12 months gone in a flash

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12 months ago I entered hospital knowing within the next few days I was going to become a mummy again for the last time. I knew I was going to meet my little girl. But I also knew I could be looking at another long induction, I knew there were risks, I knew so much, but I also knew nothing. I knew nothing of this little girl that had been growing inside me for 38 weeks. I had struggled to bond with her during pregnancy as i’d felt minimal movement all the way through. I had hated the pregnancy. I wanted that part to be over. But I was also excited. I was excited to meet this little person.

In the end, she decided that she was going to make a quick arrival into the world. So quick the midwife didn’t have time to make any notes or observations! My daughter’s birth set the pace of the last 12 months.

Nicknamed “small but mighty” she fought every battle she came up against in those early weeks and months, and let the world know she was a fighter. She has ruled the roost at home and made it very clear who is the boss to her brothers!

The year has been one full of bittersweet moments for me. I have adored every moment as she has grown and developed from a tiny tiny baby, to a dinky toddler (and I can call her that as she’s now walking!) But i’ve also had this sadness knowing that I won’t have another baby going through these milestones again. I’ve been battling with this, as it seems so selfish. I know there are so many out there who would love just one child of their own, and I have 3. But I also know I had a desire to have 3. I know how much I love being a mum and how at times I feel I miss out on things because I am a working mum.

This year I have carried guilt at feeling like I’m wishing days away while I was looking forward to returning to work. Then feeling guilty for being at work. I’ve had days when I just want those moments to keep going and never stop. I’ve tried to capture them in words, pictures and in my heart. The time seems  like it has slipped past without me noticing.

In these 12 months I’ve also become the parent of an adult! And now when I look back I feel that there are many moments of my son’s life I have missed. I feel like there are memories I am already forgetting. It’s reminded me how time with my children is so precious whatever stage they are at. I want to value and hold each second and cherish it. But I also want all my children to reach their potential at every stage of their lives and fly high in whatever way that is.

Parenting 3 is something I resolutely vowed I would never do, but actually I think it’s working ok. I’m not always getting it right, and I am always feeling mum guilt over one or other of my children. People ask is 3 easier than 2, harder than 2? Honestly…..3 is different to 2. Some days it is easier, some days it is harder. But every day is a memory I hold on to.

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Allergies take 3! (and more!!)

Check out KFA's _22 Things We With You Could Understand About Food Allergies__

People asked when I was pregnant, what was the chance of the baby having the same allergies as my toddler. It really was 50/50. 2 weeks in, and we already had the first bit of the answer….3 out of 3 children had CMPA. A dairy allergy. In a space of 6 hours I watched my contented baby turn into a miserable, writhing in pain little girl, producing nappies that were not “normal”.

I was so grateful that I had a supportive Health Visitor, who straight away put  my daughter on to the NHS allergy pathway, with a referral to the dietitian, and we made an instant appointment with the GP.

But one thing we didn’t know was how severe her allergy to cows milk protein was, or whether it would be her only allergy. What we did know was that this meant that weaning was going to have to be the allergy led method again. Following on from dietitian advice, we started with our son’s known “safe” foods, trying to build up a base of foods, before testing some of his allergens.

I’ll never forget the day I went for the first of his known allergens. I was nervous. Knowing that this could cause my daughter pain or worse, was not a great feeling. But I had to do it. We were lucky. The first one we tried was apple, and all was ok! Phew! And we tried that because it is added to so much that it was a bonus if she could have it. Maybe I then thought it wouldn’t be so bad or my mind just thought lets go for it, but I then tried another allergen. This time it was one where my son was allergic to  a whole food “family”. The first time seemed ok, so we went on for attempt 2. That night, we did not get much sleep. She was so unhappy. In pain, drawing her legs up, crying, unsettled. We thought it was the sweet potato, but to be sure, we had to try again a week or so later. And yes, it happened again. One little girl, very unhappy. And so her allergen list started.

What we have found is that when she has gut based reactions, they are generally more severe than her brother’s. For example, she can’t tolerate even medical grade coconut products, but her brother can. She can’t tolerate any fish we have tried, her brother can tolerate white fish but not oily fish. She can’t even cope with peppercorns or ground pepper from the nightshade family, he can cope with a little.

But we’ve also got a little girl that doesn’t like to have lumps in her food. After 3 months of introducing food, she will finally have a bit of texture, but this has been an additional challenge. The dietitian recommended focusing on textures over new foods, as this was more important, so the introduction of new foods has gone on hold. We’ve got many more things to try.

So it’s actually been trickier this time round. We don’t have all the answers for our daughter yet and we don’t know if it will be worse than our son or better. But we know it’s currently a very similar path. If we go away, even for 1 night, we take 2 bottles of antihistamines, 2 inhalers, snacks and milk for both children, probiotics to help their guts. The list goes on. Currently there is no epi pen in the kit, but that doesn’t mean their won’t ever be. I’m just grateful that neither has had a reaction that needs one.

So, life as an allergy mum continues. And the one thing I am grateful for is the fact that if nothing else I can be a support to others who are journey some of a similar path.

Check out KFA's _22 Things We With You Could Understand About Food Allergies__ (1)

Getting ready for the next stage

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One of the things I am really struggling with at the moment is every time someone tells me that my little girl is growing up. I know that she will be my last baby, and so in someways I want to make all of this time last as long as possible.

In 2 days time she will be 7 months old. That is more than half of her first year gone, and I feel at times like I have missed so much of the first few months. I am constantly trying to capture in my mind and my heart each moment, as I know I can never have them again. While I am celebrating her moving on in her development, part of me keeps feeling ‘Not yet’! Part of me isn’t ready yet for her to start being mobile, becoming more independent, needing me less.

And I know that some of this is a long long way off.

My toddler still needs me daily. My teenager needs me – but not as much as it feels like I need him. And my daughter needs me. I know she does. But I also know that she doesn’t always miss me like I miss her. I know that none of my children do.

My husband and I joke about my behaviour when I am apart from my teenage son for any period of time. I feel like I have lost an arm or a leg. I find it really hard. I struggle with letting go, as I can still remember holding him in my arms nearly 18 years ago, and  realising that this small person was suddenly totally dependent on me.

I struggle with how willingly my toddler runs off to his childminder – and only because she is so amazing at what she does, and he absolutely adores going. But I struggle because it is a time in his week when I am not needed.

At the moment I am struggling with the idea of returning to work. I love my job. I have really enjoyed my Keeping In Touch days. I adored the day I had back in the office a couple of weeks ago. I love my colleagues. I love what we do. But I am struggling with the idea of not being there for my daughter all day every day. It’s irrational, I know. I know she will be having an amazing time with our wonderful friend and childminder. I know I can touch base whenever I need to. But I am struggling.

What I have realised is that I am human, I am normal. I am not superwoman. I am allowed to feel like this. Loving my children is the hardest but the easiest thing to do, and each stage require me to let go a little bit more.

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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!

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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A summer of firsts and lasts

The last 3 months has certainly been a busy season in our lives. It’s been a time of lots of firsts and lots of lasts!

As a parent it was my first time of feeling totally helpless during the long wait from exams to results day. There was nothing I could do to impact or change the results. I just had to wait.

I witnessed my son complete his last day at secondary school. It was a day of pride, when he was recognised for what he had done outside of lessons to help others through sport; a day of closing a door on a huge chapter of parenting my eldest as he moved on to his next journey. It was also the start of a process of letting go as a parent.

We then moved into a period of the toddler really changing in his development…. walking finally arrived, as did running, tripping, and a huge determination to do it for himself. New words are spilling out daily, which come with frustrations for us all. We hit one of those “leaps” which resulted in a lack of sleep. Oh and then we all had to deal with a heatwave!

Holidaying with a toddler and a teen was a new challenge. The teen missed lie ins, because the toddler didn’t do them, and noise travels freely in a tent. But they also spent special tunes together as brother’s – especially on the water slide in the pool and the rides as the local theme park! I loved watching them bond and enjoy the time together. It’s amazing to watch.

We then did the first of results day. I discovered that I was more emotional about the results than my son! But that actually we were both in a state of tension. We also did some good talking that day and week and I felt things shift to the next level, where he takes even more responsibility.

Whatever age your child, it’s hard to let go as they take the next steps. Letting go of my toddlers hands physically so that he can walk on his own, or metaphorically letting go on my teenagers hands as he walked into college on his own to enrol. The worrying doesn’t go. It just changes. With one I worry he’s going to fall or step off something not realising there is a drop, with the other I worry about bigger life choices.

It’s been a summer of change, but good change and essential change. This is a period of change for us all as a family, but the one thing I know is that none of us are doing any of it alone.