Child: Eben aged 9
Location: Wakefield, West Yorkshire
Expectations of motherhood: I was petrified when I found out I was pregnant. It wasn’t a planned pregnancy and I was no longer with the father. It wasn’t so much the practicalities that bothered me – I’d spent the first few years of my working life in nurseries and as a nanny, so I was prepared for the realities of caring for a child. It was the financial implications of raising a child that worried me.
At the time I was working in a call centre and wasn’t earning a fortune. I knew that having a child and being able to be a parent to that child would mean me reducing my hours. I worked hard throughout my pregnancy to add to what savings I had. I wanted to give us a good start, but I do feel like I missed out on enjoying the pregnancy. Things like appointments with the midwife meant taking time off work and that bothered me, but looking back on it I wish I had savoured that time.
Reality of motherhood: Eben was due on the 27th of the month and surely enough my contractions started that day. They weren’t regular contractions though, and ended up in slow labour for 2 days. I finally made the phone call to my friend and birthing partner around 4am on the 29th to tell her that I was ready to go to the hospital, and following another 18 hours of active labour Eben finally graced us with his presence. I recall looking down at him as he was laid on to my stomach, he turned his tiny head and looked me straight in the eyes with an expression that seemed to say, “What took you so long?!”
It hit me at that point that my life would never be the same again.
Taking him home: He slept through the night at the hospital and after making sure he was feeding ok we were allowed home that afternoon. I couldn’t wait to leave the hospital as all the other babies on the ward seemed to do nothing but cry. I just wanted some time alone with my little bundle.
I was living with my mum at the time and I remember getting to her house, putting down the car seat and just looking at him sleeping, wondering what to do next. We weren’t left wondering for long though, as the crying started shortly afterwards and continued almost non-stop for several weeks. He hated to be left alone and wanted to be held constantly and walked around, which apart from being impractical was also exhausting. At one point I left him to cry in his cot and sat outside the bedroom door. I was in tears just praying that he would settle down, but he cried so hard that he made himself sick. I felt like the worst mother in the world for allowing that to happen.
Eben didn’t like to sleep – he would only do so for an hour or so at a time – and the best way to get him to sleep was to feed him, but frustratingly this was the one time I didn’t want him to go to sleep! I was breastfeeding him and within minutes of him latching on he’d be fast asleep. The silence was much welcomed, but I knew he wasn’t getting enough to eat, so he’d be awake again in no time. I suffered it for a few weeks and then decided to express my milk and bottle feed him, partially so I could see exactly how much milk he was getting and partially so my mum could do some of the feeds. This way I could at least get a shower without worrying that he’d start screaming for a feed as soon as I turned the water on.
We stayed with my mum until he was about 6 months old, by which time I felt we needed our own space – it was hard to be a mother and a daughter under the same roof. The daytime crying eventually stopped but the sleeping problems continued, and most nights I would resort to driving around to get him to sleep – often more than once in the same night!
By 10 months I had to go back to work and I wept as I left Eben with a childminder for the first time. It was only 16 hours a week, but it was hard to do at first. I’m glad I did it though, even though I was going to work it was ‘my’ time and I actually considered it a break. By the time Eben was 18 months old I’d had enough of the constant waking up in the night – I was only getting on average around 4 hours sleep a night and It was taking it’s toll. I took him to see the doctor several times and was constantly fobbed off being told that he needed a routine and would eventually settle down, but he never did.
The specialist we were under was not helpful and just wanted to monitor the situation saying that it wasn’t uncommon and that he would ‘grow into’ his adenoids. So we fell into a routine of overnight stays at the hospital every few months for sleep studies. The results never changed and I wasn’t happy as Eben was now at nursery and was constantly getting into trouble through his behaviour (which I put down to tiredness and lack of sleep) – I was constantly grouchy so it stood to reason that he would be too.
I eventually went back to the doctors and asked for a second opinion. We saw another ENT specialist in York a few weeks later who upon simply hearing Eben breath stated that he needed his adenoids out. They couldn’t do it at York as they had no infant ICU (which they needed in case problems arose due to the apnea). We were then referred to Leeds and within a couple of months Eben was admitted. He had both his tonsils and adenoids removed and grommets also inserted into his ears (he also had problems with his hearing and speech due to the adenoids.) That night in the hospital, at 4 years of age my son finally slept through the night and has done so practically every night since. Hallelujah!
Best and worst advice: The worst advice I was given (by my health visitor) was to leave Eben to cry so he would get used to being in his cot on his own. I know this method works for some but I still feel guilty about doing it to this day.
The best advice received was not to be afraid to ask for help. No one wants to feel like they can’t cope, but in reality we all have days like that. Many a time when Eben was in that fun toddler stage where he would tantrum at the slightest thing and could not be pacified, I was often just too tired or short tempered to deal with him. I would strap him in the car, take him to my mums and just leave him there for an hour or so while I cooled off.
Hardest parts of being a mother:I grew up in a family where my mum was the caregiver and my dad was the bread winner and disciplinarian. In our family I have to take on both of those roles. It’s taken me a long time to figure out how to maintain both roles though -especially the boundaries when it comes to discipline. When I was kid all it took was one sentence from my mum – “Just wait until your Dad gets home!” – Dad very rarely actually had to do anything when he got home though because just the thought of him coming home and being cross was enough to stop us doing whatever it was we were doing.
I don’t have the luxury of using that sentence. I can come across as quite a strict parent, but when I say, ‘No’ to something I mean No and if I threaten a punishment I always follow through with it. I believe it is important for us both to know where the boundaries lay and why they are there. I don’t like being the bad guy, but fortunately I don’t have to play that role very often these days.
I enjoy being a working mum, and as Eben has got older and moved through school I have moved into better jobs and gradually increased my hours accordingly, and now work full time. Eben goes to breakfast club before school and my mum used to pick him up for me after school, and he would hang out with her for a couple of hours until I finished work. Sadly my passed away suddenly last Summer and so now he also goes to an after school club every night. Add to that the fact that he also goes to a childminder during school holidays. I feel massively guilty that he spends a lot of his free time with other people – we do have holidays away together and lots of days out on weekends – but ideally I would like to be at home with him more.
The best parts of being a mother: The unconditional love that you both give and receive is by far the best thing ever. Eben recently went away for the week with school and when I met him off the coach on his return I was in tears and he was bouncing up and down with excitement to get to me and give me a cuddle.
The enormous pride you feel in their every achievement be it their first steps or that one line in the school play.
Seeing their character develop and recognising yourself in them – although that’s not always a good thing!
Has becoming a mother changed you?Definitely! A close friend recently told me I was the most sensible person she knew – no one would have said that about me 10 years ago!
Hopes for your family:I always wanted a big family but in reality that’s not going to happen. I’m grateful that I have Eben and the fact that he’s an only child means that we are very close and we have a great relationship. I hope that we can maintain that as he grows older.
Advice to new and expectant mums:Take time to smell the roses. Life passes in the blink of an eye and children grow so quickly that you will soon wonder where your baby went. Take photos, lots of photos of everything and cherish every moment – even the bleary eyed ones at 3am. (And if you can’t already then learn to drive just in case you’re still bleary eyed at 4am).