Having It All: Faking It

Confessions of @A_WorkingMum

Dear Mumsnet Blog Network … Was It Something I Said?

The problem all started when I found out I had become the Mumsnet Blog Network “Blog Of The Day.”

There it was, larger than life.

MY blog post, shared on the Mumsnet Blog Network page with @MumsnetBloggers #BOTD written underneath it.

My heart really did miss a beat.

  • Me?
  • A brand new blogger with no idea what I was doing?
  • Mumsnet #Blog Of The Day?

Amazing.

I, a nobody, had been noticed and admired by a Very Important Person.

Next thing I knew I was dancing around the kitchen, punching the air, whooping… my children must have thought there was something wrong with me. (probably no more than usual)

I gained new followers on Twitter and Facebook and received messages from strangers telling me they loved my post.

I could not believe it.

The first post I had shared with @MumsnetBloggers the week before had been shared on their homepage.

They said:

“It will have you crying with laughter.”

That was exciting enough in itself!

I was thrilled they had noticed me and my new blog.

The second post I shared with them was chosen for their #BOTD.

The Accidental Home Birth

They then re-shared it throughout the day with various compliments:

Funny!

Hilarous!

I excitedly re-tweeted and messaged them back, raving about how happy I was:

As if that wasn’t exciting enough, Katie of Hurrah For Gin fame had actually commented on my post and said she loved the photo.

Celebrity endorsement.

I was literally bursting with pride.

A few days later I was excitedly wondering what else the Mumsnet Blog Network team might like.

Now that we had begun this beautiful and special relationship, I did not want to let them down.

I shared an older blog post with them that might be right up their alley – “My Vagina Is A Rosebud.”

My Vagina Is A Rosebud

I felt certain that they would have a chuckle at that one and watched eagerly over the next few days…

Was it share-worthy, or maybe even #BOTD material?

I checked for a few days in a row and there was no sign of it.

Maybe they had missed it?

I felt slightly uneasy.

Maybe they didn’t like that post after all?

I chided myself.

Of course it wasn’t that.

They would be busy people, reading through lots of brand new blog posts, and I had gone and shared a post from a month earlier. I had probably insulted them with my laziness in not sending them some fresh material.

How could I have ever thought that would be acceptable?

Idiot.

Right….I had learnt my lesson and I knew I could do better.

I would not let them down after they had taken such a leap of faith by making me, a nobody, their #BOTD.

I would write a new blog post.

Not just ANY old blog post.

My BEST post yet.

I would dig deep and think of a relevant topic that loads of Mumsnetters could relate to, and write a BRILLIANT blog post.

I considered writing about my how I acquired my circle of Bought Friends by Surviving the NCT Antenatal Course.

I thought it would make a good post.

Long, but good (the story of my life).

However I would feel uncomfortable blogging about my friends without confessing what I was up to.

You see, up until that point, I had kept the blog a secret.

I could continue keeping it a secret from them, but …

What if it made Mumsnet Blog Of The Day, and one of them saw it?

I didn’t want the Bought Friends reading all about themselves online by accident.

I needed those Bought Friends, so I would need to confess.

And I had better make this post good.

  • I sat down night after night – recalling the details of the course, re-living the experience, and choosing pseudonymns for my friends.
  • I read and re-read it.
  • I eventually confessed to my Bought Friends.
  • I told them about the blog via our Bought Friends WhatsApp group.
  • I sent them the post to read, and then carefully screenshotted their reactions and pasted them together into a picture to include at the end of the post.

The bags under my eyes grew steadily darker as the only time of day I could find to work on this immense project was beginning at midnight every day when Long-Suffering Husband went to bed, shaking his head at my bizarre desire to produce this One Great Post.

The house remained dark and silent around me at 3am every morning as I:

  • Drew my picture of the NCT group.
  • Scanned it.
  • Coloured it in VERY slowly using the annoying Paint programme that comes with Windows, because I have never learnt to use anything else.

I would feel cross and resentful when Baby Girl awoke for a feed as it meant I would lose 20 minutes of precious Blog Project Time.

Even I suspected I was going a LITTLE bit too far in the time I was putting into this (totally unnecessary) project, but I was beyond listening to reason, even if that reason came from me.

I was Committed and could not make myself stop until I thought I had Done It Justice.

Eventually, it was finished.

Surviving The NCT Antenatal Course – Buying The Bought Friends

I will never be a literary genius but I thought I had done a good job, and that it might be entertaining to anyone who had attended an NCT Antenatal Course.

I published the post.

  • At first I was thrilled.
  • Lots of people liked it.
  • Lots of people commented on it.
  • I was relieved – the hard work had paid off.

The blog post was officially a success.

Finally, I tweeted it to the Mumsnet Blog Network team over the weekend.

A senior member of the NCT strategy team commented and liked it, saying she thought it was funny.

My work was done.

I tried to imagine the Mumsnet Blog Network team reading the Epic Project.

  • Perhaps they might chortle to themselves at the occasional entertaining part?
  • They would no longer be offended about my sharing the older post and they would see I had put my heart and soul into this one.
  • They would definitely share it one their page, surely.
  • Maybe even #BOTD????

I checked their website excitedly on Monday – no mention of my post.

Oh well, they probably received loads of tweets every day. Maybe they were working their way through a backlog of great blog posts.

I checked on Tuesday – no mention of my post.

I started to feel uneasy.

They seemed to like my first post, loved my second post, but then completely ignored the following two.

Was it something I had said?

How could I be “funny” and “hilarious” one day, then invisible the next?

I went about my day and tried not to think about it.

Regularly throughout the day I absent-mindedly began wondering what the Mumsnet Blog Network Team might look like.

  • How many of them were there?
  • Where were they?
  • Were they a virtual team taking it shifts from their own houses, or a team physically in an office together?
  • Did they share out the blog posts to read and then call out cheerfully to each other across the office saying, “hey, you have GOT to read this, it is fricking HILARIOUS?”
  • Did they have a vote as to who would be #BOTD or did one person just pick?
  • What were they doing right now?

I created rational explanations for why I perhaps had no mention.

  • Maybe one team member enjoyed my style of writing and had shared my first two posts, and she was away?
  • Maybe my blog was not to the tastes of the other team members?
  • Maybe in general they preferred writing on more serious topics?

I suddenly felt much more sane and a little less like a Neurotic Nutcase.

Wednesday Arrived.

I smiled at some Mums at a playgroup who told me how great I looked and how they really didn’t know how I managed it all.

A few close friends congratulated me on how fantastic the blog was and what an amazing job I had done, and how on earth had I found the time?

I graciously accepted the praise whilst internally obsessing about why I was not Mumsnet Blog Network #BOTD.

Suddenly it hit me.

Oh God – what if NO-ONE in their (potentially imaginary) office had EVER liked the blog?

What if they had nominated me the last time out of PITY because the blog was SO BAD?

I told myself to stop being ridiculous.

But…

  • Maybe they pitied me now?
  • Or maybe they were laughing at me?
  • Maybe they were all there, in their pencil skirts and high heels, chuckling out loud at the fact that I had tried to send them two rubbish blog posts, and wondering how long it would take for me to take the hint and stop sending them things to read?

Argggh.

Go away stupid little taunting voice in my head. Someone was talking to me and a response was required.

“Oh yes, thank you, I have had my hair cut, so kind of you to say, and thank you, yes, everything has all been going rather well…

The little voice was back, drowning out the compliments:

  • Or maybe…they had just tossed the post casually aside, not even bothering to read it all because it was such a poor effort, and they weren’t laughing at me in the office, no-one had even noticed or mentioned me at all?
  • Maybe I was just invisible to them.
  • Which would be worse … being the subject of their mockery, or being dead to them?

As I firmly suppressed the inner obsessive and kept her hidden from public view, I couldn’t shake a strange feeling of déjà vu about the whole situation.

Suddenly it hit me.

Oh God.

I was no longer a thirty-six year old woman with a wonderful husband, a successful career and three beautiful children.

I had been transported back in time.

I had mentally morphed back into a teenager waiting for a boy to call.

I realised why the whole situation seemed so vaguely familiar:

  • Repeatedly checking my phone for messages
  • Telling myself to stop thinking about him then absent-mindedly doodling my new married name
  • Creating less and less plausible reasons why this potential soul mate hadn’t been in contact
  • Eventually wondering desperately if it might have been something I said
  • The gradual realisation that the “magical connection” may actually have been one-sided…

I was a self-absorbed youngster dreaming of marriage and children after one date with the Mumsnet Blog Network, refusing to accept that to them I had been nothing more than a One Night Stand.

Time for a SERIOUS talk to myself:

  • Pull yourself together woman.
  • You are thirty-six years old, not thirteen.
  • You are a success in every aspect of your life.
  • It does not matter about the #BOTD.
  • Move on, dammit, MOVE ON.

My pep-talk worked for an hour or two, right through to when I got the three children into bed for their afternoon nap.

The novel idea of checking Twitter to see who Wednesday’s #BOTD popped into my head (for the millionth time that day).

  • STOP IT, YOU CRAZY PERSON.
  • IT ISN’T YOU AND IT DOESN’T MATTER.

But maybe…. Maybe the backlog was REALLY long, and they have just read my post, and they love it?

DON’T DO IT.

I put my phone further away from me, out of reach, and started tidying up the lunch-time explosion.

I could feel my phone watching me.

It was taunting me, telling me:

  We both know you will give in eventually anyway, so why not just check now and get it over and done with?

The phone made a good point.

I checked.

Wednesday’s #BOTD goes to….

The Unmumsy Mum.

THE UNMUMSY BLOODY MUM??????

The SAME Unmumsy Mum who has:

  • THIRTY-FIVE THOUSAND Twitter Followers
  • 576,927 likes on Facebook
  • Not one but TWO best-selling books in the Top Ten Times Book List?

Seriously?

Now not only am I a teenager moping around hoping that some spotty boy will call me, doodling his name in my ring-binder and staring at him across a classroom while he pretends not to know who I am after kissing me at the school disco, I have just found out that he has chosen to ignore me because he is besotted with the stunning beauty-queen from three years above who has no idea he is even alive?

I turn on the radio.

Callum Scott’s cover of Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” is playing.

“I’m in the corner, watching you kiss her, ohh
I’m right over here, why can’t you see me, ohh
I’m giving it my all, but I’m not the girl you’re taking home, ooo
I keep dancing on my own (I keep dancing on my own)”

Brilliant.

I turn it back off again.

Surely the Unmumsy Mum is not going to CARE if she is Mumsnet Blog of the Day?

She must have won every award going multiple times over and have retired from getting excited about such things!

Pick me, you fools!

When I get MumsNet BOTD, I dance around the kitchen! I revel in every additional follower gained! The recognition renews my faith in continuing with my fragile brand new blog endeavour, and makes me feel like it might actually be okay!

I tell myself not to rub salt into my wounds by reading The Unmumsy Mum’s Award-Winning post, but find that I cannot help myself.

http://theunmumsymum.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/dear-anna-response-to-that-daily-mail.html

Sigh.

  • Of course, it is great.
  • It makes Important Points.
  • It defends Mums and their right to be honest about the reality of their daily lives.
  • It also sticks it to a Miserable Evil Journalist in a balanced and articulate way.

Bigger Sigh.

In Summary:

  • Her post is concise and brilliant.
  • Mine is long-winded, rambling, and at best, mildy amusing in parts.

 

I realised that I had probably better stick to my day job.

I am giving up blogging.

(Two hours later… Pep-Talk time)

I gave myself some advice.

  • Of course you can do this!
  • There are nine hundred people following you on Twitter and 379 likes on Facebook.
  • Some of these people will be enjoying what you write and it may make someone laugh in the middle of a rubbish day.
  • There is room out there for brilliant, concise, Unmumsy Mum-style blogs to exist alongside more long-winded merely adequate blogs.
  • KEEP BLOGGING.
  • And if you are really no good at being concise – just write a book instead!

I give myself some final advice that I would love to have given to my teenage self.

THERE ARE PLENTY MORE FISH IN THE SEA.

So remember, if Mumsnet are not keen on your blog… you could always try NetMums.

Surviving The NCT Antenatal Course – Buying The Bought Friends

It all started with some well-intended advice.

For anyone not in the know – the NCT (National Childbirth Trust) run antenatal classes around the UK.

https://www.nct.org.uk/courses/antenatal

After announcing my first pregnancy I received a few messages from friends who were already residing in the mysterious land of those-with-children.

They advised that I sign up to an NCT antenatal course immediately.

I was unfamiliar with such courses and consulted the oracle Google.

Firstly I discovered that NCT antenatal courses were expensive…around £200 for me plus a birth partner to attend six classes.

Was this really a wise use of money when I was about to have a baby?

Surely I could just read a book.

I was quickly corrected by one of the Friends-With-Children.

“You are not going on this course to learn. You are going on it to buy friends. They are very over-subscribed. Get on with it and SIGN UP NOW BEFORE THE SPACES RUN OUT.

Did she just say BUY friends?

Surely I didn’t need any more friends.

My life was already full of friends I did not have time to keep up with.

I was always feeling guilty about not having called someone back/ replied to a text message/WhatsApp message/Messenger message/ had coffee with someone for ages… there was surely no room in my life for MORE friends.

“What do you think is actually going to happen once you have had the baby?”

Silence from me.

“You will be off work all day, every day, just you and the baby, and you will need friends to spend time with.”

I clarified, since she seemed to have forgotten:

“I have lots of friends.”

She snorted.

“Your friends will have no time for you. They will be at work. You will be alone. You need to go on that course to buy yourself some friends so you don’t go insane. That is why you are paying for the NCT course instead of going to a free NHS course.”

???

“You are buying professional friends so that you have something in common.”

Silence as I digested this information.

How horribly snobbish.

How embarrassingly middle class.

Now I was buying specifically PROFESSIONAL friends?

Surely I, with my four immigrant working-class grandparents, could be friends with anyone, whatever their job or background?

As it happened I had made no plans to attend any antenatal course of any kind, free or otherwise.

It also had not occurred to me that my friends would all be at work and unavailable to meet me for coffee during my planned materna-holiday.

I actually hadn’t given any thought to the logistics of maternity leave at all.

I was too busy being pregnant and working.

“Sign up for the course now, and when you get there, don’t judge. Make an effort. Try very hard to like these people because they will save your sanity.”

I stopped arguing and consulted Long-Suffering Husband.

“Apparently it is essential that we attend an NCT antenatal course to buy me some friends so I don’t go mad when I’m on maternity leave.”

We signed up for the course.

The online information informed us to expect five weekday evening sessions and one Saturday morning breastfeeding information session.

We put the dates in our diary and forgot all about it.

WEEK ONE

We were both late.

We were both commuting over an hours’ drive to work and had no way of predicting what time our working days would end.

Realistically we were never going to arrive on time, but we had optimistically agreed that morning that we would “do our best to get there.”

After an hour and a half on the motorway driving there from work, I squeezed into a parking space one dark January evening.

I was starving.

I speed-walked towards a small Church Hall I’d never seen before, out of breath in the cold January air.

A wall of heat hit me as I entered the brightly-lit room, blinking rapidly and feeling disorientated.

I was surrounded by a sea of bright shiny blonde heavily pregnant women and their supportive partners.

There they all were, sitting in a nice quiet orderly circle of chairs with eagerly attentive faces and neatly printed name badges.

My very PUNCTUAL soon-to-be Bought Friends.

As the sole brunette and the sole late person, I attempted to sidle subtly towards an empty seat.

Subtlety is not easy to achieve when:

  • You are 6 months pregnant
  • You are huffing and puffing
  • You are wearing an imposing ankle-length black swooshing winter coat with fur collar and cuffs over a suit, amidst a room full of casually-dressed people who have clearly been home to change since work
  • You need to walk right through the MIDDLE of the circle to reach the empty chair on the opposite side of the room, completely disrupting the group activity

I smiled a vague apology in the direction of a small beaming red-head who appeared to be the course instructor.

“Welcome, welcome!”

I studied her as she chatted excitedly to the group.

She seemed excessively … happy. Radiant almost.

She was acting as though she genuinely couldn’t imagine anywhere in the world she would rather be than spending an evening teaching us on an NCT antenatal course.

Surely that level of enthusiasm wasn’t normal?

I was suspicious.

I decided she was probably faking it.

I was certain I wasn’t going to like her… she was making me feel tired with all the chirpiness.

I had arrived at the end some kind of introductory activity and was apparently just in time to tell everyone who I was and how pregnant I was.

I scanned the room quickly.

Turned out I wasn’t the only late person after all – there was no sign of Long-Suffering Husband.

Oh good.

I could just imagine the impression I was making – arriving late, out of breath, and alone.

Like a loser who couldn’t even produce one single friend to be a birth partner.

Everyone else appeared to be sitting calmly hand in hand with their supportive partners, looking at me sympathetically for being so brave as to turn up alone.

(I may possibly have imagined the sympathetic looks)

I introduced myself and explained that I was only 6 months pregnant and that I did have a husband who would arrive at some point when traffic allowed.

(I was less pregnant than the others after choosing the course based on the convenient geographic location of my future friends rather than being honest about my due date, but I thought it wise to omit that information)

I don’t remember exactly what else we talked about but it was nearly time for the tea break when Long-Suffering Husband finally put in an appearance. He looked tired after a long motorway drive.

I was surprisingly unnerved about being there on my own and felt relieved to see him.

Beaming Instructor told us to help ourselves to tea and coffee.

Long-Suffering Husband and I had a brief chat, standing there in our suits as though we were the only two people to have misread the dress code on our party invitation.

I wondered how many biscuits I could eat before people started to judge me.

Beaming Instructor laid out some laminated diagrams and photographs around the room and started to talk to us about childbirth.

The photographs appeared to be significantly more graphic than most of the men in the room had anticipated.

I found myself quite entertained by their facial expressions as they attempted to avert their collective gaze.

My concentration wandered as I tried my hardest to get the measure of the other women in the room.

Did they look like:

  • My best friends of the future?
  • Women I would relate to?
  • People I could confide fears and anxieties to?
  • People who would keep me sane throughout maternity leave?

No, they most certainly did not.

They looked:

  • Studious
  • Well-behaved
  • Attentive
  • Boring
  • Like a class-full of teacher’s pets

I looked harder and tried to establish if there may be one or two good eggs in amongst the goody-two-shoes.

The trouble was, I really couldn’t tell which one was which.

I am terrible with names and faces and even the name badges weren’t helping.

By the end of the session the only name I had learnt was that of Beaming Instructor.

I did notice a few things about my soon-to-be Bought Friends though:

  • One was blonder than the others and was wearing a funky beret.
  • One was wearing a nice pair of maternity jeans.
  • One had a pair of furry wedge-boots I was quite keen on.

Not exactly the stuff of lifelong friendships but it was a start.

The session went by in an uneventful blur of everyone being very polite and on their best behavior. I don’t think I really heard anything Beaming Instructor said.

The session ended.

Everyone started heading off, arm-in-arm in super-supportive lovey-dovey couples. It seemed we were the only couple leaving separately.

I wondered if the others might assume I was a mistress, bearing Long-Suffering Husband’s illegitimate baby, and that he was off home to his real family?

Long-Suffering Husband got into his (totally impractical for a father-to-be) two-seater sports car and a few of the other Dads-to-be shared a bit of banter with him about how the car would have to go .

(It went).

We arrived home and sat down for dinner. I considered our evening.

“I don’t like them.”

Long-Suffering Husband looked confused.

“Who?”

Sigh,

“Those friends we have just paid for. I don’t think I like any of them. They’re not really my type of people and this has probably been a waste of money.”

Long-suffering husband is less given to dramatic snap judgements than I am.

He said something annoyingly sensible like-

“let’s see how it goes.”

Instead of heeding his advice I went to bed and stayed up late Googling “What to do if you hate your NCT group.”

I read some amusing and frankly horrifying tales of disasterous NCT groups (mostly in London) and cheered up.

Ours suddenly seemed reassuringly normal.

Perhaps next week would be better.

WEEK TWO

I had toyed with the idea of not returning to the NCT class during the intervening week.

However, having paid for the classes in advance turned out to be a sure-fire guarantee that that I would be back.

I was determined to get my money’s worth for every single minute we had paid for.

Immediately on entering the room there was a much better atmosphere than the week before. It seemed that everyone now had an idea what to expect and had decided to make the most of it.

Beaming Instructor was back, as chirpy as ever.

It seemed she really WAS that happy. It was for real. She actually loved teaching us.

Weird.

She had in store for us a selection of group activities and proceeded to mix us up into small groups so that we could get to know each other.

I vowed silently to do my best to appear un-sarcastic and open-minded.

I had already decided the sessions would involve:

  • Talk about how birth should be “natural”
  • A heavy sell on home births
  • Mention of how we would not need any pain-killers
  • Doctor and hospital-bashing
  • Talk of whale song, candles, relaxing music and possibly chanting
  • Use of words certain to induce eye-rolling on my part (“empowering” maybe? “spiritual?” I could only imagine)
  • Potentially talk of hypnobirthing
  • Worst-case scenario – we may encounter the “my vagina is a rosebud” concept

(see previous post – “My Vagina Is A Rosebud”)

http://havingitall.family/2017/my-vagina-is-a-rosebud/

I knew that I would not actually be interested in anything that Beaming Instructor had to say because I had already made up my own mind about labour:

  • Labour was painful
  • Labour involved potential risks to mother and baby
  • Labour was unpredictable
  • I wanted to have a baby in a calm and collected hospital setting surrounded by the most experienced people necessary in case of any complication
  • I wanted ALL available options for pain-relief

I had just spent a year working in one of the world’s poorest countries where giving birth at home with no medical assistance was the norm.

Given that I no longer lived in Africa, I had no interest in attempting to re-create a developing world birth.

I wanted to take full advantage of our shiny technological advances to ensure mine and my baby’s safety.

(Ironic given that I went on to have two home births but that is a different story – see previous post “The Accidental Home Birth”)

http://havingitall.family/2017/the-accidental-home-birth/

I was certain that there would be no overlap in what I wanted from my labour and what the NCT instructor would be trying to sell me.

The only way I would survive this NCT course would be to keep my mouth firmly shut about my opinions.

The group-work began.

I don’t remember all of the activities but some have stuck in my mind.

Group Activity: Discuss what we wanted out of the course.

We were split into two groups – pregnant women in one group and partners in the other. We were instructed to discuss amongst ourselves what we wanted to get out of this course.

We dutifully started sharing inoffensive objectives.

I decided that it was too soon for honesty and that “buying friends to keep me sane” may sound a little desperate.

I was idly wondering what I should say when I heard something that made me choke:

“I am hoping to get some advice about babies and dogs… we have a few dogs and they can be very territorial, especially the Doberman. He is so big, and has always had the run of the house and sleeps on our bed, and I want to make sure he really BONDS with the baby, you  know, so he isn’t jealous?”

I realised too late that the choking sound in my throat was audible to others.

I had been caught unawares and had dropped my disguise as a tolerant non-judgmental person.

I had an emergency talk to myself.

Quick – alter your facial expression.

Remove that expression of abject horror before someone notices it.

  • Yes, in my opinion, this person appeared to be clearly insane.
  • Yes, in my opinion, they were practically asking for their baby to be eaten by a Doberman.
  • Yes, in my opinion, there was a very easy solution to this woman’s problem, and it did not involve tips on babies bonding with dogs. It involved GETTING RID OF THE FRICKING DOBERMAN.

As it happens, I don’t mind dogs.

I’ve never had one of my own though and I can’t imagine wanting one to bond with my newborn baby.

However… that was only my opinion.

I reminded myself that other opinions were also available.

Some people LOVE dogs.

They let them share their beds,  lick their faces, and play with their babies.

My viewpoint was likely biased by having met dog-owner parents in hospitals crying over injured children, saying they just don’t understand how their dog could have bitten their child because the dog has never EVER done anything like that before.

(I always wondered why people feel the need to explain that…surely if their dog had bitten anyone before, it wouldn’t be living in their family home, would it?)

Those conversations had not left me the biggest fan of the dog/small child combination.

However in order to make friends, I needed to urgently remove my horrified facial expression and replace it with something more tolerant.

I continued my internal pep-talk.

Dogs that attack babies and children probably represent a TINY proportion of the dog population. There must be.. hundreds? Thousands? Maybe even MILLIONS of dogs out there, living happily in family homes, quite possibly many of them large Dobermans. I have heard they can be brilliant family pets.

This woman’s point of view could in fact be completely reasonable.

My pep-talk was working.

I found myself nodding sympathetically as though I completely understood the desire to learn strategies to  foster bonding between Doberman and newborn on an antenatal course.

I tried out some words.

“Oh, that sounds… challenging.”

I flattered myself that I sounded plausibly empathetic. I congratulated myself on my performance.

For ten seconds that was, until I caught sight of one other woman’s face.

One of the blonde pregnant women was definitely laughing at me.

Her face remained completely dead-pan but her eyes were mercilessly mocking my poor acting skills.

I had been officially busted.

She was openly enjoying my discomfort.

I think she may even have asked me to expand on my own experiences and watched me squirm.

This was my introduction to Sarcastic Detective Mum.

It seemed I might find some real friends in this group after all.

WEEK THREE

We were getting good at this now.

We all turned up, wrote out our name badges and started remembering who preferred tea or coffee.

The group was bonding.

I am sure most of us had endured similarly artificial small group work tasks before, but an unusual element to this course was that we were never asked to share any information on what we all did for a living.

I was becoming intrigued as to what everyone did.

Given that Long-Suffering Husband and I spent so many hours at work, we had almost lost the art of socialising with people in other professions.

This was becoming a useful refresher course in practicing normal social skills.

Time for another group activity.

Group Activity: Read out a new parent scenario and discuss.

We read out loud from a laminated card a short story about a typical day of two new parents as seen from each of their perspectives.

The general gist was:

The mother spent all day at home, exhausted, in pain, being vomited on, breastfeeding, cleaning up poo, had no time to cook, eat, drink, shower or do any laundry. Eventually in the evening she sat down to eat a piece of cake from the fridge and her husband walked in to see her relaxing. She was furious with him for having showered, left the house and spent the day with adults.

The father had spent the day stuck in traffic, exhausted after being woken by the baby all night, distracted in meetings, hungry as there was no food in the fridge to take for his lunch, and came home annoyed to see that he had life so hard when his wife was relaxing at home doing nothing but eating cake.

It sounded like a barrel of laughs.

Around the group I noticed a few people looking slightly uncomfortable.

It was disturbingly easy to imagine falling into the trap of being furious with the other person in that scenario.

It did not bode entirely well for the materna-holiday I had planned.

Long-suffering husband seemed to take note of this story and I remain grateful for that.

From that moment onward, any day I achieved with a newborn baby where I had cleaned up after myself and done some laundry were considered an outstanding success in his eyes, with anything else being an added bonus.

That one little story made me feel like Wonderwoman for months.

I found myself chatting to the woman with the nice maternity jeans and telling her I had quite enjoyed that scenario.

She was calm, insightful, and nodded at me thoughtfully. I felt oddly inspired to confide my innermost secrets.

I was tempted to confess that I secretly hated the idea of natural childbirth and everything else the NCT probably stood for, remembering at the last minute to to keep my mouth shut.

I felt certain that she would not mind in the slightest if I told her the truth on another occasion.

This was my introduction to Sympathetic Psychologist Mum.

Group Activity: Practice ways your birth partner can help in labour.

We circled the room in couples.

Long-Suffering Husband and I arrived at a station describing how women may change their personality in the last stages of labour and might shout, scream, swear or even become violent.

He explained to me earnestly that it would not be acceptable for me to behave like that “just because I was in labour.”

I considered punching him then and there to try it out.

I glimpsed Sarcastic Detective Mum – her husband was trying out  the suggested massage positions and promising to do whatever she wanted on the day.

I couldn’t help but feel that I had drawn the short straw in the birth-partner stakes and hoped fervently that Long-Suffering Husband would redeem himself on the big day.

Thankfully, he did.

WEEK FOUR

Group Activity: Go around the circle saying a few words describing your ideal labour.

Doberman-Owner volunteered to begin.

She cheerfully mentioned a desire to have a home-birth, using a birthing pool with no medication, and I am pretty sure she mentioned something about candle-light and whale-song.

I sighed and steeled myself to hear more of the same.

By this point I had decided I wanted a planned caesarean section so that I could feel more in control of mine and my baby’s safety.

(Not what ultimately happened with Baby Number One – see my earlier post, “The Slowest Birth of All Time.”)

http://havingitall.family/2017/birth-number-one-a-k-a-the-slowest-birth-of-all-time/

Another Mum-to-be was asked to share what she hoped for in her labour.

I was intrigued to find I recognised her facial expression.

She was definitely biting her tongue and deciding on an NCT-acceptable answer.

“A healthy baby and a healthy mother.”

Aha – a cunning reply.

This was clearly a woman who was all about the safe outcome and not obsessed with having a natural hippy birth.

My introduction to Happy Haematologist Mum.

To my surprise, Beaming Instructor then intervened with some thoughts of her own.

“Yes, they sound like a wonderful birth plans!”

A microsecond later:

“However it is important to remember that things can change at a moments’ notice in labour. The best-laid plans can easily go out of the window, so don’t get too fixated on any one plan.”

Very true.

In fact significantly truer to life than I had ever expected to hear from the NCT.

“The more prepared you are for every eventuality, the more in control you will feel. So tonight we are going to discuss all the possible outcomes.”

She stared at us all to make sure we were listening.

“Make sure you learn about EVERY option tonight, even if you think it does not apply to you, because you NEVER KNOW WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN. Do not get too fixated on your home birth. You may be having a caesarean section, so learn about it.”

Group Activity: Discuss the different modes of birth.

We worked our way around the room in small groups analysing the laminated cards on the floor.

I was surprised to encounter:

  • Diagrams showing the physiology behind contractions and the stages of labour
  • The roles of various hormones and why remaining calm helps contractions
  • Discussion of the benefit all forms of pain-relief, including epidurals
  • Diagrams of an operating theatre showing who would be present in an emergency caesarean section

Beaming Instructor followed us around and joined in our discussions.

A pair of unusual words kept coming out of our her mouth… “EVIDENCE-BASED.”

Evidence-based medicine?

On an NCT Antenatal Course?

Surely not.

This woman was talking actual sense, based on actual evidence, and was quoting actual research.

I could not really find anything to object to.

Perhaps I had strayed onto the wrong course?

I found I was quite enjoying myself.

The background noise grew louder as we threw ourselves into the group activities.

Happy Haematologist Mum rolled her eyes as we spotted her husband parading around the room, staggering for comic effect whilst wearing some sort of apron-like pregnant abdomen costume.

I really cannot remember what the point of that task was but it produced sniggers from the other men.

They had all suddenly bonded and were coping with the course by indulging in loud sarcastic banter in the manner of a very tame stag weekend.

Beaming Instructor popped over from time to time to keep them in check. She joined in their jokes, gave as good as she got and gently steered them back to the point at hand without spoiling their fun.

Occasionally she spouted facts and for anyone with questions and readily referenced credible research off the top of her head for us to do further reading if we wished.

The session ended and we were all about to head off when Sarcastic Detective Mum’s husband suggested we all go for a drink.

As we all headed off together to the pub, I saw Beaming Instructor smiling to herself.

Her work was done.

WEEK FIVE

It was the Saturday morning breastfeeding session.

It seemed strange to arrive together in normal clothes in the daytime after weeks of sneakily arriving in separate cars under the cover of darkness.

The course felt less like an illegitimate activity to be ashamed of.

In broad daylight our new friends and the situation we had found ourselves in seemed scarily official.

The session was to be led by a breastfeeding instructor who had not yet arrived.

The glamorous extra-blonde (she of the beret on week one) confessed to the group her plan to keep quiet during this session. She owned her own PR business and had already decided she would need to go back to work quite soon after birth.

Her fiancé was going to look after the baby and as he lacked breasts, he had no plans to breastfeed.

She wasn’t keen to dwell on their plans lest the instructor try to stage an intervention to save their baby from going to formula feeding hell.

I liked her immediately.

Another new friend – Power PR Mum.

The instructor arrived.

She was very serious, timid in her manner and as quiet as a mouse.

The group did not warm to her and the jovial atmosphere promptly vanished.

Group Activity: Inherited Traits

As an introduction, Timid-Mouse Instructor asked us to go around the room sharing one trait of our partners that we would like our baby to inherit.

Power PR Mum’s fiancé said he would like their son to inherit her drive and ambition; she said his kindness.

I liked this game – it was an interesting glimpse into the other relationships.

Sadly that was the last part of the session I enjoyed.

I find it hard to remember any details of what Timid-Mouse Instructor said to us, only that it was agonizingly dull.

She delivered her opinions dressed up as facts in a whispered monotone that managed to combine nervous apprehension with judgmental patronisation – no mean feat.

A bit of light relief came in the form of watching Power PR Mum evade questions on her feeding plans, and the utter horror on the instructor’s face when she eventually confessed.

It sounded to me as though she & her fiancé had formulated a well thought-out plan to feed their baby a perfectly acceptable source of nutrition whilst she returned to the time-consuming job of running the company she had founded.

Judging by the look on Timid-Mouse Instructor’s face, you would think she had announced their plan to slowly poison their baby.

Timid-Mouse Instructor set to work in the serious business of attempting to educate them as to their folly.

Power PR Mum stood firm whilst remaining admirably polite. I was deeply envious of her poker face.

It was readily apparent why she was a success in her line of work.

At one point, for a bit of light relief and because I was feeling generally bored and antagonistic, I put my hand up to ask a question.

“So….is it really necessary to make all this…FUSS?”

The instructor looked confused.

“Maybe I am looking at this differently because I have just come back from working in Africa, but I regularly saw women walking along the side of the road carrying piles of bags on their head, breastfeeding as they walked.”

“So I wondered…do we REALLY need a ‘special cushion’ and ‘special feeding positions’ whilst ‘sitting in the right place?’”

“Can’t we just get on with it?”

The instructor looked as though she might cry.

I felt a tiny pang of guilt for being so obnoxious.

(With hindsight, three breastfed babies later, I found that yes – it was perfectly possible to feed them all whilst getting on with other things if necessity dictated. However it was immensely preferable to sit down somewhere nice and quiet with a drink and get your breath back. Especially when a troupe of visitors have descended on your house in the early days causing chaos and you and the baby could really do with closing the door on them for 20 minutes. I therefore concede that the Timid-Mouse Instructor made some valid points…unfortunately this concession is far too late to be of any benefit to her).

We struggled onwards, limping towards the end of a painful session.

Brunch was suggested.

We had begun as eight pregnant women and birth partners on the course, but in the post-course socialising we had naturally cut down to a core group of six couples.

Doberman Owner turned out to be very sweet and chatty. She told us she could not drive, lived nowhere near the course and was attending with her mother who playing both chauffeur and birth partner and had persuaded her to come. She would not be returning to our area after having her baby. It was apparent that she was there to learn, not make friends, and never stayed to socialise.

The Dutchies (as they referred to themselves) were a lovely Dutch couple who were going to have their baby back home  in the Netherlands and had no plans to return to the UK.

Two potential Bought Friends were therefore eliminated.

The remaining six couples found ourselves sitting around a large table in a loud restaurant, giddy with relief at being released from breastfeeding hell.

We were acting NOTHING like a group of thirty-something professionals having voluntarily spent two hours of our Saturday morning at a course we had all chosen to pay a not inconsiderable amount of money for.

We were more like a rowdy group of aging rebellious teenagers set free from a torturously long compulsory school lesson.

So there we were: Six heavily pregnant women eating our way through the delicious brunch menu accompanied by our other halves, united in our utter contempt for the unfortunate Timid-Mouse Instructor.

In especially rebellious moments, we discussed the wild possibility of giving her Poor Feedback at the end of the course.

Perhaps even a strongly worded letter of complaint?

No… that would be a step too far.

Better just to bitch about it.

Maybe she was new? She might improve with experience.

A well-spoken pregnant woman joined me in mocking the middle-aged moaning minnies we had all become, whilst simultaneously confessing our mutual love of a good letter of complaint. She was wearing the furry wedge-heeled boots I had admired in week one.

My newest friend – Kind Communications Mum.

It was official.

All six of us were friends.

WEEK SIX.

The background noise in the room was deafening.

People were laughing and joking, throwing themselves into the small group activities and generally having a good time.

Group Activity: Practice wearing baby slings & wraps with a plastic doll

Sarcastic Detective Mum’s husband professed himself to be an expert at using the Hanna Baby Wrap after having recently seen a demonstration at some kind of Baby Show.

(There were Baby Shows? Should we have been to one?)

He volunteered to show us all how to wear them and then found himself being laughed at loudly as he frowned at the immense length of fabric and twisted himself into knots as attempting to attach a plastic doll to his chest.

I wondered if Beaming Instructor was getting annoyed with her troupe of rowdy school-children making a mockery of her tasks.

I looked for her.

Beaming Instructor was standing back surveying the room wearing an expression of pride.

It suddenly occurred to me that she had somehow transformed a large group of reluctant strangers into a cohesive group of friends who were voluntarily interacting with all of her activities, discussing relevant topics, learning things and enjoying ourselves.

How on earth had she managed that?

I felt momentarily cheated.

  • I had decided that I wasn’t going to like her.
  • The plan had been to disagree with her and tolerate her course solely to make friends.
  • She had ruined my preconceptions and thwarted my plans by being immensely likeable and making the course enjoyable.

Sneaky.

To look at us, anyone would think she had some kind of talent for facilitating group bonding.

Nah, it was probably just luck.

Group Activity: Dress a plastic doll appropriately for daytime and nighttime

I remember this activity right towards the end of the last class. My group had a discussion of how many layers of clothing would be appropriate and realised that no-one had a clue.

I could sense a little unease spreading… maybe this was something some of us should know, given that we were due to start having babies in a couple of weeks’ time?

I studied the others.

Were they PRETENDING to be clueless, or were they genuinely bricking it as much as me?

Had they secretly been revising things and was I the only person who genuinely had no idea what would be involved in caring for a newborn?

Beaming Instructor breezed past our group, over-hearing our confusion.

“Oh don’t worry, you will all be absolutely fine and you will work it out. Generally one layer more than you are wearing yourself will be fine.”

(I relaxed – my baby was not due for two months. Perhaps I could wait for the other babies to arrive and by the time mine came the others would have worked it all out and would tell me what to do).

COURSE END

Suddenly, the final session was over.

Beaming Instructor stood up to do some kind of summary and I drifted off into my own thoughts.

Why did I feel so unsettled?

Up until now the idea of actually having a baby seemed very abstract. I had told myself that as long as I was attending this course, I was official Doing Something to prepare. Now that it was over I was really not sure what to do next.

I did not like the idea exchanging the comforting familiar structure of the course for being released into the heavily-pregnant wilderness alone.

The sessions felt like a solid anchor and now that they were finished, I felt strangely adrift in a deep sea of uncertainty.

  • I had found my five bought friends and it turned out that I liked them a lot, but what if none of them liked me?
  • What if they all had their own support networks of friends and family who would be there for them during maternity leave?
  • What if none of them NEEDED maternity leave friends?

At least two of the other women had already finished work and their babies were due in a couple of weeks’ time.

I had been working full-time since graduating eight years earlier and found it almost impossible to imagine life without my job. My mother lived 250 miles away and also worked full-time and so she was not exactly on hand for emergency assistance.

The thought of all of my familiar routines just abruptly coming to an end was terrifying.

If my new bought friends didn’t want to hang out with me, what on earth was I actually going to do all day?

And how was I going to look after a newborn baby without Beaming Instructor to tell me how many layers of clothes it should be wearing?

The enormity of what was up ahead seemed suddenly overwhelming and unfortunately, it was a little too late to change my mind.

I had another chat to myself.

  • Get a grip.
  • Women have babies every day.
  • How hard can it be?

It was not a convincing pep talk.

I tuned back in to hear Beaming Instructor talking about contact details.

“Any of you who would like to stay in contact with each other, I will be sending out a group Email with all of your contact details. You can opt out if you don’t want to stay in touch.”

Phew.

Would anyone opt out?

“We also have an official NCT 6 week reunion after the last baby is born, so let’s put a date in the diary. Shall we say…early June?”

We arranged a lunch date.

This reunion lunch sounded promising, but it was still only February. June was a long time away.

We said our final good byes and prepared to leave.

I sighed.

It was apparent that I needed these bought friends, even if they didn’t need me.

I abandoned any pretense at being indifferent and decided to take the plunge.

“Anyone fancy meeting for lunch next week?”

After all, if I was buying friends, it would surely be best to get my money’s worth.

*Feedback from friends indicates that all depends on pot luck with the course instructor. Ours was great and has since trained as a midwife. Some are awful.

**I felt it only fair to mention to the Bought Friends that I had written a blog about how we met and let them read it….

Bartering with Bridezilla

The MumsNetter’s post below recently went viral after being called her rude for wearing one outfit to two weddings:

https://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/am_i_being_unreasonable/2895060-Was-I-U-to-wear-the-same-outfit-to-two-weddings?

Over 400 messages’ worth of responses saw people generally judging said crazy cousin to be seriously in need of Getting A Life.

The conversation reminded me of stumbling into my own Wedding Wear Minefield last summer.

My problems began when I foolishly decided to actually READ the wedding invitation.

Prior to this idiocy, everything had been going swimmingly.

I was excited to be told to save the date for the upcoming wedding of my cousin and his Glamourous Girlfriend.

This was not just any girlfriend, she was the ultimate KEEPER.

  • She attended family events, remembered names, bought thoughtful gifts.
  • She was intelligent, driven and successful.
  • She was fun and easy to talk to.
  • She was glamorous.
  • She was social media savvy – regularly observed posing glamorously at all manner of events/holidays, officially Living The Dream.

On my more deluded optimistic days I imagined her as my ten-years’-younger protegée.

Back in my pre-Instagram pre-children heyday, I was(okay still am) guilty of indulging in my share of Social Media Narcissism.

I could be found regularly posting beautiful pictures of Long-Suffering Husband and I on Facebook as we travelled the globe.

(Thia may have been pre- official filters, but I certainly knew how to edit the lighting to share the most flattering version of our lives)

N.B. Long-Suffering Husband wanted no part of my vanity but complied with occasional requests for selfies against exotic backdrops. I believe he was following advice received from a work colleague: “Happy Wife = Happy Life.”

(As I have mentioned previously – on occasion, my husband can be a very wise man)

So, Glamorous Girlfriend reminded me of my former self.

Perhaps I even stretched as far as to imagine that she thought of me as a role model of sorts.

Maybe I represented where she hoped to find herself in ten years’ time?

Well-travelled, adventurous, effortlessly juggling a successful career and bringing up our beautiful brood?

(Alternatively, in the real world, Glamorous Girlfriend was probably enjoying her child-free existence and would have shuddered at the suggestion that she could ever lower her standards of personal grooming to the levels I now find acceptable)

I digress.

I was very excited to receive this “Save The Date.”

It would be a rare opportunity to dress up and a fantastic summer reunion for all our party-loving relatives scattered around the globe.

We then found out that were expecting Baby Number Three and I would be just over eight months’ pregnant at the wedding.

I would be less of a glamorous older-sister role-model than a hot, sweaty, beached whale.

Never mind.

This was nothing that couldn’t be remedied with some timely planning.

I investigated the options for glamorous maternity wedding-guest attire.

After much online browsing I decided that The Outfit needed to come from Tiffany Rose.

http://www.tiffanyrose.com/maternity/clothing/

Unable to reconcile myself to the idea of spending the best part of £200 on a dress to be worn once, I turned to EBay.

I was outbid multiple times (popular items, these dresses) but eventually won a similar Dream Dress for a price I was willing to pay.

I was thrilled when the parcel arrived.

  • I tried The Dress on at regular intervals over the next few months.
  • I tested the matching Shoes.
  • I planned The Bag.
  • I chose a Fascinator.

I had never been so well-prepared for a wedding so far in advance.

The formal wedding invitation arrived and was thrown unread into a drawer, other than a cursory glance when returning of the RSVP.

This brings us to one week before the wedding, when an idiotic compulsion took hold of me to double-check the details on the invitation.

I suddenly spotted a previously un-noticed dress code specification.

“Ladies -please no white, ivory or cream, in keeping with tradition.”

Hmmmm.

In keeping with tradition?

No dressing like a bride, yes, but I didn’t think those colours were traditionally banned outright?

My beached-whale dress was dark bronze but it did have a layer of cream lace over the top.

What if this constituted a contravention of the dress-code?

Surely not.

Practically every formal daytime dress for sale that summer included an outer layer of cream lace.

What could possibly look less bridal than an eight-months pregnant beached whale, ten years older than the bride, sporting a knee-length dark bronze stretchy tent-dress?

I wondered what might happen to guests who turned up in a forbidden outfit:

  • Clothes-police on the door refusing entry?
  • Bouncer Bridesmaids scouting for disobedient guests, quietly asking them to leave?
  • Bouncer Bridesmaids carrying a supply of Dress-Code-Compliant Outfits, supervising enforced changing sessions?

Dare I risk it? The mind boggled.

I confessed my concerns to Long-Suffering Husband.

He promptly dismissed them as ridiculous.

There was nothing wrong with my outfit and there would not be a problem. No-one would ever confuse the heavily pregnant older woman for a bride.

“I’m sure you’re right.. but I think I will feel better if I just check with her to make absolutely sure…”

He snorted.

So.

How best to go about checking?

The problem was the tiny chance that she might say no.

I set out to make it crystal clear that I would look nothing whatsoever like her, and that finding another dress at this late stage would be nigh-on impossible.

I composed my message (multiple times), included a selfie of me in the dress (looking suitably whale-like) and eventually pressed send.

Immediately I felt as though the weight of the world had lifted from my shoulders.

  • I had Officially Done The Right Thing
  • She would tell me the dress was fine
  • I would be free from bridal disapproval

All was well with the world.

All was well for five minutes that is, until I received her reply.

It was a No.

(Unless I could find a way to butcher the dress by detaching the overlying lace, thereby leaving me as a beached whale dressed in a long stretchy bronze tube)

I must have failed to sufficiently communicate the impossibility of the task of finding another dress at this stage.

I had a three year old son, a one year old son, no childcare beyond my full-time work hours, no idea what dress size I was and the wedding was a few days away.

  • Deep breath
  • I told myself that this was fixable
  • Perhaps I just needed to explain myself better

I sent her another message explaining in full detail, clarifying that I could try but may not be able to find anything wedding-appropriate, on the off-chance that she may change her mind.

(I think I already knew this was futile but was still in the Denial phase)

Apparently my beached-whale dress matched her wedding gown and was therefore an absolute no-go.

I sighed.

Good bye, Glamorous Girlfriend, how I miss you.

Hello Bridezilla.

Browsing the internet dejectedly, I discovered the Oxford Dictionary definition of the term Bridezilla:

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/bridezilla

“A woman whose behaviour in planning the details of her wedding is regarded as obsessive or intolerably demanding.”

I even found a website giving examples of Bridezilla-esque behaviour, citing one example as being banning guests from wearing certain colours:

http://lifestyle.howstuffworks.com/weddings/style/wedding-beauty/10-signs-youre-turning-into-bridezilla8.htm

Fascinating reading, but this clearly wasn’t helping.

It was quite clear that there would be no Bartering with this Bridezilla.

I would be finding another dress.

Aaarggh.

I cast my mind back to my own wedding, a lifetime earlier:

  • Planning the biggest event of your life
  • Anticipating being judged on its success for all eternity
  • Negotiating endless price-hikes every time the word “bridal” is used
  • Chasing relatives who don’t RSVP

I recalled multiple last minute frustrations including:

  • Absconding chefs
  • Local boutique hotel accommodation booked by my bosses turning out to be a swingers’ hotel
  • The venue’s wedding planner losing all accommodation reservations and calling a week before to ask “any chance you have kept a back-up list?” (I had)
  • Receiving a phone call 3 days before the wedding explaining that yes, I had booked for sixty guests to all have breakfast together in the orangery the morning after the wedding with my new husband & I, but actually, they didn’t have enough staff to put the tables and chairs out the morning after, so presumably it would be fine if they delivered a lovely breakfast hamper to everyone’s individual cottages so the guests could all have breakfast separately instead?

All of which occurred whilst people kept asking  if I was having fun, to be met by a fixed smile and my standard reply of “oh yes, wedding planning is so much fun!”

(For the record, that suggestion of changing the breakfast plans was NOT fine. I informed them that the communal breakfast was happening and that if there were no staff to put the tables out, we would do it ourselves. That suggestion was initially met with enthusiasm, until I pointed out that there would be trouble if any of our guests injured their backs moving heavy tables. I suggested it may therefore perhaps be wisest if they dug a little deeper to find their own staff to DO THEIR FRICKING JOB. The problem disappeared and staff were miraculously found)

I shuddered at the memory.

Perhaps, with the benefit of hindsight, I had quite a lot of personal experience of Becoming Bridezilla.

Maybe it was nothing more than a necessary coping strategy.

I had a stern word with myself.

  • Glamorous Girlfriend probably had a lot more on her mind than my maternity dress
  • She was unlikely to be deliberately attempting to make my life difficult
  • It was her wedding, not mine
  • Absolutely NO-ONE was going to care what I was wearing
  • They were likely spending a small fortune paying to feed and entertain the lot of us so really, she could tell the guests to wear whatever she wanted
  • She had not only invited both of our children but had thoughtfully sent out children’s menus for us in advance, a luxury indeed after the number of child-free wedding invitations we have had to negotiate childcare around (another tale for another day)
  • So in summary … MAYBE I should stop being a wet weekend whining about the dress and instead, look forward to celebrating their Big Day?

My talk worked.

Over the next few days I re-gained my sense of humour and couldn’t wait for the wedding.

I was excited to meet up with relatives flying in from around the globe and was fascinated as the drama unfolded further:

  • Multiple tales of rejected dresses
  • Frantic last minute outfit changes
  • Relatives who were too scared to ask permission for fear of encountering the outfit veto, hoping to take their chances on the day instead.

Turned out my rejected dress and I were in good company.

Some relatives planned to ask our cousin to reason with his Bride-To-Be.

I was interested in this strategy and awaited his response.

He said:

“I am staying out of this … talk to her in charge.”

My cousin was clearly going to make a FANTASTIC husband.

I searched  through my wardrobe and eventually discovered an unworn cheap bargain New Look dress (£15).

(I had bought it optimistically envisaging summer evening dinners, of which I had attended none… I had therefore planned to return the dress)

On consideration, I could just about get away with wearing it to a wedding.

Problem solved, no shopping required.

Bonus!

The gloriously sunny day of the wedding dawned.

We all arrived outside the Church, where we were treated to quite the impressive catwalk show of illegal cream and ivory dresses.

Amidst the loud happy reunion, cousin after cousin sidled over to me to point out the multiple fashion faux pas committed by various family members and friends.

We eyeballed the Bouncer Bridesmaids, eagerly anticipating their intervention.

Nothing.

Quite the anti-climax.

Long-suffering husband, not usually one to notice such things, was awaiting his first glimpse of this Bridal Gown – the one that allegedly looked virtually identical to my reject.

The bride arrived and she was….

  • …Breathtaking.
  • Truly, truly, stunning.
  • Tall, slender and tanned in a slinky, fitted, backless gown….

A glamorous gown that bore no resemblance whatsoever to my rejected maternity sack.

Long-suffering husband tried desperately to catch my eye.

I couldn’t look at him for fear I would start laughing.

By this point, my rejected dress really didn’t matter any more, did it?

In the end a wonderful wedding was had by all, with the added bonuses of:

  • All-day entertainment in the competition to spot the most illegal wedding wear
  • Eating as much as possible because my cheap Plan B dress was far more spacious than the expensive Plan A
  • Multiple glamorous family reunion photos for the requisite Social Media oversharing
  • Both dresses were successfully sold on EBay

So for anyone out there thinking of being organised and planning your wedding outfit before you receive the formal invitation ….

A word of caution.

Check the dress code.

Weekend Part Two: A Sunny Saturday

6.30am

I hear someone crying. I close my eyes tightly .

6.45am

Long-suffering husband speaks. I am too tired to understand the words.

7 am

Someone is passing me a crying baby.

Aha.

I remember now.

It is the morning after my epic fail of a Big Friday Night Out (for the full story, see below).

http://havingitall.family/2017/weekend-part-one-the-big-friday-night-out/

I have been asleep for around three hours.

I attach Baby Girl to my nipple and sigh thinking of the day ahead.

Long Suffering Husband will be away helping his elderly parents, Being A Good Son.

I therefore cannot justify feeling annoyed about being left on my own.

How can I be annoyed with someone who is clearly Doing The Right Thing?

I find the inability to justify feeling annoyed is in itself very annoying.

7.10 am

Long-suffering husband thoughtfully brings me a cup of tea.

I am sure he is annoying me on purpose.

EVERYTHING is annoying when you are this tired.

7.15 am

Long-Suffering Husband brings 2 yo and 3 yo boys into our bed.

They are happy and chatty.

I mumble incoherent orders:

“Stop that. Don’t kick there. You’ll hurt your sister. Be careful, hot tea. I said be CAREFUL. You will burn yourself.”

No-one is listening.

I close my eyes.

7.30 am

Long Suffering Husband asks if there is anything he can do to help.

Clearly I should take advantage of this offer and get my day off to a good start by:

  • Showering in peace while he is still at home watching the children
  • Asking him to get the children dressed
  • Going downstairs to start breakfast early
  • Get the bags packed ready for the boys’ Rugby Tots lessons

I consider this sensible plan of action.

I close my eyes instead and pretend I can sleep through the chaos.

I am not a morning person.

8 am

I am still lying in bed with three children.

We are all in pyjamas.

I have achieved next to nothing in the last hour.

On the plus side, the caffeine from my cup of tea has kicked in and I am now able to communicate effectively with other human beings.

8.15 am

It is time for Long-Suffering Husband to leave.

I manage to thank him for the tea and wish him a safe journey.

8.30 am

I need to be at Rubgy Tots at 9.30 so I really need to get moving.

Instead I bribe the two boys to stay still with electronic devices and write a Facebook post about my Epic Fail of a Friday Night Out.

To cheer myself up I include a selfie of the moment I had makeup on.

8.40 am

My phone buzzes with a reply to my Facebook post.

It is Social Media Mum (she who was responsible for the birth of this blog – see the full story below).

http://havingitall.family/2017/killing-katy-the-birth-of-a-blog/

Her son Jude* is in 3 yo boy’s Rugby Tots class at 9.30 am.

“See you at rugby then ?! 😉”

I reply to her:

“Absolutely. Right on it. Very motivated and have got the kids all ready.”

I attach a photo of the four of us lying in bed in pyjamas, complete with 3 yo fully absorbed in the bribery electronic device.

8.45 am

Phone buzzes with another reply.

“Ha ha! It’s going to be a busy 45 minutes.”

She makes a good point.

I finally get up.

9.30 am

Predictably the last 45 minutes have passed in a blur of:

  • Shouting at the boys to stop fighting while I am in the shower
  • Getting out of the shower and dripping water all over the floor to physically separate them
  • Bribing both boys with stickers on charts to get dressed/sit on the potty/ sit on the toilet/ hurry up
  • Feeling guilty when Baby Girl cries as I don’t have enough arms to pick her up
  • Repeating myself endlessly in the daily recitations:
    • Less talking, more eating
    • No pouring
    • Put that down
    • That is not a toy
    • Stop doing that
    • Drink some more
    • Open your mouth
    • Show me your teeth
    • Put your shoes on
    • Stay still
    • Come here
    • Go there
  • A last minute poo from someone requiring a clothes change
  • Removing them from the house one by one and transferring them to the car

Thankfully they are all now in the car.

There is something so satisfying about knowing that they are safely imprisoned in their respective car seats, unable to harm themselves or each other.

I return to the house to sit down and finish a cup of tea in soothing silence.

I LOVE the rare luxury of being alone in my own house.

(I know it is just an illusion of being alone because there are three children sitting moments away from me in my car parked on the driveway, but that doesn’t matter, it is close enough)

I savour the silence and remind myself that I love my three incredible children and that I am lucky to have the day ahead with them to look forward to.

Leaving them abandoned in the car for five minutes has made me a better, saner parent already.

9.35 am

We arrive at the Rugby Tots car park.

I walk 3yo to the door and tell him to go and join in the lesson.

I enter the building two minutes later with Baby Girl in one arm and 2yo Boy in the other.

9.40 am

I am surprised to find 3yo boy lurking in the hallway peering through the door.

“We missed it Mummy. I can see the baby lesson in there now. Mine is all finished.”

  • How is that possible?
  • Have I got the time wrong?
  • Am I really an entire hour late instead of five minutes?

I walk into the room and the mystery is solved.

2 yo’s friend from the younger 10.30 am class (age 2 – 3.5 years) is now exactly 3.5 years old and has moved up to the older class today.

Hmmm.

3 yo boy does not like change.

One wrong move on my part and this could result in tears and tantrums.

I tread carefully.

(Luckily I have plenty of patience and sanity left over from my solo cup of tea)

I explain calmly that this is not the baby class, but that his younger friend is now a bigger boy because he is three-and-a-half years old and has moved up to join the big boys’ class.

He smiles, understanding my explanation, gives me a hug, says “I love you Mummy” and goes off happily to join in.

I sit down triumphantly and congratulate myself on my parenting skills.

Moments such as this are as rare as hen’s teeth.

They are to be treasured.

9.45 am

Two people say Good Morning to me and tell me how great I look.

I am initially surprised and then remember that I did not bother to remove any eye makeup at 3am and have had so little sleep that my hair remains styled from the night before.

I do look quite glamorous for a Saturday morning, courtesy of my epic failure of a night out and my laziness in the makeup removal department.

A silver lining of sorts.

Life is good.

9.50 am

“Good morning!”

says Enthusiastic Helpful Dad.

I smile back until realisation strikes.

Oh Crap.

Usually I rely on Social Media Mum to help me with the first Rugby Tots Class, and Enthusiastic Helpful Dad to help me with the second class.

Enthusiastic Helpful Dad leaps up at the merest mention of parental participation and whisks at least one (if not both) of my boys away and entertains them along with his own son, throwing and catching simultaneously to all three whilst I breathe a sigh of relief and feed Baby Girl peacefully at the side of the room.

It had suddenly dawned on me that Enthusiastic Helpful Dad was now HERE, at the earlier class, as his son had moved up.

Both of my trusty helpers were now here at the same class.

This meant no helpers for the 10.30 class with just-turned-2 yo boy, he-who-chooses-not-to-follow-instructions.

Oh dear.

I may have to  control my own children, alone.

On the plus side, I had a lovely chat and catch up with Social Media Mum by largely ignoring 3 yo boy who was busy playing with Enthusiastic Helpful Dad.

10.30 am

We wave good bye to enthusiastic helpful Dad and son.

I install 3 yo at the side of the room with a bribery electronic device and take Baby Girl along with me to sit cross-legged on the floor for 2 yo boy’s warm up.

Full parental participation achieved.

Social Media Mum looks pityingly at me.

She offers to stay to help me but her son Jude* is not on board with that plan and wants to leave.

We agree to meet later on at the free Fun Day being hosted by a local Church.

10.50 am

The lesson is going much better than I expected.

2yo is happy with my participation and Baby Girl is quite enjoying being carried around with me.

11 am

Enthusiastic Helpful Dad returns briefly bearing a bag from the village bakery. His son delivers Gingerbread Men for my two boys.

This really is an amazing village full of amazing people.

The Gingerbread Men work effectively as bribery tools for completing the class with minimum complaining all round.

11.15 am

We arrive at the Fun Day.

A lovely person gives me their unused parking ticket.

It is pouring with rain so the event has been moved indoors – I tell the boys that there is a bouncy castle and all is well.

I spy Social Media Mum waving at me across the room and envisage a nice hour or two of sitting down while the boys run off some energy.

11.20 am

A woman comes to talk to me as I attempt to manoeuvre the pram through the tables.

(I do this with all the finesse of someone who is driving a pram for the very first time, rather than continuously for the last four years)

“Hello! Did you enjoy the acting? Was is good?”

I look at her blankly.

I am trying to make sense of her words whilst quietly hissing orders:

  • Take your shoes off before you go on the bouncy castle.
  • Don’t stop there, you are in everyone’s way.
  • Move this way.
  • No THIS way.
  • No don’t leave your shoes there, people will trip over them.
  • Just give the shoes to me. TO ME.
  • Now remember, no fighting, be kind, no pushing…

The woman is ignoring my attempts to control the boys and is still smiling expectantly me, awaiting an answer to her bizarre acting question.

I am exceptionally bad at remembering both names and faces but I am certain I do not know her.

“Acting?”

She looks disappointed.

“Oh no…did you miss the play? Don’t worry, it will be on again this afternoon!”

I am very confused and have given up trying to control the boys. They run off in the direction of the bouncy castle. They have found Jude* and are busy roaring and chasing each other like maniacs.

Social Media Mum arrives and saves me.

“Oh the play was wonderful. Thank you very much.”

She steers me away from the woman to one of the tables and helps with the pram.

“What perfect timing. You have just missed the play.”

I look around the room.

I see a standard fun day.

Bouncy castle, face-painting, craft tables with colouring in.

What play?

“It was very …  intense. There were costumes, long robes, and loud shouting about killing all the firstborn babies, followed by ladies with babies dropping down. It was all a little bit … much.”

A play about killing first-born babies in the middle of a Fun Day, albeit one run by a Church?

“And the worst bit was that they turned the bouncy castle off to make sure everyone was watching. Deflated it completely. The children were all going mad.”

I shuddered.

Turning off the bouncy castle to ensure the small children paid attention to a serious spot of religious acting featuring the baby-slaughter Bible story?

I could only imagine the level of the tantrums relating to the flattened bouncy castle and the questions that would follow:

  • So is it alright to kill babies then?
  • What happens to the babies when they are dead?
  • Why do we kill babies?
  • Can we try killing babies?
  • Can we play a game about killing babies?

I know my limitations.

That scenario is way beyond my level of parenting expertise.

I would need to ensure that we were NOT still in this room at the time of the repeat performance.

Behind me I overhear a woman muttering to a friend quietly:

“It’s a bloody good job my husband wasn’t here. He thinks this place is cult-like enough already, and that was BEFORE the play about slaughtering the firstborns…”

11.30 am

I do one of those routine parental auto-pilot scans of the room to identify what the children are up to.

Baby Girl: Previously asleep in pram. Now starting to wake up. Moving but not yet crying.

Plan: Leave alone.

2yo Boy: Still bouncing on bouncy castle. Not currently involved in any altercations or overtly dangerous activity.

Plan: Leave alone.

3 yo Boy: Previously on bouncy castle. No longer there. Currently…currently WHAT? Standing by a table waiting patiently in a line for face-painting. ALARM BELLS – he does not usually want his face painted and does not do patiently waiting. Something suspicious is going on.

Plan: Intervene immediately.

“What are you doing?”

He looked insulted that I needed to ask.

“Waiting to have my face painted. I want a tiger just like Jude.*”

Oh but of course.

If Jude* has a face painted like a tiger, he must have one too, even if we have been avoiding face painters for a year.

(A year ago we joined a queue at a birthday party for a face painter. As a very excited two year old he waited in my arms for the best part of an hour, watching all the other children get their faces painted and when we arrived at the front of the line, the face-painter smiled at me and explained that her time was now up and she would not be painting any more faces. I narrowly avoided murdering her, he sobbed uncontrollably for 30 minutes or so, and I have avoided face-painters ever since.)

I eyeball this face painter.

She seems young and pleasant.

I check with her that she is not planning to finish any time soon and she confirms that she is not.

All appears well.

I leave my newly-patient 3yo boy in the queue and go to get Baby Girl who is crying.

12pm

Uncontrollable sobbing is occurring at the face-painting table.

My previous scans of the room had revealed 3yo boy patiently waiting with no sign of trouble.

I speed over to see what has changed.

Apparently the face painter finished a face and then three different children all assumed they were next.

The face painter cheerfully informs us all that she has not been looking at the queue and has no idea whose turn it is.

3yo boy is distraught:

“Mummy,” sob, sob, “it is my turn next and that boy tried to push in.”

I look at the offending children.

One is a nice-looking young boy whose father identifies that he is the younger sibling of the girl who has just finished. He would like to get both children done at the same time.

This seems reasonable.

One is an entitled-looking toddler boy who is standing next to his Pushy Mother.

He was not there when 3yo boy began waiting.

Pushy Mother is busy telling everyone how she is sure that her son is next and how he does not deal well with disappointment, or some other such crap.

I sigh.

Those three hours of sleep last night seem a lifetime ago.

I dig deep, searching for some reserves of patience, and then say to the group:

“My son will be fine with any order as long as he knows what to expect. So, how about that younger brother next, then you (to my son), then your son?” (directed at Pushy Mother)

No-one disagrees with my plan.

3yo boy calms down slightly, still sniffling at the injustice of it all, and I try to continue breastfeeding Baby Girl.

This is tricky, given that 3 yo boy wants hugs so I am squatting down next to him and balancing her on one knee.

12.15 pm

The World’s Slowest Face Painter has finally finished her work of art on the younger sibling’s face.

The boy gets off the stool and predictably, Pushy Mother shoves her child into the chair.

Even if I wanted to engage in a war of who can push their child into the chair first, it would not have been physically possible without throwing Baby Girl to the ground as an incidental casualty of the battle.

I enquire academically to Pushy Mother:

“I thought we had agreed that my son was next?”

She approximates some form of eye contact.

“Oh, do you mind? It’s just that he won’t manage to wait much longer…”

Quite clearly I DO mind and she knows that, so I ignore her utterly pointless question.

I turn my back on her and reassure my child that I am very proud of him for waiting so well.

He amazes me by not crying.

I give myself a quick reminder:

  • There are hundreds of genuinely lovely people I have come across in this bizarre sleep-deprived alternative universe of those caring for young children
  • Most of these people are much better people than I am and cannot do enough to help
  • I survive with three children largely due to support from these wonderful strangers
  • Statistically, it is therefore inevitable that I will also come across one or two people I want to punch in the face
  • I do not know this woman but rationally or irrationally, at present I DETEST her
  • Even though the feeling MAY be related to sleep deprivation, it is still okay to feel that way

I feel much better after my pep talk.

I make sure I am exuding obvious waves of cold, calculated hatred in the direction of Pushy Mother.

This cheers me up no end.

12.30 pm

Another Mona Lisa of a face later, it is finally 3 yo boy’s turn to get his face painted.

He is thrilled.

He sits still for 15 minutes and is delighted with the final result.

I have a cheerful chat with the face-painter, with a selection of other parents and remind myself that I am a big fan of 99% of the people in the room.

Life is good again.

12.45

Social Media Mum’s Tall Helpful Husband wanders into the room with their elder son. He comes over to me.

“Let me give you a hand to move the pram and we can all go for lunch in the café next door.”

I am confused.

Had we made a plan to leave?

Admittedly the children must be getting hungry and I hadn’t really made a lunch plan.

He leaned closer and whispered conspiratorially:

“She mentioned something about a play that you really should avoid…”

Oh yes, the second showing of the baby-murdering play was about to start.

I gave him the pram and we ran for it.

12.50 pm

My boys are happily playing with Jude* and I am waiting to order food.

There is only one person in front of me.

I am surprised at how well the children are all behaving in the toy corner.

1pm

I am still waiting in the line to give my food order at the counter. I am confused as to how it can possibly take this long. Social Media Mum holds Baby Girl so I have free hands to look through the menu.

Miraculously the children are still playing nicely.

1.05 pm

I finally order food.

I choose the easiest things I can find on the menu:

  • Two lunchboxes for the boys
  • A baked potato for Baby Girl (she has just started weaning onto solids and is a big fan of mashed potato)
  • A full fat milkshake for me.

I get a strange look as they ask if I want whipped cream and marshmallows on my milkshake.

I patiently explain that I want EVERYTHING.

This day appears to be lasting for an eternity.

I am going to require as many calories as humanly possible to make it through.

1.10 pm

I finish ordering food and turn around to see Pushy Mum chasing her obnoxious son around. I am surprised to see that his face-painting has already been wiped off.

“That’s her,”

I hiss to Social Media Mum.

“The Pushy Mum.”

Social Media Mum smiles at Pushy Mum and calls out cheerfully:

“Hello there! Oh, that face painting didn’t last long did it? What a shame, after he was so desperate to have it done!”

Social Media Mum’s wide eyes are twinkling and she seems to be enjoying herself.

“Oh yes, he hated it, and I had to wipe it off. A bit of a waste.”

Pushy Mum sees me and has the decency to look apologetic.

“Oh….was your son okay with the waiting in the end?”

I smile politely.

“Yes thank you, he was fine.”

I am unimpressed.

“You know her? Friend of yours?”

I glare at Social Media Mum.

Traitor.

“Oh yes, from some playgroup or another years ago.”

I glare at her.

“More of an acquaintance.”

She is now definitely enjoying herself.

I take a mental step back and imagine how this looks to a sane person.

I am a sleep-deprived wreck, consumed with hatred towards someone I don’t even know, on the grounds of us both having emotionally labile toddlers who desperately wanted their faces painted.

It is not difficult to see why Social Media Mum’s eyes are laughing at me.

She has the decency to compose her face into a sympathetic expression but the eyes remain a dead giveaway.

1.15 pm

I get my things together to leave the counter and the woman taking food orders has a final message for me.

She calls out:

“Just to let you know…..”

She has the facial expression of a woman about to Break Bad News.

“The food is going to be a very, VERY, long time.”

Silence.

“Okay then.”

I walk away and sit down.

I ponder the mystery of the “long, long time” comment.

The café is not full.

I have ordered lunch boxes which are pre-prepared sandwiches and fruit with a packet of crisps and a carton drink.

What could possibly take such a long time?

I remind myself that this is a Church café run by volunteers for the good of the community.

I try to stop being so critical.

Given that I have a table, the children are playing, and it is too late to go anywhere else, I have very little other choice than to wait.

1.30 pm

The miracle of the three energetic and hungry boys playing nicely in the corner of a crowded room has finally (and unsurprisingly) come to an end.

They begin roaming the café, looking for entertainment.

Their roaming progresses to chasing.

Out of the corner of my eye I am aware of people tutting at them.

I scan their behaviour – no-one killing each other. Annoying nuissances – yes; overt danger –  no.

I ignore them and try to soothe Baby Girl who is tired and hungry.

The background complaining about the unruly children gets louder.

I decide to join in.

“Honestly, some people should really learn to control their children,”

I lament loudly and disapprovingly.

I sigh, tut, roll my eyes and shake my head in the direction of our three boys.

Social Media Mum joins in enthusiastically.

It works.

A few people look openly surprised as they had assumed the badly-behaved children must belong to us.

They realise the error of their ways and the disapproving looks stop landing at our table.

Perfect.

We continue to ignore our children in peace.

1.45 pm.

Aaaargh.

Social Media Mum’s food arrives but mine does not. Jude* sits down to eat.

My boys are now tired, starving, and fast becoming feral.

2 yo starts a new game of trying to escape the front door of the café. 3 yo joins in.

An Evil Cow Café Woman masquerading as an older volunteer waitress appears out of nowhere and shouts at them.

“For Goodness’ Sake, how many times do I have to tell you two? STOP opening that door.”

I am surprised.

Most people stick to a certain code when telling off other people’s children, and by most people’s standards, that is pretty harsh.

Unless lives or limbs are threatened you generally keep things as mild-mannered as possible.

Christian volunteer or not, this woman has now declared war.

I walk towards my children, fixing Evil Cow Café Woman with an icy stare.

She sees me approach and looks away swiftly.

Clearly annoyed, she mumbles,

“Do you think you could make your children sit down.”

Do I think I can make my children sit down???

She is working/volunteering in a child-friendly café, complete with toy corner, and it is an hour since I ordered sandwiches for two hungry small people.

Surely this is not a surprising or unusual scenario, them having had enough?

I stare at her accusingly.

“They are extremely hungry and bored. They have been waiting a VERY. LONG. TIME for their food.”

She looks vaguely apologetic.

“Well, yes….”

“I will see what I can do.”

I return them to the table and bribe them with colouring and the promise of treats if they sit still.

1.50 pm

One of the women from the serving counter is hovering behind my shoulder.

She is foodless.

“Yes?”

She looks nervous.

“Well….the kitchen have decided that they are not going to be able to make your milkshake.”

I wait for her to tell me that they have run out of some essential ingredient.

“They say that because the café is just too busy today, they are not going to have time to make it.”

I look around the room incredulously.

It is a small café, and there are empty tables.

The café is TOO BUSY for them to make a milkshake? And it took them an HOUR to realise this?

Social Media Mum is watching me intently and I notice that she is shaking with silent laughter.

I tell the woman that this is fine, I won’t have a drink after all.

She looks relieved and departs hastily.

“Perhaps I should have offered to go into the kitchen and make the milkshake and lunch boxes for them,”

I mutter darkly.

Social Media Mum Smiled.

She keeps saying sympathetic things and helping me control my children, whilst finding the saga enormously entertaining.

Her son has finished his lunch.

1.55 pm

A cheerful woman from the Fun Day next door pops her head into the café.

“Do come along next door everyone, we are about to start a play!”

Silence ensues around the café.

No-one moves.

Social Media Mum to the rescue.

“Oh what a shame…we would have loved to come and watch but we are still waiting for our food.”

Phew.

2 pm

The world’s most eagerly awaited lunch boxes arrive.

I take out the sandwiches to hand them to my children.

I cannot quite believe my eyes.

I sigh and look at Social Media Mum.

“I DO know that this café is run by volunteers and that it is attached to the Church and that it is a very worthy cause…”

I begin, cautiously.

“But even given that …. would you consider THIS to be an acceptable standard of sandwich to pay money for?”

I hold the sandwich out to her, genuinely interested in her opinion.

The “sandwiches” look as though they were made two days ago, rolled up in a ball, placed in a sauna to make them sweat, and then squashed between someone’s grubby fingers to make sure that every morsel of bread was a soggy as possible.

They were limp, lifeless, and unappetising, even by my undiscriminating standards.

Social Media Mum leant in to inspect them.

“Quick,”

she said.

“Take a photograph.”

A photograph?

What on earth for?

Surely she was not going to suggest that I begin a Social Media Campaign naming and shaming the Café for its poor service and terrible sandwiches?

Admittedly the service today had left a LOT to be desired and the sandwiches were terrible BUT… that seemed a little harsh for a well-intentioned Church café run by volunteers. After all, they were all working there in an attempt to Do Good Deeds for the local community, not to win awards for food or service.

Plus the food was usually very good.

Surely such a campaign would see me sent straight to Hell.

“Why?”

I finally enquired.

“For your blog post about this weekend.

Quick.”

I obediently took a photograph and considered this suggestion.

Write a blog post about this most mundane of weekends?

Who on earth would want to read such a thing?

Me, being tired, grumpy, and annoyed with the world? With my chronic inability to be concise?

My description of this weekend in written word would be less of a blog post and more of an endless, soul-destroying novel.

On second thoughts, I looked at how happy Social Media Mum was.

Watching me struggle through the day seemed to be reminding her with some relief that she had passed this challenging stage of parenthood.

She was positively glowing with the joy of no longer dealing with toddlers.

Perhaps she was onto something.

Maybe sharing my weekend would provide boundless joys for those who recall such events from their recent past and allow them chortle happily to themselves that they are now safely out of the other side of toddlerhood.

2.30 pm

The baked potato for Baby Girl arrives.

(One and a half hours after I ordered it, but who was counting?)

She tries to seize it and I narrowly avert the burning of her hand given that it was the hottest potato I have ever seen. Steam billowed upwards towards the ceiling.

Social Media Mum assists me in trying to cut it into many tiny pieces and blow on it whilst Baby Girl screams in hunger.

2.45 pm.

Officially. Had. Enough.

My children are all behaving badly and I am too tired to care or work out how to manage them effectively.

I need to leave immediately.

I attempt to pay.

I cannot pay because the till is not working. Something to do with the receipt roll having run out.

Social Media Mum is laughing.

“I am worried about you,”

she said.

“Why?”

Did she think I was headed for a breakdown because I could not pay for my lunch?

“I really hope that when you get home… you have alcohol waiting for you. I think you are going to need it.”

I’m not sure that I know what she means.

Surely this is just a standard three-young-children day?

I must look worse than I thought I did.

2.50 pm

“I need to pay and leave now because there is a supermarket delivery of food arriving at my house in 5 minutes.”

This truthful strategy works.

We pay and head for the door.

On the way out of the door I spy Evil Cow Café Woman.

I whisper into 3 yo boy’s ear, instructing him what to say (along with a quietly hissed threat that if he does not say it, he will never be allowed back to this cafe again).

He approaches Evil Cow Café Woman and gives her an angelic look.

“Thank you very much for my food. It was yummy. I am very sorry for being naughty.”

She is genuinely shocked.

“Oh.. you’re welcome.”

I leave, entertained by at her open disbelief that my feral monster can be polite.

3pm.

I arrive home and the supermarket delivery driver is already parked outside the house waiting for me.

I leave the children in the car and unload the shopping.

The delivery contains chocolate and cider.

3.10 pm

Miracle of miracles.

The holy grail of parenting.

All three children are in bed asleep for an afternoon nap.

As far as they are concerned, the day has been an enormous success.

Rugby, bouncy castles, face painting, lunch out, playing with friends… they have had a fantastic time and are all exhausted.

The rain has stopped and the sun is shining.

3.30 pm

I have hung the laundry out to dry, tidied the kitchen and I have taken a bottle of cider and a cheap bar of chocolate out into the garden.

I immediately eat the entire bar of chocolate and then photograph the evidence to send to Social Media Mum to reassure her that I do indeed have alcohol.

I drink my cider in serene sunshiny silence.

My sanity creeps back.

I reflect upon how this is the beauty of days like these.

The moments when the camera comes out are when the sun is shining, when the kids are thrilled with their face-painting, and when we are all happy.

Despite the fact that it has been raining all morning I will look back at the photos and remember a lovely Sunny Saturday.

The moments I choose to record are those that allow me to look back and reflect that:

  • I adore my children
  • Every second is precious
  • I have totally got this
  • I am doing a great job as a parent

Because who in their right mind would ever intentionally make a record of all the other shit that comes in between?

Those who blog, that’s who.

 

*Names changed

Weekend Part One: The Big Friday Night Out

Last weekend began with a long overdue NCT Girls’ night out.

It had been in the diary for months.

For anyone not in the know – the NCT (National Childbirth Trust) run antenatal classes around the UK.

https://www.nct.org.uk/courses/antenatal

The experience of Surviving The NCT Antenatal Course where we bought our “Bought Friends” is a separate story, see link below:

Surviving The NCT Antenatal Course – Buying The Bought Friends

Fast forward four years and don’t worry, we are still getting our money’s worth out of those Bought Friends.

Our initial investment of around £200 has so far yielded the following returns, amongst many others:

  • A Private Facebook group where every relevant childrens’ event/group/outing is shared and immediate plans formulated
  • The “Bought Friends” WhatsApp group: all six women spewing a mutual outpouring of maternal neuroses
  • Three annual NCT weekends away – all six couples and as of this year, we are up to eleven children
  • Multiple children’s birthday party invitations (with a handy “no presents exchanged within the NCT group” rule)
  • A two week holiday to a villa on Elba Island to attend an NCT wedding

My five bought NCT friends had been a very wise investment indeed, and currently form an essential part of maintaining my sanity.

Which brings me back to last night’s Long-Awaited Girls’ Night Out.

The NCT boys have been on a few boys’ nights out in their time (initially involving much alcohol drinking and comparing of notes on topics such as “just HOW crazy has your wife become since having a baby?”) but the girls’ nights out have been hindered by the perpetual cycle of pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Expectations were high given that Girls’ night out number one was infamous.

When our first babies were around three months old, everyone was in agreement that we all deserved a night off, dammit.

We expressed fridge-fulls of breast milk and left the Dads in charge.

After pre-dinner cocktails we shared varying levels of anxiety over how the Dads would cope.

  • Would the babies take the bottles?
  • Would they get settled back to sleep?
  • Would their routines be forever disrputed by their negligent mothers indulging in a night out?

We ate dinner and marvelled that we were out in town like real (childless) human beings.

We ordered a few drinks.

One of the six of us (Kind Communications Mum) returned home at a sensible hour.

She has regretted that decision ever since.

The remaining five of us stayed out for “one more.”

Fast forward a few hours and there we were, sitting barefoot at 4am on the pavements outside a nightclub, singing, chain-smoking (none of us smoke) and shouting happily at passers by.

(It could have been worse…unlike Hurrah For Gin’s allegedly “completely fictional” night out, we did at least stay the distance)

http://hurrahforgin.com/2016/10/05/mums-night-out/

I awoke in my spare room at 8am the next day, shuddering, with vague memories of:

  • Downing cocktails out of pineapples
  • Many shots
  • Buying & smoking many cigarettes (all non-smokers)
  • Dancing with a group of what appeared to be young male hispters (they looked roughly aged 12) wearing trendy hats.

The adolescent hipsters had asked us “girls” what we did.

We answered truthfully: Detective/Haematologist/PR company owner/Surgeon/Clinical Psychologist.

They found that answer hilarious and congratulated us on the good joke. (We were puzzled as to what was funny about our jobs and did not realise until later that they assumed we were lying)

Thankfully I had expressed enough milk for 24 hours because that is approximately how long the hangover took to subside to levels where I could contemplate breastfeeding my baby without poisoning him.

I felt as though neat alcohol may be oozing from my pores.

Incidentally, this experience prompted a middle of the night Google Search for the evidence behind the levels of alcohol transmitted via breastmilk.

I found a fascinating post by a dedicated scientist who got herself drunk then analysed the levels of alcohol in her breastmilk every hour and posted her results online.

The results?

Alcohol levels in breast milk negligible even when very drunk.

(Good to know, but I fear the problem is probably less the alcohol content in the breastmilk than the question of why are you looking after a small baby if you are drunk enough to worry about the alcohol levels in your breastmilk?)

Having just quickly searched online again now four years down the line to see if I can find the link to that experiment (I can’t), I am amazed to note how much technology has marched onwards.

There are now test strips available to test your breast milk alcohol level.

Who would have thought it?

I digress.

That First Girls Night Out had achieved legendary status.

There were therefore high hopes for this weekend.

I thought it best to be honest with the others from the very first mention of this night out in the Bought Friends WhatsApp group.

  • I would arrive late as I would be feeding 6 month old baby girl and putting her to bed before leaving
  • I would definitely be driving
  • It would be a miracle if I were there at all, as Long-Suffering Husband did not relish the idea of staying up all night persuading she-who-does-not-drink-milk-from-bottles that she should drink milk from a bottle.

I had no plans for a big night out for the following reasons:

  • I no longer lived in the city centre (having since sold the Beautiful City Centre Duplex Waterfront Flat in exchange for the Perfect Family House in The Perfect Village)
  • Transport in and out of the city was tricky
  • Long-Suffering Husband was away the following day from around 8am
  • I would therefore be alone with three children all Saturday
  • Saturday’s plans included 3 year old’s Rugby Tots class at 9.30 and followed by 2 year old’s Rugby Tots class at 10.30, possibly followed by a local fun day
  • Rugby Tots classes involve an unfortunate amount of expected parental participation – tricky when you are alone with three children even without a hangover

None of these things were in any way compatible with a late night, never mind a drunken night out.

I felt quite smug to have arrived at an age where I could recognise my limitations.

I was therefore very happy with the plan to drive into town late, miss the cocktails, have a civilised dinner with my friends, then get home in time for the 1am breastfeed.

Friday evening: 7pm

The beeping from the WhatsApp group informs me that four of the others have already met in a cocktail bar. I am wearing tracksuit bottoms with sick on them, persuading 3 yo boy and 2 yo boy to go upstairs and brush their teeth. I tell  myself this is okay. I have the youngest baby in the group as well as the most children. I will get there in the end.

Friday evening: 7.15pm

Long-suffering husband to the rescue. He takes the two boys off my hands and does their bedtime routine.

Friday evening: 7.20pm

I consider feeding 6 month old girl and putting her down. I have an irrational attack of guilt about leaving the dishes in case long-suffering husband is up with screaming baby for hours. Therefore I load the dishwasher one-handedly, carrying curious baby girl round the kitchen whilst he reads the boys their bedtime story.

Friday evening: 7.40pm

I finally stop fannying around and feed Baby Girl, reading WhatsApp chat. The late arrival has just found the others after warning them they may not wish to be seen with her inappropriately tight top.

Friday evening: 8pm

Dinner is at 8.15pm. The restaurant is a 45 minute drive away. Baby girl has just gone to sleep, and I am still wearing tracksuit bottoms. I am sorely tempted to put on my pyjamas. I give myself a pep talk.

Friday evening: 8.15pm

Second wind. I have managed to get dressed in skinny jeans, very high heels, jacket, straighten my hair and put makeup on. I do not recognise myself in the mirror. I wave good bye to long-suffering husband. He tells me I look nice and waits for me to walk out the door. I lurk around nervously wondering what I have forgotten and if it is wise to go out, then eventually make a run for it before I change my mind.

Friday evening: 8.30 pm – 9.15pm

I am genuinely having the time of my life.

Not downing shots or dancing on tables…

I am driving on the motorway, ALONE, in the DARK, listening to very, VERY loud music.

Because I can.

Friday evening: 9.15pm – 10.30pm

I arrive. I find the others. I can’t believe I am here! I am eating dinner in a restaurant in town on a Friday night, wearing high heels, with a small handbag.

It’s great.

Friday evening: 10.30pm

Two sudden departures. Apparently Power PR Mum and Sympathetic Psychologist Mum are getting the last train home (both also now moved away from the City Centre to Family Friendly Locations). Who knew the last trains on a Friday night were so early?

Friday evening: 10.45pm

Departure number three. Happy Haematologist Mum can’t stop yawning. I ask her what is wrong – her second child has gone insane in the growing of a tooth.

Friday evening: 11.30pm

We have gone to a cocktail bar, and I have had my token cocktail. I need to leave to get home for the 1am feed.

Kind Communications Mum seems disappointed. She still regrets going home early 4 years ago and missing the “Epic Girls Night Out” and she was hoping to go dancing.

Sarcastic Detective Mum and I cannot be bothered.

Friday evening: 11.50pm

After dropping the last two off at home I join the motorway for my now 20 minute drive home.

Friday: Midnight

STANDSTILL.

A complete, total, standstill of all three lanes of the motorway.

I assumed there was an accident and waited.

Saturday: 12.30am

Still no movement.

Saturday: 1am

I have crawled forwards just enough to find out that this is a PLANNED motorway closure for roadworks.

I try not to lose the plot in the car.

PLANNED, to close the ENTIRE MOTORWAY, at midnight? With no signs warning anyone to take a different route? WTF?

Did they not realise I have Very Important Places to be, i.e. breastfeeding my daughter who would surely be screaming at Long Suffering Husband by now?

Sure enough, a message arrives saying that she is awake, screaming and refusing the bottle.

My stress levels rise.

I find myself screaming at the empty car about how this is totally unacceptable traffic management.

Saturday: 1.30am

I reach the front of the epic queue, which is nothing more than three lanes of angry drivers all stubbornly refusing to give way as we merge. Eventually someone lets me in and we crawl onto the diversion route. I escape and drive through a quiet back route to re-join the motorway.

Saturday: 2.10am

I arrive home, stressed and exhausted.

The house is strangely silent.

I creep upstairs into our room and find Long-Suffering Husband awaiting me.

No sign of her-with-the-giant-lungs.

I am confused.

“Everything alright?”

He is half asleep.

“She screamed refused the bottle. I tried everything, gave up, then messaged you. Then she stopped screaming when she saw the glow of my phone. I put a baby app on, she stared at it and downed the whole bottle.”

Problem solved.

Who would have thought?

Unfortunately my breasts felt like rock-hard painful grenades, ready to explode.

There was no way I was going furtling around in the kitchen sterilising things to express, so despite Long Suffering Husband having miraculously managed to feed her and get her back to sleep, I then woke her back up to feed her anyway.

Saturday: 2.50am

Four hours until all the children will be awake, at least one more night feed to go before then and a day of solo childcare ahead complete with Parental Participation Rugby Tots.

Arrrrgh.

All for a big night out sitting alone on a motorway.

The moral of the story?

Next time – don’t drive.

Just drink.

Weekend Part Two: A Sunny Saturday…

Weekend Part Two: A Sunny Saturday

The Accidental Home Birth

I had never desired nor intended to have a home birth.

The background to this tale is explained in the previous post “Birth Number One (a.k.a. The Slowest Birth Of All Time)

http://havingitall.family/2017/birth-number-one-a-k-a-the-slowest-birth-of-all-time/

I could not possibly share the story of the Accidental Home Birth without first putting it into context with the story of Birth Number One.

Unfortunately the telling of that tale turned out to be surprisingly long – much like the labour itself.

Birth Number One is an amusing enough story in its own right, although significantly less dramatic.

Therefore for the benefit of anyone who wants to cut straight to the chase and get down to the blue flashing lights, the reluctant paramedic and the baby falling out on the bedroom floor, I have removed the introductory tale of Birth Number One and placed it in a separate post.

Do click the on the link above and read it before continuing if you, like me, prefer the full story.

If not, let’s proceed directly onwards.

(But don’t blame me if you cheat and enjoy it less without doing your background reading first)

In summary: If nothing else, Birth Number One (a.k.a. The Slowest Birth Of All Time) had left me feeling extremely relaxed about having plenty of time get to the hospital.

My prime concern as I approached the due date for Baby Number Two had been what I was going to do with Baby Number One.

I made multiple impractical contingency plans for who would look after him if I went into labour, then breathed a sigh of relief when I made it to 39 weeks and my Mother arrived to stay.

Saturday: Due Date

My mother was helping with toddler childcare and long-suffering husband had the weekend off work. In the evening a few gentle contractions started.

I thought it would be wise to get an early night in case things progressed.

I went to bed at 9pm, handed over the baby monitor, and managed to sleep for more than twelve hours. That has certainly not happened in the two years since.

Sunday: Due Date plus One

I woke up late morning time with no contractions.

I felt incredible after all that sleep.

Life was good.

3pm:

I was entertaining my son in the kitchen whilst helping my husband cook a roast dinner. I felt a sudden sharp twinge.

I sloped off quietly to hide in our en suite bathroom, timing the contractions on my phone. I was surprised to see they were only two minutes apart.

They must be Braxton-Hicks.

Real contractions surely start slowly and build up,…they don’t suddenly appear out of nowhere at that speed?

Long-suffering husband popped his head around the door looking annoyed.

“I am trying to cook this roast dinner and you have just walked off and left me with a child. Are you coming back?”

Pause.

“Are you having contractions?”

He had spotted me deep breathing.

“Yes.”

“I think I will just run a bath.”

I ran a bath and got in.

I was surprised by how painful these contractions were, given that they had only just begun. I took two paracetamol.

At this rate I would be needing an epidural in about an hour, never mind in five days’ time.

I kept timing the contractions:

  • Still very regular
  • Still two minutes apart

I was confused.

Long-suffering husband returned to check in on me.

“I wonder….maybe we should go to the hospital? I don’t want to waste anyone’s time when it’s so early on, and they must be fake contractions as they started two minutes apart, but…”

He frowned.

“You don’t look like you’re having fake contractions. The look like they hurt.”

I considered this observation.

“Yes you’re right. They do.”

Silence for a minute.

“Okay, let’s go to the hospital. Do you mind taking my bag to the car?”

He sprang into action and ran to the car.

3.30pm

I had a reassuring talk to myself.

  • Stay calm.
  • This is perfect timing.
  • It is 3.30pm on a Sunday afternoon.
  • Your husband is at home and can drive you to the hospital, and your Mother is here to look after the toddler.
  • You could not have planned this any better.

Despite my pep talk I felt quite uneasy at the speed with which things were progressing.

I managed to get out of the bath onto the bathroom floor, feeling quite out of breath as I crawled towards the toilet.

Strangely there was fluid pouring out of me.

Aha. My waters had broken.

I looked at the clock. 3.35pm.

Surely this couldn’t be right?

At 3pm I had been helping to cook a roast dinner, contraction-free.

I dried myself repeatedly with a towel and discovered that I could not get dry. I realised it was because sweat was pouring off my body.

I managed to put a tee-shirt on.

Long-suffering husband reappeared.

“Okay the bag is in the car. Are you ready to….”

He stopped, catching sight of me sprawled on the bathroom floor, pouring with sweat and wearing nothing but a tee-shirt.

“Why aren’t you dressed?”

I tried to explain.

“I keep trying to get dressed. Then I get another contraction and I have to stop, and then I am wet again…”

“I think you should call an ambulance.”

He looked confused.

“Really?”

I was quite certain I was not going to make it to the car.

“Yes.”

“I really need to push.”

This was a new sensation to me.

Thanks to the lovely epidural put in by that talented twelve-year-old masquerading as an anaesthetist in Birth Number One, I had never felt this urge to push before.

How to describe it…

Like having the worst case of diarrhoea of your life with all-consuming abdominal cramps, feeling tempted to walk away from the toilet but knowing that if you do, you will definitely poo your pants.

I REALLY wanted to walk away from the bathroom and go to the hospital.

However, my body was telling me that there was something inside that was going to be pushed out very soon and I would have no ability to stop it.

I was going nowhere.

Long-suffering husband dialled 999.

I could only hear his end of the conversation.

“What can I see?”

He bent down to inspect.

By this point I was kneeling, leaning onto a blanket box at the bottom of our bed.

“I can see a head.”

Right then.

A few instructions were passed onwards to me via my husband.

  • Try not to push until the paramedics arrive
  • Stay calm
  • Could my husband put his hand on the baby’s head to support it to stop it coming any further out?

He could and he did.

It was an odd manoeuvre but felt strangely comforting.

The hardest part at this point was trying not to push. It was like trying to hold in an enormous bout of explosive diarrhoea.

NOT pushing was actually very painful.

So… this would be fine, right?

People have babies every day and an ambulance was on the way.

Luckily I had extensive experience of hypnobirthing techniques.

(See earlier post – My Vagina Is a Rosebud).

http://havingitall.family/2017/my-vagina-is-a-rosebud/

I am afraid I jest.

Visualising my vagina as a rosebud did not come into its own here after all.

Strangely, however, a wave of incredible calm did wash over me.

I had driven myself mad in pregnancy number one with my neurotic compulsion to read everything I could about labour in a desire to be well informed and make the best choices for my baby and I.

Despite this proving to be an utterly futile exercise, I still worried about what choices to make in Birth Number Two.

  • What if I made a wrong decision?
  • What if a bad choice of mine affected my baby’s health?
  • How would I ever live with myself?

And so on.

The usual maternal guilt-trip thoughts would dance merrily around in my head.

(For a great description of this phenomenon, see “The Shitty Guilt Fairy” by Hurrah For Gin at the link below)

http://hurrahforgin.com/2016/07/07/the-shitty-guilt-fairy/

Strangely, at that moment of finding myself panting half-naked in my bedroom, I felt the blissful release of being absolved of all maternal guilt.

I was squatting on my bedroom floor with a head popping out of my vagina whilst waiting for an ambulance, yet feeling blissfully serene because there was ABSOLUTELY NOTHING I COULD DO ABOUT IT and there was NO WAY THAT THIS COULD BE MY FAULT.

  • At 3pm I had been helping to cook a roast dinner.
  • It was not yet 4pm and a baby was falling out of me.
  • Even The Shitty Guilt Fairy had to concede that I could not have seen this coming.

That Shitty Little Guilt fairy could basically piss right off.

I felt positively chipper.

  • No facts to consider
  • No pros and cons to weigh up
  • No difficult decisions to make
  • Absolved of all responsibility if anything went wrong

In fact, there was absolutely nothing I could do other than just get on with it and have a baby.

Guilt-Free Bliss.

4pm

The doorbell rang.

It was an unfortunate man known as a first responder. His job was to make sure things were okay until the ambulance with the two paramedics arrived.

He took one look at me and saw I wasn’t dying. His work was therefore done.

He promptly retreated to the other side of our bedroom, averted his gaze, and embarked upon a spot of light banter with my husband.

Something along the lines of why wasn’t I screaming? Surely I should be shouting or swearing at him like his wife did. I must be managing terribly well to be so quiet.

(I like to think his intention was to be reassuring and to keep us calm by lightening the mood)

He casually mentioned not having delivered any babies before and expressed his intention to stay well away from me as I was doing fine.

Excellent.

Between contractions I enquired had he brought any drugs?

Sadly not.

4.10pm

The ambulance arrived along with two paramedics.

The first, a man who was the less experienced of the two, joined the first responder in the jovial banter. They discussed how neither of them had delivered a baby before.

The second paramedic appeared to be a Blonde Angel sent straight from heaven in a dark green uniform.

She strode purposefully across our bedroom and squatted down next to me to introduce herself.

“Am I alright to use these towels?”

Towels?

Sure enough, there stood a tall pile of freshly laundered towels on the blanket box.

In a strange fit of middle-aged OCD, my father had decided he wanted all the towels in their house to be white. My mother had arrived home one day to discover every other colour of towel piled up for throwing out. Tutting at such wastefulness, she bagged them all up and handed them over to me in case I could make use of them. I was certain I could.

On getting them home I discovered that I had very little storage space for this giant pile of thick fluffy towels. Uncertain where to put them, I had left them in a pile at the bottom of my bed where they had remained ever since.

The Blonde Angel Paramedic was still inexplicably pointing at the towels.

“Yes, of course.”

She promptly laid them down on the (cream-coloured) carpet all around me and looked at her two male colleagues.

“Shall I go and get the stretcher?”

One of them asked helpfully.

“No,”

she said firmly.

“We are not going anywhere. She is having the baby right now.”

“I have done this before and you are going to be fine. Do you want to push?”

OH. MY. GOD. YES.

It was such a relief to be allowed to push.

4.20pm

Baby Number Two’s head shot out.

Blonde Angel Paramedic’s voice could be heard somewhere above my head talking calmly to Long-Suffering Husband about how she was just unwrapping the cord from around my baby’s neck.

I looked at the two male paramedics who were having a pleasant chat.

“Where are the drugs?”

They looked surprised at my question.

“In the ambulance.”

Really?

They were sitting there watching me push out a baby in my bedroom with an ambulance full of drugs outside and they still hadn’t thought to bring me any in?

I must stop giving the impression that I was managing really well and be more clear that drugs would be a good thing.

“I want some!”

One  ran off to find some gas and air.

4.25pm

Another contraction, another giant push.

WHOOSH.

Such a strange, unfamiliar sensation.

This incredibly slippery wriggling object shot out of me speed and whooshed off towards the (well-protected with towels) bedroom floor.

Blonde Angel Paramedic caught the baby and Long-Suffering Husband was saying something about it being a boy.

I could barely hear them.

The sound of their voices was being drowned out by the soundtrack suddenly blaring in my head – Born Slippy By Underworld.

“Drive Boy Dog Boy Dirty Numb Angel Boy…”

I was as high as a kite, kneeling there, feeling as though I had experienced some great epiphany, understanding the true meaning of that strange song being named “Born Slippy.”

“Aaaaah…” I thought, “Because we really ARE born slippy. So, SO slippy.”

The paramedic returned triumphantly clutching the Gas and Air.

“Too late…she’s had the baby already.”

Oh God.

I had just had a baby in my bedroom with nothing more than two paracetamol taken an hour ago.

“I’ll have the gas and air thanks.”

I snatched it from him.

Yes, the baby was already out, but it couldn’t possibly hurt to have some of the good stuff.

Blonde Angel Paramedic gave me some scissors so I could cut his umbilical cord.

“What now?”

Apparently an on-call Midwife had been contacted and the paramedics had to stay with me until she arrived.

4.45pm

Blonde Angel Paramedic suggested we may as well deliver the placenta. She pulled gently and out it came.

No sign of the midwife.

I asked if it was okay to get back in my abandoned bath from 45 minutes and a lifetime earlier.

No-one objected.

I shut the door on the strange scene in my bedroom and relaxed for ten minutes before getting dressed.

5pm

The midwife turned up and found me dressed and eating a roast dinner. She pronounced all was well – nothing had torn and there was no need to go to hospital.

So that was it.

Two hours after my first contraction, we bode farewell to our paramedic visitors and carried on with our evening as though nothing had ever happened.

And thanks to the quick thinking of Blonde Angel Paramedic, even the cream-coloured bedroom carpet remained unblemished.

Birth Number One (a.k.a. The Slowest Birth Of All Time)

This long post (sorry) about an even longer labour is written for context.

I really only decided to tell the tale of The Slowest Birth Of All Time (Baby Number One) in order to paint the picture of why I was so shocked to have a speedy Accidental Home Birth (Baby Number Two).

The Accidental Home Birth was quite the shock and by far the more dramatic story. If you are bored and want to get straight to the gory details, forget the rest of this tale and skip to the link below!

(It isn’t as good though if you cheat and miss out the context 🙂 )

The Accidental Home Birth

Prior to The Slowest Birth Of All Time, I had read everything possible about labour.

I don’t mean that I read advice in the manner of a well-adjusted human being.

I mean that I spent my spare time devouring information in a neurotic fashion as though the more time I devoted to my research, the more it proved my love for my unborn child.

Even that is probably an understatement.

More accurately, as I had no spare time, I lay awake at night after my husband had gone to sleep, obsessively researching by the glow of my mobile phone under the duvet in the early hours of the morning.

The onset or labour, what to expect, options for pain relief, national guidelines, evidence-based practice… you name it, I read it.

With hindsight I think I believed that it was possible to approach the “Having A Baby” project in the same way as any other challenge I had faced up until that point.

My plan was roughly equivalent to my general approach to succeeding in life thus far:

  • Do a large amount of background reading
  • Review the available evidence (be it bona fide research, expert opinion, case reports, personal review or anecdotal evidence)
  • Review the source of the evidence and assess it for reliability
  • Make reasoned rational decisions based on mine (and others) review of the available evidence
  • Expect a successful outcome – if achieved, share this information for the benefit of anyone repeating this process
  • If outcome not as desired, submit feedback/reviews to add to the available evidence

Therefore this account is an attempt on my part to share my own experience for general information.

I make no attempt to advise.

My research-based approach to life (or variations thereof) had served me well in passing exams, gaining degrees, succeeding at work projects, career planning, running marathons, buying houses, buying cars, fixing things, planning a wedding, organising large events, planning holidays, planning a pregnancy … for me, this was a winning formula.

I saw no reason to expect labour to be any different.

Towards the end of my pregnancy I even had an hour-long meeting with a consultant midwife – a job description previously unknown to me.

The meeting occurred after I read the NICE (National Institute for Clinical Excellence) Guidelines and discovered that I could request a planned caesarean section on the National Health Service provided I fully understood the pros and cons of caesarean and vaginal deliveries.

Unfortunately after enough research for a thesis, there seemed to be no obviously compelling superior option.

I took the information to long-suffering husband and asked what he thought.

“I trust you to make the right decision.”

Very occasionally I think that my husband may actually be a genius.

Back to the reading.

I languished over World Health Organisation documents condemning the world-wide rise in caesarean sections rates. I read the reasons why they were higher in some countries than others. I read the arguments for and against.

I eventually concluded that I thought my baby and my pelvic floor would both be safest with a planned caesarean section.

By that point, I was frankly sick of reading about it and was relieved to have made any decision at all.

When I explained my reasoning to my community midwife, she referred me straight onwards.

I fully expected my referral letter to read something along the lines of:

“Dear …., please see this woman who is a giant pain in my arse. She will not stop obsessively reading things and I would appreciate you taking her off my hands. I wish you the best of luck with her.”

(I have never seen my referral letter but if that is what she wrote, I would agree wholeheartedly)

Long-suffering husband and I therefore turned up to meet the gatekeeper of the caesarean section booking list – the consultant midwife.

I took an instant liking to him after he introduced himself and said:

“If you are sure that you want a caesarean section then you will walk out of here today with a date for one.”

I liked him a lot.

This sounded a little too good to be true and my suspicion showed.

He clarified.

“We are in the middle of a deprived area in a city centre.”

Silence from me.

“We are not overrun with women who spend their time reading the NICE guidelines.”

I could see his point.

He then asked exactly what my concerns were.

My concerns were based around a cheerful scenario involving an escalation of interventions.

My vivid imaginings took me to a long labour with a struggling baby, followed by emergency forceps, large episiotomies carving up my pelvic floor, then a stuck baby requiring an emergency caesarean section and being left with both an abdominal wound and a lifetime of incontinence, prolapse, perhaps an incisional hernia thrown in for good measure, if not a bowel injury, a stoma, and a brain damaged baby.

It was all very optimistic.

I decided that if I must be in any way sliced and diced, I liked the idea of everything happening in a planned, orderly fashion in the cold light of day, with our baby being closely monitored at all times.

He nodded empathetically and summarised that I was worried about all complications of all emergency interventions.

This seemed about right.

“You know, there is another option which avoids all of those interventions.”

I was all ears.

“Stay away from obstetricians.”

I was momentarily confused.

How could I have a planned caesarean section without an obstetrician?

“You are healthy, slim, very physically fit, you have a very low risk pregnancy and an excellent chance of having an uncomplicated labour requiring no interventions at all. I would recommend that you consider labouring on the midwife-led unit.”

That idea threw me for a minute.

I had done so much reading to prepare myself for every possible worst-case scenario that I had almost forgotten about the option that the baby could potentially make its way out of my body without leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.

“Don’t get me wrong – if anything out of the ordinary happens, you absolutely want an obstetrician. But in a straightforward labour with no complications, you have a much higher rate of intervention on the obstetric-led unit compared to if you remain on the midwife-led unit.”

My sceptical face re-appeared.

“They are right next door to each other, you know, the midwife-led unit and the obstetric-led unit. If anything went wrong they would just wheel you straight next door.”

Still not convinced.

“Would you like to see for yourself?”

Yes, I did want to see.

He took us for a walk and sure enough there was one calm, casual unit run entirely by midwives right next door to the obstetric-led unit with the lovely shiny monitoring machines, the good drugs, the epidurals and the operating theatre.

I gave it some thought.

I did so like the scientifically reassuring idea of every twitch being monitored and explained. I wanted charts, graphs, reassuring beeping sounds and a lovely planned delivery where I felt in control.

“Another thought…”

He looked at me cautiously as though expecting a punch in the face.

“You will probably want to move around during labour as you are used to exercising a lot. I don’t think you would like being restrained to a bed. A very good form of pain control for you would be to consider going in the water.”

For a moment I thought my head would explode.

Surely this man was not seriously suggesting I consider a WATERBIRTH?

I had come to meet him to arrange my dream of a planned, scientific, safe caesarean section, and he wanted me to hide from the obstetricians and have my baby in a bath? Possibly with dimmed lights, music, probably throwing in some chanting and whalesong for good measure?

I thought that he may well have lost his mind.

And then, out of nowhere, this man worked his magic.

He reeled off the most incredible back catalogue of statistics.

This man REALLY knew his stuff.

Years’ worth of departmental audits. Studies. Reviews of their hospital data.

He soothed me with cold hard numbers and they were like music to my ears.

Numbers that no amount of 2am reading would ever have given me access to.

Percentages of women who had tears in all settings, episiotomies in all settings, complications of all kinds…this man knew it all. There was no question I could ask him that he did not know the numbers for.

And all the numbers boiled down to the same concept.

If you have a problem during labour – you want an obstetrician ASAP.

If you have a perfectly normal labour, DO NOT GO NEAR AN OBSTETRICIAN. They will intervene early because that is what they are trained to do.

So there I was, unexpectedly agreeing with this man that in order to try to avoid all complications I would try a waterbirth in a midwife-led unit. The whole idea just seemed so … uncontrolled and unpredictable.

I could never have imagined me agreeing to such a plan.

I was deeply suspicious that he might have played some kind of Jedi mind trick on me.

  • Perhaps he had reassured me that I could have a caesarean section just to relax me, to then sell me this idea of a waterbirth?
  • Did he have a sales quota on waterbirths?
  • Maybe shares in the company who made the bath?
  • Perhaps he had no intention of ever booking me in for a caesarean section?
  • Perhaps I should call his bluff and make sure it wasn’t just reverse psychology?

I could not help but concede that the ideal solution to my fears would be my baby emerging in a healthy condition whilst my body remained intact without any interference from anyone.

I tested the water, so to speak.

“Okay, if I agree to the waterbirth, I don’t want to be induced when I get to 10 days overdue.”

He smiled.

“No problem.”

He remained polite and cheerful.

“Would you prefer a planned caesarean section if you are overdue?”

Yes, I thought I would.

He whipped out the diary and wrote my name in, booking me in for my caesarean section at ten days after the due date.

And so, our unusual birth plan was agreed upon.

Plan A) A hippy waterbirth with no interference from obstetricians

Plan B) A planned caesarean section if anything deviated from the norm or if I were ten days overdue.

Fast forward to Birth Number One.

Day 1 – Thursday (Due Date minus 2)

Contractions started.

I painted my toenails in preparation.

I then had a sudden moment of madness and went to the beautician for a last minute leg and bikini line wax, realising that I may not have time to do this for months to come.

(N.B. IN CASE IT IS NOT OBVIOUS – I DO NOT RECOMMEND ANYONE EVER DO THIS)

My beautician does take satisfaction in inflicting pain. It makes her eyes light up.

Her eyes were truly sparkling that day as she observed that “everything was just soooo swollen down there” and that it was really going to hurt. She was right.

Given that under normal circumstances I am not an idiot, I am not entirely sure how I made the decision to spend an hour of pre-labour having hairs ripped mercilessly out of a part of my body being compressed by a tiny human being beginning its descent.

Nevertheless, I did make that decision and underwent one hour of torture followed by an evening of increasingly strong contractions.

I stayed up through the night, calmly pacing, deep breathing, and feeling quite proud of how well I was managing my labour.

Day 2 – Friday (Due Date minus 1)

Regular, painful contractions. Three every ten minutes according to the App on my phone.

Long-suffering husband and I made our way to the hospital exactly when the guidelines told us we should.

A midwife examined me.

Verdict: 2cm dilated.

“Oh yes, things have definitely started. You are 2 cm dilated. We don’t admit you to hospital until you are 4cm dilated so here is some codeine.

Go home, take the codeine, and come back tomorrow.”

We went home.

For twelve hours I paced slowly around the living room timing my contractions – still three every ten minutes.

I lay awake in the bath all night timing the contractions – still three every ten minutes. Long-suffering husband boiled kettles as I used up all our hot water.

Day 3 – Saturday (Due Date)

Back to the hospital in the morning.

Examined by a midwife.

Verdict – 3cm dilated.

The advice – here is some codeine, go home, come back in 24 hours.

Really?

24 hours of regular contractions had managed to produce nothing more impressive than a 1cm increase in the size of the opening in the middle of my cervix?

“Is there any chance you could just admit me now? I’ve been in labour for two days with no sleep, we must be nearly there. I am getting pretty tired.”

She smiled cheerfully at me.

“Actually, you are not in labour.”

I stared blankly at her.

I had been having regular contractions for 48 hours and there was a 3cm hole in the middle of my cervix.

How exactly was I not in labour?

I enquired. (Probably not very politely)

“Oh, everything up until 4cm dilated is called pre-labour. Active labour is from 4cm – 10cm.”

I was aware of this terminology from my obsessive reading but failed to see how it was in any way relevant.

“Yes,” I said through gritted teeth, “but it doesn’t actually FEEL any different, does it?”

She looked confused.

“The rest of my body doesn’t know if my cervix is 3 cm or 4 cm dilated. My uterus has been contracting for 48 hours and I would still like to stay in hospital to have this baby.”

She looked even more confused.

I clarified through gritted teeth.

“I. Don’t. WANT. To. Go. Home. Unless it is with a baby!”

Suddenly she understood where I was coming from.

“Oh no, you don’t want to stay here! Research has shown that Mums are far more comfortable labouring in their own homes than in the hospital.”

I sighed.

It is very difficult to explain your point of view when every two minutes you have to stop to deep breathe your way through a contraction.

Whoever these well-adjusted women were who were far more comfortable in their own homes, I was not one of them.

I wanted to be here, in the hospital, close to the experts.

I was convinced I might be doing something wrong and that perhaps I would miss something vital that I had failed to properly research. I wanted to stay there near the people who actually knew what they were doing.

I sat there, unmovingly.

The midwife took pity on me.

“Why don’t we keep you here until this afternoon. I will find you a room, you can have a membrane sweep if you want, and then we can re-examine you later and see if you have reached 4cm.”

YES.

I think I loved her.

Right up until the membrane sweep that is.

Now, for anyone who has not come across a membrane sweep, I will not enter into detail here lest I put you off.

You will not be surprised to learn that I had already read the (unconvincing) explanation of how this technique was supposed to work to bring on labour more quickly and the (poor quality) evidence supporting it, but by this point, I did not care.

I would have agreed to anything at all that stood the slightest chance of speeding things up.

One membrane sweep and six hours of pacing later (I was doing shuttle runs – I really wanted to make sure I was doing it properly), I was re-examined.

Verdict: 3 AND A HALF centimetres dilated.

I very nearly shouted in the midwife’s face…

“What the actual FUCK?? Your fingers do HALF CENTIMETRE sizes now? Three and a fucking HALF? Round up, you miserable woman, ROUND YOUR MEASUREMENT UP! How the fuck is that not FOUR? JUST ADMIT ME TO THE HOSPITAL!”

She smiled sympathetically at me and I knew what was coming.

“Here is some codeine…”

“Yes, yes, I know. Take the 24 hours’ worth of codeine with me and go home.”

We left, with me muttering darkly about how they must be REALLY short of beds.

Another night with no sleep, three contractions every ten minutes.

All. Night. Long.

By now I was so tired that I slept through a few hours of them on the sofa with a hot water bottle.

Day 4 – Sunday (Due Date Plus One)

I woke up on the sofa, unsurprised to discover that I was still having three contractions every ten minutes.

Convinced that I had the world’s slowest cervix, perhaps totally unresponsive to hormones, I decided it might be another week before I met my baby and started mooching about the house doing normal activities in between contractions.

Every now and again I would lean on a chair, deep breathe for a minute, and then carry on.

Long-suffering husband was watching me with a strange expression on his face – a mixture of exhaustion and curiousity.

“So…are they the same as yesterday, or any stronger?”

“What?”

“The contractions, are they any worse?”

I had lost the ability to make comparisons.

“I don’t know.”

He continued.

“Do you think you will have the baby today?”

“What? How am I supposed to know that?”

“Well….I technically can’t start my paternity leave until the baby is born. So if you are not going to have the baby today, I will have to go into work tomorrow morning.”

His observation was not particularly welcome.

I decided that it was not helping the situation so ignored it.

At 4pm nothing had changed.

I was still in pain and my 24 hour supply of codeine had run out.

I phoned the labour ward.

“Hi, I have been in every day. I am always in pre-labour and always get the “have some codeine and come back” advice. Can I please come in and pick up some more?”

Silence.

“Well….describe the pain to me.”

My patience was wearing thin but I tried to answer as honestly as possible.

“Constant pain in my lower back with regular contractions.”

She hesitated.

“That doesn’t sound like labour pain to me … so I wouldn’t be happy to just give you codeine. Maybe you are suffering from pubic symphysis discomfort.”

IT DIDN’T SOUND LIKE LABOUR PAIN TO HER?

I had been having contractions for four days, had been examined three times where the dilatation of my cervix had been 2 cm, then 3 cm, then 3.5 cm, and now 24 hours later, she thought my pain may be due to some other totally unrelated condition and NOT LABOUR?

“I suggest you come in and get assessed.”

We returned to the hospital.

By now I was pretty pissed off with whichever genius had designed the entrance to this hospital.

It is a WOMEN’S hospital, full of women in labour.

Who the FUCK designed the entrance so that the only way for cars to drive to the front door was over a succession of speed bumps?

A man, no doubt.

A man who has never and will never have to suffer the pain of driving for the FOURTH time over the collection of speed bumps whilst sitting on top of a head trying to (very slowly) force its way out of his vagina.

I screamed at long-suffering husband to slow down and to stop racing over the speed bumps, when I suspect he was driving at the speed of a snail.

I began pacing the waiting room.

After an eternity or two, a midwife took me into a bay and hooked me up to a monitoring machine to see if I were actually having contractions.

Her eyebrows shot up.

“Those are enormous contractions!” She proclaimed.

Long-suffering husband looked suddenly very interested.

She showed him how big to expect them to be on the graph. She assured him that mine were as big as they got and that I was definitely in labour.

He looked thrilled.

“Ooooh, look at that one, it’s enormous!”

I glared at him.

“I know.”

“Well it was hard to tell what was going on before. Now I can see it all.”

The midwife left for a moment and then my waters broke, flooding the assessment bay.

The midwife returned and examined me.

“Seven centimetres dilated,” she pronounced.

I was ecstatic, as was long-suffering husband.

He because he could message his colleagues and inform them that yes I was actually in labour and he would not be going in the morning.

Me, because I was FINALLY being admitted to hospital and would be going home with a baby.

The relief was overwhelming.

Something was actually happening. No more limbo.

We were admitted to a room where I paced for an hour until the room with the birth pool became available.

I then found myself floating around in an enormous tub like a giant whale.

It was INCREDIBLE.

It was by far the best pain relief of everything else I had tried, floating around gently in the warm water. There were twinkly fairy lights on the ceiling. No whalesong or chanting.

Long-suffering husband leapt into action, mopping my brow and feeding me an iced fruit smoothie through a straw like a pro.

Bliss.

We were assigned a very young midwife.

She showed me the chart where she had to write down the baby’s heart rate every so often and explained the protocol.

She asked if I would like to try some gas and air.

Why not?

10 minutes later I was floating around the water, as high as a kite, giggling.

I couldn’t even feel the contractions any more. In fact, they seemed to have faded into the background and almost disappeared altogether.

The midwife checked the baby’s heart rate – still completely normal.

She re-examined me and prounounced me FULLY DILATED.

I couldn’t believe it.

“Any minute now, your baby will float to the surface of the water.”

Alarm bells rang.

FLOAT TO THE SURFACE OF THE WATER?

I had read about waterbirths, watched videos of waterbirths, and had never come across the idea that the baby would simply “float” out of me.

I looked at the midwife more closely.

  • She really was very young.
  • How young, exactly?
  • How many babies could she possibly have delivered?
  • Was she in fact a student?
  • Did she actually know what she was doing, though?

I applied some willpower and had a few stern words with myself.

  • Do NOT ask this woman if she is sufficiently qualified.
  • Remember that she is following an evidence-based protocol written down on a piece of paper in front of her.
  • It is irrelevant how young she is or how many babies she has delivered.
  • If anything deviates from the norm on her protocol, she will call someone and all will be well.

An hour passed.

The midwife informed me that I could now try some gentle pushing. Nothing happened.

Perhaps I was superwoman. I was so in the zone that I was totally pain-free and the baby would just float out of me after all.

The baby’s heart rate was remained perfectly normal.

The protocol told her that if nothing had happened after two hours from being fully dilated, she should call an obstetrician who she duly called around 2am.

The obstetric registrar arrived and unceremoniously kicked me out of my swimming pool.

All of a sudden the bright lights were on, the music was off and I was shivering on an examination couch, dripping water all over the floor. The magical spell was most definitely broken.

She, looked at my chart, sighed and called the midwife over. She explained:

“She is not fully dilated at all. She is still 7 cm. The same as when she was admitted seven hours ago. She has failure to progress.”

Ah. Perhaps I was not superwoman after all.

Perhaps my contractions were pain-free not because of my incredible pain threshold, but because they had in fact stopped when I got into the very relaxing water.

The midwife looked embarrassed.

“I’m so sorry,” she said to me, “I made a mistake.”

She looked like she might cry.

I smiled reassuringly at her.

“These things happen,” I said.

I was most surprised to hear those words coming out of my mouth, but discovered that I really didn’t care. She was only human. These things do indeed happen, no harm had been done, and she was clearly mortified.

“What’s the plan?”

“We transfer you to the obstetric-lead ward and start a syntocinon drip to re-start the contractions.”

I felt very calm.

I had read all about this and had received a recommendation from an obstetrician friend in case this situation arose.

“The induced contractions are the really painful ones, aren’t they? If the baby is stable I would like an epidural before the drip.”

“Fine.”

I was actually a bit sad to leave my hippy water-dwelling with the twinkly fairy lights. I had enjoyed my time there… free from contractions, being pampered, and getting high on totally unnecessary gas and air.

It had been a significant improvement on the four days of pacing around the house like a caged animal.

I smiled and waved encouragingly at the despondant-looking midwife.

“A few more vaginal examinations to practice for me then,” she said forlornly on my way out.

“Don’t worry, you will be fine!” I said.

It didn’t seem in the slightest bit strange at the time to find myself offering words of encouragement to the young midwife.

The next step – the obstetric-led unit.

As I had originally envisaged I found myself surrounded by medical equipment and beeping monitors. It was just as soothing as the hippy water-room in its own way.

We were told that everything being monitored appeared completely normal so we should await an anaesthetist for my epidural.

An indeterminate amount of time later the anaesthetist arrived. She was very cheerful and appeared somewhere in the region of twelve years old.

“Hello!” she said, “I’m here to do your epidural.”

I had another stern word with myself.

  • Do NOT ask this woman how many epidurals she has done.
  • Do NOT ask her if she is sure she knows what she is doing.
  • Do NOT ask her if there is someone more senior nearby, supervising her.
  • She is going to be doing this epidural anyway so shut up and don’t put her off.

My talk to myself worked.

I managed to keep my mouth shut, smile, agree, sign the consent form without asking any awkward questions, and say nothing during her ministrations to my spine.

Her epidural worked beautifully.

Now pain-free, I slept peacefully until the morning despite the ferocious syntocin-induced contractions displayed on the monitor.

Day 5 – Monday (Due date plus 2)

9am

I awoke to find a crowd in my room – the Monday morning ward round.

I was re-examined and found to be still 7cm dilated despite good contractions.

A brief discussion followed.

Apparently my baby’s head had fully descended but could not get out because my cervix was stubbornly refusing to finish dilating.

The consultant advised a caesarean section that morning.

I signed the consent form.

As they were leaving the room I woke up enough to ask some questions:

  • “Is the baby okay?”

  • ”Does the monitoring show any sign of distress?”

  • “Is there any alternative to the plan for a caesarean section and what are the risks?”

One of the registrars stayed back to answer my questions. She started speaking when out of earshot of her boss.

“The baby seems fine. There are no signs of any distress at all. Yes, there is an alternative, you could continue waiting for your cervix to dilate and there is no risk to doing that at this stage. There is a risk to doing the caesarean section though. Because your baby’s is so low down, we are going to have to pull the baby back up again to get it out. There is a risk of damaging your baby’s neck by doing that. The decision of whether to do the C-section or wait is yours. The consultant is only advising the C-section because this has been going on for some time, not because there is any evidence of risk to the baby yet.”

Oh crap.

I wished I had never asked.

I looked at exhausted, long-suffering husband.

Whilst I had finally managed a few blissful hours of epidural-induced sleep, he had been sitting bolt upright in the straight-backed wooden, chair, starving.

“What should I do?”

I can’t actually remember what he said.

We decided to wait.

I heard the registrar go outside and tell the consultant that I didn’t want the caesarean section after all and that I would like to wait.

He was annoyed and said very loudly that if I didn’t want to take his advice I didn’t have to.

“Re-examine her in two hours’ time,” he proclaimed from outside the door. “If she is not fully dilated, do a caesarean section.”

I went back to sleep.

11 am

2 hours later I was re-examined.

Verdict: 9 centimeters dilated.

The registrar was quite excited at the progress. Contrary to the previous plan, she reassured me that there was still no sign at all of any distress from my baby and if I wanted to wait another two hours I could.

I went back to sleep.

1pm

2 hours later I was re-examined.

Verdict: fully dilated.

It was a minor miracle, but I was so tired I didn’t really care any more.

I asked what happened next.

“It’s best if we wait for two hours before you push.”

I went back to sleep.

3pm

The midwives woke me up.

It was time to push.

I couldn’t really feel anything thanks to the magical epidural and had to put my hands on my stomach to feel the contractions to know when to push.

The two midwives spent five minutes explaining that I would have to work hard at the pushing because I wouldn’t be able to feel much. They were very cheerful and chatty.

“Who painted your toenails?”

“What?”

It was the middle of the afternoon, the sun was shining brightly through the window, I had had about 8 hours sleep in the last five days, and I thought I was hallucinating.

“Your toenails. Your nail varnish looks nice. Who painted them?”

Silence.

“Did your husband do them for you?”

My husband with the aversion to feet? You must be joking.

“No. I painted them myself after my contractions started. It seemed important at the time.”

“Oh well… you will be absolutely fine then.”

Had I missed something?

“What?”

They nodded wisely at each other.

“If you managed to bend down and paint your own toenails then you will have no problem pushing out this baby.”

“Right, let’s wait for the next contraction. Here it comes. PUSH!”

I pushed obligingly.

They started having a discussion with long-suffering husband about my baby not having much hair and all three of them went to have a look at its head between my legs. Surreal.

“PUSH!”

I pushed for a second time and out he flew at 3.10pm.

Five days of waiting then two pushes and it was all over.

Surprised that I was seemingly no longer required, I picked up my camera from the bedside table and took some photos of this baby who was still attached to me.

It seemed the obvious thing to do at the time.

 

He was placed on my chest for some skin-to-skin time, weighed, admired, and we were left alone.

I slept.

Some time later I opened my eyes to find the consultant midwife standing next to me. Apparently he liked to follow-up on the women he had met with to discuss their experience.

  • He reminded me that my plan had been to go for a caesarean section immediately if anything abnormal happened.

Oh yes.

  • However after signing a consent form to do exactly that, I had then changed my mind and did not want the caesarean section.

Oh yes.

I couldn’t really remember why I had decided any of the things I had decided over the past five days to be honest.

I was too tired.

“So,” he said curiously, “overall, were you satisfied with the experience?”

Absolutely YES, I assured him.

  • Healthy Baby.
  • Healthy Mum.
  • Did anything else really matter?

He smiled and left.

To continue to Baby Number Two – The Accidental Home Birth, click on the link below:

The Accidental Home Birth

My Vagina Is A Rosebud

“My Vagina Is A Rosebud.”

I can still hear those words now, echoing round my head.

Four years have done nothing to dim the recollection of hearing that unearthly voice with its slow, deliberate pronunciation, booming out insistently over the sound of the motorway traffic, rendering my husband and I speechless.

“My….Vagina….Is…..A………ROSEBUD,”

the voice repeated, slowly and insistently.

It all started when I met up with a school friend during pregnancy number one.

I had recently started sharing my good news.

“Now, I know how cynical you are, but give this suggestion a chance,”

she said.

This friend is no passing acquaintance.

She is one of those friends you can call after a year, catch up on life and find it as easy to talk as if we were still sixteen years old and bored between lessons. She had her first baby earlier that year and was keen to pass on some wisdom on how to manage labour.

I was all ears.

“I am going to lend you a book. You will hate it, but I want you to read it anyway. All of it. And at least TRY not to judge. I think it will help you with labour.”

This was a strong recommendation indeed.

True, this friend is far more into the hippy things in life than I am, but she is extremely intelligent, well-read and knows her way around psychology.

I gave her my word.

I would read this mystery book, cover to cover, and do my best to combat whatever scorn she seemed certain it would provoke.

The book was duly handed over.

By this point I was curious to see what could merit such an introduction.

“HYPNOBIRTHING,”

the title announced.

I nearly choked.

Clocking her eyeballing me very closely and remembering my heartfelt promise of thirty seconds earlier that I would not judge, I tried to rearrange my scornful expression into something more open-minded.

“Anything that helps can only be a good thing, right?”

I tried for a chirpy tone.

She looked unconvinced.

The book duly travelled across the country back home with me. I sat down one weekend as promised and read it from cover to cover.

I don’t recall many of the details, although I do remember rolling my eyes guiltily as though my friend might be able to see me.

To give the book credit where it’s due, it introduced one useful concept that stayed with me. The idea that fear works against the process of labour and therefore in order to progress, it is wise to have strategies for staying calm.

That made sense to me physiologically.

The adrenaline of the fight or flight response would not help the contractions of my uterus, so I needed to make sure I did not feel scared.

I’m not sure that any of the methods suggested in the book sounded reassuring to me, but I did at least like the theory.

Having promised this knowledgeable friend that I would be open-minded, I enthusiastically seized upon the CD that was included with the book. I triumphantly waved it under long-suffering husband’s nose as we started a drive across the country to someone’s wedding.

“So, I know you will think this sounds ridiculous, but apparently listening to this CD is going to give me some helpful coping strategies for labour,”

I informed him as we set off.

“Mmmmm,”

he said, or something equally non-committal.

“So since you are going to be the birth partner, I thought we should listen to it together.”

I took his silence as his happy agreement that this was a fabulous idea.

We had already been to antenatal classes and learnt various relaxation techniques for labour.

He had listened as he was informed that I may scream, shout and swear at him, hurt him, and require feeding/watering/massage for many, many hours. He had assumed the practice positions to best provide effective massage as demonstrated by our instructor, and participated in group discussions  about our expectations.

He was a well-trained birth partner-to-be.

How bad could a hypnobirthing CD be?

I left it an hour or so into the journey and then turned off the radio. We waited expectantly in the eerie silence left by the absence of the loud music.

Eventually this odd, other-worldly voice started reciting things quietly but firmly.

I turned the volume up.

I confess I cannot remember the first few phrases she repeated. They did not leave quite the same impression.

(For the sake of accuracy in my story-telling, I did try to find this out. However the book has been long since returned, complete with CD, and a quick Google search did not readily reveal the transcript of said CD. I am afraid the other incantations may have to remain lost in the sands of time)

It didn’t take long until the creepy voice began reciting that unforgettable phrase.

“My….Vagina….Is…..A………ROSEBUD.”

Silence.

A looooong, awkward silence, other than the sounds of the traffic.

“My….Vagina….Is…..A………ROSEBUD.”

Long-suffering husband kept his eyes on the road ahead, his face remaining a mask.

I kept my eyes on the road also.

Neither of us said a word.

I was aware that he was waiting to see how I would react.

My husband and I were effectively involved in a game of chicken, each waiting for the other to cave and speak.

I KNEW with utter certainty that he wanted to laugh, but was trying to avoid the accusation of being unsupportive if I was taking it seriously.

I was doing my best to relax and give in to the power of suggestion.

I fervently wished I could imagine it being in any way useful to visualise my rosebud vagina.

I was literally clamping my mouth shut and willing myself to believe.

I was desperately earnest in my desire to benefit from my friend’s advice.

“My….Vagina….Is…..A………ROSEBUD….”

“When the time comes, my cervix will open gently, one petal at a time.”

I couldn’t take any more.

My vagina is a fricking WHAT?

 “My….Vagina….Is…..A………ROSEBUD.”

I lost it.

I shouted at it the CD, called it names, asked it what it was on, laughed at it, and finally admitted that with all the best intentions in the world, this CD was not going to help me.

Long-suffering husband finally dropped the poker face, laughed, and confessed to being monumentally relieved that there would be no chanting those words with me on the big day.

Apologies to anyone who has used that technique and found it effective – that particular visualisation was not for me.

I do confess that I DID feel very calm throughout three very different labours (two of them at home) and as a bonus, I discovered a magical phrase guaranteed to take the stress out of any situation.

Honestly, ANY situation.

“My vagina is a rosebud.”

Try it.

(And do let me know how you get on)

Killing Katy: The Birth of a Blog

The inner crazy will always find a way out.

She is always there… lurking under surface like lava bubbling underneath a quiet volcano.

No matter how many deep breaths, how many times you compose yourself and say something reasonable, no matter how sane and together you may appear on the outside, that inner screaming voice always threatens to break free.

As each maternity leave/period of sleep deprivation torture progresses I feel chunks of my self-control falling away. The sane, rested version of me fades away like a distant memory as I progress toward the inevitable day that the crazy escapes.

I’m getting used to it now.

Having been through this twice before, I realise the sleep-deprived me isn’t permanent.

Around the time the baby can eat/isn’t attached to me for 2-3 hourly feeds/has some alternative childcare/learns to sleep, the fog lifts and I am almost able to see the funny side.

The day I can skip gaily out of the house, ALONE, minus the children and their gear, I gain some perspective and my ability to be rational (mostly) returns.

I have friends who say they prefer sleep-deprived me because I am more entertaining.

I imagine they mean this in the same way that some people find it enjoyable to slow down on a motorway to have a good look at the wreckage of a crash on the other side.

Unfortunately for those who prefer me sane (i.e. long-suffering husband), over the last four years the only outcome of the fog lifting has been a return to full-time work followed by the swift discovery that I am once again pregnant.

Jovial remarks along the lines of “time for number 4 soon then, eh?” are met with a prompt “not a chance” from long-suffering husband, who is scared to stand too close to me just in case. He occasionally mutters darkly about making an appointment for a vasectomy.

I digress.

I intended to describe how the escape of my inner crazy led to the unfortunate demise of a member of staff at our leisure centre and the birth of this blog.

It was all because of 3-year-old Boy’s swimming lessons.

3-year-old Boy was enjoying his lovely village preschool and had taken a liking to a boy there called Jude.* They shared a mutual love of screaming, roaring, running and climbing. Happily they ended up in the same swimming lesson at the local leisure centre.

Ah, those 3-year-old swimming lessons were a joyous milestone well worth the long waiting list. The magical day where a swimming lesson involved simply handing over your child to an instructor and then sitting in a spectator area, fully clothed and absolved of all responsibility for half an hour.

This following years of Waterbabies/Puddleducks, persuading babies/toddlers in and out of the water in the depths of winter (when the LAST thing you wanted to do was submerge yourself to watch your little angel swim, but did so anyway because the other mothers seemed to care enough about their cherubs to do it week in, week out) and then spending ALL DAY rushing around with wet hair in the freezing cold (because who has time to wash their hair?).

(To be strictly honest on two points, firstly I no longer go underwater to watch Baby Girl swim. Instead I smile at the instructor and explain that I will watch from the surface as I have no time to wash my hair. One instructor did kindly suggest I purchase a swimming cap, a suggestion I continue to ignore. Second point of honesty – I only managed one Puddleducks lesson before running screaming and kicking back to Waterbabies. I digress again- that is another story for another day)

I started talking to Jude’s Mum at these swimming lessons.

In my head she will always be “Social Media Mum.”

She has one of the many jobs I had never heard of until maternity leave when I encountered all the momtrepreneurs- she is a “social media consultant.” I still don’t really understand it.

Social Media Mum had that funny, witty, AWAKE air about her of someone who has left the sleep-deprivation years far behind her and never looked back. She has a sparkle in her eye in as though she actually sees the world around her, as opposed to stumbling bleary-eyed through the day.

Most enviably she had the casual, relaxed attitude of someone whose youngest child is the same age as my eldest and therefore following the morning pre-school drop off, she is totally, utterly, deliciously FREE for the day.

Sometimes I fantasize about what this freedom might involve.

Dropping children off at Government-funded facilities and then casually walking away without dealing with any of the following:

  • A clingy/crying baby
  • A toddler attached to your leg/running away from you/refusing to walk
  • The guilty panicked pressure of how best to fit 100 hours’ worth of ambitious plans into a few stolen hours of freedom provided by childcare at the expense of:
    • an hourly rate and hence your meagre bank balance, or
    • the (waning) goodwill of your relatives

I daresay that Social Media Mum probably just drops her children off, goes to work, then picks them up again.

However, on the mornings I glimpse her walk casually away in her unfettered fashion, I prefer to think of her as gliding away to recline in a meadow, undisturbed, reading an interesting book and making witty observations. Perhaps she follows this up with a Prosecco lunch with interesting literary colleagues and a quick nap before picking up the kids.

I digress yet again.

As I began maternity leave number three last summer at around 36 weeks’ pregnant, Social Media Mum and her Tall Helpful Husband gradually came more and more to my aid with managing these swimming lessons.

It was a hot summer, even outside the sauna-like swimming pool changing rooms.

I would waddle in every Thursday evening, short of breath, dragging excitable 3-year-old Boy and then-1-old-Boy behind me. I would attempt to get elder son ready for his swimming lesson whilst chasing younger son around the changing rooms, where he liked to hide from me inside the lockers.

I would then collapse in the spectator’s chairs and pretend to watch my son’s lesson whilst soaking up the half hour of adult conversation with Social Media Mum.

Tall Helpful Husband would come to my aid when 1-year-old got bored of whatever electronic device I exhaustedly provided him with. At the end of the lesson he and Social Media Mum would form a practiced crack team, shepherding their two boys into the shower, out, into clothes and then off to football practice like an enviably well-oiled machine.

The fatter I got, the more they stepped in and basically did the same for my son.

When I confessed that my husband would NEVER be joining me at these swimming lessons as he worked late on Thursdays, Social Media Mum looked at me in wonder.

“However will you manage this with THREE?”

She asked in horror/wonderment.

How indeed.

I had not given it much thought but assumed it had been done before and would somehow be okay.

Fast forward two months and not much had actually changed.

I would huff and puff into the changing rooms, no longer due to being fat, but due to lugging a car seat containing Baby Girl. The two Boys would run away. I would put down the car seat and ignore Baby Girl whilst shouting instructions at two sets of deaf ears.

Cue the Social Media Mum and her Tall Helpful Husband duo.

They would assist and somehow all would be well, followed by a half an hour chat in the spectator area whilst they helped me look after the other two.

Social Media Mum would ask to hold Baby Girl and look at her admiringly, making all the right noises, cuddling her, telling me how beautiful she was…and then hand her back at the end of the lesson with a knowing look.

“Lovely to play with…but I do like to hand them back and get some sleep.”

Wise words from a wise woman.

It was a beautiful arrangement on my part and left me with the illusion that I was managing three children terribly well.

Then came that fateful Thursday.

It began well. I had a wonderful day planned.

A well-trusted babysitter was coming to look after Baby Girl and energetic one-year-old Boy for the morning so that I could go for an actual SWIM, alone, then go to the doctors for a child-free 6 week postnatal check.

Two hours away from children was unheard of.

I. COULD. NOT. WAIT.

I arrived at the Leisure Centre and decided to be extra efficient. I would renew my membership and pay for the next block of 3-year-old Boy’s swimming lessons on my way in. I think there were birds singing and I may actually have been humming to myself.

My daydream about how terribly well I was managing was rudely interrupted by words coming out of the receptionist’s mouth.

Something about me having missed the deadline to renew the swimming lessons, and something about my son having therefore LOST HIS PLACE IN HIS 4.30PM SWIMMING CLASS which had now been GIVEN TO SOMEONE ELSE.

I was vaguely aware of alarm bells going off in my head.

Lost his place in the class with his BEST FRIEND from preschool?

The friend with the parents who basically took care of my children and allowed me to believe I was coping?

Things became a bit of a blur as I finally gave up on trying to restrain the inner crazy.

She flew out in full, ferocious force.

There were tears – just a few at first.

Followed by deep wracking sobs with my head thrown dramatically down upon my arms on the desk.

Then possibly some shouting along the lines of “how could this possibly have been allowed to happen?”

The exact details of what happened next are very vague to me in hindsight, but I did manage to get myself to the GP, get through the 6 week postnatal check, demand the contraceptive pill to avoid ever feeling like this again, and found myself an hour or two later sitting calmly in a chair at the chemists, awaiting my prescription.

I decided to write a quick WhatsApp message to Social Media Mum, just to update her that we would no longer be at the same swimming lesson.

The message I sent her reads as follows:

07.50 this morning: kids all ready & eating breakfast, Baby Girl fed, feeling a bit smug at how well I am managing on so little sleep.

8am: Babysitter arrives, set off to have a swim before doctor’s appointment for 6 wk postnatal check. Singing at 3yo son on the way out the door about how we will go swimming later, with Babysitter cheerfully adding “yay, Jude* will be there!”

8.10: renewing my membership for the Leisure centre feeling virtuously healthy on this beautiful autumn day, chatting to Katy at reception

8.11: I notice a sign at reception saying we are on swimming week 2, which I mention to Katy is a but weird as we haven’t had a badge or a renewal slip, but I had better pay for 3yo’s lesson at the same time. Katy informs me cheerfully that I have missed the deadline, that 3yo has been removed from his lesson, and that his class is now full.

8.12: Head in hands, hearing this is terrible news, I start weeping. Childless Katy gives me a pitying look. Slightly patronisingly says “now there is no need to get upset…didyou not see the big Nemo signs about re-booking? He could fit into the 5pm class with the same instructor so that would be okay?”

8.13: I leap over the counter, grab Katy by the throat and scream at her “FFS you utter moron, of COURSE I saw the giant Nemo signs. I come here every f*cking week on my own with THREE children & the only way I get the boys to move down the corridor is to tell them to race to see who gets to Nemo first. You think I also have time to read what it says on the f*cking sign? And NO, the 5pm class is not okay. Do you not understand that Jude is not in the 5pm class and that Jude is his FAVOURITE person? And how do you think I will get three children home, fed dinner, bathed and in bed by 7 after a FIVE o clock lesson when I am alone because my husband finishes work at 9pm on Thursdays? Do you not understand that this is an ABSOLUTE F*CKING DISASTER? Don’t give me that patronising face, do you not think I can recognise a disaster of epic proportions when I see one? Incidentally there must be some way that this is your fault, not mine, why the F*ck don’t you send out renewal Emails like everyone else, FFS? YOU try going to my house and telling my child that he is no longer in the same swimming lesson as Jude*!”

8.15: I bludgeon smug childless Katy to death and go for a satisfying swim

9.10: GP appointment: “yes feeling fine, emotionally everything okay, no unexpected weeping or rage or cases of murder or anything.” Prescription for the pill obtained to prevent ever having to go through this again.

9.30: Sitting in Lloyds pharmacy waiting for prescription reflecting that I really am managing terribly well, & it is a shame 3yo has changed swimming lesson but I will just type a quick (totally sane) WhatsApp message to Jude’s Mum to let her know we have changed time.

#havingitall!

P.S. Katy still alive and well but otherwise mostly accurate account of events

After sending the message I felt suddenly much lighter, as though the weight of the world had fallen off my shoulders.

A problem shared is a problem halved and all. I carried on happily with my day.

As 5pm approached I felt a little uneasy. I didn’t actually know Social Media Mum very well, for all I had taken advantage of her generous assistance in controlling my children.

Perhaps I had been a LITTLE hasty in sharing the inner crazy contents of my head?

There was of course the chance she would have found my message amusing, or perhaps, she would actually be fearful for her life in case I were clinically insane.

I arrived in the changing room in time for our new later lesson, bumping into Social Media Mum. I gave her a brief smile and my best impression of a sane person.

Social Media Mum: “You know,” she said, “I’ve been thinking. I have an idea.”

Me: “Oh yes?”

(Oh God, what is she going to suggest. Counselling? Psychiatric institution? Staying further away from her and her children?)

She smiled.

Social Media Mum: “I loved that message about Katy.”

Me: “Really?”

Social Media Mum: “Yes.”

Pause.

“You know, you should really start a blog.”

*Names changed

Katy appears alive, well, and seems to be a perfectly pleasant human being.