Commitment…as a wife, parent, friend, colleague

I’ve been thinking about commitment a lot over the last couple of weeks, as my eldest child turned 18. I made a commitment to him from the moment he was born that he would always come first. And I really hope that I’ve always kept that promise. That promise didn’t mean he always got what he wanted, or that he liked everything I said or did, but I meant that he was always a the forefront of my choices and plans.

And now that he’s turned 18, that commitment doesn’t end. And because he has 2 siblings that commitment doesn’t change. I have to change to adapt to putting my children and their individual needs first, and work out the compromises that need to be made. Within that, I also have my commitment to my husband. He is my best friend and my partner for life. He will be along side me long after all our children have flown the nest. My commitment to him is to keep investing in us through the tough times as well as the great times.

Anyone who truly knows me, will know that I give my 100% commitment to everything that I do. Be it friendship, work, hobbies, faith, life. That is a core part of who I am. As a result I don’t have a huge circle of friends, but those I have I give everything to. A lunch or coffee date will take priority as I give them my time. I know how much someone giving their time to me like that matters to me, so I value it when I give it to others too. Yes this can set me up for hurt, but it is a core part of me.

My commitment to my younger children means commitment to the menial tasks like making meals, sterilising bottles, providing them with a safe home environment, feeding them, clothing them. But it also means a commitment to being there forever. You can’t turn off being a parent just because they reach a certain milestone, but you can change how you relate and behave.

So take your commitments seriously. Especially to other people. You are probably unaware of how much others value it.

End of another phase

This week marks another key point in my parenting journey. My maternity leave is coming to an end. I’m really not sure how i feel about it. Mixed emotions i think.

I adore my job. I’ve said this many times,and I’ll keep saying it. I love my job, the charity I work for, the work we do. It’s also what makes a huge difference to my mental health. But on the flip side,this means my daughter is growing older. She’s going to be going to a child minder. She’s now closer to a year than to birth. She’s been growing in the big wide world for almost as long as she was growing inside me.

I have loved my 9 months of being mummy and mum. I’ve loved watching my children grow. Watching my teenager flourish in his first year at college. Watching my toddler gain more independence. Watching my baby grow and learn.

Knowing i will not do this parenting journey again has made me even more aware of every milestone. Each new thing. Each change in appearance. Each ounce of weight gained. Every smile, every tear. I hate the thought of missing anything,but also know i need to step out of this safe bubble.

But this realisation has also been a bit overwhelming. It hit me hard, especially as it coincides with returning from a fabulous holiday this week, and a big change in weather. I’m trying to make sure I stop and refocus,but in reality at times that’s hard. So for now I’m focusing on things I can manage and control. Deep breaths and move a step forward.

Insecurities… not seen by others but can be crippling

I live every day feeling that I’m not good enough at the moment. My insecurities can be bad at the best of times, but at the moment they are huge. My insecurities trigger moments of jealousy, self doubt, feelings of neglect, of being over looked or left out.

People can say “Don’t be silly!” or “It’s all in your head!” but that doesn’t take away the feelings. The feelings are strong and are real. Some moments are worse than others. Seeing things posted on social media that you weren’t invited to, but would have loved to attend, seeing other friends getting together without you, hearing about plans made. This doesn’t mean how I’m feeling is right or justified, but it’s where I’m at.

When I say I have anxiety, it’s not just about practical things, it runs into feelings and emotions. It affects my self worth. It affects my self belief. And I hate it! I hate doubting my friendships, my relationships, my capabilities I hate feeling inside that I’m inferior. Some days it makes me want to just walk away from everything and live in a bubble with my family.

The triggers are varied and unpredictable, which doesn’t help others really. It can range from lack of sleep, to absolutely nothing I can pinpoint! And then it eats away. The damage it can do can be long term. I’ll often, when really struggling, choose to cut myself off from people, from the world. My head is saying ‘If people can’t be bothered with me, then I won’t bother with them so they can’t hurt me!’ But on the flip side my heart is screaming ‘Please let me know you value me, you want me in your life!’

Little things can make a huge difference. But also no one should feel that they have to acknowledge. I never truly appreciated the value of the words “thank you” till my insecurities and anxieties took over. Someone acknowledging you and saying hello, or checking in can make such a difference.

I know over time these insecurities will fade and be less of a struggle. But these struggles are real and they are a battle. They can be exhausting!

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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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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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.

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.