They listened

I’ve sat on this blog post for a while now. One thing I don’t ever, ever, EVER want to do here is make anyone feel judged or shitty. We all have different experiences in parenting, and I know that sometimes when I’ve been exhausted and feeling overwhelmed I’ve read things online that have made me cry and feel like the shittiest mother ever. Sometimes I think it’s intentional – people post without caring about how it will hurt, or they post horrible things for clicks, or they’re like actually mean jerks. But often I think it’s unintentional, just badly worded, or the person hasn’t quite said what they meant to say – or maybe I didn’t get it because I read it with all of my hurt and sadness and feelings and experiences sitting on my heavy, tired shoulders. And that’s ok and not my fault or their fault or anyone’s fault. So I don’t know where I’m going with this – I guess I’m saying that after re-reading and editing and reading and editing I’ve decided to post this. I do not want to minimise anyone’s experiences – this is just my truth and I want to say it. I think the most important thing (the TL:DR version) is that we must feel supported in the choices we make about how we feed our children. It’s important. Really, truly important. Thank you for reading.

Breastfeeding Nazis. Nipple Nazis. Breastapo. Breast feeding police. Psychos. Smug earth mother bitches. Sanctimummys. Bullies. Anti-Formula fanatics. Did you hear the one about that mother whose baby died because she’d been BRAINWASHED by lactation consultants? They’re mum bashing do-gooders. They hate formula. They hate women. They should get rid of Le Leche League. They’re a bunch of dangerous hippies.

That’s just a sample of what people say about lactation consultants on your average article about breast feeding in New Zealand.

Well, here’s what I have to say about them – they listened to me. They heard me. When I felt desperately alone – they were there for me. They empowered me. They made me feel strong. They wiped away my tears. They made me feel like I’m a good mother and I should be proud of myself. They made me feel like I mattered too. That I could trust myself as a mother. They were there when I felt like nobody else was there.

I always thought breast feeding would be easy. I had always wanted to breast feed. I tried so very hard with my first born. But I was too scared to ask for help. I’d been told by absolutely everyone that lactation consultants would yell at me. They’re anti formula I was told. They’re judgemental. I didn’t ask for help because I was afraid of them.

While my oldest son was in hospital I tried to advocate for myself and for him. I wanted to keep breast feeding I told the doctors and nurses and registrars and well-meaning family. I kept being told my milk was the problem. In my head I felt that couldn’t be right. Why couldn’t I just give him expressed breast milk in a bottle? Why did it have to be formula? Alone and utterly exhausted and emotionally ruined I gave him formula at 3am in hospital. I weaned in agony in a children’s ward on my own. Every time a child near me cried my breasts did too. I was never able to comfort him at the breast again. I remember sobbing and asking a nurse “How do I stop the milk?” she just said “we can’t give you anything” and walked off. Another said “There’s nothing wrong with formula for goodness sake!” I’d never, ever suggested that there was anything wrong with formula. I got mastitis in both breasts while trying to look after my desperately ill child.

I’m not anti-formula. I formula fed my son. I am very grateful for formula. But I will never be thankful for the way I was railroaded into giving up on breast feeding. It really hurt me. And for a long time I swallowed that hurt because when I tried to voice it people jumped down my throat – don’t you think you’ve got bigger things to worry about? There’s nothing wrong with formula. Your son gained weight. Isn’t he the priority? Shouldn’t you put your son first? Actually formula is better than breast milk because you know what’s in formula. Who cares how you feed your baby. Get a grip. You should have really started him on formula earlier. All that matters is that your son is healthy. You’re being a bit dramatic aren’t you?

I felt silenced at every turn. I didn’t dare express how I felt. I knew how I should feel – I should know that what I wanted wasn’t important. That my instincts were wrong. That wanting to breast feed was selfish if I couldn’t do it immediately without any hassles. Sick children should be given formula. Breast milk is too unreliable. It was irresponsible, even dangerous, definitely self-absorbed and narcissistic, to want to breast feed if it was difficult or if my child had health problems. I was anti-formula and judgemental of mothers who used formula if I didn’t use it when I was told to. Breast feeding was just a way to feed your child – it had no other worth. As such it didn’t matter how you fed, just feed – but with formula.

Even now, two and a half years on, I find it so hard to trust my own feelings because of the gaslighting and stress of it all.

When my second son was born I was absolutely determined that I would make the choice as to whether I breast fed or not. I wouldn’t let anyone else take that choice from me.

The first people to listen to me were my midwives. One of my midwives is training to be a lactation consultant. In tears I told her about my weaning the first time. She listened. She never called me dramatic or told me off for the feelings I had. She held my hand.

I left the hospital a few hours after my second was born and she came over to help me with my latch. She then came over again a few days later. She kept texting me and sending me online messages to trouble shoot the problems I was having. She did all of this voluntarily.

Being a midwife is an exhausting job – long hours and emotionally it requires huge resilience. I am astounded still that on her days off she took the time to visit me to help me feed.

I messaged her at 2am when my son was recently in hospital and I was again in a vulnerable position with formula being offered at every possible opportunity. She immediately responded. She sent me love and encouragement and said she would come to the hospital to help me.

What a Nazi.

When my son was two months old I went to the Newtown Breastfeeding Support Clinic. I walked in and immediately started sobbing. The volunteer there gave me a glass of water and a hug – she listened to me. Another volunteer entertained my toddler while they helped me with the pain I was having in one of my breasts. I felt completely safe in that hall. Surrounded by other mums struggling through like I was.

Every single week these women gather and sit in a hall and help mums breast feed. Voluntarily. They give up those hours with their children to help us with our children.

Bullies right?

Those lactation consultants kept emailing me to make sure I was ok – physically and emotionally. Not once did they pressure me to breast feed or bottle feed. I was given help with the pain and told they could give me help with weaning if I chose to do that. They discussed what could be the reason I was having pain and kept in close contact with me.

Smug right? Anti-formula fanatics. Totally.

But Le Leche League are the worst aren’t they?

In agony one afternoon I called a number on the Le Leche League website. A woman answered. I could hear her children in the background. I was completely hysterical. I could barely get words out. She told me to take deep breaths and she calmed me down enough to get details from me. This volunteer, a stranger, offered to come to me if I needed immediate help. She encouraged me to contact my husband and get him to come home and take me to my GP. This might all sound melodramatic to you but if you’re surviving on no sleep, and you’re in extreme pain, and you’re overwhelmed – it’s impossible to think straight.

This woman voluntarily takes calls from sobbing mothers day in and day out and talks them off ledges.

I ended up in A&E where a doctor gave me tramadol. I was a mess on it. I was told by almost everyone to just stop breast feeding. I know why. I know it is well-meaning. I know I am stubborn. But it was so hard to hear that.

I was never told to stop or keep going by lactation consultants. I was never dismissively told “happy mum happy baby!” as if wanting to breast feed was a terrible thing to do to my child. I was never told ‘you don’t have to breast feed you know’ or ‘I don’t know why you’re bothering’ or ‘it’s not compulsory’ as if I was a complete moron who doesn’t know her own mind.

I wasn’t ever pressured by anyone to breast feed.

I wanted to.

Desperately.

The only time I was ever given permission to feel this way was when I was around lactation consultants.

This post is mainly just a post about my appreciation for them. I managed to get through my son’s hospital stay without stopping breast feeding. I am proud of myself for that. I trusted my gut and he gained weight on breast milk. I knew he would. I know my milk is working well for him. But it has taken me a long time to trust myself. And I trust myself because of them.

Now, I feed on one side as the other boob is some weird cosmic mess that is super painful. But I feed! I did it! I am immensely proud of myself. I feel like it’s a big achievement. Because it was so painful. So difficult. And I kept going. And I did what I thought was best for me and my son. And it worked!

I now breast feed without pain. My son is pink and fat like a delicious Christmas ham.

I could not have done it without lactation consultants. They protected me. Supported me. Comforted me.

More than anything they listened to me. And here I am – finally, four months on, feeding my baby easily.

I got to heal myself and that matters.

So I guess this is one of those posts that doesn’t really have a message – except maybe this: I’m not going to buy into the narrative that lactation consultants are monsters. If you need help with breast feeding then go to them! Your feelings matter. A lot of women can’t breast feed. But a lot can if they’re given support and help and they’re listened to. And they should be listened to.

And somebody will listen. I’m so incredibly grateful that so many women block out the horrific abuse they get on every article about their profession, every thread online, in mum groups, on Twitter, on Facebook, at coffee groups – everywhere – to voluntarily listen every day to women like me who need help.

***

If you liked this, follow me on Facebook for more of the same. I’m on Instagram too!

 

 

There are lovely words

I’m in hospital with my son. We have been here all week. I have been too tired to write a coherent blog post but my brain is still a jumble of words. I have written bits and pieces over the last few days. Here are some feelings. Some things I’ve been thinking. Not particularly eloquent, but I wanted to put them out there anyway.


There are some lovely words.
Ya’aburnee is a word commonly used in Lebanon, it is Arabic, and it is difficult to translate. It is the wish that you will die before the one you love. Simply: You bury me.
Unsurprisingly, it is a sentiment that lives mostly in the hearts of mothers. I have watched my two babies fragile in their hospital beds, fighting for breath, too many times now. Each time Ya’aburnee escapes from my lips as a whisper, a fervent prayer.
It is the same every time – when my babies are at rest, their chests still straining but their eyes closed, I too close my eyes. I picture them at peace and content with loved ones, partners, children, grandchildren, friends, cuddles, kisses, travel, wine, cheese, trampolines, laughter, happy tears, celebrations. I picture them proud watching recitals, performances, gigs, shows, races – karate, swimming, guitar, ballet? I picture them at graduations, awards, writing CVs, creating art. I picture them with a faceless love by their side who brings them as much joy as their father brings me. And I imagine them saying “your Nanna used to say…” to their grown children in remembrance of me. And even though I’m gone, they’re not broken by my absence. They have their own beautiful lives now. And they look at their babies and whisper ya’aburnee.


If a woman’s work is never done a mother is never allowed to rest. I am told to rest. To sleep. To “have a cup of tea”. I hate tea. It tastes like dirt. I am fuelled by coffee.
I am anchored to my son’s cot. I am a lumbering ship. Slow. Not in the best condition really. But determined. I need things to be repeated, I don’t understand what the doctors say to me the first time around. I cry in private. It is too hard to rest. When I sleep it is through sheer force. My body drags me down into the ground and it’s dark and cool and then a cry launches me up. My body acts before my brain does. I am here, it’s ok, I am here. I will rest later.


My second boy came into the world screaming. His face was a deep purple. He was nine pounds and three ounces and he was born angry, screaming at the sky. I love that fight in him. His labour was long, far too long. He fought to be here, to be heard, and he fights to stay here. He seems so resilient even as he struggles. I did not have drugs during his labour because I did not want to be away from my Eddie overnight. It was agony. I felt like my pain could crack the sky. But it wasn’t as painful as being away from my Eddie for so many days now. My arms feel empty. I long to kiss his forehead. To push his dirty blonde hair from his face. To hear his incessant chatter. The ward even with the crying, the constant alarms, the yelling, the sound of so much marching past our door, sounds too quiet without his relentless commentary. I saw him briefly and he said to me “you ok my darling? My dear mama?” He is so compassionate. He is a born mother. A study in care and empathy.
Missing someone  even when you know they’re close and not gone, can feel like physical pain. I just know I never want to be apart from my babies.


This place is misery. Surely, there is no sadder more isolated place than the children’s ward in a hospital. Mothers rock even when their babies aren’t in their arms. Fathers have red ringed eyes. Their shoulders are tense. Their footsteps are the heaviest. Nurses are patient but parents are quick to anger. There is so much crying, screeching, babies in pain – but I think the worst cry is the lonely, desperate crying in the night of parents who just want their babies to be better. Torture is not being able to fix your baby. To not be able to hold them because of tubes and monitors and chords like delicate ropes that feel like they’re strangling you. To stand with teeth clenched, nails digging into your arms, as strangers work, speaking a language you don’t understand, too busy to translate, on your precious baby – it is some specific type of Hell. But there is so much humanity here too. The doctor who gently sings a lullaby to your baby as he tries to get a line in. The nurse who gets you a hot chocolate just because you look like you need one. The texts and tweets and calls and financial support because Heaven knows nothing is more terrifying that not being able to pay your bills when you’re in here. The man at the coffee stand who remembers your order and starts making it so you don’t have to speak through tears. The other parents who nod and say “need anything?” No energy for themselves but they are machines with one setting – to care for their babies, and anyone else who needs it right now. Because we share this Hell together.


I will get to leave. My baby will be ok. But some won’t. And I weep for them. Nobody should ever have to bury their child. Every time I leave hospital I have a renewed dedication to frantic, compulsory empathy and compassion for others. The world is too mean too often. We have to be kinder. Always. Gentle. Always. Because some people never get to leave here.

***

 

If you liked this, follow me on Facebook for more of the same. I’m on Instagram too!

Maybe tomorrow

I am nearing my 30th birthday and it has made me question a lot of things. At 2am, while writing blog posts in my head, and gritting my teeth through another painful feed, and gazing at my beautiful baby, I thought – what do I want most of all?

I realised I want two things in this life.

I want to be a really good mum.

I want my children to always feel loved, to always feel safe, to always know that there is nothing they can do that will change how much I love them, and that they are never responsible for my happiness. I want them to know that they don’t have to perform for my love. That they don’t have to do anything to keep their precious place as my beloved children.

I want to be a good partner.

None of this good-wife-1950s-throwback BS, but I want my husband to know that I love him, that I appreciate him (gosh, I really hope he knows how much I appreciate him). I want him to know that every day I choose him as my partner, my friend, my teacher, my lover (well shit that’s not every day, but you know what I mean), and my trusted companion through everything. I want him to know that I really love our life together. That the last ummm more than a decade (I can never remember how long it has been) has been amazing. And that I am grateful for everything we have given each other – obviously, most of all I’m grateful we are parents together.

So clearly, I can tell my kids and my partner all of these things. And I do. It’s kind of a running joke that I’m the “I love you!!” person in our house. I try not to get all scary on them with the intensity of my love for them. I don’t want to accidentally swing into delusional, terrifying mothering – It’s a fine line between Molly Weasley and Cersei Lannister.

MUM STAAAHHHP!

MUM STAAAHHHP!

But it takes more than just saying it. Actions speak louder than words and bla bla bla.I need to show it.

I try, I really do, to be a good parent and partner each day. But the thing is – I’m not.

There are days I fall really short of this goal. I get all shitty that my two year old won’t eat just one bloody bite of food. Or that he keeps leaning out of the bloody buggy. Or that some days he whines and moans and whines and moans and I can’t even understand him because his voice is so high-pitched with that awful toddler moan. I get annoyed at the baby for clamping down on my nipples and yanking his head away with my nipple still in his mouth. I get shitty at him for refusing to settle. He’s tired. I’m tired. He’s fed. He’s dry. Go the fuck to sleep. I seethe at my partner when he does stuff like pouring my expressed breast milk down the sink because he thought it was old (he did this two months ago, and I still feel super emotional about it). It annoys me that he gets annoyed at me for not wiping down the bench.

There are microagressions. Many, many microaggressions.

I once got so frustrated with my son that I said ‘fine, do whatever the fuck you want, I don’t care’ and he said ‘Eddie WILL do fuck wanna wan mama’ and we laughed. A lot. And then I said “Don’t tell your dad” and I gave him a lollipop and an Easter egg for lunch. Yes, a lollipop and an Easter egg. And that’s all he ate the whole day.

And I’m starting to think that actually that’s OK.

Because parenting and partnering is like that. There are days where you suck at it. And there are days where you compromise and the compromises aren’t even good ones. And yes, I swear at my kids sometimes. And I feel really guilty.

But then, I get so into feeling guilty that I don’t realise that it’s a whole new day tomorrow. And I have a whole new day to try to do better. And I don’t want to get all hashtag blessed on you but – I don’t want to waste days feeling guilty when I’m so lucky to have these days with my family.

So when it’s 2am and I know I had moments where I was not a good parent the day before I try to tell myself that moments of not good parenting doesn’t make me a bad parent. Moments of anger, frustration, even rage at my partner doesn’t make our marriage a bad one. Our partnership isn’t flawed. We’re all tired. And we’re all doing the best that we can. My children aren’t going to grow up to be serial killers (hopefully) because I told my oldest I would leave him at the bus stop if he didn’t keep his hands in the buggy.

Because tomorrow, today – I can be better. I can respectfully explain to my son why he needs to keep his hands inside the buggy instead of snapping. I can spend more time convincing him that a kiwifruit won’t kill him, that a sandwich is good for his body. I can take a deep breath and count to 10 before yelling. I can get my husband a cold drink and remember he’s had a long day too when he gets home. I can let go the fact that he poured that milk down the drain.

Because I’m not perfect. And I want my kids to see that it’s OK to not be perfect. As long as there’s love in this home it can be an imperfect home. As long as we are trying, it’ll be OK. We will have good days and bad days. We will be good to each other and appreciate that some times we snap at each other and that’s OK – as long as we keep trying. Trying every day to do a little better.

Each day, I can work toward my goals of being a good parent and a good partner. And I will fail some days. But that’s OK. These goals aren’t just boxes to tick. They’ll be my never-ending aims. And they’re examples for my children.

And I’ve got tomorrow if today doesn’t work out.

**

If you liked this, follow me on Facebook for more of the same. I’m on Instagram too!

Guest Post: Modern families

I am very grateful to the kind, generous, lovely and brave woman who has provided this guest post. As you can see it’s an anonymous post. Please respect the anonymity of this whānau. If you know them, please do not discuss this post on social media using the real names of those involved. I think this is a lovely post about the ways we love as a families, I’m very grateful to be able to host it on my site. If for some reason this post upsets you, you may like to shout into the wind instead of commenting. I’ll only be posting comments that are respectful to the whānau involved. If you have questions, you can post them and the author may or may not choose to reply. I am always keen to feature posts about different experiences in parenting so please email me if you’d like to write something for the site. Please excuse me if I take a while to reply, I am a bit slow this week due to lack of sleep!

Modern families

I’m extremely lucky – or just greedy, depending on how you look at it. I have a boyfriend and a girlfriend. They are married to each other and have been together for seven years.

I started off just dating my boyfriend. It took him a long time to convince me it was a good idea. I’m not “polyamorous.” They had an open marriage, which I didn’t approve of. I thought I was settling for being second best. It all sounded complicated and painful. But – I fell in love with him. I spent time with him and his daughter, Lily. She was three. I fell in love with her. And then I met his wife.

We are pretty open about our relationship. We’ve had varying reactions, particularly from our three sets of parents. They have their own opinions about us and about how we should raise Lily. We respect those opinions but we make our own parenting choices.

I don’t live with my partners right now, but it’s on the cards. I see them almost every day. We eat meals together, I help put Lily to bed, I read her stories. We say “I love you.”

One of the main criticisms we’ve had is: “What is this teaching Lily? She’s not going to have a normal family!”

We consider Lily in every single decision we make. She is always our first thought, and always will be. It makes no difference that we are three parents instead of one or two. She is our priority.

We absolutely dispute the idea that our relationship is damaging to her in any way. As I said, I have been around basically since she can remember. She is used to my presence, and to the relationship dynamic. As she grows up, she has more questions for us. “Why does Hannah stay the night all the time? Where does she sleep? Can’t she sleep with meeeee?” I imagine these will get more complex as time goes on, as she realises her family is different and what that means, and she may get questions from schoolmates or other families. We always answer with the truth.

What is our relationship teaching her? As far as we’re concerned, she’s learning that there is all kind of love in the world, and that there is a lot of it. Love isn’t a finite resource. You can love lots of different people, in lots of different ways, and all just as much as the other. I hardly see how that’s a bad thing.

And the “normal family” question – I do struggle not to laugh out loud at this one. What’s a normal family? It’s hard to tell if this sort of prejudice is driven by traditional views of marriage, homophobia, or genuine concern for our child.

And she is my child. For public understanding I usually refer to her as my stepdaughter, though unfortunately that isn’t legally true. Sometimes I say she is the daughter of my boyfriend and/or my girlfriend, though that doesn’t feel like it conveys what she means to me, and it’s not the whole truth. I love her. I parent her. She’s mine.

It can be an interesting dynamic having three parents, especially when two sort-of take higher authority as the bio-parents, though they rarely contradict me, nor I them. I know their parenting style and ensure there is consistency of care. We all have very similar codes of ethics so it’s no big chore. Occasionally there are times when I discover I am more strict than they are. I figure this is because I’ve had less time to be worn down haha.

For example – dinner time. I grew up in a household where you eat everything on your plate. If you didn’t, you didn’t leave the table and you didn’t get dessert. To me, that’s a harsh but good lesson. I learned to be grateful for the food that was made for me, and the dessert I was rewarded with for good behaviour. I learned discipline. I learned that I didn’t always get what I wanted, and I didn’t always like what I got. So I make her stay at the table and finish her vegetables. And when she’s done, she gets chocolate, which is the best thing in the world.

She’s getting sneakier as she gets older. She knows if mum and dad have said no… Hannah might say yes! So she tries the same question on all three of us. And she’s adorable, so saying no is hard!

I know that some people will disagree with me, but I think she’s lucky. I know I am. I’m so incredibly lucky to be part of her life, to watch her growing up, to be part of the team that will guide her. Yesterday she told me she loves me more than cats. That’s pretty huge.

She gets three parents. She gets three pairs of arms to hug her, three voices for bedtime stories, three choices of who to ask when she wants to know about birds and bees and outer space.

Most of all, she’s loved. And that’s just what any child deserves.

The Right Way

The other day it suddenly dawned on me that I hadn’t given my 12 week old (I actually think he’s about 14 or even 15 weeks old now but I’m too tired to actually figure it out) any tummy time. Oh tummy time – you annoying must-do torture for babies. Has there ever been a baby that enjoyed tummy time?

Eddie hated tummy time. He would scream and scream and arch his head back and act like I was slowly destroying his will to live while he actually destroyed my will to live. I kept doing it because I was told to. And I do what I’m told when I don’t know what I’m actually meant to be doing. And when it comes to parenting – I never know what I’m doing.

Each day I would dutifully put Eddie on his tummy for five minutes at a time at intervals of about three hours. I was very neurotic the first time around. I basically believed if I didn’t give him tummy time he would never walk. I imagined having to carry him to dates and then awkwardly turn my head while he pashed randoms (Kiwi speak for passionate kissed random people…ahem). He would need intense therapy and I would have to carry him to therapy and future therapy is very expensive in my head. He’d never drive because he wouldn’t be able to lift his neck. When it would be time to stick me in a nursing home he’d choose the worst one and say “this is because you never gave me tummy time enough as a baby”. I would lay in my bed and he would lay on the floor in the corner unable to move just hissing at me like an angry immobile lizardperson.

With baby number two I have much less time to allow my brain to wander and imagine fresh horrors that will ruin my children’s lives as they grow. When I realised I’d not done any tummy time I just thought “Oh well, I have had him in the carrier a lot so he’ll be holding his neck up for that”.

Then, later on that evening – instead of writing which I should have been doing – I began Google image searching men with no shirts on wearing kilts. Or was it jason mamoa holding kitten. Actually I think it was the rock wearing apron nothing else. Anyway, my mind began to wander and it wandered somewhere I didn’t want it to wander to. What if my little one didn’t crawl because I’d been so slack with tummy time? And what if one day he said to me ‘Eddie can walk because you parented properly the first time and with me you were too busy Googling guys with big muscles for weirdly specific fantasies when you should have been giving me tummy time’.

What would I say to my baby? And just as I was about to really get down to feeling guilty a wonderful thing happened:

I got an email that basically said my lazy parenting was actually The Right Way to parent.

Fuck yes.

I love it when that happens. The email outlined how tummy time is actually The Wrong Way to get your child moving. Instead you should just lay them on their backs and leave them to it. Now, I’d regularly been doing this. Baby gets cuddles, boob, then he is put on a quilt on the floor where I spend a bit of time regaling him with fantastic tales from my youth and then I give him some rings and leave him to his own devices to consider what a cool mum he has while I clean and deal with the toddler. Turns out – I’m an awesome parent because this email said that’s totally what I should be doing.

So here’s my advice when it comes to feeling shit about your parenting. Look for any advice that goes with what you’re already doing. Then you won’t feel shit. Because everyone has an idea of what The Right Way is and so chances are, some expert thinks what you’re doing is Right. Just find them and you’re sorted.

Then you can get back to Googling men who look like human transformers but are definitely really gentle lovers who never leave the empty toilet roll on top of the bin because omg who does that just open the Goddamn bin.

Rock lobster

Rock lobster

 

You’d never know

When I meet new people I often have to explain that my son is recovering from a serious respiratory condition. I briefly cover off the fact that he’s had a bunch of surgeries and has improved a great deal. I explain that I still need people to be careful around him when it comes to things like colds and flu and getting vaccinated to protect him.

The most common response I get is surprise that he has been through so much and is such a happy child. I am often told “You’d never know!” And I agree. There’s nothing about my rambunctious toddler that screams illness. You used to be able to hear every breath he took – awake or asleep. We had comments and stares wherever we went. I bloody hated elevators. After each surgery he would be temporarily better. And then the rasping, the dragging, would return.

In order to write this post I thought I’d look up to see when his last surgery was – it has been a year and I can’t believe it. I told someone the other day that it has been six months. I genuinely feel like it was yesterday.

And I can really see how people would think you’d never know he’d been so sick – He is the most resilient, strong, brave child. A complete stereotype. The Brave Sick Kid who takes everything thrown at them with a smile.

I wonder though how long I will know. Will I ever forget what we have been through as a family?

I’m often asked – when will you write about Eddie’s illness? I can understand that statement too. This is a blog about parenting after all and my first year and a half of being a parent was completely dominated by his illness. It is the elephant in the waiting room.

I’ve tried. I’ve tried to write about it. To tell his story in a start to (almost) finish kind of way. But I can’t. My brain only seems to open doors to little snap shots of memories. But then the door slams shut. I am wired for self care now. I cannot put that pain into any kind of order. I push myself out before I get in too deep.

Little snap shots.

Eddie at three months old in intensive care after surgery. I don’t know what time it is – I have turned my phone off to try to avoid calls where there is too much silence on the other end. I can’t meet the demands for updates. I’m out at sea. My husband is my lighthouse. Nobody can reach us. They are trying to get my baby to breathe on his own and when they tried to remove the tubes something happened and alarms went off and I was pushed out of the way. I thought about what would happen if I lost my baby. I thought about the buses that hurtle down the road outside the hospital. Right outside the hospital wouldn’t be ideal though. And it would not be fair on the bus driver.

On the phone to my sister. We had gone in to hospital because his breathing sounded particularly bad. They are rushing him in for surgery I tell her. Can she tell the rest of the family that he’s going in? I wonder why my arm hurts. I look at it and I have gripped it so tightly that it is now a deep, dark purple.

Is it months later? Or weeks? My husband and I are holding our little boy still. They are guiding a camera into his throat. He has had this procedure so many times. He is buckling and screaming. He goes limp. His skin is pale and clammy. Tears are streaming down my face. ‘It’s harder on the parents than the child’ someone says. I know that isn’t true.

I yawn at work. I have spent the night in hospital again. It is so noisy there that I can’t sleep. Eddie doesn’t sleep either. Someone says that the trick to getting your child to sleep through the night is to put them in another room with the door shut.

Sitting in the toilet at work sobbing. He needs more surgery. I can’t work out why I’m not getting better at handling this. I have a meeting in eight minutes. Why does it feel like it’s getting harder? I feel like I can’t breathe and I wonder if this is how he feels every day and that thought alone makes my jaw ache and my heart beat faster until I feel dizzy and cold.

I am exhausted. A woman in a café asks what’s “wrong” with my son. I say he has a respiratory condition. My body language is clear that I do not want to talk about it. “Should you have him out in this weather?” she asks. I say through gritted teeth that he’s fine. “Have you tried amber beads? My daughter swears by them for her son and he has asthma too”. I imagine pouring boiling water over her and the thought makes me smile. Another mother frowns at the rasping noises coming from the buggy she raises an eyebrow at her friend. My smile disappears.

A friend brings over their child. They have a snotty nose. It’s just allergies she says. I spend the next week sleeping no more than two or three hours a night. I am convinced he will get sick and end up in hospital again.

We are hopeful. We are daring to think he might be better after nearly three months of silent breathing. Then in the morning we hear him gasping. Overnight his breathing returns to the familiar dragging. We know that this means more surgery.

In a Facebook group a woman rants about how pamol is poison. She treats her son’s teething problems with cuddles she says. He’s never been vaccinated and that’s why he doesn’t get sick. Whooping cough is just a cough she says. No children have died of whooping cough and if they did it’s a form of natural selection. I am grateful that my husband handles all of Eddie’s medications. There is only one where he needs to be held down so we can give it to him. The rest he has gotten used to taking. I lie awake at night thinking about how I can keep him safe. I can feel his breath on my chest as he snuggles into me. I kiss his forehead and know I will do anything to protect him but how can I protect him from people like that?

I am pregnant. “Are you worried the baby will be like Eddie” somebody asks.

All of these little snapshots don’t begin to tell the story. He is getting better. He is better. Is he better?

Sometimes I feel like every little bit of this particular pain has attached to my bones. It is a weight that I carry around always and I wonder when it will be lifted. When will enough time have passed for it to pass? I feel like all of the time we fought for him to breathe – it was a war. We have returned from the front shellshocked. What is the length of time you need to be home for it to go away?

I think parents who go through this have some kind of sick kid post traumatic stress disorder. The people around you get sick kid fatigue. They have enough sympathy for the first few surgeries but your child is meant to just get better or…well…Limbo is a strange thing.

And when they do get better – you’re supposed to be free from it all too. Your child is better! That’s it. That’s the end of that story. Please begin talking about the lessons you’ve learned. Preferably have some Hallmark card quotes ready. Everyone loves a happy ending.

But it isn’t over even when it’s meant to be over. The fear is always there. Particularly when it’s a chronic illness or a condition that isn’t well understood. Remission or recovery doesn’t erase the past.

Last week he built an adventure in our lounge. You have to leap from the couch onto the pillows. Jump them like a monkey. Climb onto the recliner and leap on to the carpet which is the sea. Watch out for the shark! You’re a pirate now. Walk the plank then begin again. He does this ten times.

I hear a ragged edge to his breathing.

I feel that familiar ache in my shoulders. The dull pain in my neck. The heat on my face. My eyes prickle.

My heart jumps.

Will I always know?

 

***

If you liked this, follow me on Facebook for more of the same. I’m on Instagram too!

A Blessing

Any day now, three of my dear friends will be bringing babies into the world. I wanted to write them, and all mums, a blessing.

I have many hopes for you. Many wishes.

I wish that when your journey toward meeting your beautiful baby begins you’re excited as well as scared, because of course it’s normal and right to be a little scared. It’s a powerful thing we get to do. Isn’t it amazing?

I hope you have support and love surrounding you from that first “is this labour?” thought to that first sharp intake of breath when you really know This Is It, and on to your midwife or surgeon telling you it’s time. I wish for you that you feel safe from beginning to beginning.

I hope your labour makes you feel powerful or it is just forgettable. That in a week you will gaze at your baby and think “I could probably do this again” Look at that beautiful baby you brought into the world. You did it!

When you feed you little one: I wish for every duct to remain unblocked, that you never have to send your partner down the road for cabbage, that your pump is always working. I pray not a drop of your expressed milk is ever spilled. Not one crack in not one nipple! That’s what I hope for you. I hope your supply is just perfect – not too little, not too much. And if it doesn’t work out, and somehow the universe doesn’t read this post – I hope bottles are guzzled with gusto, that milk is on special every time you go to buy it, that your snuggles are extra snuggly as your baby looks up at you their beloved mama.

I hope you don’t accidentally kill someone on Day Three. I wish your hormones to be completely under control. And if they’re not, I hope it all goes wrong in a hilariously harmless way that you can tell your coffee group about. I hope it’s such a funny story that they laugh with tears in their eyes and tell you that you should be a comedian. And in that moment I hope you feel overwhelmed – not by out of control estrogen, but by love from your fellow mamas. I wish you to always have a shoulder to cry on, someone to laugh with, someone to make you tea, and someone to gaze at your baby and say as their eyes fill with tears “you did so good!”

I hope you never have to clean your house. For at least nine weeks.

I wish that every cry can be easily hushed with a gentle pat. That there are long sleeps and good feeds. That car rides are easy, public transport always comes on time, visitors never overstay their welcome. I wish for you chocolate and cider, and sleeping on your tummy, and comfortable pants and good TV. I hope for visits from friends who have trays of lasagne for you. I hope for moments where you say “it’s honestly easier than I thought it would be”.

May you have unobtrusive but excited grandparents. Helpful family. Thoughtful and kind visits. May your buggy breaks never jam, your carrier always work the first time, no poo explosions in white clothes, and no vomit on your good clothes.

Some things I don’t have to wish or hope for – I know you will burn with love for your baby, I know those who love you will look at you with eyes shining because they’re so proud of you and so in awe of your strength. And I know you’re nervous about your first baby and how they’ll cope but I know they’ll fall more and more in love with your little one every single day. Just like you will (because I promise the second time around is just as earth-shattering).

And I also know if none of these things happen, if these wishes don’t come true, if these hopes aren’t fulfilled – I’ll be here for you. And you’ll do so well anyway – I just know it.

**

If you liked this, follow me on Facebook for more of the same. I’m on Instagram too!

I love children

Every now and then someone will breathlessly say to me “I hate kids but I just adore Eddie!” I watch them smugly wait for me to fall over myself with gratitude as if this is some kind of compliment to me and my son.

It’s not a compliment. I’m not sure how I am meant to respond to it either. Ummm I’m glad you find my son aesthetically pleasing? I’m glad the stories about the cute things he does entertain you? I’m pleased that he has performed in such a way in front of you that you don’t hate him just because he’s a child? I mean really. The only thing you do when you say shit like that to me (or rant on Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr about how you hate kids) is make me put you on a list of people who I never want my kids to be around.

Saying you hate kids is hateful. It’s not edgy. It’s not cool. And if I ever, ever, ever made you think I’m “one of you” then my God I lost something in translation.

Too often I see people who think it’s cool to joke about “breeders” and how “gross” kids are. They just hate kids! But not yours…of course. I will never understand this horrible attitude. But I’m always especially surprised when I hear these comments from activists, and those in social justice circles, and from people who consider themselves feminists or allies. Because – you do know that nothing keeps women more isolated than feeling like they can never take their children anywhere right? And as a social group children are abused in huge numbers. They’re also silenced by those who are meant to protect them (from parents to politicians) and also by the fact that under a certain age they can’t talk at all or people think it’s cute to pretend not to understand what they’re saying. They’re also excluded from so many places already. And I mean – there are literally people who march in the street for the right to physically hit them. But umm you’re the oppressed one because you can’t enjoy your long black because a child is existing in your presence?

Anyway, this blog started as a rant about how grossed out I am by people who bitch and moan about children being in public spaces but then I thought – why give them more airtime?

So instead I’m going to go positive (but being on brand I’m also going to be a bit snarky) and thank some people for loving children in small ways. Because loving kids in public spaces means loving their parents. Loving women who are mostly the primary caregivers of most children. And generally just making the world a better fucking place for everyone.

So the biggie – thanks for not being an asshole in a cafe or restaurant! Thank YOU! Yes, you – that waiter who is run off her feet but still let’s my son practice his language by letting him order his own smoothie. You’re a fucking awesome person. Thank you to the dude at the table next to us who says ‘what a cool fire engine!’ to my son. Thanks for acknowledging his existence! You made him super happy because he fucking loves his fire engine. Thanks to the couple who mouth “it’s OK” and smile when I apologise for my little one crying. I don’t know why he’s crying and he’ll stop soon. So thanks for not making me feel awful about it when I’m trying everything I can to calm him down. Thanks to the clearly hungover group of students who smile and high five my son when he runs over to them to introduce himself. I’m sorry – he’s extroverted and you’re a big group of loud people and he loves big groups of loud people. Thanks to everyone who doesn’t scowl at us when we walk in and loudly claim “here we go. Why are there so many kids around here?” or laugh and say “ughhh breeders” as if I can’t hear them. While you click your fingers at waiters and then make them wait while you take photos of your eggs and tweet “I so hate kids #eggs” and leave all your messy dishes on the table in a pile and put cigarette butts out on your toast and sit for hours at your table instead of letting someone else use it and leave your newspapers in a pile on your food – I’ll smile at the waiter for you and we will comment about how you’re a bunch of turds.

Thanks for not being a jerk on flights. How much do flights suck? Isn’t it weird how parents also need to fly with their children? It’s like so arrogant for parents to want to fly with their kids. It’s almost like they want to see family or have a holiday like normal people do. Thanks for not audibly groaning when I sit next to you with my two kids. Thanks for playing peekaboo with my toddler through the seats while I breastfeed. I have been dreading this flight and your kindness makes me want to cry. Thanks for showing my son photos of your cat on your phone. He loves cats! You’re a fucking awesome person! Thanks so much for helping me with my bag. My back hurts so much and I am trying not to hold anyone up because I don’t want to be the reason why someone goes on Facebook and says kids are awful on flights. Thank you for not sighing and loudly complaining about my crying baby. I’m really overwhelmed right now. I wish I hadn’t booked a night flight but it was the cheapest option and I thought he’d sleep. I’m scared he’s in pain. I can see you rolling your eyes and grabbing your phone ready to tell everyone how useless I am – how useless all mothers who dare to travel with kids are. I’ve had a huge week and I just want to get to my dad’s place and have a bit of a break because I’m so exhausted. I’m sorry we’re both existing on the same flight as you. I am sure you’re tired too but being nasty probably won’t miraculously cure that? Thank you to the person in the aisle next to us for saying “It’s OK – my baby always cried on planes” or for gently patting my shoulder through the seat gap and saying “Not long to go”. You’re awesome. Your small kindness makes a massive difference.

Thanks for letting me be with my children in a public place. Thanks for not being an asshole about my buggy. I know it’s massive. I hate it. It’s like a monster truck – but this is the model that was given to us and it works because I have to walk everywhere so I need something sturdy. I know I am taking up space. I know I just knocked something over but I’ve picked it up and I need to get this medication and I can’t leave the buggy outside the chemist because it might get stolen. I am sorry for taking a buggy on a bus – but I can’t fold it down when I am carrying a weeks old baby. Thank you for helping me on and off. I get so embarrassed trying to do it on my own when I’m not really strong enough. Thanks for making room for me. Thanks for smiling instead of growling at me. I can’t afford two cars and my son loves his buggy. If you look into it he’s waving at you!

Thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt that I’m not intentionally trying to piss you off by being near you with a child. Thanks for treating my son like a human being. He’s a great little person. All kids are. They have ups and downs just like anybody else. They feel overwhelmed easily and sometimes it’s hard to make them do what you want them to do because they’re people! Thanks for not getting angry when a child cries. I cried in a pie shop the other day and I’m an adult. If I’m allowed to without being scowled at by other adults surely a child is allowed to?

It’s a pretty radical act to just not join in when people start bitching about kids. To call them on it and say – hey, why don’t you help a mama out instead of bagging her? Why not smile at a kid – that might stop them crying! It’s easy to say “yeah, kids are the WORST” because like all human beings kids can be annoying. Believe me, parents know this better than anyone. But do the test – would you feel comfortable saying you hate women? Because you went to a shop and a woman was crying and it irritated you? Nah. Probs not aye?

Anyway, in short – thank you. Thanks for recognising a child’s right to be in a public place. Thanks for recognising that parents aren’t evil breeders out to destroy your #eggs and #longblack.

 

***

If you liked this, follow me on Facebook for more of the same. I’m on Instagram too!

I cried in a pie shop

Today was not a good day.

The day started at 2.30am. It’s never a good idea to start your day at 2.30am.

The littliest one screamed in my ear. I was in a deep sleep. I was dreaming about Idris Elba. I did not want the things that were happening in that dream to end.

I put the baby on my boob and succumbed to the pain. It’s always painful on that side. Sometimes I think my right breast is possessed. That’s probably a sign that I’m not getting enough sleep.

Mercifully it is a quick feed. I can’t be bothered putting the baby back in his cot. He somehow wasn’t even in his cot anyway so I figure it’s ok for him to keep snuggling into me. I haven’t seen my husband in many, many years. I assume he is in the spare room bed with our toddler.

I groggily stumble into the toilet and see a snake. It is huge. I lunge for the towel rail because I need to stop myself falling backward. I break the towel rail.

The snake is a towel. We do not have snakes in New Zealand.

The baby wakes up.

I resettle the baby. My heart is racing. I’ll check Facebook to calm myself. The first photo in my feed is a fucking snake eating a fucking croc.

My breast hurts so much I can’t sleep anyway. So I just lay there imagining snakes. I try to turn them into fun snakes wearing top hats and getting upset because they don’t have arms and their top hats keep falling down. It doesn’t work.

Panadol doesn’t take my boob pain away.

It’s now 5am. I write a blog post about how much I hate breast feeding.

The baby wakes up. I feed the baby. It’s now 6am. I close my eyes.

At 7am my oldest comes in crying. He won’t tell me what’s wrong. My husband is looking for his work pants. He turns the shower on. I turn on Playschool. The baby cries again. It must be a growth spurt.

We are all late. Husband says he has to go. He’s sorry but he needs to get to this job. He cannot take our first born to crèche because our first born isn’t dressed because he’s watching Playschool. I force myself into the shower. The oldest jabs my stomach. “BABY INERE MAMA BABY INERE PUKU”. I scowl at him. He laughs. “Whasdat mama?” he says pointing to my stretch marks. The baby begins to cry.

I put on a bra and immediately leak through it. I get another bra. I hear the bus. I am not on the bus. I am looking for underwear.

The oldest boy has smeared my moisturiser all over the mirror in his room. I ignore it. I make a coffee and hear the bus. I am not on it.

My oldest son begins his crèche half day at 8.30am. It’s 9.30am. I cannot find the baby carrier.

I cannot find my oldest son. I look out the window and see our gate is closed so I just sit down and feed the baby. I read the blog post I wrote about breast feeding. It’s shit. I look for my oldest. He is filling a bucket with dirt and he has a hose in the bucket. He is filthy. I change him. The baby cries. I change my wet bra. We finally leave.

It’s 10.30am. I walk out just in time to see the bus leave without me on it. I begin to walk to crèche. It is so windy that I can barely hear my oldest screaming at me to STOP THE WIND MAMA. It’s quite pleasant.

The baby cries. Could it be teeth?

I see another bus. I tear across the road waving one hand while trying to steer the buggy with the other. The baby is laughing as he is bounced around in the carrier. My oldest yells “FASTER MAMA! FASTER!” from the buggy. The bus driver smiles at me and gets out of the bus to help me. “Lovely kids you’ve got there,” he says. Eddie says “HI I’M EDDIE!”

I struggle to get the buggy breaks on. A young girl offers me her seat. I wave her away. She coos at my baby. “What a cutie you are!” she says to him. He beams. Eddie says “HI I’M EDDIE!”

The bus driver gets up to help me off the bus. Before he can an elderly woman leaps up and helps me with the nappy bag which has fallen out of the buggy and spilled shit everywhere.

The bus driver, the nanna, and the young girl wave and smile at me from the window as the bus leaves.

Baby actually spills shit all over me. I walk into the crèche and Eddie leaps out of the buggy. “HI! I’M EDDIE” he yells. His kaiako cheerily greet me. They help me with my bags. They pull up a chair for my boy. They pass me a glass of water. They pull out his lunchbox. I realise it’s almost lunchtime. I say I need to go and they say “no worries! It’s all good.” I rush out to the sounds of my son crying. I bite back tears as my other son begins to cry. I watch the bus go past without me on it.

His kaiako rings me on my cell phone “I just thought you should know he stopped crying straight away. He’s playing in the sandpit. Everything is OK”.

I walk home. It takes an hour and 15 minutes. I am sweaty and covered in baby poo. I get home and put the baby in the sink. I put the carrier in the washing machine. After feeding the baby I realise I need to leave again to pick up the toddler. My husband comes home. He says he needed to get one of his tools. He drives me to crèche.

I stand at the door at crèche watching my son who hasn’t seen me yet. He is pretending to be a shark. He is screaming with laughter with the other children and their kaiako. He is covered in sand. He tells me he had SO MUCH FUN. I begin packing up his gear. The other mums smile kindly at me. “Full on day aye?”

I grimace awkwardly at them.

The baby cries. I have squeezed him into a sling and he hates it. My sister rings and I accidentally hang up on her. My oldest screams at me to stop the wind. I miss the bus. My sister calls again. I complain at her. I don’t even ask how she is. She asks for the boys sizes so she can buy some clothes for them.

I remember I have a guest coming at 4pm. It’s 3pm. The next bus is in half an hour. I go to the pie shop. I order a coffee. The lady offers to toast me a sandwich and gives me a warm smile. “It’s OK,” she says.

I think I didn’t thank my sister on the phone. Did I thank the bus driver? That girl? The nana? My husband? The kaiako? The other mums? Every person who spoke to me today has treated me kindly.

My baby snores softly on my chest.  My toddler sleeps in his buggy – exhausted from his exciting day. My husband calls.

“See you soon hon. What a shitter of a day aye?”

I nod. Hang up. And start to cry

I cried in a pie shop. Because I’m thankful to everyone who is nice to mums who always miss buses.

 

***

If you liked this, follow me on Facebook for more of the same. I’m on Instagram too!

Give me the Moon

My son’s current obsession is the Moon. Each night he insists that we take him on to the deck to look at the Moon. If he can’t see it he implores us to “geddit” for him. I’m not sure if this is a diversionary tactic ahead of bedtime. Either way, he’s all about the Moon right now.

So I’m looking forward to Capital E’s National Theatre for Children production of Kiwi Moon for obvious reasons. The good folks at Capital E contacted me after I wrote about their National Arts Festival. They offered me tickets to see another show during the festival – Orchestra of Spheres: The Sound & Light Exploration Society.

I don’t really know how to describe The Orchestra of Spheres. They have home made instruments. They dress in awesome outfits – kind of like drunk hipsters at the Sevens but without the hideous cultural appropriation. And their show is a weird orgasm of sound and light (fitting I know). I mean it sounds pretty messed up to say orgasm when referring to kid entertainment but they’re not really kid entertainment. For starters – you don’t want to smash your skull into the nearest piece of concrete when you listen to them, so that’s a sure sign that they’re not a made-for-kids band. They also seem to avoid mind-numbing kid lyrics (you know what I mean by kid lyrics – yesterday, on Play School they had a song that included the lines: “they’re egg-shaped because they’re eggs”) Don’t get me wrong – the kids LOVED the show. My little E and and his bestie were dancing in the aisles, as were most of the other kids at the show. But they are a band that could and do play pubs and clubs, and you can see why. It really was joyous music. Weird, funky, psychedelic, jamming art that had plenty of sass.

Orchestra of Spheres. Credit: Capital E.

Orchestra of Spheres. Credit: Capital E.

It’s a shame that at the show I went to the crowd really only got into it for the last two songs. I think that was possibly due to it being a matinee performance. We had the kids on our laps and they were pretty desperate to get on their feet, but it wasn’t until the front-person-tree-jellyfish told everyone to stand up that we felt we had permission to let the youth go wild.

Eddie said his highlights were: The World Moon (a giant white balloon that they projected images of the world on to, it did look like the Moon) and The Tree Man (for the last song the front person-triangle was dressed like, you guessed it, a tree). We had a great time and surprisingly the 50 minute show felt short. There was some kind of theme to it – a trip through the universe. The theme did kind of remind me of some of the experimentation I did in my youth but we won’t go into that. I’d definitely see them again.

But I’m really looking forward to Kiwi Moon which opens tomorrow. The season runs until the 18th of April. It will be my lad’s first theatre show. I’ll post a review once I’ve taken him along. Here’s what it’s all about:

 A little white kiwi thinks the moon might be his mother because it is white and bright and round like him. Prepare to snuffle and shuffle through the forest floor, hula with the huhu grubs, watch out for the wekas, and calypso with the handsome kakapo in this charming tale of one little white kiwi’s quest to find his place in an often strange and sometimes dangerous world.

That sounds pretty damn cute to me. Maybe if I ask super nicely Capital E will flick me a family pass for me to give away to any Welly parents reading this. Keep an eye on my Facebook page or check back here for updates. And if you see Kiwi Moon please let me know what you think of it. I think it’s great to support kids theatre. I’m doing my best to make sure my bogan kids get some culture in ’em.

Have you taken your kids to a show before? Did they like it?

Book tickets to Kiwi Moon here.

  • Dates Sat 4 – 18 April
  • Where Hannah Playhouse, 12 Cambridge Terrace, Wellington
  • Times 11am, Mon-Sat (2pm performance on Sat 4 April)
  • Age 2-7 year olds
  • Price $12.50 per person; $44 for groups of 4; $10 per person for groups of 10 or more; under twos go free