… Hello 2016

Here we are. The first day of a brand new year.

I used to hate New Year’s Day. It was boring – everywhere was closed, everyone was tired from parties the night before. It’s a day of sitting around, watching whatever terrible repeats are on the TV and wishing you could get out and do something. The tree is usually still up, reminding you that Christmas is over but you just can’t let go, and the party season is well and truly finished.

I love new year’s eve, even if I’m not big on going out and partying for it. Daf and I have been together for five years – we got together on New Year’s Eve 2010 – and so it’s always been one of my favourite days. But new year’s day? Nah.

This year, however, I’m determined to make it a good start to what I hope will be a good year. The tree is going down on New Year’s Eve, so we’ll wake to a fresh, clean flat ready for the new year. We’ve got friends coming over on new year’s eve, so we’ll have had a great night before, and on new year’s day we’re off to see my parents, to exchange Christmas presents and see everyone.

Fingers crossed, the first day of 2016 will be a good one – but what comes afterwards? What does 2016 hold in store for us as a family, me as a person, and the blog as a… well, as a blog.

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Well, by the end of January, “The Speed Bump” will (hopefully!) have been released on Kindle. That’s pretty exciting in itself – publishing my own book has been a real experience, and there’s a lot of work gone into it, so I’m excited to see it come to fruition and I hope people enjoy it!

Daf will be graduating university this year, and although there’s some work for him to do first, I’m confident he’ll graduate with great grades, and I’m so proud of him for what he’s done.

Of course, SB is turning two, and my thoughts have already started turning to what we’ll do to celebrate. I can’t believe we’ll have a two year old this year – it’s crazy!

I have an audition for a drama school in January. I’m not going in there with high hopes – it’s more for the experience than anything – because no matter what happens, 2016 is going to be pretty exciting from an academic point of view.

I haven’t mentioned this yet, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why. As I said a few weeks ago, I had an interview for a Masters degree on December 10th. I was nervous, but went along, hoping I wouldn’t be totally out of my depth. I had a great time at the interview and felt like I gave a pretty good account of myself.

It was the day before we went to Butlins, so when we got back from our weekend away, there was a letter from the university waiting for me. I’ve been accepted onto the Masters degree, and will be starting in September 2016. I’m absolutely over the moon – this is another step towards my eventual goals of setting up my own company and potentially studying for a PhD – and it means that I’ll be a student parent again from September this year!

As for blogging – well, I’ll still be here, doing what I always do. I love blogging, and I can’t see myself stopping any time soon. Maybe one day it’ll come to a natural end, but for 2016, The Speed Bump isn’t going anywhere.

What about for us as a family? I spoke a lot in 2015 about wanting to expand our family, but I think – for various reasons – 2016 won’t be the year that happens. I’m going to be starting medication for the tummy pains that blighted the second half of 2015 that will make conceiving very improbable, and with the Masters starting in September, I’m pretty keen to avoid being a pregnant student again. It’s one stress we could all do without.

We’re okay with that, though. I love parenting SB, and I’m happy to hold off on Baby #2 for as long as it takes. My ovaries get all ‘splodey sometimes when I see an adorable squidgy newborn, but I can handle that until we’re ready for another.

2016 is shaping up to be a great year. I’m not going to count any chickens – you never know what could happen. I had high hopes for 2015 and spent most of it in and out of hospital with one illness after another, so I’m hoping for a year with as few appointments as possible.

Either way,  I know that with SB and Daf by my side, we can’t go too far wrong.

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Young Mums Need More PND Support

First of all, that title doesn’t tell the whole story. Everyone needs more support with postnatal depression (and postnatal anxiety, and antenatal depression and anxiety too, and all aspects of perinatal mental health, for that matter). There are certain obstacles, however, that make it harder for younger parents to access the help they need.

Let’s look at the statistics first. The Young Mums Together report put together by the Mental Health Foundation states that 53% of teenage mothers (that is, women who became mothers between the ages of 15-17) experienced post-partum depression, according to one study. As for young mothers (that is, mothers under the age of 20) – well, I’ve looked and I’ve looked, and I can’t find any statistics for this at all.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why tailored support is so hard to come by? Young parents exist in some kind of flux state; constantly told we are too young to have a baby, but unable to access the same support offered to our younger, teenage counterparts. Although availability varies by area, there are support groups for teenage mothers that offer emotional support and friendly faces to talk to, all of whom understand what it is like to be a teenage parent.

As a young parent, you can’t access these groups. You have to go along to the ‘normal’ parenting groups. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to interact with parents of all ages – but it’s hard to strike up a conversation when they’re talking about enjoying their maternity leave, and you’re trying to cobble together an essay during 2am feeding sessions, or looking at having to return to your part-time job in a couple of weeks to keep money coming in. Add that to the fact that the overwhelming majority of these groups take place on weekdays, when many young parents are in work or college or university, and you’re left with a group of young parents unable to access the support and community that they need.

I know I talk a lot about the stigma young parents face, and nowhere is it more prevalent than in discussions of perinatal mental health. Many young parents are concerned that from the moment their pregnancy is announced, they’ll be on the radar of social services, purely because they are under 20. This simply isn’t true – your midwife may contact them if she has concerns or feels that you need extra support, but for the most part, your pregnancy will be treated no differently to any other woman’s of any other age.

However, because of what we’re told about social services near enough every other day – that they latch onto any opportunity to swoop in and take your baby and give it to a nice middle-class couple in their 30s – it’s not hard to see why lots of young parents are on high alert for anything that could put them on the radar of these services.

The truth is that social services will do everything in their power to keep a family together. That isn’t to say that they are faultless, and they haven’t made mistakes, but these are very few and far between, and while the media is only too happy to print stories from people who have been wronged by social services, we need to remember that we are only ever hearing half of the story.

Of course, it’s all well and good for me to say this now. In the early months after SB’s birth, I was terrified that if I gave even the first suggestion that I needed a little help or support, SB would be taken away from me. Part of that was the depression and anxiety itself talking – another part was me believing everything I’d heard about social services as evil child snatchers.

In hindsight, I realise that doctors won’t automatically refer you to social services if you tell them you’re depressed. A referral to social services doesn’t automatically mean your children will be taken away – quite the opposite, in fact. It means you’ll receive every support possible to keep your family together. It also means you can access treatment to help you get into a better frame of mind.

I cannot imagine how it must feel to have been let down by social services, but I can imagine that you would want the world to hear about the injustice. The way you voice it, however, is very important. So many people – no doubt in anger, rather than out of malice – declare that social services are kidnappers and evil and not to be trusted under any circumstances, because they’re just waiting to snatch “pretty white babies” (direct quote there) and give them to other couples.

That’s not in the job description of a social worker. It’s not like some big stock room where they look through the cupboards and think “Oh dear, we’re short on pretty white babies, we’d better go out and steal some more”, and claiming that they do work like that is damaging to other parents out there.

The media should shoulder the vast majority of the blame, however. They take any opportunity to portray social workers as villains, creating a culture of fear and mistrust surrounding the people whose job it is to support parents and keep families together. I think when we’re discussing the causes of postnatal depression and anxiety, the media have a hell of a lot to answer for – but right now, we know they’ll never change. They never do.

That’s not to say that all media outlets are responsible for this. Some are excellent at supporting young parents, like Visit From The Stork. Others aren’t targeted at parents, but they report sensibly, without the drama llama-ness and scaremongering found in – well, I’ll go ahead and say it, The Daily Mail.

PND is a major problem across all age groups, but young parents are at particular risk of feeling cut off from all services and groups designed to reduce the isolation and loneliness, and are at added risk of feeling that they can’t seek help for fear of involvement from outside agencies.

Right now, I don’t know what the solution is. Groups specifically for young parents? That requires funding and volunteers, two things that are in short supply these days. More perinatal mental health midwives? That would be a great start, but given the well-publicised issues the NHS is facing right now, I think it’s possibly dreaming a little too big.

All those of us who are young parents can do is continue to talk about our experiences, on every platform we can find, in the hope that other young parents will find it and feel a little less isolated and a little more supported. We can dispel the myths about going to the doctor and admitting that you’re struggling. We can provide listening ears and supportive words to pick people up and be by their side – virtually, if not physically.

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A Bit Of Everything

The Daddy Diaries #7: The Future

Here we have it – the very last Daddy Diaries! It’s been seven weeks since the series began, and we’ve been so pleased with the response to it. Daf is really touched that you’ve all enjoyed hearing parenting from his viewpoint, and I’ve loved doing these interviews. Looks like we’ll now have to go back to our regular evening schedule of sitting on the sofa, staring at our respective laptops and ignoring each other 😉 

In this week’s Daddy Diaries, Daf is looking towards the future, and what it might hold for us…

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Do you want more children in the future? How many do you want in total? 

I want as many as my lovely spouse will allow. (I swear I did not tell him to say that! He said it all of his own accord… he clearly wants something… -M) We’ve discussed it, and three is a nice number. Maybe more.

 

Will you do anything differently with future children? 

A lot of people say “no” when they answer this question, but I think some of them are kidding themselves. The first baby is a total culture shock, and I think every parent would make an effort not to make any mistakes with Baby #2 that they might have made with #1. On a personal level, I will remember that it is okay put the next baby in the crib before they’re three weeks old. That might help.

 

What sort of sister do you envision SB being? 

Trouble! She will be amazing. She’s so kind and funny, and she’ll definitely look out for her siblings. She already loves taking care of people, comforting them if they look sad or ill. She’ll be amazing – I know I’m biased, but I don’t care!

 

What is your greatest fear for SB’s future? 

We live in a society where if you do not fit into a neat little ‘norm’, you are judged. I worry that she will feel unable to be who she wants to be, for fear of being judged.

 

What is your greatest wish for her future? 

That society changes, so she can be whoever she wants to be without worrying about being judged. 

 

Do you think you know all there is to know about fatherhood? 

(At this point, Daf requested that I write down the following to describe his reaction…) *stares in disbelief at the absurdity of the question*… Yes. #Sarcasm.

 

What does your ideal life look like in five years’ time? 

I do want us to have a bigger family, and just to be spending time with my amazing family is the ideal future for me. Also, we will have adopted seventeen more hamsters.

 

Does the future seem brighter since you became a father? 

Yes… and a whole lot scarier. But I know as long as I have my family, everything will be alright.

 

The Secret Diary of Agent Spitback

A Toddler’s Personal Statement

With my Masters applications suddenly in full swing and personal statement drafts here, there and everywhere, I started wondering (as you do) what it would be like if SB wrote a personal statement. I used to be one of The Student Room’s Personal Statement helpers (ahem, NERD ALERT) so fingers crossed, she’d get into any of the top Russell Group nurseries with this killer statement. (Are RG nurseries a thing? Please tell me they aren’t…).

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MY PERSONAL STATEMENT by SB, aged nineteen months

It has been said that the smallest feet make the biggest footprints in our hearts. I, for one, have absolutely tiny feet, and I intend to make a huge footprint on the world.

I have wanted to be a toddler for as long as I can remember – indeed, since I entered this world nineteen months ago, it has been my dream to one day walk in the footsteps of such greats as Albert Einstein, Marie Curie and Mr Tumble. I feel I have made a good start – for I am a toddler, and they were all toddlers at some point too.

In terms of experience, I have nineteen months of experience of pooping, and have produced a variety in my time. I feel that this length of experience has considerably enhanced my skills to a point where soon, I will no longer insist on sticking my hands in every single one I produce – but for now, I am still learning.

I am also a highly skilled eater – one of the most highly skilled eaters I know of, actually. You see, not only do I eat normal foodstuffs like Babybels, fromage frais and cake – I am also a skilled consumer of crayon, fluff and – on occasion – the aforementioned poop. I feel this wide palate has prepared me adequately for childhood.

Toddlerhood has improved my acting skills threefold; I have mastered the ‘happy face’, ‘sad face’ and ‘surprised face’, and can perform these on demand. I am currently working on ‘angry face’, ‘sucked-a-lemon face’ and ‘shocked face’, but I predict that these will be mastered in no time if I am successful in my application. My tutors (they call themselves Mama and Dada, but I know them as The Incubator and The One Who Stops Me Pulling The TV On Top Of Myself) are very pleased with my progress, and practically wet themselves in delight every time I master a new face, which should go some way to highlight how advanced my skills are.

Other examples of relevant skills include preferring the box to whatever expensive present “Mama” and “Dada” have bought for me, yelling “MINE!” whenever I see them holding something and spinning around in circles until I fall onto my bottom. I have excellent tracking skills, and can sniff out the dirtiest, smelliest, stickiest objects a mile away so that I can put my hands on them, and I have recently learned to identify the sounds of: a) a Babybel wrapper being opened; b) a banana being peeled and c) “Mama” or “Dada” eating something. Using classical conditioning, I have trained myself to scream until they hand the Babybel/banana/whatever they are eating to me, and I have trained them to hold cushions over their faces or run into different rooms to eat something. They think that I don’t see, but I’m well aware of what they’re doing, and it’s rather hilarious.

My future ambitions include fooling my parents into thinking I am potty trained, so that they will let me run around the house without my nappy on and hone my skills in poo-hiding, widening my palate by eating more objects like paperclips and small toys, and lulling my parents into a false sense of security so they provide me with a brother or sister to train up as a minion/partner in crime.

As you can see, I am more than qualified for a place in your hallowed institution of toddlerhood, and I hope my application is successful. Rest assured, if it is not, I will throw a public tantrum and embarrass you into giving me my way. It has always worked so far.

As a quick note, if you’ve come to this post looking for personal statement advice, please seek it elsewhere. Writing this made me SB go against every guideline and rule in the book (Don’t begin your statement with a quote, don’t use words like “passionate”, don’t say “ever since I was a child/for as long as I can remember I have wanted to _______”, don’t appeal directly to the person reading the statement, don’t boast about your pooping skills etc) and if she was applying to a real university with this statement, I wouldn’t rate her chances of getting in too highly (I will, however, be writing a post on personal statement tips in the next few months).

But there we go. Handily, this personal statement also serves as a nineteen month update for SB, because it pretty much sums up everything we’ve experienced with her recently. Crossing my fingers that she will get out of the “I MUST TOUCH THE CONTENTS OF MY NAPPY” stage soon… I won’t be missing that phase one bit.

What would your little one include in their personal statement? Let me know in the comments!

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Ethan & Evelyn

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