Children: Bess, 3 years 2 months at time of the photographs, (4 yrs at time of writing.)
Teddy, 5 mths at time of the photographs. (2 years at time of writing)
Expectations of Motherhood: With Bess I expected a home birth. With Teddy I expected a C-section. I expected them both to arrive early, I expected that I would breast feed for as long as possible, use cotton nappies and wear my babies until they were too big and that I would raise them as vegetarians. I had taught for many years before having babies, so I expected to find behaviour management at home a piece of cake. I also thought that, aside from having a baby, my social circle and support network would remain pretty much the same even though I wouldn’t be going out and about as much. I had been a ‘hands on’ aunty so I expected to manage the practical side of parenting quite well. I expected to be quite tired, but also knew I was about to meet the loves of my life.
Reality of Motherhood: I managed 26 hours of my first labour at home, but Bess had her head in a very silly position so I was taken in to St. Mary’s where, after 33 hours of giving it my best shot, I had an emergency section. The new hospital had opened that week and so Bess was one of the first babies born by section there. The staff were amazing! She was alb 11oz.
With Teddy I was told I could try for a natural birth. I wanted to give it a go, but secretly thought I wouldn’t succeed. Much to my surprise – and terror – and pride! – my beautiful 9lb 5 0z baby boy arrived (with just a little bit of help from the forceps) after fifteen hours of labour. Both of them arrived late but in perfect time. Bess was ten days late, but she arrived the day before her teacher-daddy broke up for the summer holidays, and Teddy arrived 13 days late on the first Saturday of the Easter holidays.
Both of them attached to my boob within the first twenty minutes of life and have yet to completely let go. Bess never wore a disposal nappy and at two years old Teddy is following her record. I wore Bess in the sling as soon as my section scar allowed me to (up until I became pregnant with Mr. Teds), and I still wear Teddy on my back when I can. Both of them are vegetarian and Bess is really proud that she is.
I have learned that managing the behaviour of 31 children in a classroom is nothing compared to managing the behaviour of a headstrong, challenging, amazingly intelligent little girl who has a temper and can argue that black is white (and frequently does) and an equally strong willed, physically strong little boy. My husband and I often wonder what the children we have taught would make of the way these children of ours can play us!
Whilst I still have regular contact with some of my closest pre-baby friends, my social circle and support network is unrecognisable from those days. Through the baby groups I joined as a new mummy I met the most amazing group of people. From this time we have forged incredibly strong friendships with people that I cannot imagine ever being without.
I think I did manage the practical side of being a mummy quite well in the early days. With Bess we did try and battle her into sleep routines and sleeping alone, even though my instincts told me this wasn’t right for our family. By the time Teddy came along we had researched the whole co-sleeping thing and had a much easier time of it. As for feeling tired- I didn’t know that level of tiredness was possible! I was 38 when Bess arrived and 41 when I had Teddy. I felt every one of those years and more when they were tiny. I still feel about 100 years old now. I am incredibly lucky to have a husband who regularly gives up his sleep and does a lot of the night time / early morning shifts; I seriously don’t know how I’d manage if he didn’t. However, along with the exhaustion came a strength that I never knew I possessed. A strength and a love that is so raw that it can overwhelm me and actually physically hurt at times. It is a love that is primal. I knew in theory that I would love my children, but, until I felt them moving inside me and then held them in my arms, I didn’t have a clue just how intense love could be.
Taking your children home for the first time: I remember crying when the midwife asked me if I wanted to go home with Bess. I really wanted to bring her home, but I felt that those few days in the hospital were so precious and special. I didn’t want them to end. We were brought home by Bess’ wonderful Godmother, who drove so carefully and refused to come in the house when we got back as this was our time. I had this big plan that we would open a bottle of fizz and eat Brie to celebrate. I don’t know what happened with the cheese, but we did open some fizz and raised a glass over the Moses basket. I was so tired and weak, having just had major surgery, I could hardly hold the glass, but I was determined to toast my baby.
After that we had visitors and helpers every single day for about five weeks. It was lovely to see people and show off our girl, but exhausting and overwhelming. In the end we had to start putting people off just so we could have some time getting settled as a family.
With Teddy I was eager to get home. I still loved the precious time in the hospital, but I had a two year old little girl missing me at home. We were very keen to get their relationship off to the best start possible and didn’t want to do anything that might cause resentment from Bess to her new brother.
The best/worst advice: The two best pieces of advice I received were from my sister. She said that the only kit you really need with a new baby are your boobs and a cardboard box, and that as long as you feed them, clean them and love them you’ll do ok.
The two worst pieces of advice were: ‘ You want to stop that breast feeding habit’ and ‘Don’t worry when you drop your baby, everybody does at some point’ (!!!)
(I never did drop them by the way, but Bess did roll off the changing table at 7 months and fell down the stairs last year)
The hardest parts of being a mother:I once read that loving your children is like having a permanent open wound. It is.
After I had Bess, although I was so thrilled to have this longed-for baby who I was absolutely smitten with, I also carried with me and underlying feeling of fury. I was particularly grumpy and angry with certain friends from my pre-baby days. None of these people had done anything to deserve this. I was also incredibly anxious about Bess’ safety. There were times when I refused to sleep because I was convinced something bad would happen to her if I did. I couldn’t watch the news, read anything that involved a child being unhappy, and absolutely refused to leave her with anyone that wasn’t me or my husband. This lasted to some degree or another until I fell pregnant with Teddy. I thought it was normal.
When Teddy arrived my feeling of fury returned tenfold. How my husband coped with my temper in those early weeks is beyond me. This time however, I mentioned how I was feeling to my doctor at my eight week check; I turned out I was suffering from postnatal anxiety and massive hormone imbalances. Because I didn’t feel depressed, just bloody furious, I didn’t recognise what I was experiencing. My wonderful doctor got me on tablets. I had some counselling and am happy to say that it got sorted. Yes I still worry about the children. But in a less bonkers way.
The thing I find most difficult, now the children are older, is the behaviour management. I was raised in quite a volatile environment, and my husband and I didn’t want this for our children. I’m trying very hard to practice a positive parenting approach. I believe that a child acts up because there is some need that isn’t being met. Therefore I don’t want to withdraw my love, with the naughty step or time out, when they need it most. I also don’t want to drum absolute obedience into them as I don’t think blind obedience is very good for anyone. I am trying to set boundaries and limits with unconditional love, and by example. However, this approach does not come naturally to me and sometimes it is really, really hard. I spend a lot of time feeling like a failure! We must be doing something right, though, as Bess is apparently beautifully behaved at school with lovely manners and lots of friends.
The best parts of being a mother: Oh my word! Despite it all, I love being a mummy! As I have previously mentioned, the friends I have found since becoming a mummy are amazing! Both my children amaze me and make me laugh every day. I cannot believe that two such beautiful, funny, crazy and clever little people come from me!
When I woke up the other morning and told Teddy I loved him, he replied, ‘I love you too mummy’. Sometimes he calls for me at night time before I have gone to bed, and when I go in the room his laugh and smile at seeing me melts my heart. As I was writing this he was suddenly next to me saying, ‘pider, pider,’ and I looked down to see he was holding a little spider he’d found in the garden! (We promptly returned it to the garden and it scuttled away no worse for its ordeal!). I particularly love how Teddy adores and copies his sister and how she protects him and tries to help him.
Bess makes me so proud every day. She is a really clever little girl. She loves to read and use new words. Today on a walk she said to me, ‘We are close to the pond, but I am assuming it shan’t be frozen.’ She’s 4! Her teachers love her and she has loads of friends. Even her strong willed stubborn episodes, though hard work, are something that makes me proud. I am trying very hard not to suppress that side of her. I think it will come in handy when she’s changing the world.
I love how they adore their daddy. Watching my husband dress up as a pirate and organise a treasure hunt around the living room with his mini pirate crew is one of my favourite ways to spend a Saturday morning.
I love that we are a family. I love that just a simple time like bath time can become an event with bubbles and songs. Everything is an adventure since the children arrived. They fill each day with joy and I love them.
How has Being a mother changed you? As cheesy as it sounds, I feel that I have found myself through Motherhood. I am so fulfilled now. I used to be someone who wouldn’t speak up in staff meetings and apologized a lot. Since having children I have lead a baby singing session when it’s funding was cut and I have told our M.P in person, and in writing, just why children’s services are so important. I have questioned health proffessionals. I have become the Ambassador Co-ordinator for the charity Nelly Globe. Perhaps most amazingly I rediscovered my love of baking and cake decorating and have now set up a small cake business that I run from home. I honestly believe that had I not had children I would never have found the confidence to do these things.
I am learning and growing, as a person, as much as my children are. Being a parent is a very healing experience.
Hopes for your family: My biggest hope is that we all remain healthy and happy and continue to follow our dreams. I also really hope that my attempts to practice positive discipline pay off as the children grow. I hope they know, that whatever challenges face them in life, they can come to us for help and advice without fear of recrimination. I hope we can have open discussions about the big things they may face. I really hope they go through their entire lives knowing they are very loved and very loveable.
What advice would you offer to new and expectant mums? I am a great believer in breastfeeding, baby wearing and co sleeping, so I want to advise all of that. However I know it’s not for everyone. I think every parent needs to educate themselves to some degree about caring for their baby, but also to follow their own instincts. What may be right for my family may not be right for yours, so do what feels right for you. They are small for such a short time, so enjoy your baby. If you feel something isn’t quite right emotionally speak to your gp; it’s completely normal and they can give you help that will make the world of difference. Go to baby groups. It may be a bit daunting at first, but everyone knows that feeling and you will make friends. Don’t worry about baby weight. It comes off eventually (though not in my pictures). Nine months on nine months off worked for me. Oh and during childbirth accept the drugs, lots of them. Pethedine is marvellous stuff.
Extra info: It has taken me eighteen months to answer these questions. I have assumed that one day Bess and Teddy will read this, so I really wanted it to be a perfect love letter to them. My desire for perfection made me freeze. Then I realised, it will never be perfect, I will never be a perfect mother. I do believe that my children are the perfect children for me though. As long as my very long answers get some of that across to them, I’m happy. At last.