A fine line….

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I’m discovering how there is a really fine line between me feeling up and me feeling down. I often don’t know when I am close to teetering over the line. I am starting to recognise the triggers though. As I posted a few days ago, I have had a really positive few days. But I also knew that this didn’t mean I was permanently back on the up.

This afternoon I have felt myself sliding back down. Parenting three children (and yes my teenager is still my child) is a juggling act. As I have said before, all 3 have different needs and demands on my time. This week I have been having to manage a toddler who has had an allergic reaction to another food. As a result, he has been crabby, clingy and just not himself. Juggling that with a 6 month old who is trying to reach further, move more, do more, but constantly toppling, and also needing greater input and awake for longer, has been exhausting. The break in the madness was then going out for half an hour to pick up the teenager! But all of this, combined with an early start, and a full on, but highly enjoyable day before, has dragged me back down.

I am still having to learn where to draw a line and give myself a break. When I topple over the line, I find myself getting into bad, negative cycles. I start to compare myself, my life, my children with those of others. I compare with friends, with relatives, with strangers who post in random places on social media. I get myself down because I feel I am failing my child(ren) because they are not achieving their maximum potential.

I struggle because my baby isn’t keen on eating, when my friend’s child who is younger will chomp through 3 meals. I struggle because my toddler isn’t as eloquent as other children his age. I struggle because I can’t do with my children everything I feel I should. I struggle because I don’t want to leave the safety of my house. I want to stay in my safety blanket. I know I need to find space to stop and take a break when this happens, but it is finding the safest way to do that.

I know I made a mistake when I got to a similar point when my toddler was younger. I cut myself off from people completely, and nearly lost completely some very valuable friendships. This time I am trying to get the balance right. To be able to take a step back without cutting everything off. I’m still not always getting it right, but I am trying, and I am learning.

I hate the struggles that PND gives me. I hate the impact it has on my life at the flick of a switch. But I am learning that I there is a trigger, and I am trying to stop the switch being flicked.

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6 months in and I’m starting to feel a bit more normal!

Newcastle Family Life_ What it was like suffering from PND

This week saw the 6 month mark since I gave birth. In the last month we’ve started to have some big changes…..she’s moved out of our bedroom,she’s starting trying food, she’s sitting up unaided. But for me the biggest change has been one that I’ve felt in me. In the last couple of weeks it’s started to feel like the horrid fog that is brought down by the postnatal depression is lifting a bit.

I’ve actually started to feel real joy in things again, rather than the forced feelings that weren’t genuine but were what I knew I should be feeling. I’m actually finding that spending time with my children is becoming an enjoyment again and not a chore. That might sound awful, but that is the reality for so many parents. Enjoying time with my toddler, my teenager, my baby, is something that had become a distant memory, and is  now something that I am starting to enjoy again.

This doesn’t mean that everything has suddenly got easier. It really hasn’t. Going out can still be my biggest cause of anxiety, and the easiest thing to find an excuse for. Finding the energy to do much else is still a struggle. Feeling like all I can do is sleep some days is still very common. But it’s small steps.

Over the weekend I have deliberately used my energy to do some small “jobs” that needed completing at home. I have realised over the last couple of months, that there are certain areas in the house that it helps me if they are ordered and tidy. I hate not having the energy to keep on top of it all. Unfortunately, this can trigger my OCD and my anxieties. Knowing things aren’t away in their place, where I have created a process and a plan causes me more stress. However, rather than tackling this when it is small, I can let it become a bigger problem. For me, recently, my bedroom has been this area. The pile of clothes and bits at the end of the bed has got bigger and bigger, and the stress in my head about it has got bigger and bigger. So I have tackled it, but know that now I can relax more. But I also know I will now want to make sure everything is in the right drawer etc, and will struggle when things are out of place.

Frustratingly it really is a catch 22. And I know it’s something that people don’t understand. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is that….it’s a disorder. There is no explaining why I need things to be in a certain place in a drawer, and why I find it so stressful when they aren’t. It isn’t logical. Boy do I wish it was! I hate it. I hate that I can’t escape it or explain it.

The other thing I am realising, and having to come to terms with, is that this is going to be a new “normal”. Normal won’t be going back to how I used to be, but it is about mean learning to live with who I am now, and that this version of me is likely to be around for a long time. Until I have accepted this version as the here and now, and stop trying to mask it, I can’t expect others to accept it. They will keep thinking the performance is the reality.

So I will keep going with this new normal.

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The end of a journey

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Over the last couple of weeks, my husband and I had agreed that we would  start to wean our daughter off of breastfeeding and on to formula. It came with a real mix of feelings for me. Sadness in someways as I have enjoyed the closeness and knowledge that I was her main provider, but on the other side there was a huge feeling of relief. It was so hard to actually make a decision, because society has so many feelings about what you should or shouldn’t do.

For us there was the added complexity of her milk allergy, exacerbated by her starting to react to her dairy free formula. So another GP appointment, and another formula, and we could start the process again. But for 5 days I was doing every feed, and what I realised very quickly was that I was exhausted and struggling. I missed being able to do bedtime with our son, because I was having to feed our daughter, rather than my husband giving her a bottle. I was struggling in the morning, as a time where I had normally caught up on sleep, while my husband did the first feed and took both children disappeared.

And then on top I had the mum guilt. I felt guilty cos I was resenting having to feed her all the time. I felt guilty because I couldn’t do things with my son because I was feeding, and when I wasn’t feeding I was too tired to do much. I felt guilty as a wife, because I was so worn out by it all. It was a huge battle I was having internally.

Making the decision to swap to solely formula feeding, was, in the end, and easy one. I knew I couldn’t keep going feeling so tired out by it all. I needed to be able to share the load. I need to be able to say yes to an invite from a friend if I want to go out. I need to find time and space to be me, Rachel, rather than spend my whole time being “mum” or “mummy”.

I have to say, I couldn’t have done the feeding journey I have been on without the never ending support of my online mummy friends. The two dozen or so women who have supported me through the middle of the night endless feeds courtesy of WhatsApp. The ladies on our facebook group that have encouraged me when I was having the bad days. And today, when I shared that I was at the end of the journey, they just loved and supported me some more.

For me, to reach 22 weeks of breastfeeding, is a milestone I never thought I would achieve. In the early days I was under so much pressure from medical professionals to switch to solely formula feeding, and then since then there has been pressure from some friends and family to stop breastfeeding as they think it was invading in to life too much and not what they saw as “normal” as it wasn’t what they had done, to pressure from people to go to solely breastfeeding as “breast is best”. I’ve always known that I was going to have to increase bottle feeds as I couldn’t express the milk needed to do a day or a night without me there, and with returning to work, and settling in with the childminder, it was something I was anticipating.

For me, fed has always been the best option. My eldest was bottle fed from 10 days old. My second was given his first feed by cup, he had 12 hours of tube feeding, 8 weeks of breastfeeding, and then switched to formula. So all very different journeys. Ending the breastfeeding journey now is what is right and best for me, my daughter, my sons and my husband. Because, more than anything else it is what is right for my mental health right not. My journey is not going to be right for everyone, and I know people will have their opinions, but I am going to try not to care. I know my family are going to be happier and that is my priority.

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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!

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.

When you just want to make it all better

Some of the toughest days as a parent are the ones when you can’t take away the pain that is making your child hurt. Whatever age, your gut instinct is to protect them and to stop pain.

For nearly 3 weeks we’ve had to deal with the aftermath of the worst allergic reaction with our toddler since they realised he couldn’t have cow’s milk. The biggest problem this time has been that it totally unbalanced his gut. So we’ve had a very unhappy little boy. All because of a few mouthfuls of a new food item – mackerel!!

It has been so hard. You can’t explain easily to a 16 month old that they are going to feel sore. You can only hold them, and at times feel pretty useless that you can do no more than provide cuddles. Encouraging him to eat, when he knows food is linked to some of the pain he’s going through, is tough. But knowing that he needs to eat to have the energy to get better makes it harder. You do all the right things – staple foods, probiotics, water, cuddles, sleep – but it doesn’t make it instantly better.

And then you have the debate and juggle, do we leave him and go to work as normal, or do we stay at home. I know we are blessed with a fabulous childminder who provides him with the most loving environment, and my in-laws who adore him too. But it doesn’t make the choice easier or stop you, as a parent, worrying when he’s not with you.

For me it is one of the juggles I will always struggle with. In fact I struggle with it with both of my boys.  Do I send the older one to school or not? It’s always a balancing act. I don’t think it gets easier in some ways as it is different decisions with different impacts, but you still always want to get it right and to keep you child free from harm.

So there will be days when I can’t take the pain away, but as I mum I will always provide the cuddles.

The look of peace

Today I had one of those treasured special moments, that after 14 months is already becoming less of an occurrence. In fact this was the first time it had happened in a few weeks. My little boy curled up in my lap and fell asleep. I loved just watching the look of peace wash over his face as he dropped into a deeper sleep. It seemed a long way from the little boy who 30 minutes earlier had been emptying the bookcase at a rate of knots to find his favourite lift-the-flap book!

It was so calming to watch too. For a few moments i just treasured the peace. The calm. The quiet. Not times that regularly occur with our delightful, lively little boy. It surprised me at how much I had missed those snuggly moments of a newborn sleeping on me.

The flip side to this is actually I cherish the moments that he is asleep in his cot. It took several weeks of perseverance and feeling like it was never going to happen before we got him sleeping in the cot, and then longer till he would fall asleep in the cot. I knew we needed that to happen, for my sanity and for our life as a couple and our time with our older son. Looking back, now, I know some of it we bred ourselves. It came from a place of love, of exhaustion, and of wanting to protect our fragile tiny baby, who had had so many challenges put in his way, that we didn’t want to add another. A sleeping baby means I can have an hour (or 2 if i’m lucky) where I can have some me time, catch up on work, do some housework. It means I can recharge my batteries for the next stage of the day.

I find the constant need to be entertained draining. I adore my sons, but I am so very aware about how much space and time I need for me. These days it often means going to be before 9.30pm, just so I can curl up with my book for more than a page before I fall asleep. I know my time for knitting will return in time, and that I also wouldn’t change where I am in life for a moment. My writing is my space to express, and to be me. So here you go. Peace!

How many allergies?? Not sure but I hate them all!

So in my family there is a bit of an allergy history….quite a big bit. But I’ve been lucky. My allergies are pretty minimal, I only have 1 severe allergy, and a couple of bad intolerances. My eldest son has a dairy allergy/ intolerance (they keep changing the boundaries and terminology) which means even at 15 he still has to restrict the amount of dairy he consumes. But that is manageable. 

So I wasn’t too surprised when at 3 weeks old our baby started reacting to cows milk. I then cut all dairy from my diet and the baby was much happier. Unfortunately due to the baby being ill, we had to start introducing bottles. We started with lactose free milk, and within seconds of finishing a bottle, he would bring back milk like when a drill hits oil! He wasn’t gaining weight as they expected him to. The gp prescribed him Nutramigen, a formula that it’s a very broken down version of cows milk. We saw an improvement to the amount of milk he managed to retain, and his weight gain increased a bit. After 3 weeks his formula had to be changed due to a production issue. He was put on Neocate. A formula that has no cows milk in at all. Just amino and fatty acids. Wow! What a difference! All his milk stayed in after a feed! And his weight soared! 

I can deal with a Cows Milk Protein Allergy (CMPA). Everything we eat at home is dairy free anyway. But the allergies haven’t stopped there.

So far we’ve identified at least another 3! We thought the baby had his first cold. But it never seemed to stop. His nose was permanently full of gunk. We then noticed whenever we went out his eyes would get all red and puffy and he would be scratching at them. Overnight his struggle to breathe got so bad he would stop for a couple of seconds before starting again. Scary as a parent.

The gp diagnosed hay fever, and he now has to take piriton daily, and his breathing can still be a struggle. At night we now have to keep our Windows closed, we have a fan with a hepa filter to clean the air, we have a vapouriser on, the crib mattress is propped up and we have to use nasal drops on him during the night. The doctors are reluctant to prescribe more till we see the allergy clinic. My nights are constantly disturbed due to listening to him breathing and hearing when he needs more nasal drops or other help. 

Ok so CMPA plus hay fever, I could deal with that. He had slightly dry skin so started using bath and body wash products that were meant to be good for eczema and sensitive skin. He reacted to it on contact! A red rash appeared all over his skin. Hmmm back to the very expensive stuff then. And another allergen to add to the list. 

3 allergens, I could cope with that. Then, last week, sitting holding our baby asleep on me I noticed wherever his skin was touching my top he was coming up in an angry red rash. By the time we got home his back was so sore and angry. I put him straight in the bath, and we think he was reacting to the fabric conditioner we were using. We’ve stopped using it instantly, but as I realised yesterday when he flared up again, all of our clothes need to be rewashed. 

It’s a challenge daily. The portion reduces the hay fever reaction but hasn’t eliminated it. Daily he can come home from just walking to the shops with red, puffy and itchy eyes. We’re having to reintroduce scratch mittens to stop him scratching himself at night.

As his mum it is exhausting. Although he is “asleep” for between 10 and 11 hours each night, it’s not deep unbroken sleep for him or me. At times I find it frustrating as I don’t know what he’s reacting to, especially when he has a contract reaction. I’m grateful for the nhs, but get frustrated by it too. Waiting for referrals and appointments, and feeling like we’re constantly at the gp. 

I know I’m not the only allergy parent. And I know that some parents have it far worse. I’m grateful for the online support I get from some forums, and from a couple of friends who lives miles away but understand my struggles. But it isn’t easy. 

The beautiful parenting bubble goes pop!

When you are planning a family you have your dreams, your ideals, your perfect scenario.

  • The perfect gap between children – I’d wanted 2 years between mine
  • The perfect family set up – 2.4 kids, nice home, be around to support your children as they grow
  • The perfect pregnancy – blooming for 9 months
  • The perfect labour –
  • When your child is born the perfect baby – follows routine, eats well, sleeps well, meets development stages full on
  • You go out each day doing all the perfect mummy things with a perfect outfit, make up and hair

Hmmmm…..the reality is miles away from this.

I will hold my hands up and say that my dreams, even the second time around, were up there. Maybe I should have known better. Maybe some of my memories from 15 years ago had faded and gathered a rose shaded tint over time. But also I know I was lucky the first time around, I had a baby that slept well, was healthy and incredibly placid as long as the milk came on time!

This time, I am holding my hands up and saying yes I have been struggling. My perfect bubble has definitely gone pop…in fact it was a very loud BANG!

3 hours of uninterrupted sleep is now a luxury. The few nights that have been longer than this we can now see have been more linked to when he’s been on antibiotics. An achievement at the moment is being out of bed in the morning and showered before my husband leaves for work….if I don’t do it then, then it won’t happen till he is home in the evening. Getting dressed in something that is clean and reasonably appropriate for the weather is about all I manage. If I’ve had a reasonable amount of sleep, then the hair dryer might get out, and I might find my way to putting make up on. But that is certainly not the normal routine. High days and holidays maybe!

I have struggled with almost weekly appointments at either the doctors or the hospital. Having a little boy who isn’t 100% most of the time is tiring. The money spent on hospital parking is just frustrating! Having to constantly explain again and again symptoms to doctors is exhausting, especially when they say that “babies this young don’t get recurrent infections like this”. Each week I have to also remember to order the next weeks supply of formula. I have a baby who is even more allergic to dairy than his older brother and his formula has to be prescribed. Its not like I can  just go and buy some formula when we get low, and more often than not the pharmacy have to order it in. I even had to justify why I needed twice as much, to cover us going away and the bank holidays!

I look at the house sometimes and just want to cry at all the jobs that need to be done. I hate that in the evenings I am snappy at my husband and teenager because I am so tired and just need some head space. Going to be at 9pm is not my ideal, honestly!

Yes this is the reality. I wouldn’t be without my baby for anything. I’ll even consider having another in the not too distant future (not the next 18 months, but not another 15 years!) The reality is I find day to day tough. Some days are better than others. Some days I actually don’t feel tired at all. Other days I feel like going back to bed at 9am.

This blog isn’t for sympathy. I guess it’s for a normal perspective for people who want to read it. It’s also my way of processing and dealing with the challenges, and maybe just showing the world that parenting isn’t this beautiful bubble the is painted in the media.

This morning on Good Morning Britain, there was a wonderful slot showing the reality of normal parenting (watch here) and my friend Laura reminded me that life as a parent can be a juggling act, and I only have to juggle 2 children!

Being an outgoing introvert mum

Yup that’s me. An outgoing introvert mum. And I’ve discovered it has its upsides and its downsides. It’s a tough balance to get right, especially when juggling the normal small baby tiredness that comes with having a 3 month old, plus the needs of a 15 year old and still trying to spend time with your husband. And on top of all of this I need to find some me time.

Going to mother and baby groups where I know few or no other mum’s is exhausting for me. I know that it’s good got my little boy though. I have to decide which groups I invest time and energy in, and which I say no to. I also now know to make sure in every week I have at least 1 day where I can just chill at home and do nothing if I need to. It’s not that I’m not committed to groups but sometimes I’ve learnt that I just need to be selfish.

Some weeks even chatting online with my mummy friends can be exhausting. They are often my lifeline too. I feel guilty sometimes because maybe I’m not always my true self when I’m with them. I put on my “be confident and ready to share and participate” face before starting antenatal classes but it’s hard, and at times tiring, trying to carry on being that person now.

Yes at times my confidence level is low. I can doubt myself. I can, and do, doubt my parenting skills. I worry about fitting in. I stress about being accepted for being me with every new situation. And all of this then exhausts me.

I’m struggling to get the balance right in my life. I need to be mum to a teenager, mummy to a baby, friend to my friends, and wife to my husband. I also need to be me.

I think the next year or so and beyond will be me continuing to battle to get the balance right. I’ll struggle some days. I won’t always get it right. Sometimes I talk to much cos I’m nervous. Sometimes I put my foot in it. And then I go home and beat myself up over it! But I keep learning.

I wouldn’t be without my family for anything. I just need to keep finding me in the chaos.