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.  

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. 

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. 

Instagram mums are NOT real life mums…

On an average day on my Instagram (when I actually remember to use it), you’ll see a fair few pictures uploaded that portray a happy, idyllic parenting lifestyle. Pictures like these – 

 

So to the untrained eye, I look like I’ve got it all figured out. Sixteen weeks in and I’ve cracked this parenting lark, no trouble. I have a happy smiley baby, who never cries, deals with everything life throws at her, and is fiercely independent. 

Except for when I don’t. 

What I don’t share pictures of is when she has her jabs. The screams that go so high, she doesn’t make a noise, she just scrunches up her face and shakes. The long, lingering sobs. The hiccups, even after she’s fallen into a sore, hot sleep. 

I don’t share pictures of her teething. Her bright red cheeks, the dribble that just pours out of her mouth, the tears, the way she clings to me for dear life once I’ve finally rubbed baby bonjela on her poor little gums. 

I don’t share pictures of her when she’s overtired. I don’t show her wriggling around in her cot, with D and I going crazy, trying desperately to coax her to sleep. I don’t show her pushing the dummy out in frustration, even though it’s what she really wants, and then crying until she gets it back again. 

I don’t show her in her sudden moments of what seems like absolute agony, when all she can do is scream and cry, and she wants to be held close, but she doesn’t, and the sling doesn’t comfort her, and neither does a snuggle, and she won’t sleep, and even her beloved toys, the toys who can always be relied on to calm her down, can’t help. 

What you see on my Instagram are snapshots of our lives as parents. You see the relaxed feeds; not the ones where she’s trying so hard to hold the bottle herself that she pushes it out of her mouth and cries from frustration. You see the fun playtimes, not the ones where we desperately try and get as much tummy time in as possible to strengthen her muscles, because she hates it. You see her at her best; her cheekiest, her snuggliest. 

In a way, that’s a good thing. The last thing SB needs when she’s feeling poorly or clingy is a camera being shoved in her face – that’s just common sense. When she needs me, she needs my full undivided attention – I can’t be picking whether to use Toaster or Brannan filters while she is screaming for me, desperately clawing at my t-shirt and hair to try and find some comfort. 

But also, am I not giving a false impression to other parents? Do people view our Instagrams as the story of our life, or just a snapshot? I do worry that if someone saw my Instagram, and saw streams and streams of pictures of the good times, it would only compound the natural loneliness when the hard times hit. 

We’re very lucky – it is rare that SB cries (but when she does, she doesn’t half go for it!), and she is a very laid-back, happy, healthy baby. But even still, my Instagram feed – and every other social media feed other than my blog, actually – is an inaccurate representation of my life as a parent. Maybe we shouldn’t feel ashamed of Facebooking about our sick-covered t-shirts, or Tweeting about our lack of sleep, or even posting pictures on Instagram of our grumpy babies (once they’ve been comforted, of course). 

It breaks yet another parenting taboo – you don’t have to enjoy every bit of it. So many people said to me before I had SB, that this would be the biggest adventure of my life. They were right – and at first, by ‘biggest’, I thought they meant ‘best’. I thought they were telling me that I would enjoy every moment of it… but they weren’t. 

Having a baby is a part of life, and, just like life – it has its ups and downs. There’s no taboo about posting on Facebook to say that you’re bored, or Tweeting that you’re upset, or posting an Instagram picture of a relative who has passed away. Parenting is one of the only aspects of life where to post something about the bad bits on social media, is seen as tantamount to saying that you aren’t enjoying it, rather than what it truly means – that this is, like any other part of life, a rollercoaster. 

There will be times when your baby is an absolute dream. She’ll sleep through the night, feed like a pro, giggle on cue and smile constantly. You will probably adore these times. There will be times when your baby won’t sleep, will refuse to eat, will frown constantly and cry so often, you could swear it was the soundtrack to your life. You will probably hate these times. 

And that is okay. That is perfectly fine. Becoming a parent doesn’t mean you switch your feelings off, or that your own life is now dedicated to convincing others that you are the best parent, and everything is a breeze. It’s fun, it’s tough, it’s natural, it’s difficult, you’ll smile more than you did before, but you’ll probably cry more than you ever have before too. Guess what? That’s okay too.

So right now, my number one piece of advice for new mums would be to never compare or judge yourself by the standards of Instagram mums. You aren’t seeing a perfect life; you’re seeing a perfect moment.

 

There are 86,400 seconds in a day. That picture you are looking at right now only captures one of them. 

It's not always smiles... even for the happiest babies!

It’s not always smiles… even for the happiest babies!

The Speed Bump takes to YouTube!

You can now follow The Speed Bump on YouTube! 

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBDeMSZTD6d9JygQUPbVTcw

To give you an idea of what we’ll be posting, here’s our very first upload – a video celebrating sixteen weeks of SB (and yes, a cheeky flash of her name at the beginning). 

Subscribe to our channel to follow yet more adventures in the life of the Speed Bump. 

Thoughts on World Breastfeeding Week

As a formula feeder, you’re probably imagining my thoughts on National Breastfeeding Week to be anything but positive. A week that promotes breastfeeding? Surely that excludes me in every way? Some will be of the opinion that I have no right to voice my thoughts on the matter – but I do.

Babies are more than bottles or breasts. Babies are more than the milk they’re fed, or the teat they get it through. They’re more than the arguments over EBF vs. expressing vs. mix feeding vs. formula feeding. They’re more than patronizing suggestions of nipple shields and La Leche League. They’re more than dirty looks in cafes, and requests to ‘do that in the bathroom instead’. They’re more than midnight cluster feeds, and they’re more than standing in the kitchen at 3am, waiting for the kettle to boil and the bottle to sterilise.

Happy, healthy, successful babies are not made by the milk that drink.

Those babies are made with love. They’re made with encouragement. They’re made with care and attention and happiness. They’re made with people around them who want the best for them. They’re made with breast milk and with formula, one or the other or combinations of the two.

They’re made by having happy caregivers who feel that their choices are supported.

So I’m using NBW to celebrate babies being fed. However it’s done, if it is being done then you are doing great. I will never advocate for a breastfeeding mother being made to feel uncomfortable for feeding. I will also never stand for a formula-feeding mother being made to feel inferior. Formula is inferior to breast milk, we get that. But FF mothers are not inferior to those who BF. Their babies are not inferior now, and will not be in the future.

To all mothers and parents everywhere, however you came to have parental responsibility and however you feed your baby, I stand by you. Less shame, more support – for ALL mothers.

The ‘Other Moms’…

Despite my earlier post about being lonely as a new mum, there is one part of this lifestyle that is an unavoidable constant – other mums. Whether they’re starting out on the scary path of tiny-new-human ownership alongside you, or have done it all before and can’t wait to tell you, there’s a cast of mums ready to impart their pearls of wisdom upon you… whether you want them to or not…

 

THE ‘COMRADE’ MOM

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She’s your ally in tiredness; your companion in crankiness. Feeding marathons, endless nappies and sick-stained t-shirts? Yep, she knows it only too well. These mums are worth their weight in gold – even if you don’t feel like seeing other human beings, the sight of another woman struggling out of the house with drooping eyelids and un-brushed hair will reassure you that you’re not alone. 

 

THE ‘BEEN THERE, DONE THAT, DID IT BETTER’ MOM

‘Oh, your baby cries a lot? Mine had SUPER colic. The doctors have never seen anything like it. They marvelled at how well I dealt with it. I was working at the time. And writing a novel. And setting up my own business from home’. This is the mother you’ll describe to your partner as a ‘know-it-all bitch’. And you’ll be correct. 

 

THE DEVELOPMENTAL GUIDELINE FANATIC MOM

careers.theguardian.com

‘But ‘What To Expect’ says she should be rolling by now! She’s three months old! All the other babies are reading Shakespeare! I’m a terrible mother! My baby will be developmentally behind forever! I need to call the local primary schools and tell them we’ll be holding her back a year!’. Just smile, reassure and point out that her baby hasn’t read the books, no baby is reading Shakespeare at three months, and not rolling yet is perfectly normal. And maybe confiscate her baby books. Then burn them. 

 

THE ‘MY BABY IS SO MUCH MORE ADVANCED THAN YOURS’ MOM 

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With the ability to turn even the most confident, level-headed mother into a Developmental Guideline Fanatic, this mother’s baby is helping old ladies cross the road, writing a PhD thesis and curing cancer at the tender age of four months old. She’ll tell you all about his sparkling, rose-scented poop and incredible conversation skills. Strangely enough, when you saw him last week, his ‘conversational skills’ amounted to blowing bubbles at you and chuckling at his own farts. You smell bullshit – but that may just be his anything-but-rose-scented nappies. 

 

THE ‘HAVE IT ALL AND MORE’ MOM

shine.yahoo.com

You consider it a good day if you can get through baby group without falling asleep halfway through ‘Wind The Bobbin Up’. For her, anything less than turning up half an hour early with sleek, immaculate hair and organic, freshly-baked cookies is failure. She may seem smug, but often, she’s just proud of herself. It’s tough to admit it, but anyone who can have perfect hair AND time to bake alongside trying to get a tiny wriggly baby ready can have a little bit of a boast, I suppose. Not to be mistaken for the ‘Been there, done that, did it better’ mom – there’s a difference between deservedly proud and undeservedly smug. 

 

THE ‘AT LEAST YOU’RE TRYING’ MOM

cheezburger.com

The name of this category of mom is deceptive. She is constantly not-so-subtly judging your every move. You bottle-feed? JUDGING. You breast-feed in public? JUDGING. You use a pram? JUDGING. You co-sleep? JUDGING. Every judgemental look will be accompanied by an enthusiastic explanation of how she is doing the absolute opposite (which, of course, is the only right way to do it).. but, she’ll add – with a pat on the shoulder that if you close your eyes and use a lot of imagination, could almost pass as sympathetic -, ‘you’re trying your best’.

 

THE ‘NO MORE BABY WEIGHT’ MOM

I’ll probably end up doing a post about Maria Kang (the mother in this photo) eventually, as it caused so much controversy when it first came out. This type of mom wouldn’t be so bad if it was just about the weight loss – sure, you’d eye her svelte figure with vague envy before turning your attention back to your Big Mac, but you wouldn’t out-and-out hate her. It’s the smugness that does it. The unabashed air of ‘you could have this too… if you had any willpower’. And you know, deep down, that yes, you could have that too… but you’d rather have nice food right now. Happiness is worth the stretch marks. 

 

THE ‘THIS IS MY ENTIRE LIFE NOW’ MOM 

boomsbeat.com

It’s okay to admit that you either have, or would like to have, a life outside of your children. It doesn’t make you love them any less. Except for in the eyes of the ‘children are my entire life’ mom. She doesn’t just abandon her childless friends from back in the day, because they ‘couldn’t possibly understand what love is!’ – she wants you to do exactly the same. The truth is, she’s probably trying to adjust to juggling her old life and her new one. 

 

THE ‘FACEBOOK QUOTE-MASTER’ MOM

So your partner was really just a sperm donor, then? This mom is the much more annoying cousin of the ‘Children are my entire life’ mom, who spends her time trawling Facebook for quotes to tell the world just how empty and void of meaning their childless lives are. Unable and unwilling to comprehend the fact that people can lead fulfilled lives before they have children – and, indeed, can have great lives without having children at all – this mom uses Facebook to show you just how much she loves her kids… y’know, at the expense of using real life to show her kids how much she loves them… 

 

THE ‘MOMMY-BLOGGER’ MOM

mediabloodhound.com

There’s no such thing as oversharing in the eyes of the Mommy Blogger. Running quirky little ‘online diaries’, with cutesy names like ‘The Speed Bump’ (oops)? She won’t just tell you about her child’s latest poop, she’ll go ahead and tell the rest of the world too! If she’s not blogging, she’s sharing her blog posts with the rest of the world via social media. It makes you wonder how she has time for all those hilarious parenting moments she posts about. A word of warning – she’s so used to talking about herself on her blog, it may spill over into real life. A quick slap around the chops tends to sort it out. 

 

YOU

You may be wondering where you fit in all of this (that or you’ve recognised yourself in one of these stereotypes, in which case, I can only apologise half-heartedly). I think most of us fit into more than one category – I can recognise aspects of myself in most of the ‘types’ I’ve just spoken about. The moms that really stick in our heads, though, are the ones who define these categories – usually for negative reasons. If you recognise a bit of all or some of these moms in you, don’t fear! There’s nothing wrong with getting your figure back after having a baby, there’s nothing wrong with your child being the centre of your universe. As long as you aren’t expecting everyone else to do or feel exactly the same, you’re doing great. 

 

Before I have anyone remarking on how sexist this post is, I fully intend to do a post about the different types of dads you encounter – although I may leave that to D, who will be guest-blogging for me soon!