An open letter to all those who feel student mums are selfish…

Yesterday I was sat in the university library, trying to finish off an essay, when I overheard the conversation two girls opposite me were having. Normally if I overhear conversations, I quickly switch off and go back to whatever I’m doing, but this one piqued my attention. What I heard one of the girls say made me feel so angry, so furious, I couldn’t believe it.

“Student mothers are selfish. Stay at home and look after your baby!”.

Followed by assumptions about student mums not loving their babies enough, or not being able to cope with motherhood.

I can only assume they were talking about a classmate, or someone they knew, but I was so disgusted by what they said that it took all my composure not to kick off there and then.

Instead, I bit my tongue, packed up my stuff and moved elsewhere. But I can’t shake it from my mind, because if these girls feel this way, who’s to say there aren’t others who feel it too?

I doubt those girls will ever read my blog, and so they’ll never read this letter, but this is to anyone, anywhere, who feels that student mums are selfish, don’t love their babies, or aren’t capable of being good mums.

I am 20 years old. I am a full time student. I am a full time mum.

I don’t stop being a mum at 8:50am when I drop my daughter off at nursery, as I have done every weekday morning since she was five months old. I don’t forget I have a baby while I’m walking away, trying not to show how upset I get when she reaches for me as I say goodbye.

I don’t stop being a mum at 9:10am, when I’m sat in class or rehearsal, and I check the time on my phone, and I see her face on my lock screen, or my wallpaper. My heart aches and my arms feel empty and I have to force myself to focus on work.

I don’t stop being a mum at 11am, when I rush to the library to do the work I couldn’t get done the night before, because she has a cough and isn’t sleeping well. I see her face on my wallpaper and smile, but I miss her so much. I hear you talk about selfish student mums who clearly don’t love their babies enough, and I bite my tongue. I’m learning to do that more and more – I have to set a good example.

I don’t stop being a mum at 12:30pm, when I go to lunch with my friends, and as they laugh and chat over plates of chips, I wonder if the nursery would mind me just popping in to check on her, hoping her temperature isn’t too high, wondering what she’s had for lunch (the babies eat better than us students do!).

I don’t stop being a mum all afternoon, as I watch the clock and feel the seconds ticking away like minutes, and my arms ache to pick her up, I finally allow myself to think of her face, I hope she’s awake when we pick her up so she can crawl towards us with that beautiful smile on her face. It distracts me from my work but I don’t stop thinking about her.

I don’t stop being a mum when we’ve picked her up and had our amazing snuggles, and she’s eating her tea while I write up notes from the day on my laptop. I have to stop every now and then to pass her another sandwich, or another spoonful of yoghurt.

I don’t stop being a mum when I’m getting lost in research about verbatim theatre or trying to get another hundred words done on my dissertation, and I have to keep prising her away from my keyboard because otherwise I end up with my work reading “Griffin (2008) said that “verbatim theatre is ++++++++43434343    ——- a way of +++++++***”, or she just closes down the word document before I can save the really awesome piece of writing I’ve just done. I don’t magically re-start being a mum when I give up and put the laptop down and give her a big cuddle, only for her to bite my hand and crawl off to play with her toys.

I don’t stop being a mum at 8pm, when she is in bed and finally I can get my work done, in between washing her clothes, eating our own dinner and having a shower. I don’t stop being a mum as I surround myself with books and research and slave away for hours, desperately trying to meet seemingly impossible deadlines.

I don’t stop being a mum at 1am, when I finally fall into bed after managing maybe an hour of downtime, with my sleep disturbed as I worry about her cough, and my dissertation, and impending deadlines, and the world she’s growing up in, and how am I going to support our family, and am I doing this and that right, and do her clothes for tomorrow clash, and a million other things, stupid or otherwise, that fill my head.

I never stop being her mum. I never stop making decisions that will benefit her. I never stop thinking or worrying about her, and I never stop loving her.

When I stand in the office, handing in my dissertation, I will still be her mum. When I cross the stage and shake hands with the vice chancellor on graduation day, I will still be her mum.
When I sit there, nervous and shy, on my first day in my new job, I will still be her mum.

I won’t claim to know the ins and outs of your life. I won’t assume anything about your challenges and your responsibilities. I won’t say you have no idea what I deal with, because you may deal with more, but we have faced obstacles this last two years, and we have overcome them. My boyfriend and I are getting 2:1s and Firsts at uni while raising a beautiful, clever little girl who is loved beyond measure, and adores the people around her – us, our friends who are more like a family to us and to her, and her nursery staff.

What I will say is the next time you decide to call me selfish, consider this. I am studying, I will be graduating, I will be working, all for my daughter and her future.

If that’s what you call selfish, you’re the one with the problem, not me.

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What I’d Tell Myself..

If I could write a letter that would be read by myself a year ago, I think this is the advice I’d give.

1) You’re going to face some really tough times. You thought pregnancy was difficult? Think again. That was nothing compared to what you’re going to experience now. During the pregnancy, your body did everything your baby needed. Now, it’s all up to you and D, and you’re going to need to work at it.

2) It’s alright to put the baby in the Moses basket. Do yourself a favour. Don’t spend the next week holding the baby all night, alternating as to who sleeps. You are allowed to sleep at the same time as your baby – that’s the whole point of people saying ‘Sleep when she sleeps’! She will be fine – you don’t need to spend twenty-four hours a day holding her, as lovely as it is.

3) The night feeds don’t last forever! I’m not going to tell you to cherish them; I’m not looking back on this time with rose-tinted glasses. Just keep that in mind when you’re awake for the third time in a night, desperately putting together a bottle. On that note –

4) The way you feed her really doesn’t matter. Please, stop beating yourself up right now. Save yourself weeks and months of guilt and sadness over how you ended up feeding. Breastfeeding SB wasn’t meant to happen; it was healthier for her and for you to formula feed. It’s not what you planned, but plans always change. A year from now, she will be happy, healthy, bright and beautiful, and no-one will be able to tell how she was fed from looking at her.

5) Comparing yourself to other mums will never end well. What’s the point of it? It doesn’t change what sort of a mum you are. Everyone parents differently, and no method is better or worse than any other. If you’re doing what’s right for you (and you are, trust me), keep doing it. You don’t need to compare yourself, you’re doing great.

6) Every challenge is a learning experience. When she gets poorly, when she refuses her food, when she won’t poo or she’s getting fussy, don’t freak out. She will be fine, you and D will cope, and you’ll be stronger and wiser for it. Every experience, even the bad ones, are opportunities to learn and grow. Make the best of them.

7) Cherish her being unable to move everywhere! Seriously. Make the most of these days, where she’s so small, and just lies in your arms. Pretty soon, you’ll be chasing after her while she crawls, and constantly pulling her out of sticky situations. Enjoy the cuddles!

8) Don’t feel guilty about putting her into nursery. It’s difficult, and people may judge you, but she’ll love it there. She’ll be so bright and sociable as a result of it, and the sense of accomplishment you’ll feel when you’re where I am now, on the brink of finishing your degree, will be indescribable. It is SO worth it.

9) Don’t despair! It’s easy to think, when she’s so immobile and small, ‘What am I doing here?’. You’ve been expecting a baby, a tiny human, a new person in your family – and instead you’ve got a little thing that cries and eats and poops and doesn’t do a whole lot else. In a year’s time, she’ll be your best buddy, your little shadow, the centre of your universe. She’ll make you laugh so many times every day with the little babbles she comes out with, the faces she pulls, the mischief she makes. She’ll melt your heart when she kisses your cheek, and strokes your face, and looks at you when D asks ‘Where’s Mama?’. She’ll be your tiny little human, and you and D will be her entire world.

10) You are a brilliant mum. You are the best mum for your baby. Oh, how I wish someone had just sat me down in the first few weeks/months of parenting, and said this to me. People commented briefly that I was a natural, or I was doing great, but in my head, that was just what you’re supposed to say to a new mum. I wish someone had told me that it doesn’t matter how young I am, it doesn’t matter that I’m a student, it doesn’t matter that I’m lost – am the only mum my daughter needs, and the best one for her, and I am doing really well. It may take a long time, but you’ll realise that, and you’ll get to the point where SB reaches out to you, and you realise that to her, you and D are everything she needs. Maybe other people are parenting differently, maybe their babies are walking at 9 months and reciting the alphabet at 13 months, and maybe you think they’re parenting ‘better’ – but they could never be SB’s parents in the way that you two are.

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12 Month Update!

Her birthday celebrations are done and dusted, and now our SB is a year old. It’s hard to believe the emotions associated with this milestone; the realisation that our baby girl has been in the world and in our lives for a whole year!

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In terms of her development, I feel like we’ve seen another big leap from where she was a month ago.

TALKING

This is where we appear to be at a standstill. We talk to SB all the time, and do everything the books and websites suggest, but she isn’t having any of it. We’ve got ‘Hiya’ nailed, and she associates it with waving now, which is great. Dada is sorted, although she doesn’t really know who dada is, but we’re having real difficulty with ‘Mama’. I’ve never seen her actually put her lips together and make a proper ‘mmm’ sound, so it’s something I’ll be talking to the Health Visitor about. We’re teaching her a lot of technical terms bilingually, so when she points to our mouth, we say ‘Ceg’ first, followed by ‘Mouth’, so she gets it in English and Welsh. She’s getting very good at responding to verbal cues – when she hears ‘Oh no!’ she puts her hands on her head like the Scream painting! She also instantly recognises ‘If You’re Happy and You Know It’, and starts dancing and clapping. She definitely understands what ‘No’ means, and takes great joy in ignoring it entirely.

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FOOD

We’re down to two bottles a day now – one in the morning, one before bed – and the decision to drop the middle bottle was one that she made for us. She was refusing a lot of her food, but now we’ve dropped the bottle, she eats so well. We’re transitioning onto cow’s milk, which I’m a little nervous about, but SO ready to say goodbye to bottles and formula now! SB is a little food fiend – the staff at nursery have commented on how it’s amazing she’s so tiny, the amount of food she puts away – but she just takes after her Daddy in that respect. She can be a little thief at times – cake, sausage rolls and various other foods have been swiped from under our noses by her grubby little fists, and vanished into her mouth before we can say anything. As you can tell from the picture, she was in heaven on Easter morning!

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MOTOR SKILLS 

We are getting closer and closer to unaided walking by the day. Tonight she managed to stand up by herself (albeit very wobbly) for a second or two. The problem we have is that she finds it absolutely hilarious when she falls over, and goes out of her way to do so. She’s cruising everywhere, but often prefers crawling – if she realises someone is chasing her, she very quickly speeds up. In terms of fine motor skills, she takes me by surprise every day. She stacks rings onto a ring pyramid with ease, holds her toy phone to her hear, honks the horn on her little truck – she’s really starting to make the connections between an action and a result.

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GENERAL DEVELOPMENT

My squidgy newborn gets further away by the day, replaced by a little person, who will sometimes be my best friend, and sometimes my sworn nemesis. She’s starting to explore the world of tantrums, which is great fun for us, and may have yet more teeth coming through (welcome back to Hell, basically!). Most of the time, though, she’s a little sweetie, using her puppy dog eyes to the best of her ability, turning on the smile when she needs it most, and laughing at things just because we’ve laughed at them.

Her likes are… ‘interesting’, let’s put it that way. A sure-fire way of making her giggle is to sniff her feet, and proclaim how stinky they are. The other day she gave me the big, sad puppydog eyes, crawled over to me, pulled herself up on my bare leg (I was in pyjama shorts at the time) and gave me the most beautiful look I’ve ever seen… before licking my leg, smiling at me and getting back down to crawl around. I’m not sure why I expected my kid to be anything but weird, but even I wasn’t prepared for this level of randomness from such a sweet, angelic little thing.

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In terms of where we’re at as parents, there’s been a massive change over the last month. We’ve been growing in confidence all the time, but never had a set idea as to where we want our family to go and what we want to do next. We talked about having another baby some unspecified number of years down the line – usually five, but sometimes we flitted between more or less.

I realise now that this was to keep the people around us happy – to stop them making comments, or being annoyed, or thinking we were being feckless or stupid. The thing is, we’ll never please anyone – it’ll just never happen. I could have a baby tomorrow and there’ll be people saying how well we’ve done, and I could wait five years and have people muttering about age gaps and jealousy.

Emotionally, I am so ready for another baby, it hurts (and I’m sorry if anyone who knows me is reading this and is shocked by that – I did say it was the honest truth!). I’d love another baby right now. Physically my health isn’t good enough, but I feel like we’re starting to get there slowly. Practically, we’re not ready. We wouldn’t need to move, as bedroom tax rules mean any other child we have would be sharing with SB for the forseeable regardless. I need to be working, and have established myself at work. D needs to have finished his dissertation next year. We need to make sure SB is ready.

So has SB’s birthday made me long for the newborn days again (I must be mad!)? is there another baby on the horizon? The simple answer is yes, but don’t expect any announcements this side of 2016. Ask me again in the new year – right now I think I need a little longer to forget all the morning sickness, aching joints, chronic tiredness, anxiety, nightmares, being the size of a house…

To My Daughter

To my daughter, as the last day of your first year rolls into the first day of your second.

The moment you entered the world, you changed it beyond belief. Never, in my wildest of dreams, could I have predicted, as they placed you on my chest – a brand new human being – the difference you would make. You had so much to teach me – and now, as I recover from the hazy first year and prepare to raise you to become a woman, I have much to teach you.

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If you are unhappy, the power for change is within you. It requires courage, but I know you have it inside you to change the world, in the same way you changed mine.

You are independent and strong; that much is already clear. Be gracious and kind; know your own strengths, and recognise the strengths of others.  Be ready to lead, but be willing to follow.

Celebrate winning with humility. Commiserate losing with grace.

Never tell anyone that they are a lesser person for their age, race, gender, sexuality or lifestyle. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re lesser for those factors. Remember that who we are is defined by what we say, what we do and how we act. Their comments say a lot more about them than they do about you.

Your head and your heart are at war constantly. Sometimes, your head is right, but your heart’s suggestion is more fun. Sometimes your heart is right, but your head’s suggestion feels safer. As for how to choose which one to follow… you’re on your own there, kiddo. When you figure it out, let me know.

Lots of people will say things that hurt you, or that you disagree with, or that you think they shouldn’t be saying. Some of these people can be reasoned with, or are just having a bad day, or don’t know any better. Others do it because they can, because they’re not nice people, or because their reason for being is to make other people feel murderous. The Sims* was invented for the second kind of people. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as putting the Sim version of your enemy in a room with a fireplace and a mess of cheap, wooden chairs.

It is our job, as your parents, to protect you from scary things. But scary things are a part of life, just like sad things, and embarrassing things, and happy things and all sorts of Things that you can’t really assign just one emotion to. If we were to stop you from ever experiencing these Things, we’d be failing you. What we will do, and what I promise to you now and every night when you fall asleep, is to give you the strength to deal with these Things, the foresight to know that this Thing will not last forever, and the comfort you need when the Thing is just too much to deal with right now.

You will know that nothing is impossible. If I could go the entire pregnancy without succumbing to my desire for a share box of 40 McNuggets all to myself**, you can do anything.

I could go on for ages and ages and ages, about all the things I promise you, and all the lessons you have to learn, but I won’t. I will teach you, and you will continue to teach me. We will learn hand in hand. Please know that this is all very new to me too, so try not to shout or get frustrated – and I promise that if I ever shout, or seem frustrated, I don’t mean it.

More than anything, please know that I and your daddy are so proud of you. Every thing you do, from the huge milestones to the teeny tiny moments that take our breath away, we are filled with pride. You are clever and beautiful, strong and independent, loving and funny, everything we could have wished for in a daughter and more. The world is a better place because you are in it, and I am so proud – prouder than I’ve ever been of anything else – to call you my daughter.

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* I realise that by the time you are able to read this, The Sims will either be an ancient relic lost to the decades and you’ll moan at me for showing my age and embarrassing you, or it will have evolved and you’ll drag yourself away from The Sims 20 to give me a thumbs up for being a certified Cool Mom.

** I did, however, consume copious boxes of 6 McNuggets. Never more than two boxes in one sitting though, honest. It was the cravings. Stop judging me.

Birthday Party, Part One!

With family spread out across the country, it was inevitable that SB’s birthday celebrations wouldn’t be able to take place on just one day. Today we’ve celebrated with my family, with a visit to a little farm park, and then a party with my extended family in the evening, which has been lovely. The most surreal moment was SB blowing out the candles on her birthday cake – I can’t believe my little lady is already big enough to have a birthday cake!

This post is really more of a pic-spam of what we’ve gotten up to today – we went to the Children’s Farm Park in Llanfair – seriously worth a visit if you’re staying in the area! They’ve got a brilliant kids’ soft play area with a designated space for 0-6 year olds – SB had a fantastic time playing with the soft stuff and wanting to chase after all the big kids, and she loved meeting lambs, goat kids, calves, piglets and many other animals!

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Stop the world, I want to get off!

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This was my TimeHop this morning; showing just how quickly this last year has gone. It’s nine days until SB’s first birthday, and I’m finding it absolutely dizzying just how quickly it’s all gone. Thinking about where I was last year, compared to where I am now, is just mad.

This time a year ago I was 36 weeks pregnant, and struggling with just about everything pregnancy had to throw at me. I was puffy and swollen, feeling absolutely humongous, unable to walk very far, getting grumpy with everyone, packing and re-packing my hospital bag just in case, trying desperately to get everything in our new place unpacked before the baby arrived (failed miserably, as we’re still sorting things out now).

I thought I had four weeks left – little did I know SB would be arriving in just nine days time! And now look at her! This was her earlier, fast asleep on her daddy. I can’t even comprehend how much life can change. I’ve put together a little project for her birthday, showing just how much she’s changed in a year, and I’ll be sharing it on the blog and on Facebook on or around the 10th. We’ve been busy, birthday planning and trying to finish essays and dissertations at the same time.

I’m not going to try and predict what life will be like in a year’s time. I know how I’d like it to be, but you never know – life throws things at you sometimes that, although you’re not prepared for them, they make your life more wonderful, exciting and adventurous than you can ever imagine. If someone offered me the chance to see what my life would be like without SB, I’d say ‘thanks but no thanks’. I don’t need to see it – I already know that no other life could compare to what I’ve got already.

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Welcome back to Teething Hell, can I take your complacency?

I think last time we were experiencing teething, I referred to it as purgatory (compared to the early days of colic and constipation). Well, it’s back, and I think we’ve been plunged into full-on teething hell.

Yesterday we got a call from the nursery, just warning us that she was running a temperature and they’d given her Calpol. Of course, the heart just sinks and you wonder what manner of disease your pure, precious baby has caught, crawling around the germ-infested jungle of nursery (I kid; ours is immaculately clean and I love it). Which little monster has passed on some unspeakable virus to your angel?

We turned up to find SB crawling around in just her nappy, looking snotty and drooly and miserable, surrounded by all the healthy, happy kids. Ah. So ours is the one who might infect everyone else. Plus it turns out her nappies were loose (lovely way for describing what we’ve come to know as PooSplosions) and she’s grizzly and grumpy, which is unusual for her.

So we brought her home, the Calpol got her temperature down and she seemed ok for much of last night, until about 1am, when D spent much of the early hours trying to settle her off as she was uncomfortable. A little more Calpol did the job, but cue me wondering if she really is coming down with something nasty. Scarlet fever and similar have been sweeping through nurseries in the UK lately, so I’ve been obsessively tongue-checking and making sure there’s no rashes anywhere.

Roll on today, and we’re still no better. She hasn’t slept properly since 8am this morning, and it’s currently 5:15pm. She should’ve had at least one, maybe two, good naps in this time. Her nappies are grim, she’s off her food, drool is just everywhere and even her dummy isn’t giving her any comfort. We had a quick peek in her mouth and yep, there’s her two top teeth breaking through.

So that explains that, then. We are firmly back in teething hell. Time to rediscover Sophie The Bastard Giraffe (skilfully lost somewhere in the flat) and some lovely cold fruit sticks – no wonder she attacked a pineapple like her life depended on it the other day!

It’s alright, World. I didn’t have anything particularly important to do these next couple of weeks. Just a 5, 500 word dissertation, another approx. 9,000 words in essays, a short video to shoot, a house to tidy and a birthday to plan. Teething baby on top of it all? Pah. I got this.

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