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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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.

 

Allergy fun…..when all the best plans…

This weekend we had the total privilege of witnessing the marriage of one of my longest standing friends. It was an amazing weekend, but that kind of event for us always comes with a few stresses.

Our friends were amazing in their catering planning for the weekend, providing lots of food for me to eat with my allergies, and lots for my eldest son too. We had agreed in advance we would provide the food for the toddler, as we know it is hard to cater for all his allergies.

So with all the best laid plans, there also comes for me a level of anxiety as to the what-ifs that can happen. And we survived the first 24 hours without a hiccup. But with 21 other people around, who are aware to a point, there is always going to be a degree of risk. With a mobile toddler though, you at times need eyes in the back of your head!

We don’t know what, or when, our little guy picked up something he shouldn’t  have, but somehow he ate something he was severely allergic to. An unhappy, itchy baby was bad enough, but the sickness that followed was on another level. I was so grateful for the help of new, but wonderful friends, who jumped up to help so we could sort out a very unhappy little boy.  As ever what amazed me was once his system had rid itself of the allergen, and he was cleaned up, out little boy was back to his happy, chatty self! He tucked in to more, safe, food, and merrily chatted away to people.

We will never know what he ate, if it was a known allergen, or a new one, and that makes it tricky, but what I am learning is that we can only do so much. There will always be a time when there can be errors and slip ups. We try to minimise the risk as much as we can, but we also want our little boy to enjoy life and have as many similar experiences as other children as he can. But we will also spend time raising awareness with others about the dangers of allergies.

No, he currently doesn’t have an epi pen – as currently all his known allergies are non-IGE. But that doesn’t mean one day his allergies won’t become IGE and result in anaphylaxis. It also doesn’t mean that even a small bit is ok. Too many times we have heard people say, “well a small bit can’t hurt can it?” The answer is yes, a small bit can do a huge amount of damage to his gut. As an example, testing mackerel – just a teaspoon of it – resulted in 4 weeks of his tummy being unable to hold any food!

Things are not going to be easy for a potentially long while. I will permanently be grateful to our child minder, who provides him with a safe environment which he adores. To friends who help us have safe play experiences. People who will have him to stay and even provide him with food, which is not always the cheapest or most straight forward option.

Living with allergies and living with a child with allergies isn’t easy, but it is what it is. What I am learning on this journey, is that I need to stop letting people make me feel like it is an inconvenience,but it is ok to be honest and say it is a problem.

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.

Parenting guilt

One thing I’ve realised the second time around is the amount of guilt I carry as a parent. It isn’t across 1 specific area, in fact it’s across all areas and with both boys!! I feel guilty that I need to work. Not for the money so much, but for me, for my sanity! I then feel guilty that I am enjoying my work and my time away from being mum. I even don’t have a problem with doing extra hours, until I feel guilty that I’m not at home being mum.

I feel guilty that my husband has been so amazing at getting up in the night, as we have discovered that not getting enough sleep is causing me to have more migraines. I feel guilty if I go out in the evening and then the baby decides that is the evening to not sleep, so my husband gets no peace.

But I also feel guilty when I am at home spending time with the baby. I feel bad because all it seems I am doing is playing. I’m having fun…..exhausting fun, but fun. I feel guilty that the baby takes the attention away from the teenager, and guilty that the teenager takes the attention away from the baby.

I know, as I’ve said before, that I am an anxious parent. I know because of this I constantly seek affirmation and reassurance that I’m doing the right thing. I am the kind of person that thinks if I have inadvertently offended someone they will hold on to it and hold it against me for weeks. Or if i’ve forgotten something it will be catastrophic and I won’t be able to move on. I know all this about myself and know it affects my guilt too.

I think I also know there is no perfect work life balance. I will spending life knowing i’m not always getting it right. I just need to learn to accept that I am a normal person, who will make mistakes.  My boys love me, I know that. I just have to relax and accept that I can only be the best I can be, and that that is enough

“There will be so many times you feel like you’ve failed.  But in the eyes, heart, and mind of your child you are a super mom.” ~Stephanie Precourt, Listen to your Mother

September starts

I’m not a parenting expert. In fact, I’m not sure that I even believe in the idea of ‘parenting experts.’ I’m an engaged, imperfect parent and a passionate researcher. I’m an experienced mapmaker and a stumbling traveler. Like many of you, parenting is by far my boldest and most daring adventure.
Brene Brown

Like many families September signaled the end of a very busy summer holidays, and back for the final year of school for my eldest son. That for me was a big moment emotionally. Being aware that we are entering a new final phase of this stage of his education and having to make decisions together about the next steps.

But this September also signaled a new routine for me and our younger son on several levels. We have started a couple of new activities in our weekly diary. We have moved to a new swimming class and we both love going for both the social time and the skills it is giving him. Just spending time with him enjoying the water and knowing that he is unlikely to have any reactions while we are there is a huge relief and so I relax. We have also started a Sing and Sign class, which looks at baby signing while doing lots of singing – which he loves. I am really wary about joining classes as it is so hard to find an environment where he is safe and away from his many allergens. But I was so encouraged to go to a space that was clear of allergens and in a place where they understand the potential implications of him coming in to contact with an allergen.

Finally I am now back working part-time. This was a big step for me to take, as I knew it would mean leaving the baby with someone else for part of the week. I know for most parents this is a big thing, and for us it was coupled with finding child care that could cope with our son’s health needs. He has multiple allergies. Currently he only has 17 foods he can eat safely after 4.5 months of introducing foods! I was lucky enough to know a lovely friend who also child minds, and she had space for 1 day a week. With support from my in-laws for another afternoon, most of my hours are covered, and the rest work round my life. The job is the perfect option for me, my husband and our sons. It gives me the flexibility needed for the many hospital appointments I have to go to with the baby, and it gives me the input and stimulation I need for me as a woman who has always loved her career in fundraising.

But leaving my baby for 18 hours in a week is a big thing for me, after 3 weeks it still is. I constantly wonder if what I am doing is the right thing. Is being at work the best thing for me? for my sons? for my relationship? I know it is the right thing. It has given me back a different perspective on life I was missing. It has given me space to breathe and be me. Just me. Not wife or mum. Just me. It has also helped me value my time at home even more. Some days are hard. I am terrified that my baby will reach a milestone while not at home with me. I am worried that my teenager will need my support with school difficulties while I am at the office. I worry, cos part of that is who I am. I know socially it is doing amazing things for my son, and both my in laws and friend who is a childminder totally have his best interests at heart and give him the best care possible, but I am still am mum and will worry. It’s ok to worry. It’s normal.

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