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Returning to student life…

It’s tough. It really, really is.

I expected it. I knew it’d be hard – we both did. We left uni last April as full-time students. We return as student parents. Who would’ve thought that one word could make such a difference? Sitting in lectures today listening to all the work we’ll have to do, and of course I’m excited – I love the sound of the assignments we have to complete, and it’s my last year! It’s an exciting time! – but I’m also well aware that it’s going to be a challenge. It won’t be easy to complete a dissertation, two big performances and a load of practical and written assignments over the next year, as well as trying to figure out what I want to do with my life, but I’m determined.

I realised something when I got back to uni yesterday and saw my friends. When I go into class, I want to be the student me. Of course I don’t want to forget about my little girl (and I couldn’t possibly; I wear a necklace with her initial on it and her picture is all over my phone), but I want to be able to focus on my work. It’s a little tough at the moment, because not being with her all day is so new to me, but I think I’ll be kept so busy, it’ll become second nature. I also don’t want to be treated differently because of being a mum. I’m still just as capable of everything as I was before, and I don’t want people to feel they have to pick up the slack, which is why I’ll use the time she’s in childcare wisely.

Ah, childcare. The most controversial part of returning to uni so soon after having a baby. Here’s a tip; if you meet someone who is putting their baby in childcare at a young age (or at any age), the only polite and correct answer is ‘You have to do what works for you’. Some examples of wrong answers include ‘I could never do that’, ‘Aren’t you going to miss all her milestones?’ and ‘I think that’s very selfish’. Putting my baby into nursery at a young age has taught me one thing; people can be very mean.

On the other hand, people can be very supportive. My uni lecturers are very supportive, and I don’t know what I’d do without my friends. They’re keeping me going during lectures when I’m struggling, distracting me and keeping me so busy I don’t have time to be sad. And I can’t forget D, who’s going through all this too, but with the added pressure of trying to stay strong in order to support me.

It’s going to be tough, but I’m going to try and face it like a ‘normal’ student. And I make this vow right here, right now – this time next year, I’ll be looking forwards to graduating with the rest of my class; the class I started university with. I’m going to make my daughter proud of me.

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Yet more things they didn’t warn me about life after pregnancy…

Sometimes I wish they made a post-pregnancy Emma’s Diary. Partly so that we can see how Emma’s perfect life has changed, transforming her from this beacon of pregnancy idylls to a leaking crying mess dealing with her screaming baby and absent husband (he didn’t seem very supportive in the magazine), but also to give us an idea of what we’re supposed to expect from our bodies, minds and lives once pregnancy is all over. Let’s face it, we don’t have a midwife to help us anymore. We’ve been shoved out of the postnatal ward and into the harsh, lonely world of childrearing. Our only guide along the way is an occasional visit to a health visitor, who plonks the baby on the scales, tells you off because they don’t weigh enough/weigh too much/their weight is too perfect, asks you what your plans are for feeding/weaning/sleeping, then tells you off because your plans are wrong, and sends you on your way again with confidence in tatters.

So if you find yourself lost in the wilderness of the early days of parenting, here’s a few more of my ‘What I wish they’d told me about life after pregnancy’ facts.

  1. Baby brain isn’t limited to pregnancy. You’ll find yourself making stupid mistakes and forgetting just about everything. If someone asks you your baby’s age, you’ll stare blankly at them for a bit before you can remember how long ago you popped them out.
  2. You’ll be lost without the routine of midwife appointments. Those appointments weren’t just my method of keeping track of how pregnant I was, they were my way of keeping track of the days, full stop. 
  3. You can be prone to smugness when your baby sleeps through the night at eleven weeks, only to eat humble pie when the four month sleep regression hits and your baby has forgotten how to nap. 
  4. Being away from your baby for even a short amount of time can cause an existential crisis. This is evidenced by the fact that after dropping SB off at the nursery for an hour-long settling in session today, within twenty minutes I was complaining that I didn’t feel like I was a parent any more. 
  5. Your ex-bump may feel doughy and empty and gross for a few days after birth. Side effects of this include an uncontrollable urge to punch anyone who claims they ‘just snapped back’ in the face. 
  6. Everyone knows how to parent your child. Except you. You’re just… y’know, the kid’s parents. If you have the audacity to suggest that you know what you’re doing, be prepared for everyone within a 20-mile radius to go into a fit of hysterics and call social services. 
  7. You will get bored of explaining that your ‘handsome son’ is a girl, or your ‘beautiful daughter’ is a boy. No, dressing them exclusively in blue dungarees or pink dresses will not help. We should see it as progress, really, that people can see a baby in a pink pinafore dress and tights and think it’s a boy. It’s great… until it’s your baby.

    Obviously male.

  8. Just when you think you’ve figured out those post-birth periods… er, nope, sorry. 

It’s about time Bounty make themselves useful. Forget a thimble of Sudocrem and a tonne of leaflets about savings accounts and newborn photographs, we need an honest post-pregnancy guide. Like, ‘hello, this is what your life is from now on, good luck have fun’. I don’t even care if it’s on the same level of undeserved smugness as good old Emma’s Diary – these are the things that new mums need to know!

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Things I thought I knew about babies… until I had one.

One thing that will become very apparent when you have a baby is that everyone knows what’s best for your baby except you. So while you’re struggling with feeding your three-month-old, someone in the supermarket will tell you they need baby rice, or a bit of Rusk crumbling into their bottle (handy hint: they really don’t need that). When you’re dealing with the Four Month Sleep Regression, an old lady you see in the street will tell you that it’s a definite sign that you should start weaning your baby (handy hint: it isn’t). When you’re still feeding them milk at five months (be that from a bottle or your breast), every man and his dog will be advising you to start spooning baby rice into their mouths (handy hint: guidelines recommend starting at six months, and WHAT THE HELL IS THIS OBSESSION PEOPLE HAVE WITH MY BABY EATING SOLIDS?!)

Until I had one of my own, I was one of those baby experts. When I got pregnant, I had my plans set in stone. I’d do this, this, this and this, and I certainly wouldn’t do that.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

THINGS I KNEW ABOUT BABIES… UNTIL I HAD ONE

  1. Babies just sleep all the time until, like, six months. If that’s true, would someone like to explain to me why this blog is taking forever to write, because my five month old plays with toys for all of ten seconds before getting bored and squealing at me until I replace it?
  2. Babies are gross. Yeah, they poo and pee all the time, and they are throw-up monsters, but it’s not that gross. (That only applies to your own child.  I’m not prepared for anyone else’s child to throw up, poo or pee on me… but, seeing as I’m hoping to be a teacher, it’s only going to be a matter of time). I didn’t think I’d be very good at dealing with the icky bits… I now consider myself a nappy expert, and who needs muslin cloths and bibs when you have a perfectly good sleeve for mopping up sick?
  3. Motherhood is beautiful, relaxing and blissful. All those adverts with these stunning women with perfect flowing curls, gently nursing their downy-haired baby in a lovely white nursing chair, while tinkly lullabies play and birds sing and everything generally looks like heaven? Yeah, it’s all bollocks. And also, that isn’t the only way to be a happy mum. I’m quite happy covering my hair in dry shampoo, trying to force it together to tie it back, sitting on the sofa in my PJs with my squiggly squirmy baby, trying to get a bottle in her mouth while listening to Bon Jovi and watching stupid American sitcoms on TV. Oh, and did I mention the baby squeals? Yeah, she does that a lot.
  4. I don’t understand why people let their babies cry in public. All you have to do is shove a dummy in its mouth. Oh how naive I was. That totally works… until you have a baby that won’t take a dummy, or will take a dummy but would rather scream to let everyone know she’s unhappy. Please, non-parents, before you glare at us in supermarkets for not ‘shutting our baby up’, trust us when we say that we like hearing her cry way, way less than you do. If we could do something about it, we would.
  5. I don’t understand why people say that babies cost so much money. All they need is love. And food. And a crib. And clothes. And toiletries. And a changing mat. And a swing. And a bouncy chair. And toys. And ridiculous expensive items that you’ll never use. Oh and nappies. A whole lot of nappies.
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Party Planning and zoo trips!

So it’s only taken us all of five months (seriously, how is SB nearly 5 months old?! I’m sure I was heavily pregnant and complaining a couple of weeks ago), but we’ve finally booked SB’s naming ceremony!

As you’ll probably remember, we were having a big moral dilemna a few months ago about whether to have SB christened or not. We aren’t particularly religious, but some of D’s family is, so we weren’t sure whether we should go with tradition – we were both Christened as babies – or to go for a naming ceremony instead. 

In the end, we realised that having a Christening wasn’t going to work for any of us – we couldn’t make promises to raise SB Christian, we couldn’t ask the godparents to make promises to a God we aren’t even sure they believe in, and we couldn’t in all good faith (no pun intended) ask everyone to come and see SB Christened, when it really wasn’t what we wanted. Instead, we decided to organise a naming ceremony. 

Some ceremonies are really official, with a celebrant and everything, but in all honesty that’s just way too much faff for us, with uni starting again. We just want a party, with a little bit of ceremony in welcoming her to the world and thanking her godparents. Oh, and cake. You can’t have a party without cake. 

I’ve never organised a party before. I had a party for my sixteenth birthday party, but my parents did the majority of the organising. This is just me and D, trying to navigate the minefield of party planning. No-one warned me that it was so hard! Is this what I’ve got to look forwards to for the next eighteen years of birthday parties? So far we’ve had – 

  • Guest list woes. We have space for one hundred people. We want to invite more than a hundred people. Of the hundred we’re inviting, there’s no guarantee they’ll turn up. And don’t even get me started on the minefield of inviting some family members but not others… 
  • The venue. One function room wanted £95 an hour for a party; and that was one of the cheaper ones we found! In the end we’ve booked a village hall, £30 for a two hour party with time to set up before and clean up afterwards. 
  • Food. Inviting one hundred people is one thing. Catering for a hundred people is something altogether different – not to mention the fact that many won’t turn up, so we’ll be eating leftover cheese sandwiches, cheese and pineapple sticks and sausage rolls for weeks afterwards (I’m not too upset about this, but my bathroom scales are). 
  • Decorating. It isn’t a party without balloons. I’ve found some really lovely pink balloons, and we may even get some helium to make it look really pretty. Problem is, I’m scared shitless of balloons. 
  • The ceremony itself. For a couple who met through a theatre group, where we both played main characters in pantomime – a type of theatre with a high level of audience participation – neither of us are big on public speaking. Trying to work out what we’re actually going to say is surprisingly difficult – again, you’d never expect two writers to be lost for words, but we are. 

We have a month and a half to go until her party and with no invitations sent out, no real finalised guest list, no decorations and no actual ceremony, you might be fooled into thinking we’re getting nervous. Actually we’re pretty chilled about it. Like I said – I can live with eating hundreds of leftover jam sandwiches until Christmas. 

 

In other news, we took SB on our first day out as a family of three yesterday! We went to the Welsh Mountain Zoo in Colwyn Bay, which I can highly recommend, and SB had a whale of a time (even if no actual whales were seen). She giggled at sea lions and was very interested in the red pandas (so much so that D ended up buying her a cuddly one!). Some tips for days out with babies that I’d suggest include – 

  • Invest in a baby carrier. Pushchairs are great, but they can get in the way, and in some places, you have to leave them – we couldn’t take ours on the lemur walk, and struggled to get it through the reptile house. We were very glad to have our baby carrier with us, so we could just pop SB into the carrier and leave the pushchair at the car, or use it to carry bags. 
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for hot water. D went to the cafe and they filled our thermos flask with boiling water, so we could make up her later bottles safely. On this note, invest in thermos flasks and bottle thermos jackets (we have Tommee Tippee ones). 
  • Remember to still enjoy yourself. It’s easy to get so wrapped up in trying to make sure your little one enjoys themselves, that you forget that really they’re too young to take it all in, so while they’re happily babbling away in their carrier or pushchair, enjoy yourselves! 

SB meets some sea lions (and isn't impressed)

SB meets some sea lions (and isn’t impressed)

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Loves being carried!

Meeting the tigers

Meeting the tigers

Smiles!

Smiles!

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Getting up close to some sea lions

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What a difference a year makes…

On September 2nd 2013, I was looking forwards to spending the week at my boyfriend’s house. His parents had gone away, we had the place to ourselves, and we were looking forwards to a ‘practice run’ of living together – we had two weeks until we were due to start living together in a student house, as I began my second year of university, and he began his first. 

Little did I know, when I woke up that morning, that by the evening my entire world would have flipped upside down. Everything I thought I knew would change; all my plans would need plan Bs and Cs and backups and substitutes. By the end of the day I wasn’t sure what I was going to do about university; whether I was even going to go back. My hopes of graduating alongside my friends certainly seemed to have vanished. 

I didn’t know what the future held for D and I. Could we stick together through something like this? And what exactly did ‘something like this’ entail? Was I ready to be a mum at 19 years old? Could I see the pregnancy through and relinquish my baby for adoption? Could I go through with an abortion? Each decision would hold massive, life-long implications. 

I was a slightly awkward theatre student, with no real direction in life, my main hobbies were watching films and reading books, and I had no inclination to change my life. I was selfish and drifting through life, still feeling like a girl. 

And when I woke up on the morning of September 2nd, 2013, I had no idea what was ahead. I never even dreamed that one small plus sign on a white plastic stick could change the world as I knew it.  

 

Fast forward twelve months, to September 2nd 2014, and I wake up every morning to see my daughter; this beautiful, incredible human being that I carried. I look at the growing pile of dissertation work, a reminder of the fact that I went ahead with my second year, I completed it, I passed with a 2:1 and now I’m going straight into my third year, still on track to graduate with my friends. 

I see my daughter changing every day, rolling and laughing and smiling, even trying to copy the baby signs we’re teaching her, getting ready to try solids, about to go to nursery, and I remember the uncertainty of that first day of knowing. I can’t say with any degree of certainty whether either of the other two options would’ve been worse or better, and it’s certainly not for me to judge what others should do, but personally, I wouldn’t change a thing. 

I look at D, the man who will one day be my husband, and I see a strong, loving father. I see it in his eyes when he cuddles her, I see it in his smile when she laughs at the faces he pulls; he was made to be a father. I look at myself and see someone who has slipped into parenting; there’s been speed bumps along the way, but there always are. I see someone who is passionate about many things, someone who has a purpose – I will make my daughter proud; I will be a role model; I will be the mother she deserves and aspires to be like. I look at myself and I see a woman.

What a difference a year makes.  

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10 things that being a young parent has taught me…

  1. People will judge. People won’t be afraid to voice their opinions. All you can do is grit your teeth and remember that those who shout the loudest, know the least. Or, if their opinions are really offensive/it’s really getting you down/you’re feeling up to fighting injustice, take them down! Call them out on their opinions! Quite often these people are only so outspoken in their prejudice because they don’t think anyone will do anything about it. Challenging their opinions may seem difficult, but in most cases, it’ll show people that just because people don’t say anything to them, it doesn’t mean they agree!
  2. Parenting is harder than I ever expected. I think there was a good deal of teenage naivete going on with me, because I always wondered what these parents were on about on Facebook. How hard can it be, popping out a baby and looking after it? So be prepared for all your preconceptions and previously held beliefs to be challenged and changed, and just go with it. It isn’t a bad thing. 
  3. You will go through a rapid ‘growing up’ process. I thought that maybe the moment they placed the baby in my arms, I’d think ‘Oh gosh, I’m an adult now’. It didn’t happen like that for me – they put her in my arms, and I felt like this was just the halfway house. From the second I found out I was pregnant, that growing up process began. Taking responsibility for myself, booking appointments, listening to my body and trusting my instincts, making my decisions based not only on me, but the wellbeing of someone else who was wholly dependent on me, was all part of that process. The process didn’t end once I’d given birth – it continues now, as I learn to adapt to being the mother rather than the child. 
  4. If your parents were supportive during your childhood, you’ll start to see exactly how much they’ve done for you. In four short months I’ve realised that everything we’ve had to do – the sleepless nights watching her to make sure she was still breathing; holding her while she has her jabs, walking around with her for hours while she screams – is exactly what my parents had to do with me. Parenthood is immensely rewarding, but immensely difficult. 
  5. You’re not as immature as you thought. Before having a baby, the thought of changing nappies and cleaning up sick seems like the most disgusting thing ever. I definitely felt that way. Then SB was born and suddenly it was like… oh yeah, that’s just part of having a baby. I don’t know if it’s because pregnancy and giving birth are both messy businesses, so you become desensitized to it, or if it’s just the realization that ok, we are the ones who have to do this now, so we may as well get on with it – but nothing’s been as bad as I feared. Even today as I cleaned SB up after a poonami of epic proportions, it’s all over her clothes, her bouncy seat, the mat, her feet, and although I needed a little moral support from D, I dealt with it! (Also, it’s hard to be grossed out, when you compare everything to your daughter sticking her foot in her own shit and then popping that little foot straight into her mouth before you can stop her). 
  6. Your writing skills will improve. I struggle to write a 2,000 word essay on British theatre since 1945. If you were to ask me to write a 5,000 word essay on what I see when I look into SB’s eyes, it’d be done by tomorrow morning. 
  7. You learn to distinguish between well-meaning but useless advice, and advice that is harsh but correct. ‘Sleep when the baby sleeps’ is bollocks; your time when your baby is sleeping will be divided between staring at your baby, monitoring their breaths and panicking if the baby is breathing deeply/loudly/quietly, and doing all the chores that you chose not to do when pregnant and nesting, and now you’re thinking maybe you should sort out those dishes now that something appears to be living on them. Harsh but good advice is ‘Tell everyone else to take a running jump’. It doesn’t matter if they’re baby’s distant aunt’s hairdresser’s cousin twice removed or a grandparent; unless they’re going to sort out their own cup of tea, not expect entertainment and hold the baby while you pee/shower/sleep/get rid of living organisms in your pots and pans, you shouldn’t feel obliged to have them in your house. Implementing hospital-style visiting hours would work well for particularly persistent visitors. 
  8. Goodbye, careless youth! Suddenly, there is danger everywhere, even when there isn’t. Crossing the road is an ordeal. Watching someone else hold your baby is like seeing someone dangle them out of a third-storey window. And just reading that gave you palpitations (nearly as bad as writing it did!). There’s no such thing as ‘What harm can it do?’ – that is replaced by ‘Hell no, think how much harm that could do!’. 
  9. For the first time, someone else has to come first – your tiny human, who can’t fend for themselves. And although sometimes you just want to sit down with a drink and some crap TV without distractions, but you can’t because the baby is screaming, you don’t really mind deep down. 
  10. Lots of people will offer advice and opinions. You are better than their prejudices and stereotypes. They’ll tell you all about the other teenage parents they know, but they don’t know you as a parent yet. It’s easy to write everyone off based on the stereotype and statistics you see in the media, or the bad example you’ve heard about from your cousin’s wife’s hairdresser’s maiden aunt’s grandmother’s postman, but it’s important to remember that you are more than an idea or an opinion; you’re your own person. Becoming a young parent will give other people more perceived reason to have a go at you, but it will also give you a thicker skin, and the knowledge that you are braver, stronger, smarter and better than people expect – and more than you think, too. There’s only one thing that feels better than proving prejudiced people wrong – and that’s holding your baby in your arms. 
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Things they don’t warn you about motherhood..

So this can link to the ‘things they don’t tell you about pregnancy’ series that I did throughout my pregnancy on here, but it contains a mixture of facts – things they don’t tell you about parenthood, things they don’t tell you about babies and things they don’t tell you about your post-partum body, to name a couple. 

 

  1. No matter what choice you make, it will never be good enough. You will always encounter the ‘perfect parent’, who insists that whatever you’re doing is wrong. If you bottle-feed, you should be breastfeeding. If you breastfeed in public, you’re exposing precious littlies to nasty boobs. If you change a nappy in a baby change room, you’re taking up a toilet that a disabled person might need. If you change it outside of the baby change room, you’re disgusting and exposing precious littlies to baby bum. These people are best avoided at all costs. Parenthood is one big competition to them – but it’s ll going to come back and bite them on the arse one day. 
  2. Moulting isn’t just for dogs. You know all that lovely, lustrous extra hair you gained during pregnancy, thanks to your lovely hormones? Well, these ‘lovely’ hormones are now turning into vindictive bitches with hair clippers, and stripping you – not just of your hard-earned pregnancy hair, but also much more of your hair. You will look at your hairbrush in the morning, or the tub after a shower, and wonder how on earth you’ve got any hair left. 
  3. Periods returning will make you long for the pregnancy days. So you’ve just shifted the post-partum bleeding, and within two weeks, periods have returned. Followed by another, two weeks later. That one will last a week. Then have 5 days grace, and then BAM. 18 day period. I don’t understand cycles and ovulation at the best of times (which may be why I have a pregnancy&parenting blog), but I don’t think this is normal by any stretch of the imagination. Take me back to swollen ankles and morning sickness!…. not really. 
  4. You don’t cry at everything because of hormones anymore. You cry because you have a baby and the world is so beautiful. Or because it’s so sad. Or because you don’t really know why, but it’s happening. You cry at everything still. 
  5. You should read up on leaps before you have the baby. In fact, read up on them before you conceive. Mark them down in your calendar. Book yourself into a nuclear bunker for these leaps. You can read more about them on the Wonder Weeks website, in the book, and the app. They are stages in baby development where your lovely, happy, smiling angel grows a pair of horns and shrieks to high holy hell, summoning up Satan and all his demons to wreak havoc upon you for being even slightly delayed in nappy changing. She wants to be held…. but she doesn’t. Makes sense, eh? 
  6. You don’t need to have gone to NCT/childbirth classes to have a happy baby. Ditto for a succesful birth. You don’t need to pay through the nose to have an oatmeal-weaving, lentil-wearing hippie breathe at you for an hour, to have a happy birth. And your baby will be just fine. That said, if you want to make friends with other parents, or you think that feeling prepared will make you feel more relaxed, go for it – I’ve heard a lot of people say how useful it is. 
  7. People tell you off for saying your baby’s age in weeks. Those people need to have a word with my Health Visitor. When I no longer have to go through the calendar, trying to count the Thursdays to figure out how old SB is in weeks (months just isn’t going to cut the cheese), I’ll stop referring to her in weeks. And as much as I’d love it to be that simple, sixteen weeks isn’t four months. 
  8. Brush up on your people skills. Because everyone is going to stop you in the street, in cafes, in the supermarket, in the doctors waiting room and just about anywhere else you can think, to ask a number of questions. The basic ’20 questions’-style interrogation will inevitably include ‘What a lovely little boy’ (whilst admiring your pink-clad newborn) or ‘What a beautiful little girl’ (completely ignoring the t-shirt that says ‘Daddy’s Boy’); ‘How old are they?’ (answer in weeks for extra pissed-off points); ‘They grow up so quickly’ (never heard that one before); ‘Are they well behaved?’ (no she’s a little shit) and so on. If you’re over 31, they’ll ask how you like being a grandmother. If you’re under 29, they’ll say what a good big sister you are. Humour them.