A year in reflection

In just over a month I will be back at work. I can scarcely believe the last year has flown by so fast, and what a year it’s been.

I have spent much of today manually migrating my blog over to this new platform, as the automatic migration was not particularly successful. Me being me, I read over every single entry before re-posting it here, and it was kind of weird to read what I’d written pre-baby: not so much weird because life is so different, but because I feel like a completely different person to what I was then.

Reading about how crazy I was about horse riding, how obsessed with writing, how fierce my ambitions following a life-changing program, and my somewhat ridiculous notion to write another manuscript on my ‘year off’, I almost had to laugh. How those passions have juxtaposed with the experiences of being a parent.

I haven’t completely abandoned these passions, but I’ve found it difficult to approach them with quite the same enthusiasm as I did in the past. I’m still riding, albeit only once a week, and it often feels like I have to drag myself there out of obligation. And while I have done some writing, so far it’s been nothing but self-indulgent claptrap lacking any kind of coherent plot.

I’m kicking myself now that I haven’t put better use to the last year. Well, the 20 minutes which hasn’t been spent in raising my child, anyway. But I’ve found it difficult to regain my love of writing. It’s not that I don’t want to do it anymore. I still follow the dream of publication, and I still want that creative outlet for myself so my whole world isn’t taken up with being a parent.

But just because I haven’t done much writing, the year hasn’t been a complete failure, writing-wise. I’ve had a short story published, and I’ve had some interest from a literary agent in taking on my series, which has kept my hope alive. Said agent shall remain nameless for now lest it all come to naught.

Now all I need is some inspiration. And a plot.

But still, the literary fire is no longer raging. Perhaps this is because I haven’t had the spare time I thought I’d have. Or because there’s nothing more important in my life than Finn, and he is my first priority over everything. Or maybe it’s because I can’t really write anything else until I’ve got this plot sorted.

Needless to say, life has changed forever and I’m hoping I still have room for my writing, especially once I’m back at work and me time will be an even rarer occurrence than it is now.

I have mixed feelings about my return to work. Part of me is looking forward to wearing nice clothes again and talking to adults and using my brain. The other, much larger, part is dreading the thought of leaving Finn for 8-9 hours at a time, three days a week. I don’t know how I’m going to tear myself away from him, physically and emotionally. But separation is all part of life and we need the money if we’re going to build a house. There’s also this niggling thought in the back of my head that maybe the change will re-inspire me to start writing again. And that’s enough to keep the flame flickering.

In the meantime, I’ll keep turning my latest plot over in my head and hoping that eventually it forms into something that actually makes sense. And if all else fails, I’ll grab it by the cahunas and drag it, kicking and screaming, into something I can work with.

Forgetting about the milestones and enjoying the journey

Yesterday I read this blog post and it really resonated with me. When you become a parent, it’s just the herald of a lifetime of worrying and paranoia.

Is my child developing at the right rate?

Why can’t he get up on his hands and knees yet?

Why is he so sensitive about everything?

Why doesn’t he like being around other babies?

Why did he refuse to eat breakfast this morning?

Why doesn’t he like looking in a mirror?

I’ve asked myself (and Google) these, and countless other questions, over the six and a half months of Finn’s life, and just when it seems that things are on an even keel, some other new ‘problem’ crops up, and I wonder whether this parenting thing is ever going to get any easier.

And the truth is, it probably won’t. Here I am, waiting impatiently for him to reach the next milestone, but each new thing he can do takes him further away from me. In no time at all, I’ll be worrying about leaving him alone for a second lest he start climbing the TV cabinet or the bookcase or crawling onto Jedi’s bed. Next I’ll worry about how he’ll cope at school, and then I’ll wonder what I’ve done wrong when he hits puberty and decides I’m the enemy.

That blog post made me stop and count my blessings.

A baby that doesn’t go anywhere while I make a cup of tea is not such a bad thing.

I don’t love getting up at 5.30 am, but those precious moments of cuddling a warm, sleepy baby and kissing the top of his downy head in a quiet house, just the two of us, are moments I’ll never get back.

His clinginess when we’re out in public can be annoying, but it won’t be that long before he’s asking me not to kiss him goodbye in front of his friends when I drop him off at school.

The days when just about everything seems to make him cry are interminable, but then he’ll give me a smile that takes my breath away and lights up the whole world.

Seeing how much he loves George and the joy the two bring to each other makes all the difficult days worthwhile.

So I’m slowing down, and I’m enjoying each step of his development, even if it doesn’t necessarily correlate with what the books say he should be doing right now. These milestones will have no effect on his future success, and they certainly won’t change how I feel about him. Above all, I don’t want to wish his life away, because one day soon I’ll lament that he no longer thinks my yawns are the funniest thing in the world.

When he’s at high school, or university, or starting his career, no one will remember that he didn’t crawl, or walk, or talk until he was X months old. This first six months of challenges will be long buried under those that follow, but the rewards will far outweigh them, just as they do today.

The muse has returned

I’m back! It’s seemed like forever since I’ve been able to write, but my muse has finally returned…and, along with it, my procrastination. Hence this post when I probably only have half an hour in which to bang out some words.

Since having a baby eight weeks ago, life has pretty much turned upside down. Whenever I thought things might be evening out a little, it would all change again. But, dare I say it, Finn is pretty much sleeping through the night now, and after a challenging few weeks where he decided he didn’t want to sleep for more than half an hour during the day, he seems to be settling much easier and sleeping for longer chunks.

Which means, of course, that not only do I have time for having a shower, going to the toilet and feeding myself, but now I’ve also got a few opportunities each day to do something just for me. Until this week, my brain has been mush and the idea of ever writing again seemed remote. But after a couple of weeks of a grumpy-crying-not-sleeping-constantly-feeding baby, the clouds have begun to clear and my creativity is slowly coming back.

On Tuesday, I began a working synopsis for a new book. There’s still a lot missing – a plot, for instance – but I’ve got a very basic structure to work with. Yesterday, I started to write. Sure, 80 per cent of it was notes I’d already written months ago, but it’s a start.

I think this experience is going to be very different from my previous manuscripts. I don’t think I’ll be writing a first draft in 70 days. But at least I’m writing again, and eight weeks into motherhood isn’t a bad effort.

Now I must go, because I think Finn is waking up. And if he’s not, I should be working on my manuscript anyway.

Yesterday, I fell in love

I have a new man in my life. He’s only been around for just under five weeks, but it already feels like he’s been here forever.

On 18 September 2011 at 8.11pm, Finn Wallace Freeborn Inglis was born. I won’t go into the gory details; suffice it to say that with the help of my amazing husband I had the natural birth I’d had my heart set on and delivered a healthy, beautiful baby. George helped to deliver him, and I cried when he was placed on my chest and we looked at each other for the first time.

Having a somewhat shaky confidence and a tendency to the negative, I expected the first few days to be hard. I expected to have difficulties with breastfeeding. I was terrified of postnatal depression, and that I wouldn’t feel any connection with him. But despite the hardcore sleep deprivation and the intensity and confusion of being responsible for a new life, I was on a high for those first few days. Breastfeeding came surprisingly easily. I could hardly believe how completely beautiful my baby was. I stared at him for hours while he slept. Everything was going so well.

After two days, we transferred to the Hilton, a service Ashford Hospital provides that I highly recommend, and while Finn started to become more alert and getting him to sleep was a little more difficult, we were still coping.

Two days later, we were ready to go home. The first day wasn’t so bad. Life ran on a loop of breastfeeding, trying to get him to sleep, being brought food and endless cups of tea by George, and fitting in showers wherever possible before the whole cycle began once again. I was tired, but I was OK.

The next day, it hit. I’d heard about the emotional craziness that happens when your milk comes in, but I was completely unprepared for it. I cried on and off for days on end. Sometimes it was just ‘my baby is beautiful’ tears, but more often it was feelings of drowning, of inadequacy, guilt, an inability to cope. I read in a book that the sound of a baby crying can give the mother heart palpitations, dizziness, nausea – well, I had all three at once. He only had to murmur in his sleep and my chest would clench and I’d feel sick. I completely lost my appetite (which, for those who know me, is extraordinary in itself) and had to force myself to eat.

Over the next few weeks, the crying gradually tapered off, but the feeling that I wasn’t really up for this job didn’t go away. It got worse when George went back to work. Some days, having a shower was simply impossible. Some days, he’d cry for most of the day for no apparent reason. Some days, I was feeding him every two hours because that was the only thing that seemed to work. Some days, I wouldn’t eat lunch until 4pm, and even then I’d choke it down as fast as possible before he woke up again. I couldn’t sleep during the day, so I was living on 4 hours sleep a night. I started to feel like I was losing my grip on myself.

Overall, Finn has been a remarkably easy baby compared with some stories I’ve heard, but that just made me feel even worse that I was so out of my depth. Every time he went to sleep, I would be overwhelmed with relief, that I could pretend for an hour or two that I’d never had a baby, that I could hold onto my old life. I started to resent him for how much he’d changed my world. And then I’d feel guilty for having these feelings. I was so lucky to have him, and yet part of me was wishing him away. What kind of mother was I?

It’s true that there’s nothing that can prepare you for having a baby. You can read all the books in the world, but they mostly gloss over these emotional reactions. People don’t generally talk much about it. I was lucky in that several of our friends have recently had babies and they’ve been very upfront about the turmoil it causes, but even they described the first weeks as a fog or a blur. It doesn’t feel like a fog or a blur when you’re going through it. It feels like a nightmare, and one that’s never going to end.

I started to wonder why I didn’t love him more. Sure, I thought he was the cutest baby that had ever been born, but the majority of the time my focus was on getting him to sleep so I could do things for myself. Wasn’t I supposed to be overwhelmed with love? Wasn’t I supposed to feel like I’d attained my life’s purpose?

I didn’t feel like that – not at first. I’m lucky in that I have a supportive husband who has never judged me for my feelings, and has just accepted my schizo behaviour without question, and I’m lucky to have friends to confirm that my feelings are all normal and not worth getting worked up over.

The last week or so has been much easier. Finn is sleeping better, and we’re starting to get into a pattern of sorts. He’s giving me the first little smiles, and each is worth at least a million dollars. We moved him into his own room and as a result, he’s started sleeping for six hours at night, which means I’m getting a lot more sleep too. I’m only getting up once a night now (fingers crossed this habit continues), and I’m starting to feel human again. I can even glimpse the possibility of getting some of my old life back soon. The plan to write another book in my year off is looking more like reality.

Yesterday, I fell in love with my son. It wasn’t like a bolt of lightning, but more a realisation. He has become my world, and I’m finally starting to see what it really means to have a child. He’s steadily grown on me over the last four and a half weeks, and I’m not worried anymore.

I don’t write this because I want to pour my feelings out to the world, but because I want to record how I felt in those first tumultuous weeks. No doubt in a few months’ time it will all seem like a fog or a blur, but I don’t want to describe it as such to other first time mothers. Not everyone experiences that instant connection with their baby, and no one should have to feel guilty for their reactions to such a life-changing event. All I can say is that there is a wide range of ‘normal’, and that the love will come, even if it’s not straight away.

Baring my soul: writing as catharsis

I’ve always known that writing about a difficult period of your life could be cathartic, healing; what I didn’t know was how hard it is. Some months ago, I discovered just how raw and painful it could be when I wrote about the two miscarriages I had last year.

I don’t think I would ever have written about something so private, even just for myself, if I hadn’t seen the call for submissions for an anthology on miscarriage. And to be honest, I don’t think I could have written about it at all if I hadn’t been pregnant again and reasonably sure that this one was going to stick.

I’m not great with emotions at the best of times. That’s why I write. So I figured it was a good opportunity, at worst, to get it all out and, at best, to maybe get published.

But once I’d started writing, it didn’t seem to work. Creating a story isn’t easy, but telling your own is next to impossible, especially when you haven’t really faced up to all the feelings you’ve been holding inside for so long. I had to let go of my wanky writer’s pretensions and my natural inclination to hold back on my feelings and just go with it.

I wrote the first draft in a couple of days. I cried a lot. I thought it was crap, and that I probably wouldn’t end up sending it, but I finished it nonetheless. But when I read it back a few days later, I was surprised to find it was actually quite good. I usually edit a lot, but in this case I didn’t change much at all, just smoothed it over, tidied it up and sent it off.

It did help. Writing about it helped me to realise how I really felt about the whole thing, and that getting – and staying – pregnant hadn’t completely erased the pain of what had happened. It made me value my relationship and treasure my friendships more, and to be grateful for what I’ve got in my life.

Not long after this, I found out that my story had been selected for the anthology. The Sound of Silence: Journeys through Miscarriage will be published and available in bookshops in October. You can see a trailer for it here.

If you want to read my story, buy it. If you’ve had a miscarriage in the past, or you know someone who has, buy it. One in five pregnancies end in miscarriage, so chances are you know several people who’ve had one but who have never spoken about it. This book is about ending that silence and allowing the women (and their partners) who’ve been through it the chance to find comfort and to know they’re not alone, even if they choose to never share their own stories.

Even now, three weeks off having my first baby, I still get tears in my eyes reading these stories. Damn pregnancy hormones. But I’ve learnt that not everyone is as lucky as I’ve been. And I’ve learnt that one gain, no matter how great, doesn’t cancel out previous losses. It just makes them easier to bear.