Thursday, 19 June 2014


Well, Gonzo is here, and is as delicious as every newborn should be. His birth was just perfect, exactly as planned, healthy and safe for him, affirming and empowering for me, and almost entirely ignored by his big brother. I'd love to write more about it, because I think the internet needs more joyfully positive birth stories, but tonight I need to express myself on something else.

Two weeks ago, I thought I understood what patience was, and I prided myself on how much I'd developed since becoming a mother. It's not exactly been a strength for me, but I was managing it - I was not shouting at the 3 year old (much), not even getting shirty with the husband (much), and congratulating myself at sometimes managing to show the serenity I so admire in others.

But now? Gosh, now. I know I am jam-packed with hormones - it's only been 11 days - and that things will settle. But the walls I'm hitting here are granite - the bounds of my patience seem to have contracted to inches apart. I don't know quite what it is - obviously Gonz isn't exactly doing anything yet, and Bonz is doing nothing different from two weeks ago - but I seem to have the shortest leash imaginable. I think the worst is the dim awareness that often the subject of my impatience isn't the true cause - so H annoys me, and I express it in anger with bonz, or bonz annoys me, and I project it on to gonz. I find myself exasperated when he's fussy on the boob (of course he's fussy. I have a supply made for quads, and it all comes out at once, the poor wretch is half drowning) or, last night, when he wouldn't conveniently go quiet just at the time I was trying to help bonz to sleep. And then I'm minding about my poor big boy's needs, am frustrated when he howls for me and only me at bedtime, or tells me the baby wants to be put down so I'm free to play, or needs a wee suddenly whenever I sit down to nurse....but this is a child whose whole world has been disrupted, who's doing so wonderfully, who kisses his brother so gently and tells me he loves me many times in a day, and philosophically goes and plays on his own while the midwives are around (and indeed, did this for the several hours he was awake while I was busy having a baby in the conservatory). He's being a treasure, a love, and gonz is being a squishy fuzzy newborn delight.

My only hope is that most of this is internal. I feel wretched about not feeling saintly, but I think I'm behaving better than I feel. It's just exhausting to manage, to keep on top of the urge to shout and slam and scream for a moment alone, a moment not holding or touching anyone, a single occasion when someone will tell me unambiguously what they want, say thank you when they get it, then go about their business.

Of course there's also patience with myself. I've got a lot more brewing on this, but having this whole new baby experience second time around has shown me how much I expect of myself, and how embarrassingly important it is to me to "do well". I wanted to have a heroic birth after working as close as I could to it, and I now want to sail on through the early baby days making it look effortless, parenting my older boy intensely and playfully and brilliantly while selflessly giving my all to the baby, surviving on minimal sleep, achieving all sorts of personal projects during my maternity leave, and so on. Sounds like anyone's wish list but it turns out to matter a frightening amount to me - I really am grading myself and so, of course, finding myself wanting. (Note - must also have body that returns to pre-pregnant shape within a month, two at most). It could be that a lot of my feelings of snappiness with my boys are to do with snappiness with myself, being constantly aware that I'm not doing as well as I want to, that my house is a tip and our meals are more "freezer surprise" than loving organic freshly prepared creations.
I know, I know. This kind of post is designed to be read and laughed at a month later once the hormones are settled, but I want it here anyway, I want to show how it feels less than two weeks in, and to get my ugly confessions in writing, as if this diluted them.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Mothers in the night

Welcome to the ‘Look At All The Women’ Carnival: Week 2 – ‘The Mothers’ This post was written especially for inclusion in the three-week-long ‘Look At All The Women’ carnival, hosted by Mother’s Milk Books, to celebrate the launch of Cathy Bryant’s new book ‘Look At All The Women’. This week our participants share their thoughts on the theme ‘The Mothers’ (the second chapter in Cathy’s poetry collection). Please read to the end of the post for a full list of carnival participants. ***

Although I've been a mother for more than three years now, I still have a weird dissociation from it - say "mother" or "mum" to me, and I think of my own mum, or of the LLL Leaders and members I work with - they're all "real" mothers, and I'm still just a big fraud.
But there's a time I feel connected, a time when my identity fits with the name, and that's at night.

When bonzo was small, and waking all the time, and up more in the night than he was asleep, and when we weren't even managing lovely dozy cuddly feeds, but instead the sitting-up, wrestling, whimpering (from both of us), occasionally cursing (just me), desperate feeds, I reached a really low point. I suppose he was probably about 9 or 10 months - a famous killer time - and it was getting me down pretty badly. I'd started to let myself feel very hard done by, and would always always look at the clock and add a number to the mental tally - this is how many times you woke me, this is how long I was awake for, this is how little sleep I had, this is what a martyr I am and how miserable I am entitled to be.

Two things helped. First, a call to the LLL helpline, and I so wish that I now knew who it was I talked to that morning. I asked her for a pep talk, she gave me one; she gently urged me to hide the clock, to look at ways of sharing sleep, to haul myself back to meetings, and  things that have followed since have been life-changing.

But there was also (moving into some slight relevance to the subject) a visualisation that I developed, to run through in these horrible times where I felt so very sad and alone.
I would sit in the bed, with the baby, and imagine a golden web, a web connecting me to all the other nursing mothers.
In this picture, the first round of the web had my new mother friends, all those who were struggling with the same things right now - it was quite realistic to think that at least one of them would be awake too, at exactly that minute, nursing a child, drunk with tiredness.
Next, there were all the nursing mothers around the country and the world, those I didn't know, those for whom it wasn't even night, but still busy at the same activity, and connected to me through this bond.
After that, the women whose babies were all grown up - my own mother and grandmothers, the women I'd worked with, mothers of my friends - our links stretched back and forth in time, but still glittered and shone. Going back further in time, I'd think of all the women who had ever nursed their babies, going back to the beginning, doing what was natural and true.

Now the web was huge and complex, so many golden lines between us all, connecting us whether or not we were aware of it. Finally I'd add those who weren't mothers, and wished they were  - with lost babies, or never-arrived babies, and empty arms at night.

Part of me finds it a little embarrassing to describe this - I know that at one level it sounds, for want of a better word, naff, but when I really needed it, it gave me such strength. I wasn't Helen, alone, I was Woman, Mother, part of a body that grows and embraces us. I'd almost forgotten it, as the night feeds gradually trailed off, but it's been reawakened for me recently, with the challenges of intense toddler needs, and my imminent brand new child. I can plug back into this network-web without permission, and without putting my hand up - it's the biggest club I've ever been in, and by far the most fulfilling.


 Look At All The Women is now available to buy from: The Mother’s Milk Bookshop (as a paperback and PDF) – we can ship books around the world! and as a paperback from
Book cover for Look At All The Women by Cathy Bryant
It can also be ordered via your local bookshop. If you’d like to get involved in the ‘Look At All The Women’ carnival please find more details about it here: Please take the time to read and comment on the following fab posts submitted by some wonderful women:
‘Moments with Mothers and (Imaginary) Daughters’ — Cathy Bryant, guest posting at Mother’s Milk Books, shares more poetry from Look At All The Women — her own version of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’ and a poem inspired by her imaginary daughter.
 ‘The Cold Cup of Tea’Marija Smits shares some poetry that gives a glimpse into the everyday life of a mother.
 ‘Creative Mothers: You Need to Stop!’Georgie St Clair, shares an important reminder, that all mothers need to dedicate time and space to be creative.
 ‘The Mothers – Or Promises to My Future Child’: Kimberly Jamison posts to her blog The Book Word what she has learnt from her own mother, and writes an open letter to her future child.
 ‘Bonobos are my Heroines’: Ana Salote at Colouring Outside the Lines puts the nature back into nurture.
 ‘Baby Body Shame: it's Time to Push Back’ — Stephanie from Beautiful Misbehaviour wants to challenge society’s treatment of the post-birth body.
 Helen at Young Middle Age talks about finding strength from thinking about all the other mothers, during hard times.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014


Just a quick check-in one, really: I have a couple of longer posts in drafts but they're not quite ready for the world yet.
I'd forgotten this stage of my first pregnancy. A little over 36 weeks, and the world is slipping away from me, or perhaps I'm slipping away from the world. I find myself inexorably drawn inwards, to quiet and reflection and a sort of contemplation of my core. I want to shut down everything that isn't absolutely necessary - no calls, no emails, no contacts. Nesting never really hit me last time and it hasn't this time either - I suppose my version is a kind of "interior nesting", a compulsive need to get my mental house in order before starting on this journey again.
It's quite a bit harder this time, what with an about-to-be-three-year-old who's practising his use of the word "why". There's also a big work target that just has to be met before I can have the baby - the book has to be submitted, and it's all written now (as of tonight!) but I'm awaiting editorial comments and will have some more work to do on it. Somehow I feel sure that I'll be able to hold off on the birth until the book's done, but it's a frustrating blockage - I can't quite let go and surrender to the sort of trust in my body that I want, until this final external task is completed.
No, of course there are other external things too, we need to eat, I need to fold tiny baby clothes and find my nursing bras and pack a bag and work out exactly what will happen to bonzo when I'm not there with him, but these are all known needs, and really now I am driven by felt needs. I need to be an animal, I need my instincts for warmth and dark and privacy, I need to lose swathes of time to communing with the new child before we meet face-to-face.
I'm brimming with hopes for the opportunities that six months away from working will give me, even if I'll also be wrecked by the realities of combining toddler and newborn care. But these are vague fancies, really, compared to the vivid reality that is all inside and that I must inhabit fully.

Please send positive waves or vibes or thoughts or hopes or prayers, whatever form comes most naturally to you.

Monday, 3 March 2014

More new beginnings

It's not meant to have such a tone of weariness as perhaps it does, but I'm feeling weak and irresolute about more new starts.
We moved house last week, away from a nice enough but damp rented place on one side of Bath to an owned, warm place on the other side. The house is going to be great - it's not the kind of place you'd fall in love with, but it's got space (I have my own study!) and a garden with a bit of room but not too much, and a big greenhouse, and lots of toilets (this seems to be the part that's most impressing bonzo).
I suppose just thinking back to other posts, I'm struggling to gather strength for all that newness again. When we first moved to Bath I found it so hard to drag us out to meet people: I remember making pathetic little hand-drawn calendars desperately filled up with any kind of group I could find, just so I'd feel we had somewhere to go to, and I remember coming home and making little notes whenever I met a new mother and child, her name, the child's name, something that might help me remember was all a bit "like me, like me" but still with all that effort it was hard hard hard, hard to overcome my current natural introversion and force myself out there.
And now it's the same all over again. Our nearby neighbours seem friendly but are a whole generation older than us (at least), and we're on a cul-de-sac so I'm not even seeing people walking past. Bonzo's had the chicken pox so in our first week here we didn't leave the house, but now that we can I'm too shy, I'm too tired, I can't build up the resolve.....we managed a walk to the shop this afternoon but I'm starting to think my mouth's sealing up, I can't just initiate a conversation, I can barely talk.

Such a negative take, and not really how I feel, but somehow the comfort of the internet's just what I need at the moment. Perhaps I'll get it all out of my system here so that I won't, when I finally meet some people here, let out a huge splurge of incoherent self-pitying rambling that will have them backing away and making excuses...

The latest attempt at baby number 2 is progressing well, though - 26 weeks now, so I'm impressively bulky and it's starting to feel believable.

I swear I'll be back to this again soon with something more positive, or at least better written and more interesting. Perhaps the incentive of having such a gloomy post on the front of my blog will be enough to make me write something again soon and knock it off....

Friday, 15 November 2013

A stillness filled me...

...bitterness lifted from me.

It's a line from Brian Patten, and it's bitterness that I've been thinking about at the moment, but not so much I want the word in my post title, because it's a horrible word and a pretty horrible sensation.

It's just occurred to me that I hold myself back with being bitter. It creeps in when I'm not looking and it's invidious, it shades the way I think about so much. Well, I think, when I see someone doing things I wish I was doing, it's ok for her, she has childcare, or her children are older, or her children sleep. When I look at the craft bloggers that I so love to read, I'm filled with an unpleasant envy, same with all the people who write, who talk about getting up early and doing morning pages, and spending their evenings honing their craft. Not fair, I want to shout, they've obviously got rich husbands or private means, they're not like me, they obviously don't need to earn a living. Poor poor Helen spends all her free time doing "real" work, moneywork, earning a living, being an adult, having responsibilities, and it's so unfair that "they" have the chance to do interesting things, explore their skills, do real creative work, etc. What's more, poor Helen never gets a decent night's sleep, and if she got up early to do things then the child would wake and howl, and so on.

This stuff is, to some extent, true: I do have an awful lot of claims on my time right now, in this season of my life. But, I could still find spaces for things that aren't paid work, and I could still dream about the things I'll do once I have a little more time, and there's no point at all now in being bad tempered about the way that things are. I didn't marry a banker, and he wouldn't be the man I'd wanted to marry if he was the all-hours type; I did birth a high-maintenance child, and am parenting him in a high-maintenance way, but there's nothing to do with that other than suck it up.

Also time does bend and flex, when you really want it to, and if I let go of thinking that it can't, then it might. When my Booker books came I'd probably read only one or two novels in the previous three months, then I hammered through five of them in a couple of weeks, because I was loving them, and I had a target, and so I found the time, I eked and scraped it, and it was there. (Now, number six, the one that in a travesty ended up winning, I still haven't got through, which tells you all you need to know about how you're much better at making time when it's for something you like).

Realistically we do need an income, and that's going to be from me, so it would be really unwise to pack in the accounting and try to making a living from selling unfinished crochet pieces, but I can still man up a bit about the rest of it.

(It's a very sad poem, by the way, called On time for once, as beautiful as all of his love poems, but not actually relevant to the post apart from those lines, just for the avoidance of doubt).

Tuesday, 17 September 2013


This is another one not to read if you're a family member or a professional contact who's clicked through from twitter expecting content about accounting. It's here because I've been all over the internet in recent weeks looking for company on this, and I think those of us in a position to write about it should do. Bits of it have been coming into my head for a few days, but I've not edited it, instead giving in to the urge just to get it down, and out there. Perhaps more thoughtful posts will follow, or perhaps I'll get something up soon about the Booker shortlist so this isn't lingering on the front page being miserable.

So, loss.
A little while ago I found out I was pregnant.
A couple of weeks ago the pregnancy ended, I miscarried, I lost the baby. That's a range of ways of putting it, with a variety of baggage attached.
1 in 4 is the statistic you see quoted, but we've all read it, and we all know it doesn't mean us. I reasoned it away because "loads" of those are pregnancies that are never even detected, just few-days-late periods. And the others, well, they're for others.
Then suddenly it was for me. I'll be talking about me in this, not us, because it's my story, and I'm telling it how I want to. I don't think it would be my place to attribute words or thoughts to H, so I won't.

Mainly at the moment, still, it is a bigness. It's something in the corner of your eye, you can only observe it sideways, but it glowers and menaces. Most of the days, most of the time, I'm pottering along, working, doing toddler-things, keeping stuff going, but occasionally, maybe a couple of times a day, it's just walloping me from nowhere.

I was going to be a mother again. Now I'm not.
I was going to spare Isaac from being an only child. Now I'm not.
I was a healthy, fertile woman doing what women are built to do. Now I'm not.
I was going to have a wonderful birth, even better than last time. Now I'm not.
I was going to be able to use all the lessons I'd learned first time round. Now I'm not. 
I was going to be a matriarch, presiding over a chaotic but love-filled household. Now I'm not.

I'm not packed full of glorious life and promise. I'm a flawed vessel, I didn't look after the goods I was entrusted with, my body failed me, I failed my baby.

My baby, that's key, the fact I was only 7 weeks along is irrelevant. I don't care about where it was on the embryo-foetus-baby scale, the whole future and all my hope was packed in there and came out over the course of one painful, sad weekend. This was supposed to be my baby. He or she would have been nearly 3 years after Isaac, a completion to our family, a fruition. For the three and a bit weeks that I was pregnant, I kept having these moments of melancholy about not yet being pregnant, not having the family the shape I wanted, then realising oh yes! I am pregnant! I no longer have to be sad!

And now, once more, I'm not pregnant, and I'm struggling to see colours in the world. I just can't imagine recreating that kind of optimism. My boy is so precious and dear, and I am holding on to him particularly tightly, but I'm miserable about the idea of his growing up alone, and miserable that it will be my fault: a mother is meant to make a family, a whole family, not one attempt and then a flunk.

This was meant to be an elegant, well-crafted and moving piece, and it turns out I can't write that yet: perhaps I'm not yet ready yet, and perhaps I won't be. It just turns out there isn't elegant melancholy to be had here, there's jarring pain and grief.

Perhaps I'll search-engine optimise by including some of my own recent popular phrases:
"miscarriage emotional wreck"
"miscarriage caffeine"
"miscarriage pineapple"
"miscarriage breastfeeding"
"miscarriage maternal age"
"miscarriage likelihood of recurrence"
"miscarriage overwhelming sadness"
"miscarriage can't concentrate"
"miscarriage feel desperately alone"
"miscarriage coping with toddler"
"miscarriage dental work"
"miscarriage paracetamol"
and no, none of them gave me a neat, parcelled, thing to pin it on.
I know people move on, go on to have children after miscarriage. I know this intellectually. But, what if I don't, and anyway, I wanted this one. This was my baby. I was already spinning dreams for it. This is probably the biggest thing for me, and the reason I think these ugly clumsy kind of posts need to be out there on the internet for sobbing midnight googlers to find: until it happens to you, you don't get this. You don't actually know it's the loss of a baby. It's happening all over the place, and no one speaks about it until someone else mentions it - I've hardly told anyone, and yet of those I have, have heard several "when I had my miscarriage" stories. They hurt to hear, but they're also such a comfort.

I suppose as time passes I will find it easier to say "when I had my miscarriage", and I want to, because since I'm part of this lousy team, at least I want my badge.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Kindness, identity and personal projects

This one's another sort of placeholder, because I'm still not quite in a position to write about the sad thing, but I do want to keep going, and give myself some momentum, even though I'm writing into the void. (Except "vampirestat" - it loves my posts).
Just more on what I was saying the other day. I notice kindness in others, particularly when it seems to come naturally to them. I seem to find it sadly effortful. But today I was feeling bleak at a toddler group (is there anyone who doesn't feel slightly bleak at toddler groups?) and J, who I barely know really, noticed and came and spoke to me, and let me rant a bit about the peculiar social anxieties I have on behalf of bonz, which you can read all about in  this post if you don't remember. I just about managed not to cry because of her sympathy, but after getting past that, I felt uplifted by her generosity in noticing, in interrupting other, more fun, conversations to speak to me, and in telling me afterwards she was glad if she'd helped. Then C came over with her girl this afternoon and as always floored me with her warmth and bigness of spirit, and brought chocolate because she knew I needed to be cheered up. It doesn't seem that at the moment I'm doing much reciprocal kindness, or much paying it forward - too meshed in my own stuff - but perhaps noticing it is a good start.
Oh, wrestling with this, I'm just about to read a book which I hope will help me shape some thoughts. I feel glad and confident in my new self-as-mother and there's not all that much I regret leaving behind. But, it's not quite there, and I shudder when I see people describe themselves as entirely changed. How to capture the desire for (and experience of) deepening and enrichment, and the pleasure in finding new facets, but also the melancholy at the sound of other doors softly closing? I don't know, and I want to explain it from the point of view of a formerly intelligent interesting professional, but I've not quite got my arms round it yet. I'll report back.
I do moan and groan about the time commitments of mothering, but in truth I have more time now than I did. The beautiful rainbow crochet blanket of delight is coming on beautifully, and no, the use of two beautifuls there is not excessive. I'll add a picture if I can work out how. Knitting's parked at the moment, since the two needles seem just too enticing for mr grabber. But I'm reading again, a bit, sometimes, and have developed a zeal only today for getting the booker shortlist this year and seeing if I can at least get through a couple of the short ones before the announcement. It's ambitious, but bonz does now sleep in his own bed for the first part of the night, so I can read in bed again, and I'm not overwhelmed with work at the moment, so sometimes I stop at 10, and occasionally he gets absorbed with lego in the day time, so I can sneak a few pages in's not like my luxurious, book-drenched, time-rich other life, but you work with what you've got.
Long post, no pictures, really must dig out the blanket one else (ha!) I'll go losing readers.