Sleep training – the follow up

Back in February I wrote a post about how we had begun to try and ‘sleep train’ Millie, a process where we aimed to be able to put her to bed and then walk out of her room at night and leave her to fall asleep by herself, and then stay in her room all night.

At the time of writing it we had gotten twelve nights in to a routine where we were having a cuddle, putting her down, saying goodnight and leaving the room, to cries that were lessening but still pretty strong, and we were making progress.

We carried on with this and the bedtime bit was going well – we never got to a stage where there was no crying at all but she would stop crying after around 10 seconds and lay down. During the night however, something shifted and Millie began waking more and more often, eventually to five or six times a night.

Initially we were determined to stick to our plan and we would stay in her room, give her a cuddle and then leave the room again, but we quickly became very exhausted doing this again and again, at different time through the night, and Millie would not settle back to sleep even after an hour or two being with her or going in and out.

We were becoming desperate again, and were at a bit of a loss. The sleep training/controlled crying method was a last resort and was supposed to work for everyone in a relatively short space of time with some commitment, which we had done, so why was Millie still waking so much after almost a month?

One night when my husband was working I took Millie to our bed with me after she had woken up again, and she slept soundly all night, so that became our new tactic. David took to sleeping on the sofa (which is very comfy and apparently better for his back anyway), and I swapped my sleeping partner for a small starfish shaped child.

Although this was working in terms of getting more sleep, and I adore sleeping next to her, it certainly wasn’t a long term option, but we weren’t sure where to go next. Then for my birthday David booked a night away for us all and the hotel had put a child’s camp bed directly alongside the double. Millie liked it, and slept really well, and I realised how much I missed sleeping next to my husband. So we tried it at home!

We had removed the side from the cot a few months earlier in one of our many efforts to solve the sleep conundrum, so we switched our room around a little and put Millie’s bed in our room, alongside our own bed.

Things are quite different, though it’s still been a bit of a journey. Initially we saw very quick improvements, with Millie sleeping through the night, and walking without crying because she could see us next to her. One night I saw her wake up and roll over in a panic, then see us and just lie back down again. After everything we’d been through, all she wanted was to be near us – so simple!

Now of course sleeping in a room with a giant comfy adult bed to climb onto is pretty tempting. Over a couple of weeks we started with Millie getting into our bed for her story, being all cute, snuggling in with her toys, and then she would join us in the middle of the night, and because we were lazy we ended up with her never in her own bed, just always in ours. Sometimes this worked and sometimes, on the sideways sleeping nights, it really didn’t, and that brings us up to this week when I became overtired and really fed up, and after I spent a night sleeping in Millie’s (very short) bed because I’d had enough of trying to fit around her, I knew I had to sort things out.

The last three nights, I’ve gone back to basics. I’ve read before that, although one of a toddler’s purposes is to test boundaries, explore, and push whatever they can, they also need to have the rules they are testing. Not only do they like to know where the lines lie, but they need to, because without this they don’t have any guide for behaviour. We were seeing this is action because Millie, although clearly tired, was pushing and pushing herself and not going to sleep until 9.30-10pm, which was only adding to my exhaustion, and I think it’s because she had no boundaries. She could go in the bedroom, lay where she wanted and we’d accommodate it, play until late and we’d try and curb it but weren’t strong enough about it in honesty. She had no lines to operate within, and just didn’t know what to do.

So – we’re now on night three of Operation Mummy’s Sorting Her Bedtime Shit Out, and so far so good! She sleeps in her own bed, and there’s been a bit of predictable protest, but it’s steadily reduced every night. And last night Millie spent the whole night in her own bed, whoop! There’s a clear lesson here – although I get worn down to the point of strength and commitment to sort things out, I’m not consistent, and take the easy option and give in after a while, which just doesn’t cut it, and confuses Millie. She needs me, and Dave, to be clear and strong in our boundary setting.

So tonight she was asleep by 8.30pm, which feels like a luxury right now, and I’m having a glass of bubbly to celebrate, and raise a glass to the future. She turns two in a fortnight so here’s a to a less lazy mother and finally cracking this sleep shiz!

Celebrating my boobs

During my first midwife appointment, only a few months pregnant and not really even showing yet, was when I was first asked, ‘Will you breastfeed?’. A silly question to ask at that stage to be honest, because no one can know for sure, but I certainly wanted to try.

It seemed that my boobs wanted to try too, because at around six months pregnant I started waking up to small wet patches in the bed where I’d started leaking already. This was when I first started thinking that, really, the whole thing with boobs is weird.

We are subconsciously taught from a very early age that breasts are for admiration. They are a feature of attractiveness, a sexual tool. And yet here mine were leaking through my clothes and bedsheets at night – not at all sexy! Suddenly they were not mine anymore, they were preparing for someone else’s arrival instead.

Once Millie had been born we began to negotiate the breastfeeding minefield, which for us took a while. My nipples were dripping milk onto my swollen tummy in the shower, they were suckled for hours as Millie would fall asleep during feeds so I was expressing to make sure she was drinking properly, and as it turned out they weren’t quite large enough and needed little silicone shields to ensure a good latch. They were now a constant consideration, as they became full, hard and sore, then had to be switched regularly to ensure good flow for Millie, and were also pumped like udders with a loud electric device to allow my husband to get involved in feeding too.

This is all a bit overwhelming for anyone, and I feel lucky to have stayed in hospital for six days where I had access to clinical experts and a daily breastfeeding clinic where I could go and ask questions, and sometimes just sit and feed knowing I had people around to help if I needed it. The first time I literally asked the nurse to grab my breast and do it for me because I felt so lost, and she duely obliged – that level of support was invaluable to me.

Being able to ask my mum and friends openly about feeding was also vital, because it helped me feel more normal and less isolated – I’ve said it before and will always insist that a support network of any description is they key to how you manage with a child. No one can do it alone.

Initially I had been pleased at my extra cleavage but in fact it’s a huge amount of pressure. On top of trying to manage the varying size, leaking and feeding, there’s the constant talking about it all. Asking friends if the things I was feeling were normal, did their babies do this or that too, trying to fit my breasts into different bras, checking for their fullness. I lost count of how many times I was asked how I was feeding, and then when I started topping Millie up with formula at around six weeks because I couldn’t keep up with her appetite, waited for the judgement. I wasn’t often openly judged, in honesty, but there’s so much conversation about it that I felt ready to be, which is wrong in itself really.

The breast vs bottle thing is a crazy weight to land on a woman’s shoulders after squeezing a human out of her hoo-ha. Yes, breast milk has the longest list of utterly fantastic properties, but if we’re honest formula is great too these days, and the fact is that not every one can physically breastfeed, and even if they can they may not want to – and that’s THEIR decision.

Then came  feeding in public. Because of some of the hype around breastfeeding publicly I was ready to fight anyone who dared challenge me, despite never having actually been challenged! I believed vehemently in my right to feed my daughter wherever and whenever she needed it, and never shied away from that, because I was determined to normalise it and help change perceptions, but then I came back to the old societal rules. There are loads of places that openly support breastfeeeding in public, which is fantastic, but sometimes I didn’t want to just flip my boob out for all to see, despite the very necessary purpose. It feels beautiful, but also vulnerable, and very out of the ordinary for a woman, so I used to carry a big cloth for a bit of privacy now and again if I wanted it.

On the flip side of all that, breastfeeding Millie was one of the most wonderful experiences I’ve had with her. My favourite times (and my husband says the same, so it’s clearly more about bonding than just boobs) were the night feeds. In the early hours when it felt like we were the only two awake, quietly snuggled together as she filled her tiny tummy and blessed me with her new smiles. It was all about her, all about us, and those moments are so very precious.

Then at only five months it was all over, we’d worked so hard to create a routine and adapt together to her needs as she quickly grew, and then one day she decided she had finished and preferred full formula. I was bereft, and not ready, but the use of my body in this way was no longer my decision, and my baby was choosing to move on.

Now my lovely lumps, humps, breasts, boobs, tits, jugs, or whatever you call them (thanks again to society for steering us towards objectification) are mine again. They’re sexual again, meant for a very different purpose than for those few months of newborn sustenance. And I think I love them a little bit more now. They’re not quite the same as they started out but they’ve worked hard and deserve to stand a little less high, though no less proud.

Breastfeeding is beautiful, important, effective and bloody hard work at times, and I’m very glad I was able to feed Millie this way for a while. Everyone does this slightly differently, and ‘trial and error’ were never more important words for me than in raising a child. We made it work for us, which I think should be celebrated and cherished. I look forward to the day she might want to know her story, and perhaps if she chooses, to experience all this for herself.

Whether you breastfed or not, give yourself and your boobs a little hug, because whever you’ve been through, you deserve it!

Totton Family Fun Day

Today we thought we’d join the community and go along to Totton Family Fun Day, an annual event that grows on popularity each year, but a first time for us. It’s been scorchingly hot, so perfect for an outdoor get together.

The event is hosted by a group of local churches, and is completely free. The only thing we paid for was an ice cream from the van on the site, but there was a free BBQ, free hot and cold drinks, and a range of snacks. This is no mean feat when you’re catering for thousands of local people!

There was live music, lots of stands advertising their groups or businesses, and a puppet show, but importantly for Millie loads of activities for the kids – again all free! The older, more active ones could try basketball, throwing balls through giant inflatable doughnuts, play computer games,  try riding unusual bikes or decorate pebbles.

There were eight (I counted!) bouncy castles, really well organised with staff for each and separated for different age groups, as well as an inflatable slide and an inflatable wrestling platform. Millie was really interested in them but it was just so hot that as soon as she touched the material she said no!

There was also a great tent set up with activities for younger children; face painting, plasticine modelling, a table where they could make cards and frames with lots of stickers and glittery bits all provided, and a colouring table. That’s where we headed!

Millie’s really enjoying colouring and drawing (‘dawing Mummy!’) And spends ages doing it at the moment. As you can see in the photo circles and swirls are a big feature! We spent a full 30 minutes filling up endless sheets of paper, and to be honest I was just grateful to be sat in the shade 🤒
After a couple of hours mooching about we decided to head home because it was just too hot to be outside anymore, but it was a great way to spend the afternoon.

I can’t imagine how much time and effort goes into pulling off such an event, and there were endless volunteers around running all the activities – it’s fantastic that it’s all put on for free and we’ll definitely be coming back to enjoy it next year. Millie certainly approved!

The sleep rage

Like everyone, there are some things in life that annoy me. People who don’t turn their indicators off after making a turn, or who bump into you and don’t say sorry. The usual. But there’s one thing that really gives me the rage, and it’s anything that disturbs my daughter’s sleep.

For example, I’ve never been particularly bothered by fireworks before, and luckily our dog hasn’t either, but since having Millie I hate them. We live in a pretty well populated area and there are lots of people locally to set off their own on bonfire night, new year etc. Once I’ve heard them I spend the whole evening on edge, and it’s a bit ridiculous because Millie mostly sleeps through them, but they still leave me waiting for the potential wake up to occur. That’s the nub of the issue, it’s the threat of the wake up that winds me up.

Squeaky floorboards. Bloody hell our house never squeaked so much before I had a baby. I have a theory that housebuilders make the upstairs of a property with extra squeaky floorboards knowing that you’ll curse them if you ever have kids. Those ‘comedy’ videos online of people creeping out of the room like ninjas are not lying!

Loud engines get me too. There are a couple of particularly throaty motorbikes and cars that pass our house on a daily basis and I’m pretty sure they know how I feel because they seem to deliberately rev the engines as the pass the house and my hands automatically go into fists. Why is there a need for them to do that?!

Millie’s never been one for sleeping much at home and a lot of car sleeping gets done during the day. Many times I’ve pulled up somewhere to read a bit or waited before going in the house because the transfer out of the car seat wasn’t often successful, but I guarantee there’s always some knobhead out to ruin it for me.

Shouting loudly near the car, letting dogs bark, car horns, anything they can do to wake Millie, and they’ll do it. Every. Single. Time.

It’s like people just don’t know babies might be sleeping during the day (liars) or that they may not have considered there’s a sleeping child in their general vicinity (rude). During these incidents I’ve genuinely come close to telling the offender where to stick their noisiness. I’ve also thought about making a sign that says ‘child sleeping nearby, shut your cake hole!’ or something equally as direct. I’ve never done either of these, but still. I’d love to make some kind of public announcement and have the world stand still to make sure Millie can rest properly.

I know that it’s irrational really, but honestly it can take so much to get a baby to sleep sometimes, that when you finally make it your mental energy is long gone and any mother trucker who comes along to ruin your efforts is going to induce nap rage. It’s a biological fact.* (*I can’t prove that)

I hope I’m not the only person who suffers with this. I know I’m basically asking the world to give a shit about my daughter’s sleep needs… yeah, that’s it! Just shhh. Please.


A letter to myself

I found out recently that maternal mental health awareness week was happening this week (1-7 May), and it got me thinking. Having a child – whether you’re pushing it out, having it surgically removed, adopting or whatever else – is the most incredible life change. There is no amount of reading or research that can prepare you for the sudden weight of responsibility in keeping such a small person alive. It’s a 24 hour operation, and if ever there’s a time in your life when your normal defences are down, and you are vulnerable to a bit of mental pressure, this is definitely it.

Some people take to it like they were born to (the buggers), but others, like me, don’t. I suffered with post-natal depression in the months after Millie was born, and at the time I thought there was something wrong with me. I refused medication, I didn’t talk about it, and I pushed on through. My life and experiences may have evolved and moved on, but there are many, many more people out there feeling like I did then. Eighteen months on, I’ve written my new mum self a letter with some advice I wish I’d had the courage to ask for then.

Dearest Liz,

Hits you like a brick wall, doesn’t it? I mean, you expected it, but you also really didn’t, and it’s hard. It’s so very hard sometimes, and you need to acknowledge that; you don’t have to brave face it all the time.

We need to just set a baseline here – you’re doing a good job. You know why? Because you give a shit. I read this recently and it makes total sense. The very fact that you worry about Millie getting the best, and feel guilty about what you think she might be missing out on, makes you a good mum. If you weren’t you wouldn’t care. Take heart in that.

I know it’s a rollercoaster. I know that you can’t leave her sight for a second, and that sometimes when you do the cry you hear makes every nerve in your body jangle, and you need to take a breath before you can walk back in and paint on a smile for her. I also know that when she smiles back and kicks those little legs because she’s happy just to see you, your heart melts. I can see it in your face. She’s a powerful being, and personally I think mother nature makes babies that way on purpose. They have to be so delicious in order for you to take the hardship – they give you strength.

You need to draw on this strength when you are at your lowest. Those times when you think she’d be better off without you, and you want to disappear? That it would be easier if you just kept driving and never stopped? You’re wrong. You need each other, right now more than ever.

You are strong, you are doing a brilliant job, you are not failing her, she does not deserve a better mum. There is no one better than you to look after your daughter.

I know you can hear all this, but you don’t believe a word of it. You feel battered, exhausted beyond the realms of possibility, and like you’re falling at every hurdle. There are days when you feel disconnected, and have nothing left, and can’t summon the energy to look after yourself, let alone a baby. And that’s ok. There is no overnight fix, and for now just that you’re hearing the words is enough, but you must never, ever forget them. When you lay down on the floor on her mat just to get a better look at her and drink her in, or during the many hours you sit staring at her sleeping on your chest, tell yourself how great you are. When you look in the mirror and cringe at your reflection, or hold back tears because she’s been crying for hours, tell yourself again. The smiles, the contented naps, the giggles, are all because of you. She’s figuring out a lot right now and growing fast, so she’s got a tough job to do too. You are all she wants in the middle of all that; you’re her whole entire world. You must be pretty bloody special to hold that spot.

Now I’m nearly done. See that bloke on the other end of the sofa? The one holding his iPhone? Tell him. Tell him everything you’re feeling, and ask him to help. He won’t be sure how, because he can’t be when you don’t even know yourself, but you can’t do this alone. Plus he’s not a mind reader! Then tomorrow text one of your friends and do the same. It’s scary to be so honest when you’re breaking inside, but it’ll be worth it. BT once said it’s good to talk, and they weren’t wrong. It takes a village to raise a child, so start getting your village on board!

Finally, step back and look after yourself now and again, don’t try and do it all. Walking the dog is driving you insane so get someone else to do it, and stop thinking about the hoovering, and making people cups of tea when they pop in. In fact some days you don’t have to say yes to them popping in at all if that’s what you want! Let people do more for you, it’s not for you to look after everyone all the time. Focus on you and Millie, get fresh air, take more baths, eat all the chocolate.

Oh darling, when I think of you now it makes me quite emotional, and I just want to scoop you up and hold you. It will get better, and as that little girl grows you will too. I promise.

Don’t be afraid to put yourself first sometimes. Millie needs you to.

Me xx

How to…get antibiotics into a toddler

Recently we noticed that Millie had a small burn on her finger, just a small line, but it looked very angry and she definitely didn’t like us trying to take a look at it so off we went to the doctor’s surgery.

As it turned out, it was a cut and not a burn. What we had assumed was a blister was in fact where the cut had become infected and had pus in it. Which made us feel fantastic for not noticing it sooner! She was duly prescribed some antibiotics, a liquid to be given four times a day.

Her medicine came in the form of that lovely thick yellow stuff I remember having had as a child – it was really sweet and flavoured like banana, so she’d surely love it, right? HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA! (You’re wrong).

The first spoonful she took without query, and that was the end of that. Every dose thereafter (four joyful times a day, let’s not forget), however I managed to get it in she would learn and I wouldn’t manage it that way  a second time. I started explaining it, telling her ahead of time, then asking, giving her the opportunity to do it herself, using a spoon, using the calpol syringe, pleading, and offering a chocolate button for afterwards – from which I learned that rewards are not understood by 18 month olds.

I really didn’t want to hide it or trick her, I wanted us to figure it out together. But I had to let that go.

After some advice from friends on Facebook, I also mixed it into yogurt, and put it on the spoon before feeding her jelly, neither of which she would eat again. Shamefully, I also held her tightly and then poured it into her mouth when she protested, but then she started holding her mouth shut when she saw the medicine.

I was pulling my hair out, and dreading each dose, which probably didn’t help. When she went to nursery and spent time with my sister in law she took it, but not at home, which is kind of the law for napping too.

Eventually it was chocolate that saved me. She wouldn’t take the medicine first so I started blobbing medicine on chocolate buttons, which she liked until I ran out. With only giant buttons available at the shop we settled for placing little pieces on top of a spoon of medicine, and if Millie could place them on herself, she loved it even more.

By now we only had a couple of doses left, thank goodness, but at least we’d cracked it. So many people responded with suggestions on Facebook and I tried them all pretty much, but my small, cute daughter is a bloody genius.

Sometimes, even with the very best of intentions, you need to achieve something for their well being and have to take any action however much you’d rather do it without tears, or bribes. It was a tough week, but her finger cleared up nicely. You’ve just got to persevere until you find the key. I got the medicine in, and she loves chocolate, so we both ended up happy!

Sleep training

A couple of weeks ago we embarked on a pretty scary new venture – teaching Millie how to self settle.

We had reached a situation that we just couldn’t continue with, where she was waking a number of times every night, with no pattern to the times or frequency, sometimes going straight back down and sometimes up for hours. Having an extra bottle most nights, and also getting to the point where she ended up in our bed most nights too.

We were getting to be very sleep deprived, and also very achey from sleeping awkwardly around her. She’s been getting endless bugs or teething all winter so we constantly made excuses for her poor sleeping patterns but after five or so months we realised there was something more to it.

I did a lot of research and spoke to people in search of answers and a solution, and I was pointed to an article about children sleeping through the night which was really informative. There’s a time window which is ideal for babies to learn how to settle themselves to sleep, and we’d missed it. We’d always had a fairly relaxed attitude towards Millie’s sleep, doing whatever she needed to get her down. From very early on she protested if we tried to leave the room while she was awake, and she liked to cuddle to sleep, so we did it. Despite the wakings she was down for around 12 hours a night and her bedtime routine was pretty solid so we counted those as our positives.

In actual fact we’d misjudged the whole routine thing. By doing whatever we had to in order to get her to sleep at bedtime and through the night, we were confusing her. Children like predictability, and though they will of course test their boundaries, they need to know what those boundaries are in  the first place. We were shifting the goalposts ever so slightly each night, sometimes lots of cuddles, sometimes in with us, sometimes sitting there for hours.

I have a friend who, at bedtime and nap time, puts her son in his cot and walks out of the room. No drama, no fuss, and he goes off to sleep in his own time. This is a completely alien concept to us and has literally never happened, and it’s where we want to be. For a long time I argued that I love the cuddles, because they’re delicious, and I love co sleeping, because it’s also quite delicious, but equally I can’t keep up the lack of sleep and lack of predictability. It had begun to seriously affect my wellbeing and I think was also affecting hers, so we needed a change.

When I reached this point a few weeks ago, I initially spoke to a health visitor. She explained how whatever we were giving her at bedtime, she would expect every time she woke, and because there was no set pattern to that, we were making it harder for her to settle. This is echoed in the article I linked to above, and makes perfect sense. If whatever happened when she fell asleep was not there or happening when she woke, of course she’s going to protest.

In an effort to figure out what to do, I also asked advice from a parenting group I’m part of on Facebook, that focuses on respect for children as individuals, and promotes better understanding of and response to their emotions and needs. I often find that in times of stress this group provides really sound perspective and ideas on how to handle difficult situations. I have always been dead against ‘crying it out’, because it seemed so harsh, but through discussion with this group I began to realise that, although not the answer, a form of this was the best way forward.

The bottom line was that we were going to change a habit we had been setting in place since day one, which is hard, and there was going to be a natural period of protest while we all adjusted. Our plan was to follow our normal bath, milk, cuddle routine, and then to tell Millie it was time for bed, put her in her cot, tell her we love her and then leave the room. If she really cried hard, we’d go back in, cuddle and settle her, repeat that it was time for bed and we love her, and then leave again. If she was just shouting or moaning, we’d stay out. I volunteered for the first couple of nights because I had been mentally preparing myself – I knew consistency was the key to our success, that it would take real determination, and I was committed to making it work. I couldn’t face the idea of continuing any longer without sleep, so I put all my energy into it.

I should also add at this stage that we were keen to remove any crutches to sleep we had put in place to allow Millie to fully learn how to settle herself, and also to save us all further problems down the line, so we also decided that this was the time to stop her using a dummy, cold turkey.

So night one, armed with the monitor on silent so I could watch Millie while I was out of her room. In the first hour after bedtime I went in ten times, with the gaps in between lengthening and the intensity of her cries lessening until she went to sleep by herself, which I was heartened by because I’d anticipated a longer effort. She woke three times in the night but went back down very easily, and between 5 and 6am was awake a lot but overall we were pleased with a solid start.

Night two and Millie went down at bedtime with minimum fuss, which I was astounded by. She woke a couple of times in the night and then from 3am was up for three hours, solidly shouting while we continued to follow our pattern. This was without doubt the hardest night, because no matter how strong your resolve, having to listen to your tiny daughter shout your name for hours on end is heartbreaking. At 6am we caved and brought her into our bed, where she promptly fell asleep, exhausted.

Since then we’ve seen progress every night, and we are now at the point where, after twelve nights, we can put Millie to bed and leave the room and she shouts for around 10 seconds before laying down to go to sleep. She still wakes two or three times in the night, and occasionally wants a bottle, or a cuddle, but often will call out and then go straight back to sleep herself.

Bizarrely the easiest part has been taking away the dummy. I dreaded doing that for so long but somehow she’s accepted it really well. Initially she would ask for it repeatedly when we went in to settle her but that stopped fairly quickly, and during the day now and again she asks but I say it’s gone and that’s it.

We are beginning to get more sleep, and better sleep, but we still have a way to go. My hope is that one day we can put her down without any crying out at all, but I know it’s a slow process. A side effect has also been that Millie refuses a bottle before she goes to bed now. Perhaps she’s reached the point where she no longer wants it, or she’s trying to exert some control where we’ve waded in and made such a huge change, but she’s never drunk a lot anyway and losing 7oz of milk a night means she’s been a little dehydrated, but we can work on that.

It’s been tough but I wholeheartedly believe we’ve been doing the right thing, and long term it’s what’s best for all three of us. Kids and sleep – way trickier than we ever thought!




Being honest with myself 

I’ve been doing a bit of self reflection recently (sounds a bit wanky but stick with me). If you’ve read previous blog posts of mine you’ll know I’ve found the last 18 months since having my daughter…challenging. I’ve still not figured out what the hell I’m doing (has anyone?!) and I’m constantly trying to get to some place where I feel settled and I don’t have to keep having a cry or feeling like I can’t do this.

Then recently I saw this shared on Instagram and had a little lightbulb moment:

I’ve been spending so long on the bloody treadmill just trying to keep going that I’ve never thought to just turn down the speed. I’ve lost hold of myself in amongst the constant crazy of what my life is now.  I might not be able to control everything, but currently I’m not controlling anything.

There’s a girl I used to know, in that photo at the top. She knew what she wanted, she knew who she was, and she didn’t always get it right, but that was ok. She was friendly, helped people out, she’d worked hard to build a career and she loved her family and friends. She was fun! Then she had a baby and someone picked up the bucket of her life, tipped it upside down and walked away.

In case you missed it, that girl is me.

I feel like I’ve have definitely changed since having a baby, because in many ways you have to, but I also feel like I’m not quite sure who I am anymore. I’ve been waiting for things to click, for this natural shift to take place, but it’s not happening.

I do know this isn’t just about having a child. My husband and I have recently realised we kind of messed up the whole ‘sleep training’ (or whatever) section of having a baby and are now paying for it with a bed sharing octopus baby, multiple wake ups, continued night feeds etc. And as a result of months of this we are truly exhausted, and sleep deprivation messes you up.

My job is also one that comes with stress and responsibility, which add into the mix, and I’ve been hit hard with some kind of horrible winter bugs that have wiped me out a bit, so I’m in the middle of a perfect storm of low energy and self doubt.

I don’t necessary want my ‘old self’ back, but I do need to figure out who I am now, and what I want, so I’m at least working towards something rather than just working all the time. My time management is such a big factor. I cram loads in to my time, but not effectively. I work four days a week, but only three in the office, and one is made up at home. On one hand this is great for me to have the flexibility to just work when I can each week, but on the other I just end up working almost every day or at least thinking about work, because I just look at what needs doing now and don’t plan ahead. This isn’t great, and also means I lose time for anything else… housework, hobbies (this blog suffers!), Millie, the dog, my husband, or even just to relax and unwind a bit in the evenings.

I want to write more. This blog has been a great outlet but I could do so much more with it. And there are book ideas in my head that have been festering for years, so I must get them out. And take dog walks because I want to, not because Pickle hasn’t been out yet today so I have to. And have proper conversations with my husband.

And who knows what else. I know this isn’t just for now, and I can take the rest of my life if I want to. I just need to make sure I don’t fall off the bottom of the ‘to do’ list while I’m worrying about everything else.

So there you go, a good reminder if you need one. No one ever just found themselves, they created themselves along the way. I’m off now to try and pick up a few bricks and start stacking. From small acorns and all that!

Winter of discontent

Ok, so perhaps that title sounds a little bit dramatic, but it’s definitely how it feels in our house right now. I had never been such a frequent visitor to the doctor’s office until I had my daughter 18 months ago, and I’d also never heard the word ‘viral’ quite so much. I’m definitely over it.

Millie has had a really rough ride for the last few months, since about September last year so we can chuck in autumn alongside winter too. There have been two month long bouts of teething (hoping we’re coming out of the second one now – four teeth cut over Christmas? Jeez!), and endless bugs that have caused every symptom I can think of; bad nappies, vomiting, sleeplessness, rashes, fevers, endless snot production, coughs, mouth ulcers, general grumpiness and some extended periods of crying.

I’m reliably informed that this is the norm for the first winter in nursery; the little ones get every germ going and then share as much as possible. Apparently the payback will come next year and beyond when Millie has better immunity and will be much healthier, but that feels a long way off right now!

Credit where it’s due, Millie’s been an absolute trooper, and has managed to maintain long pockets of her sunny disposition throughout the suffering. I could definitely learn from her because I’ve been less resilient I’m afraid, and I do enjoy a bit of moaning on a regular basis. I’m pretty good at playing the martyr in these situations! I can deal with all of it fairly well, except the lack of sleep.

Over the summer we’d gotten to a point where she was sleeping through about half the time, and on the nights she wasn’t it was a fairly short nappy-bottle-cuddle-down routine, and it felt good. Since September time I think I can count the full night’s sleep we’ve had on one hand, and when it’s bad (I recently rolled into work on three hours of sleep and a hell of a grump on) I just shut down. No good for anyone! The best strategy I’ve found for managing it is to bring her into bed with me and my husband. We get less space, less duvet and extra aches in the morning from sleeping around her but she’s much more settled so that’s always the winner.

At the minute Millie’s had something else viral for about 10 days, and it’s just awful seeing them in discomfort and not knowing what to do about it – Calpol’s always our first and most effective defence, I may take out some shares! It’s been a difficult one because it’s dragged on a bit and she seems to get one symptom every couple of days, which then disappears to let the next one in, so she’s never quite right.

I’ve been sending her into nursery as normal and then getting the dreaded mum guilt when they say she’s been quiet, not eaten much and laid around a bit more than usual. Should she be at home with me? I hope that the change of scenery and distraction of others perks her up a bit, but you never know if you’ve done the right thing. I’m very hopeful that we will be coming out of it soon!

So to all the other parents fighting the winter bug onslaught – keep at it. Get early nights, give them all the extra cuddles, make sure you’re well stocked and batten down the hatches for a while. It’s got to pass eventually, right?! And if you see a friend with a small child looking a bit like a zombie and perhaps on the verge of tears, give them a big hug and make them a cup of tea. They’ll love you forever.

Body image and my #pledgetobereal

I recently attended the Mumsnet Blogfest event and Dove were there promoting the #pledgetobereal campaign, which aims to promote body confidence, and influence change in how the media portrays women and how they look.

This is something that really resonates with me. I walk the fine line between being body confident some days and then hating it on others, but I feel strongly that we should not accept the airbrushed bullshit we are presented with every single day. What’s wrong with real people anyway??

That’s also a message I want Millie to hear – you do not need to conform to anything, and quite frankly society is being a dick in peddling the idea that you need to look or think a certain way to be accepted. You really don’t, and I will be doing my best to model that every single day. Now I do wear make up, and I straighten my fuzzy hair, and there’s a valid argument for me ditching stuff like that if I want to make my stand, but I do these things to make me feel good, and I think there’s also an argument for modelling that. Life’s all about the balance, and if doing or wearing something makes you feel good, and feel like you, then you should do it.

Personally, I think I’m doing alright. My body isn’t something I’ve been entirely happy with for years, and there’s always been something I’d like to change, but I think we all feel like that, and hey, nobody’s perfect!

Since I had a baby there’s been some body weirdness going on, and though I weigh the same as before I fell pregnant my shape has definitely changed, and I think my clothing tastes have had to adapt too. I do feel like now it’s more about comfort and function than the look at times, which is probably why I still prefer wearing sports bras and crop tops instead of actual bras!

Since I had a baby I also have new perspective – I’ve gone on about this before but I’m allowed! My body grew a human, my stomach wall was ripped open to give her life, and I fed her using my breasts. I’m also living on far less sleep that a person should, and challenging my brain every day to manage parenting and a career and life in general. I’m strong, and awesome, and you should probably bring me a cookie or something (edible) as a prize.

I’ve always had an additional level of body awareness because I have Cerebral Palsy, though it’s very mild and only affects the right side of my body. Essentially my right arm and leg are less developed and less able than my left, and though I’ve lost count of how many people have said they never noticed it, I’ve always been hyper sensitive to it. Every summer I can’t wear flip flops because they just fall off my right foot, and I need shoes with support, and if I wear heels I pay for it with a few days of discomfort. The most minor of issues really but an example of the stuff I’m aware of all the time, and think I see people noticing.

In order to really challenge stereotypes we’ve all got to be in this together, and that means being confident in ourselves as well as supporting each other, and shutting down the hate. My friends might not always like my look, but they love me still. Tall, short, round or skinny we all still deserve to love how we look, and feel happy with who we are.

So here’s a picture of me, smiling like a loon as the Dove lady watched me take a photo. Tell the haters to jog on, give yourself a mental high five and know you’re wonderful, just the way you are.

I created this post as a competition entry in support of Dove and the Be Real Body Image Pledge.