Is three really the magic number or just a crowd?

courtesy of bounty.com
beautiful baby feet make my heart skip a beat

This is a question I have been pondering for a while, and if you haven’t guessed what I am referring to – it’s the almighty decision about whether to have a third child or not?

For a long time I was adamantly sticking to two children because, as is so often pointed out to me (in case I hadn’t noticed), I have one of each and now I can stop! Which is true, but having children for me was never about having a daughter or a son in particular so I was never fussed anyway.

To context this, I have a 7-year-old girl and a 4-year-old boy. They are two wonderful children who are my purpose in life, my inspiration and the greatest thing I have ever done (that and marrying their father). So why wouldn’t I want to do that again? Well..

By the time my youngest child finishes uni I will be about to turn 50, presupposing he a) goes to Uni, b) takes a conventional three-year course and c) doesn’t take a gap year!! But the point being that by the time I am turning 50 my children will not be children anymore and I will have the opportunity to fulfil the dreams and ambitions that are being stunted at the moment because my children are young and need me so much more. All whilst I’m still young enough to enjoy it.

Have another child now and I am adding at least another 5.5 years to that which still makes me young, but suddenly the sacrifices/benefits of having children relatively young are lost because I then had another baby in my thirties.

Thing is, I can see having another baby fitting in to my life. I want another baby – I want to be pregnant again, have scans, feel the baby kick – hell I even want to go through labour again. I want to meet my child for the first time ever, I want to give my son the chance to become a big brother. All those wonderful magical amazing experiences that come from having a baby.

But I am not sure if I want the third child?!? Madness really, because to have another baby means to have another child. But I don’t see a third child fitting in and the dynamics would change significantly. My son idolises my daughter, she in turn protects him and teaches him. They fight like cats and dogs as well but ultimately, they love each other and their bond is wonderful. Put a third child in there and someone is getting left out surely!! The age range would span nearly 9 years and I just don’t know how well that would work.

Also, I can tell you the times I definitely DON’T want a third child – Christmas, holidays and school shoe shopping time!! There is a definite financial implication to having another baby not least because I sold all my baby stuff to stop this very thing from happening.

Image courtesy of someecards.com
There are some days when I am adamant this is a bad idea.

I think this urge is also driven a bit from social media. I follow a number of people on Instagram who have recently had their third child and they have inspired me with advice around hypnobirthing, the fourth trimester and pulling up the drawbridge. I think part of my longing is to do with having a more idealistic birth and taking all the things I have learnt since my last baby and putting them in to practice with a new baby. With both of my children, I have regrets about either their birth or first year, all related to circumstances and nothing to do with them. But I do feel a bit like I want to do it again and do it so much better to repair the damage and to end on a high.

But actually, I am possibly mistaking wanting another baby for actually wanting to go back in time and do it all again but knowing what I know now. I would give anything to go back to being a first-time mum and there would be so so so much I would tell that me about what to do, what not to do and how to make the most of everything.

But another child won’t heal those wounds and wipe away those regrets, instead I need to make my peace with them somehow.

What is very true is that I am not the person I was back then in many ways, some positive and some negative. I now live with an anxiety disorder that I didn’t have nearly 8 years ago when I was first pregnant. I struggle with the stress in our lives now with just two children, chuck in a demanding baby and sleepless nights and I may lose the plot altogether. Besides, is it fair to the children to increase the stress in the house and stretch my resources even more thinly. They have been so amazing whilst I have been ill and I’m sure that at times it has impacted negatively on them despite my best intentions. So really do I not owe it to them to just continue to work on being in a place of calm and stability?

So many reasons not to do it, my head says it’s a definite no but my heart can’t quite decide. So perhaps ill just sit here looking at cute baby pictures and ponder some more until I’m too old anyway!! Besides my husband definitely doesn’t want a third so that does cause somewhat of a problem!?!?

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It’s About Time I got some perspective

One of the positive effects of having a dog is the time gifted to you when out walking on your own. I personally use this time quite often to catch up on podcasts. The newest addition to my podcast library being @dollyalderton Love Stories and most recently I have listened to her fabulous discussion with Emma Freud about the greatest love stories of her life. In case you didn’t know, Emma Freud has been part of many film masterpieces including Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and the perhaps lesser known film About Time alongside Richard Curtis.

About Time (2013)

After listening to this particular episode, and being a lifelong devotee of the Richard Curtis film empire, I was eager to watch a film I had never so much as heard about before. This probably speaks more about me than them, but About Time is not one of the more famous of their films I would argue.

Anyway, that aside I settled down on Friday evening after convincing my reluctant husband that he really did want to watch a romantic movie and not something with more action and gore. He wasn’t so sure but I am a very convincing individual and I got my own way.

Well thank goodness I did, because this film is truly wonderful, inspiring and potentially life changing. If you haven’t watched it, and I strongly suggest that you do, I will provide a brief synopsis. The film centres around Tim (played by Domhnall Gleeson) and the relationships within his life and the impact that his ability to travel back in time plays on those relationships. I am sure there are more eloquent synopses out there but that gives you the gist.

Where this film excels itself over Curtis’ other offerings, and as I have already said I am a huge Richard Curtis fan so that is not a criticism, is that it’s main focus is not just the romantic relationships. But instead it focusses on the everyday relationships, the mundane and ordinary but truly amazing life changing relationships that we hopefully all will encounter at some point.

One of the most touching and inspiring relationships is that between Tim and his father (played by Bill Nighy). It is not big and showy filled with proclamations of love but instead it is deep, subtle and profound. A shared love and respect hinged on simply the time they spent together doing normal stuff.

The relationship between father and son is awe inspiring.

The family itself is aspirational and it is one of the main lessons that we have both said we will take from the film. The importance of having a strong family unit and quality time spent together. Family members who would do anything for each other and who’s bond is infinite and immense without being showy.

The time travel part is not something I would usually warm to, I am not renowned for being a fan of the sci-fi genre. But luckily this doesn’t follow the traditional suit and is actually a beautiful and necessary addition.

Not only is it the crux of the relationship between Tim and his father but it is the area that offers the most insight and the greatest lesson I have taken from the film. Tim and his father are able to travel back to times within their own lives and make changes to the way they do things and correct any mistakes. Although extremely useful for both, Tim actually offers some enlightening words towards the end that make you consider whether the ability to right wrongs is actually as appealing as you might think. He shares the insight after making the decision not to travel back anymore, about the importance of living life everyday as if you had travelled back to change it. The reality is that we can’t travel back in time so instead we must endeavour to not make the mistakes in life before we even could.

In real life this isn’t always going to be possible and actually some of the greatest life lessons can come from the mistakes we make along the way. But currently the ideas of mindfulness and living in the moment are the hot topics and this film added an alternative dimension to those theories. Live in the moment and try to make sure that moment is the one you would live if you had the ability to keep travelling back and change it.

So, we pledged to try and live with that mantra in mind. Yesterday we bundled in to the car and headed off for a fun afternoon of ice skating. We revelled in the quality family time spent together doing something new and fun. The children said it was the best day of their lives (don’t get too excited, this gets bandied around on a fairly regular basis), we laughed and laughed. It could have been a scene from a Christmas movie, definitely a comedy when I fell on my backside. It didn’t however come without the usual side helping of challenge, the kids most amazing day did not continue when mummy wanted to look around the garden centre afterwards. There was a liberal helping of miserable faces and mutterings of “its not fair” for good helping.

Living their best lives on the ice for the first time.

But let’s face it, we can’t realistically live like in the movies, no matter how mundane and real they are trying to be. But I am still going to take the lessons I can from this and adapt it to fit around my reality.

Families are difficult, they are tricky, filled with politics and complications no matter how strong the love. But it is my intention to make my family unit the strongest it can possibly be, to forge lasting relationships with my children that will form the backbone of their future relationships and that will be the beacon in their lives. The place of strength and stability that they can return to whilst they weather the inevitable storms that come from growing up. I will provide them with the opportunity to make lasting memories and I will overwhelm them with love. I will be there for them at all times with unwavering support and I will do everything within my power to give them a movie worthy family experience.

Life is difficult, it is tiring, challenging and filled with potential pot holes. Raising children is  both the most amazing experience and equally the hardest of challenges. Balancing that with work and real life is tough and the reality is that we won’t be able to live the movie life. For me, this is all combined with the challenges I face as I learn to live with and battle through anxiety and poor mental health.

But sometimes you need something that will pull you out of the rut that you have inevitably found yourself in. Make you realise that you might be talking the talk but are you actually walking the walk? It’s easy to harp on about self-care, mindfulness, seizing the moment etc but sometimes they are just words and actually if you looked closely you aren’t following those ideals to the extent that you think you are.

Meet my new best friend Mr Penguin.

This film was a bit of a wake up call for both me and my husband. We have both taken valuable lessons from it and I hope that we will be able to cling on to those things as time goes by and we get swept back in to the whirlwind of life. There is every possibility that you might watch the same thing and feel none of the things that we have, in fact if you read some of the reviews online there are some interesting and contradictory responses to the same film. But hopefully there is something out there that will capture your heart to the same extent.

I pledge here, in black and white, to make more effort to live my life as if I had travelled back in time to change it. But maybe with less ice skating, fun as it was you needed a small mortgage to fund just one hour.

Feel free to share any profound and life changing, films, books or podcasts that have had an impact on you to the same extent. I would love to hear them xx

Scream if you wanna go faster!! Parenting with anxiety

My current assessment of my mental health would see me taking on the role of tightrope walker!! Getting more proficient I must say but very conscious that one false move and I’ll be falling on my face in seconds.
Last week saw me wobble massively, the rope was swaying and the arms were waving trying to regain my balance before a fall. It was a struggle and I did definitely expect the fall to happen but I am pleased to report that my mental health core was strong enough to keep me upright.
Now the rope has stopped swaying, I am reflecting back on the week and trying to get an understanding of where I am at and how I managed to recover so quickly from what was the equivalent of being kicked aggressively in the stomach.
To quickly overview the situation, I unexpectedly came across an individual who played a significant role in my spiral in to the anxiety pit and that really knocked me. I found myself back where I was a year ago and I wasn’t prepared for that. All of a sudden, I was faced with emotions and feelings I hadn’t experienced for a while and I plummeted back to a dark place of overwhelming panic.
Compounding all of that was an overwhelming anger, one that I had clearly been suppressing for some time even though I thought it had moved on. I was angry for a very long time after my anxiety started – angry at myself, angry at the person who had triggered the whole thing, angry at the way it had been handled at work and generally angry at life!! Through counselling I battled that anger and although I didn’t mange to destroy it, I definitely maimed it so it was no longer a threat.
Turns out the anger wasn’t that badly injured, and all I needed was to be faced with the original anxiety trigger and it came flooding back.
BUT, and this is critical, I didn’t have weeks and months of extremely painful counselling to fall back in to that pit of anxiety again. That particular person has had more than enough of me, they have taken all they are going to get from me. Regrettably I let that person affect me far more than they had the right to do, and as a result they robbed my children of the mother I should have been to them last year. AND there in lies the reason that I didn’t fall as hard as I expected. One simple answer – my children.
Parenting with anxiety is beyond difficult at times. In my instance, I didn’t want to go out of the house and function. I didn’t want to speak to people yet I simultaneously didn’t want to be alone. I couldn’t cope with noise, pressure and demands on me – all things you have to deal with daily when you are a parent. I was snappy and irritable, it took everything I had to maintain a basic standard of living and that was utterly exhausting. Their physical needs were always always met but sometimes I fell short on meeting their emotional needs.

There is no mum guilt that I have experienced that is worse than the guilt I have felt over that time. See if you know my children, you will know that they are truly amazing, wonderful, loving, caring individuals who deserve the absolute best from life. I did the best I could given the situation, but it was not the best that they deserved. I have vowed to put my everything in to making up for that time, which is in itself immensely difficult when I still have very present anxiety issues.
So, last week I had to make a choice. By the time I was alone and able to process my response to the situation, I had approximately 33 minutes until the school run. So, I allowed myself 33 minutes to cry, freak out and then pull myself back together. Then I left for the school run and put my everything in to being normal (whatever the hell that is!!), I suppressed the panic, the tears and the urge to collapse in a heap on the floor. I functioned as a mother, inside I was still breaking and once they were in bed and asleep I did allow the release of that but I promised myself it would last for one day only. It didn’t, but my recovery was much quicker than I anticipated and I was able to function normally albeit more subdued than usual.
So, what have I learned in my year of parenting with anxiety? Well it’s a rollercoaster and a half that’s for sure. It’s not the kind of rollercoaster you want to go on either. It’s the kind where you spend the whole time with your eyes closed, slowly climbing up only to plummet down at speed fairly certain you are about to crash but then at the last minute it loses speed and you are on the flat again.
Being a parent whilst I have been suffering with anxiety has been both a blessing and a curse. My two wonderful children are what has kept me going all this time, I couldn’t get signed off sick from being their mother so I had to continue to function. I had to get up every day and leave the house, I had to socialise with people and participate in daily life when all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball. There were days when I had zero motivation and energy to move but I had to find some from somewhere. Not was just not an option. But in having to continue as normal with the kids, it actually kept me mobile and upright. I could have easily succumbed to the clutches of anxiety, never leaving the house and shutting down all lines of communication and there is a chance my recovery would have been much slower and more painful. But that being said, there is a definite value in being able to curl up in a ball and recuperate. After all, if I had broken my leg, I wouldn’t have kept walking on it to get the kids to school, I would have asked for help. It really is a very fine line that we have to walk between allowing yourself time to heal and keeping mobile so you don’t seize up!
The hardest part of parenting with anxiety for me has been the intense feelings of guilt. I haven’t been the mother I wanted to be, the chances are that mother image I had was unachievable anyway but I feel I have fallen far short. They don’t always get the best version of me, and do they definitely get the brunt of my stresses  sometimes. Occasionally it is actually completely justified when they are in fact the cause of my stress, but often they have just been caught up in my anxiety whirlwind. I hope that the version of me I am now is better for them, I hope they don’t look back at me as the mean, shouty, crying mummy that I have been and instead see a better, calmer, more fun-loving mummy. That is the mummy I will aspire to be going forward. That may not always be achievable but I will remind myself of the wise words of my counsellor, just do the best you can in the situation and as I only ever ask my children to do their best, I shouldn’t ask more of myself than that.

Maternal mental health matters – it does what it says on the tin!!

This week (w/c 30.04.18) is maternal mental health matters awareness week. It is a week designed to put a greater emphasis on the importance of supporting mothers and promoting awareness of the various networks available to anyone who feels they may be struggling.
Motherhood can be a very lonely place and not just in the early days. This combined with the considerable stigma attached to maternal mental health can leave many mothers feeling ashamed of feeling anything less than grateful and ecstatic at all times. Some may feel that they will be judged or worse that they will be punished for admitting that they are finding things difficult. All around them are people who seem like they are doing a better job or those who look like they have their sh*t together and it can lead a mother to feel that she is failing in some way. But instead of reaching out, they will carry on as best they can and suppress their true feelings. To the outside world they will look like they are coping and like they are doing a fantastic job (which most probably they are) but inside they are being eaten away by feelings of inferiority, loneliness, anxiety and stress to name but a few.
I am writing this from experience, I have felt and sometimes still do feel many of these things. Initially I thought that my journey may be quite different from others but in actual fact it probably isn’t so I want to share it to help those who may be in a similar position.
My baby, like so many, was very much wanted. Being a mother was the ONLY thing I ever knew I really wanted and I absolutely couldn’t wait to get started on my journey. The birth of my daughter marked the start of the greatest job I will ever have, but like so many of the things in my life I had placed certain expectations on how it would feel and what it would be like. I’ll be honest, many of those expectations were influenced by the media. In actual fact it wasn’t at all, there was no glamour, not too much in the way of excitement and often a fair bit of loneliness. But I was lucky in that I didn’t suffer too much from poor mental health as result of becoming a mother.
However, at about the 5 month point I ended up caught in the middle of a very difficult family situation which had a very negative impact on my mental wellbeing. I see that as the starting point for the position I have found myself in now. Since that point there has been a variety of difficulties that have chipped away at my resolve.
Now don’t get me wrong, in that time there has also been a lot of wonderful times including the birth of my second child. However, I don’t feel that I have ever had the time to rebuild my resilience and consequently each time I encountered something difficult, my mental wellbeing was knocked down further. Then instead of taking time to address and deal with my response to this, I metaphorically filed it away in what a lovely friend referred to as my “wardrobe” and closed the door. Each time something happened it would go in to the wardrobe and I would continue as normal. As a strategy it seemed to be a good one and I genuinely felt like I was coping, it was a struggle at times but overall had someone asked me how I was I would have said that I was doing well. Except it turns out I wasn’t, and one day I encountered a difficult situation at work, I tried to put it in the wardrobe and the doors burst off spilling the contents everywhere. It was mess!!! A great big, ginormous, humongous mess all over the place taking on the form of anxiety and panic attacks. My resilience was no longer, it had been chipped away to nothing and it is from that point that I have had to rebuild.
And that is where I am now, at the point of rebuilding. I have made some major life changes including giving up my career and finally being brave enough to go for counselling. I am not certain what stage I am in my rebuild, mainly because I don’t know what recovery looks like. I struggle with not knowing if this is what I am going to be like from now on or if I am still healing. It is something I have to deal with and come to terms with.
Becoming a mother didn’t cause my mental health difficulties but being a mother has been a big influencer in my mental health journey. Being a parent is very difficult and does come with a great deal of responsibility which in turn causes a great deal of pressure. But I am certain that had I not been a mother when I found myself in this position then my struggle would have been harder. Those two beautiful, innocent, dependant and amazing human beings have always been my purpose and they were my incentive to keep going and to start the path towards healing. I had to get up and function every day for them. I had to drag myself out of the mire. I had to learn strategies to control the panic when I was around them.
This kind of responsibility and pressure is not always helpful for others and I can fully understand the struggle that some people will face with the fact that they have to be a parent when all they want to do is curl up in a ball and cry. But for me they gave me the incentive and the safety net that I needed. I will be eternally grateful to them for all that they have inadvertently given me during this time.
I had an unpleasant meeting with an occupational health nurse (another story for another day) who suggested that I couldn’t possibly be as ill as I was suggesting because I could still function on a day to day basis and look after my children. Little did she know that I had to battle gigantic demons to get out of the door just to do the school run. But I did it because I had to and if I had to go anywhere else I would take a child with me as my safety net. That was what worked for me, but it may not be for everyone. Having a child with me meant that I had someone else to focus on, I had a job and something to do in situations where I would normally feel exposed and vulnerable. It also gave me a reason to escape if I needed to “im sorry but we need to get home for teatime, bedtime etc” “sorry we just need to pop to the loo” etc etc. I had to function for my children but I needed my children in order to function.
So occupational health nurse I would suggest that you need to do some more research in to mental health because there is no set way to act and behave when you are struggling with a mental health issue. And much like in parenting, you often do whatever you need to do to make it through and that’s ok. It worries me that there are perceptions like these floating around amongst health professionals but again that is for another day.
My experience with maternal mental health may be different to the norm but what it maternal mental health matters means to me is exactly that – maternal mental health does matter and whatever shape or form your mental health takes and whatever path you found yourself it is all valid and important. The purpose of this week is to highlight the importance and prevalence of mental health issues amongst mothers so that we can all support one another. Remember just because someone looks like they have their sh*t together doesn’t mean they do. Don’t be disheartened if you think others around you are doing a better job, chances are they are or will be fighting their own battle at some point. Equally just because someone looks ok doesn’t mean that they are and actually they could just be waiting to for someone to ask them if they are ok so they can finally unburden themselves. So if you feel you have the capacity (and its ok if you don’t) to support someone who may be struggling then why not be the person to ask if someone is ok, you could make a world of difference to them.