Wednesday 26 September 2012

Super Mammy

I was fairly innocuous as a child.  Still am as an adult if I’m to be completely honest.  Things slip by me on a daily basis.  I was never one to think in depth about what I wanted to do after I left school.  My first career plan was to become a librarian but after I discovered that didn’t necessarily mean I would be able to sit on my rump and read all day, I quickly changed my mind.  I flirted with veterinarian thoughts until it emerged that I would actually have to leave the country to study.  Me? Who got anxious if there was even a whisper of an overnight stay at a friend’s house?
And all of a sudden there was one week left of the summer holidays and I had nothing to do and nowhere to do it in.  So I ended up doing a secretarial course that was purely an excuse to spend another year in school until I got my finger out.  Fell into my first job shortly after that, covering a maternity stint that lasted 6 years and then hightailed it to Dublin.
 Where I woke up.
 Morphed, if you will.  I discovered beer.  Pubs.  Parties.  Shopping.  As long as I was able to pay my pitifully small rent, a few bills and had enough left over to enjoy myself, I was happy.  I could not imagine giving up this life of freedom and debauchery to settle down.
But settle down I did.  I even got married. Although I continued to live the good life, leaving everything at the drop of a hat for a good time.  I was in no hurry to make changes, be they big or small.
And then came the day we found ourselves looking at two blue lines on a home pregnancy test.  A positive home pregnancy test. 
I wasn’t completely stupid you have to understand.  I knew what we had been doing for the last couple of months, could quite possibly, even more than likely, result in this.  I just didn’t expect this to happen so quickly!
And so, with a touch of anxiety, a smidgeon of nerves and a whole lot of excitement, the next seven months began to tick past.   I enjoyed a trouble free pregnancy and was obviously providing adequate room and board as 42 weeks came and went and it was an induction for me.
Our first son left my body at 6.20am, Sunday 19th February 2006, with a huge, slithery slurp and two things happened simultaneously:  I fell in deep, maternal love and knew I would kill to protect this, our precious child, and secondly, I wanted to do this again. Several times. 
Screecher Creature No. 1, eventually to become part of The Awesome Foursome,  was placed on my chest after an uneventful labour and, following a quick introduction to breastfeeding, we were subsequently brought back to the maternity ward where we were both tucked up in bed together.  My son and I slept for 4 hours until we were gently roused from slumber to begin our most excellent adventure together.  With some help from Mister Husband it has to be noted. 
The first few weeks were tough; hazy with lack of sleep and I possessed a vicious hunger that could not be sated.  It also transpired that our firstborn did too.  I had a leech on my hands.  Or nipple to be precise.  For hours at a time.  Hours!    
Pretty soon I became passably good at this mothering lark.  Lots of things improved; my confidence, my sleep, my ability to stop snarling at the door to door callers who had just woken the baby after an hours attempt to get him down for a nap.
I even managed to get out with Mister Husband once or twice. Yes, life was getting back on a nice, even keel.  So the inevitable happened.  Discussions began about going for number 2.  I must be a very fertile person indeed as it happened within a couple of months.  New Years Eve 2006 saw me waving a freshly peed on stick at Mister Husband who was reclining on the couch.  We reckoned I was about 5 weeks pregnant.   We also reckoned that this might be as good a time as any to start weaning Screecher Creature Only Child.  I was fully expecting (and secretly hoping) this idea would be met with great resistance. The day feeds went first and with just a couple of relapses, within a week, my body was my own again during the day.  All going well so far, I decided to knock the morning feed next.  Again, Screecher Creature Only Child launched himself at me once before deciding he preferred his milk out of a glass for breakfast.  The night feed, my favourite, was the last to go, and 16 months after I gave him birth, our first born was completely weaned.
Alas, a couple of months into my second fledgling pregnancy, it came to an end. 
I have the utmost respect for Mother Nature and truly believe that all things happen for a reason.   I know this is how I was able to make my peace with my body’s loss.  Understandably we were disappointed but we accepted it just wasn’t the right time for us. 
We waited a month or three before trying to conceive again and this time I was able to inform Mister Husband on his 35th birthday that he was going to be a daddy again.
 We arrived at the hospital on New Year’s night, eight months later, at 8pm.  Our second boy was born an hour and a half later, a little ball of fury who latched on immediately and created in me, wonder and awe at what my body was able to do. 
All of this from someone, who a few short years earlier, believed children didn’t have a place in her life. 
Once upon a time being able to fit into a size 10 was something I was delighted with.  Today, however, and four kids later, I am a perfect candidate for those Dove advertisements.
My jeans have little mouth shaped dried in yogurt stains and all my clothes have pretty much identical stains on the left shoulder. I may have been innocuous as a child but there’s no getting away from the person I am today.  As one of my boys told me once; “Mammy, me Spiderman, you Super Mammy!”  You betcha! I even have the battle scars to prove it!

Wednesday 19 September 2012

Polar Opposites

Sometimes I think Mister Husband would like to kill me.  Or if not kill me (coz then he’d be locked up and our kids would be orphans) but do me a great damage.  And sometimes I think he’d be well within his rights. Sometimes the wagon is not wonderful.  Far from it. Sometimes the wagon is a total and utter fucking bitch.  There, from the horses mouth herself.  I’m not talking about that time of the month.  We’re all allowed that time of the month. (We so are!)  And a few other times too.  Like when we are utterly sleep deprived and ranting rabid messes, liable to say anything.  Like when we are riddled with hormones due to pregnancy or breastfeeding and have little insane moments.  Like when we have been in the company of the kids all day; they are tired, we are tired and we just need ten minutes to ourselves with no-one at us, either touching off us or talking to us.  Like when we need serious body and mind space.  Those times.  Those are the freebie bitches.  The I am entitled times.  I’m talking about the times when I know he is frustrated with me, when I annoy him, when I am stubborn, in bad form, spoiling for a fight, when I push him away both literally and figuratively, when I am stroppy and being the aforementioned bitch, sometimes I wonder how different his life would be if he married someone else. They say opposites attract.  Lucky for us because Mister Husband and I are polar opposites.  From the very beginning we had different thoughts and feelings on everything.  I loved an impromptu stop off at a beer garden after work on a Friday evening.  Mister husband preferred a pint inside the pub.  Mister Husband likes jazz and moaney hole singers.  I love a boogie and if it is to 80’s music, I am in heaven.  Mister Husband smokes and I still hate it.  He was a big dirty ale drinker and liked to finish up with a whiskey chaser whereas I was fond of a bottle of American beer. Mister Husband wanted to get married and have kids.  The sooner the better and the more the merrier.  I dug my doc martin heels in. Mister Husband wanted to build a house and I wanted to stay in Dublin for the rest of my life.   Mister Husband is spontaneous and used to think nothing of taking off on the spur of the moment.  I am a lover of routine and like to know what to expect as much as is possible.  He likes to see the good in people but I think I am naturally suspicious.  Mister Husband is an idealist and I am too much of a realist.  He likes to take the odd chance.  I don’t.  If I am in bad form, I find it hard to hide it.  He doesn’t.  It’s been a long time, December 2011, I think, for my birthday, since we went out together.  Just the two of us. He keeps suggesting a meal and I keep saying ok but not doing anything about it.    In fact, the last time we were out together, was for his sisters 40th birthday celebrations in June.  This bothers him.  I can live with it.  Wrongly I think.  I think it should bother me.  But it doesn’t.  I am always too tired and I don’t want to take someone’s weekend night on them by asking them to watch the kids for us. I am aware this is just an excuse.  I have fallen into the “I couldn’t be bothered” rut.   He loves to go out and unwind over a pint and a chat in the pub at the weekend.  I prefer a meal and then home.  Failing that, I’d settle for getting the sitting room to myself for a few hours or going to bed at 8pm with a coffee and a book.  Mister Husband enjoys swimming.  He likes to swim up and down up and down, doing his lengths and allowing his thoughts to meld together.  I love to pound the road in blissful solitude, ear buds plugged in with music drowning out my thoughts.  Mister Husband wants an orchard and vegetable garden and I want the whole lot tarmacked over so the kids can use their bicycles.    Mister Husband loves the idea of being self-sufficient, growing our own food and eating it. He thinks it would be fantastic if we could make our own jams and chutneys. I despise cooking so much, having to do it is starting to give me an ulcer.  Sometimes I wonder does he realise he didn’t get what he signed up for that day in the church when he wrote his name on the dotted line?  The priest who married us also married his parents.  This was important to Mister Husband.  It was also important to him that we marry in a church, promise ourselves to each other before god.  I didn’t care too much either way. I certainly wasn’t doing it before god.  For me it was in front of our family and friends.  At our reception, Mister Husband walked the floor all night; he was the genial host with the most.  His wife?  I tied a knot in my dress and danced a hole in the floor in my bare feet. On our honeymoon I came down with a rotten cold and spent the first week bitching and moaning that I couldn’t breathe or taste anything.  His first married taste of for better or worse.  He has been to America a few times and loved it.  I have no desire to visit.  He loved Saving Private Ryan.  I spent those 25 hours counting the tiles on the ceiling. Sometimes when I play “what if,” I wonder “what if” he had married someone who enjoys messing about in the kitchen, inventing something different to put on the table of an evening for her family.  Someone who doesn’t forget to take the damn meat out of the freezer the night before and cooks yet another batch of drop scones for dinner as a result.  Would things be easier for him if he had found someone who was totally fulfilled being a mother, looking after her brood, content to wait till they are grown and fly the coop before she looks for an interest for herself.  Someone who doesn’t get frustrated at having to put her own interests on hold until such a time as the kids are older.  Someone who shares all of his interests and has both ears fully tuned in at all times.  Someone who doesn’t need so much time to herself. Someone who knows, at least half of the time, what she actually does want.  So if you see the following headline in an evening paper, Body Found in Wicklow Mountains, and it turns out to be me, go easy on him.  For our kids’ sake. 

Wednesday 12 September 2012

World Suicide Prevention Day

World Suicide Prevention Day was on Monday 10th September this year.  The Irish Examiner reported that there is still a stigma attached to mental illness in Ireland today.  In a survey to mark World Suicide Day, it was found that almost a third of people would not willingly accept someone with a mental illness as a close friend.  62% admitted that they would discriminate against hiring someone with a history of depression, fearing it would make them unreliable.  Some 525 people died from suicide in Ireland last year.  This was up from 486 in 2010.  Almost two years ago now, I attended a counselling session with a “health professional” when I was suffering with Ante Natal Depression.  This is basically Post Natal Depression in reverse; before the baby is born instead of after.  Because I had been in the horrors previously with the dreaded PND I decided I was not going to succumb to those emotions again and at 14 weeks pregnant, I sought help.  I was a public patient and waited eleven weeks for that appointment.  Thankfully I wasn’t at my worst but I did make the point to my husband both before the long wait for this appointment and after the very, very disappointing and it has to be said, scary, outcome, that it was a good thing I wasn’t suicidal or indeed, likely to harm the kids.  But who knew that at the time?  They certainly didn’t.  I have since learnt that such is the way with mental illness; today you could be feeling a bit under the weather and not showing any worrying signs of doing either yourself or your family an injury and tomorrow BAM!  Wipe out!  I am also, I hasten to add, most certainly not tarring every counsellor or psychiatrist with the same brush I am about to use here.  I realise everyone’s experience both with the illness and treatment is different.  This is just my story.  When the appointment arrived in the post, I was having a good day.  The day before was great too, but I knew from past experience, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday could be utter crap so despite feeling somewhat "fixed" I went along.
I had my assessment with the lovely African doctor where I was asked all sorts of questions about my mood, my childhood, self-esteem and my hopes for the future. Then I saw the therapist. Conversation started off like this.
HIM: What has you here today? (He hadn't yet read my file)
ME: Ante - natal depression.
HIM: (Look of total surprise) Depression before you have the baby? Are you sure? That's quite rare, isn't it?
ME: I believe it can be quite common.
HIM: I usually don't get ye until after ye have the baby and are depressed then. Are you suicidal or psychotic?
ME: No! Definitely not. Thank God!
HIM: So you want drugs?
ME: No.  I'm not interested in going on a chemical holiday. Anyway, my GP has said ante-depressants are not safe for the baby’s heart.
He let me talk briefly about my PND history. I said that it went untreated and because I breastfeed long term, I did not want to take drugs. Then the whole thing took a complete and surreal U-turn. He asked me how long did I breastfeed for and I told him all of my kids were weaned by the time they were 16 months old and the then youngest was about 6 weeks weaned. The African doctor who had assessed me was in the room with us.  He looked at her.
HIM: That's a real African thing isn't it? Is she African?
I was then told, by both of them, that stopping breastfeeding at six months was the best option for me.  He said he was "all for breastfeeding" and he was "sure it's lovely and cuddly and all of that" but "was I doing it for me or the baby" and when the mother is “not well,” they would advise that breast feeding stops between 6 - 9 months. I reminded him that statistically you are less likely to suffer from depression if you breastfeed but I got laughed at. I felt very strongly that he was approaching breastfeeding from a personal view point rather than a medical one. He certainly was not professional in his approach.
He described me to the African doctor as "a real earth mother type" and "big into babies." When she gave her very brief opinion on my assessment and said she felt I didn't need meds, he said "she won't take them anyway, she's not interested." It was as if because I refused drugs from the outset, he just wasn't interested.
He then went on to tell me about some study or other that was done on monkeys. Group A were fed from a wire type apparatus and Group B had the nice cloth type feeding apparatus. It turned out that Group B displayed strong social and sexual deviances through having being fed by the cloth mammy (breastfed) over the wire mammy (I presumed the reference here was to formula).
I was speechless. The whole thing turned into an anti-breastfeeding debacle and I left almost in tears. I was amazed at his utter ignorance and unprofessionalism. I made a follow up appointment but knew I would not be keeping it. He wanted to see me six months after the baby was born (usually when my "trouble" starts) and "we'll give you some ante-depressants then." He was like a dog with a bone. I just said, "Lookit, that's a whole 10 months down the line. I'll see how I feel then." I just wanted to get out of there! To top it all off I wished him a happy Christmas and everything. Bastard!   I did not keep the follow up appointment.  Thankfully I didn’t need to but needless to say I also did not receive a phone call to check on my whereabouts.  The main thing though is I am mighty again and have been keeping a close eye that things don’t suddenly go pear shaped.  I am one of the lucky ones.  When I felt depression beckoning last, it happened on an angry day and that made me pro-active.  There are people who are literally not able to seek help; such is the grip of this horrible illness.  And that is all it is.  An illness.  A little more serious than a common cold but an illness nonetheless.  It needs to be addressed and talked about. 
Last November, I put up a blog post entitled Depression.  I was both touched and saddened by the response.  I was touched by the support I received, both in person and through messages on face book, and saddened by the number of people that have experienced depression on some level or other.  They were people I know, people that I went to school with.  To be honest, when I was writing it, the selfish part of me was very much caught up in the poor me syndrome.  Yes, it was about me and my experience, but depression, I feel, is something everyone experiences at some stage or another in their lives. We go through so much in our lifetime; loss, joy, worry, stress, that our bodies have to react in some shape or form.  Afterwards I received a message from someone I went to school with and it made a big impact on me.  It was a couple of days before I could get her and her words out of my head.  I think what made it stay with me was I knew this person once.  We were in the same class together for years and the person I visualised in her message was a far cry from the girl I knew 20 years ago.  She has given me permission to use part of her message.
“I don't know what way us women are made up but we definitely feel guilt more than men and we’re way too hard on ourselves. [Sic]  I was in a strange place for a while - don't even know if that's the right way to put it. During that time I was working [sic] and I know I would have met you in the street. First time I wasn't sure if it was you. But you know I hadn't the confidence to stop or ask you and so because of my insecurities it looked like I was rude and ignorant.  Hard to believe I was the one that was always in trouble for being the gabby aggie in the class.  I don't know exactly what knocked any confidence I had out of me but over the years it got worse. Thankfully things are good now and it’s good to talk about it. [Sic]”
It’s good to talk about it.  Yes, it is.  It is also necessary to talk about it.  Talking about depression strips it of its mystery, removes all the fear and shame from it.  Removes its power.  Who cares what your neighbour/family/colleagues/ think?  People will talk and point anyway.  If it is not happening to them but it is happening to you, then it is also happening to your family. It is insidious like that. Preventing it from hurting your family is the important thing not paying attention to who may be judging you because they have a skewed or misplaced idea of what normal is.   Put a simpler way, one in ten people suffer from depression. Go on; line up ten people you know.  What are the chances?  What about the well-dressed mother who always seems to on top of things?  Her kids are always well presented; they are always at school and involved in plenty of after school activities.  Does she seem depressed?  What about the teenager who is always on Facebook and never without their phone in their hand, catching up with half the school?  Sure, they couldn’t be depressed, they have no time!  The professional young couple that live two houses down with the nice car, nice clothes and busy social life.  They seem to have it all.  Or do they?  What about your parish priest?  The lady who serves you coffee with a smile after the school run on Friday mornings?  The man who always seems to be there to help you with your trolley at the supermarket just when you need that extra pair of hands.  He always has a nice word to say about the weather and a funny comment to make the kids laugh.  What about him?  What about that successful writer who has books published in seven different languages.  You don’t know her but you’ve read all of her stuff so you feel like you do.  She has it made. Doesn’t she? The postman.  Your best friend.  Your father.  Your mother.  Your brother. Your sister.  Your son or your daughter.  One of them has suffered from, will suffer from or continues to suffer from depression.  Are you in that list?   Like the ad the media intones, “It’s your mental health.  Look after it.” But it’s also everyone else’s mental health.  We should be looking after it all!

Wednesday 5 September 2012

Getting it Wrong

Sometimes I get it wrong.  Sometimes I get it really wrong.  And sometimes your kids will take you by surprise and make you wonder if you know them at all.  

I am talking, in particular, about Big School and our second son starting. 

Any time it was mentioned, even in passing, he put his cross face on, the thumb went in and he curled up on a chair somewhere to shut out the world. 

I tried not to talk about it much, and whenever it came up, it was all done positively, with great enthusiasm and reminders about how he can have his very own birthday party this year.  He had his graduation from Montessori and when he was asked if he wanted to go in for one morning a week during August, he said he did.  

He went with no issues but reports were coming back to me about how quiet he was and that he seemed to be in bad form.  It had to be the thoughts of big school I told myself.  I couldn’t see any other reason for it. 

Again I didn’t talk much about his going but soon it was a week away and we had to start the countdown.  The uniform had been tried on - by his own instigation and he seemed pleased enough with himself. There was a smidgen of excitement about getting new runners and his nana had given him a brand new school bag.  

The day before Big School started back I had a lump of concrete in my chest.  I came close to tears several times from stress and was dreading the next morning.  Not for him starting school but the manic mornings and their return.  Somehow it seemed easier when there was only one of them to get ready for school.  Their school day was also starting ten minutes earlier which made me think of how getting out the door for 8.30am previously, to make the bus, was a struggle most days.  This year I have opted for doing the school runs myself as I still have to take them to the bus stop anyway.  I feel I may as well take them the whole way in. 

As I kissed them all goodnight that evening, I reminded Iarla that there was school in the morning. 

“Am I not going to Montessori?” 

Oh, crap sticks!!!!!  The lump of cement hurtled towards my stomach. 

Why, oh why, when we were doing the countdown to school, did I not call it the countdown to big school?  Why did I not think to differentiate between Montessori and his new school? 

Fully prepared and waiting for a howl of shock, I decided the best course of action here was to come clean. 

“No, Iarla.”  I was almost whispering, begging that he wouldn’t freak out on me.  “You’re going to big school in the morning.”  

There was a seconds delay and then the breath was squashed out of me as little arms reached up and grabbed me around the neck, pulling me down to hug him.  Was he delighted?  Shocked?  In fear? 

But he was grinning.  I could feel it.  

I pulled away and sure enough, he was all smiles.  He even looked a bit excited!  

I hardly dared hope and being the pessimist that I am, I told myself the morning could bring a different reaction.  

The tension and concrete block were still there alright but the boys seemed bright enough.  All good so far. And it got better.  

He couldn’t wait to get his uniform on and he was the first one in the car waiting for the others.  Walking towards the school gates, he was yards ahead of us at all times. 

We got into the classroom and he found a seat he liked the look of pretty quickly.   We got his name tag from Muinteoir Maire Dolores and he got back to the box of stickle bricks on his desk.

I couldn’t believe it.  Not a tear.  From either of us. 

I checked that he knew where the bathroom was and he told me he remembered from “the last day.”  

We put his school bag underneath his seat, I kissed him, reminded him I’d be back to collect him and I left. 

When I picked him up at midday, his words tripped over each other in order to get out and tell me what kind of a day he’d had. 

“Sit down with me, Mammy and I’ll tell you everything.”  Words such as those never left his lips before, even when he visited Santy land and I didn’t go.  Even when he had his grommets fitted and I didn’t bring him.

I didn’t need to be asked twice.  He told me he didn’t need to use the bathroom and he couldn’t find Conor in the playground. 

Mistake number one from me:  I asked him what he did in the playground.  If you think you won’t like an answer, don’t ask the question.  “I walked round all by myself, Mammy. I didn’t know what to do and then we had to go back in.” 

You can imagine the picture I had in my head when he told me that.  

“I nearly cried too, Mammy.”  

You know the way your heart feels when your child says something like this?  I had to hear more.  I was compelled.  

“How did you stop yourself?”  

“I did this, Mammy.”  And he rubbed his eyes furiously with his fists.

I was in bits!  But he was on to the next item on his agenda. 

There was a small complaint.  I didn’t give him enough food for his little break.  He didn’t have the same as “all of his friends.”   

 I resolved to remedy that the next day: tracksuit day.  He was very eager to wear it plus his new flashing lights runners.  There was the same half walk half race approach to the school gate as the previous day and I spent even less time with him in his classroom before I left.  

For the last two years he has had to watch his older brother come out of that school every Friday with a lollipop in his hand and the delight on his face when he ran out to meet me, clutching his own.  I despise lollipops and the destruction they wreak on teeth but this was a very special day. 

I couldn’t leave it alone over the weekend.  He seemed so happy and content in his new environment. 

The hour in between school pick-ups was lovely as he had me all to himself and was able to tell me all about his day without his older brother being present to join in.  He almost seemed like a different child.  He was stringing sentences together as fast as he could, words tumbling out of him, eager to talk and share his day.  

And then it hit me. 

Maybe he was actually ready for this step. 

Maybe he was ready to move on from Montessori and to a new challenge.  To make new friends, to broaden his horizons a little bit. 

Maybe he was bored over the summer, bored at Montessori especially as his friends had moved on and he was there by himself.  Maybe he was actually enjoying this new challenge.  It is his own place.  Away from me, away from Conor.  

This time I am glad I got it wrong.  Glad my boy proved me wrong.  There was even a modicum of annoyance when he realised it was Friday and school was out for the weekend.  A very good sign indeed.  But at lunch time on Monday, there was talk of a different nature. 

Were you ever sorry you asked a question? 

“How did you get on today, Iarla?” 

“I miss my old friends.  And I missed you a bit today, Mammy.  And I cried.”  

The concrete block was back.  

“Did you?  When?” 

“When you left.  Muinteoir came over to me.  I can’t remember what she said.  I cried for a little bit and then I cried again.”  

Jesus, don’t be telling me this!  

“And I was by myself in the yard.  A boy wouldn’t let me play football with him.”  

 If there was there ever a time for time travel, it was then.  All I could say to him was that it’s ok to miss me and it’s ok to cry too.

“I know, Mammy.  Lots of us were doing it today.”  The thumb was in, he was looking out of the window and had moved on to something, somewhere else, his acorn, the one he had forgotten to bring home on Friday, clutched in his hand. 

Sometimes I think there should be lessons for parents in how to cope during times like this. Suppose I’d better get used to the comings and goings of that cement block.  As long as it gets chipped away, I won’t hold too much against it!