Child: Frank, 6 months
Jon and I had been married 5 years when I got pregnant and I think people had got fed up with asking us if we were going to have a baby. I just never felt like I was ready or old enough, just one more year and then maybe.
The year before Frank arrived we’d been living in Namibia, I was a lady of leisure and with all that time on my hands it was probably the first time that I’d really thought I could see myself with kids, instead I got a Jack Russell puppy, named Jim and he became my baby.
We’d not been living together back in Didsbury very long when I realised I was pregnant. Despite being in a position where I should have been overjoyed being pregnant - 33, married, good job, financially secure, house etc - I was mortified when I was holding a positive pregnancy test in my hand.
The truth was I really liked my life with no baby in it. 2012 was going to be all about me after the last couple of years focusing on Jon and his career in Africa. We were trying to get back to some semblance of a normal married life together, enjoying going out and enjoying Didsbury’s bars and restaurants, throwing myself back into work and progressing my own career and then bang my year of ME was gone.
Consequently I didn’t tell many people until it got too hard to hide. I didn’t even let Jon tell his parents until 24 weeks in, I couldn’t face lying at how happy I was when people congratulated me. I knew I would love the baby when it arrived but I just needed to get my head round it first.
I was petrified of giving birth. To the point where I went out of my way to avoid hearing or seeing anything about it. I was scared of having no control of the situation, being so vulnerable and in front of a bunch of people I didn’t know.
People telling me that you just need to leave your dignity at the door when you give birth used to drive me crazy. I used to think if I could just take myself off and come back with a baby like the San bushman women do, I would have.
The first day of our weekend NCT course was dedicated to the birth and I did my best to zone out and pay no attention at all to what was being discussed around me. I didn’t want to know. The only things I retained from the whole weekend was 'you’re best off being on all fours in labour', that you needed to 'breathe your baby out' (seriously, I have NO idea how that’s meant to happen) and that you needed to 'lean on your family and friends (your network)who lived around you'. As Jon and I didn’t have any friends or family living nearby, my overwhelming feeling at the end of the course was that we were all alone in Manchester and I had another couple of months to get even more wound up by the thought of giving birth in front of a room full of strangers.
I was expecting to spend Christmas Eve in the delivery suite. Frank was due on the 9th December. Everyone was telling me that first babies are always late and so I thought I had plenty of time to get ready, mentally prepare myself, relax, watch lots of TV, read some books. But after spending a long day walking around Manchester getting the last baby bits, Frank decided I was ready for him, nearly 3 weeks early.
Reality of motherhood: I wasn’t ready for him. Not in my head. I was expecting/hoping to be turned away from the hospital but they said no chance, he was on his way. It all happened very fast but ended up like an episode of Holby City. I cannot think of the whole experience without wincing.
He is ace, but it is relentless and I’m bloody knackered.
Motherhood has made me a bit crazy and I never realised what an obsessive Google fiend I was. How did Mothers know what to do before? Armed with so much information and choice at every stage has meant my ability to make decisions and be sure that I’ve made the right one has totally disappeared.
A prime example of this is Frank’s name. I’ve spent the last 6 months avoiding using Frank’s name as I had major baby name remorse and I was convinced we should have called him something else. I could have named 30 girl babies, but boys names were really hard.
Frank didn’t have a name for over a week. As I was expecting him to be late, I’d thought I’d have at least another 4 weeks to think of one. In our hasty hospital packing, we’d forgotten a baby hat. The nurses put a tubagrip on his head after he was born, he looked like a little pixie so we nicknamed him Pixie and it’s stuck.
I found out a few weeks ago that you can easily change a babies name on their birth certificate before their 1st birthday. So I got my baby name shortlist out. Frank was lucky to be called Frank, I had some seriously weird names on that list. So he’ll stay Frank and hopefully I’ll be able to start calling him that soon.
I certainly wasn’t expecting to have to think about childcare so early on as I have a year off work. As Frank reached 8 weeks, someone asked me if I’d got my childcare sorted. I thought they were joking, but I soon discovered that finding the right nursery with a place available for Frank wasn’t going to be easy. It was quite depressing having to look into this kind of thing when he’d only just arrived and it was yet another thing to get obsessive about. Every nursery/childminder I could find were all booked up. I was so worried. Luckily as my worry was about to reach fever pitch, a lovely new nursery opened up in Didsbury, so he’s going there. That said I’ll have probably changed my mind several times about going back to work by the time he has his first day.
Taking Frank home for the first time: After one night in the hospital, we decided that we’d brave it and head home. Also I was dying to show the baby off to my mum who was still at ours with a chicken casserole. Getting out of the hospital was another matter altogether, the midwives were run ragged and trying to get one to discharge us seemed mission impossible.
At 10pm we decided the best chance of getting out of there was to go and sit on the front desk of the ward. Funnily enough one of our new NCT couple friends Elly and Mike had the same idea, their baby Gabriel had arrived on the same day as Frank. It was lovely to see them and to swap notes on the previous 24 hours. (Me and Elly – How are you - that was bloody horrendous wasn’t it - never doing that again - The men- I’m so knackered, yeah me too I’m so knackered, haven’t slept for 24 hours etc...). My god.
Upon leaving we were warned to watch out for a fox that had attacked people in the car park. And before that I was just worried about Jon’s driving.
The Best advice: The best advice, I chose to ignore. When my GP told me I was crazy to be expressing milk every 2 hours and I’d be better off spending this time with the baby, I was still obsessed with upping my milk supply and giving my baby the best start I could.
Oh how I wish now I had listened. It was only when I stopped that I really started enjoying motherhood. I feel sad when I try and recall those little details of the early months of Frank’s life, as I struggle. The memory of the whirring breast pump however is a vivid one.
The worst advice: Breast is best. I really did try breastfeeding. I never wanted to, but I felt I should, so when 2 minutes after he arrived I was asked if I was going to breast feed I said, 'Of course' (I’ve just breathed this baby out on all fours with no pain relief). I will feed him myself. So it was a shame when Frank wasn’t having any of it, which meant I had a humiliating few months ahead.
We tried again at home, but it still wasn’t happening.
That’s when I got it into my head that I would just express the milk. That way the baby got the best milk but without that trauma.....
After 6 weeks of expressing all the milk that Frank needed, the sound of the breast pump was driving me insane. I thought I should have one last try at breast feeding. I called one of the NCT breastfeeding counsellors who arrived screeching outside our house like some breast feeding emergency service. It’s only now that I can see the funny side of a 60 odd year old woman in my bedroom saying to me – “Right lets have a look at these nipples then”. But after the nice lady left, we still couldn’t get the hang of it, so the noisy, heavy milking machine was here to stay.
Producing milk filled all my waking hours, when I wasn’t attached to the breast pump feeling like a prized heifer, I was Googling how to increase milk supply, tracking down supplies of Fenugreek or reading medical papers about drugs that have a side effect of boosting milk supply. Buying these over the counter remedies pretending I had an upset stomach...To say I became obsessed was an understatement.
The hardest part of being a mother: Undoubtedly the guilt is the hardest. After a good catholic upbringing I am no stranger to guilt, but the guilt I’ve experienced since Frank was born has driven me quite demented. Guilt that drove me to become obsessive about producing breast milk. Guilt for then expressing for so long when I should have stopped and spent more time with the baby. Guilt for not taking him to baby massage or baby yoga, or baby signing or baby dancing or baby sensory....Guilt about feeding him food out of pouches and jars. Guilt for not giving the dog enough attention. Guilt for not managing to get us into a routine. Guilt about not getting a nursery place sorted while pregnant. Guilt for putting him in his Jumperoo in front of Cbeebies. It’s never ending and I wish I could stop it.
The best parts of being a mother: He is wonderful. I love the beautiful smile that he gives me the second he wakes up and the vice like grip on my finger when I’m giving him his bottle. My favourite sounds are his happy squeal as he bounces like a maniac in his Jumperoo and his babbling conversations he has with my mum when she visits. It’s bitter sweet seeing him grow, he’s already such a little personality but it makes me a little sad when he grows out of his clothes and needs a bigger size of nappy!
Maybe not something to admit, but I love to escaping being a mum. Going to the Trafford centre or the pub – without Frank and pretending things were like they were before. Stuff I took for granted before but now give me more pleasure than they ever used to. Not surprisingly I now feel guilty for admitting that......
I’ve loved making my new NCT friends. We were all so reserved on the course and on the first couple of follow up meet ups but that all changed in the first get-togethers after the babies arrived. They are a wonderful group of women who don’t pretend that everything is perfect, thank God. I’ve loved getting together, getting their advice, eating cake (or drinking wine) and having a bitch fest about the guys or in-laws.
Has becoming a mother changed you? I think having Frank has made me a nicer person, I’m definitely more friendly and happier in general. My husband Jon tells me I’m less impatient and more tolerant. Most of the time.
Hopes for your family: I hope that Frank is a happy boy. I hope that he’s respectful and polite with impeccable manners. I’m hoping he is kind. I’m hoping he doesn’t have any worries.
I’m hoping that he will love to read and play tennis like I do, rather than have an obsession with motorbikes and riding them to the point of injury like his Dad.
I’d like to think I’ll get over the traumatic birth, but I’m not sure I will enough to have another baby. Consequently I hope that Frank doesn’t mind having a Jim the dog for a brother and that he makes friends easily so he doesn’t get lonely.
What advice would you offer to new and expectant mums:
PACK YOUR HOSPITAL BAG. A bit of advice you read all the time, but due to my hatred of packing even for a nice weekend away, chose to ignore. Packing a hospital bag when in labour though was not fun.
Breast pumps will slowly drive you crazy.
Don’t go near a pair of jeans for a while after the baby arrived. They make you feel fat.