The Happy Baby Project

A happy baby needs a happy mum


3 Comments

BURNOUT

burnout

So this morning, I’m in bed. reading Country Life, with the cat. Because we have moved to the country. But more on that later.

But this isn’t a smug post, it’s an honest one. I’m in bed, because I hit a wall in a massive way recently. Burn out. It wasn’t nice. But more on that later too.

For now, let me catch you up with where I am as it’s been a while. My last post was in 2017 and in November 2018, after 2 more miscarriages, I had my third child, who we’ll call The Baby. It was another dreadful birth. You may remember my first child got stuck (shoulder dystocia), my second child arrived prematurely after a massive haemorrage and after 4 painful miscarriages, but my third child was a planned c-section. Oh this will be so much more relaxed! We laughed.

On 13 November 2018, after The Baby was lifted out of my tummy, I lost 4 litres of blood in a massive obstetric haemorrage. Given you only have 5-6 litres of blood in your body, it was pretty terrifying and I thought that I would die. Of course I didn’t die, and there were amazing doctors there to pump 4 units of blood straight back into me, but at one point both me and my poor husband who had been dragged with The Baby to another room as I screamed I couldn’t breathe, thought I was going to die. I make this point because it’s important to remember that this is trauma, for your body and your brain. We were told shortly after this (when I’d been handed a premature baby to hold and to feed, as I tried to piece my broken body back into life again) that we should never have children again. No chance, we thought. So the trauma – all those losses, all that pain, all those awful births – is over.

The Baby is almost 1 and life is pretty great. We left London to buy a large house in East Devon near the beach, and we plan to build a cookery school and glamping centre here. We have three healthy children, a cat, and we just bought a puppy. As we walk along the beach, looking at the kids running in the waves it all feels great.

But then there’s this thing. It’s inside me and it feels heavy. When I’m alone or when I’m exhausted, I think about what happened to me and my body, and a feeling rises up in my chest and its so heavy and overwhelming, and it makes me cry until I push it back down again. I push it down again because I have to get on with life and life is busy and I have three kids. But it’s there and it feels like I’m holding back a dam sometimes and if I let it go it would burst with such force it would wash us all away.

And recently with the stress of looking after the kids and the puppy and moving to a new house and doing up the house and starting work again after maternity leave and trying to lose a bit of weight, I hit burn out. So how does that feel? A body completely devoid of energy and a mind empty of motivation. An inability to do anything – I mean literally unable to stack a dishwashwer or get up off the sofa. A desire just to curl up and sleep, all day long. A feeling of being empty, of crying with helplessness and exhaustion. A feeling of hitting rock bottom.

Trauma 

It is, I now believe, partly down to this unresolved trauma. I  believe most of us carry some form of trauma and most of our parents carry it too – trauma from childhood, trauma from infertility or terrible births or miscarriages, trauma from health problems or parental loss.

It is possible to carry this trauma around – I have. And you can cover it for a while – denial, getting on with things, or in other less healthy ways – alcohol or striving for validation through over-achieving, over-work and people pleasing. But it has to come out at some point or it will eat you alive. Literally – insomnia and auto-immune conditions and stress-related disease.

9781785042225

So how do you resolve this trauma? Well, there is CBT counselling, where you re-live the experience in the present tense (I’m lying on the bed and I can’t breathe and I think I’m going to die) but you add in the things you know now – that you didn’t die, that you were safe. And I can definitely see the benefits in that, but it involves time and investment and you would have to go to a very vulnerable place for a while.

So I guess the other way you resolve it is through talking about it, writing about it, releasing that dam little by little so it doesn’t feel so heavy. Realising what your triggers are and being conscious of when you feel waves of emotion that you didn’t really understand before. And that’s what I’m trying to do.

A stressful life 

Which leads me to other stress factors as a parent generally. I seem to be having more conversations, almost daily, with mums who are at their peak stress levels and wondering why its so hard and feeling like they are failing. And sometimes we question why it’s so hard for us because didn’t our parents do all this and not complain? But I think it IS harder for us, and here’s why.

First, we put massive pressure on ourselves as parents. I’m pretty sure my folks never read a single parenting book, but that’s probably because the parenting style at the time was a lot easier – to parent based on a certain level of detachment, fear and control. Children should be seen and not heard. Eat properly at the table. Kids should entertain themselves and be bored (ever spend days on end throwing a tennis ball up and down for entertainment?). We could run fairly wild then – I remember spending hours running round parks and back gardens with my neighbours’ kids from a fairly young age. Smack them if they are naughty (I wasn’t actually ever smacked. Well, once, for drawing on a newly-decorated nursery wall).

But now we’re all about perfect parenting. We have to cook healthy organic food, read about conscious parenting styles, be constantly empathetic and patient, spend time doing educational but fun games, and make sure they are doing extra curricular activities like swimming and scuba diving and frickin nuclear fusion club, and that’s after you’ve spent time reading every night and doing extensive homework. Sometimes it’s just too much pressure.

Secondly, we’ve lost our communities. If it once took a village to raise a child, it is now us, alone, in a crappy soft play centre in Brentford wondering what went wrong. We live far from our families, and our sisters, neighbours and friends don’t involve themselves with raising our kids anymore. It’s not their fault, we’re all just too busy. But we weren’t meant to do this alone.

Next, society adds others pressures on ourselves that we never used to, partly driven by social media. The pressure to be professionally successful and earn well, to “have it all” (ask me who the most stressed in our society is, and I will show you the part-time working mother). To entertain and have a full social life and great holidays. To have beautifully styled houses and gorgeous interiors. To look hot and slim and wrinkle-free with fabulous clothes and hair. If you are a perfectionist like me, it is impossible to keep up with it all and something has to give.

So what can you do about this? Well, this is what I’m working on and this is why I’ve written this starting blog post (which I’m writing in bed).

Ultimately, I need to lower my standards and work out what is actually important to me – so for example, I don’t need to look hot but I would like to be healthy and strong and fit for my kids. I don’t need to entertain my kids all the time, but I’d like to have special 1 on 1 time for at least 5 minutes with each of them every day.

I need to have more me-time and reconnect to who I was before I had kids – so I’m adding time each day for doing something just for me. Listening to a podcast with headphones on while the kids play or buying something frivolous and just for me like a wet suit. I’m planning days out with close girlfriends. And finding time in each month to pursue a hobby I already love – like yoga – and starting hobbies I’ve always wanted to do but never found the time – like painting and (don’t laugh) wild swimming.

Most of all, I’m realising sometimes I can’t keep face and say I can do things when I know it would lead to burn out if I pushed myself too far. And the most important thing is allowing myself to be vulnerable without being ashamed, and saying I can’t do it, and I need help.

Today is Day 1. 


As I said earlier, we have moved to East Devon and are planning to set up a cookery school/feast venue, but also one with a wellness side, hosting wellbeing events, talks and yoga. I will post details of this soon. I’m also planning (once I get my head above water!) to re-train in psychotherapy or life coaching. I’ll be documenting my journey in a separate blog and instagram page, which I will set up and also send details soon. Watch this space! 


4 Comments

Back to work – settling baby into childcare – week 1

So Mr S is almost 11 months and it’s time for me to go back to work, which has meant settling him into childcare.

And I have to be honest and say it is just about the hardest thing I have ever done. There have been tears – from me, from Schmoo, from The Chef. My first week at work involved 2 full, long days of childcare, where I know S didn’t sleep very well, was unsettled and confused and tearful. But my god, babies are resilient, adaptable little things, and I’m writing this feeling such an overwhelming surge of relief, just one week in, because I want to report (as support for other working mums out there) that he suddenly seems really, deliriously, happy.

After meeting nannies, visiting nurseries, and checking out childminders, we decided on a childminder at home with up to 6 other under 3s (with an assistant). This is because we liked the home setting – with a cot in a bedroom for S, lovely home-cooked meals and a familiar, home-from-home atmosphere. We also thought 4 or 5 other little buddies would be perfect for S as he’s a confident, sociable little boy who loves interacting with others, especially with elder children.

But you never know, do you. And last week I felt racked with misery and guilt, as he bawled with tears as I left him and did the same when I picked him up. Other mums and even the childminder said he’d stop as soon as I left, and I tried to hide my upset, but I couldn’t stop my own tears from falling. How could I do this to him? Was I RUINING him? He’d done so well so far, was it all going to gowrong? How could I be so selfish, picking my financial and professional life over this little boy, so so very little?

So I did what every guilt-ridden working mum would do. I googled “psychological effects on 1 year olds of childcare” and spent my next day off stuck to my iPhone, bursting into regular tears. I read studies – Norwegian, British and American – I even read studies of those studies. I read about increased levels of stress and cortisol, of insecure maternal attachments and increased aggression. To be honest, unless the studies had shown that children under 3 who entered childcare were positively affected in EVERY way, I would have found something to feel bad about. But there were mitigating factors of any downsides – positive family support that could ease any stress that unfamiliarity could cause, benefits of high quality childcare which I knew we’d carefully chosen, and the likelihood of increased sociability and cognitive development. So there was stuff we could do to help, and positives too.

The childminder was wonderful – reassuring, caring, texting me photos and updates, sending me his daily reports and being sympathetic to my worries. She also has the most incredible activity list and meal plans, and I think in my heart of hearts, while I was crippled by his tears at being left, I also knew one day soon he was likely to start loving being with the other little kids, doing finger puppets and hand paintings and reading stories. I just didn’t know if that day would be days, weeks or even months away.

So I thought about cortisol – about the stress that S might feel at being left in an unfamiliar environment after so long at home with mummy. And so, like the organised working mummy I am, and after reading every single blog post and forum I could find, I came up with the following Project Settle Baby In plan:

1. Lessen S’s stress by not being stressed or upset ourselves. Not doing too much on days at home or weekends, letting him sleep and relax. Not hugging him to death (too much). Being super positive about  this new situation to him.

2. Making drop offs short, affectionate, happy and sweet.

3. Talking to S regularly about “Auntie L” his childminder, walking him to her house to get him used to the journey, talking about what a nice time he would have there with her and his new friends.

4. Giving the childminder one of his favourite toys (sunglasses – go figure), and a bunny rabbit that I’d slept with for a week to cover in my scent. Adding that to his own sleeping bag and comforter in his cot for naps.

5. Asking the childminder for photos of her and his new buddies to keep at home to show him that they are part of our life now.

So after being utterly miserable for a week, when he seemed unsettled and upset and teary, we started this week positive and hopeful. And I don’t know if it was Project Settle In, or that babies are just incredibly adaptable and that they settle in quickly, or maybe he was just ill or teething or going through a developmental clingy phase last week, but today – only day 3 of full day childcare – things started brilliantly with the fact that apparently he only cried very briefly on drop-off, and then a friend of mine texted to say she’d seen him in the park with his new buddies looking happy, and then when The Chef picked S up, he was told he’d been laughing his head off, had been charming and sweet. The childminder has since said he was relaxed and chirpy all day, and that the other kids love him.

I cannot tell you how happy, how relieved I am. As another mum told me, babies can’t hide how they feel – if they are sad, you’d know about it. And my goodness what a happy baby boy I came home to today – laughing and cuddly and affectionate. My mum said this would make him love me even more and, having worried last week that he might hate me for deserting him, I actually think we both love our time together even more than we did before.

Obviously he might get tired and unsettled and ill again, and it might take him longer to deal with more days away from mummy, but I can now trust my initial instinct – which was that this is his new stage of development, and that he will love the new interaction and stimulation of organised games and buddies to play with. And looking at the childminder’s activity list – the trips and creativity and planned games, and I compare it to me at home, stacking the dishwasher and trudging round the park on a particularly unimaginative day, and I’m so excited to see how he develops and grows. On my day off, we will do our music class and then have a chilled out afternoon on the swings or in the park, our quality time in this brave new world.

But we shall see in the weeks ahead. Watch this space….