Girls and boys

People ask me if I have noticed a difference between BUB.3, a girl, and BUBs 1 and 2, boys. Nope, I say, they’re exactly the same.

Hmmmm. Today she (purposefully) dropped an entire packet of dried spaghetti all over the kitchen floor, shattering it into small pieces. I tried to make soup, sausages and a stir fry as she proceeded to hand me pasta fragments one by one. Piece by piece, each one announced with a ‘Mu, Mu” which is “Mum”.

It’s raisins too. And baked beans. And pencils. And straws. And peas. And Lego. Each scattering of items is met with a sombre “uh oh” and then one by one, Mum by Mum, she hands me them, getting frustrated and cross if I don’t accept each one promptly and with smiles.

It’s really the only time she uses the word  ‘Mum’. So I smile each time and say thank you. And I stuff whatever she has given me in my back pocket, or on a shelf, in the bin or in the front pocket of my bag, which is at the best of times a place of deep confusion and biscuit dust.

I am used to items of all descriptions being dispersed around the house willy nilly. I am not used to this being viewed as a problem or an annoyance by anyone else but myself.

I don’t want to be sexist but I’m hoping this will extend to wet towels and toothpaste lids further down the line.

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Roll with it

Listening to Oasis’s What’s the Story Morning Glory in the car on the way to the cinema, we all sang along to Wonderwall and She’s Electric but when Champagne Supernova came on we all fell silent, driving through the rain, until I asked them if they knew what a supernova was. They said no, so I told them it’s the end of a star’s life.  “How long do stars live for? asked BUB.2. “Millions and sometimes billions of years,” I said. “Longer than us then?” “Yes.” “I wish I was a star then,” he said sadly, staring out at the rain, when just seconds ago he was doing Minions impressions. “But you are,” I said, before changing the subject to popcorn and sticking “Roll with it” on. Rainy, grey days are sh*t in the holidays but sometimes there’s just a flash of magic.

A Room of One’s Own

“What’s this? A shrine to 44 years ago?” BUB.1 was watching me sort through boxes of old school work, vinyl albums, Smash Hits yearbooks and photos that had finally, at the age of 44, made it out of my parents’ loft and into mine. But not before I had relived the memories and kept a few in sight.

My whopping new 182cm x 182cm Ikea Kallax (the furniture WW resists but cannot deny saves my sanity) was up in my office, with 25 boxes to be filled. I felt like a kid at Christmas. A few hours to wallow in two of my favourite things, nostalgia and organising. So in between the new filing drawers (‘School’ ‘Important things’ ‘To do’ etc.) and a box for chargers, a box for stationery and other important things that we lose daily, I fitted in my Smash Hits yearbooks, my photos, all the books that make me inspired or happy. My diaries, my old work clippings, and still lots of boxes to fill.

BUB.1 was right in a way. Standing there, laughing at all my old stuff. My peanuts book, my Muppet Fun Book, my Just Seventeens and my Wham! Make it Big album. My Creative Writing folder from when I was not much older than he is, my project on volcanoes, a topic his class is studying now.

I keep seeing man sheds springing up, but maybe women need women caves too. It doesn’t have to be an entire room. It could be a little pop up desk with a couple of shelves in the bedroom. While men sit playing video games or using their tools, forgetting the grown up world back in the house, women can read, write, create, build or just listen to George Michael (or whoever tickles their fancy) and wallow in a time before they had the responsibilities of a family. They can just be themselves. People go on about having children changing you completely. It widens your perspective and it alters your daily tasks but I don’t think it changes the core you. I’ve said it before, there is nothing quite as therapeutic as remembering what it was like when there was just you.

The beauty of both women and men having their own caves is that no one is interrupted by the dishwasher bleeping to be emptied. Everyone is off duty. Everyone escapes.

I see you. Your children see you. Can you see you?

The thing with Instagram mums is you can’t see them. If Sarah down the road has her shoes on the wrong feet (hers, not her child’s, it can happen) you can see it. You can see her unwashed hair, her red-rimmed eyes, the numerous fish finger boxes in her recycling. You can see her ill fitting jeans.

Women have never been perfect mothers. They just never got so incessantly pulled up by the media and they never had to compare themselves to filtered Instagram addicts. Looking back over time, billions of women have looked out for each other, helped each other, listened, noticed, shared and laughed with each other. That circle of support still exists today, down the street and online. My preferred channel of support is the bloggers and the writers who call themselves things like Unmumsy Mum and Scummy Mummies and Hurrah For Gin. They don’t fit the image of ‘mother’ that has been written not just by mothers, but by men, by media, by doctors and experts. They’re written by women who have kids. Mothers.

Modern day internet heroes are those women who make us laugh, who show us their red-rimmed eyes, their fat arses, their boredom, their bottle of gin, their tearful commute to work, their daily guilt, their imperfections, their love for their children. The Sarah Turners, the Helen Thorns, the Ellis Gibsons and the Katie Kirbys.  When was it decided that there was a bar to reach? And who decided it? It definitely wasn’t the woman sitting on the bench in the park with food-stained jeans on, hiccuping back tears and wishing she could just lie down for a minute. She has always been there. She has always sat on that bench. She just never had a world of comparisons and expectations on her shoulders. Her kids are alive and they’re in the park. You did it lady, these bloggers say, every day. You did everything you needed to and sometimes you need to hear that every day.

Kids don’t see Instagram filters or symmetrical cup cakes or fashion-forward scarves when they look at you or your home. They see lines and imperfections and sometimes they see tears; they see you. Not your 3495 followers. Not your dirty kitchen cupboards. Not your Valencia-filtered home-made egg muffins. They see you. If you transcribed the average mother’s day it would probably be a mixture of “God, can you just leave me alone for two minutes” and “I love you so much I can barely breathe” but there is no such thing as the average mother. To your child, the only person in the world who makes you a mother, there is only you.

And if anyone judges you for looking at your text messages from friends that make you laugh out loud and stealing a few minutes of feeling like you while your children play, or for feeding your kids the quickest thing you can find, then you probably want to scream at them that you weren’t always a mother and being a mother isn’t all that you are and, ultimately, you are just you looking after your child as best you can.

The fortunate mothers in this world aren’t hiding in broom cupboards scared of falling short or drinking in secret or pretending this is all they ever wanted or needed. They are doing it all in the open. They’re getting on trains across cities to work. They’re flying to meetings. They’re working night shifts. They’re drowning in laundry. They are fighting every day to balance everything their child needs with what they need. And they’re writing it all down, speaking it out loud and with it, millions of shoulders feel a little less heavy. Their words, their version of motherhood, their stories. Hallelujah to that. And to any mother who receives criticism for how she has done something from someone who has no business to say so, just remember to look down the street, or online, and there will be other mothers, scummy mummies and unmumsy mums and gin-loving mums,  leaving the house with a bat cape on, with cheerios in their hair, chairing meetings, attending school plays, writing presentations, saving lives, teaching other children, taking a bottle of wine out to the recycling and resisting a very slight urge to be sick. They’re doing all of these things.

So what does this have to do with the mummy bloggers who are much maligned by some? What these amazing women are doing is they are saying: You can be both. Just be both. Enjoy your life. Enjoy you and be glad to be you because that’s all your children want or need you to be. Above all, forgive yourself for not being perfect, so that your kids can look up to the happy, confident, joyful, imperfect woman that you were meant to be. To them, you are perfect and when it comes to judging mothers, whose opinion really, really matters?

Let's pub

I find that getting ready for a night out isn’t what it was. I once had to deal with two poos and a pair of sore bollocks just during make-up application. Despite usually having to let one of my children try on my dress or my boots or my bag, despite sweating most of my make up off before I leave the house, despite hangovers with kids being the ultimate torture, I want to pub so badly.

I’ve started to consider, in my own head, sitting on the other sofa as a ‘change of scene’. Those EXACT words ACTUALLY went through my ACTUAL mind. That’s not all. Recently I punched the air and whooped because my favourite Tinga Tinga Tales was on – the chameleon one. I need to get out more. I miss pubs. I miss chatting at the bar. Some of my favourite comedies have been pub-based; Cheers and Early Doors spring to mind. Beer breath and stale chairs. I’ve considered inventing pub-scented potpourri or a plug in pub “defreshener” but I realise I may be the only person who would buy it.

Village pubs don’t really count. I’m talking about London pubs where everyone is crammed in, jostling and joining random groups. Where you spill half your drink on your way back to your friends and you forget to eat and you have to wade into the toilets. I want to pub properly. Village life is great. But you know you’ve moved to a village when your main conversations involves kidney stones and bed sores. At the school gates I once talked to a man I’d just met about skid marks.

We have lots of pubs nearby. In fact, BUB.1 went through a phase of shouting ‘PUB!’ whenever we passed one in the car, in same way other children shout ‘COW!’ or ‘PARK!’, leading me to wonder if I do this. And of course when I do get to go out, I find that getting ready for a night out isn’t what it was. I once had to deal with two poos and a pair of sore bollocks just during make-up application. Despite usually having to let one of my children try on my dress or my boots or my bag, despite sweating most of my make up off before I leave the house, despite hangovers with kids being the ultimate torture, I want to pub so badly.

To counteract the getting ready shenanigans, I usually have one night away a year in London when I stay in a hotel from early afternoon until the next morning. I missed last year. Can you tell? It’s like a missed valium. I’ve got the shakes.

But, of course, pubs live on. They live on in my children. School meetings with other parents invariably occur in the pub. I asked BUB.2 if he wanted to be a Learning Detective (whatever the hell that is) at school, in response to a slip of annoyingly vague paper that I found crumpled at the bottom of his bag. “I do because you get to go to meetings,” he said, before pausing for a while and sighing. “But not in the pub.”

There’ll be a time to pub my son, a time to pub.

Tongue-tie: Can anyone give me a straight answer?

An unexpected breech caesarean section, BUB.3 first appeared to me as a long, bright pink, crying blur. “She’s got a tongue-tie which they say they can cut” Willy Wonka said, reassuring me she was OK as they checked her over on the table behind me. From something so certain, the first thing I heard about my daughter in fact, the next 11 days didn’t bring quite so much assurance about what I had been told.

She had a tongue-tie. Severe. 100% we were told. During my hospital stay she was checked and we told it was up to us whether we got her snipped or not but that it would only be done if there were feeding problems. We were told by one person at the hospital that it was a 50% tongue-tie. So immediately there were mixed messages. Some hospitals snip before discharge. But here, at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, we were visited by a tongue-tie specialist and sent home. Unlike some mothers who only find out because they have problems breastfeeding, we were in no doubt that BUB.3 was tongue-tied.

What is tongue-tie?

Tongue-tie (ankyloglossia) is when the bit of skin that joins the tongue to the bottom of the mouth is longer than usual, sometimes making it difficult for the tongue to move freely. It’s quite common, with the NHS stating that it affects between 4% and 11% of newborn babies. It can resolve itself, or it can cause problems with speech and tongue movement later on. Tongue-tie is fixed by simply snipping the skin (frenulum) so that the tongue is released. If one early enough, it’s a very quick procedure where a bit of local anaesthetic is rubbed into the mouth and the skin is snipped with a pair of sterilised scissors.

When to snip?

Knowing that BUB.3’s was a severe one, knowing that I had struggled to get my milk going with BUB.2 and BUB.1 previously, that they had both lost weight initially and knowing how very hard I had to work to make breastfeeding a success, I would have preferred to have her snipped as soon as possible so we had every chance of making feeding a success. I know some people baulk at the idea of taking a knife to the tongue of a newborn, but I’m tough and I had read that babies cry momentarily and then move on from it. Some even sleep through the procedure. She was my third child and I knew she’d be OK.

After our initial struggles, I had gone on to feed my first two children for 19 months and 27 months respectively. With BUB.3 I had to forsake my favourite part of childbirth, the pushing, for a last-minute c-section: I wasn’t ready to give up breastfeeding too.

The procedure at my hospital was this: I had to try feeding and if there were difficulties, I had to visit the breastfeeding clinic at the hospital, nine miles from my house, with a two-year-old in tow, and prove that we were having problems feeding. I had to do that three times before the problems would be signed off as due to tongue-tie. This is despite her having a visually obvious tongue-tie which I was not prepared to let her live with knowing that it may, or may not, cause problems later on.

Breastfeeding problems

We WERE having problems feeding. She couldn’t seem to open her mouth properly. So we tried positioning and all that jazz. But all the while, my milk wasn’t flowing because the demand just wasn’t there, and we weren’t getting going with breastfeeding. I was frustrated that I had an extra obstacle to face. Given that I’d had such difficulties before, which I explained to the wonderful breastfeeding clinic nurses, I just wished someone would book me in for a snip as soon as possible. But instead I got mixed messages about the wisdom or necessity of snipping it now. I just wanted it done. I didn’t want to take any risks with her future mobility or speech.

In the end, it took the three visits to the breastfeeding clinic for them to sign her off for a snip. 11 days after she was born. 11 days of struggling with feeding, of going back and forth to the clinic, in and out of the car when even walking hurt due to a very painful c-section wound.

Her tongue-tie wasn’t in question, it wasn’t doubtful. It was 100%. I had to top her up with formula from day one, as I had to have a bladder X-ray after the c-section to ensure no damage had been done during the c-section (the surgeon was worried her scalpel may have slipped in the hurry!), and was banned from breastfeeding for 24 hours.

The day of the snip

But I’m tenacious and once booked in for the snip, I was determined. The snip itself was fine. In the event, I couldn’t look at her as they did it (Willy Wonka was next to her), but I fed her immediately afterwards, as best we could, and she recovered within seconds. From that moment she latched properly, her tongue was free and we took off! I didn’t end up feeding her as long as the others, but I did feed her for six months. I had to stop as my milk supply was lower than the first two and my energy and ability to express milk to keep it up was dwindling under the weight of having a three and five-year-old to look after. But we did it, despite the tongue-tie, and I was thankful we had.

A problem shared

As I thought about what a struggle it had been to get the result I had wanted from the start, I asked friends if anyone else had had a similar tongue-tie experiences. I learnt that the procedure for dealing with tongue-tie varies across the country. I learnt that I could have gone private. I wish I had gone private even sooner than 11 days. But I guess wanted to hear a consistent, facts-based advice from the NHS, which I didn’t get. I also learnt that tongue-tie can affect both breastfeeding and bottle feeding.

I understand that babies need to be monitored to assess whether the snip is the best route for them but in a case where the tongue-tie is deemed to be 100% why did I have to wait 11 days? However, I was lucky someone spotted the tongue-tie at birth, possibly because it was so blindingly obvious.

Amongst a handful of friends (names changed), here are some of their very different experiences

Kate: “My baby kept latching on and then coming off and it became very painful. A midwife noticed a tongue-tie and advised me against snipping. He can’t stick his tongue out very far and mispronounces some sounds.”

Teresa: “I had breastfeeding problems but my baby’s tongue-tie was very slight and the professionals weren’t even sure if he was tongue-tied. Once they were sure, he was seven or eight weeks old, the Royal Berkshire Hospital could not snip that late in the day so we had to travel to Southampton. The doctor who we spoke to gave us some literature and said: ‘Every child has the right to be able to lick an ice-cream!’ Unfortunately, cutting the tongue-tie didn’t solve his feeding problems. I eventually persuaded him to take formula from a bottle when he was about four months old, and his weight shot up from the 0.4th centile to the 25th in the space of eight weeks.”

Zara: “I found out all three of my sons were tongue-tied at birth. Son number one’s feeding problems were solved by a cranial osteopath, my second son was a fantastic feeder but never seemed to be satisfied after a feed, and my third son had a very lazy latch. It was my midwife who said my second child would need surgery. I don’t remember it being any worse than number one of three’s, whose both snapped, but I just accepted this was the route to go and he had the snip at 11 weeks. The after effects of the surgery for the week following were horrendous. Feeding was awful as the tongue healed, I remember the wound looking really sore, like an enormous ulcer….he just didn’t want to feed at all. I don’t really remember being given much advice on how to treat the pain. He was miserable and for that week I regretted every minute of having agreed to the op.”

Elizabeth: I found out my first baby was tongue-tied at about 24 hours: it was severe and there were feeding problems. I desperately wanted to breastfeed and was told that cutting it would help. We got his tongue snipped at about two weeks and went back for two follow up appointments. We had to massage the wound twice a day for two weeks, which was heartbreaking. In the mean time I was putting him on my breast to keep the milk production, expressing to get milk to top up and also topping up with formula. At eight weeks, the poor little mite was still not back up to his birth weight and he was constantly screaming because he was hungry. After a horrible trip to the health visitor where he’d actually lost weight, I got home, gave him a full formula feed and I had a different baby. I came away from the whole experience feeling that for something that seems so common there is a massive lack of advice, support and knowledge. I also feel that the pressure to breastfeed adds massively to the confusion and inconsistent messaging around tongue-tie. I heard in South Africa that tongue-tie is checked and operated on either in the delivery suite or on the delivery ward. I don’t know how true that is, but think my experience would have been massively different if that service was readily available in the UK.”

Susanne: “My son fed straight away and put on weight well but I knew something wasn’t right as he was taking loads of air and his latch didn’t feel right. I breastfed my first son so I knew what it should feel like. A friend who met him at about two weeks suggested he might have tongue-tie, so I took him to breastfeeding clinic at hospital. They were awful. They basically forced him into me so he was all but choking, said he had a “very tiny” tongue-tie and that it was basically my fault for not doing it properly. They refused to cut the tongue-tie and said he was fine because he was putting on weight. I finally called in a private lactation consultant who cut it at about five weeks, which was much later than it should be. She instantly diagnosed a 60 to 70% posterior tongue-tie. She watched me feed him, said “This is NOT your fault” and I burst into tears! She cut it immediately, and the improvement was instant but gradually worsened again. We had it done again as it had grown back a few weeks later but there was less improvement and I wish we hadn’t as he was traumatised by it and so was I. But as he got bigger, his latch improved and we exclusively breastfed until he was about six months and he was a thriving, strapping baby.”

Fiona: “My second child had a tongue-tie. I spent hours in the breastfeeding clinic crying with my nipples bleeding, and mastitis, purely because he couldn’t latch and it was so unbearable I’d never empty. They said they’d book him in for it to be snipped. The appointment never came through and I had to give up breastfeeding.”

Linda: “My first child was diagnosed in hospital by doctors, and during my midwife visit at home she said she wanted to get it snipped. A week later we were at our appointment at the hospital to get it snipped, but when we got into room the doctor took one look at it said and said “It’s not too bad, if he is feeding OK then leave it.” It was just a waste of a morning for me. As a first time Mum I just went along with it but I just wanted everyone to have the same opinion and know what they were talking about. If second child maybe I’d have done a bit more research of my own and not even turned up the appointment.”

What was your tongue-tie experience?

As you can see from just a handful of people close to me, this is a common problem and the approach to it, at a time when new mothers need reassurance and sound advice, is haphazard to say the least.

The problem of tongue-tie is intertwined with the issue of breastfeeding and the associated doubt and guilt about the best way to proceed if your child isn’t gaining weight. The first few days and weeks of a baby’s life is all about getting milk to survive and a tongue-tie can impact that ability. Some babies aren’t affected. But from speaking to people, it’s clear a lot are.

If you have a tongue-tie story to share, please comment, or share this post with others to highlight the need for a better way to deal with something so common but which can be so disruptive to successful breastfeeding in the first few weeks of a baby’s life.

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Bath time: I'll just sit here and smoke

At bath time and in the morning, when they are getting dressed, there is sometimes shouting. I usually have to ask them to do something a minimum of four times, with increasing volume, before it might happen.

This evening I snapped, as after countless attempts to extract them from the bath they were still absorbed in their own world of flooding my ground floor and comparing wounds (microscopic cuts). Once out, BUB.1 and BUB.2 then proceeded to shake themselves like two hairy dogs, sending water flying everywhere. I shouted. It was a longer than normal shout, because halfway through my reprimand I warmed to my subject and continued longer than necessary. It felt good. I needed it.

They both know that when I shout a) I mean it and b) I still love them dearly because 90% of the time I start laughing halfway through or they do. But when I’d finished, there was silence. Punctuated only, after a few seconds, by BUB.2 sitting himself naked on the landing, and saying: “Well I’m just going to sit here and smoke” as he lit an imaginary cigarette and started puffing nonchalantly on it.

He’s just turned five. We don’t smoke. No one he knows smokes. I don’t know where he has seen anyone smoking. It must be something he got from school, perhaps?

But it sums up parenthood to me.

1) One of them will always stop you dead in your tracks and make you laugh (when you should probably cry) and 2) Once they unfurl themselves from fluffy toddlerhood and become a fully fledged child, you no longer control them and you no longer control their sense of humour.

And in the middle of a raucous, stressful bath time, that is the BEST feeling in the world. These, not the triumphs at Sports Day or the glowing school report, are the parenting moments that speak the loudest to me.

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