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.

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This Too Shall Pass

I remember during one particularly tough phase of Rian’s first few months when he had colic, someone said to me ‘This too shall pass’ – and of course it does. I see it quite often in parenting groups; someone will ask for advice on dealing with some tricky new hurdle and usually all we can say is, hang in there, it’s just a phase, this too shall pass!

But do we ever stop to remember that the good things too shall pass? The little stages we love, their little quirks, the new thing they’ve discovered they can do…they change so fast because life is busy passing and we’re constantly just trying to catch up with ourselves. All of the little things they do that may seem inconsequential at the time, you might not even notice them. But I’ve only been a parent now for two years and already I want it to slow down. I want to remember all the little things about them that make me cry with laughter, or cry with frustration.  The things that make my heart want to jump out of my chest with pride and love. All of it.

Recently I was asked by a friend of mine to help put into words a way to describe his new venture in photography – a documentary style ‘day in the life’. While doing it, it made me focus on my own life with my two boys. And it made me realise I seem to be in a constant state of waiting for things to pass. Waiting for Rian’s colic to pass, waiting for his tantrum to calm, waiting for Alex to settle for the night so I might get a few hours sleep myself. I don’t mean to sound like I don’t enjoy all this – of course I do. But I realised that I hardly ever stop to actually look around me, to appreciate fully and more often just what it is we have been given. Especially since there was a time when we thought we’d never have any of this at all when we were told we’d need IVF. It’s always thinking of what job needs to get done next, what dinner needs to be cooked, what day the next round of vaccinations need to be given, the next time one is due a feed and one is due a dinner.

So I decided to stop and look, and started writing. When they’re all grown up, what will I want to remember?

How things feel. The softness of Alex’s little baby cheek, like a soft downy feather. The little grip of his whole hand clutching my thumb. Those little razorblade fingernails that seem to grow at a rate of knots and terrify me in trying to get them cut! The feel of Rian’s little arms wrapped around my neck giving me a ‘huggy’,  the drool that falls on my chest when he falls asleep cuddled into me. His little curls against my face when we snuggle in under the blanket to read a book, and the sticky little hands that chase me hysterically when they’re covered in the residue of his favourite snack of grapes and yoghurt.

 

 

How things sound. The gentle little sucky noise of Alex’s soother as he drifts off for a snooze. The sound of Rian singing at 6am about Gruffalos and trains and having adventures with Woody and Buzz. ‘To finnty…and bond!’ ‘There’s a sake in a b-oot!’ The sound Rian makes when I know he’s working up to a tantrum, and the swift noise I make in an effort to distract him from getting there! The sound of his little feet hopping out of bed when he’s supposed to be asleep and pattering across the hall. And best of all, the sound of Alex’s gurgly little giggles and warbly chats, and the beautiful sound of Rian’s belly laugh, so hard that tears run down his red little cheeks.

How things smell. The gorgeous new baby smell that still just about lingers from Alex. The milky drooly smell that comes from him after a feed. I could breathe that in all day. The lovely smell from Rian’s baby shampoo, and the smell of his bubble bath that he loves splashing around in. That unmistakable whiff that you knew was inevitable when he wolfed in all that fruit for lunch… ok ok maybe this isn’t something I’ll miss too much of when it’s over! And yet somehow, yes, I think I will because it’s part and parcel of who they are now, and I know it won’t always be this way.

One of Rian’s favourite things in life at the moment is Toy Story, and in particular, the third one. At the end of the movie Andy is heading off to college and is getting ready to leave. His mother walks into his empty room, all packed up, and gets emotional. She hugs him and says, ‘I just wish I could be with you always.’

And that’s my wish too, so much! It’s hard now to imagine them both old enough to be going to college, and I’m sure in some ways I’ll be only too delighted to get two smelly teenagers out of my hair, but obviously the day will come when they’ll be old enough to not need me anymore. Well, I hope they’ll always need me in some ways! Hopefully if I do this job right, they’ll want to keep me in their lives just as much as I’ll want them in mine.

 

 

I want to be able to look back, and still feel all those things, and the things still yet to come. To remember how things are, how they were, and how they will be. To be ever thankful that we were given the chance we thought we’d never have, to be their parents, and cherish them always, because as I’ve realised to be true, This Too Shall Pass.

 

*Huge thank you to Johannes for the amazing, and much treasured photographs of our little family; a day in our life.

 

Circumstance vs Choice

* This post was also featured on HerFamily.ie!*

We’ve often heard someone say something along the lines of how boring life would be if everyone was the same – and it’s true. I’ve never really been the sort of person who is afraid or shy about voicing their opinion. When I was younger of course it used to matter to me a lot more about what people thought of me, or what they thought of what I did or didn’t do. But I think around the time I left my 20s I just stopped caring about it, and the freedom that brings is great.However it is still human nature to judge people…it’s just what we do whether we admit it or even know it. I like to think I can keep an open mind and not generalise people or make assumptions about them but of course I do to some degree despite my best intentions. But I’ve never come across such open judgement like the type I’ve experienced since entering baby world – and what’s worse is that it’s women judging women. Mother vs Mother.

 

When I was pregnant and still blissfully ignorant of what was ahead of me, I had all sorts of grand plans about the type of mother I would be. For example, I would certainly be breastfeeding – this was top of my list (even if at first the only reason was because it is said to help you lose a load of weight!), but it was important to me that I would breastfeed because I personally believe that’s what is best. I did my own research and reading on it and this was my personal decision. I would install sleeping and eating routines as early as possible, I would do all these brilliant and perfect parenting things to ensure I was doing my best.

 

But what I didn’t bank on was that once the baby arrived, I was given very little choice in most of these things. Almost everything I had planned, the opposite happened. I ended up having an emergency section, so that affected the skin to skin time that I had planned for after the birth. He ended up having to go up to the care unit the morning after he was born, and that affected our breastfeeding plans. He had colic, and that affected almost all our plans! At first I took it upon myself to feel guilty about all these things – most especially the breastfeeding. But the fact of the matter was that no matter how I tried to breastfeed, he had been put on a bottle with formula while he was in the care unit because of course they had to ensure he was getting what he needed, and my milk had not fully come in yet. He refused to latch on. So I expressed for the first 7 weeks or so, and he was combination fed during that time. But I found it too hard to sustain – the routine of expressing, feeding, sterilising, making up formula almost every hour coupled with the pure exhaustion of those first few weeks and the fact his colic was pretty bad meant that I eventually settled on just formula feeding him. Even writing this now to some extent I feel like I am explaining myself. Why is that? And who am I explaining myself to? Me? I felt like I was failing him.

 

I did feel guilty. Self-imposed guilt I feel it’s important to say – not one other person ever put me under any pressure to do anything a certain way. During those night time feeds while waiting for bottles to heat up or cool down or soothing the baby and rocking him to sleep I’d often take out my phone and have a look at some online groups on Facebook. I just wanted someone to tell me that it was ok to do things the way I had to do them so I could reassure myself that I was doing it all the right way. Some groups were for breastfeeding, some were general Mum type groups, there are some great groups out there for whatever section of parenting you are looking for information on. But some of them made me feel worse. The judgement coming from them was shocking! I had thought we were all on the same team, but it turns out that for some, we’re not. There are breastfeeders vs formula feeders. Co-sleepers vs Separate Room Sleepers. Soothe to Sleep vs Cry-It-Out. And I also should point out that it was the same amount of judgement going in both directions of each argument. One of the most contentious and judgey groups was one for sleep training. One poor mother obviously desperately exhausted had posted that she felt her only option was to let the baby cry for a while. She was vilified by some of the members – it’s nothing short of bullying. Once I saw the reaction she got I left a lot of the groups. Who needs that on top of everything else?

 

Somewhere in the midst of this self-imposed guilt I came across a piece online written by a new mother. She pointed out that some people do things by choice and some by circumstance. It struck a chord with me and I remember thinking – Nail.On.Head! Reading that made me realise that I should be proud of how I was coping because in fact they were not my decisions. They were not my choice – they were my circumstances.

 

Why do we feel it’s ok to make assumptions on how other mothers choose to do things? For that matter, why do we even assume that it’s their choice in the first place? Why did one woman look at me one day in a coffee shop while she was breastfeeding her child and I was making up a formula for mine – did I imagine that look of pity or disgust she just gave me? Perhaps the look was a result of my own paranoia born from my own guilt. Or perhaps it was real. Do I make that judgement of other women? I certainly hope not.

 

Despite the negative experience I found with many online groups, my biggest source of support was – and still is – a group which also started online. The November 2014 Babies group was founded when we all discovered we were due our babies at the same time, girls from all over the country found eachother online, and from there we eventually ended up with a group on WhatsApp where we still chat to eachother daily. And let me tell you – they are the best bunch of girls with the best support, friendship and laughs I could ever need to help me figure out how to be a mother. As a rule women need to remember that we are all on the same team: Team Mother, and we are all doing a fantastic job in our own ways based on the circumstances we find ourselves in.

 

10,000 Kisses

When Rian was born, we got loads of practical and thoughtful gifts for him. One of the gifts we got was a memory box – well actually we got two beautiful ones – and I love them.

However, there are some things you can’t put into the memory boxes or the baby books.

I’m one of those people who likes to record life as it goes along. This started at a young age with what is known as The Suitcase. It’s an old fashioned vintagey cardboard type suitcase that my parents used to own. When I was about 12 I started keeping my ‘stuff’ in it, all the important things I wanted to keep and cherish. I still have my suitcase, much to the amusement of my Dad – and it’s a long time since I looked in there but always amusing to see the things that mattered so much to my 12 year old self. But I also have cards from each of my grandmothers, letters my Dad had written to me when he was at sea… things to cherish.
So it came as no surprise that when the biggest thing to ever happen to me came along that I would want to keep a record of things. But the things I can’t put into the memory boxes or put onto my phone are perhaps the most precious of all. When I think of my time on leave with Rian I think of those things you can’t put into a box – the sweet smell of him, the feel of him snuggled into me, the sound of his baby snores when the only place I could get him to nap was on my shoulder. The first time I heard him laugh his beautiful big belly laugh. His little fists grabbing onto my finger, his little hands rubbing my cheek when I fed him his bottle.
Of course I do also remember the seemingly endless crying for hours when he had colic, the sheer exhaustion like I’ve never known it before, the explosive nappies… it’s not all sweetness and light let me tell you!
But you forget those things, at least they’re not at the forefront of my mind when I think about him. Every morning I used to go in to pick him up for the day. We’d wake up properly together and we’d look out the window and see the trees and the sky and the birds and have a grand old chat. I’d ask him for a kiss, then I’d give him one… but one day I asked for a kiss and he leaned over and planted his little face on mine and gave me one himself! It was amazing and one of the best things ever, that little moment. That memory is something I wish I could pull out of my head and turn into a tangible thing so I could put it in The Suitcase and carry it forever.

Now that I’m back at work those things seem even more precious. When I was on leave there were days that used to feel sort of never ending… I would sometimes be waiting at the window by 6pm waiting to see Gavin’s car come around the corner just so I could have half an hour to myself. And not even so that I could lie down and watch tv or read a book, it would be a precious half an hour so that I could do essential things like wash my hair! But the good days far outweighed the bad. I was very lucky to be able to take extended leave so I was two weeks short of a full year at home with him. And it was worth every penny.

The work guilts. At first it was almost fun being back – the novelty of having a lunch break! Having a coffee and getting to finish it whenever I wanted. But that novelty soon wore off. We are so lucky to have Rian with amazing childcare so that’s not a worry at all. But that fear of missing out… what if he walks and I don’t see it? What if he says a new word? What if he forgets that I’m his Mam?? Yes I know the last one seems a bit over the top but in fairness to him, he spends 12 hours a day with someone else and he’s only awake for about 14 hours a day. I question constantly is this the right thing? This precious time which I know now goes by so fast, he changes so fast. I keep telling myself that I’m doing it for him, to be able to give him our best. But it does feel like a huge price to pay.

The nice thing is how much more precious the weekends are now. Those sleepy nap times which even now at almost 15 months, he will still only take in someone’s arms. I love them. I know that some day it will be the last time he will sleep in my arms and I savour it, the snuggles and the kisses. 10,000 per nap I reckon. At least. And not one I can put in The Suitcase.

 

 

 

Don’t say the Q word…

…but it is. Peaceful. Noise-less. The Pudge is still asleep (touch wood in a frantic fashion) and all I had to do was get up at 7am and sneak like a stealth ninja down the stairs, avoiding the creaky bits of whom I am now very well accustomed. And here we are! Breakfast eaten and tea ready to be enjoyed! Happy me.

 

It’s a strange thing when 7am is now considered up early. Normally I’d have half my commute done by now. Life at home with a baby has made me see things a bit differently. Well I like to think of it as working from home, it’s a bit more accurate! Like at least at work you get a lunch break, and a chat with people who don’t always try and eat your hand and your nose and your hair and smear their drool all over your face.

I kind of thought I’d have a bit of an idea of what it would be like being on maternity leave. Lunch dates, nice walks whenever I wanted etc etc and I wasn’t so thick as to picture a perfectly well behaved non screaming baby. And in some ways I was right, it is like that  sometimes but there’s so much I am finding out about as we go.

At the start I knew it would be tiring. People told me so and also I had encountered a baby or two in my time. I thought sleep deprivation was like if you’re up at 6am all week and then Saturday finally arrives and your neighbour’s dog wakes you up when it’s still dark out and you can’t get back to sleep. Turns out it’s not like that at all! Who knew!

Being a new mother is terrifying and amazing all at once. And people don’t tell you stuff. I mentioned that I found being pregnant was like renting out your body, well the glamour doesn’t stop once the baby arrives. One of my favourites is that my hair is falling out. Sure why not?! Saves the Pudge grabbing at it with his pudgy drooly hands I suppose!

And the weight. Before our ivf treatment I was losing weight. I lost 70lbs altogether by dieting at first and then I got into walking. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I loved it but after a while I did enjoy it, we’re lucky to live beside a lot of beautiful walking routes. Of course I expected to gain weight over the pregnancy. I had an app on my phone giving me weekly updates of what size the baby was in comparison to fruits. At the end of the weekly video it would happily add ‘Oh by the way, you’ll probably gain 5lbs this week Mama!’

So when I toddled off to a slimming world class a couple of weeks ago I knew to expect bad news. And I was right, to the tune of 50lbs. FIFTY POUNDS. 😐

Well it was fun while it lasted at least.

So anyway the good news is that I now have to be a role model for someone. And what an amazing little someone he is too. It’s a bit surreal really the whole thing, if I think about it for too long my head starts to hurt. How is he even here! We met him when he was the size of a poppy seed. They even showed us a video from the clinic of the egg being fertilised. We saw him being conceived! And then the randomness of it. That it was that egg and that sperm and out of 7 embryos he was picked. It just blows my mind. If the embryologist had picked another embryo he wouldn’t exist…and what of the other 6? Will we get to meet them? It’s just amazing.

He looks like Gavin, so much so that I wonder if I had anything to do with him at all. I think he has my nose though. I’m claiming it anyway. He’s a proper smiler, big gummy drooly grins – although now that the tip of a tooth has broken through I like to call him Fang. It’s bloody sharp too as I discovered when he was casually gnawing on my finger.

He never stops moving and wriggling! Changing and dressing him is like trying to tame a hyper octopus. And oh DEAR GOD the nappy explosions. Poonami doesn’t even begin to cover it.

I have mastered the art of one handed living. I am right handed but my left hand doesn’t know what has hit it. It feeds me now, gets bottles ready, scrawls illegible notes, drinks tea all while my right hand tends to Fang…and it thought it was destined for a life of leisure. We wish, Left Hand.

I wouldn’t change a thing. Seeing him change every day is so rewarding but a bit sad too. Time has never before gone so fast – storing away clothes that don’t fit him anymore is so sad! (I’m a sap). The snuggles into my neck when he’s falling asleep and that beautiful drooly milky baby smell of him…it’s there to be inhaled and I wish I could bottle it and keep it forever, it’s intoxicating and so precious. Holding him in my arms and watching him looking back at me and holding onto my hand with his pudgy little fingers. I look at him and wonder who will he be? What things will he like, what will become his favourite toy or character or book or film? Will he grow up being confident to be whoever he is? Will we be able to teach him to make good choices for himself, what sort of man will he be?

And all the things that scare me, how can I protect him forever from being hurt and sad and all the horrible parts of the world? What sort of mother will I be? Wait, what sort of mother have I already become?

One that’s pretty clueless and seems to be making it up as I go along just like every other first time parent I imagine. And one who just heard a gurgle coming from a pudgy drool monster upstairs who is about to demand to be fed and so ends my Quiet time for today!