Wake up, Mom, your dreaming.

So, Izzy is now 8 months old, where has the time gone? She is crawling, has two teeth and is so busy she cannot keep still. My mom tells me that her busy-ness is thanks to me, seems I too had ants in my pants as a child.

But I must say I am really enjoying her. She is still hard work and sometimes I feel like it is too much. Then she does something dorky, because that’s another thing she gets from me, and you remember why you can do it. Her antics include laughing at her own jokes, making farts louder than her father, finding the weirdest stuff amusing, she loves to make disgusting noises with the copious amounts of drool she mass produces and she is obsessed with our two dogs and their constantly wagging tails.

And while she is an adorable little clown, she is still often a massive pain in the arse. This is evident in a range of activities: Her absolute determination to electrocute herself by putting her figures in the plug points (I can recommend the plug covers from Dischem, they are only 30 bucks for a whole bunch – no I was not paid to say that, unless they are willing to pay in which case…), to her love/hate relationship with food which she tactfully communicates by kung-fu-ing the spoon away send pureed hake, sweet potato and cheese flying in all directions (thank the pope for washable wall paint and tiled floors) and her hatred of being strapped into anything, especially the car seat, demonstrated by kicking and screaming (LITERALLY). My mature response is to turn Human by Rag & Bones Man way up and belt it out.

Lastly, I have saved the best for last. She hates being changed, always has (both nappy and clothes changes – hates it) and her retribution is cruel and vicious. I am 5 foot 6-ish and not small in the bust department (and post pregnancy my boobs have decided to migrate a little south). As luck would have it when she is on her compactum she is exactly the right height, that when she protests her abuse she is able to kick me straight in the boobs. And I am not referring to one or two swats with her tiny little feet, it is a volley of kicks as if they were a punching bag. It’s super cute. Insert sigh of love here.

Hilariously, despite all of this, I still cling to the belief that raising a child is like the fairytale that many books, movies, and Facebook show it to be. My darling’s favourite pastime is to take out her bazooka and blow that fantasy away.

We went to the zoo the other day, myself, hubby, sister-in-law, her two littlies and of course Izzy. I had this vision of us skipping around the zoo while Izzy happily sits in her pram cooing over the animals, rounding a wonderful day up with a picknick on the grass.

Wake up, mom.

Unbeknownst to us, the same day we decided to plan an idyllic family outing, Izzy had different plans. Her plan involved a tooth cutting through her bottom gum. Which understandably caused a great deal of pain and grouchiness. One of her protest actions was to refuse sleep – so from 5 am to 1 pm sleep was a fanciful notion. Her other form of protest was physical torture. Izzy decided she would be carried, the pram would remain empty for the entire duration of our time at the zoo. So between my husband and I, we carried our squirming and jabbering 8.5kg treasure up and down the hill from enclosure to enclosure for four hours. To our credit, many others (those who have half a brain cell) would have given up and gone home, not us, we were determined to have the idyllic family outing that we had planned. No amount of screaming (her) sweating (us), arm aching (us) or hair pulling (both) was going to deter us.

Eventually, we left at 1 pm after having been there since 9 am, we high-fived as we got into the car and congratulated ourselves on our success. What fun, a day at the zoo! Never would you hear us say out loud anything to the contrary, that actually we would rather have spent our precious Sunday driving spikes under our fingernails.

I have so many examples to choose from where I have deluded myself into thinking this fantasy world exists. Another good one, was when she was 6 weeks old (please see the previous blog post in order to understand the horror that was Izzy’s first 12 weeks of life), I decided to sign up for baby massage. I had always planned (there is that word again, so silly) on going. I had a vision of this class of moms all sitting around bonding with their babies, sharing loving tales of cuteness and drinking cups of tea. These moms and I as well as our adorable brood would grow to become best of friends. Luckily, I have made a great friend thanks to baby massage, but this and the tea were the only part of the dream that came true. In the four weeks of baby massage and subsequent 6 weeks of BabyGym, so a total of 10 classes, I probably managed to fully participate in 3. Baby massage for Izzy and I entailed bouncing on the dreaded pilates ball (the story of my hatred of these balls will have to wait for another blog post) while she screamed, watching the other moms’ enjoy QT with their babas. The tea and biscuits at the end were awesome though because either Izzy had fallen asleep in my arms or Joanne, the lovely lady who ran the class would take Izzy away from me so I could enjoy my tea and EET-SUM-MOR.

The worst part, even worse than bouncing on the damn ball, was watching the other babies in the class lie peacefully and enjoy the time spent interacting with their mommies. Did I really just pay hard earned cash to watch other moms and their precious little angels? Further highlighting how far from that Izzy and I were. That being said, I still highly recommend these types of activities as they definitely helped me with my bonding issues and they act as a support group when times are tough.

So, to sum up, this whole baby thing is no fantasy, dreams do not come true but nightmares do. Nonetheless, what I have learnt is that you can’t hold your breath waiting for those fairytale moments (chances are you’ll pass out long before), the only way to survive is to find the funny in everything, see and celebrate the small wins and, lastly, accept that your tiny tot has their own plans, regardless of whatever you have dreamt up for them.

Remember, don’t take it personally and you can always get them back when they are older.

Myth Busted: NOT All Mothers are Pre-Programmed to Love their Child

Turns out I was one such mother. Shocking admission, right? Imagine how I felt…

I have always loved babies and children, and this love was only cemented by having been an aunt to two nieces and four nephews. From around my late twenties I was seriously broody, but we only felt “ready” (bahahahaha) once we were well into our thirties.

So, when I fell pregnant I was beyond thrilled, finally it was my turn. After seeing friend after friend after friend fall pregnant and 9 months later witness them moon over their precious miracles, now I would get to experience it for myself. I would have my own beloved miracle, a creation that would illicit feelings so profound that they would overwhelm me.

I did experience overwhelming feelings, only they weren’t of love and wonderment, they were the total opposite. In those first few weeks, I struggled with my feelings towards my daughter, I honestly can’t say I loved her, in fact I more and more felt I didn’t even like her.

I have already shared the story of my daughter’s birth and to say it was not how I fantasised her arrival would be an understatement. And ultimately, I don’t think that helped my attitude. But the moment that signalled the beginning of my unravelling was the first weekend we brought her home – she screamed and screamed and screamed seemingly in unbearable pain – and I realised I was entirely unprepared for the mammoth job of looking after a tiny baby. But really, deep down what I realised was that I wasn’t sure I wanted the job at all.

Izzy has been an incredibly difficult baby – the picture of discontent for pretty much the first 12 weeks of her life. And while I am sure that her troubles contributed to my dark feelings and thoughts, they were not soley to blame. Add one unhappy baby, tortured by severe reflux and colic, to a woman with wild hormones and a history of depression and anxiety and you have the makings of the perfect storm.

In those first few weeks I quickly realised that you should not believe every hashtag you read. People do not portray the whole truth on social media. #Blessed, #lightofmylife, #lovebubble, #noregrets, #wishthistimewouldlastforever and #heartontheoutsideofmychest – these set me up for failure. Why was my experience not lining up with EVERYONE else’s? Why did I not feel what EVERY other mom seemed to feel? Why was I not getting it right, it looked like it came naturally to EVERYONE else?

As the days passed my mood disintergrated. I became completely disinterested in everything. Food became a subject of contention as my mom and husband tried to get me to eat something, anything. As far as diets go, it was effective as I lost 15kgs in six weeks, but I certainly don’t recommend the postpartum depression eating plan.

Sadly, the primary object of my disinterest was the miracle baby that for so long had been my wish. I felt empty, a shell, a husk. I barely engaged, except to reiterate that I knew I was not capable of doing this baby thing, or to unexpectedly burst into tears. I retreated into myself and my phone – Candy Crush became an obsession (still is if I am honest). Looking back it is incredible how I managed to remove myself emotionally and mentally – even her inconsolable crying didn’t reach me. A lot of the time I silently relinquished my responsibility to everyone else, anybody else really, knowing if I didn’t react someone would attend to her. I honestly would have given her to a stranger to look after if I thought they would agree to do it.

As I was still breastfeeding, I was forced to interact with her regularly, but I wasn’t present, I would sit and stare out the window while she fed (wishing to be anywhere but in that rocking chair, with her) or I would stare at her as if she were an alien being that I would never understand or connect with. Once she was finished, I would hand her over to my mom, sister, sister-in-law or husband and either go back to bed or to my phone.

I had been told that breastfeeding offered the most special moments a mom could experience. So many times I had heard that these moments, just the two of you, quietly bonding, were priceless. But for me the price seemed too dear. Being alone with her was my worst nightmare. And at 3 ‘o clock in the morning, in the darkness, in the quiet, in the rocking chair, I couldn’t be more alone. Alone with her and my thoughts. These were not moments I would come to treasure.

Daytime was a little better, because there was almost always someone with me, but whenever that someone looked like they were getting ready to leave, I could not help the tears from streaming, the voice from cracking, the nausea from rising and the sweat from prickling. My poor mother literally gave up three months of her life to care for two children – her’s and mine.

The lack of sleep exacerbated my depression, so my psychiatrist recommended that along with a change in meds (The Betty Ford clinic would even raise an eyebrow at the number of pills I was taking everyday – #yestohappypills) we employed a night nurse – without her help, I don’t know if I would have survived those first 12 weeks. Instead, I only had to survive 12 hours each day. The nurse arrived at 6pm and would take over till 6am the next morning. I began counting the hours from about 9am in the morning to her arrival, and glorious relief. Adversely, as dawn drew closer my anxiety sky rocketed. As soon as I heard the birds start their morning song, my stomach became a pit of dread and the tears welled at the thought that I would soon have to take over caring for the baby, my baby.

At 4 weeks I stopped breasfeeding with the hope that it would alleviate the stress and anxiety I was experiencing. But even without breastfeeding, I was still living in groundhog day. Every day was the same, living feed to feed, every three hours. Change, feed, vomit, cry, rock, sleep, hold. Repeat. I had nothing but time, but no time at all. And time passed achingly slowly. I wished it away, I wished her life away, desperate for her to reach these milestones that were promised to make things easier. 6 weeks, 12 weeks, 6 months… but of course for Izzy the adjustment meant 10 weeks, 16 weeks… the goal posts constantly moving away from me.

Now I am going to risk sounding heartless, but I think her helplessness was what disturbed me most, her neediness, her reliance on me. I couldn’t bear it. It was too much pressure. I was struggling to keep myself going, how could she expect me to keep her going too. She had trapped me, like a shackle, I was no longer free to go and do as I pleased. Try peeing while you hold a newborn, good luck if you need a number 2. I was anchored to a rocking chair and the anchor was my baby – my world had become the size of a pea, a very dry shrivelled sad pea. The long term permance of this shackle amplified the feelings of claustraphobia, would I ever get my freedom back? And of course, these types of thoughts and feelings are always coupled with the guilt of feeling and thinking them.

My friends and family were amazing during this time, regularly visiting and putting up with their ghost of a loved one. In that time, my mom-friends all confessed to how dark their thoughts had been in those first weeks, and they were dark indeed. Morbidly, this made me feel better about my own thoughts. As I often fantasised about getting in the car and not coming back, finding her a new family that could love her better than me, I even considered hurting myself, but worst of all were the times I wished I could turn back time and leave things the way they were – before Izzy.

And ultimately, that is what I wanted. I wanted my life back the way it was, the life I knew, the life where I was in control.

The shock of how permanent and devastating the change this baby brought was overwhelming, I couldn’t see a way through it. And the more everyone, and I mean everyone, told me it would get better, the more I didn’t believe them. Because as each milestone passed nothing changed, in some ways it got harder.

I was obviously not coping to anyone who took one look at me, between my seriously unwashed hair and pajama uniform (each pair often worn day and night for more days than I care to mention). Suffice it to say I was pretty gross, cudos to my husband for turning a blind eye (and nose) and giving me cuddles whenever I needed them.

I remember my first visit to the paediatric nurse, Izzy screamed the place down from the moment we arrived, through the consultation and whilst I tried to pay. The other moms were staring in simultaneous horror and relief that that was not their baby. The nurse and her assistant were worried enough about my state of mind that the assistant took Izzy and ordered me to go into their kitchenette and make tea. After about 10 minutes of “making tea” (i.e. crying and wishing for a different life), I retrieved my still crying baby and exited with a stream of pitying looks and words of encouragement. My amazing nurse and her wonderful receptionist still tell me that some of the moms who were there that day ask, “How is that mom, with that crying baby?”. AHA, I am now the stuff of legend, the mom that others measure their experience against– “OMG, Debs, you won’t believe this poor mom at the clinic… I won’t ever complain again when Ollie gives me a bit of a hard time.”.

As I have said in previous posts there are two sides to every story – especially those relating to motherhood. And while everything I have written above is absolutely true and absolutely distressing to admit, there was eventually light at the end of the tunnel.

After seeing a therapist several times, she managed to get me to realise that what I was feeling was OK, that I needed to reframe my language. I didn’t like Izzy, now. I didn’t enjoy being a mom, today. These feeling were time sensitive. She gave me permission to not like my baby, “What’s to like at the moment? She is not very likeable or enjoyable at the moment but that’s OK, she won’t be like this forever.”. She was completely right, no one in their right mind would enjoy those first 12 weeks of Izzy’s life, but 12 weeks in the great grand scheme of things is a drop in the ocean. It’s just almost impossible to see that when you are drowning in that drop.

Another thing many people tried to get through to me was that I kept saying, “I can’t do this!”, but I was doing it. And even if what I really meant was, “I don’t want to do this!”, I had no choice and as my husband resorted to reminding me (with the delicacy of a sledgehammer) – “You wanted this, you still want it, you just don’t see it right now.”. What I slowly realised was that actions speak louder than thoughts or feelings, I was caring for Izzy, maybe not in the way I hoped, maybe not with the joy people expect, but regardless she was thriving. A prem baby with severe reflux and colic – she was gaining weight week by week, catching up to the 50th percentile and reaching her age appropriate milestones.

I was actually doing a really good job – and my paediatrician, nurse, friends and family all praised me for it. And that felt good, knowing despite her mom being a bit of disaster, Izzy was getting all the right things from me. She didn’t care that I had these negative feelings. Why? I can’t say for sure, but I think that for a newborn the best sign of love is care – food when she is hungry, warmth when she is cold, changing when she is uncomfortable and a gentle touch when she needs comfort. She didn’t know that my feeling were left wanting, because as far as she was concerned, she was getting all that she needed. I was speaking her love language, even if I wasn’t particularly fluent or poetic.

I am embarressed to say that my daughter, with only a few weeks on earth under her belt loved me right from the beginning. And I was too disconnected to recognise it. I was the person her blurry squint little eyes sought out, the person who she wanted as her comforter, the first person she smiled for and the person she shrieks for most loudly. These latter signs I see, I see her now clearly, as a little person who is struggling as much as I have been. I didn’t hate her at all, I hated her problems and how they made her behave. I now take the wins, big and small, I only wish I had been able to see them sooner. But better late than never.

Plan for Nothing to Go To Plan (Part 1: The Birth)

Izzy is now 15 weeks old and it feels like those 15 weeks have been the longest of my life. Especially when I think back on all that has happened in just under four months, almost all of which did not go according to my perfectly laid out plans.

On 29 June 2016 Isabelle was born, via emergency c-section, four weeks earlier than expected. This was due to a failing placenta which sent her into distress as she wasn’t getting enough oxygen. I was already in hospital after being admitted four nights earlier with a bad kidney tract infection that had caused preterm labour. Doctors tell me the two were unrelated and actually, it was lucky I was in hospital and being monitored so the distress was caught early.

On the Saturday I was admitted with the kidney tract infection, I discovered my Gynae was away for two weeks, so now I was meeting her replacement, a lumbering bear-like elderly man with the bedside manner of a tactless bulldozer. I had never been to a male gynaecologist. And only one other man had ever been “down there” – my husband. Having suffered from a disorder called Vaginismis (a whole other story for a whole other blog), examinations are difficult at the best of times. However, on being told of my disorder, my new doctor misguidedly thought an inordinate amount of lube would solve the problem of any discomfit – it didn’t. Having my cervix checked in my bed in the labour ward, where all that seperated me from the three other pregnant women and their families during visiting hours was a thin blue curtain, was a definite highlight.

Despite any of his shortfalls, I have to say he was dedicated, thorough and available. I don’t think I could have been in better hands even with my actual doctor.

Anyhow, on the day I was told I would be going home, I had my usual 5am tracing (a test of the fetal heart rate and the uterus wall) and I could tell after 15 minutes the nurses were concerned. A short while later they began the test again but now for an hour (I had only ever had it for 15 minutes), so for an hour, I tried to remain calm playing Candy Crush because when my heart rate went up so did the baby’s. After an hour the doctor reviewed the results and had me wheeled down to his rooms ASAP to have an ultrasound. On a side note, my unshakeable doctor kindly used a bottle warmer to take the edge off the lube and in his haste to get the scan going he squirted the melted gel all over me (face, hair, chest and most importantly tummy). But who cares, we all wanted to know what was wrong and one Robyn Williams impression from the movie Nine Months wasn’t going to distract us for long. The scan did not deliver good news. So, instead of going home, I was told that in a 1 hour I would be going into surgery. In 1 hour and 15 minutes I would be holding a baby, my baby.

My response to this news was to ugly cry with fear, shock and the fact that this was not the way it was supposed to go. I had a plan. I mean for goodness sake the nursery wasn’t even finished. I wasn’t going to be able to shave my lady bits at home in the privacy of my own bathroom. I hadn’t yet packed my hospital bag nor her hospital bag. I hadn’t wrapped up at work – who would facilitate the workshop I was meant to be running in two days? How could my daughter be a Cancerian, she was due to be a Leo like me? Oh, the things your stupid brain thinks of when you are freaking out.

Thankfully my husband was with me that day and my sister arrived for moral support soon after I got the news. I was wheeled into theatre without having seen or spoken to my mom or dad as they got there too late. The speed at which the surgical team (Gynae, assistant surgeon, nurses, anaethetist and paediatrician) were mobilised was incredible, and an indication of the danger.

On another side note, at one point I looked over to my left and noticed a teenage girl in scrubs, only to be told this schoolgirl would be observing my c-section as part of a job shadowing programme. Of course she would, why wouldn’t my surgical team include a 17 year old red head with no medical experience? Anyone else want to watch me at my most vulnerable and exposed, how about the guy with the sweetie and sandwhich trolley?

The actual birth was incredibly quick once the spinal block was in effect. The most time was spent stiching me back up. Once again, my plans were chucked out the window. I had envisioned my daughter being placed on my chest, skin to skin, and she would stay there all the way to the maternity ward. Instead she lay on my chest for three minutes before she was whisked away to be examined by the Paed. Her apgar scores (a standardised measure of a newly born infant) were excellent, we were told they wanted to take her to NICU briefly for a blood sugar test. My husband went with her. Twenty or so minutes later I was wheeled into the recovery section, where my husband found me. Our daughter would be staying in NICU for a couple of hours, but they would bring her down to me as soon as they could. So, off I was wheeled to the maternity ward, without a baby.

After several hours, my husband went to find out where the baby was. Bad news. Her blood sugars were all over the show, her platelets were low and she had an infection, which would need intravenous antibiotics. The doctors were worried, not very worried, but worried enough to make us VERY worried. We were told that she would need to be in NICU indefinitely – maybe three days, maybe three weeks.

Again my plan of having my tiny bundle of joy in a basinet next to my hospital bed on her first night on earth was foiled. We didn’t even have a name for her yet as we hadn’t really had a chance to meet her properly.

So, for her first night in the world, Baby Tayler slept in a machine, attached to wires and drips, lulled by the sounds of beeping, under the watchful eye of a stranger, her nurse Patience.

Definitely not the plan.

The Ugly Truth of Being a Mom

So, today my daughter, Izzy, turned 11 weeks old. I thought it fitting for me to publish my first blog post today. But before I get into my story, I feel I have some explaining to do…

To many the title of my blog and this post may seem harsh, bitter, almost blasphemous. And I want to assure you this blog is not intended to offend or undermine the miracle that is children and the joy a parent receives throughout that child’s life.

However, there is two sides to every story, and I think it is safe to say that bringing a child into this world and raising it to be a decent human being is not always roses and unicorns. Some days are horrific, especially in the beginning, and on those days any parent who says they do not think at least one of these thoughts: “I wish I could run away.”; “This suxs!”; “Why on earth did I do this to myself.” – or my personal favourite – “FML”; is lying to you and themselves.

I started this blog to not only vent my own feelings, but show what I have discovered as the flip side of the coin of parenting. No-one can prepare you for how hard it is. It is the hardest thing you will ever do because there is no training for it, there’s no manual to learn, no guru to rely on, no wikihow, no right or wrong answer because there is no definitive answer for anything. Why? Because every single one of our journeys and experiences are unique, every baby/child is unique, so what worked for one won’t necessarily work for another. And to make it even harder what worked for you on Monday might not work again on Tuesday.

This constant state of flux and constant trial and error means that being a parent is not always fun, because nobody really likes to be tested everyday of their lives without the opportunity to study the course material and be confident they know if not all, at least 80% of the answers.

What I have learnt over the past 11 weeks is that no-one has all the answers, most don’t even have 20% of the answers. Everyone (even the mom who looks like she has her shit together) is doing this parenting thing through trial and error, experimentation, gut instinct and a whole lot of contradictory advice from multiple sources.

If any of this sounds familiar, take comfort in knowing you are not the only one out there who feels this way. There are more of us out there than are willing to let on, but not having all the answers doesn’t make you a bad mom. Because a good, no a great, mom is the one that, despite not knowing the answers, never gives up trying to ace the tests that each day of being a mom will throw at you.