Obviously, there are a multitude of things that are just not the same after Vaginal Destruction Day, some quite surprising in fact. Like my new found hatred for fireworks. I used to really enjoy them before VDD; perhaps that’s because they only seemed to appear on one day a year. However, since having children, they seem to have exploded onto the scene from October until the New Year with their constant threat of waking sleeping children. Thank you wanky cheap imports.
Clock changes. Getting the extra hour in bed. Oh, it was heavenly. Now, it’s just utter torture knowing that your 6am, four year old alarm clock will now be jumping on your head at 5am.
However, there are eight major things that are just not the same for me anymore.
# 1. Makeup.
How the feck did I have time for shit like blusher? Get the black bags hidden. Do I look less like death? Yes. Fuck it, just get out the house.
Has the flow changed, or just the flow outlet? Who knows, but there’s carnage every 28 days.
#3. Body hair.
This is a conversation I had with my four year old daughter the other day:
4yo: What are you doing?
Me: I’m putting my deodorant on.
Me: Because when you’re a grown up, you need to use it to stop being so sweaty and smelly.
4yo: Does it make your hairs smell nicer?
Me: Did your Dad put you up to say that?
My underwear drawer is possibly the most depressing place on Earth. But, it’s sooooooo damned comfortable.
#5. My brain.
Who are you? What am I writing about? Have I eaten today? Shit, I think I’ve just wet myself.
I have a new found strength as a mother. I can wrestle an inhumanly strong toddler into his trousers, his high chair and his car seat. But only using my left arm. The baby bicep. You pick a hip and stick to it meaning that one arm constantly bears the weight until you have just one ridiculously strong arm which then comes into it’s own when overbearing the strength and will of an outraged child.
#7. Lie ins.
Fuck off end of British Summer Time.
I don’t know whether it’s just me, but I spend my life yearning for a wake up time that doesn’t begin with the number 6, but when I do get the chance of a lie in, I lay there awake. I just stare at the ceiling listening to the screams and mayhem from down stairs and can’t close my eyes. Either that or I’m writing a novel in my head.
I am fully aware of my unusually large big toe. However, it can always be made more beautiful with a splash of colour. Now my husband doesn’t know whether it’s my leg hair or toenails causing the lacerations to his lower body in bed. That, or we’re stuck together like velcro because of the sheer amount of body hair between us.
Funny really. They don’t seem to include this stuff in the ‘Prepare yourself for VDD’ Guidebooks.
My husband and I were brilliant communicators before we had children. I don’t just mean talking about mindless drivel over a pint or five. I mean discussing as in depth as was humanly possible about what our lives together would look like through every eventuality.
We discussed everything about making living together work, making the finances work, splitting up chores, making a marriage work, making everything fair. We even discussed what our divorce might look like. Just in case.
As if we were following some cliché storyline, we fell pregnant; then came the biggest discussions of all. We covered everything we could possibly think of on how we would make it work; what our expectations were of each other as parents, what our expectations of ourselves would be as parents. We meticulously picked apart our childhoods to take the good and dump the bad. We were ready. We were mildly smug about our readiness. We were communication connoisseurs. We couldn’t fail.
Baby arrived and our expert exchanges rapidly turned into the contents of baby’s first nappy. A hideous, sticky mess. It was shocking how quickly it deteriorated into utter chaos. You’re pre-warned about how it changes everything – that it equates to no sleep, no social life, no fun, blah blah blah. However, we just weren’t prepared for how it fundamentally changed us as people.
I suppose the most shocking transition was mine. Of course, there’s all the well documented topics about how sleep deprivation effects the brain but I don’t think my husband was ready for how it would strip me of being able to respond to simple questions, have an inability to think of more than one thing at a time and never being able to switch off. I felt shocked that his unbounded pot of patience that he once had for me and my quirks disappeared along with my sense of humour.
Once the mother switch had been flicked, I revelled in all its responsibility. Far more than I ever imagined possible. I secretly thought that I was the ONLY person that could possibly know how to do things perfectly for my baby. That I would be the better parent and I was best for baby. I had maternal instinct whereas my husband had to be taught baby telepathy – it doesn’t come naturally to men.
The downside to this was the anxiety in having all the responsibility and the resentment at my husband not knowing when I’d had enough and desperately wanting him to take over. I resented even more that he could flick his father switch off at will meaning that his body could fall into a deep sleep given the opportunity, or have a sense of humour again when he was eating lunch with his work mates. I resented the fact that my once high firing brain needed at least 30 seconds to make sense of the words being said to me before being able to incoherently ramble a sentence together. I resented the fact that his body didn’t lurch at the first sound of a whimper sending adrenaline firing through his body. I resented the fact that everyone else’s marriages seemed more brilliant than ever and children had truly completed them.
Everything my husband did irritated me. Why couldn’t he think ahead? Surely it’s not that hard to get the change bag ready before you start changing the baby? Surely it’s common sense not to shine the light of your smart phone into the baby’s face when it’s sleeping? Surely he can sleep perfectly still and not snore like a freight train waking me and the baby?
Everything I did irritated him. Why couldn’t I just answer a simple question? Why was I suddenly such a boring cow? Why did I have to make pointed remarks about everything he did with the kids? Why couldn’t I take a joke any more? Why couldn’t I get off his case?
We sleep-walked through the first year until baby started sleeping through. Slowly, as if by magic, the fog lifted and life started to feel normal. Friends had said that things would get easier and they did. Then I fell pregnant again. That’s the danger of getting things back on track.
Fast forward another two and a half years. Two and a half toughest years of our lives.
Predictable arguments about who is more tired. Who has had the hardest day. Who should be getting the biggest recognition. Whose turn it is to get up in the night. Whose turn it is for a lie in. Whose undermining who more. Who makes the biggest effort. Sex being completely off the table because quite frankly, how on earth could anyone find a women with body hair that resembles a 70’s German naturist with the personal hygiene of a vagrant sexy? How does a women that feels like a 70’s German naturist with the personal hygiene of a vagrant, and a brain that can’t stop thinking about the odd colour of child number two’s latest bowel movement (possibly with supporting rash) feel sexy?
At times it seemed like it would be so much easier to just throw in the towel. Kids require so much emotional energy. We were running on empty and these predictable arguments that were frustratingly textbook had taken us to the brink. Why? Because of what was underneath those arguments. What was hiding a lot deeper beneath the surface.
Fear. Fear of failing ourselves as parents. Fear of failing our children as parents. Fear of becoming just another divorce statistic.
We were forgetting who we were as people, both projecting ourselves onto our children. I became our daughter and he became our son. We were desperately trying to ward off any potential threat to their happiness, anything that could possibly make them feel like we felt during bad times as kids. We both came from ‘broken homes’ and were fighting invisible ghosts that had remained clung around our necks. The same ghosts that meant that we constantly, perilously tried to stay in control of everything, hence the dissecting, planning and perpetual need for an action plan for every eventuality. Needless to say, all that control didn’t help us at all.
When we were both stood on the cliff edge, facing the very possible future of creating yet another broken home, we asked for help. This in itself caused tension. The fear continuing to make fools of us. But it worked.
I would love to say that instead of staring down a precipice, we’re now bounding through the fields and meadows that lay before it. What I can say is that we’re a lot further from the edge and so much happier for it. There is always more work to be done but during those seven months of counselling, we both learnt a huge amount about ourselves as people – that we’re stronger and more capable than we give ourselves credit for. We learnt how important we were for each other when we found each other fifteen years ago and how important we are for each other still. We learnt how we weren’t failing our children and how we can be better parents, better people and better for each other – break free from the historical hangovers. We did the most difficult thing – we looked at ourselves in all our ugly glory and it was bloody hard, but the fog is lifting again. We’re clinging on.
We never knew that by bringing two new lives into the world, we would be creating four new people and we’re learning to love all of them equally and unconditionally.
I remember watching a parenting programme before having children about The Continuum Concept and thinking, “that looks like the best way to parent. I’ll do that. Because parenting is very easy and everyone I see all around me are doing it ALL wrong.”
When it comes to ‘attachment parenting’, ‘unconditional parenting’ or ‘gentle parenting’, the blogs and articles generally have a complement of photos depicting rainbows, love, happiness and clouds. No tears, no tantrums, just laughter and gleeful jollity. I don’t disagree with their content. I like the idea of being that kind of parent, especially if it means my child will grow up to be a confident, well balanced human being.
However, I would just like to throw a spanner in the works, if I may, and perhaps shed a bit of light as to what all the airy-fairy stuff means in real time because It all sounds very lovely in theory, but it has one major flaw…. in real life, you actually have actual children.
The fourth trimester (in attached parenting terms) means feed and feed and cuddle and cuddle as often as the baby wants. I think it makes total sense but what does this mean for you as a sleep deprived mother, grappling your way through the daylight hours with blood sugar levels at 73.8% chocolate and energy levels of a post-hypothermic slug?
# 1. Baby feels complete comfort when it is held. Translation: Baby likes to fall asleep whilst you’re stood up rocking from foot to foot. Not sitting down. That doesn’t work. Don’t fight it. The foot to foot rock isn’t completely effective unless you look like you’ve developed dementia, and carry a lifeless gaze. Don’t bother trying to sit right on the edge of the sofa either, with a view of getting baby asleep, and then sliding yourself back into a comfortable position. Baby knows that it is NOT standing up. Get back on your feet and recommence demented rocking. Immediately.
# 2. Baby can sense your energy. Translation: Despite being asleep, Baby knows the exact moment your very tired brain synapse receives the signal to fire up your thigh muscles into action and start the slowest descent onto the sofa of your life. Muscles you haven’t used in decades shudder. Exhaustion keeps you moving towards the sanctity of sitting. You’ll be allowed to almost make it, feeling the soft cushions brush the backs of your legs. Baby says no (see point #1). Accept it.
# 3. Baby likes to sleep on you. Translation: If the moon is in the sign of Scorpio and Venus is aligned with Uranus, Baby may allow a sitting down cuddle (possible after several hours of #1). It does come at a sacrifice – your head will be required to tilt at a unnatural angle to accommodate how the baby has fallen asleep in the crook of your neck. Don’t try and make yourself comfortable. Just accept you’re sitting down.
# 4. It’s ok to feed to sleep. Translation: Laying down can be the most comfortable way to feed when you’re close to collapse from demented foot rocking and repeated sofa squats. Baby will happily nurse until your nipple resembles a raisin. Once the suckling starts to decrease, as Baby falls into a deeper slumber, you can test the level of attachment by very gently rolling away. 97% of the time Baby will fire up suckling again like a tractor engine. Use this time to a) snooze, b) stare at a wall c) harbour bitter feelings towards your husband for being downstairs watching shit on telly and not being telepathic or caring enough to bring you more chocolate.
Once the roll away is successful and Baby releases your now prune-like nip, use the next 40 minutes to move very slowly off the bed, sliding onto the floor, tiptoeing to baby, holding your breath and attempting the cuddle lift, descent and release into the Moses basket/cot. Be sure to be moving at Matrix bullet time.
NB: If you ask a partner/husband to check on the baby, please specify that the light from his smartphone shone directly in Baby’s face will likely lead to GBH and a lengthy hospital stay.
# 5. Baby feels calmer when it is carried. Translation: Invest in a sling. Slings help. In theory you’ll have two free arms, although you’ll probably still support baby with one hand through fear of it dropping out the bottom. Plus there is the constant checking to make sure baby is still breathing as it’s slipped under your armpit due to your amateur sling knot tying capabilities. Baby is asleep. Leave it there.
Baby loves to sleep in the sling. When Baby falls asleep in a sling, it releases a laxative hormone so you immediately feel the urge to evacuate the packet of crisps, banana and 14 bars of Dairy Milk you consumed for your dinner 24 hours previously.
You’ll need to use your squatting skills developed whilst attempting to sit down (see # 2) thus starting the very slow, thigh shuddering descent onto the toilet seat. This obviously comes after the battle of undoing your trouser button from underneath the tripled-tied giant knot that secures Baby in place. Plus the awkward sideways lean to push your leg ware down far enough that you don’t piss all over yourself due to being unknowingly attached to the rim of the toilet seat. Beware of straining as tensing your stomach muscles to aid the evacuation will possible wake Baby. Remember, this is theoretically classed as sitting down so you’re on borrowed time.
Wiping proves the most difficult part of this task. Give up. The shower you’ll have next week will have to suffice for now. Don’t bother pulling your trousers back up – you can’t take the risk of bending forwards and causing a possible head loll out of sling which will inevitably wake Baby/break Baby’s neck. Just avoid answering the door or going near windows until Baby wakes.
Baby will sleep for an unusually long time if you find yourself inconveniently naked from the waist down.
Don’t let any of this put you off trying a more gentle parenting approach. It’s considerably less stressful than listening to a baby cry and in a blink of an eye, they’ll be four year olds, rejecting food because it was been served on the wrong colour plate, or won’t walk because of the lump in their sock.
Cherish the moments they don’t move and don’t answer back. Cherish the moments when the only thing they want is a nipple or a teat. Cherish every sicky, nappy exploding cuddle. Your unwashed hair and unwiped arse will be fine to wait another week.
Coming soon…An Idiot’s Guide to the Toddler Years.
Sleep deprivation is only a small part to your wife’s temporary insanity. In the first few months, you may witness a number of breakdowns, meltdowns and shut downs and realistically, the woman you knew may disappear and be replaced with a shuffling husk of a human female for around twelve months. Sometimes less. Sometimes more. She may also definitely will be suffering from decision fatigue, which will cause her to stare at you like a lobotomised corpse as she processes whether she actually does want another cup of tea.
My husband reckons I flashed a knife at him during a particular meltdown. I can’t remember this and in my defence I was probably just chopping some veg and just so happened to gesticulate the knife in his general direction whilst making a very important point. My husband and I are still together and thankfully he hasn’t got any major scarring. However, I thought I’d put together a few pointers to new Dads, to help give them a slight indication of what they’ve said which resulted in a bread knife being waved in front of their face and hopefully help keep them out of A&E.
#1. “I’m feeling knackered.” Even if your day included discovering a cure for cancer whilst simultaneously fighting off a pride of lions from attacking a primary school, never, NEVER disclose your tiredness to your lady. Your tiredness will never compare in her head and this will almost certainly lead to actual bodily harm. Give her a cuddle instead. But not a sex cuddle. Just a loving cuddle.
#2. “Just give it a bottle.” Suggesting a bottle will undermine all her efforts to be a perfect earth mother and make her feel like you don’t care about her or your baby and you might as well just move out, find another women with no stretch marks and breed with her instead. (Like I said…Just a little bit unhinged.) Perhaps you could look up positioning on t’internet (no, not that kind) to help her with her struggles to boob feed. Biological nurturing is a good place to start.
#3. “When did you last feed him?” Asking when the last feed took place will be implying that she isn’t doing her mothering duties properly and not taking proper care of her child which is a faux pas of the highest order. You may have been innocently information gathering to help find a solution to the grizzly nature of your newborn, but to your partner, you have just said she’s completely shit and the baby would be better off with a woman with a flat stomach and plucked eyebrows who regularly features her bakes on Pinterest. If the baby is a bit tired and grouchy, offer to take the baby out for five mins in the pushchair to give you both some breathing space. Don’t make it any more than five minutes otherwise she will call the police.
#4. “Where are the wipes? Do you have a nappy? Where is the cream?” This one is very dangerous and very likely to lead to bodily harm. Try and get everything you need to change the baby ready beforehand. Your wife will be peering over your shoulder picking fault in everything you do anyway but it’ll give her one less thing to harm you about. Extra note: If you have been tasked with packing the change bag for an outing, don’t shove an entire pack of nappies in as it leaves little room for the several changes of baby clothes, creams, potions, lotions, camera, snacks, wipes and several muslins that will also need to be packed.
#5. “Have you put the support pants on under that dress?” Not made up. Actually said by a friend’s husband. I’m not even sure he’s alive any more.
#6. “Any chance tonight?” Be careful what you wish for. It’s very possible that once your wife emerges from the hazy, zombie-like state, she will want another baby. If you notice she’s shaved her legs, this could be a warning sign. Previous to this, expect sex to merely be getting it over with as quickly as possibly whilst she lays there with her face pressed against the baby monitor ready to jump into action at the mere whisp of a fart from the next room.
#7. “Well you wanted kids.” You may as well have just signed your own death warrant. Allow your wife to complain about the tiredness, relentlessness and complete tedium. I know this is one of the hardest things for blokes to do but we don’t want a solution, we just want you to listen. Suggesting that she’s only got herself to blame for feeling and looking like a piece of rat shit is like cock blocking yourself. Think it but just keep it firmly locked within the confines of your skull.
It’s just a small guide for starters but hopefully will keep you out of hospital. Good luck chaps…you’re going to need it.
I didn’t conceive easily. I expected to after putting it off for years (there was always some event that required copious amounts of alcohol and I was scared of losing my identity whoever or whatever that was). After 12 months of trying, I decided to seek professional advice on why I wasn’t falling pregnant. Teenagers only have to walk over a used condom to conceive, why the fuck couldn’t I? And to make matters worse, every patient of mine, even the men, suddenly seemed heavily with child just to remind me of what I was failing to achieve.
The fertility tests showed that I had a hostile cervix and I was killing off my husband’s swimmers. Hostile cervix? Had I been smuggling an AK57 up there all this time without even knowing it? There was a way around this cervical hostility. A bicarbonate of soda douche thirty minutes before sex along with an ovulation machine which detected the actual moment the ovum jumped ship. Exactly the romantic conception I had in mind. However, it worked. The test said pregnant; I stared at it for an inaudibly long time, then crapped myself. Sadly though, 10 weeks later I miscarried. The thought of having to do it all again seemed too much and people saying to me, “well, at least you know you can get pregnant,” made me want to pull the AK57 out of my vagina and shoot everyone with it. Fortunately for mankind, I conceived again a few months later and I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Fourteen months later, on one of my husband and I’s first nights out, I got veh veh drunk and conceived my second, beautiful boy.
I had many fantasies about motherhood. I would often spend days wistfully nesting and dreaming about the next, wonderful chapter in my life. Blissfully unaware of the stark contrast between the unicorns and rainbows in my head and the reality. Here are just a few:
FANTASY: All being snuggled on the sofa together watching a film.
REALITY: Children wanting to be so close to me that they’re practically trying to climb back in the womb whilst scratching each other’s eyes out. That or fidgeting. Incessantly fidgeting. Continually and never endingly fidgeting.
FANTASY: A beautifully decorated playroom with toys carefully organised into boxes in which the children play happily together, singing songs and laughing, whilst I prepare an organic dinner.
REALITY: One child dry humping my leg in a monumental meltdown whilst the other one, insisting on ‘helping’, splashes skin meltingly hot food across the kitchen and tries to land everyone in A&E.
FANTASY: Being called Mummy.
REALITY: My new name being said at least 14 times per sentence making me want to perforate my own eardrums with a barbeque skewer. Within a week, only answering to my new name with an aggressive, “WHAT?” through gritted teeth as the frequency increases to 497 times per sentence. In a flash, muttering expletives under my breath as I hear my name being called in that voice the moment I leave the vicinity.
FANTASY: Fun with Mum classes and such like where I bond and laugh together, eternally cementing my amazing mother-child relationship.
REALITY: One child sat on my head whilst the other child is having a meltdown and unable to make it to the end of the drive because I’ve given her the wrong scarf. I’ve tried to undo my fatal error by exchanging wrong scarf with the correct scarf but I accidentally touched her hair when putting it on.
FANTASY: Organic, freshly prepared, home cooked meals.
REALITY: Beige food. Exactly the right shade of beige. Exactly the right shape of beige.
FANTASY: Getting the kids into bed in the morning for a big cuddle and lie in.
REALITY: Having your eyelids peeled back and small fingers rammed up your nose until you either get out of bed, blackout or suffer a major haemorrhage from your traumatised nose holes. That and having both kids scratching each other’s faces off trying to climb back inside the mother ship.
FANTASY: No telly.
REALITY: Telly on as much as possible just so I can attempt to wash my hair at least once a week and take a crap without a small hand trying to fish out the toilet treasure.
I think perhaps my hostile cervix was trying to tell me something.
This is a photo of my first ever feed. What do you see (apart from the carefully placed ‘x’ to preserve my daughter’s modesty)? A loving first moment between a new mother and her baby? Yet another lactivist exposing herself and wanting to show off how great she is?
This photo doesn’t make me feel good. It makes me cringe. Not because of my greasy hair, man arms or post baby belly. Because, knowing what I know now, it is no wonder I had the difficulties I did with breastfeeding.
Save The Children have brought out a document which promotes breastmilk as a superfood, specifically colostrum. Colostrum is bloody marvellous stuff. “The most potent immune system booster known to science”. Of course it is – it comes out of a woman (feminist hippy, get back in your cage!) They have estimated that 830,000 infant deaths could be avoided if they are breastfed in the first hour of life. No pressure then. (Remember, they’re mainly talking about impoverished countries.)
I fear that with the overstretched maternity wards, funding cuts and other genius decisions that our government continues to make, this will not help breastfeeding statistics. There will just be more women, like me in the above photo, left to their own devices, struggling and being left to feel like they’ve failed if it doesn’t work out.
So, I’d like to rectify the demons of this photo. There are three major issues that need addressing and you will see I have identified them by very cleverly numbering them one to three.
#1. Clearly unaware that the baby will go where I go, I decide to sit bolt upright like a Victorian school girl. There’s a pillow behind you, moron. Lay back and relax on it.
#2. Obviously building muscle tone is good practice for babies, but getting them to work out their external abdominal obliques whilst getting their first sip of super, immune boosting, universe saving boob juice is a bit excessive. And bloody uncomfortable. Turn her tummy in towards you and hold her close, for goodness sake.
#3. Again, the baby’s head is not fixed in space, only able to have a nipple inserted in one exact position. So why are you trying to post it in like an oversized envelope in a postbox? Hold baby close and help her reach up to the teat of tantalising goodness by supporting her feet and place her nose to nip nip. Then she can open her mouth, nice and wide, to gobble as much tit as possible. (I was going to attempt to script gobbling noises but perhaps that’s a step too far.)
So there you have it. That’s it. That’s all I needed to do to probably save myself from the weeks of agony from bleeding, cracked nipples that looked like they’d been attacked by squirrels.
Let me recap:
#1. Lay back and relax.
#2. Tummy to tummy and nose to nipple.
#3. Let the baby bob it’s head around manically to find the nipple itself.
If I could go back to the pre-motherhood, care-free, personally hygienic, shaven, alcohol-swilling, pooing-in-peace, me, I would probably say this. Go find your local breastfeeding support group before the belly alien arrives. Sit with Mums that are breastfeeding (studies suggest you’ll increase your chances of successfully breastfeeding if you’ve been in the company of lactating ladies within the previous 12 months). Talk to them about their experiences to aid in you in gaining more realistic expectations of infant feeding and bathe in the heady aromas of oxytocin. And whatever you do, when your abdomen dweller does arrive, don’t make them do stomach crunches with a 45 degree-angled neck.