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.

 

We carry on

A few days ago, after the school run, I went round to my mums house for a cup of coffee. I wanted to use her washing machine because ours had broken and we had also planned to go out shopping together because I needed to buy some warmer clothes for my toddler.

When I got there she told me about a dream she’d had the night before.

She dreamt that for some reason we all had to evacuate our homes and never come back. She dreamt that she was looking after the kids and was trying to get them to each put their things into rucksacks. She was stuffing her own clothes and bits and bobs into an old suitcase and telling them to pack their things and they wouldn’t listen to her and were just playing with their toys and generally just acting like little kids.

‘Just go and get all of your pants,’ she was saying to them. ‘Just go and get all of your pants and socks and put them into a bag.’

In her dream she knew that we had to leave and we would never be coming back. We were all being evacuated. She desperately shoved stuff into bags, knowing that our transport would come and go and that it would be our only chance to get away.

She told me about this a few days ago now. We were sitting in her quiet lounge drinking coffee. Outside the street was still apart from the odd car now and then, and on all the trees lining the road, the leaves were silently and ever so slowly turning brown. The sky was a dirty grey and the air had been getting colder and colder over the last few weeks. I thought about how I really needed to get some long sleeved t-shirts for my toddler and we started to discuss whether we should go to Marks and Spencers or to Sainsbury’s.

We talked about how it was worth paying a bit more for some bits that would wash well.

I thought about his chubby little arms in his short sleeves and how I didn’t want them to get cold.

‘The thing is,’ I said to my Mum

in the quiet lounge

while my son played with a train set in the corner

‘The thing is,’

and outside the trees flicked their branches around in the wind and more leaves blew off into the sky

‘Don’t you just feel like here we are, living our lives just like normal, but then there’s just this sea of people, there’s just thousands and thousands of people who are just suffering and dying

and

and

like when I am on facebook or something and I just see these pictures of toddlers

who are just white with dust

who are just lying in the dust

of another blown up building

Where will they go?

What will happen to them?

What will happen to all of these people who have had to leave everything?

All these people who are living in tents in the cold and the mud.’

And we talked about it for a minute and we both said how awful it must be and how good it is that finally, FINALLY at least the children are starting to come, even though it is not enough and it is far too late for some.

We talked about how we see these stories on the television and on social media and we want to do something. We talked about how we just carry on living our peaceful lives, but just a few miles away, thousands of people live in a chaos of tents and cold and hunger and how there are children there, children with nothing and with no one to look after them.

We talked for a moment about how we would like to do more and about what we could do.

After a few minutes we stopped talking about the refugee crisis and started talked about where we should go to buy long sleeved T-Shirts again. We drove up the M2 to the shopping centre. I tried some stuff on but it didn’t fit me very well and my mum tried a coat on but decided not to buy it. When I had picked out some bits for my son and two T-shirts for me we went to the café and had lunch. I had a BLT and my son had the chicken nuggets kids meal.

We just carried on with our lives.

Carried on with the school runs and dinner making and work and watching telly.

Carried on with reading stuff on twitter and Facebook.

Carried on watching gogglebox.

Me and my husband carried on with our late night conversations about what day we should order the food shopping and what washing machine we should buy.

On the weekend I took my five-year-old to a birthday party. It was a great party and an animal man had brought some owls and birds of prey to show the children. He did a little talk about the birds and got them to do some flying demonstrations. As part of the demonstrations he laid a sheet down on the floor and got all the kids to lie down and had an owl fly over them. They loved it and they all lay on the floor in a line giggling next to each other.
We just carry on with our lives.

I watch the news and I google stuff I don’t understand and try to read about how things have gotten like this in Syria and in other countries where people feel so unsafe that they have no other choice but to flee. I sign petitions and click that ‘I am interested’ in going to certain demos and events, but I am too scared to take my kids along with me and also I couldn’t afford to keep going into London.

Those are my excuses anyway.

Do you remember when we all marched against the Iraq war in 2003?

It was said to be the ‘largest protest event in human history.’ I had never been part of something so momentous and big before. It was five days before my twentieth birthday. My last five days as a teenager.

I wonder how my generation would feel about politics if those demonstrations had made any difference. I wonder where we would be now.


I wrote all of these thoughts down the other day and I wasn’t going to publish them, but then last night when my kids were in bed and I was going through my photos on my phone and I saw this one photo and I just didn’t know where it had come from and I thought,

Did I screenshot something from a news article by accident?

Why would I screenshot something so horrible?

It was a picture of twenty or so children. Children the same age as my oldest. They were all laid out in a line on a sheet. They were all face up.

I looked at it a few moments more and I realised what it was. I zoomed in a bit and saw that it was my daughter and her primary school friends on the sheet, not because they had been dragged out of a bombed building, but because they were waiting for an owl to fly over their faces.

I deleted it.

I did not want to look at a picture of my daughter and her classmates all laid out on a sheet together. All in a neat little line. All those little faces that I see on playdates and birthday parties and at the school gates each morning, running around with their little bookbags flying out behind them.

And after I deleted it I decided I would publish this, despite it being a jumble of fairly ignorant thoughts on the refugee crisis.

I hoped that if you felt like me, maybe horrified and also a bit helpless as you see this endless suffering unfold in Syria and in the people who have had to leave and walk and walk and walk and risk drowning in the sea in order to find safety. That if you, like me, are thinking this week about the jungle as it is closed down and about the thousands of people who will be moved on again, then maybe we could at least give some money together.

I’ve read around a bit and found that unicef are doing some amazing work to help in Syria and to help in refugee camps throughout Europe, especially with children and families . I’m going to ask if you’ll give five pounds with me. It seems so trivial in the face of such a crisis to just give money. It feels so removed somehow but the thing is, maybe a thousand other mums will read this tonight. Maybe more if you feel like sharing this post on your social media. Maybe two thousand mums will read this tonight and if we all gave five pounds together then that’s really something, ten thousand pounds is a lot of money.

Please join in.

You could donate £5 to unicef by texting UNICEF to 70099

Alternatively you could visit their website to a donate a monthly amount to the Syria appeal here

 

Looking out from Dover to Calais on the day the Jungle was demolished
Looking out from Dover to Calais on the day the Jungle was demolished

Happiness and NOT treasuring every moment.

I think I’ve been writing this blog for about ten months now. My aim, when I started, was just to write something for fun, to write about my life as a mum. I never really expected that many people would read it. I downloaded an app onto my phone and started writing with my thumb during night feeds.

One thing I have always aimed for is honesty. I want to be honest about my thoughts and feelings on being a parent. Lately though, I’ve started to feel that I haven’t always been completely honest. There’s something which I always hold back on and it’s this; Continue reading

Being a Terrible Mother

Apparently, one parents’ evening or school open day, my mother went in to my classroom to find that the teacher had proudly displayed one of my drawings on the wall. I guess I must have been about seven at the time, something like that. The project was something along the lines of, ‘What is tea time like in your house?’ I can’t remember any of this but my mum tells me that I had drawn a picture of her lying on the sofa and me, in the kitchen making my own tea. Underneath was my little story which said, ‘when I come back from school, mummy has had a few glasses of wine so I have to make her a cup of coffee and get my own tea while she has a lie down.’

I imagine my mum was pretty horrified. Of course, this was not a real representation of what tea time was like in my house. I expect I was quite proud of being able to get my own snack after school, that’s all. I was also quite proud of being able to make teas and coffees and I don’t know where I got the ‘wines’ bit from. If she was lying on the sofa, fair enough. If she was drinking a glass of wine, fair play. She was working all hours as a midwife and was totally entitled to sit on the sofa while I got myself a snack. Poor mum though.

Oh well, at least I grew up to write all about it on the internet, eh mum?

My point is, sometimes we look like we are doing a terrible job when we are not. Sometimes we feel we are doing a terrible job when we are not.

All day today I have felt like a terrible mother. From the first few seconds of my day when I woke up to find two small children in my bed each looking at an iphone, to bed time when I lay on the bed with the baby, listening to my daughter cry in the next room, every few seconds calling out,

‘Mumma? Goodnight cuddle and kiss?’ while the baby rolled around on the bed, in his sleeping bag, merrily singing to himself and shouting out,

‘Auuuuudaaaaaar!!’ in reply to Audrey’s cries and me, alternating between singing a very slow and soft version of, ‘My bonny lies over the ocean,’ and blurting out in frustration, every few minutes or so,

‘Oh why won’t you two just go to bloody sleep? Just go to SLEEP!’

Well, they are asleep now and I feel awful that Audrey fell asleep before I went in for her goodnight kiss and cuddle and I feel bad that I got cross with both of them for not going to sleep for ages. Today has just been one of those days where I just can’t believe how incapable I am of doing anything right with my kids.

 I tried to get the baby to nap in his pushchair by taking him out for a long walk. My plan was that I’d walk him until he went to sleep and then turn back for home, leaving him in his buggy in the garden to sleep for a bit while I whizzed round the house picking up all the half eaten slices of toast from the lounge and cleaning up the mess from where the baby emptied an entire pack of wipes and then all the dvds from the cupboard onto the floor while I was making the toast, but of course, he woke up almost as soon as we got in so I had to do the tidying up and washing up whilst he crawled around trying to grab hold of my leg and crying.

I feel bad about how distressed he was every time I changed his nappy today because I had to practically pin him down with one hand and change the nappy with the other, otherwise he just flips right over and desperately tries to crawl away, despite looking as if he has just sat in a bowl of peanut butter.

I felt bad that I didn’t take him to baby gym. I felt bad that we were nearly late for school again and I had to make my daughter run nearly all the way there.

‘Why are we always late?’ she asks me.

Because you’re not cut out for this, I think to myself, you’re not cut out to be anyone’s mother.

 I try to tidy up a bit in Audrey’s room while she’s out at school but while I am hanging up her clothes, the baby finds her pin-a-shape board and empties all the wooden shapes onto the floor and the pins and the little hammer and thinks it’s the best thing ever and gets really really, lying-face-down-on-the-floor-crying upset because I clear it up and won’t let him play with it and take the little pins out of his fist in case he puts them in his mouth. I find him some baby toys instead but he just throws them over his shoulder in frustration.

‘Ok, ok, look why don’t you just have the hammer? You can play with the hammer.’

He takes the hammer from me and throws it across the room. The gesture is so angry and simultaneously flamboyant that I laugh a bit and then he laughs and then he picks something else up and throws that to see if I’ll laugh again.

I give up tidying Audrey’s room and take him downstairs for some lunch. I put the radio on while the cheese on toast is grilling. It’s just comforting to hear some other people speaking; some other grown ups. You see, I forget sometimes, now that I have two children, just how hard it is to spend an entire day in the house on your own with a baby. It’s not something I often do. I was tired so I didn’t bother taking him out anywhere. The night before I had fallen asleep, face down on the lounge floor part way through the evening. My husband, who just walked over me and went to bed, (he says he tried to wake me before he went to bed, but I don’t remember so it probably didn’t happen) tried to wake me up by sending me forty two text messages of emojis but eventually he had to get up and shake me awake and make me come up to bed at about 1am.

 I just couldn’t be bothered with baby groups or a trip into town or even to the supermarket or anything today. We did nothing and I saw no one. I hardly even got anything done around the house.

 When Audrey came back from school we attempted to make chocolate crispy cakes. I say attempted because somehow I managed to burn the chocolate, despite being an actual professional chef and what we really made was just a crunchy congealed mess.

The thing is, today I felt like a terrible mother but I wasn’t and tomorrow you might feel the same but you are not.

I tried to do stuff that didn’t work out and I found it difficult to keep the baby happy and everything felt messy and disorganised and crap. I felt unproductive and lonely and I also now feel a little bit sick from the amount of congealed chocolate crispy cake I have just consumed with my coffee. Sometimes we feel terrible but we are not. Sometimes we feel we are not cut out for this but we are. Keeping two little people happy is hard. Getting everyone washed and dressed and breakfasted and at the school gate for 8:40 is a serious crystal maze type challenge. Keeping your house free from piles of crap is impossible. Keeping on top of your laundry is incredibly boring. Spending the day in the house with a baby is something I find hard sometimes, much harder than being at work, yet I would always rather have a day with him than out at work. Striving to be a ‘good mum’, whatever that really means is all very well and good but if you can’t embrace the shitty days, the days when you are all knackered and need to just hang around the house doing nothing, then I think you could end up losing the plot.

 Not that I am losing the plot or anything.

Right, I’ve finished my coffee.

I think I’ll just lie down here on the floor for five minutes.

 

 

 

 

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