We are different now.

If you had asked me before I had kids, whether I believed in equality for women I would have said that yes I did, I did absolutely believe in equality, but I also would have described myself as someone who already had it.

People don’t really like to describe themselves as feminists.

I think sometimes we are afraid.

I asked a family member if she would describe herself as a feminist. She said that, ‘yes’ she would ‘but only if feminism acknowledges that men and women have different lives.’

What she said really made me think for a minute.

Then I stopped ‘really thinking’ because my baby started to cry and I couldn’t think any real thoughts apart from what I might do to stop my baby from crying.

Before I had kids I would say that as a white, kind of working to middle class woman living in England, feminism wasn’t something that I felt I needed. I already had equality, or at least, enough equality to lead the life I wanted. I had, at least on paper, equal opportunities in education and in work and when me and my husband got together we were equal. We earnt about the same, we shared the housework equally, we were equal players.

 

When I was pregnant with my first child I could not wait for our lives as parents to start. I had longed to start our family and to be a mum. When I imagined what life would be like as a mum I imagined it in the same way that my life played out before parenthood; I imagined that I would be an equal player in a team effort between me and my husband.

My experience of childbirth with my first baby was quite traumatic. It was an induced labour that was long and hard followed by an awful third stage in which there were complications with delivering the placenta. I ended up in theatre to have the placenta removed and before they transferred me to theatre there was this truly horrible ten minutes when they attempted to manually remove that placenta with no pain relief for me. It was an excruciating bloody mess. I lost a lot of blood. Each time I moved on the bed I remember kind of splashing around in it and it spattering off the bed onto the floor, like I was kicking around in a too-full bath. When I read in my notes how much blood they estimated I lost I remember thinking that I had almost lost enough to fill up one of those family size bottles of coke.

After I came back from the operation the afternoon passed in a haze with people bringing flowers and chocolates and various checks for the baby. The whole way through my husband was amazing and so supportive and was obviously going through the wringer himself, but it was time for him to go home. Visiting hours were over. If there was a way for him to stay with us in hospital then I think he probably would have done but there wasn’t, so what happened was that he went home.

As he gave us each a kiss and walked off the ward, they turned down the lights for the night shift and I felt the divide between us open up;

We are different now. Our lives are different now.

What’s weird about post birth care is that you have to try and get your head around the fact that despite having gone through what is often very physically and emotionally traumatic, ie childbirth and all the pain and complications and sleeplessness that comes with it, you then are expected to care for a newborn baby which is something that a) you don’t know how to do yet and b) involves very little or no sleep.

Also, because you are in hospital you are effectively on your own in the experience of caring for your newborn. Apart from the occasional injection into your stomach or blood pressure check you just lie in your curtained off cubicle wishing for it to be morning again and trying to figure out things like breastfeeding and how to use an empty sick bowl to hook your babies’ cot-on-wheels over to your bedside so that you can reach her to lift her in and out despite your legs still not being moveable.

At one point a midwife took my baby so that I could sleep but brought her back fifteen minutes later because she would not settle. I was learning my new place in life. I was learning that my comfort or sleep or feelings of isolation were not important. All that was important was that I kept caring for my baby. That any other feelings I had were to be soaked up under a blanket of gratefulness and maternal love for my baby.

I did feel love for my baby. I did feel happy. The only problem was that I also had a lot of other feelings like physical pain, exhaustion, shock and a generally great sense of inadequacy and stress.

And the loneliness.

There is something about having a little person to care for that creates an instant distance in your relationship with other people, partner included.

Now, let me get one thing straight, my husband is an excellent father and husband. He does his share of the parenting and the housework, but when his paternity leave was up and he went back to full time work after a week or two at home with me and our baby, I watched him get into his car from the lounge window and thought,

‘You are going back to your normal life, but mine has changed forever.’

Not fair?

Of course, his life had changed too, right?

Yes, it did. We both became parents and would forever spend our time when not in work, looking after our children. But our lives, although both changed, had not changed each into the same kind of thing. Before we had kids our lives were the same. They were not the same anymore.

He was smartly dressed and was carrying his lunch to eat on his break. He got into the car and turned his radio on, fastened his seatbelt and gave us a wave before driving off for the day. I rocked back and forth on my heels in my sick stained dressing gown with the baby crying on my shoulder. I hummed whatever I could think of and patted her gently on her tiny back. I wasn’t sure what I would do with myself and the baby for the rest of the day, except try to make her go back to sleep somehow so that I could sleep.

I wasn’t angry with my husband, but in a lot of ways, I was jealous of him.

He was going back to something straight forward really. He was going back to a job that he knew how to do where he would work in a team and chat to people. He would have a lunch break and read a book and eat a sandwich. He would end his day at work with a few frustrations but generally would feel that he had achieved something. He would feel good for it. That would be his life for the bulk of his day and the bulk of his week and the bulk of his years.

But work is also hard, right? Work is hard too.

I had spent years putting in 50, 60+ hour weeks as a chef. I knew hard, long, stressful, relentless, work and I was soon to know looking after babies and young children.

Work is easy, being a mother is not.

Being a mother is utterly consuming and exhausting. Part of that exhaustion is that the overwhelming love you have for your children squeezes every last ounce of effort out of you as you strive to be the best kind of mother that you possibly can be for them. I believe that this is why we beat ourselves up about every little thing some days and feel we are not doing a good enough job. We want the very best for our kids and we will throw ourselves under the bus in an attempt to push ourselves to be the best carers we possibly can be.

So let’s talk about choice now because this is something that I hear a lot of. Well, if you don’t enjoy looking after children then why did you become a mother?

mmmmm yes, good point

Why don’t I just stop whinging?

Why don’t I just get on with it like I’m supposed to?

Would you believe me if I said that I actually love children and that I love my own children more than life itself?

They are my light in every struggle I have gone through in my attempt to adjust to this thing called motherhood and to do it right.

I write this blog to give a voice to the difficult feelings and struggles around being a mum and at times readers have responded by also sharing their feelings in comments either on my blog or on my facebook page. Inevitably a bloke called something like ‘Geoff’ who has a bulldog with an England flag in the background as his profile pic will wade in with a comment like,

‘Why didn’t you all just shut your legs if it’s so hard having babies?’

Thanks for your input Geoff.

Let’s look into that option for a minute.

Having children is as hard as it is wonderful and at times the hard bits can feel so overwhelming. At times when we are overwhelmed we might like to talk about how we feel. So mums, if you talk about the hard stuff, do you not deserve to be a mum and is it a choice you should not have made? If it is hard for everyone at some point then maybe we should just all ‘shut our legs’ right?

So, in a world where women just stop having babies because no one can handle it when they say they are struggling or are feeling overwhelmed what would that look like?

If women just ‘shut their legs’?

Eventually there would be no babies or children anywhere. For some people like Geoff this would be a massive bonus as there would be no crying children or breastfeeding mums ruining his experience of enjoying a gingerbread latte in starbucks. When Geoff goes to the supermarket there are no badly behaved threenagers threatening their mothers with French sticks for him to complain about on social media later when he gets home, which will be responded to by thirty-three comments from his friends and family calling for children to be hit more often and agreeing that in ‘their day’ children would never have dared to threaten their mothers with a bread roll, wouldn’t have been able to sit down for a week etc etc ad infintum

Anyway, if women stopped becoming mothers, stopped having babies, eventually there would be no children. There would be no teenagers. There would be no students. (Geoff would be very pleased about that) There would be no professionals, no doctors, teachers, nurses, accountants, politicians, chefs, roadworkers, train drivers, footballers, aid workers, writers, cleaners, bar staff, police officers, firefighters. There would just be the elderly, with only other elderly people to look after them.

One thing we often fail to recognise is that women having babies is the key to everyone’s future. It is the very existence and survival of the human race. Our children are not merely for our own pleasure. We bring them up to be their own people who we hope will go out into the world and continue making it a better place for everyone long after we have gone.

If women stopped having babies we would cease to exist.

To say, ‘well you chose to have children,’ whenever a woman voices difficult feelings about how hard it is to be a mum only really means ‘shut up,’ because do women really have a choice as a collective group to just stop having children? If it’s something that we all did then eventually there would not be a human race.

So, I guess that my point is, having babies and becoming mothers is something women do that is a service to society as much as it is a personal choice for our own pleasure and fulfilment. It is something that makes our lives irrevocably different from the lives of men, even from the men who have become parents with us. The world of paid work comes with more respect, monetary gain, appraisals, promotions, intellectual stimulation and a bit of a free pass to less housework, more sleep and more ‘me time’ even if that ‘me time’ is just being able to do a poo without anyone trying to get onto your lap or getting to eat your lunch without having to simultaneously feed it to someone else.

It is almost six years since I left the world of full time work to become a mother. I still work but on a part time basis and like the many women that have gone before me, I no longer do the same job as before I had children. It didn’t work with the kids. I have found other, less skilled and less paid work to fit around my life as a mum.

I do not earn the same as my husband anymore.

Not by a long shot.

I still have choices but I feel like I am navigating a different landscape to my husband.

I don’t know if we are really equal anymore.

We may be to each other, we may even be when it comes to the division of labour in the home (outside of work hours) but our actual lives; what they feel like and the choices we are each faced with, no, they are not the same.

Our lives were the same once, we were the same once, but now?

We are different now.

When I write stuff there is sometimes a toddler on my shoulder.

 

Nobody saw you

Nobody saw you,
nobody at all

at 3am when
they woke again.

Nobody saw you
picking up the peas,
wiping up the beans,
emptying the laundry basket,
taking out the bins

again
and again.

Nobody saw the crust of toast
that fell out of your bra when you got undressed at night,
such a glamorous life

being mum

wiping noses
washing faces
trying to stay calm.

(for fuckssake)

Nobody saw you
when you were so bored of playing princess ninja pirate turtles
but you said, ‘ok,
just five more minutes,
just one more time,
just one more go,
just one more round’

and then said it again ten minutes later.

Nobody saw you
holding the toddler who wouldn’t be put down
but also wouldn’t go in the buggy
but also wanted to walk but only in the opposite direction
and ‘oh look!
a stick/discarded lolly/dog poo/pebble/cigarette butt/the sky!’

Nobody saw you holding the sick bucket in the night
or on the way back from school
nobody saw you holding a jacket,
a rucksack, a book bag, a sunhat,
a scooter, the baby, a half-eaten apple
and an art project made out of three cereal boxes taped together
and covered in glitter glue,

holding soft little hands at bed time,
holding angry little bodies still kicking and shouting,

holding it together,
holding on,

holding a hungry little head
to a boob as hard as concrete
in those early days
of chaos.

Nobody saw you winding the bobbin up
and winding it back again
and pointing to the ceiling
and pointing to the floor
and pointing to the window
and pointing to the door.

Nobody saw you when it was raining again
and the kids were sick
and you didn’t leave the house for three days.

Nobody saw that.

Nobody saw how many times you watched ‘The Gruffalo,’
on the third day,
how many times you read about what happened to igglepiggle’s blanket
or the one about the inappropriate pets
sent by the zoo.

Nobody saw you in the car
when you dropped the baby off for the first time
when you promised yourself you wouldn’t
but you cried all the way home
all the same.

Nobody saw when you were empty
but you gave something
but you made something
but you thought of a game
but you said sorry to a little face
for being cross, for snapping again.

I haven’t seen you for a while
we haven’t chatted for too long
but I when I see those lovely pictures of your kids
you post sometimes

I feel like I am seeing you,

the mum behind the kids
behind the babies
and the bumps
and the toddlers smiling into the camera

I see the wipes and the nappies and the games and the songs
I see the snot and the poo and the tantrums and the kisses
I see you putting little arms
into little cardigans
and brushing tiny teeth.

(whilst being kicked in the face)

Nobody sees all of the things that you do
all of the ways that you manage
and with questions like,
‘So when are you going back to work?’
You can end up feeling like one of the hardest jobs
you have or will ever have done
is simply reduced to dossing around at home.

Nobody sees you sometimes
but you are building something
that will never be torn down
a love that cannot be removed

and sometimes it is boring
and sometimes it is the worst
and sometimes you have never been happier

Nobody saw how much you gave
every day
every night
every 5am
every 5pm
every moment.

Have I ever told you
that I think
you are such a wonderful Mum?

Let’s get pissed together soon ok?


I kind of wrote this for a friend but I hope it means something for you too.

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Stuff I found in my bag full of crap.

IMG_0658Recently I have started to feel a little disturbed by the amount of crap which is accumulating in my handbag. It’s kind of an embarrassing secret. I feel like other women probably have neatly organised handbags which smell like lipstick and lavender or something and contain things like freshly laundered handkerchiefs and mints and a slim leather bound diary full of important appointments and lunch dates with other laughing women who like to eat salad without any dressing on. Continue reading

50 Reasons My Kids Hate Me Today

50 reasons

1., I did not want to immediately get out of bed when four-year-old wondered into bedroom at 5am, put her face 1cm away from mine and whispered,

‘I need you to help me. I need to be batgirl’

2., I did not have an appropriately warm bottle of milk ready for the toddler, the very moment he woke up.

3., I made them wear clothes.

4., I didn’t enjoy it when they put their fingers in my mouth/up my nose/into my ear etc.

5., The apples weren’t green enough.

bright sky

6., The sky was too bright.

7., I couldn’t reach the bouncy ball which rolled under the sofa.

8., I turned off the telly.

9., I forgot to prepare lunch for stuffed animal.

10., I turned on the telly but it was not their favourite programme.

11., I would not let them draw on the wall.

12., I brushed their teeth.

13., I brushed their hair.

14., I forgot to brush teeth and hair of current favourite stuffed animal.

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15., I served a substandard lunch which did not include peanut butter or ketchup squirted onto the plate in the shape of a smiley face.

16., I am not either one of their grandmas.

17., I am not Mr Tumble.

18., I do not have a spotty bag.

19., I am not any of the cbeebies presenters.

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20., The swings at the park are too wet. The metal bits are too cold. The metal bits are too wet and too cold.

21., I did not let them eat the shiny berries out of the hedge.

22., I did not let them walk in the road.

23., I do not have any capri-suns.

24., I did not buy the right crisps.

25., I didn’t want to wipe their bum/they didn’t want me to wipe their bum (depending on age of child i.e. child who still needs bum wiping, desperately does not want bum wiping, child who totally doesn’t need bum wiping too lazy to wipe own bum).

26., We ran out of chocolate spread.

27., Through parental negligence (I was washing up) I allowed something terrible to happen; toddler nudged the four-year-old who was in the middle of complicated hama bead design.

28., I am not a power ranger.

29., I would not let the toddler eat any of the lego.

30., I would not let the toddler eat any of the coins from inside my purse.

31., I would not let the toddler eat any of the stones from the garden.

bread

32., In the park, I would not let the toddler eat the bread on the ground for the birds.

33., The kite we bought wouldn’t fly.

34., Their crisps blew away.

35., My suggestion to make new kite entirely out of crisps was not funny. Not at all.

36., The swings do not go high enough.

37., The slide is too fast.

38., I made them get into a car, including putting them in their car seats.

39., I put vegetables on their plates.

40., We have no apple juice.

41., We have no balloons.

42., No, it is not your birthday tomorrow.

43., No, it is not your birthday at the weekend.

44., It will not be your birthday for a whole month yet.

45., I made them brush their teeth again.

46., I put them in the bath.

IMG_0362

47., The towels were not warm enough.

48., There were not enough stories.

49., Seriously, can you just please, please, just go to sleep now?

50., There are never, ever enough cuddles.

 

 

 

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Keep On Rising; an alternative Mothers’ Day message.

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Dear Mothers,

Today it is Mother’s Day and you will hopefully receive some kind of treat from your lovely children and if you’re lucky you may even get an extra hour in bed or maybe a nice lunch out somewhere. I hope you have a lovely day and that you get chance for a little break, maybe with some chocolates involved somewhere along the way.

I would like to send you a little Mother’s Day message too. Not from your children. Not from your partner if you have one but just from one mother to another.

I am a mother too. My kids are 1 and 4. I also have a mother of my own and when I bought her card the other day, I looked at all the Mother’s Day cards covered in pretty pictures of flowers and kittens and fluffy bunnies and thought that the images on these cards associated with motherhood are really as far away from any images I would associate with my personal experience of being a mother as you could possibly get. Here are some alternative images for mother’s day cards.

1., A picture of the head of a tiny human coming out of a vagina.

When I gave birth to my daughter I can remember shouting, ‘IT’S BURNING! IT’S BURNING,’ as she was actually coming out of my vagina. I think the burning sensation was the feeling of the flesh of my vagina kind of tearing open.

I mean shit, you gave birth!

Well fucking done!

And if you actually had a c-section then well, that is equally horrifying and even harder to recover from so extra well fucking done!

2., A picture of a very sleep deprived woman in a dressing gown with her boobs or a bottle in a baby’s mouth.

I dunno, maybe an image of a typical motherly moment would be more appropriate than a crowning vagina? How about a new mum in a dressing gown in the lounge at 4am? Perhaps with a bottle or a boob in the mouth of a tiny baby while the mum half watches old episodes of ‘Lost’ on Netflix and half reads an article on new-born baby poo on her phone. That’s something I can totally relate to.

3., A picture of a crowbar.

This is more of a symbolic one really as I feel that motherhood is something which has forced me wide open. Not physically this time, but in the way that I feel I have no choice now about being open and honest with those around me in sharing how I am feeling or when I need support. Motherhood has forced me to rely on the help of my partner and my friends and family for support in ways I would never have wanted to of my own free will. A crowbar seems appropriate then as a symbol for the new openness I have with those around me. I admit that bringing up children is something I can’t do alone. I’m not sure we were ever supposed to really.

4., A picture of a Mum sleeping with a child’s feet in her face.

None of the cards had pictures of children or babies or toddlers on them either. Just an image of a mother cuddling her baby would have been better than a picture of a jug of carnations or a kitten wearing a glittery bow. My children spend so much of their time attached to me in some way, even when they are asleep some nights. A great mother’s day card image would have been a mum in bed with two little sleep-suited feet poking into her neck, that’s an image of motherhood which is very familiar to me. Too familiar actually.

Look, my point is that none of these cards connected with me as a mother. None of them captured, even a tiny bit, any of the love and pain and joy and worry and boredom and transformation that I have experienced as a mother.

I wrote a blog post a little while ago about a time when, as a new mother, I burst into tears outside my local supermarket (as you do), and afterwards my friend sent me a few lines from this book she had read which she felt my story had reminded her of. I’d like to share them with you now as I believe these are some of the best words I have ever read about being a Mum;

‘the most generous and vital people are those who have been broken open by change, loss or adversity.’

‘If you would like to be broken open – if you want to pursue a Phoenix Process of the highest order – I would recommend raising children.’

 

from Elizabeth Lesser’s, ‘Broken Open’

So, I’d like to share an alternative Mother’s day message with you and suggest a decent alternative image too, something very different to the pictures of flowers and ducklings and kittens wearing jumpers. Forget the pastel typography and the water-colour roses. How about instead, the burning image of a phoenix rising from the flames and the dark and the ashes?

I love this image of the phoenix as a symbol of motherhood. If you haven’t heard of a phoenix before, it is a mythical, magical bird which lives a cyclical life as it regularly dies and burns and is reborn from the ashes. For me this is a perfect symbol of what motherhood feels like to me; a kind of painful but magical dying and rebirthing. It is a weird mix of strengthening and softening and often when I have felt myself kind of breaking I have really only been growing and not in some independent and self-sufficient kind of way but in a more of a human being type way, more of a making real and honest connections with others and openly admitting to my shortcomings type of way.

I have reached breaking point on some days as a mother and then I have gone to bed and been kept up for more than half the night after that breaking point. I have laid in bed and cried at five o’clock in the morning about it all starting over again. After those nights, isn’t it just amazing that you have gotten out of bed the next day and just kept on going?

That we just keep on rising?

Being a Mum is much more messy and painful than I ever imagined it would be and yet I have never, ever, in my whole life felt more love.

Isn’t it just totally fucked up?

Happy Mother’s Day!

You wonderful and powerful thing.

Keep on rising.

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