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Leaving on a jet plane….?

A few days ago I found myself googling the following words: “I want to leave my family.”

While I let that sink in, and before any alarmed readers get on the blower to Social Services, I’m not actually seriously thinking about leaving (well, not for good anyway, but a spa weekend or something might be nice. I hope my husband is reading this). So I’m not at the packing my bags stage, but when I typed those words into google, I was not in a good place. 5 minutes before I’d been standing in the garden, the patio doors firmly shut behind me, muffling the cries of the baby and the whining of the 4 year old, and staring up at the sky at an aeroplane  –  who knows where it was flying, and frankly who cares. At that moment all I wanted was to be on that aeroplane flying away from the nappy changing, the cooking, the food being flung on the floor or flatly rejected, the constant demands on me to ‘get this’ ‘get that’ ‘help me with this’ ‘pretend to be that’ ‘give me a,,,,’ ‘waaaaaah waaaaaaaah’ ‘I want this’ ‘ I want that’. The floor caked with weetabix (a reoccurring theme readers may have noticed), the never ever ever bloody ending wash / dry / fold (er hem) / put away cycle, the forms to be filled in , the bills to be paid, the recycling that I’m now keenly aware if I don’t do will end up in stomach of some poor unsuspecting fish…

It was one of those days when I couldn’t get over it. Despite knowing how lucky I am and what a privileged life I lead, there had simply been too many demands on me that day. It was a day when I really did not like being a parent. I felt desperate. Even bed time brought no respite. I has just settled down to do a meditation when the 4 year old shouted for me a 9th time. The word ‘muuuuuummmmmmy’, whined at the particular pitch my daughter has perfected when mixed with the annoyingly calm voice of the mediation woman telling me to ‘let go’ and ‘breathe in peace’ is a particularly cruel combination. I lost it. Big time.

But then yesterday happened.

Yesterday started with my body waking up OF ITS OWN ACCORD because I’D HAD ENOUGH SLEEP. This is something that literally never happens. The baby was cooing angelically in his cot. The 4 year old was humming to herself as she played happily in her room. ‘Good morning Mummy! I’m going to give you a big cuddle!’ she announced as I walked past. Peering into the baby’s room I was met with a huge grin. My heart swelled. I could literally feel the oxytocin coursing through my body. This was not just good. This was indescribably the best feeling in the world. The only other thing I can liken this feeling to is how I felt one summer night in the early noughties when I took ecstasy on a party boat on the Thames. It’s the same result – that feel good hormone surging through the body. The day continued like this. We packed a picnic and went to the lake. The baby slept when he was meant to. The 4 year old behaved impeccably the whole day. I wore a swishy floral midi skirt (I don’t know why that last bit is relevant but it felt important.)

So to recap – wracked with sobs, desperate and hating my life one day. Filled with joy, skipping around, heart swelling with love, pride and happiness the next.

No I’m not a manic depressive. (And I’m also not making light of this condition having had experience of it with a close friend.)

I’ll say it again or else the line will lose it’s punchiness.

I’m not a manic depressive.

I’m a parent.

And my point is that there aren’t very many just ‘cruising along feeling pretty normal’ parts. The line on the graph is rarely straight. But neither is it all bloody awful, or all bloody wonderful as magazines / blog posts / parenting books / friends might have you think. It’s wibbly wobbly.

On the friend subject, I recently asked one of mine who is on baby no.3 how it’s going. “Que du bonheur!” she replied. This is French for “only happiness” incase you’re wondering (and she is actually French – I don’t have the kind of fancy pants friends that just speak French for effect.) But back to the reply: “Only happiness.” That just can’t be, can it? Even if she has the easiest kids on the planet, there still must be lows, right?

At the other extreme is the friend of twin babies who announced recently that she doesn’t expect to be happy for at least another 4 years. Well that’s a bit extreme don’t you think? Don’t get me wrong I don’t doubt that there are many many tough moments, many wishing she was on a plane to….anywhere…. moments. But there must also be those heart-melting smiles, those big eyes staring at you – their world – in total adoration……. Cue oxytocin release…..

At this point I feel I should make it clear that the highs and lows of parenting I am discussing are what I perceive to be on the ‘normal’ spectrum. There are those who experience lows which continue to be low, periods when there is no fluctuating line on the graph, just a long, flat, line. Now I’m no expert and I’ve thankfully never personally experienced serious post-natal depression (mild – for sure yes), but I would say that if you are only identifying with the ‘lows’ I’m describing, and are wondering what the heck I am talking about when I mention the rush of feel good hormones, then it might be a good idea to contact your GP or access help (for UK based readers the charity Mind – www.mind.org.uk – has some great resources including an info line you can call to talk to someone.)

So what’s the conclusion here I hear you ask? Well I guess in a word – it’s a rollercoaster. When you decide to start a family, you don’t realize that you will be leaving behind all those ‘cruisy’ periods when life is ‘you know, just pretty okay.’ In my experience, in fact, there are very few ‘pretty ok’ moments. You’re in for a hell of a ride. You’re going to experience happiness, fear, desperation, and back to happiness again on a levels you previously didn’t realize possible.

Hold on. Go with it. This is life. This is parenting. Feel it. Feel it all. It’s worth it.

 

 

Uncategorized

Take me back to video cassettes and landlines…

Last week, a friend sent me a link to a beautiful tune to help me de-stress. The baby was napping and I decided that instead of running around doing chores, or slumping in front of the TV, I would listen to this song and do some deep breathing. I clicked on the link and my phone prompted me to download an app called Deezer. I dutifully went to the app store. It wouldn’t open – I wasn’t connected to the wi-fi. I switched the wi-fi box off and back on again. I managed to connect. My phone informed me that my storage was full and politely enquired if i’d like to manage my storage in settings. My settings told me that it was all the photos on my phone that were the problem so I started to delete them……. Then…. the baby woke up.

No deep breaths were taken.

No de-stressing was achieved.

Give me a CD any day -in fact, give me a cassette tape. I would have had that song on in a couple of seconds. And I wouldn’t have had to deal with my phone’s stress activating ‘blue light’ and high energy light wavelengths (said to cause irritability and possibly long term damage to the retina).

I decided I wouldn’t use my phone for the rest of the day, a decision which lasted less than an hour because, as a fellow citizen of the modern would, you’ll know like me that almost everything in life seems to involve a phone or at least a screen of some kind these days. When the baby went down for this second nap, I abandoned any idea of deep breathing and decided to tackle my ‘to do’ list. Here’s how it went:

Creating a photo book for my friends’ birthday present: Is there ANYTHING on earth more frustrating than this task?! “photo too big” “photo quality insufficient” “file size too big” … and then finally, fairly happy with the result I pressed ‘save’ and …..the page froze. Pressing ‘cancel’ prompted the computer to ask me if I wanted to leave the page and lose my work. What the f**k do you think? Why do you think I’ve been sitting here for the past 45 minutes painstakingly choosing photos and writing witty captions?

Applying for a job. My CV file size was too big. Then I hadn’t completed all the required fields. (I had.) Then .. my session timed out. I missed the deadline.

Paying a bill. I can now do it in less than 5 seconds by scanning a bar code to my phone, my bank cheerily informs me. Sounds good to me bank, let’s do it! 20 minutes and many expletives later and I still hadn’t paid the effing bill because the effing bar code wouldn’t effing scan.

Watching a film. A friend tells me that I must watch a new documentary on apple TV. I decide that this would be a good thing to do once i’d finally got both children to bed. I poured my wine, got on the sofa and excitedly started up the box only to be met with a”connection problem” message. I calmly proceeded with the trusty old ‘turn off and back on again” routine which seemed to work. Hurrah  – I was actually going to watch a high brow ish documentary and expand my mind instead of automatically turing to Eastenders! I found the film in question and clicked play feeling very pleased with myself. “This title is not available in Switzerland. Please go to the UK store.” Deep breaths. I can do this. I click “change to UK store” …. do you know what…. I could go on and bore you with the many things I clicked over the following 30 minutes of my life but essentially you just want to know if I watched the film or not….. I’ll put you out of your misery. I didn’t. I watched Eastenders instead and 10 minutes in I had to go and deal with my daughter who couldn’t sleep because of her itchy toe. So I gave up on TV altogether and went to bed.

Then there are the messages. Hotmail (or whatever it’s called these days), Facebook messenger, Whatsapp, iMessage….  I know it’s my choice to have all of these message options and if deleting them all wouldn’t kill off my (much needed and all too scarce) social life, trust me, I would. But much as I resent them, they are also my lifeline to the world beyond changing nappies and cleaning ‘flicked’ weetabix off the walls (it turns to concrete once it dries people – you must get to it when it’s still wet and sloppy.) Where were we? Oh yes, the messages. Recently I have actually started to notice a knot in my stomach when I’m typing. My shoulders hunch up, my eyes actually hurt and my fingers cramp up. I know it sounds dramatic but I’m telling you, my body physically does not want to type or look at screens any more. But once I’ve opened a whatsapp I know that the sender has seen the blue ticks and is waiting for my reply (ok, maybe they’re not at all but all the same, the clock starts ticking when you read the message right? We all know that.) The pressure!

I could go on… and on… the junk mail, the fact that the bluetooth speaker never connects properly, the fact that you need an app for every bloody thing these days, the way the internet sucks you in and spits you out hours later and you have no idea what the hell happened but it may have involved buying anti ageing capsules from a blogger somewhere in China… (that last one didn’t really happen…. honest….) but I need to get on with paying those bills….. or maybe i’ll just sit down for a quick Eastenders first….

 

 

 

 

 

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My rainbow has arrived…..!

and here is a summary of my thoughts so far…..

“That effing well hurt.”

“Oh my god he’s alive and well and he’s actually here” (surge of happiness.)

“Oh my god they’re taking him away what if he’s not ok” (surge of real primal fear unlike any previously known”)

“Thank god he’s ok and he’s feeding! I love breastfeeding already” (slightly smug.)

“I hate breastfeeding so much. Why will he not latch?”.

“I am so overwhelmingly in love with this baby.” (euphoric.)

“This is not Baby M”.

“This is not Baby M and that’s ok.”

“This is my third baby. My second baby will always be in my heart.”

“What the eff have we done? We were a perfect unit of 3 and things were going so well and now we have a thrashing screaming gremlin living with us.”

“It’s so great being a family of 4. Look at him sleeping peacefully in his cot.”

“I can’t do this.” (cries – despairs.)

“I only had 4 hours sleep last night.”

“Yay, I had a whole 4 hours sleep last night!!”

“I’m neglecting Chouchou” (guilts.)

“I am wonderful earth mother with sleeping newborn in ethnic style wrap whilst doing crafts with 3 year old and I have this nailed.”

“I am on my iphone or laptop far too much. Why don’t I want to dedicate every second to Chouchou when baby is asleep?”

“I am entitled to want to access the ‘real world’ by means of my iphone when I am stuck on the sofa attempting to breastfeed all day.”

“Breastfeeding is not going to work.”(sobs)

“With a little more dedication we’ll get there”. (determined face.)

“Bottles are evil”

“Bottles are a lifesaver.”

That’s all for now folks……

 

Expat Life

Reverse Culture Shock

“Debit account in home currency – CHF

Debit account in visitor currency – GBP”

I paused and squinted at the ATM machine. My finger hovered over the options. The ATM was asking me an innocent question but I was confused. I was home, wasn’t I? I was in the middle of London, the capital city of my home country, the country where I was born and had mostly lived for the first 29 years of my life. How dare this ATM machine suggest that this is not my home, that I am merely a visitor.

But then again, I am a visitor, I suppose. I’m only here for a week. How can this be home? My house isn’t here. My husband isn’t here. My daughter isn’t here. My big stripy fat cat isn’t here. Most of my friends aren’t even here anymore.

This is a total head f**k, I mused. (Don’t worry there wasn’t anyone behind me in the queue.) Where is home?

This was a question that rang in my ears for the rest of that week in London, and various other parts of the U.K, as I sped around trying to fit in the friend and family visits required of an expat when he/she returns ‘home’ for a ‘visit.’

Other strange things happened that week.

I walked into Urban Outfitters (too exciting for words when you live in Switzerland where the choice is H&M or H&M) and nearly jumped out of my skin when the sales assistant trilled  ‘hiiiii yaaaaa! how you doin’ babe?’ at me. Was she talking to me? Was I supposed to engage in conversation with her? Did I go to school with her or something? Nope. Turns out she was just being friendly. It’s that whole customer service thing that doesn’t really exist in Switzerland that used to really annoy me when I first moved there. Turns out I seem to have gotten used to it. I was genuinely taken aback at the over familiarity of this sales assistant and felt a little like she was invading my space. I probably came across as really rude to her. 10 years ago, pre Switzerland, I would have probably trilled something right back at her.

Crossing roads. I would approach the curb and dutifully wait for the green man. 2 minutes later I would be the only person still standing there. In my ‘home’ country, it seems that people just..shock horror…. find a space with no cars and … here it comes…cross the road without waiting for the green man. This is dangerous practice people! I wanted to scream. But everyone seemed to be doing it. Everyone except me. 10 years in Switzerland have clearly conditioned me into always ..no exceptions… always waiting for the green man. I guess I used to jay walk too… when I lived here… in this country. My ‘home’ country.

My taxi driver. Bless the bones of him. What a sweetheart. Boy did he want to chat. “What was I doing here? Ooooh Switzerland, do they speak Swiss there? Sounds amazing, was it amazing? Did I miss home? Had I seen the match last night? Could I believe that he was nearly 65? (There was no way he was retiring.) There’s that new restaurant everyone keeps asking him to take them to. Had I eaten there? Did I know that a big storm was forecast for that evening? Kids? Pets? How long was I staying? His daughter had just graduated. Couldn’t believe a child of his had gone to uni” and so it went on. I tried to keep up, smiling and making the right noises in the right places, but all I could think about was my taxi trip to the airport in Geneva the day before. “Bonjour madame. L’aéroport?” 20 minutes of silence. “55 francs s’il vous plaît” (yes really). Bonne journée.”

Quel difference!

And so it went on. A week of ‘culture shock’ in my ‘home’ country. Other examples included:

The trains – how do people cope with the fact that they are never ever on time? I supposed I used to cope with this.

The choice. Coffee shops coming out of my ears, too many eateries to comprehend, shops galore (buy one dress get one free!), pop up this, pop up that, markets, supermarkets open 24/7.

The diversity. In one week I saw / heard; A man in a business suit with a ghetto blaster (you remember them) dancing his heart out (alone) next to Holborn tube entrance. Girls kissing girls. Boys kissing boys. Crazy, beautiful clothes on crazy beautiful people. So many languages being spoken. So many adverts for so many things. Live music! Street theatre. Pubs spilling people out, many of them drunkenly swaying around the streets. An -at least – 80 year old woman roller blading in Hyde Park.

That whole week was a beautiful, energising assault on my senses. I was like a rabbit in headlights. Had I taken these things for granted when I lived here? Would I even have batted an eyelid? Did my days used to involve small talk with shop assistants, jay-walking, late trains and living amongst so many amazingly colourful people?!

Then I landed back in Switzerland..with a literal and metaphorical bump (it was a thundery day.) I breathed in the pure air. Walked serenely to the tram stop via a newsagent where I bought a bottle of water involving no small talk whatsoever. I made the peaceful journey back to my little village on the edge of town. Put my key in the front door of my ‘home’. Hugged my chubby little bundle of a daughter, kissed my husband and patted my big stripy cat. I sat in my garden and looked out over the fields beyond it, catching my breath. “Phew, I’m home,” I thought……

…..for about 20 minutes. Before, as it is loath to do, my over-thinking brain kicked in.

But was this home? This is where my family is. My house. My friends. But this is where I often feel isolated. Confused. Unable to communicate either because I genuinely don’t know the French word for something or because I’ve failed to grasp some invisible cultural rule. So was that home? That wonderful diverse chaotic country I had just come back from? But seems like I’ve lost touch with a lot of the cultural rules there too.

I was still confused.

The next day I googled ‘reverse culture shock’ and discovered that it is most definitely a thing. Robin Pascoe, author of Homeward Bound puts it very eloquently:

“(when an expat returns home) norms and values from their home country are viewed from a fresh perspective, and expats and their families see things in a new light; something like Dorothy going from black and white to Technicolor.”

Couldn’t have put it better myself. It certainly had felt like a week in technicolor. Not that I’m suggesting Switzerland is ‘black and white’ in a negative sense. Just… different. Very different. More different than I’d realised up until that trip.

Further ‘research’ (i.e. googling) provided yet more explanations of what I’d experienced. Dean Foster, founder and president of DFA Intercultural Global Solutions explains that expats who spend extended periods of time in their host countries “learn new patterns of behavior and thought necessary to fit in” and that when they go home, either to visit or repatriate, can be “shocked into the realisation that they have in fact changed substantially.”

Yes. That’s it. I’ve changed. I’ve become a little bit Swiss, a little bit French (we’re right on the border with France and spend a lot of time there) and of course, I will always be (quite a lot) British. And as for ‘home’, well who the heck knows where it is. I don’t actually own any bricks and mortar anywhere on planet earth. Our rented house in Geneva is home for now. My parents home town, slap bang in the middle of England, will always be a bit my home. So will Glasgow, where I spent a number of happy years. So will London, ditto.

It’s a cliché, but it’s a cliché for a reason. My home is where my heart is. So wherever Bespectacled, Chouchou, stripy fat cat and rainbow baby are, will be my home.

And just so you know, ATM machine, GBP is as much my home currency as Swiss francs. Thank you very much. Hmph.

 

Parenting

What parenting has made me realise about myself…….

My main reservation about becoming a parent was the infamous lack of sleep that everyone talks about. I felt like that’s all I ever heard from friends with children – “I didn’t realise it was possible to be this tired”, “I managed 4 hours in a row last night – yay!”, “I fell asleep on the toilet at work” etc etc. It sounded bloody awful. As someone who already had issues around sleep, I was dreading it.

Turns out, I needn’t have got myself in such a tizz. I mean, yes, there have been bad nights  – some real stinkers. There was a point when 4 hours in a row was an achievement. I don’t think I’ve fallen asleep on the toilet but I’ve been pretty bloomin’ knackered quite regularly over the last 3 years. But it’s not been that bad. Lack of sleep has been one aspect of parenthood that I’ve dealt with pretty well I reckon.

So that’s not what we’re talking about today. (Long and unnecessary introduction I hear you say?!) Well, bear with me. The point of this introduction is to emphasise the point that often, the things we worry about are not the things that are actually going to cause us problems. You see, what I should have been worried about was how becoming a parent was going to… well I don’t want to over dramatise it…. but let’s just say –  expose the very bones of my soul, reveal to me my inner most insecurities, shine a huge great light on my personality flaws… you get the idea.

I was categorically NOT expecting that. So far, parenting Chouchou has been like one huge therapy session whereby layer upon layer of my SELF has been exposed … and I must say that some of what has been revealed has been quite a shock.

Here’s a run down of some of the things I’ve learned….

  • Turns out I worry SO much about what people think. It’s insane. I mean, I knew that I was somewhat that way inclined but I had no idea just how serious it was…

Example: Chouchou playing with the neighbour’s daughter in their garden last week. I was pottering in the kitchen thinking how nice it was that she can now play unsupervised when I heard a familiar shriek (think pig being gutted alive). Chouchou was seriously losing the plot over a princess dress and I could see she was headed in a downward spiral, the only solution to which was to ABORT PLAYDATE I repeat ABORT PLAYDATE: As usual, my attempts to calmly diffuse the situation failed spectacularly and within about 2 minutes I was forced to physically remove her – kicking, screaming, flailing, wailing. I attempted to apologise to the neighbour as I hoisted all 15 kgs of her over my shoulder (safest position to shield my bump and boobs from kicks – downside of this position, readers should note, is that it makes hair pulling very easy which of course is what she proceeded to do with some gusto.) As I staggered away tearfully, I caught eyes with my neighbour’s husband who had just got in from work. His look conveyed to me an impressive combination of pity, scorn, disdain, superiority and disgust to name a few. IN MY HEAD.

And that’s the key – in my head, that’s what he was thinking. And maybe it was what he was thinking. But maybe it wasn’t. And anyway, as bespectacled constantly tells me, who cares what he was thinking? Well… me… I care a lot as it turns out because I was still thinking about ‘that look’ at 3 in the morning, tossing and turning. By 5am, I had decided we all needed to move away from the neighbourhood because we have a reputation for having the worst behaved child in the whole world. By morning I had the situation in slightly more perspective but nonetheless I was still waaaaay too preoccupied by ‘the look.’

That’s one example of many, of course, and there are situations like this that occur every day. The caring what people think is exhausting and I know I shouldn’t, I’m just not too sure how not to…  When I lost Baby M, I went through a period where my grief obscured everything else and I thought I’d been cured of this worry but one year on, it seems like I’m back to where I started….

  • What my mother would call ‘not knowing my own mind’. One day I can be an attachment parenter, the next I talk to someone who tells me I’m a pushover and ‘bham’, I become a hardline ‘timeout’ type. On a Monday, I can decide I never reward with sweet treats, by Tuesday I’m desperately promising Chouchou she can have a chocolate bar if only she’ll do a wee on the god damned toilet. On Wednesday, she’s back in nappies and I’m waiting until “she’s ready”. It was the same with ‘sleep training’. I was totally against ‘cry it out’ until .. well… someone told me I was letting Chouchou control me, then I tried cry it out. And it worked. Then I was totally for it. The same with the stairgate on her bedroom door. I decided it was for her wellbeing and mine (i.e. I could sleep better knowing she couldn’t ‘escape’ and drink toilet cleaner in the night.) Then my mum said it was like “a cage” and I read a forum whereby someone described it as cruel, so I removed it. Then put it back.

My current “not knowing my own mind” is dealing with tantrums. On day 1 I decide I will be one of those calm parents who mirrors what they see i.e. “I see that you’re frustrated and angry” when she is kicking the shit out of her doll / me / the cat. Then mother in law tells me I’m letting her run rings around me and so I swing to the other extreme…..

I know that there will be parents who relate to this, but I also know those who just do know their own mind more. They don’t let forums, grandparents, parenting manuals or websites dissuade them from their way of parenting, whatever that may be. I’m envious of them… and also curious. Did they go to some secret school for parents that I didn’t know about? Is it some innate quality they just have? Or perhaps they are just more sure of themselves…..

 

  • I’m an impatient person. I mean I kind of knew this before. I used to detest standing in queues, become quite worked up waiting for Bespectacled to find his keys, lose my shit in traffic jams. But I never really realized just how impatient I was and how much of a problem it was until Chouchou came along. Waiting for Bespectacled to find his keys is a walk in the park compared to waiting for Chouchou to do every god damned thing “BY. MYSEEEEEEEEELF”. I get that it’s an important developmental milestone, I really do, but give me strength … Unlocking the door yesterday took about half an hour because she insisted on doing it and wouldn’t even let me so much as help her get the key the right way up (imagine the self doubt – “am I letting her have all the control? Or am I simply letting her learn to do things for herself?”) Getting in to her car seat commands a serious amount of deep breathing on my part and often, despite this, I find myself forcing her in whilst muttering FFS (and sometimes not managing to keep it to a mutter.) Getting the shoes on. Ahhhh… the shoes. Knowing that despite taking at least 10 minutes, they are going on the wrong feet yet feeling powerless to change it for fear of the ensuing tantrum. The deep breaths often just don’t cut it.

 

This particular personality revelation does in fact have a happy ending as I must admit, I have found myself becoming progressively more patient and accepting. I hardly recognized myself the other day at ‘car seat time’ when I found myself simply shrugging and accepting that we would be late, and the world wouldn’t end. That’s progress.

 

  • I am pretty emotionally … i’m looking for a word that isn’t ‘unstable’ but it will have to do for now 🙂 I have realised that I cry, get grumpy and get angry, feel guilty, pretty easily, then will swing to be full of joy at the amazingness of it all, then straight back to grumpy when Chouchou whines for a ‘fruit pouch’ for the 50th time. (She actually thinks pureed fruit shoved into a squeezy bag is ‘real fruit’ and embarrassingly screamed at me that she wanted ‘real fruit’ in the park last week when I offered her a nectarine.) I confided in a friend about my lack of emotional stability recently and she immediately gave me a ‘get out’ by reminding me that I’ve had a pretty horrible year. … yeeees but although Baby M has provoked a humongous emotional clear out, I would be lying if I said I was sailing on smooth waters before he came along. I just never realised how emotional I was until I found myself in charge of a small person, who pushes me to the limits of all my emotions regularly throughout the day. I tried to tell my mother in law about this the other day – she looked confused, genuinely confused. “I had 3 boys and an absent husband and no help and I never found it hard”, she declared…. “you girls nowadays think about things too much…” Cue an emotional breakdown and a tearful phonecall to Bespectacled – “there’s something wrong with me. Why am I finding this so hard? Your mother had 3 kids and no help” I sobbed.  A pause for a classic Bespectacled measured and well thought out response (he categorically does not suffer from emotional instability) “If there is anyone who’s opinion you shouldn’t care about it’s my mother” he said gently “now I need to get back to my management meeting. Do we have enough milk?”.

 

There’s plenty more where those 4 examples came from but as I type, Chouchou is watching CBeebies for the 3rd time today and I’m starting to feel that I really should be doing something involving the inside of toilet rolls and glue instead of pouring out my heart on the internet.. (while we’re on the subject, what the heck am I actually supposed to do with the inside of toilet rolls?) Well, you get the idea… one of my regular daily emotions is rearing it’s ugly head… guilt….coupled with that all familiar self doubt (do I have strict enough TV limits? why do I prefer to write this post rather than interacting with my child?), all washed down with a little pinch of ‘what does the invisible parenting expert who constantly watches me from the corner think of my right now?”… So all to say that it’s over and out for today, and more coming soon.

 

 

 

Pregnancy and Loss

Happy Birthday Baby M

Someone recently commented to me about an ‘inappropriate’ (her words) Facebook post a friend of a friend of a friend had written. From what I gathered, it was essentially an outpouring of grief type post. Someone out there in cyberspace who neither of us knew personally, had lost a parent and had posted a picture of the funeral accompanied by a very emotionally charged post. “Facebook is just not the place for that”, declared my friend. “Hmmmmmm,” I replied, in what I hoped was a a non-commital way.

Not so long ago, I would have probably agreed. I admit that I also used to think that using Facebook in this kind of way was slightly…erm… what’s the word i’m looking for? I hesitate to say it, but I kind of  thought it was all a bit attention seeking. And yes, inappropriate.

I know…. maybe not a very nice, or true for that matter, thing to think. I didn’t really understand grief then.

Now, I do.

You see, today is Baby M’s birthday …… and I want to shout it from the rooftops. I want to write a big Facebook post, perhaps complete with a picture of his grave, because I want Facebook to know – 1 year ago today, I had a baby boy! Please comment! Please like (or whatever of the range of available ‘reactions’ you feel is appropriate… they are all ok by me!). Please share! Please acknowledge!

Yeah, so now, I get it.

When we share ‘grief’ posts on Facebook, maybe we are looking for a bit of attention, and maybe that’s okay. We want the world (and nowadays, that means Facebook whether we like it or not) to acknowledge the person we have lost. You see, what I’ve realised is that we can’t (or don’t want to, or don’t feel we should) go around all day every day telling anyone who will listen about our lost loved one, we can’t produce photos and tell stories to anyone who seems to be a willing listener, not really…it’s not really… well…. ‘appropriate’, is it? And let’s face it, it would get tiresome. For us, and everyone else.

Because of course, life does go on. We go to the pub and have a laugh, we meet for playdates and talk about how tired we are, we go to work and discuss targets, profits, strategies (I’m guessing here..it’s been so long since i’ve been to work), we attend meetings and appointments, we make small talk with neighbours, shop assistants, people in the street, we take our kids to school, we cook, we clean, we sleep… we get on with life.

And there’s not very often an appropriate moment to hold up our hand and say “STOP – I want to talk about my baby. My baby who died.”

Well …… maybe Facebook gives us that opportunity.

It’s not for everyone, and in fact maybe it’s not for me. But if it is for you, I’m not judging. Go ahead. Post away. Why the heck not?

So why, as much as I’d love to, am I hesitating about posting about Baby M today? I’m not sure to be honest … Perhaps I’m worried that others will think it’s not appropriate. Perhaps it’s because much as I’m up for breaking down the silence that surrounds pregnancy loss and still birth, it feels like a step too far at the moment. Perhaps it’s because I’m worried people will think I’m attention seeking. Perhaps it’s just not for me.

But I do know that I need to write something for my boy, to throw something out there into cyberspace in black and white for my little baby, who was born and died 1 year ago today, and who changed my life forever.

So thanks for reading, It’s nice to share.

Happy Birthday Baby M. 23/05/2016 Love you always.

(Baby Loss awareness week. 9-15 October 2017.)

Expat Friendships · Expat Life

Expat friendships part 2

I now realise I was being slightly melodramatic when I recently declared myself to have ‘failed at friendships’ … To be fair to me, at the time I was in the midst of a long hard winter coupled with morning sickness and a demented toddler for company … And also in my defence, my birthday was a major friendship fail (see previous post for the full story). But we’ve been there and talked about that and that’s not what this post is about…

This post is about something else, something that I realised this morning when I glanced at my phone and saw 18 unread whatsapp messages and several more unread emails. I didn’t even dare check my Facebook inbox or my standard text messages. … who knows what messages sat there waiting to be acknowledged. You see, I realised that someone who had ‘failed at friendship’ would not have so many ‘friends’ trying to contact them via a variety of different mediums.

I poured myself a coffee, took a deep breath and sat down to have a read. This is what I discovered:

  • A friend who lives in Germany had had a baby.
  • A friend in Oxford wanted to know if I was trying to ‘end our friendship.’ (I wasn’t.)
  • A friend in Wales wanted to Skype.
  • A friend in Australia wanted to talk over a family crisis.
  • A friend in London missed me and wanted to know where I had got to.
  • A friend in Sweden wondered if I was still alive….

And so it went on…..

So here’s the thing:

  • I wanted to see the friend who had had a baby. Not text her. I wanted to cuddle her baby. Not see a digital photo of him. I wanted to hand deliver some gifts, not post them. I wanted to help her with shopping, make her a coffee, make her a cake… in short, I wanted to be there.
  • I wanted to go out with my friend in Oxford and put the world to rights over a bottle of wine, not text her. That’s why I hadn’t texted her. I felt awful that she would think I was trying to ditch her.
  • I didn’t want to Skype my friend in Wales. I wanted to go for tea and cake with her  – that’s our thing – T&C (tea and cake as oppose to G&T as either one or the other of us has been pregnant or breastfeeding for so long now we have temporarily conceded defeat on the G&T option….not that i’m against the odd tipple whilst pregnant or breastfeeding .. but it doesn’t have quite the same effect when you know you shouldn’t really be having it… at least with T&C I can indulge with a clear conscience.)
  • I really wanted to sit down with my friend in Australia and hash out the family crisis in person, not via snippets of messages and failed attempts to get our timezones to coincide for long enough for us to FaceTime.
  • I so very much missed my friend in London. I wanted to meet her at my favourite north London brunch spot and catch up.
  • As for the friend in Sweden… well I realised something needed to change if she doubted my continued existence on planet earth….

You see, what I realised is that I actually do have friends – plenty of them, in fact. But they’re not here, right here, where I need them. And long distance friendships are quite frankly, a shit load of work. All that texting, time zone managing, fiddling around with bad connections, interference, Skype with no sound (yes the microphone is on, not it’s not muted, yes I’ve restarted the god damn thing a gazillion times) then the sound miraculously comes back and the effing video cuts out (“can’t see you anymore – what was it little Archie was trying to show me?” yes the video is on, it worked earlier on.., yes i’ve restarted it… )

You get the picture. Or not as the case may be…..

I sometimes look back to my decision to leave my hometown aged 18. I could never have imagined staying at the time – that wasn’t what people did. They got out there. They saw the world. So that’s what I did. And I’ve had some amazing experiences over the past 20 years. I’ve travelled and lived in a number of different countries, and everywhere I’ve gone I’ve met wonderful people and made wonderful friends…. and now here I am with the feeling that these friends are now scattered  all across the world… a trail of friends from France to Scotland via Thailand .. none of them where it actually matters now. I now look at my friends that never really left their hometowns, who didn’t seem to have that wanderlust, with what I can only describe as a mild envy. I look at their solid group of old, loyal friends, their established social lives and the family on their doorstep…. and I can’t help but wonder what could have been….

Of course, I don’t regret the places I’ve been and the experiences I’ve had, but I do have to wonder how I’ve ended up feeling so alone in a place that I’m desperately trying to call home…

Of course, I don’t want to ditch my ‘worldwide’ friends, they are very precious to me indeed.  But if I could click my fingers I’d move them all to my little Swiss village in a heartbeat. We’d have a right old laugh and give the locals a run for their money at those monthly meetups…

But that’s not going to happen so I guess I just need to get over it and get on with replying to all those messages and scheduling those facetimes…. Big. Deep. Breaths. And lots of T&C… 🙂

Pregnancy and Loss

The birth story you’re not allowed to tell……

At a mum’s dinner out not long ago, the conversation turned to birth stories. Us mums love a good birth story, don’t we?

“I didn’t even have a paracetamol” declared one. We dutifully praised her.

“I was in labour for 3 days, the baby got stuck, I ended up having an emergency section” another whispered dramatically. We dutifully sympathised.

“”I went to a mountain hut surrounded by cows and mooed my baby out” said another.

Okay, maybe that last one isn’t quite right… but i’m sure it involved cows in some way.

The point is, when you enter the ‘mum club’, you will find yourself having the ‘birth story conversation’ sooner or later, which is all fine and dandy…..  until your birth story doesn’t result in a  living baby. Then, suddenly, you are absolutely not allowed to tell it.

I do get it – it’s uncomfortable. People don’t like to think about it. It’s sad … heartbreaking, in fact. For those who haven’t been through it, the thought of labouring and giving birth to a baby who dies is unbearable. And I can only speak for myself here, but for me, it wasn’t unbearable. My beautiful Baby M was born. It was one of the proudest moments of my life. He was beautiful. My birth story involved an induction, an epidural, a painless 8 hour labour, a short pushing phase and then my little boy.

No-one else in the world has ever heard that story.

Look, I’m not saying we should go around shouting it from the rooftops, but I do object to the feeling I have that I’m not allowed to talk about it …… because when I analyse the reasons for this, what it really boils down to is that it makes other people feel uncomfortable. I don’t feel at all uncomfortable about it. I’m happy to tell it. But I never do… I sometimes open my mouth to .. but I always think better of it, and then I end up feeling guilty. Like I’ve denied Baby M his story.

We have a pretty unhealthy relationship with death in the western world and I reckon this has a lot to do with it. Death is something we don’t like to talk about. We worry about what to say to a bereaved person. Crying is to be done in private. We are then to ‘move on’. Maybe things are starting to change though –  apparently the Japanese tradition of Jizo statues is starting to spread in the West. Angela Elson recently wrote in the New York times about how a Jizo statue brought her comfort after she miscarried her baby. 

I think this idea is just lovely,  an outward acknowlegdment of a little life and a beautiful way to stay connected to the baby who has died.

I didn’t know about Jizu when we lost Baby M, but I knew I needed ways to remember him. The hospital gave us a lovely memory box. We have photos, footprints and a hospital bracelet. We have his birth certificate. We have his grave which we visit regularly. And best of all, amidst all the confusion and grief in the days after his delivery, I had his initials tattooed on my wrist. I remember thinking at the time that I might regret this but I don’t at all. I love when I glimpse it – it takes me back to him, it centres me, it reminds me what is important. And yes, people ask what it means. And yes, I tell them. And sometimes they look shocked. Sometimes they look horrified. Sometimes they look knowing. Sometimes they don’t know what to say. Sometimes they say the right thing. Sometimes they say the wrong thing. When they say the wrong thing, I don’t mind. I know that they are struggling with a bloomin’ difficult task and that they are well meaning.

I know it’s hard. It’s really bloody delicate because I also know that just because I like to talk about Baby M, other mothers in my situation perhaps don’t. But I am going to go out on a  limb and say that most appreciate acknowledgement of their baby. So take a risk. Ask them about it. Listen. If they cry, let them cry. Cry with them even. One of my favourite reactions to the Baby M situation was that of a wonderful old friend who sat me down with a bottle of wine and sobbed with me as we looked at my Baby M photos. I was truly honoured that she wanted to see his photos and that she recognised him as her friend’s baby who deserved to be celebrated just as if he had lived.

I know that others reading this post will have differing views on how to deal with this very sensitive issue, but almost exactly a year to the day since I met Baby M, I am crystal clear that for me, the way forward is recognition and acknowledgement of his little life.

Oh, and next time you open your mouth to tell your birth story… just consider who you are telling: they might have a story of their own……

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Damn – someone already wrote my book! It looks spot on. Can’t wait to get stuck into this….

Author: Clara Wiggins Language: English Summary: From how to organise an overseas move to what to do in the event of an earthquake, the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide is a light-hearted yet in-depth guide for anyone accompanying their partner on an overseas assignment. In our increasingly globalised society, more and more people are moving to another […]

via The Expat Partner’s Survival Guide: A light-hearted but authoritative manual for anyone accompanying their partner on an overseas assignment —