Time: An Instagram Filter for Life?

Forth Trimester
Ft: Fourth Trimester Magazine

Sugarcoating Life

Last March I wrote a blog post about my experience of overcoming cancer in 2011 and my feelings towards it now when I look back. Well, recently I’ve been thinking even more about it.

However, this time I’ve been trying to remember the true reality of my situation. I can’t help but think that time somehow filters the truth, the harder aspects of an experience. Hindsight sugarcoats what was a truly terrifying time of my life.

I can only liken it to how we look back on our days with our first newborn. We remember all the love, sleepy cuddles and (in my case) the box sets, maybe over time we filter out the memories from the nights where we just couldn’t get that little baby to stop crying and settle. The 3am’s when we’d have a wee cry ourselves – purely from exhaustion… Time is basically like Instagram’s Valencia filter.

Do we do this in all aspects of our lives? Maybe it’s ultimately for the best? It enables us to move on, retain our fond memories and maintain a positive outlook. What is it they say? – what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? However, I wonder if it’s sometimes worth reminding ourselves of the hard days to give ourselves some perspective, and after all, we survived them, didn’t we?

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

I’ve been thinking about how we help people that are currently in the throws of those hard days. As my friend so eloquently put it the other day – “those that are wading through treacle” – whether it be parenthood or something else – and thinking about the advice I offer them.

I have talked about the positive outlook I tried to adopt throughout my cancer treatment (I’d say “journey”, but I still kinda hate that word), but it’s not completely realistic, is it? Of course now, years down the line, I say things like “the whole experience really changed me for the better” but, in reality, life would have been a hell of a lot easier if it hadn’t happened. At the time, that positive outlook wasn’t always sustainable – it didn’t stop me worrying and feeling truly terrified of what lay ahead, whether it be weeks, months or years down the line… or in the darkest times, wondering if I’d even have years.

The people around you in your time of need always mean well, but let’s face it, there ain’t a manual. No-one knows what to say, and most of the time I didn’t know what I wanted them to say anyway. It was the blind leading the blind and unchartered territory for everyone involved.

And so, everyone meant well when they gave positive affirmations like –

“you just have to stay positive”

“knowledge is power, now you know what you’re facing, you’ll beat it”

“you’re going to be ok”

“stay strong”

… And 90% of the time that’s exactly what I needed to hear, to reinforce some positivity. However, it was not always what I needed.

Ft: Fourth Trimester Magazine

Sharing The Burden

Sometimes we need to just be sad and allow those scary feelings to creep in – and share them. Let someone else pick up even just a small piece of that burden, after all, you’re living with that as a reality. It’s the least they can do!

Same in parenthood, isn’t it? You know when things are tough that they’ll get better – “this too shall pass” and all that – but sometimes you just want to have a moan and a cry about it, and it doesn’t make you less than the next mother. Doesn’t make you less of a parent or a Negative Nancy. We’re all human.

It’s just made me think – Next time someone shares with me the experience that’s getting them down, or a struggle that they face, I will bite my tongue and fight the urge to offer a positive affirmation in the first instance. Instead, I’ll encourage them to offload some of their mental burden onto me. Tell them it’s ok not to be ok. I truly believe in the power of a positive mental attitude. I know it helped me to deal with my situation and brought me through the other side knowing that I can deal with most things life might throw at me in the future… BUT, no one can harness that positivity 24 hours a day, 100% of the time. And that’s ok.

Lou x

A Note To My Friends…

When I became a Mum, I changed and sometimes it takes me by surprise how much. Of course, for the most part the changes I see in myself are positive, and I embrace them and am immensely proud of them.

However, there have been times that I have felt like I may have lost a little bit of me, just a wee bit of Louise. And I worry – do other people see that? Do they think it too? Will I get to reclaim it as the children grow? By no means do I think I’m alone in this – I think, I hope, it’s pretty common. With such a massive change in your life, it’s bound to turn things upside down, especially when that change is as all-consuming as a child (or two).

But my friends have been there through this change and they’ve helped a mama out… massively. They may not even realise how much. So I want to say thank you –

Thank you for remembering me and still inviting me, despite me often not being able to come along it still means a lot to know that I still exist. Even more so, thank you for inviting us all and understanding that sometimes we have to come as a package.

Thank you for not holding it against me when I ask a question and get too distracted to listen to the answer. There are times I come away from seeing you and realise I’ve barely been able to actually chat due to occupying a toddler that is hell bent on touching anything that might be breakable. I know how frustrating this must be – but I promise – I care about the answer.

Thank you for wanting to spend time with us. Not just me. For holding Oscar’s hand, for sitting down to play Duplo or paint a pirate ship with him, or for holding Scout while I eat my lunch. For just sharing the load and offering a hand – it means the world.

Thank you for not rolling your eyes when Oscar reaches ‘peak toddler’ – before I had him, I had no idea how intense this phase could be. So thank you for not allowing me to apologise for him and reassuring me that it is in actual fact completely fine. He is loved.

And most of all, thank you for still asking how I am. Whenever I feel like I’ve lost a little bit of me you are all there to remind me by talking about something other than nappies and nursery forms.

Right now I repay you by forgetting to post your birthday cards, but I hope you all know that I’ll be there to hold your babies, puppies, goldfish, whatever, so that you can drink your tea while it is still hot – it’s the least I can do, because you’ve saved my sanity a hundred times over.

Thank you.

What would you say to your friends? What little things have they done to help you along the way?

Lou x

A Different Mother

A better mother second time round?

Nope. Just different…

I knew from day one that I was different. Within the first few hours with Scout being Earth-side a profound difference was obvious. But it took me by surprise.

When I became a Mother

The joy I felt when Oscar was born was immense but there was also a fear – this was a whole new world we were venturing into and one we knew nothing about. Ante-natal classes try and prepare you for the birth of your baby but what about beyond that?! I was completely ill equipped!

I remember the feeling that first night in hospital with a teeny tiny Oscar feeling totally out of my depth. He was the first baby I’d ever held never mind care for. After Robin left the hospital for the night it was just the two of us – I was learning how to hold him, how to feed him, change him and give comfort. It was scary!

But of course, we learnt. The next day I got home and together as a team of three we powered on – learning on the job. It was wonderful, but scary. We’d sometimes second guess ourselves. In the night when he cried and we thought we’d exhausted all resources we got anxious that something might be wrong, of course, there wasn’t anything wrong. Sometimes babies just cry.

Take two

Two and a half years later and we waited in anticipation for Scout’s arrival – we didn’t know yet who she would be, but I was nervous. How would it be second time? Would she take to feeding as Oscar did? Would I cope? Can you die from sleep deprivation?

Then along she came and I felt different – I was so completely at ease and content. She made life easy and took to feeding straight away and I didn’t worry about it the way I had with Oscar – I knew she was doing well, I knew I was enough. When Robin left us for the night I felt confident and enjoyed every minute just the two of us.

While I was pregnant, I had read a blog post by Steph_dontbuyherflowers about ‘pulling up the drawbridge’ (well worth a read for anyone expecting a baby regardless or whether it be first or 10th!). It talks about the pressure new mums put on themselves to ‘bounce back’ and basically to be superwoman on the school run 2 hours after giving birth. Back in the day women would spend well over a week in hospital recovering, and now, many people are out within a few hours putting pressure on themselves to get back to normal, despite their body just going through a monumental event – both physically and mentally (seriously, go read, because my summary can’t do it justice). Anyway, it rang true to me – Oscar was a summer baby and I had been so keen to get up and get out in the sunshine and show him off to anyone that cared, and even to those who didn’t! It was so important to me to get ready, do my hair and makeup and trundle on out with the pram – I think part of me was trying to prove to myself that I had my sh*t together and I was doing ok in my new role and not wanting to lose my sense of me.

However, second time round I’ve had nothing to prove – not to myself or anyone else. In those first few newborn weeks we (semi) pulled up the drawbridge – the fact it was January, Baltic & snowing, made this a lot easier. I’m glad that we spent our first weeks together just chilling on the sofa. We put no pressure on ourselves. We had visitors, we welcomed them in, but we didn’t bother apologising for the mess.

The shock to the system that inevitably comes with a first baby seems lesser with the second. I have felt more at ease with the relative surrender of freedom that comes with exclusive breastfeeding – something I struggled with first time even though I knew it was something I wanted to do, something that was important to me and something that ultimately I loved doing.

We have fed, cuddled and napped our way through our first two months as a family of four – sometimes not even changing out of our PJ’s.

Parenting Rebooted

Has this made me a better mother this time round?

Nope. I’m just different.

Free of the incessant worry that comes with your first child (the worry that ages you about 10 years in the first month of their life). We’re not worried about routines – they will fall into place sooner or later. If she cries, we pick her up, she spends her days in our arms or sleeping soundly on our chests and we are confident in the knowledge that we cannot “spoil” her in doing so. We can shrug off unsolicited advice and roll our eyes, knowing we’re making the right choices for her and our family. Honestly, it’s refreshing.

In the last two and a half years Oscar has taught us both so much – not least that the months fly in. So I’m soaking up every little detail because I know all too well how quickly each phase will end. Already I feel the end of the newborn phase is coming and with it Scout is spending more time awake and demanding more attention. It’s sad knowing this will be the last time we do it but I’m excited for what’s to come, because that’s something else Oscar’s taught us – just how brilliant it is watching a little human grow and develop their own personality.

I don’t think there is a right or wrong. That drawbridge can be up or down, just so long as you’re happy doing what you’re doing. Make sure whatever it is though, you’re doing it for you – don’t let anyone else get in the way!

Lou x