The Bad Mum Files #1: Sleep

 

Anyone who knows me knows that Arthur is a crap sleeper. When he was tiny, far too early for sleeping more than a couple of hours at a stretch, people would (ludicrously) ask if he was a “good sleeper”. At first I would dissemble, but when he turned about nine months I gave up and just barked “No.” He isn’t, he never has been and he might never be, and the whole bloody thing is made worse by the fact we’ve just had to move him into his “Big Boy Bed”, a full-sized IKEA single since we’re too cheap to fork out for an adorable toddler bed. I swear he could vault out of that travel cot with the grace and ease of an Olympian pole-vaulter who nails it every time.

So, why am I a Bad Mum here? Oh boy, I do everything wrong. I never “sleep-trained” him. Well, I tried, but my understanding is that when you leave them to cry they’re supposed to slowly get less cross and eventually pass out. Not so our Arthur, who successfully ramps up to nuclear. The longest, absolute longest we managed was about forty minutes, by which point both of us were in tears at how cruel we’d been to our beloved only son, only to get him out of the cot and for his mood to change immediately to one of cooing adorable loveliness. It was the only time we tried it with any level of seriousness.

If bedtime isn’t working out then I have two excellent strategies which I’m sure all the books advocate in chapter one. They are:

a) Push him in the buggy, singing whatever songs he requests (last night was the theme tune to Thomas And Friends, on repeat. I had the lyrics open on my tablet.)

b) Give up and bring him downstairs.

I still breastfeed Arthur. This is a controversial topic; I’d decided at eighteen months I would start to cut down when he turned two, but honestly he shows no sign of ever wanting to stop at 22 months and shows considerable distress when I try to offer something else instead. To think I used to imagine I’d just give him a rusk at six months and that would be it. LOL. Anyway, I breastfeed him to sleep, or as near as possible, every night. I know, I’m a monster. But it works. Occasionally.

The whole thing is rarely improved by trips away, which we’ve done frequently since Arthur was born. We have a large, loving family who are mostly based in Lancashire and who we visit regularly, close family in London and we do like to go on holiday from time to time. I think after our recent sojourn to Norfolk where Arthur’s midnight antics reached fever pitch we’ll be staying put for a while, especially since it seems to have put in motion another flipping sleep regression.

Definitely the “worst” thing we do is the telly in bed thing. A normal night now is Artoo going to sleep somewhere between seven and eight and waking up 2-3 times for a feed. However, calming my whirling dervish down before bed is almost impossible without the soothing, lilting tones of Duggee and Peppa. Hey, we read books too. Usually. And on those rare, but still happening occasions when he just won’t bloody go to sleep, or when he wakes up in the middle of the night for a party, yes yes, we do stick the telly on so we can doze while he rots his brain/improves his vocabulary.

Whatever gets you through the night.

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The Bad Mum Files

I feel guilty all the time. It’s amazing, really. Before Arthur I felt guilty quite often; guilt about cancelling on a friend, staying in bed instead of going to church, not doing enough exercise, not reading improving books etc etc. When you have a child that feeling is intensified by an immense magnitude. Because you’re responsible for the kind of person they’re becoming. Will they grow up to be a sweet, thoughtful, loving individual with just the right amount of steel in them not to be walked all over, and a work ethic like Beyoncé? Or will they be a whiny little idiot with a sense of entitlement and an aversion to duty? It all rests on your shoulders, Mum. Or that’s what it feels like, at least.
These days the guilt is excruciating. I’m letting him watch too much telly. I don’t take him to see his relatives often enough. I don’t do painting or crafting with him. He doesn’t eat healthily enough. I haven’t stuck to a rigid routine. I legged out of that group early because he was kicking off and I just couldn’t face the stares. And on and on.


These days the guilt is excruciating. I’m letting him watch too much telly. I don’t take him to see his relatives often enough. I don’t do painting or crafting with him. He doesn’t eat healthily enough. I haven’t stuck to a rigid routine. I legged out of that group early because he was kicking off and I just couldn’t face the stares. And on and on.

However much I try to think that if I just love Arthur and model the right way, he’ll follow suit and be just as nice, clever and charming as me and his dad (ha), the guilt is a ceaseless tide. I have it over everything, and I bet you do too, even if it’s just a little bit. So I’m going to write a series of pieces about this sense of guilt, that feeling we’re doing something wrong, so that others can see that we all feel like this. I’ll end with something I often say when I meet a mum who’s struggling.

Whatever gets you through the day.

When Results Day Doesn’t Go To Plan

Written in collaboration with Sarah Nwanze, a Head of Sixth Form in the UK

Results day. Key Stage 5 students across the country will be chewing their nails and worrying. Will they get the grades? Will they get their first choice of uni, the one they’ve set their heart on? Will they get the right grades for their apprenticeship? It all hinges on those pesky results.

I’ve seen mistakes made during my career, and this year (since I’m out of the game for now) I’ve decided to put together a practical guide for parents, carers and friends whose young person doesn’t get what they want tomorrow; a teacher’s perspective. I hope it’s helpful.

Don’t minimise disappointing results
It happens every year. Some celebrity/CEO/idiot on social media says “Don’t worry, kids! I failed every exam I ever took and now I’m famous for my YouTube videos/CEO of Mega Corps/a successful musician!” We do it too, of course, to try and help students see a future beyond that bloody bit of paper. The thing is, 20+ years on it might not matter very much, but right now it matters a great deal. The path this young person had planned, dreamed of, yearned for is now blocked, or at least it seems that way right now. Having someone older showing off about how far they’ve come despite poor results isn’t helpful at all. It minimises how it feels to be disappointed, and it minimises their lifetime in education (not to mention the work of those in that sphere). Let’s be honest, the landscape looks very different now. You need qualifications for most career choices.

Don’t over-dramatise the situation
Repeat after me: this is not about you. Rubbing their nose in perceived failure is going to make a bad situation way, way worse. Make sure you double check how they’re feeling about it before you assume. If they’ve got three Bs instead of an A and two Bs, they might be OK with that, especially if they’ve got a place due to UCAS points. Don’t assume they’re devastated, don’t project. If they’ve got a set of grades that will get them somewhere, congratulate them even if it’s not exactly what they wanted.

Save your feelings for later
Yes, you are probably disappointed too. It must be awful a a parent/carer to watch your beloved one suffer failure; but whatever you do, don’t tell them that. Reassure them, tell them you love them, tell them you’re here for them whether they want to hear all that or not. Because they need to hear it. Then talk about it later with whoever you want to talk about it with, making sure those young, hurt ears are nowhere around first. I’ll say it again: this isn’t about you, it’s about them.

Plan!
What your young person needs now is an alternative. They might want to sit and mope about how hopeless everything is, but that isn’t going to help them move forward and decide on a course of action they feel happy with. In the first instance your young person’s school or college is the first port of call. On results day they should have a place to go to talk about what to do next if their results aren’t what they wanted. If it’s a university place they’re after, staff will be able to advise about clearing if first and second choice unis are no longer an option. However, if your YP doesn’t want to make the decision there and then, that’s fine, but beware the best places do fill up quickly. You’ll be able to do a quick Google and find everything you want to know about the clearing process. It might not be their first choice, but there are often some surprisingly good universities with space left on their courses. Sit down with a map so you can both see where the universities are, and make sure you read the course descriptor thoroughly. Don’t dismiss a course because it has a slightly different name; it might be the same thing.

Staff at your school might suggest re-marking scripts, which is all well and good, but your young person can’t wait for that result. This is (I’m afraid) often more about league tables and headline results rather than the individual, especially if there have been a lot of unexpected grades in a particular subject. The grades rarely move in my experience, but time marches on and your young person needs to find another place. Don’t try to sell them the idea that they’ve been hard done by and none of it is their fault. That way self-pity and inaction lie.

If your YP had another life option in mind other than further study which is now not open to them, again you need to seek advice and decide on the right next step. If they’re desperate to start earning for themselves there’s no reason why they couldn’t redo some courses whilst working alongside. Consider the different options and sleep on it before supporting their final decision.

Your YP might, of course, want to consider retaking all of their exams, even retaking the whole of Year 13. There’s a lot to discuss here, but most of all whether it’s actually a possibility at your sixth form. Check that before you go any further. Make a big pros and cons list, spend time on the decision the way you both did in choosing in the first place. In the case of Key Stage 5 students (A-Levels etc) is it more important to them to move on at the same time as their friends? To keep moving forward? Resitting when all of your friends have moved on can be harder than just choosing another university or job option, and it doesn’t always lead to improved results. Look at your particular set of circumstances before you decide. A degree/further training trumps A-Level or other KS5 results anyway; perhaps they’d be better just choosing a different institution and getting on with it. That said, a retake year can give a young person with dashed confidence another crack at the whip, which is a good thing. You know your young person best. Help them choose and support their choice.

If your young person’s results really are on the low side it might be worth considering a foundation year at a university instead of re-taking A-Levels or their equivalent.

Beware the unplanned gap year
In its place the gap year can be brilliant. However, taking one instead of following a lifelong goal of going to university just because the first choice is no longer an option is the opposite of brilliant. It’s wallowing and sulking, and it’s all too easy for one year to turn into ten. I’ve seen it in talented students before who have ended up drifting aimlessly and missing the boat entirely. Young people who watch their friends who chose different paths grow and thrive and move forward in life while they stagnate. Unless they have a job by the end of day one and have filled out their UCAS form for next year by the end of day two, be very suspicious. You may find your YP months from now still sitting on the sofa under a cloud of self-pity.

Don’t withhold promised treats
It makes me itch when I hear kids saying “My Grandma is giving me £50 for every A grade!” Um. Great. And if you don’t get any? That will make a sucky situation even worse, won’t it? If you’d planned to treat your young person to a holiday, an event, cold hard cash, a car… don’t make that contingent on their results. If you have, give it to them anyway. It will help them to see that their worth in your eyes has nothing to do with what grades they get.

You can’t fix it for them
Your beloved little one is an adult, at least in the eyes of the law. They have to do all the talking themselves; universities won’t let you do it for them. Be on hand, but realise that’s all you can do. It can be difficult, but it’s a good lesson for them.

Finally…
There are no guarantees of lifelong success. Not even for those twins on the news with the five A grades. Hard work and a positive attitude are more important attributes in life than results, and you can definitely help with both of those. Good luck, whatever happens, and remember: your young person needs you more than ever, no matter what they say.

19 Months Of Breastfeeding

I can’t really believe I’m writing this. Who would have thought we’d still be going after all these months?

Arthur. That’s who.

Some babies seem to naturally move away from milk as they eat more. They’re just less interested in it. Not mine. As he grows and gets more and more interested in life, exploring, language and generally growing his little self up, it seems more and more that Artoo needs me, my body, my boobs to help ground him and give him a little respite, a place of peace and quiet, to help him get to sleep. It’s a joy and a privilege to watch him tearing around, screaming and shrieking with joy when he finds something particularly exciting, chatting away to me and telling me everything he sees. I look at the little boy he’s becoming with his newly shorn hair and his little round face lit up with glee and mischief and for this month, at least, I am grateful that he still needs me and still wants to feed from me. I feel as though I have so few bits left of Baby Arthur, that tiny little newborn, and breastfeeding is one of them. Although it’s hard to reconcile that tiny little creature with the solid boy I lay across my lap now.

What are the others? The other baby things I’m clinging onto?

  1. Baby vests and sleepsuits. He looks adorable charging around in them and I’m just hoping against hope that they exist in 2-3 size, not least because I suspect he won’t be potty training for a while yet.

  2. Using the buggy in the parent facing option. I don’t do it every day, but it’s lovely sometimes to be able to chat to him properly as we’re on the move and to watch as his eyes close for a nap.

  3. The travel cot. He still sleeps in it every night, and since it’s really difficult to climb out of (believe me, he tries), I can’t see us changing that any time soon. I’m dreading him being able to escape his bed.

At 19 months there’s a lot going on for Arthur. Haircuts, moving house, soft play, learning how to share. He needs his comforter, and for now I’m just fine with that being me. He’ll pull away from me soon enough; I’ll keep him as my baby for as long as I can.

Dear Arthur, aged 18 months

Half way between one and two, and you’re brilliant. I could leave it there, only I’m scared of forgetting everything and not being able to tell you what you’re like. Obsessed with cars for starters. You love them and you can name lots of vehicles in your own Arthur-speak: car, digga, tacta, amunance, nee-naw, tayne, aberdane (this covers all aeronautical specimens). You shout them out, time and again, every time you see one, each sighting so exciting to you even in this city where cars are almost as plentiful as people. A car park is your idea of heaven, and when we took you to a motor museum in the Lakes you went bananas, running round and touching all the wheels on the classic cars. A sweet, bearded man followed us around with a rag to wipe off your little handprints.

Your moods are extreme. You can go from happy and carefree to complete meltdown stampy tantrum in a second, if the thing you’re trying to do doesn’t work, if I stop you from doing something dangerous, if I try to (God forbid) change your nappy or trim your nails. You’d be happy rolling around in your own muck with nails like Edward Scissor-Hands. It’s a little bit heartbreaking when you sob “all done” when you want us to stop tormenting you with care.
On the rare occasions when I’m not right near you, if I’m having a bath or a walk after your Dad’s come home and you’re in bed, a memory of you clamping your legs round my waist as I pick you up, kissing me unbidden or smiling at me will sneak into my head and I will grin and miss you. I miss you when you’re asleep, bottom sticking up in the air, hand clutching a car or teddy, but I’m glad you seem fonder of it now. It makes us both less grumpy.
I’m still breastfeeding you, although you eat much more now and would have Weetabix for every meal if you could. Oh, I’m sure some people think I’m mad, but on a good day that lovely cuddle and stillness is still wonderful. I gaze at you, trying to commit everything to memory. You want more if you’re feeling overwhelmed, or we’re in a new place or situation. These days you run your little toy car across my chest as you drink.

You’ve been walking for ages now, 7 months, so you’re pretty good at it. We go for walks in the park with your reins, you trot beside me and point out anything interesting. I’d take them off only I’m pretty sure you’d do a runner. The new daredevil climbing is interesting too. I can leave a room for thirty seconds, come back and find you standing on an item of furniture, trying to get the pictures off the walls. You think it’s hilarious; I think it’s terrifying.

You know everyone’s name in the family now, chanting them as you look at photos. Amma, Pa-pa, Nana, Dad-dad, Auntie, Uncle. You’re getting the hang of your cousins’ names too. Mummy, which was a distant dream when you turned one and would only say Daddy, is your favourite word to shout when you’re happy, sad, or need food. Which covers everything, really.

My current favourite of your words and phrases took me a while to work out. You’ve been picking up the phone and saying “Allo!” for a few weeks, but recently you’ve started addressing things, insects, people and greeting them with “Allo, cee-cee.” I realised recently it’s your version of “Hello, sweetie”, something I say to you. You’ve been calling the ants and woodlice in the garden sweetie.

We’ll be moving house soon. A new chapter for our little family, new friends, new streets. A big upheaval in any life, but when you’re only 18 months old it’s an even bigger challenge. I can’t wait. You make everything more fun.

I love you.

Mummy.

Dear Mary

This is the unedited picture of me moments after giving birth by emergency c-section. Tiny Arthur was finally out.

I wasn’t one of those women who got to experience labour pains. I’d been called in for an induction which never happened. The evening of my admission to Wigan’s Albert and Edward Infirmary they monitored Arthur and his heart rate was insane. Up and down as if I was in labour; only I wasn’t.
Moments later someone arrived to take me to the delivery suite. I made the poor girl go back and check. After all, I wasn’t in labour. What I didn’t know was that at that moment the emergency team were prepping in case they were needed. I was wheeled off, hyperventilating and terrified something was wrong.

In the delivery suite I met Mary. Strong, smiling and the most calming presence I have ever come across. I focused on her, begging her to get my husband as the surgeon took the decision to operate and the delivery room suddenly went mad with activity. Will had already gone home for the night because this wasn’t supposed to happen.
She calmed me, held my hand, called Will and reassured me he was on his way. I was in shock, crying and apologising to anyone who would listen, and still Mary soothed me. It was all about me as far as she was concerned.

All the way through it she was there. Just before I had my spinal she told me Will had arrived, and even when he came into the room and held my hand as they got Arthur out Mary was still reassuring us. When he was born it was Mary who showed me my baby and asked his name, who weighed Arthur, with Will by her side. It was Mary who stayed with us in the post-op room, encouraging Arthur to breastfeed. She did it so well that we’re still doing it nearly 18 months on.

Mary even sent us a congratulations card. I can’t tell you how I felt when I received it. I’m hoping to take Arthur to see her one of these days.

When this campaign happened last year I wasn’t ready to write this story. It was still too raw. Pampers are donating £1 to the Benevolent Fund for the College of Midwives for every story like this where a parent says #thankyoumidwife.

Mary, you were amazing.

#midwife #internationaldayofthemidwife

Toddler Travels

It feels like an age since I wrote my travel post last June. It IS an age. Mountains have risen and fallen, stars have been born and died, and somehow Arthur has turned from a baby into a toddler, much as I hate to admit it.

 

This holiday has been slightly easier in the sense that we’ve come to my family’s caravan in the Lakes. We spent the first week in a lovely holiday place with extended family, which was great fun and awesome for Arthur thanks to all the attention he got. I’m going to talk about our second week at the caravan since that’s probably more true to most people’s holiday experiences, with no willing babysitters! It’s a place I’ve known and loved for fifteen years, and even though it requires a little jiggery pokery in the second bedroom to fit Arthur’s cot in, we make it work. There’s so much I love about coming up here, but honestly the sense of peace and oneness with the landscape is the best bit.. The “van” is on a working farm, with sheep, rabbits and cows dotted around and the work of the farm continuing around us. The view from the living room window is straight out over the fells to the best sunsets in the world, and I love nothing better than watching it dip behind the landscape with a glass of wine or beer. It’s different every time; sometimes gentle pastels, sometimes a blaze of riotous colour. If you’re lucky and it’s a clear night the sunset will give way to an inky black sky that will eventually put on the galaxy’s best light show; aka the Milky Way. But enough about the location; it’s time to talk about what we’ve done right and wrong so you can learn from our mistakes.

 

Let’s start with the bad news, shall we?

 

  1. Overpacking. Yep, despite the fact that toddlers really do need lots of crap, they really don’t need that much crap, especially when they’re in a new and exciting place. I also didn’t need this many clothes, even for two weeks. There’s a launderette near where we’re staying and it’s very easy to drop off our clothes and get them all nicely washed and folded for us. We could have done this holiday on a lot less. Our biggest issue on the way back will be TOYS. We’ve got enough toys and books for Arthur to open his own shop, most of which have been, ahem, picked up thanks to extremely generous relatives since we’ve been here.
  2. Sleeping arrangements: I don’t think we’d really got this organised properly before bedtime on the first night, which meant it was all a bit of a disaster. Lots of howling and a good old-fashioned three hour wake-up, which meant the whole family was in a complete grump the next day. We needed to rearrange all the furniture in the room to make it work, and it would have been much better if instead of trying to stick rigidly to bedtime we’d let Arthur explore his surroundings and enjoy the excitement. He simply wasn’t ready to go to bed, and forcing the issue made things worse. Lesson learned.
  3. Baby-proofing. Last time we came to the van Arthur was crawling and cruising all over the place, but his first steps were still a month or so away. We could build soft-play cushion forts and not worry about him. This time he’s opened every cupboard about 50 times, tried to climb up the shelves in the kitchen, pulled the fireguard down, learnt how to open the flipping doors, hidden one of his shoes in the fridge and on and on. Worst moment so far was when he opened the front door to the caravan and fell out onto the stone steps. Only my husband’s cricket reflexes stopped him from falling head first and hurting himself; as it was he just had a shock. The doors are well and truly locked as routine now, and the next time we come we’ll do a quick scout round to make sure everything is Arthur-proofed, which is a level up from normal baby-proofing, alas.
  4. We didn’t download any of Arthur’s favourite CBeebies buddies. ERROR.

 

The good stuff!

 

  1. Frankly, coming somewhere we know like the backs of our hands. No stress, no drama, just somewhere we adore. We don’t have to worry about finding out where to go or what to do (although we have researched local soft play places), we can just concentrate on enjoying it and taking each day as it comes.
  2. Baby waterproof clothing. The Lake District in April = wet.
  3. Being baby led. Sounds obvious, but we’ve worked out a way to get the most out of the holiday whilst making sure Arthur has a good nap each day that isn’t affected by travelling around too much. We get up early (as if we could do anything else), go and do something very local like a walk round the local park, a visit to the swings or a mooch round the shops. We head back to the van for lunch (making this a cheap holiday too), and then do something in the afternoon depending on what the weather’s like. It’s an incredibly chilled out way to do it, and it means we’re still getting to do plenty of stuff and feel like we’ve had some lovely time together. Figure out what will work around your own tiny tyrant’s needs and just do that; forcing whole day hikes or bike rides on an overtired baby is a bad idea. Well, I think so anyway.

 

Hope this helps if you’re planning a Spring/Summer holiday with a toddler or two!

Sixteen Months Of Breastfeeding

This month has been harder. I’m flagging. We’ve had a massive, lengthy sickness bug during which Arthur was even refusing breast milk. That meant having to pump, which is my nemesis. We’ve gone from that to making up for lost time;pulling at my top, saying “Boob! Boob!”, tantruming if his needs aren’t immediately met. He’s even been attempting to latch onto my arm if I don’t comply straight away, or trying to pull my top down to get at them. The night feeds have gone back up, too. Less sleep again when I wasn’t getting a whole lot in the first place. Combine this with the hormonal changes from this up-and-down feeding and I’m feeling pretty tired and a bit low.

I’ve been getting a little more anxious about feeding in public, too. I don’t often have to nowadays, but there are times when it’s unavoidable. I was at a Christening as Godmother, and you can’t have someone shrieking “BOOOOOB” at the top of their lungs in church. So out they came, as soon as he started the top-tugging. Nobody minded, and as it happened the vicar was just at that moment extolling the virtues of motherhood. So I felt free to feed and be relaxed. Most of the time, though, you can’t help worrying what people think. Even a confident extrovert has limits; and I am British.

So why the heck am I still doing it? If you’d told me after month 1 that we’d still be doing this now, I’d have been horrified. I thought it would be six months and done.

Well, there are the WHO guidelines. There’s the convenience of knowing I have a nutritious snack for him whenever I need one. There’s the knowledge that it comforts him like nothing else can; I’ve noticed that in new environments he’s seeking me out for reassurance. There’s the fact that we’re on the milk weaning ladder and I might soon be able to offer him cow’s milk, so trying for formula now seems a little silly. Mostly though it’s the roar in the middle of the night. How the hell will I say no to that? How will I fight that instinct? There are still so many lovely moments still going on even though it’s hard and I’m not ready to stop yet. Someday soon he’ll be able to understand that it’s time to dial it back and eventually move on but right now he still feels very much a baby who needs his mum. Boobs and all.

A Tale Of Two Mothers

I want to tell you a story of something that happened to me the other day, on International Women’s Day.

I had to go to the Doctor’s with my son. It was for something and nothing, but as we were in the waiting room and Arthur was charging up and down another mum arrived with a huge double buggy. Arthur immediately went to say hello and inspect the buggy wheels, and I struck up a conversation with the woman.

She was Polish, I think, and had one little boy sat squirming on her lap. She indicated the buggy to point out her adorable three-month-old. Arthur, who had been causing trouble, was sat on my hip by this time and listening in.

“Your first?” Asked the mother with a smile. It’s a question I hate, but I smiled back and answered yes. “Ah, you will not be so worried about germs and dirt when you have two more! And next time you will have girl!” she laughed. I tried to smile and not to be too sad that she had mentioned that girl-baby that I know will never be. The one that has a name; two actually, as my husband calls her something different. I swerved and asked her if she had three children.

“Four!” she replied, brightly. “My oldest are 16 and 12, he is two and also the baby.”

“That’s wonderful,” I reply, meaning it with all my heart. All that love, all that homework, all those lives. Lovely. But I could feel it. My own story always demands to be told, no matter how much I suppress it, and I could feel it bubbling up now, as it always does. This woman, glowing with the pride of her brood, with eyes that were bright with love and exhaustion, was looking at me. It was my turn. I swallowed.

“I don’t think we can have another,” I said. “We tried for years and Arthur was conceived by IVF.”

I watched as those eyes widened in horror as she said “Oh, but you must! Just imagine if when he is older something happen to him” (here she made a noise and a sign against the evil eye) “what then? He need brothers and sisters!”

I had nothing. All I could do was clutch Arthur tightly to me and close my eyes for a minute. He was there, it was done, there was nothing to worry about. This sweet woman could have no way of knowing that she had just been the voice in my head at 3am, when I’m feeling most anxious and vulnerable. She didn’t know that. I tried again, weakly.

“ I can’t have another.”

There was a pause. “Well, perhaps not yet, heh?” smiled the woman kindly. At this point, thankfully, the health visitor came out to welcome her and I was alone with Arthur.

Later that day we ventured to the shops. I was still feeling pretty bruised after my encounter; despite the fact that we decided almost as soon as Arthur was born that we couldn’t go through IVF and HG again, it’s not a decision that rests there. I’ve been feeling it a little lately. We wandered into the local shop. I didn’t really need anything, we just needed to get out of the house. I was standing contemplating the baby shampoo when I heard a strong South East London accent say “Aw, he’s smiling and waving at me! Innee lovely! Look at those eyes!” I looked up to see a woman in her 70s smiling at Arthur. She asked me the usual questions; age, name, and then, with an urgency I recognised, she said “I couldn’t have ’em. Well, I had four but I lost ’em all. They said it was my womb couldn’t hold ’em in.” There was a beat while we looked at each other and I let that sad story, told so simply, sink in. “I’m so, so sorry,” I said. “We tried for four years and had to have IVF, so I understand a tiny bit of what you must have gone through.”

Her face lit up “And he’s here now!” She said, looking fondly at Arthur, reaching out a hand to him. “He’s here,” I said, realising how much that mattered. Here we both were in a corner shop in London, me and the baby who might never have been; who should never have been if it wasn’t for medical science and years and years of research. The mother with no children looked at him fondly again and said “And I bet you all make such a fuss of him!” Here she looked at me very seriously. “You do make a fuss of him, don’t you?”

“Yes,” I assured her. “He is very much loved.”

“Good,” she said, looking me straight in the eye. “I’m glad you had him, in the end.”

“Me, too,” I said, blinking back tears. “Oh, me, too.”

I saw her again the next day, telling her story to another woman with a pram. I thought how she must do this every day, so that someone else knows about her babies and knows they were real, that she carried them and carries them still. It did me good to meet both of those mothers; the lucky one with four children living and the one whose four children never were. We all have a story to tell, we all carry it with us. The miscarriages, stillbirths, the years lost to trying to conceive, or the years of childbearing and child-rearing and giving up ourselves for the children we love. None of it is easy, but I bet that if I asked either of those women they’d tell me they didn’t regret a day.

And neither do I.

To all the mothers and aunties of every stripe; Happy Mother’s Day.

Fifteen Months

(Please note that as ever I am only talking about my own experience. All mothers should do what they need to and what is right for them without reference to anyone else).

Today I’m marking 15 months since Arthur burst into our lives. Along with that is the milestone of another month of breastfeeding.

In one sense I’m amazed we’ve kept going this long. I look back at the pregnant me who was convinced I’d just breastfeed until six months and then miraculously Arthur would start eating well and drinking from a bottle, just like that, and I can’t believe how daft I was. It’s all been so much more complicated than that, what with allergies, bottle refusal and the fact he wouldn’t even have water from a cup until he was 13 months.

Even so, the strange thing is that most of the time I really enjoy breastfeeding. There’s so much written now about how painful and difficult it can be, and certainly we experienced a little of that during the early days. I never expected to like it.

The most difficult aspect of our breastfeeding “journey” has always been the fact that nobody else can help. It’s still a struggle, especially at night. When you’re on the third feed of the night and your back aches, your head aches, you can’t reach your water and your partner is snoring away blissfully whilst you inwardly curse them, breastfeeding is less than fun. Arthur’s sleep is something I wrote about in my previous post, and the one thing that will reliably calm him is boob, but it is tough.

Despite all of this I still want to continue. The day feeds are now a lovely point of stillness and repose, a chance for us to cuddle in days full of toys, learning, new words and zooming around everywhere. He’s started to feed more during the day, and I wonder if this is a way of getting some reassurance now that his little world is getting bigger all the time. When he had a tummy bug a couple of weeks ago I’m not sure what we would have done without breastfeeding as it was the only sustenance that passed his lips. I find it hard to imagine how I’ll parent without it.

So, how long will I keep going? Hard to say. Certainly to 18 months, probably beyond that. It’s not always easy, but it is always worth it.