Let me clear up one thing, before I go on with the rest of this: I’d never normally re-post or even comment on anything from the D*ily M*il. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if you genuinely read it, if it’s your main source of news, I don’t think I want to be friends with you.

However- and it’s a big however- there are some instances in which it’s necessary to draw attention to it. They say the best way to deal with a troll is to ignore it, that they’re looking for attention. I say why should they get all the fun? Sometimes it’s necessary to trump them at their own game. Recently, parent bloggers were in an uproar as ‘journalist’ Anna May Mangan threw up her her hands about the rise of the ‘slummy mummy’.

You probably know the type: ones like The Unmumsy Mum (who was namechecked at length), who proclaim their children to be mini-antichrists, who send said children out as dishevelled riots and rely on chain-smoking, gin and profanities to drag them from sunrise ’til sunset. A parent blogger’s merit, she says, is judged on who can be the ‘most slapdash’. If you dare to say you enjoy motherhood, you’re bottom of the pile. Something is rotten in the state of motherhood, and these scummy, gin-riddled, neglectful wretches are to blame.

I didn’t spend our first child-free date night drinking orange juice

Mangan decries these women, stating that their vulgar lifestyles and constant moaning are an insult to feminism, organised mums and women who can’t have children. There’s nothing funny about being ‘too busy checking Facebook’ to make your children have a proper breakfast. Mangan also throws her hands up at the thought of mothers throwing together frozen meals as a quick fix (sometimes not even defrosted). The worst thing about them, though? They’re not slummy at all. No, in a daring feat of investigative do, she hazards a guess that these women are actually well-educated and middle-class, with well-fed, ruddy cheeked cherubs for offspring.

I can only guess that she did zero research on her subjects if she finds this surprising. Had she ever thoroughly read the books and blogs she was berating, she’d realise that they reek of middle class. Mangan is clearly not someone with an awareness of poetic licence, or indeed exaggeration for comedic effect. I’m not all that enamoured with the phrase ‘slummy mummy’ for one thing. I’m sure it’s meant in jolly japes, but it feels oddly classist. I mean, if the D*ily M*il considered these women ‘slummy’, then what was I? Unmarried, working in customer service, living in a one bedroom rented flat in one of the most deprived areas of Glasgow, who took a pregnancy test after a bender in Berlin and- gasp- a bottle feeder? Unmumsy mummies wouldn’t even have looked in my direction to toast hurrah for gin.

Reading The Unmumsy Mum didn’t make me gape in horror. Rather, I felt the opposite. I knew she and I were on an uneven keel when I read that she planned her babies (I didn’t) and was in a good, well-paying, steady career (I wasn’t). No one really thinks of parents like these as ‘slummy’ because they swear and don’t abstain from a drink or three. In the face of most other baby books, though, it was almost a reassurance. It reminded me that it’s OK to be overwhelmed, and have a moan, and swear, and eye-bang a bottle of wine with the kind of lust that got you into this mess in the first place.

Sure, so-called slummy mummy bloggers might not be tanking Tanqueray as soon as they wrestle their little hellions into bed. I seriously doubt that they can’t stay sober long enough to feed and clothe their children. Mangan takes this to the n’th degree, stating that they’re making up the whole damn thing for likes and shares. Umm, hardly. A slight exaggeration for comedy value, perhaps, but wouldn’t it be dull if all they offered was the minutiae of their day? What they have done, though, is offer a different take from traditional parenting books. The kind that enforce routine, order and military precision (Gina Ford, I’m looking at you).

Motherhood has long been an exalted undertaking, a miraculous blessing that we should fall to our knees and be thankful for. God forbid we say anything about feeling scared or overwhelmed, or that the first few weeks with a newborn are anything less than hallowed. The fact that women are making public their fears, frustrations and pitfalls chips away at the veneer of perfect motherhood. It might not be their verbatim experience, but it’s a damn sight more relatable than perfect celebrity mums who snap back into their pre-baby clothes. No one tells the absolute truth of what motherhood is like, but they’re offering a version I can concur with.

I’ve written before about how my initial reaction to impending motherhood wasn’t sheer joy. That scared me more than anything else. The thought of pregnancy, labour and childbirth didn’t faze me. I was terrified of the fact that I wasn’t turning cartwheels at the sight of those two blue lines. What if this was how I’d always feel? What if I resented the baby for what it was? I was at an age where friends were settling down and trying for a family, and some weren’t having much success. I knew of people who’d been so desperate to fulfil their familial wish that they’d opted for IVF. I hadn’t planned any of this. When I thought about all of those people who’d struggled to conceive, I almost felt like I didn’t deserve to be pregnant.

Pregnancy brought with it a resurgence in blogging and I sought out other parenting books and blogs with aplomb. There, I found books like The Unmumsy Mum and How To Have A Baby And Not Lose Your Shit. Sure, there are plenty of mums who are always on the ball, planning meals and appointments and enjoy doing so. The point that Mangan missed was that being one type of mum isn’t a ‘fuck you’ to the other. I eventually want to go back to work, but I have the utmost respect for people who want to be stay at home mums. My house is clean(ish) but untidy, my sink is a permanent rotation of clean and dirty dishes and I sat down to write this after washing butternut squash puree out of my hair. I admire those people who can maintain a child and a home, because I can’t. Hats off to ya. Sure, I get frustrated when Lucas cries endlessly despite trying everything to settle him. I like the (very) rare occasion where we leave him with grandparents and I can get in about a large rosé. It doesn’t make me a bad mum. It makes me imperfect, but what doesn’t?

Bloggers like Sarah Turner help to remind us, in their own way, that motherhood can be hard. More importantly they tell us that it’s OK to admit that. However, for every dirty nappy anecdote there’s another heartfelt one about loving her children, or how hard it was growing up without a mother. Being an imperfect mum doesn’t mean I don’t love my son. He never has to go without. There’s always an abundance of food, nappies and clothes in our house. And at the end of the night, when one large rosé has turned into last orders, I’m the first to get my phone out and flip through the 1500 pictures of him (and counting). After all, children don’t care that your house is clean, whether you’re wearing make up or whether you’re nursing an ‘adult headache’ and bright lights and noise bring physical pain. They don’t care that you have your meals prepped for the week and they could eat them from your sparkling floor. All children care about is that you love them. If you can offer them that, you’re doing OK.

After a bumpy start, Ally and I have managed to look after our li’l bean- or Lucas James, officially- for a whole month. It’s not been easy but he’s on the right track. He’s putting on weight and growing into his newborn clothes (after spending the first couple of weeks in tiny baby size). He’s feeding, he responds well to lights and sounds, he sleeps in a little cot next to me snuggled in a blanket and cries on cue for feeds and changes. To all intents and purposes, he’s happy and developing. Getting to this point though, has not been so straightforward.

After a fairly straightforward labour our three days in hospital felt like a blur. On our second day we were told that we were getting kept in another night, and I was actually relieved. At 6lb 5oz and ten days early, he was a little on the scrappy side. I didn’t feel ready for us to be out on our own yet and wanted to know we were doing OK. Most new mums- from what I’d read, anyway- talked about how they couldn’t wait to get their babies home. Right from the off, I felt weird because I didn’t want to. Well, I didn’t want to take him back to our flat. A draughty, cold, one bedroom, rented tenement which hadn’t had a proper clean in time for his arrival? Not exactly a dream family home. The hospital was safe and clean. We had advice on demand. Still, it all had to come to an end. Ally couldn’t stay overnight in hospital with us which he hated. It wasn’t fair, and I knew we had to go our own way eventually. We were discharged on the Sunday afternoon, although we had a couple of hours to get ready. I looked out of the window, watching the endless stream of buses and cars. Their lives were going on as normal and they had no idea how ours had changed. It was grey, cold, dirty with rain and traffic. I didn’t want to take my baby out in that, but we had to start our new family life.

I might’ve overestimated how big he would be at first when I bought this outfit, though.

Thankfully my mum, a former mental health nurse, had warned me about the baby blues. Knowing they were on their way didn’t help when they actually kicked in, though. Childbirth is a raging hormone-fest and obviously this has a direct effect on your mood and emotions. Around two to four days after giving birth the baby blues kick in. It’s a combination of exhaustion, low mood and a feeling of being overwhelmed. Some mums also find childbirth to be an anti-climax after pregnancy and labour. This is ALL normal and DOES NOT mean you don’t love your baby. I staved off the blues in hospital floating along in a new baby bubble, and just got through the getting home part. We stopped off to pick up Lucas’s pram en route and it really upset me that people weren’t stopping to coo over him. The fact that I barely glanced twice at a baby before pregnancy didn’t occur to me. That first night saw a whirlwind of family visits. We ordered Chinese, drank tea, played records and opened presents. We were listening to Rumours when Songbird came on. Ally was seeing family out and it was just me, my baby and Fleetwood Mac. I’d heard the song countless times but this time, it just hit me. Out of nowhere, the blues had crept up on me and the tears came on heavy.

No one really tells you how it really feels to be released into the wild with a baby. I mean, I knew having a baby was hard but I didn’t really know. I knew it was hard in the same way that I know that being a doctor or riding a horse is hard. I was fully unprepared for the exhaustion, the frustration, the general feeling of being so utterly overwhelmed. On our first full day home we decided to take Lucas a short walk in the pram. As well as giving birth, there had been a few other stressful things to deal with so I thought the fresh air would do us good. We accidentally ended up out for two hours, which was further than I’d been in months.  We got to a post office after trekking forever and I was getting sore. When we got there, it was bright, noisy, the queue was huge and there were annoying kids diving about everywhere. I walked straight back out and burst into tears. I just about made it home before almost fainting coming out of the shower and having to phone the triage nurse. My skin was cracked and dry, I hadn’t slept in four nights, my milk had come in but my baby wasn’t feeding. He was so small, his little ribs poked out and he spent the whole night screaming. I can’t even remember what I thought or felt because I was thinking and feeling so much. Barely three days in and I already felt like we were falling behind.

It was the second morning after discharge that I took this picture. I’d tried to take a picture of the two of us at home and that was the result. I knew I was tired, hadn’t been eating properly, hadn’t been drinking enough water, was getting stressed. I hadn’t realised how much it showed in my face. It’s probably the worst picture that’s ever been taken of me. There’s no filter, no editing. It pretty much summed up how lost I was feeling. I was supposed to be responsible for feeding my baby and he all he did was scream because I couldn’t. After two days at home, the midwife recommended that Lucas go back in to the special care baby unit due to his weight loss. Most newborns lose around 5-10% of their body weight after birth, but he had dropped 13%. I almost felt relieved. Maybe it’s something to do with him, I thought. Maybe I’m not a bad mum after all. At the very least, they could tell us what to do. Immediately I felt a little confidence returning- if we were staying in they could keep an eye on him, help us, make sure we knew what we were doing. After six hours they told us he was a little jaundiced and was losing weight because he didn’t have the energy to feed- but couldn’t feed to get energy. I was over the moon that there was nothing seriously wrong with him, but felt like the cause was my fault. Once again I was sent home, although the loan of a breast pump meant I could at least monitor his feeds. Our midwife also visited every day for the first week, which was a huge help. She made sure he was seen to as soon as she thought there was an issue. I’ve seen some mums have a hard time with their midwife- if so, you have every right to ask for a change. It’s a huge life event and you need all the support you can get. A stranger coming into your home shouldn’t add to the stress!

Lucas was born two weeks before Christmas. Usually a newborn baby means an influx of visitors and over the festive period, this was even more intense than it would’ve been. It’s a good complaint, I suppose. It would’ve sucked even worse if no one had bothered with him. However, I did find it hard to keep up and often found myself wishing we could have more than a couple of hours or so with our wee bundle. I didn’t want to pass him around and have everyone hovering and fussing. I found it hard to let go. People laughed when I begrudgingly handed him over, knowing full well it was new mum overprotection. I knew I was being oversensitive but it made me uncomfortable. In hindsight, I wish I’d had the confidence to say that I wanted some time to myself. I spent a lot of our alone time crying because everything felt so daunting. It felt like a chore that I was struggling to keep up with but felt awful because people were only trying to be nice. I cried with guilt because I didn’t have time to reply to all the messages and comments on social media. All I could think was how ungrateful I felt for not sending messages or wanting other people to see him.

Five weeks on and I still don’t feel like I have it together. Breastfeeding doesn’t come naturally to us. I know I shouldn’t care as long as he’s being fed, but keeping going feels important to me. On the advice of my midwife we went to a breastfeeding workshop at Merry Go Round, where the consultant detected a tongue tie. It meant he had trouble fully opening his mouth and therefore couldn’t latch on. It’s actually really common and is easy to correct. My health visitor referred him to the Royal Children’s Hospital to get it treated (basically, snipped), so I’m hoping this will be what we need to get ahead. At times I feel like I’m being selfish ploughing on with breastfeeding. He clearly finds it stressful and when he can’t latch on starts screaming. In saying that, the expressed milk is better for him so… we’ll see how we get on, I guess. If you’re concerned about your baby’s feeding habits- or lack thereof- tell someone. You’re not a bad mum if you struggle, although it’s easy to feel down if you can’t. The help is there for you. It’s hard to admit- I’m terrible at asking for help- but there’s no such thing as a stupid question when your baby’s health is concerned. After all, it’s better to ask and have nothing be wrong than say nothing and worry.

It’s hard, but if this last month has taught me anything it’s to treasure the smallest moments. I know in the first month or so, everything feels like a battle. All the plans I made for being a mum went out the window. I thought I’d have time to clean out my flat and make a little space for my baby. I thought, after the first feed, that breastfeeding would be easy and we could get out and about knowing he was getting everything he needed, whenever he needed. I pictured myself reading to him, playing music, using naptime to keep up with housework. It’s not that easy- but we’ll get there. I had no idea how to read a baby’s cues. Sometimes you get frustrated when they won’t stop crying. It’s also normal if your partner doesn’t feel the same way as you. Ally seemed to take to parenting a lot more naturally than I did, and it wasn’t fair. I was the one who’d carried him and it took a while to realise that he wasn’t doing it to spite me. I still had to find my own knack, and we’re still figuring out a routine. Lucas is only five weeks old. I’m always going to worry about money (or lack thereof, urgh), or his health, or like I’m not doing something right. At the same time he’s already changed so month in a few short weeks. Learning to cut us both a break is important for us. After all, he’s not going to be a newborn very long. Rather than worry about doing things wrong, it’s time to remember that we’re doing the best we can. We’re all new at this. And I think we might be getting on OK, for now.

Thank you to all the staff at the Princess Royal Maternity Hospital and Special Care Baby Unit in Glasgow, as well as the community midwives who looked after us at home. We would’ve been lost without you. 

Useful Advice

Bounty have articles and advice for every stage of pregnancy and beyond, including the baby blues.

National Breastfeeding Helpline are open every day of the year on 0300 100 0212 (09:30-21:30) as well as online.

NCT run loads of free classes and support groups for expectant and new parents, including help with feeding. Lucas and I like our local baby café!

NHS Choices, ‘Postnatal Depression’

Mind, the mental health charity, have plenty of information on postnatal depression.

 

 

 

 

My last blog post ended on a somewhat optimistic note, as I mused over my impending maternity leave and preparedness for birth.

“I’ve written out my birth plan, we’ve packed mine and the baby’s hospital bags, Ally’s achieved the impossible and constructed IKEA drawers for the baby’s stuff in the time between him finishing work and me getting home. We’ve got a little rocker all set up in the corner, a cot, a pram and a car seat all ready to collect and a stockpile of nappies we’re adding to every week.

All we need is a li’l bean to fill them. I just hope we’re not waiting too long”

Less than 48 hours later, I was sitting in the maternity ward of the Princess Royal Maternity Hospital with my newborn son in my arms.

Everyone, meet Lucas.

baby-boy-lucas-james-birth

I know, I know. It was a pretty big shock to us, too. When I’d said I hoped we wouldn’t wait too long, I meant ‘after my due date’. My last day of work was supposed to be the 9th of December, after which we’d have ten days to prepare ourselves for parenthood. I had so many plans: birth plans to finalise, playlists to make up, forms to fill in, a flat to clean, a breastfeeding DVD to watch, one last aquanatal class to go to and maybe- if I had time- hair to dye and nails to do.

It’s fitting that it didn’t turn out that way, really. My pregnancy was an unexpected surprise so why should the birth have been different? Much like that fateful day when I took a positive test, the birth saga itself feels like something I watched out of body. It’s hard to articulate without being matter-of-fact. I’ve already retold the story so many times that it feels like I’m running through the plot of something. I worried that it came across detached when the reality as quite the opposite. It was all I could do to keep my emotions intact to stop me feeling scared and overwhelmed. In order for me to do so, I had to treat it like any other day.

In the end up, I don’t know if going the full ten days would’ve made me any more prepared. I’d probably have sat at home, frustrated that I couldn’t do as much as I wanted. Yeah, some time off would’ve been nice. The way things ended up, it was for the best that li’l bean came out when he did.

I had a half day on the Thursday to go for my 38 week midwife appointment when I had the weirdest feeling. Walking up from the stairs from the train, I felt a sensation that was altogether warm and cold.

“Shit”, I thought. “I’ve pissed myself”.

Pregnancy is a pretty undignified process at the best of times. You lie in clinical rooms while strangers poke and prod you, ask intimate questions about your health and have a feel of your bones and muscles. You swell in areas you didn’t know you could and bloat beyond recognition. Still, though. Pissing myself? That was a new one. I’d drank a lot of water in order to take a sample to my appointment and figured I’d left it too long. It briefly crossed my mind that it might be my waters but honestly, I had NO IDEA what that entailed. In the early stages of labour you generally have your show first, then your waters break, then you get contractions. There’d been no sign of the first stage, which meant to me that I was in the clear. I thought your waters erupted in a gush, like The Shining’s elevators but with amniotic fluid. In any case I toddled to my appointment and was sure they’d let me know otherwise. I got there, they took some bloods, listened to the baby’s heartbeat and felt my tummy.

“His head’s engaged”, one of them said. “How have you been feeling?”

“Well, I actually thought my waters had broken”- she winced- “but it turned out I’d just peed myself”

Apparently this is a really common occurrence, so they didn’t second guess. I didn’t even realise it was still going. I told them I was finishing work the following day, they both wished me well and hoped I’d get some rest before baby came along. I made my appointment for 39 weeks, went into town to pick up some Christmas shopping and realised the pee was still going. It continued the whole way around town. I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s ever had a little accident in The Disney Store but I’m sure the overwhelming majority are of single-digit age. By the time I got home, I had what felt like pretty gnarly menstrual cramps too. A bath didn’t help, and neither did a bounce on my gym ball. The li’l bean had given a few grumbles but nothing to suggest that he was on his way. The constant dull cramp had given way to sporadic bursts but it was nothing that a couple of paracetamol, peppermint tea and an early night couldn’t fix. Or so I thought.

As the night went on so too did the ‘bursts’, but due to a lack of show I chalked it up to Braxton Hicks. Ally kept insisting that I phone the midwife. It was only an hour later, when I realised that I was still- umm- leaking, that I took him up on it. When she asked if my waters had broken, I detailed the peeing myself debacle. She told me that it was a continuous process and I explained that it had been going on for about ten hours.

“It does sound like you’re in the early stages of labour. Keep timing your contractions and contact us when they’re about 3-4 minutes apart”

Ffffffuuuuuuucccckkkk. This couldn’t be happening. We weren’t ready. I had playlists to make up. Forms to fill. A week’s worth of me time to catch up on. It was ten days early. But no, contractions were coming on heavy and before I knew it, it was 4am and I was bouncing around on my ball while we double and triple checked our hospital bags.

Even looking back at it all now feels like I’m watching someone else. I don’t remember feeling scared or apprehensive as long as things kept ticking along. I felt very matter of fact. We busied ourselves with organising and tidying, pushing away the thought that every contraction as following closer than the last. Time seemed to stand still and tick away all at once. A follow-up call to the midwife confirmed that things were on track and I should go for a bath. I sat in it for almost two hours. It was gross.

The standard advice for mums to be is to stay home as long as possible before going into hospital. It’s supposed to be that your home is a familiar environment, it’s where you feel safe. That’s all good in theory but being at home was starting to have the opposite effect on me. I’d messaged my friends, my mum was on her way, my bags where packed. I’d started to normalise as much as I could but it was running out fast. I wanted to be where there were professionals and equipment to monitor my baby. I could only ration so much. It suddenly seemed ridiculous when my biggest concern was making my mum wait outside while I wrapped myself in a towel while still in the bath.

In the end, when she came to get us, we didn’t even phone the hospital. We just left. We piled out and the fresh air burst our little bubble. I thrust my phone at Ally, insistent that he phone my manager to say I wouldn’t be in for my last day. After that last piece of life admin was taken care of, I finally felt like this was it. I was in labour. Nothing was going to make it go away, other than actually having my baby.

But that’s a story for another day.

When I started blogging again, it came from a wont to document the ins and outs of pregnancy but there were other reasons, too. There had been an underlying urge to reignite some kind of creativity for a while. I just didn’t know what that would be, or how I was going to do it. I don’t know quite why the urge took me when it did. It’s hard to pick the most prevalent reason but if I had to choose I’d whittle it down to maybe three.

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On the fourth day of blogmas, I give you… a snowy little snapshot of the city I call home.

queens-park-glasgow-southside-snow-winter

Glasgow at Christmas has a very special place in my heart- it has done for as long as I can remember. The seasonal shift, to me, started when we were wrapped up in coats and hats and bundled along to Glasgow Green to see the fireworks on Guy Fawkes’ Night. From then on my birthday would come and go and before I knew it, the lights were coming on. Ever since I was a baby, my mum and dad would take me into town to see the Christmas lights go on in George Square. I later learned this was because they didn’t have any money, it was free, and I was entertained by shiny things (no change there).

Still, I always remember it being such a magical event. The nativity scene, the lights, the huge tree in the middle with the little cartoon Rosie and Jim. People spilled over from the square, onto every side street. Some local celebrity would flip a switch and suddenly everyone would gasp, and clap, and the Christmas season would officially begin.

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