The Art of Asking

Support. The comfort of knowing you are held up, and that your decisions are validated. That someone has your back. That you will not be let down. That there is someone to help you when you need it. That you are not alone.

I am obsessed with support. Writing out endless forms to get my son into the appropriate preschool, and to secure funding for said preschool. There is support available. But there are hoops first, a veritable cornucopia of obstacles. May the odds be ever in your favour.

Anyone who has crossed paths with the local authorities knows what these forms are like. DESCRIBE THE WAY(S) IN WHICH YOU NEED THIS SUPPORT, they shout at you in thick bold letters, on inscrutable PDF formats that don’t format correctly when amended. GIVE EXAMPLES OF THE SUPPORT REQUIRED & THE TIME IN MINUTES EACH TASK WILL TAKE.

I do my best to list and correlate and describe in intense detail exactly what support he needs, in which areas of his development, and at which time of day and how frequently per week. Forty pages at the last count. NOW PLEASE GO TO PAGE 72 and DETAIL ALL HEALTH PROFESSIONALS (and their national insurance numbers in birth date order). I would do it. Because we need the support.

In a flurry of weeks ahead of a looming deadline, we do the work. We jump the hoops, we wait. We wring our hands and chase up on the phone. We leave polite but anxious messages. We fill in more forms. We wait. And then….We get the place. JOY! We do tiny dances in kitchens and whoop with the key workers and write effusive thank you letters to the people that have helped proof read, add supporting documents and counter signatures. We kick start the next round of logistical planning. We almost remember to take a breath and then forget.

Three days later I sit in the humid front room of my counselor’s house with my head in my hands and breathe. The windows are all flung open onto a very smart street in Hampstead, but the curtains are closed to keep the strength of the afternoon sun at bay. It gives the room a strange illicit feeling. Like she should be burning joss sticks and smoking opium. Maybe she does. I don’t know this woman well. We have had a few sessions. She mainly listens and asks pointed but relevant questions. She frowns far too much. I think it might just be her face. This is my chosen support. Cobbled together fairly last minute when I found myself crying on the tube and unable to sleep. I’m unsure about it at this point.

During this session, I have been waffling on a bit, not really sure what I am getting at and feeling irritated with her quiet nodding. Exasperated, and probably a bit on the dramatic side, I sigh

‘I just feel like I need more support’

She frowns from her wicker chair in the corner where she sits like a sphinx, both arms perfectly still on either arm of the chair. She cocks her head to one side,

‘What support do you feel you need?’

And there it is.

I have no fucking idea.

Outside of that room, I am at a loss. A friend of mine who manages large teams in a high profile job, and a big family, puts a question to me. Its the same one she puts to her employees who say they are finding it hard to get the work life balance to make sense, she asks, ‘What do you want me to do about it?’

Not in an aggressive or defensive tone, but as a real question. What do you need from me to help you? What does your unique set of circumstances require?

I realized, while sitting on this very worn sofa in semi darkness somewhere in NW3 that I needed to to know the answers to these questions. What support do I need? What does it look like? How often will I require it? Does it require input from a different department (family) or additional funding (HA)? If I were applying for support for myself – what would I say on the forms? As a grown woman approaching 40 I need to get better as knowing the answers to these questions, and when someone offers to help, to say YES and explain where it would be needed.

If I have learned anything this year its that you need a team around you. We have a brilliant one in place for our son now, its flexible but has a solid foundation in the right health professionals, independent third parties and outsourced advice, so I don’t feel if one had to go we’d be bereft. I’m looking at building something similar for myself. Starting with family and working my way out. Looping in new connections, making sure there’s a good mix of advice, and time to be on my own. For me support is equated with finding time not to be a mother/wife/boss/general of life admin. Support is getting help with those things, asking for specifics. And letting go of the rest.

Over Time

 

It’s March. I’ve been back at work full time for 2 months, Samson turned one and we are house hunting. Our current flat is a tip. The dust has dust and the garden looks like a vacant lot. Never before have I felt the need for another hour in the day or day in the week. Shit just does not get done. And being the A type, ENTJ type, or control freak if you must, not getting shit done is not  an option.

Except it has to be.

I caught up with a friend at work who has also just returned from mat leave and she asked me what was ‘still standing’.

‘You know what I mean’ she said counting off on her fingers, ‘out of Baby, Work, Marriage, House, Friends… what’s still standing, because you sure as hell won’t have all five’

Most of us can’t have all five, well certainly not all running on optimum all of the time. Right now I can say we have Work and Baby firing on all cylinders. Samson is learning to climb, walk, talk and cause havoc so he is more than fine. I haven’t fallen asleep at my desk at work or absentmindedly replied all with an emoji so we’ll call that a victory.

As for the rest? I have seen a handful of my friends, but chances are if you don’t work in my office or live next door I probably haven’t seen you since October. I rely far too heavily on social media to keep in touch which really doesn’t cut it.

As for my long suffering husband who is getting his head round the daily grind of full time childcare – he’s a marvel, but a marvel I see for about 45 mins every week day and a few hours on the weekend. When I drag him around London looking at dreadful flats we can’t afford.

We tell each other its not forever. It will get easier. Its just a phase, and I really am sure that all of that is true. Thanks to my sleep shy son we all learned to function on 4 hours’ sleep so surely anything is possible right?

What I am a little more concerned about is the silent number 6 in all of this. The self care bit. Finding time to recharge when there are a million other demands that need to be met. I’ve always been good at prioritising, but in this area I am appalling. I can’t seem to justify the yoga class at lunch when there are meeting to be prepped for, or the run on the weekend when the dog needs vaccinating.

There is always something. And everything needs to be negotiated.  The run on the weekend in return for the other half’s lie in, the week night dinner for picking up the dry cleaning, the midnight trip to 24 hour tesco for.. hell anything you want if I don’t have to go. Every moment counted and weighed and bartered to keep the balance right and resentment to a minimum. Never has there been a more misused phrase than that of ‘free time’. What are you doing with your ‘free time’? No. Such. Thing.

I suspect too that it will all get a whole lot easier when I stop obsessing over the dust on the bookshelves or the weeds taking over the patio. Because ultimately everyone is fed, clothed and not too grubby so I am taking that as a win.

The Bounce Back Myth

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Credit Little Kin Photography

Two things happened this week that made me re-evaluate my new normal. The first was an article I read on goop (DO NOT JUDGE ME) about post-natal depletion. Which if you think sounds like some kind of horrible hormonal hangover you’d be almost right.

The second was a swimsuit I bought. But more on that later.

Back to post natal depletion-  a perfect shit storm of exhaustion; lack of societal, emotional, and physical support; poor nutrition, and limited self care.  Dr. Oscar Serrallach describes it as follows:

There is often a feeling of isolation, vulnerability, and of not feeling “good enough.” It is experienced by many mothers, and is an understandable and at times predictable outcome associated with the extremely demanding task of being a mother from the perspective of both childbearing and child raising.

 And here’s the kicker – it can be evident for up to TEN YEARS after the birth (or births) of your children.

If you’ve had a child within the last decade, you might still be suffering some consequences—lethargy, memory disturbances, and poor energy levels, among other symptoms’

TEN YEARS.

Yet we’re sold this idea that with the right control underwear and touche eclat we can be ‘back to normal’ after just a few short months.

This message is everywhere. Its sold to us in the paltry paid maternity allowance many companies offer (disclaimer: I am one of the lucky few who was able to take a year, and I love my job, but I am often the exception and not the rule), the pressure to ‘get our bodies back’ evident in every glossy mag and instagram feed, and we are then expected to bolt on the additional, and epic responsibility of motherhood, without disrupting the work/life balance.

Its fed to us through parenting guides that convince us that we’re doing a terrible job – our babies somehow ‘misbehaving’ if they’re not falling in line and sleeping through by 8 weeks. If we’re breastfeeding we’re expected to wean our babies quickly and with little fuss. We bounce back to our pre-baby selves, no visible evidence of motherhood. By all means please have your baby, disappear for as short a time as possible and come back looking rested and restored. See? Procreation is easy ! You don’t need additional support from your government, employer, partner, community. Do you? No? Good.

To really hammer it home we’re sucked into another lie – the Super Mum (or The Woman Who Has it All plus a Sprog).  A construct that I think is more damaging than empowering. And yes women are marvellous. Being fantastic multitaskers, and doing it all on 3 hours sleep with one hand, makes us pretty Super sure,  but this does not mean we don’t want or need help. We need that village. Branding us as ‘Super’ implies we don’t need assistance, that it’s innate in our abilities as women (another problematic notion) and that we should be taking on more than the average person. We can take it. Well turns out, a good percentage of us are feeling the strain. DEPLETED even

Society’s view goes as far to suggest that the negative physical and emotional impact of bearing and birthing babies should not be seen, and definitely not heard. A factor hugely evident in the prevalence of post natal depression, there is a veil of silence around how hard parenting can be, whether its the hazy early days or negotiating with a tiny dictator overthrowing your household.

While the rise of the insta-mums is definitely counteracting this (Hurrah for Gin, Too Much Mothering Information, Don’t Buy Her Flowers, Not So Smug Now amongst my favourites) – social media is a double edged sword, and while it can be vital in connecting us, the temptation to compare and despair is all too easy to succumb to. Venture with caution, the feed is not reality and normal for you is chaos for someone else

So with all this rage swirling in my postnatally depleted brain, I went swimsuit shopping. Obviously.

I am now the proud owner of a full piece with a tummy control panel. FML

I had a small and pretty pathetic cry and then pulled myself together. Why had I been sucked into the crazy competitive bounce back faster, thinner, smarter bullshit? I don’t need to bounce back. Back to what? I am not the person I was this time last year, frankly I am not the person I was last month. Having a small person means I am on one of the steepest learning curves imaginable and I’ve assimilated more information in the past 28 days (albeit specifically about one small human) than I have over years.

There is no bouncing back. There is no going back at all. This is the new normal. It features tummy control panels, and extra sets of clothes in every bag, sticky orange puree stains (always orange), over caffeinated anxiety wobbles, ruthless efficiency and a new rock solid confidence to bolt onto the old. If I was feisty before now I am fierce.

As for back to normal? I am making peace with with a new brand of normal. Finding my own shade of it and guarding it ferociously. Many many people will tell me I’m getting it wrong along the way I’m sure, but if the past year has taught me anything its that none of us have a clue what we are doing at the best of times, and the best we can do is guess, have a go and cross our fingers. In our own time, and our own pace.

And with all the structured underwear we can get our hands on.

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Credit Little Kin Photography

 

Longer Out Than In

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I am still putting cutlery in the fridge. Or rather it was cheese in the sink today. I have realised that just as I think the fog has lifted, a different kind of fog descends. Thicker, trickier, more foggy fog or something equally dense. Maybe treacle. Or mud. Stuff that makes your brain slow and your bones feel tired. That stuff.

Samson is now nearly 9 months old, 40 weeks to be precise, the magical number that marks him ‘longer out than in’. His personality is beginning to shine through. He laughs at the dog snoring and the word ‘no’. He deliberately, and with great tenacity, pursues the very thing he knows is out of bounds, he loves cuddles and bath time, he thinks coughs are terrifying and he hates the hair dryer. His favourite book is Buster’s Farm and he claps whenever he sees an animal whether at the park or on telly. He is obsessed with my teeth (odd ball kid) and his Dad’s glasses. And a million other moments day to day that point to this unique little person figuring out how to be a human. Brilliant, spectacular, exhausting moments

And while he is thriving, I am still forgetting the words for particular items of clothing (I forgot ‘jacket’ the other day) and not managing a few basic self care particulars. Like dinner. I had chocolate biscuits last night, which was forgivable in the early days where I couldn’t tell the difference between night and day. Now it just feels slack. Or lazy. Or just crap at time management which I am usually very good at.

Turns out that skill hasn’t left me, I’ve just been channelling all of it into The Boy’s timetable, needs and day to day care. So while his routine is rock solid, mine has slipped irrevocably. And perhaps while he’s learning the words for things, I forget them. While he eats a nutrional meal (ish… or the dog does) 3 times a day, its a gamble as to whether I’ll just eat the leftovers of his lunch or then just have toast for dinner. Maybe that’s just the trade off for now? Not too problematic seeing as the only really big decisions I need to make day to day are whether I need to puree more pears or stock up on Ella’s Kitchen pouches. But these hazy maternity days are numbered, and the count down to work begins

I’ll state for the record that I am really looking forward to getting back to work. I am lucky that I genuinely love what I do, the industry I work in and the people I work with. I have worked in publishing for nearly 10 years and if anything I feel more passionate it about it now that I have a child. So no, I am not mourning the end of maternity leave looming ahead of me. I’m getting excited about getting stuck back into my career.

I am also excited about having hot cups of tea, adult conversation that last for more than 2 minutes at a time, and to hopefully, defogging (a word?) my brain. I am looking forward to lunch breaks that don’t involve two spoons (one for distraction purposes) and wearing clothes that are most definitely not breast-feeding friendly (I have tonnes. I have not worn them for over a year).

In a nutshell, I am looking forward to having to make myself a priority again, because the hard truth is that I really have not managed that this year at all. Time and energy is limited, and when averaging 3 hours’ sleep a night there’s only so much to go around.

I haven’t been great at carving time out for myself. Our situation means we don’t have heaps of support directly available to help on the day to day – and that’s not a whinge or a moan, it just is what it is and we are well aware that many many families cope on a hell of a lot less. But it does mean that afternoons ‘off’ involve catching up on life admin and general daily trivia that needs sorting. Or lying still in a dark room looking at twitter and catching up on ‘news’ because its makes me feel connected.  And that is rather than going for that run, or that massage etc. Not the healthiest choice I know. But when you’re so tired you can feel it in the back of your eyeballs, sometimes only twitter will do.

I have another 10 weeks or so left of my leave. A good chunk of that will be in South Africa where we will be visiting family, and I am looking forward to having a plethora of grandparents and family who will be more than happy to lend a helping hand and I am already researching spa retreats, brunch spots by the sea and mountain view dinners.  I’m cashing in all those self care chips that I have not spent all year in a bid to greet 2017 feeling refreshed rather than frazzled

And hopefully not putting bin bags in the oven

 

 

 

Future Proof

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Summer solstice came and went in a blur of thunderstorms both electric and political, the heavens roared as the votes were counted and the UK declared itself OUT of the EU. General chaos ensues. BUT THIS IS NOT A POST ABOUT BREXIT (too soon, I’m still incandescent with rage and I cannot face another blog piece on it, and I’m sure neither can you)

In a week where we are all looking to the future with trepidation, on a much smaller scale it struck me that I’m now half way through my maternity leave, which has gone by in a blur of coffee, baby wipes, instagram posts and baby yoga classes. Lack of sleep definitely makes this all seem catastrophic, and with Samson having just hit the 5 month milestone  I’m desperately trying to catch up with myself. Where has the time gone?  What have I been doing all day? Why haven’t I rallied a revolution together for more tube access for push chairs, or launched a maternity clothing line?

I had unreal expectations of what I could achieve on mat leave. ‘I need a project’ I remember saying to a colleague and friend. ‘I can’t be sitting at home all day with the baby and singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Effing Star, I need something to keep my brain working’. I had done my homework,  I had grand plans to relaunch the blog, write more, learn to cook properly (I am AWFUL) and to revolutionise fitness wear for pregnant women (borne out of my frustration that nothing fit, and if it did it was extortionately expensive and DULL). Oh and yes, parent my baby. That too.

None of this has came to fruition (inbetween googling rashes and washing muslins I learned this, yes this, was in fact parenting). Instead, over the past 22 weeks I have learned to do a million things I had no idea I needed to know. From mastering every conceivable task for which you require two hands, with just THE ONE, (while the other cleans, holds, googles, feeds, catches) to negotiating public transport with my child in full meltdown mode (with THE ONE HAND) on an average of 3 hours sleep. And I still have another few million things to figure out. Like introducing solids. And figuring out how to turn my brain on again ahead of my return to work in January next year.

I’ve been spending most of my time careening from day to day in a blur of bibs and sudocream, without so much as a thought for what the grown ups were doing (erm,  sending the country up shit creek… clearly we’re all winging it).

With all the uncertainty around the UK’s future in the global arena, its hard not to start dusting off the old Plan B’s that we had filed away for a rainy day. I’m a keen planner and organiser, probably annoyingly so, it will come as no surprise to many that I have a fair few tucked away (with excel scenarios and pie-charts). I like to have my ducks in a row. This also translates into being  worrier, the rationale being if I’ve thought about the worst case scenario, then I can plan for it. This way madness lies if you are a new parent. I was almost  paralysed with anxiety as a result, and would not welcome my worst enemy into my head on days when I was running the catastrophe films on a loop in my head.

In order to actually set foot outside my house I had to let go of some of that control (or illusion of control), and so paradoxically having a baby has chilled me out just a tad. I cannot predict explosive nappies, major meltdowns or when teething will strike.Excel cannot pivot the nap schedule, I tried a few tracking apps and ended up throwing them from the proverbial window. Nothing screams madness like trying to find patterns in the beautiful unpredictability of a baby. There is no algorithm that would make it easier. Instead it’s inherited wisdom from other parents, coffee and a collection of perfect moments in the chaos that make it all tick forward.

Having a child has forced me to go with the flow, but prepare for any eventuality.

And that’s not a bad lesson to take into all areas of my new life stage. I heard a saying years ago, which resonated even with hardened atheist in me ‘Trust in God, but tether your horse’. No one is guaranteed safety, health or happiness, but equally chaos doesn’t consume us every day (other than post teething episodes, then all bets are off). Don’t think a plan will save you, but to not have one is equally foolish. Know where the exits are. Have that ‘Fuck Off Fund‘ already set up.

Or in my current life, Pack An Extra Nappy (and then check the Boy can get Irish citizenship, just in case)

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