Let’s Talk About Emotions

{Also published on The M Word }

I’ll be clear from the start: Most of the time, I’ve NO IDEA how to handle this situation.

But now that we’ve established our three-year-olds are essentially walking bundles of emotional confusion, what can we do to help them – and ourselves – get through it? Well, here’s what I’ve discovered on my quest to find out.

Last summer, when Rian was two and that all important half, I started seeing that he was randomly slapping other kids, for no apparent reason other than, ‘they’re toddlers, sometimes they just do that’, as people explained when I asked about it, and what I could do about it. It was quite stressful, if he did it to kids we knew, or kids we didn’t know, all I could do was apologise and try and make it clear to Rian in that moment that we do not slap people..however, during some research into it and how to handle it properly, I came across a recommendation for a book called The Colour Monster. Sold.

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Sniffy & The Colour Monster

The Colour Monster by Anna Llenas is a book about identifying emotions for children.

Any research I did about the slapping incidents, or major meltdowns in general which were starting to become more frequent, all told me what we already know – they don’t call them the Terrible Twos or Threenagers etc for nothing. Toddlers don’t know what the emotions they’re feeling are, or how to manage them.

To be fair, and perfectly honest, a lot of the time I find it hard to control MY emotions (specifically, impatience and temper), so how can I expect a two or three year old to be able to do it?

My research also explained how emotional intelligence is something that ideally should be taught from a very young age so that we can learn to control and understand how we feel in lots of situations, not just as kids, but as adults too. So I figured it was worth a shot.

When the book arrived, we started reading it for our bedtime stories. It’s a quick book, a line or two per page with really lovely illustrations. It takes you through five emotions: Happiness, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Calm. It assigns a colour to each emotion and explains that sometimes you can feel lots of things at once, when all your ‘colours’ feel all mixed up.

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After a few reads, Rian knew all the words. The slapping continued every now and then, and all I could really do was intervene each time and firmly explain why we don’t slap other people. Of course it was still stressful and I went through all the usual worry of, am I doing this wrong?

Tantrums are par for the course and so they continued, and still happen – in fact we just had one about an hour ago (side note, he’ll be four soon enough… they stop at four, right??!!). But what started to change was that he was identifying how he felt… and I’m no expert, but I think this is the important bit.

For example, just the other night, Alex merely sat on my lap to read a book, so naturally by his three-year-old logic, this was deemed as a valid reason for Rian to have a big meltdown. At the height of a tantrum, (on the days I manage to keep myself calm too – let’s be completely honest; it’s not easy), I just weather the storm and wait for it to pass. Once it does, I ask does he want to cuddle for a minute. Sometimes he does, and other times, its as if nothing had ever happened… like a switch flicking from complete chaos to complete calm..!

But on the days where he takes up my offer of a cuddle, I talk to him about it. This is where The Colour Monster comes into it and where I’ve found it an amazing help.

I started noticing that he’d tell me he was feeling like ‘The Red Colour Monster’ when he was angry. Another day he came over to me, and out of nowhere just asked for a cuddle because he felt ‘like the Blue Colour Monster’. Another time he asked me if I was happy ‘like the Yellow Colour Monster?’… and so I knew that he was at least learning to identify each emotion with a label, to recognise each one and differentiate between them.

Now I’m no expert, maybe this would have happened anyway as he got over each stage of development, I don’t know. But the book most certainly helped us talk about it in a way he could easily understand and picture in his mind. So back to the other night when he had a tantrum over Alex sitting on my lap, without me even asking him he walked over, got the book, opened it on the Red page and told me ‘This is how I feel Mama!’

Thankfully, the slapping phase is over, can’t say I’m looking forward too much to Alex getting to this stage, with any luck he’ll skip it altogether… yeah I won’t hold my breath! But if you’re reading this and are nodding along knowingly, in the same boat, then I can’t recommend this book enough. There’s a similar one too by Dr Seuss called My Many Coloured Days – we came across this one a while after The Colour Monster, and I really liked it too but we had already gotten to know The Colour Monster so I just stuck with that one.

I don’t think there’s a ‘too early’ stage, Rian was two and a half when I bought it – if they’re sitting long enough to look at books for any length of time, then give it a go. Go forth and unravel that little bundle of confusion!

Anyway, don’t forget, the very second you happen to figure out one confusing phase, they’ll leave you behind,  move on to the next one and you can start all over again…

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Our Great Embryo Debate

{Also featured on The M Word }

Every so often I get asked ‘ So… are you going to try again for a girl now that you have two boys?’

What an odd question. Or am I the odd one? Why would people assume I have a need to have a daughter over another son? We have no plans to try again for any more babies, but if I did, given we have to do fertility treatment I would be over the moon with either sex, but if I’m honest, another boy would probably be a lot handier and more practical seeing as I already have mountains of boys clothes…!

So, no I say, I don’t feel I need to try again for a daughter.. as if my sons aren’t fulfilling enough for me! It really is an odd question, to me at least. Do men get asked if they want to try again for a son if their children are all girls? I dunno, probably. Odd!

However, the question does get me thinking about our little embryos. Every so often something will remind me of them – well, pretty much any time I hear of someone doing IVF or if I see a new baby, I think of them. It might sound ridiculous to some people, but I think of those little embryos like pre-born babies. They exist because of us, they are lives created by us. Ok, ‘lives’ may not be the correct word scientifically, but it’s hard to think of another word to accurately describe them, because ‘bundle of cells’ just doesn’t cover what it is they mean to us, and how important they are.

When you do IVF, you quickly learn that getting to the stage of embryos even existing from the treatment is very far down the line of ‘Things That Need To Go Right.’ It’s not just a case of rocking up to the clinic, producing the ingredients and job done, there are loads of things that have to go to plan first.

And I’m no scientist but it seems to me that a large majority of that is down to luck. Or fate, or whatever it is you happen to believe in. Science only seems to account for some of it, and the rest is ‘let’s just hope’.

We were unbelievably lucky to end up with seven Grade 1 embryos after our IVF treatment – at the time I didn’t really understand just how lucky we were to get those numbers, but they are fantastic results. Thankfully, out of three FETs (Frozen Embryo Transfers), two were successful and are currently almost four and almost two years old… essentially they’re twins just born two years apart! Sadly we had one failure in between the two boys, so that leaves us with our four little ‘frosties’.

And so the question remains.. what to do with them? Currently we pay for their storage at the clinic each year. They’re sitting in a huge freezer in tiny little tubes a bit like the inside of a biro – so tiny you can’t really see them with your own eyes. Four potential PEOPLE – to think of it too deeply just blows my mind a bit.

I wonder about how close they came to existing. When the embryologist opened the freezer on the morning of each transfer, liquid nitrogen spilling out over the sides of the big drum like something out of a science fiction movie, and looked at our little collection of embryos, what made her pick the ones she did? Those embryos she chose eventually turned into Rian and Alex. So I wonder, who didn’t get the chance to turn into people? And how close we came to not meeting Rian and Alex…?

The sheer effort required in even getting those embryos in the first place… how could I ever decide to let them go, or let them ‘expire’? I’m so emotionally attached to them and invested in them, I’ll never forget how hard it was to get them and what we went through, the emotional and physical rollercoaster of it, that I think I’ll still be paying for their storage when I’m 90. To think of not keeping them makes my heart skip a beat with sadness… does that make me sound a bit mad?!

 

I don’t know what the future holds.. at the moment we have two beautiful, precious little boys. Two boys we never dared to dream we’d have, the day we were told we’d need IVF to have any hope of becoming parents.

Part of me thinks am I being greedy to even consider more when the odds were already so stacked against us. We are so happy as a family of four, I don’t feel any pull or need to try for another one… until I think of those embryos and wonder, what if? Or maybe more appropriately… who if?

So I’ll tuck those thoughts away for now and pay the clinic for another year of storage, think about it tomorrow and be so forever grateful for the two little embryos I can tuck into bed and kiss goodnight.

The Guilt Factor

Each morning, Monday to Friday, for the last 10 minutes of my commute to work just before I walk into the office building, I try and FaceTime the boys for a chat, especially on mornings where they are asleep when I’m leaving the house and I haven’t seen them yet. Alex usually blows me kisses and babbles very important things at me. Rian, more often than not doesn’t want to talk. This morning though, when I was having chats with Alex, in the background he said: ‘ I don’t want to talk to Mama on the phone, I want to talk to her here!’.

For a moment I considered turning around and going straight back home again, giving him a hug and telling him I’ll never leave him. But I can’t, because I have to go to work – and I want to go to work too – and at the end of the day, the bills need to get paid. So I felt the usual pang of guilt that I usually feel a few times a day, except a bit worse than usual because he had said that, and finished my gurgley chat with Alex and headed towards my desk, feeling pretty crap about myself as a mother.

If I had the freedom to choose, I don’t think I would choose to be a full time stay at home mother, I just know it wouldn’t be for me. Part time would be my ideal option, because at same time, I want to be with them all the time too. It’s that very tricky, ever elusive, perfect balance.

Guilt is something I became familiar with very early on, in fact, since the start of my first pregnancy. We are IVF parents, very very lucky ones at that, our treatment worked. So it was a bit of a surprise to me that I didn’t particularly enjoy being pregnant – extremely grateful yes, of course, but pregnancy for me was months of nausea, vomiting, swollen feet, extreme heartburn… ok my hair got a bit thicker and softer and my skin looked nice and almost glowy (possibly from the hot flushes!) for a while but even that catches up with you after the baby is born and your hair falls out and you’re left with these mad sticky outy bits all over your head while it grows back to normal again…!! Aaand breathe…! So no, if I’m honest, I didn’t enjoy being pregnant for the most part. Appreciative, yes, and lots of it I did love and cherish – the feeling of Bump moving around or kicking, but not really any of the rest of it.

Anyway back to the point… so I didn’t enjoy pregnancy, it was tough. I felt guilty about that because of our IVF and I thought of all the women who would swap places with me in a heartbeat because I used to be that woman too. And of course the moment they’re born you’re guilty all the time, am I doing this right, did I do that wrong?

When I went back to work after Rian’s maternity leave, the guilt was immense. How could I leave him every day, why was I working for a major chunk of my wages to pay someone else to see all of his ‘firsts’? And it only got worse, after I had Alex I thought I would be prepared for how it would feel to go back to work, but in fact it was worse again because what I wasn’t prepared for was Rian being old enough now to ask me, after a year of being home, ‘Mama, where are you going? Why won’t you stay here with me?’

It was very hard. I questioned myself a lot at the return to work last year. Why am I doing this?? Oh yes, then I remembered, I just don’t have the choice.

So why do we do this to ourselves? Is there a way to come to terms with this guilt or are we just destined to never be happy whatever the situation is – whether we give up work and stay at home, or if we choose not to stay at home?

I thought a lot last year about whether I wanted to give up work, assuming we could afford it and I could stay at home. It would be tight, but I think if we cut back enough we could probably get by on one wage. And is it even fair to assume that it would be me who stays home, what if their Dad wanted to stay home? I admit that thought didn’t even occur to me at the start. But even if I did stay home, I think the guilt would still find me anyway, and make me think about other things – can we afford to save for their college fund? Can we afford to give them all the things we want to?

And the other thought is – really the main reason I don’t want to give up my job – what will I do when they’re older and not as dependent on me? What if I want to go back to work then, when they’re off to school, and I have a five or six year gap on my CV – it’s hard enough going back after maternity leave,  your confidence is shaken a lot, or at least mine was. So a big gap, for me, would be very intimidating. So is it selfish of me to not want to be in that situation, to not want to sacrifice my career? Does that mean I’m a bad mother? And the guilt factor starts again.

Being a working mother, it sneaks up on you on a regular basis. When a work commitment clashes with an event at their creche or playschool, and we’re faced with missing it. Guilt. At Rian’s playschool Sport’s Day back in June, I took the day off work. Within the first ten minutes, three other mothers had mentioned to me that they hadn’t realised that our childminder, who they see every day dropping off and collecting Rian, wasn’t in fact his mother. Ouch.

Recently, our childcare situation  changed, and I was forced again to consider all of these points. I really struggle to come to some sense of peace with the fact that I’m gone all day from them. Today was their first day in a creche – Alex in particular has never been minded outside his own home until today – and I wasn’t there to drop them off. Guilty. They’re fine of course – the staff are amazing and sent me little updates and photos of them happily playing away, but my guilty mind goes into overdrive and I wonder what will they think of these decisions I’m making now when they’re all grown up? Will they think I’m selfish? Will they resent the fact that I ‘chose’ to leave them with someone other than me while I ‘chose’ not to give up my career? Ultimately, I suppose I’m thinking – how will they judge me? Am I ruining their childhood?!

I don’t know how to make the guilt go away, but I have decided to make some rules for myself.

  • I am not a bad mother. I am doing my best, along with everyone else. Yes, I go to work for myself because I enjoy it, but also of course so that I can give them everything I possibly can not just now but later in life too. I’m doing my best, and I have to tell myself that my best IS good enough.
  • Don’t focus on the negatives – instead I will focus on the times I am there. Their little faces when they see me coming through the door each evening, and the fun we can have all weekend. It makes me more grateful and appreciative of those times.
  • Most importantly of all: I make it my mission that they know they are loved. I know they know. And once they know that, I know I’m not failing completely.

Whatever way I look at it, mother guilt is here to stay, no matter what type of mother you are. There’s no point in questioning why we beat ourselves up over it, but in the end all I can suggest is that we get off our own backs, get off our own cases, and make the most of whatever situation we’re in. Guilt is not a choice, but how we deal with it certainly is.

Kids Menus… WHY?

{Also published on The M Word }

Right. Ask anyone who knows me, I’m not one for giving out about anything really. I’m actually renowned for not giving out, ever. They’ll probably put it on my gravestone – Here Lies Jen (The Legend); She Never Gave Out Once.

Another trait I am partial to now and then, is sarcasm.

So yes, I’m about to start giving out about something that has irritated me since they day Rian was old enough to eat actual food in any establishment that sells food. Kids Menus.

WHAT is the STORY with children’s menus?! In a time where childhood obesity levels are at a crisis point, why are kids only ever given the choice of – Yes you’ve already guessed it – chicken goujons, burgers, fish goujons (sorry how do you spell Goujon? Gougon? Neither look right and both give me a red line typo alert….ok I just googled it and it’s goujon. Right-click, Add To Dictionary.)

While Googling how to spell Goujon, I saw some lovely looking ones appear in the search which obviously now makes me want some, cos to be fair to them they are very nice, but also it provided me with the nutritional value of what you’re eating in a 100g serving of them. That’s about 6 pieces it says. Anyway, it says that it’s 27% of recommended fat intake, 31% of daily salt intake (sodium) – and then there’s the accompanying chips which google tells me, a medium serving provides another 26% of the recommended fat intake –  so just this meal alone and your kid is over half the daily recommended levels. I’m no nutritionist but I imagine I’m not even accounting for half of the other bad stuff involved – sugars, carbohydrates, etc. I only found out that much specifically because I couldn’t remember how to spell goujon.

SO anyway, here’s a little story of what usually happens to set off this regular irritation. To celebrate a family birthday a few months back, we booked ourselves for a nice meal in a very nice local Italian restaurant. It’s the sort of place where families are welcome, yet you would still want to be controlling the noise level of your mini humans if you get me. So I had the boys with me, at the time Alex was just gone one and Rian was just gone three. Alex will happily eat whatever he’s given and Rian is old enough now to choose what he wants himself. They produce the kids menu and here we go again, it’s the same old same old. Rian sees someone at the next table with a pizza so naturally he wants one too.

Meanwhile over on the adult menu I see their roast of the day is Beef. Bingo. It’s my turn to order. ‘Hi, the three year old wants a pizza with everything on it but actually if you bring the smallest size you have, or even half the smallest size, with peppers, ham and a tiny amount of cheese, with LITERALLY five chips please, that would be great. Now I mean literally FIVE CHIPS please.’ ‘No problem, Ma’am, five chips.’ He seems to have received the message, because from experience of highlighting my need of only five chips, never ONCE has that been the result. ‘For the one year old, I see there is roast beef today, can I just get a slice or two of that with– ‘ ‘I’m sorry, Ma’am, we can only serve full size portions of the main meals’. ‘………?!…………….Ok… give me a full size one then and I’ll just give him some of mine’.

Now firstly, why they cannot just slice a couple of slices off  the roast and cut it into smaller pieces is beyond me. Surely it is less effort anyway than frying up more chicken goujons? Secondly, when the dinners are brought to the table, low and behold Rian is delivered of a pizza twice the size of his head, smothered in cheese and oil, with considerably more than five chips. He must have misheard me and thought I ordered five hundred and five. Rian is delighted with life and hoovers them all before I can try and distract him and remove half of them, and Alex happily munches away on my beef and veg, because there was nothing at all suitable for him on his own menu, oblivious to my irritation. Why do I never get what I actually ask for?

I just do not understand why kids menus can’t simply be a smaller portion size of the adult menus. Apart from health related reasons, wouldn’t it be more cost effective? And if you still wanted to give them the odd treat, they could still have the chips and burger from the adult menu anyway?

I suggest we get rid of Kids Menus and just have Menus. Order what you like but at least give parents and kids a chance at healthier options being seen as the normal option for kids. Kids don’t know they’re not supposed to like vegetables until we more or less tell them this by providing them with these kids menus. We are actually teaching them that they shouldn’t like these foods by separating their choices into goujons and chips and burgers so they think that’s all they should be eating. It’s just so bizarre to me.

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

I’m not a health fanatic, I am constantly in a state of trying to lose about 5 stone myself, but it’s because I have spent years losing and gaining back weight and really learning about what I’m putting into my own body that I feel even more strongly about what we teach our kids from a very early age. I want them to understand their choices, not to simply say don’t eat this or do eat that, just know what it is. If you want a treat, that’s fine, everything in moderation as long as your overall efforts are the right ones.

I don’t want to come across as a killjoy either, I think my kids eat a good standard of wholesome food, at least we try our best anyway. We don’t use jars or processed foods as much as possible, but of course every so often they have ‘treat’ food as well. I absolutely do not want to appear as if I’m judging anyone here, but I just find it very irritating and extremely surprising that there simply isn’t a choice for kids. Its our responsibility to do our best for them, and to teach them to make the best choices for themselves in the future, but with no options at all, what hope have we got?

 

 

 

 

How To Survive.. The Toddler Vomiting Bug

Also features on The M Word

There’s loads of things nobody warns you about when you’re waddling around with your Bump all glowy and dreamy and planning your perfect white Pinterest worthy nursery.
Put down that white fluffy rug with the matching white fluffy cushion for your nursing chair, Mama. Seriously, put them back. Don’t mind that sales girl, IT WILL NOT STAY WHITE. Or fluffy. Why?
Well, because it will get Babied and Toddlered, but also, because it is inevitable, at some point, the vomiting bug will find your toddler.
It will not be pretty. But you can do this! You turned that Bump into a Baby didn’t you, if you can do that, you can do anything!

Day 1
You wake up, all seems fine. Toddler or mini human in question decides today is the day they are going to happily eat EVERYTHING you put in front of them, and more. More scrambled egg, darling? Sure! I’ll even slather extra buttery butter on some toast for you too. A glass of milk, my precious? Of course, here, have two. What could possibly go wrong?

All continues to seem fine as they wolf down food as if they haven’t been fed for a week, the more dairy based, gloopy, puke inducing the better. It’s as if they know. I’m convinced they do but that’s a story for another day… crafty little feckers that they are.

Not long later though, you start to notice something is amiss. Maybe they are less energetic than normal…maybe they want more cuddles than usual… or for me, maybe they start producing nappies from the pit of hell in rapid succession. Looking back, I realise now I should have known what was heading my way, in fairness, he’s my second child so I’ve met the vomiting bug a handful of times now. Let’s hope my kids are faster learners than I seem to be.

So anyway, a handful of horrific nappies later, I’m already traumatised and fearful for the next 12-24 hours of parenthood and what lurks ahead, so I decide to issue a house-wide Orange Alert. This is the stage you might want to change out of your nice top, put away your nice cushions, roll up that nice white fluffy rug you ended up buying anyway because of pregnancy nesting hormones.

Keep a beady eye on your toddler and watch out for a change in temperament. Keep a suitable vessel nearby at all times just in case your worst fears are confirmed – I find the basin from the toy Ikea kitchen very useful – he’s familiar with it so it won’t make him think anything is wrong, it’s just a cool game with.. a basin… what’s suspicious about that, basins are cool… but also it is excellent for catching any sudden pukage.
Sometimes you can start to hear the rumblings before any fluids appear – and suddenly, just as I was wondering if that rumble was him or me (dear God am I getting it too?!!), there it was. Projectile. Vomit. Everywhere.
Upgrade monitoring system to Red Alert! It’s happening. In fairness, he got about a third of it into the basin. Could do better, but at least you weren’t wearing your nice top so that’s something.
Sob.

So here we are. The first projectile pukage has subsided for now. Poor little munchkin is just as shocked as you are – first things first, cuddle and reassure them that it’s all going to be ok. After while you wonder who you’re trying to convince more, him or yourself, but nevertheless it helps calm everyone down so just keep repeating it, it will all be ok! Depending on level of carnage, assess the crime scene and decide what needs to be cleaned first. There’s no pretty way around it. It’s everywhere. Into the bath he goes.

Now if you ask me, herein lies a gap in the Vomiting Bug market. Someone needs to invent colour coded puke. Hear me out…. imagine how handy it would be if it was colour coded so you know immediately just what it is you’re tackling here?
Are we talking a once-off puke? A 12 hour thing? A 24 hour one? An ‘I’ll puke today and then stop for a while to make you think you’re in the clear, but then start all over again’ sort of bug?? It’s the unknown that’s the worst part. Are you gonna be up all night changing sheets? Should you completely fast them? What if they get dehydrated? What if we all get it?? It’s a minefield of confusing times.

However, for now, it’s a case of battening down the hatches, get that puke cleaned up, and spend the rest of the day sorely regretting your choice of eggs and buttery butter and milk for breakfast.

Day 2

I was going to start with, ‘Wake up’, but in fact, have you even been asleep? It’s hard to tell really. What was real, and what bits were a dream?
What a night you put in. Who’d have guessed, back in the days of Pinterest Nursery Planning, that there’d be nights when you would just put them on towels to sleep on, never mind perfectly matching bedsets!! LOL at your pregnant self!

So, how are you holding up? You’re a bit on edge really, obviously tired because of the lack of sleep, if you weren’t mopping up puke and emptying the minute fraction of it that made it to the Ikea toy kitchen basin, you were lying there with one ear cocked in fearful anticipation of the now familiar noises that emerge right before the flow of vomit so you can pretend that you’ll make it there in time to catch it all in the basin.
Your hands are raw because you’ve scrubbed them clean a million times, anti-bacterial-gelled them a hundred times, along with frantically disinfecting every inch of surface in the desperation that it doesn’t spread to the other kid or kids or to yourself!

However, he hasn’t puked in a while now and God love him but he must be starving since you fasted him almost a whole day ago. Should you let him nibble on some dry toast? Look at his little face, those eyes, they’re gazing up at you begging for a bit of food… what to do, what to do. Is the bug still lurking, waiting for me to feed it so it can laugh at me while I clean up yet another round?! Seeing as nobody has yet to install the colour coded puke mode, I guess there’s only one way to find out.
Slowly and gradually and with your new best friend Basin close by, attempt re-introduction to food. Dry food. Assess situation closely. It’s a bit of a lottery really, you’ll either end up back at square one, or, maybe the end is nigh, and the light is finally at the end of that long pukey tunnel!

Rejoice.

So you made it through! Reduce alert down to Yellow status – commence boil wash of every stitch of cloth anywhere near anything, but still, be vigilant.

Sanitise everything from yourself to Basin to light switches and door handles. Get some chocolate into you, be nice to yourself, after all you’ve been through a traumatic and trying life experience! And most importantly, maybe keep that white fluffy rug all safely rolled up until, I dunno, until they move out?!

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Alex & Basin

Living With Infertility

*Recently featured on The M Word*

I think I always knew deep down that when I decided to try and get pregnant, it wasn’t going to be plain sailing. It’s easy to say that now, knowing that did happen in the end, but hand on heart, I always knew.

Somewhere within, I could sense that we’d have to go the long way around.

We never had to have that talk, Gavin and I, when we knew we’d get married and spend our lives together. We never officially asked each other if we wanted children, we both just knew we did. And even though deep down I always sensed there’d be a problem, I still felt shocked when I found out officially – there was a problem.

And strangely, that’s when things started to improve in some ways.

The years of the not knowing, wondering, endless cycles of hoping, then hope being dashed were far worse. I’m not suggesting for a moment that going through fertility treatment is easy, or something you should take lightly, but certainly for me, knowing we needed it brought its own strange sense of relief. At least now we could make a plan. Up to that point it was basically years of mental and physical hardship.

So what is it like to live with infertility?

It consumes you. From the moment you wake up, to the moment you go to sleep, you would think about it in some form or another. The first year or two, for us at least, we just went along, wondering, fairly casually, might this be the month? As newlyweds, we were happy to enjoy just being newly-wed – long weekends away, dinners out, regular cinema trips. Life was great! On the surface we had nothing to complain about. But always lurking was that wonder – why hasn’t it happened for us yet?

People would casually ask us when they might hear the ‘pitter patter of little feet’. ‘Ah haha you never know!’ we’d casually laugh back.

Casually laughing on the outside, silently crying on the inside.

And the paranoia was always hanging around too. Wondering if people were talking about us, wondering if people were feeling sorry for us.

It’s a strange thing really. When you want something really really badly, it’s as if you can’t admit it to yourself, or anyone else, in case you fail at it. That way you can protect yourself by casually shrugging it off and telling yourself, oh well. You can tell those that ask it’s ok, you weren’t that bothered anyway….so what do you fancy doing this weekend? And continue as if everything is normal.

One of the hardest aspects was trying to keep my emotions in check.

Every time someone announced a pregnancy, it was like a kick to the stomach. The struggle of trying to appear happy for your friend or family member or random person on the street, but also trying to stop tears from appearing and giving you away.

It’s not that you are unhappy for whoever is telling you their news, it’s really not. You certainly don’t wish your unhappiness on anyone else – mixed in with all that emotion you’re trying hard to control is genuine happiness for them – but it’s just that you’re also just so so sad for yourself. Then you feel guilty for having those feelings, and you listen to the excitement of due dates and possible names and all the while thinking, just get through this, be happy for them, you can cry when you get home.

Each month of trying would bring fresh hope and optimism. Maybe this will be it, this will be our month. You make friends with strangers on infertility forums, and every now and then venture into the sections relating to IVF, take a look at the scary looking acronyms that frighten the life out of you, and hope you’ll never have to find out what they mean.

You get to the stage of waiting to see if you’re pregnant this time. You convince yourself you might be, then you convince yourself you’re a failure again this month. And of course, it turns out to be true, another failed attempt.

It’s a horrible cycle of constantly building yourself up to get knocked straight back down again. You start to neglect other aspects of your life, for me, it got to the stage after 4 years of this continuous cycle, I started to withdraw further away from my friends and family. I didn’t want to go to christenings or birthday parties to be reminded of what it was I couldn’t achieve. I felt like I was failing as a woman, the thing that women are built to do, that I was failing my husband (who went to great lengths to assure me that wasn’t the case).

I’d see pregnant women everywhere, sitting on the bus. One day I got the strongest urge to go up to some poor woman and look at her square in the face and ask her DO YOU KNOW HOW LUCKY YOU ARE?

But that’s not healthy. It’s not other people’s fault that this was happening to me and to us. Other people shouldn’t have to hide their happiness or hold back from celebrating in front of me, and I genuinely didn’t expect that. Sometimes I could feel barriers going up, people who didn’t and couldn’t understand what it was like, who thought I couldn’t understand them and their point of view, and I couldn’t.

So when we found out eventually that we’d be doing IVF, it brought relief. IVF is a rollercoaster of a ride, it is hard, and exciting, and terrifying. But it is a plan.

We are, for reasons I’ll never understand, two of the lucky ones. From our IVF treatment we have two beautiful boys, both born from the same round of IVF but two years apart – I like to call them my frozen twins. I look at them sometimes and can’t really believe they are here, that they exist, against all the odds.

A few days after we got the news that we’d need IVF, of course it was devastating to hear, and I must have cried non stop for about three days. But then I started writing. I created a blog for myself, I named it The Scenic Route, as that was the road I knew we’d always end up taking. So I just wrote down how I felt. I immediately felt better, just getting it down in words, essentially talking to myself, helped me immensely to deal with it.

Talking to others helped a lot too. People didn’t and still don’t talk very openly about it, for various, and obvious reasons. But I wanted to talk about it! So I was very open about it from the start, with Gavin on board obviously as it affected him just as much. Suddenly, people were approaching me privately, telling me their own story. People I knew were going through this and I had no idea. I am often asked if it was hard to be open about it, for me it just wasn’t. It was good for me to talk about it and good to know that others could come to me and we could help eachother.

How should you deal with it if someone you know is going through this?

Offer support. Tell them you are there to listen should they ever need it. Don’t ask lots of questions all the time, let them come to you if they want to. But just knowing your friends are there and are trying to understand, means the world.

If you are reading this and thinking, yep I could have written this myself….. keep going. Take it in small pieces rather than thinking of the whole big scary picture. One day or one month at a time and remember that every time you try something it is a step closer. If you would like to ever talk about it, just get in touch! There is support out there, sometimes it’s just nice to know that you’re definitely not on your own.

My 21st Century Boys

{Also features on The M Word}

There was a video doing the rounds online last year where these kids were handed a cassette tape and had no idea what it was. It got me thinking, and wondering what other things my boys will grow up not knowing. Not just things either, but experiences.

Take Spotify as an example. In December Spotify happily told me that my yearly stats were in and it proudly presented me with my most popular track listings for 2017. Top of the list was ‘You’ve Got A Friend In Me’ by Randy Newman. Toy Story. Next up was ‘ Hakuna Matata’ and ‘ I Just Can’t Wait to be King’. The Lion King. Now I won’t pretend to have a supercool taste in music myself, but still. These kids are ruining my street cred. Or online cred anyway, if that is actually a thing!

But anyway, it’s more than just them corrupting my cool playlists, it got me thinking about the vast differences already between their childhood and my own. If you think about it, they have access to millions of songs under one roof in Spotify, available to them at any time without any waiting. There’ll be no saving up their pocket money to buy a single or an album, and listening to that album to the death because it was all that would fit in your walkman at any one time anyway. No waiting for the DJ to stop talking to press record when your favourite song came on ( Atlantic 252!) and hoping the end of the song wouldn’t get interrputed by them either. Nothing worse! So by default then, it’s unlikely that they’ll sit and listen to whole albums at all, unless it’s by someone they happen to really like. But do you see what I mean? You could go deeper and question whether as a whole piece of art, is the art of albums as they were, dying? Will people appreciate them as a whole piece of work the way they used to anymore?

Another aspect is the patience. They don’t have to wait for anything, it’s all just there at the tap of a screen. Recently I recorded a Disney movie that was on one of the tv channels (even that in itself feels retro now with the Netflix lifestyle), and while Rian was watching it, the ads came on. He didn’t know what they were or where his movie was gone. He went looking for the remote control to hand it to me to put the movie back on. At first I went to fast forward the ads but then I thought, no! You can sit and wait and watch them, just like I had to! In fact you’re still doing better than I did in the 80s – we didn’t get movies until they were released about 2 years later on VHS, so be glad! And so he did watch the ads. Which resulted in him asking me about 3 different toys, so I still lose in this scenario, but still. It’s the  principle of the matter! And they’ll never have to worry what time something will be on at. It will all just magically be there waiting for them whenever they are ready to watch it.

So I wonder is this the 21st century version of the whole ‘Back in my day we went to school barefoot’ type stuff that my parents used to come out with? (Not that they actually went barefoot but you know what I mean). How have I become my parents already?! And on a more serious note, what effect will this lifestyle of no waiting actually have on shaping them as people? Very deep, maybe, but very apt too I think.

Another thing is your basic memory. Kids will never need to have to remember a list of different phone numbers the way we did, everything will be stored for them. And on that note, will they even ring people when they’re old enough to have phones ( which will be 18 if I have my way!)? Nowadays it’s all texts. Do teenagers ring eachother at all anymore? I’m aware I sound 90 even asking that question. When we had no internet to keep us occupied, we would ring our best friend from school and chat away on the phone about all the important teenagery things in our lives. Ugh didn’t you hate when you rang your friend and someone else in their family used to answer the phone? Or even worse, if someone else in your house was already on the phone and you had to wait until they were finished.

I wonder is there any other generation before us where such changes were so vast between parents and their children’s childhood? I’m not sure. Maybe every generation thinks this type of thing – well it’s even a cliche isn’t it, ‘you don’t know you’re born’ type of comeback your parents used to throw at you if you complained about anything.

It’s kind of frightening too. I genuinely worry at the thought of my two as teenagers, living a life so vastly different to how mine was. Will I be able to relate to them at all? Will I be able to understand any problems they might have growing up in certain situations, online social aspects that I have no experience of? Even Facebook is a dying breed, as far as I can tell no self respecting teenager is seen dead in there any more. It frightens me to think of potential dangers that might lurk that not only I can’t protect them from, but that I don’t even know to look out for them in the first place.

It’s not all bad of course, there are plenty of aspects of technology that makes parenting so much easier, from ‘HOW DO I DO THIS?!’ type frantic Google searching, with instant answers, to apps and online support groups for, well, support but also for fun too. But in lots of ways, I can’t help thinking that despite the advances of technologies, my sons will miss out on lots more than I had growing up – using our own imagination, anticipation – having to actually wait for things….real life fun! So in an effort to replicate part of my own childhood for them I have made it my business to regularly expose them to 80s and 90s music. I’ll be damned if my kids don’t grow up knowing all the right cheese! They’ll thank me for it I’m sure…. won’t they….?!