing personal. It is just me trying to prioritise me and my family. I have discovered an amazing online support network. Other mums who gave birth around the same time, that I can connect with as and when I am able. But they are there even at 2am! I also have friends I can see when I am able, but who also understand if I have to say ‘Not today’.

I have been lucky. My GP and health visitor have been supportive, and are helping me with next steps and moving forward with a long term solution, but it’s not going to be a quick and easy fix. This cloud can thin and clear a bit, but it may never completely go away. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but I don’t have a choice.

What I have discovered is that my job helps. It makes a difference. In the last few weeks I have started doing some of my keep in touch days, and they have helped me refocus and find a bit of who I am again. I also know that I need to make sure that I can get the balance right in September when I go back to work fully.

Right now I need to focus on me. And on being the best mum I can be to my 3 children. Meeting all their needs at all their different stages in life was never going to be easy, but I can only do the best I can. I carry mum guilt round on a daily basis, and wonder if all I can do is enough, but I can only be who I can be.

I don’t ever write my blog for sympathy, but I write it to show others that they are not alone, and to help me process where I am at. I also know it is how some people find out what is going on for me, and I am sorry that for some this is how they find out, but at the moment I can’t always talk it through. I have a small number of people I am able to talk about this with, and if that is you, then thank you so much for listening and being there. Especially when it can be one sided. And if it’s not you, then I am sorry. Please don’t take it personally, it’s just how I am coping.

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What society puts on you vs reality

One of the things I really struggle with both in pregnancy, and since giving birth, is the image society and mainly the media give you about how it’s meant to be. For example, in pregnancy many mums expect all their nausea/ sickness to disappear overnight at 13 weeks, and to suddenly start “glowing”. Pregnancy is built up in the media to be this most amazing period in your life, full of amazing hair, skin and nails, looking amazing and feeling fantastic while growing this new life inside you.

I can honestly say in all 3 of my pregnancies I have never felt “glowing”. I’ve felt exhausted, fat, nauseous to the point of wishing I was being sick, gestational diabetes requiring insulin. I’ve had a pelvis struggling to stay together, a baby spending the pregnancy sat on my sciatic nerve, a baby that kept having kidneys that were too full at each scan, so they kept having to check. Each of the 3 has been stressful for different reasons (and yes maybe I was mad choosing to go through it again?!) Each time was 9 months of struggle.

It’s meant to be a time when you start to bond with you baby. With my last 2 pregnancies I had reduced movements., which actually makes this bonding difficult. In fact with my last pregnancy, I barely felt any movement from 28 weeks, so bonding was really hard. The only thing that helped, were the regular scans that I had for the diabetes. At no point was it a period where I felt I met societies pictures of a glowing and radiant mother to be.

Maybe I am a lucky one, in that the actual births have all been quick. Although this again has it’s own issues. I manage to avoid the perceived 24+ hours of crazy pain, screaming for an epidural, etc etc. I will admit there are certain points when my language would be more explicit than normal, and times near the end when I thought I couldn’t cope with any more pain. But I can’t complain.

But then comes the period of becoming a mummy to a newborn. The fourth trimester. The other period where the media makes out you should be glowing with the joys of your newborn, enjoy showing them off to the world, let the world smother them with love too. Well I’ve never experienced this either. I am currently nearing the end of the fourth trimester for the third, and final, time. I can say that the last 11 weeks have been a challenge. There are days when I struggle to get up and get dressed and function. Days when I have just kept myself hidden away from the world. I still struggle to let others hold my precious, beautiful daughter. I am tired. My husband is tired. Broken night after broken night takes its toll. Night after night with a baby lying on one or other of you for the whole night is exhausting. Yes, it’s what you sign up for in one sense, but it’s not the reality.

I wouldn’t be without any of my children, but I wish the media and society would change their expectations on mums to be and new mums. It doesn’t matter if you are a first or a fifth time mum. It still comes with challenges and sturggles as well as the joys and smiles that make every day worth while.

Please don’t think you know the answers….or have a strop cos you don’t get a cuddle!

Parenting for anyone is a journey.  It has highs and lows. Every day is another point of learning, of frustration, of joy, of laughter, of tears. For me, the last few weeks have been more of the lows and the tears than many would expect. My parenting journey has been an emotional challenge, that I was hoping it wouldn’t be. In the last 8 weeks I have struggled as having my daughter has not been the perfect time that I had dreamed it would be.

I know that at times of upheaval and change I have an even greater desire to be in control and for things to happen in the way I had expected. I also know that when it doesn’t I struggle with myself, my feelings of disappointment, and my urge to have everything in control. I also get more anxious as i feel life spiraling out of my control. I end up hitting rock bottom. I can get very depressed, and I find each day a challenge.

At the moment, most days are a challenge. Getting myself and my children dressed in the mornings often feels like a great achievement. To get out of the house, is an even greater task, both in terms of emotional preparation and in terms of physically getting there.

But in all these challenges I can keep hold of my children – with my baby this is often currently a very physical thing. I need to hold her for reassurance, but also so I know that I am not missing her cues for need of provision fro me – be it food, communication, space to sleep. I know people think they are helping me by offering to hold her, to take away the “burden” of having to do it all, but at the moment, I need to. When I feel safe and secure I will ask for help. I will ask for someone I trust to hold her, but I won’t just pass her around for cuddles.

With my toddler, it’s being able to give the cuddles, make the dinner, provide the stimulation required, sit on the floor and do the jigsaws. I need to know I am still meeting his needs. I also need days where all we do is chill together watching movies. I need to know I’m getting things right.

With my teenager, I need to know that I can still be there for him. I need to know I can drive him to college occasionally.  I need to be able to check in and chat over the day. I also need to be able to sit back and let him be the near adult that he is. I need to enable him.

And in amongst it all I need to be a wife that can support her husband. I need to be able to do bits around the house so that we can still function.

I know people will say to stop, let go of the feeling of have to, share some of it. But the reality at the moment is that at the moment I can’t. I haven’t got there yet. So sometimes I need space and that is where I am at. I am getting support from the right people, and I know I’ll get there in the end. I’m not always getting it right for the world, but right now it’s right for me.

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Would like it to be straight forward, and would like some positive affirmation

Some days I feel like I just want to go back to bed and start the day or the week over again. I really dread taking Niamh to any of her routine check appointments at the moment. I dread  lifting her on to the scales to see if she has gained weight, if she’s gained enough weight, if she’s still sitting on the same growth curve.

For those not in the know, babies weight is marked on a centile range chart, with tracking lines starting from 0.4th and going up to the 99th centile. Niamh sits under the bottom line for her weight. Every time we see a new professional – be it the “duty” health visitor  at the weekly weigh-in clinic, or the GP for her routine 6 week check, a doctor in hospital – they all comment on the fact she isn’t on the chart. They don’t comment on the fact she’s actually gaining weight steadily, and at the rate they would expect for all other babies, they just comment on the fact she is small. As a parent, I’ve found this exhausting and draining. I feel like i’m being judged as a parent – both in what my body can do naturally, and my choices to breastfeed over formula feed.

I also feel more anxious about each appointment. I know, due to having issues with self confidence and anxiety, that I take things more personally than others. I know that I need more affirmation at times that I’m doing it ok. I will hold my hands up and say I know this isn’t easy on those around me, and I also don’t say that  I need it or when I need it. It’s not straight forward, and it’s affected by my emotions, my tiredness levels, my stress levels, etc etc etc. But I also think that the professionals need to sometimes look at how they talk to parents and pass comments on things and realise that hearing something like – your daughter is tiny, and we need to monitor her weight – repetitively isn’t great  at building them up as a parent. For them to give positive affirmation to a parent seems to be too costly.

In amongst it all I am very grateful for a supportive community midwife and a supportive health visitor, who have championed me and fought my corner against others. My health visitor has even held me when I cried tears of relief because Niamh gained a reasonable amount of weight for the first time ever.

I am ever grateful for the patience of my husband and eldest son, who cope with this so well at times. I know i’m unpredictable and things like being anxious over appointments make some days trickier than others. I also know I am great at not telling people around me what’s going on inside. Sometimes I don’t even know what is making me feel worse. But I am learning too.

 

The toughest 5 days of parenting ever!

So a month in to being a mum of 3, and 17 years of being a mum, and nothing could have prepared me for the last week. I know other parent’s have been through the same, and I personally know parent’s who have been through worse, but for me, it has been the worst few days of parenting I have ever been through.

Within 48 hours I went from celebrating Christmas with my extended family, to sitting in a side room on a Paediatrics ward in hospital, watching my 3 week old daughter struggle to breathe. Her oxygen saturation levels couldn’t get over 80%, and at times she would go blue round her mouth as she coughed and couldn’t catch her breath. They put her on oxygen, and then the long night started. The put in a feeding tube, to rest her from having to juggle breathing and feeding. We were put in a side room, and I was given a bed alongside her cot. I was lucky if I got 2 hours sleep that night in more than 20 minute blocks.

Move on another 9 hours, and the consultant made the decision to move her quickly to the High Dependency area, put her on a pressurised oxygen system to aid her breathing, moved her straight on to IV fluids over the feeding tube, started her on IV antibiotics and took lots of blood for testing. Watching 3 doctors and 2 nurses focus solely on one tiny baby was not part of my Christmas holiday plans. Especially not focus on my baby.

Seeing your baby lying there, with 4 different wires/tubes coming off her, all doing a different job to help her breathe and keep going is scary. My response was to ask friends and family to start praying. It was the only comfort I could find in a place of fear, and almost desperation. Being told by the doctors that a delay of a few more hours in taking her in, probably made the difference to her needing to be ventilated and not, was scary. Realising how poorly she was, from what had been a cough a few hours before, to a cough that she couldn’t catch her breath from, to a baby on oxygen was a lot to take in. In the midst of it all, I was trying to communicate with Paul what was going on, arrange child care for our toddler and let our teenager know what had happened as he was away with friends.

We were so grateful for the speedy response, with offers of help and support, from our friends. Taking the toddler out for the day, and others having him overnight, meant it was one less thing to worry about. But as a mum, I never stop worrying. I miss both of my boys whenever I am not with them, so I couldn’t completely switch off. What I am discovering as a mum of 2 or 3, is that rather than share the love you had for your previous child across more, you become capable of a bigger capacity to love others, and so you can’t just turn it off, or switch the emotions to another child. You don’t stop loving or worrying about the others, when one needs a greater focus.

I did also discover that my daughter is a fighter. She proved the doctors wrong, by being able to cope with breastfeeding again a day earlier than they expected. (She had pulled out her feeding tube 3 times first, and they then agreed to let her try, expecting to have to put the tube back in.) She proved them wrong again by weaning herself off the oxygen sooner than expected, so that when they removed the pressurised oxygen to replace with the normal oxygen, she was about to keep her saturation at 97% without any oxygen!

I learnt a lot about the virus that is Broncholitis. It’s nasty. It causes a baby a lot of discomfort. I also have learnt how easy it, and the related RSV are to pass to babies. And as a result, I am more protective. I won’t be letting others to be kissing my baby anywhere near the mouth and nose – including my own children and Paul and I. I won’t be encouraging her to be passed round by lots of people at any one time. I don’t want to repeat that week again. It even beats having a child with peritonitis on the stress scale.

I’m also so grateful for the NHS. The staff who looked after my daughter we all phenemenal. From the care assistants that made sure I got all my meals. to the consultant who insisted on putting in all her IV lines etc himself to ensure minimal distress was caused to my daughter.

As I’ve always said, this blog is a bit of a processing space for me. It’s a safe place where I can share my feelings.It’s a place where I can get my feelings in some kind of order. So please see this as that. I am still processing, and this is an easy and safe way to do that. As a parent you need to find, or carve out, that space where you can process and work through situations, and this is where I can do that.

No 3 arrives….and life is anything but easy

11 days ago we welcomed child number 3. Our beautiful daughter. After a difficult pregnancy, including 3 times a week hospital visits, nausea that got worse rather than better, weekly scans, gestational diabetes and insulin injections, we hoped that post birth we would be back in the normal swing of parenting.

Instead we have had 11 days that have been quite stressful, very emotional, and very exhausting. In fact without the support of some amazing friends I think we would have completely fallen apart. We have a little girl, who struggled to gain weight. At 5 days old she had lost 15% of her birth weight, which meant an automatic same day referral back to the hospital, and another 3 days staying on the maternity ward, having all aspects of feeding scrutinized. When we arrived, we were stressed as parents as we could see that our daughter was unwell. In fact she was at the start of a diabetic hypo. Her blood sugars had dropped very low and she was unable to respond properly to feed. We hadn’t even seen her eyes open properly.

I can honestly say I felt like a human cow! I was instructed to express milk between feeds for “top up” bottles, and to then also feed my daughter 3 hourly – I would even be woken overnight to make sure there was not  longer than a 3 hour gap between the start of each feed! Funnily enough by 2am, when I hadn’t actually slept because there was no time between feeding and expressing, I was emotional, exhausted and very frustrated.

I felt I was being treated like a first time mum that had no idea what they were doing. It also felt like my history, and the medical history of  my other children (both small and both late to gain weight in the first couple of weeks of their lives) was being ignored. I was physically pushed and pulled around to make sure my daughter had a perfect latch. I was emotionally expected to be a robot and just do as I was told. I was expected to only focus on the 1 child. Yes, my baby was my focus, but I was also very aware of my nearly 2 year old who had by then been away from me for the best part of 7 days out of 9 (including the days I was being induced.) It was hard work. I also had to watch my daughter have blood taken from her every 3 hours, plus more for other tests. All were necessary to make sure that there was nothing more serious wrong, but all were hard.

When we were allowed home, it was with a lot of negotiating about the community care we would receive, and me having to prove I could feed my daughter. I was left feeling like I was wrong for wanting to be with all of my children. I wasn’t asking to take our daughter away from medical care she needed. In fact, all they were going to do if we had stayed in was leave us in a private room, with me feeding and expressing, to reweigh our daughter another 48 hours later! I just wanted to be home.

Little did we know, that 48 hours later we would be back again. This time, I stopped hiding my emotions from the medical staff! It meant some of the conversations required tissues and physical support from my husband, but actually it meant the medical staff stopped and listened. I shared about why I wanted to be at home, and also about my medical history and how we had been working to help me avoid post natal depression this time around. Instead of readmission, to leave us in a room with me just feeding and topping up feeds with formula (not our first choice at all, but the compromise we’d had to come to for our daughter’s health), and with a toddler who would be even more upset that mummy had “disappeared” again, the staff agreed to let us do the same at home. Even the midwife agreed that there was no benefit to us staying in as all other test results came back clear. But ironically, we first had to prove we could give our daughter a bottle feed before  we could leave!

Our amazing friends had come over to help our teenager with the toddler, and had cooked us dinner. Coming home to freshly prepared food was amazing. When you are emotionally exhausted, you need to be looked after. When you know you have a history of depression and post natal

So  it has been tough. Our daughter is a total joy, and watching both boys bond with their sister is wonderful. But I can’t sit and say that the first few days have been a wonderfully new baby bubble. I have been up and down on an emotional journey, that was, at times, made harder by the hoops that the medical staff made us jump through to prove we were capable. Being a parent of a new baby isn’t easy at the best of times, but things can make it harder. Now at 11 days old it looks like we have turned a corner, celebrating a 110g weight gain today as a huge achievement.