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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Doing things for the last time for No 1

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Today I have loved seeing posts on social media from family and friends as the big September return to school starts. 4 years ago today I shared the post of my eldest as he started secondary school. But I’ve also found the start of this week emotional. Today I labelled up his school uniform for the last time. We went out and bought the stationery to cover a mass of subjects for the last time.

Tomorrow my son starts his last year of secondary school. He’s starting this year taller than me! He’s starting as a Senior Prefect. He’s only got just over 2 terms of school left. Next month we are going to look round his potential sixth form college. We’re talking about choices that will have an even bigger impact on his future.

I know he’s growing up, and enabling him to become the independent young man he has become I see as one of my greatest roles in life. He’s an amazing son, friend, big brother, leader, discipler. But he’s also in many ways still my baby. He’s the baby I held in my arms seconds after he was born. He’s the boy I’ve picked the pieces up of after accidents, the boy I’ve cuddled on the tough days and celebrated with on the good days.

I’m sending him out to school tomorrow confident that however hard the next few months are, he will certainly give it his all, and do it with us and God on his side. So yes I’m going through some “lasts” but we are also going towards the next season of “firsts” and I am excited for him and what his future holds.

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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!

Socks!

Yes socks! They have become a very crucial part of my attire on a daily basis. Yes I’ve always worn socks when needed, but I didn’t worry about who else was going to see them. Now I spend about half my week in situations where other people see what’s on my feet! 

I know this might sound like a small thing to get worked up about, but it really causes me to panic.

They have to now match when I go out. They have to go on the correct feet. (I’ve got pairs that make a picture when side by side!) And really importantly, they can’t have holes in! Yup I really do think this much about socks when getting dressed! The rest of my outfit might only get a 10 second thought process, but I’ve got a bit paranoid about my socks.

The reason for this, I don’t really know. But now I attend lots of baby groups where we’re sat on the floor without shoes on I really think about it. Even just going to Slimming World to be weighed I have to take my shoes off so the socks have to be ok.

I think this is probably just where my ocd tendencies are coming out and its a small thing I can control in a period of life where lots of things are out of my control, but it is slightly crazy to have become so obsessed by socks!

When sleep suddenly means so much!!!

So like all parents of new babies I have spent the last 2 and a bit weeks discovering just how little sleep I can function on, and how much sleep I need to feel “human” or “normal”!

Thank goodness it’s no longer the 8 hours I needed at least 3 nights a week before having my first child! And I am in a small way grateful that my eldest son was a sleepwalker, and did not give me more than 2 consecutive nights of more than 6 hours until 2 years ago! It means my body has not fully gone back to expecting lots of sleep. Plus add in to that the joys of pregnancy and the aches and pains, and constant toilet trips needed in the night, that do prepare you for having a baby and losing sleep.

However, less than 2 hours is a limit I’ve never even hit when my insomnia was bad. And when those precious two hours are not even consecutive I’m really starting to struggle. Plus in my waking moments I not only have to function for myself, but I also have to function enough to provide for a small person who is totally dependent on my. I also have to still function as a parent to my elder son, and at times be able to help with GCSE homework.

Last night was the first night of me doing the majority of the work in terms of changes, winding, settling the baby back to sleep, on my own. Hubby has been a great support, but he is back to work today. For the last couple of weeks he has taken the baby early in the morning allowing me a longer block of sleep – as much as is possible between feeds! Yes I have been very blessed by this, and I know not all new parents are able to share the load in this way. But boy do I know about the difference this morning.

All the health professionals, and mums out there are probably now screaming at my post that I need to sleep when the baby sleeps. Yes I know this theory. I’ve even shared this wisdom with other new mums, but it’s hard to do when your body has decided it is now up and awake for at least the next few hours and sleeping at this time of day is an alien concept that the brain has not yet processed. I also know I still need to eat and drink and do all those other things you need to do just to function as a mum each day.

Am I unique in these feelings of tiredness…..nope! I know other new mummies that are part of my amazing support network are feeling it too. I know mummies all over the world feel the same on a daily basis. So why am I writing about it?

I am writing it down because it helps me process what is going on. It ¬†helps me rationalise and realise I am just normal. I don’t have to be super mum and achieve everything in the first day of being on my own. I just need to do enough that my children have what they need to survive the day. I don’t even need to worry that they and I have what we need to get through tomorrow (tough when I am a control freak at times, and like to be planned and in control!) I just need to worry about today. About the now. This for me is the biggest challenge in many ways. Yes a new baby comes with many new challenges, but the biggest ones are the personal challenges, where you have to learn to let go.