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.