Guest Post: Pregnancy and Parenting as an Older Mum

This guest post is from the lovely Lisa Farrell who you can follow on Twitter here. She has previously written a post on DorkyMum about her daughter’s imaginary friend Polla, but this honest and moving post is about her journey to motherhood.

My 4 year old daughter, my youngest, starts school this September. I have, in the last few weeks, put in her application for the local infant school where her brother went. She will be very happy there and she is DESPERATE to go. I, however, am finding this year a bit too emotional. She is my last baby and she is growing up so quickly I can barely believe it.
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Things they don’t tell you… Part 1

I’ve just found an old Note that I wrote on Facebook (remember Notes?!) from when DorkySon was three months old. It’s called “Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting: What They Didn’t Tell Me”. It made me smile, laugh, and even cry a little to look back on how I was dealing with being a new parent, almost two years ago, so I’ve decided to post it here too.

Later this week, I’ll post an updated version – Parenting A Toddler: What They Didn’t Tell Me – but in the meantime…

It has been a funny old year. I’ve gone from feeling barely able to look after myself, to knowing that I have to look after myself because I’m growing a little bean inside me, to that little bean turning into DorkySon… and having to look after him every day.

Right now it feels pretty awesome. He’s a wonderful mellow little guy, and it’s great fun getting to know him and watching him grow up. But so often in the last 12 months I’ve wished that I’d been warned about how hard it can be – pregnancy is hard, birth is hard, and parenting is hard.

All along the way I kept having moments where I thought gosh, I wish someone had told me such-and-such. So even if this note serves no purpose other than to remind myself of those moments should I ever find myself in the same position again, here they are…

Pregnancy

Right about the time you feel you should be giving your growing baby the biggest intake of nutrients – the first twelve weeks – will be the time you are unable to stomach anything except cans of Schweppes Bitter Lemon and fizzy Haribo sweets. This will be your first experience of maternal guilt.

Really, really savour those long baths you take during your pregnancy. You won’t get another for the next 18 years.

Just because you have no stretch marks at 38 weeks doesn’t mean you will have no stretch marks at 42 weeks. No amount of cocoa butter or Bio-Oil will undo this.

Birth

Your birth provides a good lesson that you should bear in mind as a parent… whatever plan you have in mind for how the day will go will most likely be shot to pieces.

Gas and air is awesome. I’m amazed you can get it on the NHS. Perhaps the fact that it only comes in a whopping great canister brings the street value down somewhat.

Your baby’s weight isn’t the only indicator of how easy/difficult your birth will be. Length and head size are also pretty important. Who knew?!

Doctors, nurses and midwives are just like the rest of us. Some of them enter the caring profession because they care. Others just need to pay the mortgage.

No matter how uncomfortable you feel, or how long you have been in labour, don’t be rude to the anaesthetist. He’s the man who’s going to stick a needle into your spine. Saying that you hope he didn’t come bottom of his class at med school probably isn’t helpful.

You don’t need to spend too much time filling out the little menu card they give you every night in hospital. It doesn’t much matter if you order cottage pie or lasagna – it’ll be the same strange mush that appears on your plate whichever you choose, and there won’t be enough of it to keep you feeling full for longer than half an hour.

Buy one of those doughnut shaped pillows to sit on for the first few days/weeks/months post-birth. And don’t be embarrassed about it.

The little red button beside the shower in the hospital bathroom is not just a Call Midwife button, it’s an Emergency button. So don’t press it when all you’ve done is forgotten your towel, unless you’re prepared for half a dozen people to break down the bathroom door and see you standing there shivering and starkers… and then get very angry because you’ve brought them running for something less than an ’emergency’. Ho hum.

(Note to NHS Lothian… you could do with better labelling of the red buttons in your hospitals.)

And on that note, be prepared to completely lose any sense of appropriate boundaries. Even if you start the birth process slightly shy, by the time you’ve had everyone from the cleaners to the catering staff looking at your nether regions, you’ll lose any sense of dignity or privacy you ever had. You’ll emerge from the whole experience feeling that it’s totally okay to go to the loo with the door open, or talk to strangers on the bus about your placenta. How liberating!

Parenting

Everyone tells you that you need to prepare your nipples for breastfeeding to stop them hurting. No-one tells you that you need to prepare your hands for pushing a pram around every day. Unless you’re already employed as a farmhand, be prepared for callouses on your palms in the first couple of weeks.

There’s nothing more heartbreaking than going in to pick up your baby in the morning and finding that he has worn off huge tufts of his fluffy little hair and they’re stuck all over his basket. Don’t ask your husband if you should leave it outside ‘for the birds to make nests with’ unless you want him to think you have properly lost the plot.

Online shopping will be your new best friend. Unless you’re ordering disposable nappies or baby clothes online… in which case you’ll end up with cupboard full of things that your baby has outgrown in the three days between order and delivery.

If you are lucky enough to fit back into your size 8 jeans within a month of giving birth, don’t tell other new mothers because they will hate you.

It’s totally normal to spend six hours holding your crying baby and praying for him to go to sleep… and then five minutes after he finally does fall asleep, feeling the need to poke him away and make sure he’s still breathing.

Sometimes the notorious nesting instinct only kicks in after the birth, when you don’t stand a hope in hell of having a free two hours to tidy those drawers/dust those skirting boards/clean those cupboards. Deal with it.

Buying lots of books to read while breastfeeding = smart thinking.

Buying all hardbacks that are too heavy to hold one handed = expensive mistake.

No one warned me that having a baby monitor would bring out my inner 6 year old. You may think that’s just harmless static interference… I’m quite convinced it’s a ghost/alien/monster. Which is why I’m going to wake up DorkyDad and get him to check on our son instead of going through myself.

All those things you swore you’d never do? Talk about poo all the time? Spend an hour trying to get your baby to smile for the camera? Plot his length and weight on those ridiculous charts the health visitor loves so much? You’ll succumb to them all.

Let’s take care of the caring sector

It was great to see that the mini-profile of new Lothians List MSP Kezia Dugdale in the weekend papers stated that she is keen to focus on improving things for the voluntary sector.  As someone who previously worked for an environmental NGO, and spent as much time scrabbling around trying to raise my own salary as I did on campaigning, I can confirm that a shake-up of the funding system for the third sector would be very welcome. John Downie from SCVO has written at greater length here about the problems currently faced in the sector, especially in light of the economic climate.

The SNP Manifesto section on the voluntary sector can be found here, and they certainly seem to be saying all the right things, but it’s important than MSPs from across the parties keep up the pressure on the new Scottish Government to actually deliver their promises.

I’m hoping that cross-party support for a strong voluntary sector will be good news for an Edinburgh organisation very dear to my heart – the Pregnancy and Parents Centre.

Formerly known as the Birth Resource Centre, the PPC has been running – under various guises – for 25 years. It started off as half a dozen women meeting up in the front room of a friend, but these days it provides support during pregnancy, childbirth and beyond for over 150 women and families every week. It’s hard to believe that it’s coming up for three years since I became pregnant with DorkySon, but I remember that as soon as the news became public I received a flurry of emails from colleagues and friends with children, all saying, “You have to visit the Birth Resource Centre, it’s such a great place.”

And it really is great. The PPC offers both practical and emotional support to women and their families, everything from pregnancy yoga to birth preparation classes, breastfeeding support, music classes, baby massage and second-hand sales. They also provide an irreplaceable social network for many pregnant women and new mothers. Pregnancy yoga classes are always followed by half an hour of chatting over tea and biscuits, and two years after having my son, many of my best mum friends are still people that I first met at the PPC.

Like so many other not-for-profit organisations, the PPC have had financial struggles, and I’m hopeful that they are the kind of organisation who will benefit from having a new Government that appreciates the role of the voluntary sector.

However, they have also worked incredibly hard at organising their own fundraising, and this year provides a unique opportunity for both fundraising and birthday celebrations, as the PPC marks its 25th anniversary. DorkyDad and I attended a Special Friends of the PPC evening a few weeks ago, where we learned a little more about the history of the centre, and heard some of the wonderful testimonials from families who attended it over the years. We were delighted to help them kick off their fundraising campaign by making a one-off donation, along with pledging a smaller monthly contribution.

This weekend, a Baby Bloomers team took part in the Glasgow 10k to raise money for the centre, and they ranged from women who had used the centre twenty years ago, to women who are attending classes there now. Over the summer, the centre will be making contact with as many former users as they can, to let them know about the 25th anniversary and encourage them to support the excellent and varied work is ongoing there.

As a student, I used to walk past the Birth Resource Centre and wonder what the heck it was. It was only after becoming pregnant that I discovered what an incredible service they provide to families in Edinburgh. Scotland’s third sector is full of such niche organisations, that may not be hugely well known, but provide an invaluable service for their users and would leave a huge gap in many lives if they were gone. I feel incredibly lucky to be in a position where DorkyDad and I can help support the work of the centre, and I hope other individuals will be able to do the same over the coming months, but I also hope that the newly elected Government will give these organisations the respect and support they deserve. Scotland would be a far poorer place without them.

‘Kids just think for yourself’

I’ve had enough politics for one day, and I’m feeling inspired by the excellent Scribbling Mum, so I’m going to attempt my first Live In The Now post. The premise is to try and take a monthly snapshot of your life, and capture some of the details that you don’t take the time to record in photograph albums or baby books. If you haven’t checked out her blog before, then I urge you to do so. Proof, if ever it were needed, that becoming a parent doesn’t mean that you have to give up any other parts of your identity.

My snapshot is viewed through fairly bleary eyes this month, not just because I was up early checking election results, but also because DorkySon’s sleep has gone to hell in the last few weeks. My reliable 7pm-7am sleeper has suddenly started needing two hours of tucking-in and sips of water before he finally crashes. He has also started middle-of-the-night wake-ups again (mainly to tuck in the toes of all his cuddly animals), and seems to think that the family day should now start at 6am. It’s not good. I don’t function well when my sleep is being disturbed.

I keep reminding myself, though, of how busy his head must be at the moment. After spending all day every day with me, for the last two years, he has now started two mornings of nursery a week and is meeting new people, doing new activities, and encountering new situations. He is becoming more dextrous with his hands, and stronger with his legs. He is having a real language explosion, coming out with new words and sentences every day. He is learning to express – and control – his emotions.

And it is all those developments that create the moments I want to remember. When DorkyDad gets back from his work travels tomorrow, I can’t wait to tell him that the two new phrases DorkySon learnt today were “Katie Morag’s Granny” and “dry boak”. Wobbly lego towers currently surround my desk, and I’m not bummed about the mess, I’m just so proud of him for building them. My first-ever handmade Mother’s Day card is still sitting on the shelf above my bed, raining glitter on me every time I fluff my pillows up. If I stub my toe, or bang my elbow, my awesome wee boy comes running over with a worried face, shouting ‘boo-boo’, and tries to kiss me better. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way round?

DorkySon and I spent this afternoon at the park, hanging out with a beautiful friend, who I will call A, and A’s Mum. Appropriately enough, it’s the same park where I found the above graffiti a few months ago – with some wise old soul leaving advice for the toddler users of the mini-slide and saying “Kids Just Think For Yourself”. I forgive the grammar because I applaud the sentiment.

A’s incredible life story is her own to tell, but the relevant part of it for now is that she is sixteen weeks pregnant, and has the most perfect little baby bump I’ve seen in my life. She is one of those women that genuinely has bloomed, and looks happy, beautiful and serene. DorkySon adores both A and her Mum, and when she didn’t give him a kiss goodbye but instead leaned in for a deep sniff of his sweet scented baby-hair, I knew that she was going to be an instinctively awesome Mama .

Anyway. When A’s Mum showed me a scan picture on her Blackberry, DorkySon leaned in and, in his usual direct way, said ‘What’s dat?’.

‘That’s the baby that’s growing in A’s tummy.’

DorkySon’s eyes widened, and he smiled, and I could see the wee cogs starting to whirr around in his brain. What a thing to get your head around. What a thing to think about. What questions there are to come.

No wonder he sometimes stays awake at night.