What being a mum of 5 has taught me about having babies

I know I say it a lot, but I have given birth to five babies. That’s quite a few! I often wonder how on earth my body grew and birthed these little humans! Knowing all too well how hard it is to get pregnant and the worries for nine months until the baby is safely in my arms, having five children is really something I celebrate every day, even though being a mum is exhausting and has made my tummy very wobbly!

I hear lots of new parents worrying about some of the main aspects of pregnancy and parenting – that is the birth, feeding and sleep. So, I considered what I did with each of my children and how it has affected them as they have grown up.

Here’s a breakdown – from 2000 to 2016:

Birth Milk Food Sleep Now
Child 1 – 8lb 10oz Planned hospital birth, epidural, intervention with ventouse, natural Breastfed for 16 weeks Weaned at 4 months. Mostly homemade/organic 6 months in our room – coslept & cot Passed away age 12 expectantly. Was a good eater and sleeper, no major illness, fit and healthy, average build.
Child 2 – 9lbs 14oz Planned hospital birth, distressing, fast, natural, PTSD Breastfed 10 weeks Weaned at 4 months. Mostly jars/packets 6 months in our room – coslept & cot Some food intolerance, enjoys a wide variety of foods, poor sleeper, rarely ill, slim build.
Child 3 – 9lbs 8oz Planned home birth, natural, hypnobirthing Breastfed 6 months Weaned at 6 months. Mixture of homemade and pouches 8 months in our room – coslept Fussy eater, bananas and broccoli only, sleeps well, rarely ill, slim build.
Child 4 – 7lbs 14oz* Planned home birth, natural, hypnobirthing, gas and air
(*was 10 days early)
Breastfed 16 months Weaned at 5 months. Mostly pouches and homemade 10 months in our room – coslept Eats a good mix of foods and fruits, not keen on veg, sleeps well, rarely ill (for a toddler), average build.
Child 5 – 9lbs 9oz Planned home labour, unplanned hospital delivery, natural, gas and air Breastfed 6 months Weaned at 5 months. Mostly homemade and pouches Coslept while breastfeeding, in own room at 6 months. Is enjoying weaning and formula milk, sleeps very well, generally healthy.

Summary

Births
Using gas and air and having natural births meant I recovered quickly. After the epidural with Child 1 it took me longer to recover (the phrase ‘hit by a bus’ comes to mind!). A fast, unprepared for birth with Child 2 caused PTSD problems for us both.

Milk
All children were breastfed from up to 10 weeks to 16 months. Child 2 didn’t seem to like milk (just realised an intolerance there) and Child 3 had terrible reflux which meant he needed thick formula at about 5 months old. They were all good weights at birth however. The heaviest children are now the slimmest (seeming to have grown up instead of out!).

All children have been generally fit and well. They’ve had colds and some pretty nasty bugs, but rarely need antibiotics. I hope my antibodies and my grubby house have helped with that!

Food
I weaned Child 1 and 2 at 4 months, Child 3 at 6 months and Child 4 and 5 at 5 months. It hasn’t seemed to affect them when I weaned, although Child 2 has lactose sensitivity and most of us are gluten sensitive to a degree.

I fed them all pretty much the same – homemade or pouches; however, with Child 2 I used jars (pouches weren’t around then) and she is a brilliant eater today. Despite having a varied weaning diet, Child 3 is almost food phobic and very fussy, he would never believe he used to eat carrot.

Sleep
It’s interesting that I didn’t cosleep with Child 2 for very long, due to PTSD and PND, and this child has the most problems with sleeping. Yet I coslept with the others and they all sleep well independently. That’s not to say that putting Child 2 in a cot was wrong, it’s all about my attitude I think. I was much more chilled about it by the time Child 3 came along. I love my sleep and it was important to me to get them settled in their own bed because cosleeping isn’t easy on mums, but when I did this in a much less stressed frame of mind – want to rather than need to – it seemed to go better.

NB: I appreciate that there are a number of factors involved in how our children develop, and there are other factors that I’ve not included, but these are the areas that are pressed upon us when we have children by the NHS. 

I suppose I hope this would offer new parents some reassurance, that yes it’s important to listen to the latest research and recommendations but also to use your own judgement about what suits your child. Some of the things I did in the early days would be criticised today.

Regarding births, I had a much better experience when I took control of the birth. From Child 3, hypnobirthing worked for me as the primary pain relief, but just being able to control where and how I gave birth was crucial to my mental and physical wellbeing afterwards. You don’t always have to do things the convenient or conventional way.

As for food, while I do still buy organic where I can and try not to rely on ready made food, it’s really not always going to make your child into a fantastic eater. But, what we have always done is eaten our main meal together at a table without the TV on. Half the time it’s crazy or there’s arguments after tiring days, but it always brings us together over food.

In general, I have also noticed a correlation between the attachment to me and my children’s confidence and independence growing up. I coslept with Child 4 the longest and he loved this, there was no pressure to stop, but he moved into his own room really well and is a content boy who is happy to be parted from me. The same for Child 5 who is going through a bit of a clingy stage, but I let her cling. I am happy to hold and soothe as long as she needs and hope that she, too, will be a confident child.

I certainly don’t know it all, far from it! What I have learned is that each child is different and has different needs. (I’m now potty training my toddler and weaning my baby and having to remind myself how to do it!) But my advice to new parents would be worrying about the birth, how and what you feed, and how you or they sleep isn’t really worth it, but the love, stability and cuddles are!

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Have you noticed anything similar about your children?

 

I’ve linked this post up with the lovely Farmer’s Wife and Mummy and Maternity Mondays. Why not visit her blog to find out what other new mummies are sharing?

MaternityMondays

 

My Sunday Photo: Headspace

I’m very fortunate to live within driving distance of beautiful countryside. Yesterday, life was getting me down, but half an hour up here helped to put my troubles into perspective, and the friendly ponies cheered me up too.

I’ve linked up with #MySundayPhoto at Photoalife. Like me, Darren has posted a stunning picture of a wintery sky. There are some brilliant photos this week so do pop over and have a look!

 

Photalife

Let’s stop body-shaming our mummy tummies

I saw this post on HuffpostUK about this ‘poor’ mother of two (Meohmymum) who had posted a selfie of her looking depressed about her ‘jiggly’ bikini body and writing about how she was going to celebrate her lumps and bumps. Oh did it ever make me cross!

Firstly, I felt annoyed for the mum. Why is she unhappy in skin like that? She looks amazing. Her body looks slim and toned, she looks healthy. Frankly, you’d never tell she had children at all.

If she feels self-conscious and unhappy, heaven knows what the rest of us should feel! I may as well go and buy myself a huge kaftan to cover my own ‘shame’.

Dear mum, You may not feel like the old, taut you, but you’re not the same you pre-children. No one gets out of pregnancy without some change. You look good. You can wear whatever you like. Celebrate that fact and get on with life. Don’t seek reassurance from the web.

Oh course, it’s not her fault. Our society likes a certain look and the media wants mums to look as though the baby dropped out of the sky rather than a womb. Women have absolutely no way to win this.

And, why am I so cross, because here’s the reality.

Continue reading “Let’s stop body-shaming our mummy tummies”

I’m weaning my baby, see you in six months! 

So I’ve made it to the six-month mark. Hooray!

As much as I love newborns (I’ve been blessed to have five after all), I find it exhausting, especially with a toddler too. I know that six months is a key stage when weaning can get more established, the baby might sleep longer at night and is generally more sociable (i.e., I can give her to someone else for more than an hour!). It might sound harsh, but as much as I love my bambinos, being a parent on call 24/7 is the hardest job there is.

Weaning means I can get out a bit more…. oh, hold on, I’ve just remembered, no, it doesn’t!

You spend the first six months with your new baby pretty much at home or only visiting a few places due to fitting around feeds and sleeps, feeling generally knackered and drowning in nappy changes and washing, and frankly, CBA (can’t be arsed) to organize yourself to go further than the local shop…

…to gallop into the second half of the first year to find yourself spending it pretty much in your kitchen. Suddenly, the thought of breastfeeding on the sofa watching daytime telly because you’re pinned under a cranky baby seems appealing. You realise that all the progress you’ve made is swapping one room of your house for another.

When my husband comes home from work and asks me in a jolly ‘I’ve-been-out-all-day talking-to-adults-and-drinking-hot-tea-in-peace’ voice what I got up to today, I look at him ‘adoringly’ with bits of apple puree in my hair, milky dribbles on my shoulder and a cranky baby on my hip whilst stirring a pot of random homemade sauce on the hob and say ‘not much’.

The feeling of being unproductive is pretty dire for me, as I like to feel I’ve achieved something. When I look back and realise that all I’ve done is feed, change and wipe up all day, it’s not really much to shout about. Yes, there are fantastic moments scattered throughout all that, I have brilliant quality time with them, but I can’t help feeling that most days I’m a robot doing the same thing from breakfast till bedtime.

Let me explain the average day. By the time the baby has had breakfast and been changed, the toddler wants changing. Then I need to get dressed and have my own breakfast and clear away the breakfast things that the others left behind. Then the baby needs her mid-morning bottle, and she wants a nap. Then the toddler wants lunch. Then the baby wakes up and wants her lunch. Then they both need changing again. We have about an hour or so before she wants another bottle and, oh look, it’s 3pm; Joe will be home in a minute and I have to collect Jen from school. We go outside, briefly, in the car to collect her. Then whip up a culinary masterpiece that they all will love quickly make a meal that they are guaranteed to moan about, and give the baby and toddler a snack. I change them both, then it’s 5pm and the joys of getting the meal on the table.

Winter makes this much worse as it’s a case of how many layers can you put on a wriggly baby and toddler before dragging them out into the cold? I find myself saying ‘Oh it looks like it might rain’ so often I swear they will become phobic of all weathers that aren’t mild and sunny (though not too sunny as that’ll involve Factor 500 suncream and hats and gallons of water).

Admittedly, it’s easier to feed older babies on the go these days with ready-made milk and food pouches, but it’s the physcial time it takes to get out. By the time I’m ready to go out someone is hungry or needs changing. I promise myself every day that ‘tomorrow’ I’ll get up at 6am and be super organized, but it never happens.

Just like after the birth, I know this will get a lot easier as they get older, but for now, the children don’t care so I might as well hibernate till spring!

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I can’t let go of my children’s toys!

We’ve been having a bit of a clear out, which we need to do fairly frequently with six of us in the house. Our boys’ bedroom had become very cluttered with toys, clothes, books and teddies. We tidied it up but decided that as the large buckets of teddies weren’t played with much at all that we’d get rid of them.

Ha, well it didn’t quite work out that way. These were toys we’ve become so used to seeing and picking up that we’d stopped appreciating them. But as we were putting them into bin bags for the charity shop, we were sighing sentimentally over almost every one of them.

My husband was being more assertive about it but I suggested we put them aside so I could go through them again. So they were put into the baby’s bedroom to be ‘sorted’ later (aka taking the clutter from one room to another).

Then we decided to store them in the loft for ‘another time’, only I didn’t want to do that as they might get damp or ruined, and I didn’t like to think of them all abandoned up there (can’t you tell I’ve been subjected to Toy Story on loop this past month!).

So, a few weeks later, I sorted them out yet again! I found an old drawer under the cot and decided to put them all in there. After all Naomi might want to play with them look at them briefly one day! I did manage to make a bag of stuffed toys for charity, but I kept most of the ones we were originally going to put away or donate!

20161130_202240.jpgWhat’s wrong with me. They are just toys!

But are they?

There are a number that we’ve had since before we were married 17 years ago. (Mr Happy and Mr Bump my husband, then boyfriend, bought me. Dastardly and Mutley were picked up during one of many leisurely shopping trips.)

wp-1480537659107.jpgThere are some that belonged to Abi, that I can remember her choosing, holding and us buying (lots of YooHoos, Moshi Monsters and a Puffle).

There are Beany Babies toys that we bought from the regular stall at the annual village fair. Nintendo toys and lovely soft Keel pets.

There are toys that remind me of places we’ve been as a family (Pidgey Pidge the pigeon from our last London trip in 2012 for example).

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All toys that brought memories to mind.

I can’t even store them away. I want them to be accessible even though I could use the space for other things.

The children don’t look at these anymore. Jake, our toddler, might play with a couple (ie, empty the draw all over the floor and then abandon the game for another area of destruction!). They occasionally take one to bed, but really, who plays with all these stuffed toys anyway? They are such lovely things to buy but once you’ve got them home they just become part of the clutter.

What makes it worse is that I was never a cuddly teddy or even a dolly kind of child, it seemed babyish to me. My Barbie had a professional career in the City (and also a beautiful ballgown in case the career didn’t work out and she needed a Prince Charming!). Though you wouldn’t think that now if you saw what has become my secret stash!

As I found myself unable to part with many of them, I had to accept that it’s my relationship with these toys, and the memories they give me, that is what is stopping me getting rid of them. What does it matter, they’ve been with us this long, they might as well stop a while longer!

Tell me I’m not alone in this hoarding of kids’ stuff. Do you have any of your children’s toys you can’t bear to part with?

Remembering Abi on her 16th birthday 

Having just seen Abi’s 16th birthday come and go, I realised it never gets easier. This is her fourth birthday in heaven.

Abi’s 13th birthday was ten months after she died, in 2013. It felt unbearable. She was so looking forward to becoming a teenager, she’d already been thinking about what she might do.

We had a diamond paperweight engraved with her age and placed it on her memorial, along with balloons and flowers. We felt helpless as we should be celebrating, not mourning.

Then her 14th and 15th birthdays came and went. We always seem to get hit by seasonal bugs about this time of year, so I remember last year passed without too much stress as we were all ill.

Each time it is hard as I’m reminded of everything from the pregnancy, the birth, the love, the joy, the sorrow… and watching her youngest brother playing is a reminder of the innocence of those early years with her.

Then turning sixteen. Sixteen! Her friends have changed, they are growing up, as they should. Abi should be giving us grief of a very different kind!

So what to do. As ever I began to withdraw as the day approached. Not knowing which way to turn. It’s hard to buy cards and gifts with no place for them to go…

A lovely blogging friend suggested marking the day by giving the children a present each. At Christmas, we give each other gifts as a way to remember the love of Jesus, so why not do something similar?

Our older children sensed gloom, I felt hopeless, but I needed a thing to do. So on the morning of Abi’s birthday I snuck off to the shops and bought them all a gift. With people Christmas shopping in their droves now it was the first weekend of advent, I was focusing on buying flowers and gifts for my dead child. I pretended otherwise to the cashier who chatted away about Christmas.

I bought something for me and Dad too and some beautiful bright yellow flowers for Abi. I bought some wrapping paper with cupcakes on it and that afternoon when the children were all a bit bored and tetchy we opened them together.

wp-1480432074903.jpgWe also had a cake. We sang happy birthday next to Abi’s picture, our toddler knowing exactly who Abi was and happy with singing to her picture (and his eyes closely on the cake!). The baby enjoyed her first taste of cake too.

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Abi’s birthday always seems to offer us pink, purple and blue sunsets

The gift sharing went really well and I think is a positive tradition that Abi would approve of and that could give us a consistent way to mark her birthday.

Do you do something similar to mark your angel child’s birthday?

Update on this blog

I have decided that the time is right to merge my blogs together. I currently run a few blogs (this one about my grief, a parenting and lifestyle blog, and a book club blog). Phew! The two main blog sites, this one and ‘Mummy Writes…’, my lifestyle blog, have always run separately.

In the early months and years after Abi’s death I needed to write about grief and this blog was the focus, but as time has passed I have had two more children, I still work, I still have opinions, and life carries on. Life is very different in many ways and my perspective has changed, but there is also much that continues as before.

I felt a separate blog was more appropriate at first as I was mindful of my readers and that they wouldn’t want to read about the mountains of nappies or family outings, especially if they’ve just found my blog having been recently bereaved.

I was also mindful of my children and their friends reading my hard posts about grief so I set up a blog which was something I wouldn’t mind them reading. Yet now, Abi’s friends are older and while I would not have wanted them to read about the details surrounding her death when they were age 12, if they read these posts today they may well gain a lot from them in terms of dealing with their own thoughts about losing her.

By combining my blogs, I feel it might help those going through loss to read that life can and will be ‘normal’ (to a degree) again. That it’s okay to complain about the washing piling up or to celebrate the things we manage to do (I wrote a post about how excited I was to go shopping alone!). I am ready to show now that life and grief can exist together.

We are all still very much on our ‘journey’ (gah!) to better days but it’s one I hope you’ll join me on.  Thank you for reading so far, I have truly valued your support. There are lots of new old posts added to the site so do have a browse around.

Have you prepared for the winter of life?

This morning, I read this brilliant blog post by Cheltenham Maman about how anxiety over our children’s health and wellbeing can affect us. The post provides some sound advice for helping to manage parental anxiety so it’s certainly worth a read if you’re struggling with this. I also wrote this post last week about how I feel so consumed by the hypervigilant state that being a bereaved mother has put me in.

In Cheltenham Maman’s post, she wrote something that struck me.

Liken it to other things in life that are certain; winter will come each year but we don’t let it dampen how much we enjoy the summer.

We can be anxious – and therefore depressed about our anxiety – every day of our lives, worrying about something bad happening but, just like we ‘dread’ the cold, dark winter months, we also look forward to the summer and make the most of the warmer days when they do happen.

This is powerful stuff!

Yes, just like life and death, we need to make the most of the better days, the healthy days, the young days, the carefree days. It is inevitable that winter will come, death is something no one can escape from, so try not to waste precious time worrying about the cold while you’re bathing in sunlight.

spring-quotes-and-proverbs

Yet there’s a caveat to this beautiful metaphor.

Because we know that winter is coming, we make plans about how we will cope with it. We get the boiler serviced, we insulate our homes, we buy in supplies that protect against the frost, we buy a new warm coat, we eat warming, hearty foods…

We prepare for winter and so winter, while still cold and dark, is more bearable and we can see hope in the spring and summer just around the corner.

So why not prepare for death? Prepare for the worst?

Continue reading “Have you prepared for the winter of life?”

A letter to you on your sixteenth birthday 

Abi

I pause before even writing a word as the thought of you turning 16 in heaven breaks my heart all over again.

I’m sorry sweetheart. I know you are safe, I feel that, but I feel so lost without you near me. You’re the one who is safe, I’m the one running scared.

My mind and body are a bit stressed out. All the love you should have had, all the time, the energy I should have spent on you is bundled up inside me because it’s had nowhere to go.

I wanted you to meet your new baby brother and sister. Your baby brother is so much like you I wonder if God just gave us the same soul. The baby, too, is happiness itself. It’s as though we’ve been given these extra joyful souls to help us live with the sadness of you being gone. And we feel it every day. We laugh, we have fun, but underneath it all we are missing you.

Your sister misses you, deep down, she just hasn’t worked out how to express it. I can imagine that the pain is so great that it’s far too complicated to face. There have been so many times when she’s needed you, for company, advice, support. Growing up is hard and I know you would have been a great big sister to her. Sharing your clothes and makeup, teaching her hairstyles, sticking up for her at school…

Your brother talks of you often and I know he thinks about you more. It’s too painful sometimes for him. The realisation of what grief means, how that makes his eyes instantly water and puts a lump in his throat. He loves you still and believes Jesus is looking after you.

Me and Dad are doing OK. At times it feels we’ve clung on to our family by our fingernails, but as long as there’s something to cling to it is worth it. We are complete worrywarts now, but that’s understandable given you left us so suddenly.

Your friends are all grown up now too, all seeing their 16th birthday this coming year. It hurts a little to see them getting on and growing up without you but I know you are never far from their thoughts.

We just all miss you so much. I can still hear you. I try to imagine what you would say or do. Would you be a second degree black belt by now? Would you know what career you wanted? What experiences would you have had?

What I do know is that you would have planned your 16th birthday the moment you turned 15! I expect it would be a slap up meal or a party of some kind. there’d be a big cake, lots of friends, music and laughter.

But it’s not to be.

On your birthday, we will probably carry on like every other day. There’s no need to buy in food or balloons and decorations. There’s no need to do anything other than visit the place where we laid your ashes. There aren’t many days where I wouldn’t quite happily join you, yet I somehow strive on. This life can be so very hard but there is so much to live for, I’m not entirely sure what yet but I feel it must go on.

So keep your light shining through us, and through everyone who knew you. We love you so much darling.

Happy birthday.

Mum

XxxxxxxxxxxxxxxX

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I should be organising your 16th birthday party

I’m at a loss. How do you ‘celebrate’ your child’s birthday when they are dead?

I should be chasing around here and there, buying balloons, presents, sorting things out, baking an amazing cake.

Instead I sit here and can only do these things in my head, while my stomach churns with longing and my eyes sting with tears.

You, my darling girl, will be 16 tomorrow. It’s such a special age to be, a milestone, yet one we cannot do anything about.

I want to throw a party anyway, invite everyone she ever knew, pull out all the stops regardless of the fact she’s not able to go herself. I know she’d want a party.

But this isn’t a celebration. It’s an awkward, messy, unhappy time. I wish I could be one of those mums who puts on a brave face and arranges a get-together to celebrate … but I can’t. The thought of Abi not here chokes me up just thinking about it.

Abi

 

I’m not allowed to cry tomorrow; the children are nervous, wondering if it’ll be a gloomy day. It won’t, but it means my heart will beat even slower than normal as I keep my emotions locked away.

I just have to get through it. I’m sorry darling. We haven’t forgotten you, we just don’t know what to do. To do something feels like losing you all over again, to do nothing feels just as bad.

Release a balloon, light a bloody candle, make a wish upon a star… it means nothing. She is in me and I’m in her always, but I know she is safe and happy where she is. I can see her at sixteen, she has grown up in heaven. I know there will be many more birthdays and milestones without her to endure.

No matter how many children I have, she is always my first, my Abi. The one who started all the love.

Dear Lord, It is only because you created such a wonderful child that our hearts hurt so much in grief. I pray that you keep especially close to us tomorrow. Ease the pain in our hearts by your comfort and give us strength to face the day. Thank you for your countless blessings on us, and for keeping our girl safe. Amen.

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