The last few weeks have, in all honesty, been a little bit shit.
Sleep has never been Leo’s strong suit, and over 6 months of two-hourly wake-ups combined with the latest ‘stormy period’ has left me in increasingly greater need of a hot stone massage and a solid 8 hours kip. Add to this the wave of grief which can – and recently has – hit like a tsunami without a moment’s warning, and it’s safe to say I’ve been pushed to my physical and emotional limits.
Parenting is HARD. It’s full of spectacular highs and soul-crushing lows. This is true for everyone, but for those who have suffered the devastation of loss, this roller-coaster is even more turbulent. Every joyous moment is tinged with overwhelming sadness for the child you have lost and the memories you were denied from making, whilst challenging days come with a big side order of guilt. How dare you find this difficult? Are you not thankful?
‘Mum-guilt’ is a bitch at the best of times: it infiltrates all aspects of parenting and, unless you have anthropodal resilience, no one is immune. There are many ways to combat it (I particularly like Katie Kirby’s analogy of The Shitty Guilt Fairy and her suggestions for extermination) and, as it’s often first time mothers who are most affected, it’s reasonable to assume that you become more resilient to it as you progress through parenthood. You have a wealth of practical experience under your belt, as well as an established support network of mum mates, which makes ‘levelling up’ to two or more feel that bit less daunting.
The problem with parenting a rainbow is that you’re starting on the back foot in terms of feeling inadequate: you’ve already failed one child and are desperate not to fail another. Your self-esteem has crumpled and you no longer trust yourself or your body to be able to successfully care for your child. Your experience of motherhood to date has been that of grief and loss, so a rainbow baby is your second chance at happiness.
Whatever you do, you can’t fuck it up.
Except there will be times when, no matter how hard you’ve tried, it just feels like you have. Times when it seems as if you just can’t get it right.
The last few days have been one of those times.
Although frequent night-wakings are the norm in our household, we’ve been fortunate that since about 8 weeks Leo has afforded us an evening, usually going down relatively easily by 8 and sleeping for a couple of hours. This enables me and Tom to cook and eat dinner and have a little bit of quality alone time to reconnect as husband and wife (read: watch crap TV/stare at our phones).
Not this weekend however.
Seemingly out of the blue (although following on from a week of increasingly disturbed nights) on Friday night Leo spent the entire evening screaming the house down. Abandonong all hope of relaxing, we took turns to rock and soothe him, each desperately hoping the other would manage to cajole Leo into sleep; neither succeeding.
As I stroked and kissed Leo’s cheeks, the salt of his tears burning my lips as he desperately clawed at my face, I felt my heart breaking open. When his sobs gave way to whimpers, I could hear the fibres tearing along the same wounds which first bled for his brother, reopening each time I was unable to calm him into sleep. That’s the thing about a broken heart: even when it starts to heal the scars are so fragile that they threaten to split apart at any moment. I felt like a complete and utter failure: blaming myself (and my total incompetence at parenthood) for Leo’s distress and his inability to fall and stay asleep.
Following this ordeal, a toxic monologue of self-depreciation provided the soundtrack to my weekend and, fuelled by general exhaustion, culminated in the belief that maybe I’m just not cut out for motherhood. After all, I couldn’t keep my first baby safe – why did I ever think I could successfully raise and nurture another?
A couple of hours kip, a good dose of fresh air and some TLC from my husband later, I have gained some perspective and recognise that, in actual fact, it’s not my fault. Leo is going through a difficult phase, or ‘leap’ as The Wonder Weeks terms it. These leaps are not the result of my inability to parent, but are – according to the book’s authors – predictable, age-related, developmental milestones which all babies go through from birth to 20 months. Whether or not I had suffered a particularly rough week in terms of my grief for Findlay resurfacing, Leo would still have fallen victim to ‘the three C’s: clinginess, crankiness and crying’ and there is little I can do to stop it – it’s simply a case of waiting for the storm to pass.
But although you can’t stop these leaps, or growth spurts, or ‘fussy periods’ (whatever you want to call them, there are things you can do to make them slightly more bearable. So here are my top tips for surviving the tough bits:
Forewarned is forearmed
At first I was a little sceptical about The Wonder Weeks, thinking perhaps it’s best not to know (or dread!) what’s coming. But since we’ve entered Leap 5 I’ve changed my mind! By knowing when these leaps are likely to occur I can modify my plans and expectations: much as I would have loved to join my sister-in-law on a 5k fun run yesterday morning I made my excuses a couple of weeks ago. Sleep deprivation + grumpy baby = NOT the ideal time to attempt a PB.
Talk to others
Got mum friends? Chances are they’ve been there and know exactly how your feeling. The Other Mothers WhatsApp group* has been filled with frantic messages of ‘I think I’ve broken my baby’ and ‘When will this end?’ over the last few weeks as we all try to deal with our leaping babies. Whilst it’s never nice to know your friends are struggling, there is reassurance in the camaraderie as we all suffer together.
Lacking in the mum-mates department? Get yourself to a baby group or hit the online forums. I found great comfort in reading through the diary entries of other parents in The Wonder Weeks book, and hearing that their experience sounded much like my own. Another reminder that it’s totally normal to feel this way and to find it tough – particularly during these ‘stormy’ periods.
Don’t be a martyr
If you have a partner or family and friends around then ASK FOR HELP! All too often I refuse Tom’s offers to take Leo out for the afternoon, or his suggestion that I sleep in the spare room for at least part of the night. I feel an overwhelming responsibility that I always have to be the one taking care of Leo. I think this is linked to my need to know that he is safe (and alive) as I am still very paranoid that something terrible will happen to him and I will lose him too. This is something I am trying to work on, particularly as I have to return to work so (for both mine and Leo’s sakes) we need to learn to spend time apart. Besides, Leo loves spending time with daddy, or playing with all the shiny new (read: better) toys he has at Nana’s house, so it’s good for him too.
Practise some self-love
Interpret that how you wish(!) but essentially take some time to look after yourself. Whether it’s enjoying an afternoon out with friends (sans baby); treating yourself to a hair cut or manicure; or even just indulging in a 1kg bar of Cadburys and a trashy magazine, it’s vital that you do something to make yourself feel that little bit better, otherwise these weeks will be even harder to bear.
I often have to remind myself that it’s OK to find things hard; it doesn’t mean I don’t deserve Leo, or am not grateful to have him, it just means I am a mother, and sometimes that’s bloody hard work. I need to try and cut myself some slack from time to time. If I don’t, then I risk sliding back into the darkness, which is no good for anyone.
Allow yourself time to remember
Inevitably, perhaps, when things are tough, you find yourself thinking more and more about the child you lost. Maybe it’s the feelings of self-doubt which lead you back there, or wondering if it would have been this way for them to. Or, as is usually the case for me, guilt. Whilst it’s important not to fuel this too much (remember Mrs Kirby’s advice) it is a good idea to allow yourself some time and space to think about and feel that loss. If you don’t, it will just bubble inside and become yet another weapon with which you beat yourself for ‘neglecting’ or ‘forgetting’ that child.
Remind yourself that ‘this too shall pass’
I feel like all parents should be gifted a replica of King Soloman’s ring as they leave the hospital, just as a reminder that things will get better (of course – they will then get worse again…but let’s not go there now!). In the dark, depths of a difficult period that’s what you most need to hear: it will be over soon and you can survive it. Just as you survived the darkness of loss, and grief; just as you survived the fear and anxiety of pregnancy; just as you’ve survived every single day which has come before this one.
The good news is it looks like this leap is nearly over and (according to the papers) Norfolk is set to be hotter than Madrid this week, so let’s hope it’s sunshine all round.
For anyone who’s not heard of The Wonder Weeks (have you been living under a rock?!) here’s a quick summary:
*The Other Mothers is the name of the WhatsApp group I have with my antenatal buddies. No doubt there will be frequent references to them littered across my posts.