Random Rambling – a letter to Reindeer

Dear Reindeer,

At the moment you are sleeping soundly, blissfully unaware that tomorrow is a historic day for the UK. Once you’ve finished your breakfast in the morning, your Dad and I will be taking you with us as we cast our votes in the referendum on EU membership.

Don’t be fooled by the term ‘historic’ though. The classic use is to describe a historic victory, but remember that to others that same day was a historic defeat. Over the last months passions have been running high. Recently, this has meant a lot of insults flying about as supporters of each stance dig in ahead of the referendum.

The question of whether to stay or go is complex – economics, social responsibility, justice, immigration and climate are just some of the battlegrounds of the debate.

Whilst the ballot is secret I’ve decided to post my reasoning and decision here so that you can read it for yourself one day as, whatever the outcome, it will have implications for you and all your generation.

My first reason to remain is simply that I love being a part of Europe. Having easy access to travel and meet so many people, experience so many cultures, hear and attempt so many languages is a great gift. I’ve visited many European countries and enjoyed each one. There is always something new to explore and to inspire. You will find that we have adopted some of the customs we’ve learned about here at home! We have family who have moved to Northern Europe and spent happy holidays visiting them and spending time exploring their new country. Over the years we’ve worked, studied, socialised and made friends with people from the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Lithuania. This would not have been so easy were we not part of EU and I would very much miss the openness we currently enjoy.

Secondly, I appreciate the value the EU places on equality, especially for women and families. Today I have emailed my employer requesting a career break so I can spend more time with you. Things like paid maternity, paternity and parental leave, adoption leave, career breaks for caring responsibilities, national minimum wage, equal pay for both genders and protection from discrimination based on ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, ability/disability, age or marital status are all part of the EU ethos. Given the disgruntlement of some UK politicians and citizens, we might never have had these things were we not in Europe.

My third reason is a business one. Your Dad currently runs his own small business. One third of his business is with Europe. Being within the EU allows his business to compete on a level playing playing field. Leaving the EU is likely to increase costs and make it much harder to trade with customers still in the EU. Your Dad has put so much work into starting his business it would be awful to see it fade due to the UK stepping back.

The fourth reason I have is around tolerance and respect. The topic of immigration has been synonymous with the referendum. Many in the Leave campaign want to close our borders to refugees and economic migrants as Europe is currently experiencing the biggest influx of refugees since World War Two. Refugees are coming here because our governments have decided to bomb their countries in the misguided belief this will create peace. Others want to come here because they have few prospects and little hope at home. One joke doing the rounds is of Schrödinger’s immigrant who simultaneously steals your job whilst living on benefits and not working. It isn’t funny but it does highlight the absurd position taken by Leave. I won’t go into the arguments here (you can research those yourself!), but I will say that the NHS couldn’t function without doctors, nurses and support staff coming to the UK from abroad. The NHS is amazing and I’d hate to see it deteriorate as a result of xenophobic policy. Whilst I’m not blind to the concerns and difficulties of a (potentially) rapidly rising population, I’m well aware that many opponents of migration speak with hatred. Unfortunately the far right is gaining popularity across Europe. Their belief in superiority based on skin colour and religious belief is both absurd and dangerous. I fear for you should their hatred continue to spread. My feeling is that if we close ourselves off we’re not only ignoring the very human consequences of our governments decisions, we’re also missing the potential and the variety that other people can offer. Staying in should help us to keep our minds open, this is essential if bigotry and hatred are to be overcome. I’m sorry to say it but several of the politicians surrounding the Leave campaign hold some very unpleasant views and I cannot possibly condone those by voting to leave.

Finally, like many parents, I want my child to have as many options and opportunities as possible in life. I want you to be able to easily share with peers across the continent and, just as importantly, be able to positively influence our future. Because your future really is what the vote will affect the most.

As you grow I hope you will come to understand and love the values that we hold. These include being open to cultures and ideas, being respectful and courteous of people – even if you don’t agree with them, maintaining a love of learning which never stops, valuing knowledge, honesty and integrity, and above all, trying to love your neighbour because it is the first (and sometimes the most difficult) step in making the world a better place.

I’m writing this very late at night so forgive me if things have become a little rambly. Hopefully you will get the drift of my thinking.

In case it isn’t clear, I’m voting to stay in Europe because I love you and I believe this will give you the brightest and best chance for your future.

Love, Mama xx

Random Rambling – stress

I just need to shout into the ether that I’m so stressed about this return to work decision that I went to bed feeling sick, got up feeling sick and still feel sick now. I need to get this sorted because the anxiety is awful.

Hopefully HR will get back to me soon and I can get on with stuff.

Aaarrrrrrggggggghhhhhhhhh!

Thank goodness I have Reindeer to distract me.

Random Rambling – return to work

Things still aren’t sorted on the work front. What began as negotiations around reduced hours has moved on to me contemplating a three-year career break. This is an almost incomprehensible decision as, before I began maternity leave, I was in no doubt that I’d return to work full time!

This won’t be easy for us financially – my earnings are higher – but I can’t shake the feeling that I’m going to miss so much if I return to work. As an August baby I’ll automatically miss a lot of time with Reindeer as he’ll begin school having just turned four-years-old (just the thought of this makes me anxious), so I feel that it’s now or never.

I’ve canvassed opinions from family, friends and strangers, all of whom have been very helpful and none of whom have said what I’d expected them to.

The consensus seems to be that I should return to work whilst trying for another baby, then take the break after that maternity leave. Financially I can see why people suggest this. Of course, it assumes we’re trying for another baby, something we have chosen not to do. Maybe not forever, but certainly not for now. Also, fertility isn’t a given; we could try for years and not have another.

So I guess it comes down to this: do I hang on and take the financially sensible route or do I miss out on time with the child I have in the hope of a child which may never exist? I’m pretty sure I know where my heart is here.

Random Rambling – much work-related stress

I should have realised when I blogged in March about return to work arrangements that it was too good to be true. At the time my line manager was very supportive and nothing was too much trouble.

There was talk of job sharing or using the hours I dropped to hire someone else for a specific project.

Yesterday, I received an email from work which has left me terribly stressed out. They’ve basically rejected the hours I submitted (based on my positive discussion with my line manager) and have started using phrases including: ‘shadowing more experienced members of the team‘, ‘compromise at 29/30 hours‘ and ‘can’t do this role part-time‘. That last is in direct conflict with what I was told two months ago when dropping to 2.5/3 days was fine.

The more experienced members of the team bit is just farcical. The role didn’t exist before I began maternity leave yet I’ve worked in the team, run a project in the team and been in the department at manager level for several years. I’m not a newbie and I’m not an idiot. Two things which my employer has forgotten in their restructure.

The bit that really lit the touch paper for me was ‘need details of your childcare arrangements as you really can’t look after a child whilst working at home‘. How patronising?! Do they think I’m stupid?! I’m very well aware that since I can’t even go to the toilet on my own while looking after Reindeer I’m not going to be able to focus on work at the same time; and my primary point there is because I couldn’t possibly keep him safe and happy whilst dealing with emails, processes and spreadsheets, not because I might miss a phone call! I’m hugely insulted that they consider me to have lost my professionalism to the point that I’d pretend to work at home. I’ve had a baby not an effing lobotomy!

I just want to bawl my eyes out as I really really really don’t need this level of stress. I’ve requested another meeting to try and figure out what has changed and where we can go from here. I love my job but I love Reindeer more and so there’s a real possibility I’m going to have to quit work.

So much for wanting parents to remain in employment.

Random Rambling – antenatal classes

Last July we attended our one-day antenatal class. I remember feeling nervous and excited as we joined the other couples in the room, wondering what exactly we’d let ourselves in for.

It was, unsurprisingly, scary. There were instruments the like of which I devoutly hoped I would never have to see again, let alone have used on me. There were videos that made me profoundly grateful I wouldn’t be able to see the business end when the time came. There were some very disturbing clips of unnaturally euphoric and loved-up American couples going through labour. There was endless propaganda about natural birth and breastfeeding. There were also a ridiculous number of ‘labour updates’ relating to a friend of the midwife who had apparently gone into labour over night and was texting her incessantly throughout the session. ‘Oooh, she’s mucking out the stables to encourage latent labour to end and regular labour to commence’ is not what you want to hear when you’re 37 weeks pregnant and can’t imagine pushing so much as a shopping trolley around the supermarket you’re so fat and exhausted.

On the positive side, we met the lovely midwife support worker ‘J’ who came to visit us at home a few times once Reindeer was born to give me a hand with breastfeeding when I had a bit of a wobble.

Looking back at that session now, I realise that what it mainly did was fill me with even more dread than I already had. By 34 weeks I was already getting sweaty palms and an increased heart-rate every time we drove past the hospital. After the class I just wanted someone to give me a caesarian. Be careful what you wish for as this is what eventually happened. The caesarian itself was great but I could have done without the 5-days leading up to it.

Thinking about the last few months, my itinerary for an antenatal class probably wouldn’t contain as much graphic information. I think there would be two main parts:

  1. I would focus on what each procedure is for and reiterate that you can say ‘No’ at any point and the midwives and doctors have to listen to that
  2. I’d give each person an uncooperative 24lb octopus, a 1 foot x 2 feet plinth, changing materials and a bowl of poo. They’d then have to put a nappy on and dress the octopus without covering anyone in poo or giving themselves a permanent injury

This is because I’ve only given birth once, but every day I have to undertake multiple nappy changes. Training for the latter would be more useful in the long-term than terrifying people about birth in the short-term.

Random Rambling – new parents and mental health

For friends of ours, a traumatic labour thankfully resulted in the birth of a healthy child. Unfortunately, it didn’t result in a healthy mum. Within a few days of the new arrival the situation reached crisis point and they were admitted to a specialist unit. The unit staff support new mothers when birth has resulted in a negative change in their mental health.

Listening, mostly helplessly, as our friends struggled, it really brought home to me how pregnancy and childbirth is a real contradiction. Fragile yet hugely destructive; incredible pain followed by amazing highs; happy expectation quickly overset by the grim slog, induced by sleep deprivation. There can be very few experiences in life which condense so many emotions into a single, intense physical event. It is little wonder many parents take a long time to pick up again.

Reading up online, I have discovered that more than 1:10 women will suffer from postnatal depression, whilst 1:1000 women will suffer from postpartum psychosis. With almost 700,000 births in the UK last year, that translates to over 70,000 cases of postnatal depression and 700-ish cases of postpartum psychosis. Postnatal depression doesn’t just affect new mothers either. Research by the NCT shows a similar rate of postnatal depression in new fathers too, although this tends to develop slightly later post-delivery, when the baby is 3-6 months old.

And that is just those cases reported. It shouldn’t be surprising that many people don’t recognise or respond to their symptoms by seeking help; mental health has long been the poor-relation in terms of socially acceptable illnesses. Regular, high-profile campaigns have taken place over the last few years to raise public awareness and challenge what is socially acceptable in the perception and treatment of people with various mental health issues. Several celebrities have joined these campaigns and spoken publicly about their struggles to maintain ‘normal’ levels of mental health.

I don’t know how such campaigns measure their success, but one which I came across long before we considered starting a family ourselves, was awareness of postnatal depression (PND). I can see why an awareness campaign would be necessary.

As we told family, friends and colleagues the good news that we were pregnant, those with children tried to warn us how wonderful, yet physically, emotionally and mentally demanding, new parenthood would be. Despite knowing that PND existed, we had no concept of just how gruelling we would find the early days even without this complication. Amazing and delightful, but a sleep-deprived, exhaustion-numbed-mind-battle to complete even the simplest tasks. At times it was a case of knowing ourselves to be happy rather than feeling ourselves to be so.

Looking back now, I realise that I probably did suffer from a minor degree of PND. Tearful, anxious, angry with myself for (I felt) not being good enough at my new role of mother, I spent several months feeling guilty. Guilty that, after the ups and downs of pregnancy, and a failed induction followed by emergency caesarian, I had my beautiful, happy and healthy son in my arms, and yet I wasn’t always happy.

The pressure to feel only the positive is huge. For some people, the idea that there could be any negative is totally anathema. You’re reminded how lucky you are, how others would kill for the chance to have a baby of their own, how you have it all. And yet, no matter how true that may be, those words aren’t a magic spell. They cannot make you feel the way others expect you to feel.

Rather than thinking too carefully about it, and before those feelings had a chance to poison the early days, I decided to begin this blog. Mainly it is a tool to record as many as possible of the fun, charming and unexpected moments we have with Reindeer each day. But it is also an outlet, a chance to get things off my chest or to make sense of my jumbled thoughts. And it works, if not in the way I expected. You see, I write about the difficult times but, normally, I don’t end up posting them. Just the act of writing it down allows me the opportunity to take those ideas, examine them, reflect upon them and then put them away again. It takes the sting out and allows me to regain equilibrium.

This post is an example of that. I started writing because I was trying to make sense of the difficulties confronting our friends. Trying to understand, even a little bit, the incomprehensibility of going through the emotional tumult that is pregnancy and childbirth, only to have your mental health crumble around you for no apparent reason at the point when you should be able to enjoy the safe arrival of your child. I’m probably no closer to understanding their situation, but I’ve realised that they don’t need me to understand; how can I, when they don’t understand either? Rather, they need their friends to provide practical support. To assist with the mundane so that they can focus on finding their way through the chaos of expectation denied. So they can deal effectively with the reality of now and the support of their child and themselves.

For our friends, progress has been good (if frustrating for them) the last couple of days. There is every reason to be hopeful that they will soon be home and back to the normal new-baby-at-home chaos most of us experienced. But this is only possible because of the support received from the midwives and doctors and the availability of this specialist unit. Once again there is cause to be grateful for the cradle-to-grave vision of Bevan and the NHS that was born from it.

Random rambling – items & tips for hospital & home

Last weekend Reindeer and I attended a friend’s baby shower. We had a lovely afternoon and were glad to share the celebration with her.

As a first time mum-to-be, knowing that I was so recently in the same position, she has been asking me various questions about what to expect and what she needs. Our gift to her was a selection of the personal items which I found most useful, but which she didn’t already have/hadn’t been told about. In terms of expectation I had to point out that my experience wasn’t exactly ‘normal’, but that I would happily share all the tips I received that I found useful.

In case anyone else is interested, I thought I would list some of the items and tips here:

  • A nursing-front night dress or two – I was an idiot and packed normal pyjamas in my hospital bag. The top was totally unsuitable for breastfeeding and trying to remove and replace the trousers every time I went to the toilet was ridiculously painful, as well as putting unnecessary strain on my caesarian wound
  • Disposable maternity pants – I laughed when these were suggested to me. Less than a day post-partum and I couldn’t go two hours without them. The thought of changing normal pants every time I went to the toilet, never mind finding the energy to wash them, was eye-watering
  • Granny pants – see above. Once the bleeding reduces after the first couple of days granny pants are great for replacing disposable maternity pants. They cover your remaining lumps and bumps, keep your maternity towels in place and, if you’ve had a caesarian, keep additional dressings in place. They also don’t have to look awful – my mum (who is much wiser than I) ignored my breezy pregnancy comment ‘I’m sure I’ll be fine without them’ and bought some for me with pretty lace trim. I was pathetically grateful to receive these on my return from hospital!
  • Maternity pads/ towels – whichever type of delivery you have, you will bleed for some time afterwards (I believe 4-6 weeks on average). For the first couple of weeks at least you will definitely need maternity pads/towels rather than ordinary sanitary towels – you can switch to those later. I seriously underestimated how many I would need – I bought one packet! – and had both my mum and my husband buying in extras for a while. An extra tip, if you’ve had a caesarian, is that you can use a pad against your wound to keep the area dry – micropore tape and granny pants will help hold it in place
  • Lanolin – if you’re going to give breastfeeding a shot, this stuff is amazing. It isn’t cheap, but you only need to use a little after each feed and it really does help reduce the discomfort of those early days
  • Breast pads – this is probably an obvious one but I’m adding it in for completeness. I use at least four a day – two after my morning shower and two when I get ready for bed. On a leaky day more are required. This works out at a lot of pads over 7-months (approximately 1,000 so far!)
  • A cheap, oversized, nursing bra – in addition to the normal ‘day’ bras, this is really handy for night time as I use it to keep the nursing pads in place. In the early days I would just try and tape the pads to my pyjama top roughly where my nipples were. Inevitably the bed sheets ended up soaked in breast milk *sigh*. I say cheap and oversized as (1) having a baby is hugely expensive and I didn’t want to spend money like it was going out of fashion and (2) I didn’t want to wear anything restrictive and I found that if my breasts were going to engorge then it would be overnight so I needed the extra room
  • Feeding chair – before baby arrives, have a think about where you’re likely to want to feed them. Once you’ve identified your feeding chair, keep nearby a selection of cushions pillows and a blanket to ensure comfort – you’ll likely be spending a lot of time there! 10 days after Reindeer arrived, realising that I was pretty much pinned down in the chair for half the day at least, my husband brought home a music stand on which I could put a tablet, phone, the notebook and pen and a muslin. This was so useful because I could sit and cuddle Reindeer while he slept and watch programmes on the iPlayer or read a book. I kept the stand by the chair and moved it to the relevant side before each feed – it was a lifesaver although it is also partly to blame for my addiction to GBBO…
  • A notebook and pen – this might sound strange but for at least the first month health professionals will keep asking you ‘when did baby last feed?’, ‘how long for?’ ‘when was baby’s last wet and/or dirty nappy?’. I was in such a sleep deprived haze that I could never remember, so I kept a notepad, pen and clock by the chair where I fed Reindeer so that I could always write the time down immediately. I would also write L or R depending on whether I’d fed him from the left or the right; this meant I didn’t lose track of which side I was feeding on next. It was such a useful technique that I still write down feeds, nappies and anything else of interest, e.g., if we need to administer Calpol or teething gel, so we don’t lose track. One day, if I ever have time, I’ll be able to look back on those books as a neat reminder of how our life changed (yes, I’m a tad sentimental at times!)
  • Day 5 post-partum – when your placenta formed in the first trimester it took over hormone production for the duration of your pregnancy. Five days after your baby arrives is about the time that your body suddenly realises your placenta has gone and it should have started producing hormones again, but hasn’t. Some women get past day 5 with no problems. I became a sobbing wreck. It wasn’t so much that I felt sad, it was more that every emotion was heightened. Happiness became elation, sadness became desolation, love became overwhelming. It was too much to take everything in and so I ended up crying randomly and for no apparent reason. Thankfully we didn’t have any visitors that day; depending on how you cope with things it may be a good idea to ensure someone you trust is available to support you around this time
  • Metanium – thankfully, Reindeer has never suffered from full-on nappy rash, but with his teething nappies his bottom did start to get a bit pink. The metanium was recommended by our health visitor and was great at preventing a rash developing
  • Snacks – eating can be tricky with a newborn. Finding time to make a meal isn’t always possible because sleeping, showering and using the loo are also important. Snacks can help get you through; cereal bars are great as is fruit. My Dad quietly made sure there were plenty of snacks available in the early days!

There are probably other things I’ve missed, or just plain forgotten in the months since Reindeer arrived, but I think this list covers the main points. Hopefully it will be useful for someone.