Dieting

Dieting

Usually, this time of year I am planning some extreme diet, chucking every piece of chocolate and cheese left in our house in the bin from Christmas (or feeding it to my husband) and working out how I can eat 500 calories a day in between working out fourteen times a week…but not this year. This year I feel like I’ve learnt something that I never thought I would; that no matter how thin I am, it doesn’t make me a better more attractive person. In actual fact it’s taken me thirty- eight years to accept that I don’t need to weigh seven stone to be accepted or be happy or beautiful. 38 years and a baby. This time last March I found out I was pregnant after four years of trying to get pregnant and one pregnancy that didn’t work out. For the first time in my life I was able to eat whatever I wanted without beating myself up. I knew immediately that I couldn’t restrict myself by eating a boiled egg and fizzy drink for lunch (to fill myself up) and that I actually cared more about the little person growing inside me than looking amazing in a pair of jeans or for a random night out. The main thing was I carried a healthy baby to full term.Don’t get me wrong I ate vegetables and fruit and salad, I wasn’t on a fill myself with junk food diet, but I understood that I needed to eat. I also understood that with pregnancy comes changes that you can’t control, bigger boobs, an ever growing tummy and stretch marks, which are all OK. 

To be honest I’m still not sure where my unhealthy relationship with food started? I remember skipping meals when I was about twelve, me and my friends taking pictures to see how skinny we looked. So I know I was young, but on reflection I don’t think I grew up in a household obsessed with looks or a mother who told me I needed to lose weight, however I know that weight has been something that has consumed me for years. Knowing I had a night out, I would diet for three weeks before so I felt good for the night, or every December diet for the whole month so I could binge at Christmas without the dreaded guilt of eating Christmas week, or for 5 weeks before holiday follow some fad restrictive diet that would make me miserable and depressed.  I even once challenged myself to see how long I could go without eating at all which resulted in me not eating for three days. I’ve chucked away food, taken it out of the bin to eat it twenty minutes later (low point), eaten ten Krispy Creme doughnuts in one sitting and then starved myself for 24 hours to make up for it. I always wondered when we started trying for a baby if those bad decisions had somehow contributed to me taking so long to get pregnant, looking back that must have had some long term effects on my body? 

So I enjoyed my pregnancy, all 287 days of it. I ate exactly what I wanted or fancied for every single one of those days and gained a healthy two and a half stone but also gained a sense of what’s really important for the first time in my life. Don’t get me wrong that included vegetables and salads but it also included a healthy amount of calories, fats and carbs. Do you know what I learnt? I learnt that I LOVE food and in a strange way I finally enjoyed meal times and being excited about eating again, not painfully researching calories or menu choices to find the lowest fat meal on the page. 

While I was away last year on holiday, I was reading the daily mail online (yes I know a real newspaper) and as I scrolled down the page I came across an advert with a woman in her underwear, nothing unusual but to me, the image was unusual. Something about it wasn’t right and for 30 seconds or so I couldn’t put my finger on what it was? Then it dawned on me, the picture hadn’t been touched up. The model had a roll, she had cellulite and she wasn’t a size 6 and I felt ashamed that I found the picture strange. I was so used to seeing pictures which had been enhanced and touched up, that I had been conditioned to see this as normal. 

I also started to realise that social media has a large part to play in my relationship with food and my body. I never really believed that images could play a part in people’s body image struggles but it does. So I started unfollowing anyone who doctored their pictures or filled their pages with perfect touched up images because it’s not real and no one really looks like that. There are so many great women out there who want to promote healthy body image. I love that Olivia Buck has started a swimwear range that shows true to life images, none are touched up, they’re all real.  Reason being is one; I can order a bikini and get a sense of how it will really look and two; I get to see woman who look like me for once in swimwear. We need more of this! 

Since having my little boy I haven’t felt the need to starve myself back to my pre pregnancy weight (something I was worried I would feel pressure to do), damn my body just made a person! I know that weight and a healthy body image is something I will need to keep working towards each day and I understand that I will sometimes still look in the mirror and criticise myself (like all women do), but it’s ok to eat everything in moderation. So instead, this year I made a promise to myself. This year my New Years resolution is to be kind to myself again, to know that being skinny doesn’t make me a better person or a more attractive woman and to eat cheese on toast whenever I bloody want! 

Single Parent

Single Parent

I’ll never forget the first time I felt judged for being a single parent. A fellow mum at my sons school, who I really quite liked, and who I spoke to most days was chatting away to me about the snow that weekend. Not many people were aware that my current partner wasn’t the father of my son. This wasn’t because I was keeping it a secret but because it’s not really the most common topic to come up when there’s school trips and curriculums to discuss. This particular day was a Monday and after a bit of small talk about the weekends weather I mentioned that Theo had been at his dads and built a snowman there. Instantly her face changed. As she wasn’t aware beforehand, I understand that she may have been slightly surprised, but this reaction wasn’t surprise. I can’t describe what it was exactly, but it was confirmed to me after about six other mums became aware of the situation within a week, that she felt it was something which needed to be discussed behind my back.

That was the first time my situation made me feel like a bit of a failure. I walked away feeling a bit embarrassed, and started to envision everyone thinking I was a bit of a car crash. This was probably far more likely to be my insecurities of course, but the way she reacted had triggered it and it really got me thinking. I decided that if ever I was to start writing I would talk a lot about being a single mother and having children with different fathers. Especially as I distinctly remember googling ‘being a single mum’ and finding quite a small amount of literature on it. I really needed some encouragement, but it wasn’t easy to come by. So now I am sharing my own experience.

For a bit of background; five months into my first pregnancy I found out my ex partner was cheating on me and had to move home with my mum. We hadn’t been together long. We met at university and it was a bit of a whirlwind and somewhere along the line I fell pregnant. I do understand that it was far from ideal and probably was going to go that way anyway, whether I had fallen pregnant or not. I also don’t blame him for what he did at all, he gave me the best thing in the world, so it was just impossible to stay angry and in hindsight I can see that splitting was what needed to happen as we were completely mismatched and way too young. I was thrown into life as a single mum when we split for good just four weeks after my little boy, Theo, was born. Just a year earlier I was living with my three best friends at university, sleeping all day and partying all night (with the occasional lecture thrown in) and now just a year later I was raising a whole human alone. It was completely terrifying and brilliant all at the same time.

Despite just how open and accepting we are becoming as a society, there still appears to be a massive amount of social stigma attached to being a single parent or having a blended family. What scared me the most about all of it was actually the thought of it, whereas actually ‘doing it’ was really relatively easy in comparison to the picture I had conjured in my mind (which consisted mainly of people throwing things at me in the street out of disgust, completely OTT, I know). The experience of being a single mum is not all doom and gloom, I can tell you from experience I would go back and do it all again without a second thought.

The bond that me and my son have is insane. He is now nearly 7 and he is my sidekick. We only need to look at each other to know what the other is thinking and he is open and honest with me about how he feels. It was always me and him together and I feel to some extent that our bond can’t really ever be matched. It was me and me only with him day in day out and so I got double the work but almost also double the bond.

Furthermore, being a single parent meant I got to have a break every other weekend. I was able to lie in, have a duvet day uninterrupted, go for cocktails with friends in London or party in a club until 3am knowing I could sleep in the next day. These breaks allowed me to meet my current partner and ‘date’ him as I would have before my son was born. Every other weekend we went on a date and I got to be ‘Hayley’ again rather than ‘Mum’. As much as I missed my little boy, I embraced this break and was a more relaxed and happy mum come Sunday evening.

Children are adaptable and they (and you) will be just fine. Being a single parent takes a huge amount of strength but also brings a massive amount of happiness, along with relief; when you realise you are fully capable of fulfilling your child’s needs without a constant helping hand.

My son was the best surprise I’ve ever had but this is followed closely by the overwhelming joy I gained from raising him alone. It is imperative we get rid of this ever present stigma and instead embrace blended families by rewriting the rule book, because what once would’ve been my nightmare, turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me.

Fertility

Fertility

One minute you’re 20 years old taking the contraceptive pill religiously, praying that your partying days aren’t over; and the next you’re counting your fertile days, peeing on ovulation sticks and jumping on your partner every spare second you get in the hope that this month is THE month. For many women, that positive test comes quickly, but for many others the waiting game is tough and soul destroying.

We tried for 4 years before I fell pregnant and they were the toughest 4 years of my life. I cried, I laughed, I spent a lot of money on a lot of shit to help me fall pregnant. I pressured my husband in to sex day in day out and I prayed, (something I’d never done before). I was a woman on a mission. Wanting a baby and not getting pregnant is a lonely place. It consumes you and you can only really understand it if you’ve been through it. It’s strange how the second you decide to try for a baby, every one else in the world becomes pregnant. Beatrice from school who I hadn’t seen for 20 years popped up on my Facebook announcing “surprise we’re having a baby” everywhere I looked there were bumps, baby showers and baby reveals, just to make me feel a little bit worse and remind me that I was most definetly not pregnant.

Pregnancy tests became the enemy…an expensive enemy. I got almost used to looking at a stick praying that there would be two lines. I’d even sometimes see a line that wasn’t there, desperately standing by my bedroom window turning the test in the light to see if the result was different….of course it wasn’t it was just a big fat negative each time.

I decided to come off the pill at 33 (looking back I am so glad I did). I told Matt it would take us at least a year to get pregnant so it was best we started trying now, even though I never believed that would be true. Little did I know that the journey would be a lot longer than anticipated.

The first month off the pill, I convinced myself that I in fact was pregnant. I was adamant I could feel the symptoms they say you get once the egg has implanted. I was a little smug and thought to myself that I was obviously just one of those extremely “fertile Freddie’s” the ones that don’t even have to actually have sex and get pregnant (god I wish I could go back and slap my then self).

I need to also point out at this time that my journey is by far not the worse that I’ve heard of during my time of trying for a baby. I came across women and stories that made me cry myself to sleep. Some of the things people have been through to have a baby are crazy and I have so much respect for the strength and determination of any couple fighting for their dream to have a child, especially when it’s such a simple dream and something you take for granted until it doesn’t happen.

So I came off the pill. We tried for just under a year and nothing happened so we decided to go and see a doctor who was great and said that we would get to the bottom of what was wrong. Two and a bit years later we didn’t have any answers. We had sperm tests, a HSG

(which checks your tubes) and numerous blood tests under our belts and everything looked perfect (annoyingly perfect) which to be honest was even more frustrating. They checked my ovulation which came back showing that some months I skipped ovulation and others I didn’t so they decided to start me on clomid for 6 months which did nothing apart from make me bloated and grumpy. I was then told there was nothing more they could do, that the next steps would be IVF and I was sent on my way.

After much deliberation we decided to go down the route of IVF although just before we did we found out we were pregnant naturally. Unfortunately, that pregnancy ended at 6 weeks and again the painful process of accepting this wasn’t our baby began.

Eventually we did get pregnant naturally after nearly 4 years. I still remember the morning so clearly that I sat down to do a wee and take a random pregnancy test. When the 2nd line came up I was in disbelief, I was tired of it all and I remember not feeling excited because I associated pregnancy with sadness and disappointment and didn’t really believe that it was real or that it would actually last this time.

My fertility journey is something I want to talk about in more detail and something I probably can’t cover in one blog post. As I sit here writing I can see my little boy next to me smiling and it still makes me feel like the luckiest Mum in the world.

I think the main thing I have to take from all of the years of trying is that now I appreciate more than ever my little boy. I count myself so blessed even through the sleepless nights.

It’s hard when you are trying and not getting pregnant. At times I really believed it would probably never happen for us. I know it’s easy for me to say now but people going through something similar need to be kind to themselves and honestly don’t give up, know that it will happen and that sometimes the best things come from the toughest situations.

Motherhood

Motherhood

When I was pregnant with my son my partner at the time’s mother said to me ‘you don’t matter anymore, all that matters is that baby, your child.  You are no longer important’.  This was a women who had also told me that I was unreasonable to expect financial help from my child’s father (a well educated man with a highly paid job may I add) and that I should move in with  her, go back to work after a month whilst she looked after my baby and earn my own keep.  As an advocate for independent women I was adamant that eventually I would do just that, but there was more chance of me letting Stalin look after my baby than there was of me allowing her to be his main influence throughout his first year.  I was treated terribly by them, I was scared and genuinely fed the lie that I would be a crap mother and I was about to screw up my child’s life.  On top of that; I apparently no longer even mattered.  Needless to say I was very depressed.

There is a point to my story, and that’s that after becoming a mother and excelling on my own after dumping the boyfriend and his odd family, I realised that mums’ absolutely matter.  The mere notion that we no longer exist after children is, in my opinion, the biggest parenting mistake because to me, it means you are living your life through your child and when eventually that child becomes an adult with their own life- to put it plainly -you’re f**ked. I spent the first few months still with this man, demonized when I chose not to breastfeed (he actually trashed my bedroom when he found formula), told I needed to lose weight and told I needed to start thinking about his private school education (when all his dad seemed to take away from it was that he was better than everyone else).  But once I had left it became easy, and that was the first step to the absolute liberation I now feel as a mum to raise my kids and live my life how I want to and not apologise for that.  I know a lot of mums feel the same; and some are still new, and I want to let them know it will be ok.  I have listed some pointers on not letting what people think get to you below. 

1.  Baby’s weight – My son was 10.7lb when born and people would literally recoil when they looked in my pram.    Despite the fact it was pure genetics (his dad was 6 foot 4 and born 3 weeks early at 10lbs), for some strange reason it made people uncomfortable to see how big he was. Some individuals still seemed to view his size with the same repulsiveness as they do with adults. Anyway, my son is now 6 years old and a (healthy) beanpole.  The kid could eat an entire turkey and not gain a pound.  He is athletic and healthy and the tallest in his class (something he is very proud of). A completely robust child; I doubt even the plague could take him down. He was the easiest baby in the world, slept like a grown man and has the most amazing temperament. So ignore the gasps at your naturally born bigger baby (or small for that matter), it has no indication of your child’s weight or health as they grow and shed the baby fat/gain it. 

2.   Going out and leaving your baby after Giving Birth – Here’s a good one; do it whenever the hell you want and let Bernadette stay in and slag you off after seeing your happy carefree pictures. Secretly, she wishes she could have a night off and glass or two of wine.  Poor Bernadette.  Bernadette needs to get laid. 

3.    Bottle or Breast – A tired debate with one clear answer; do whichever you want.  I bottle-fed,  I admire women who breastfeed and I literally could not care less which one anyone does, and neither should you. 

4.   The Division of Labour – Ahh the dreaded point scoring starts.  People with new babies know this is shakey ground and it becomes so easy for resentment towards your partner to grow.  As a woman, I felt obligated to do it all. DON’T. Get yours ladies. Take that nap, have that break and let dad do his thing. Single mums- it may not feel it but you’re winning, I found doing whatever I wanted with my first child almost liberating compared to the second one (with partner), which was far more frustrating and included a lot of compromise.  No man, no compromise and no division of labour. 

5.  Unwarranted Advice – Aunt Mildred may have found that a dummy dipped in whiskey helped her baby sleep in the 1920’s but unfortunately it’s 2020 and you’d rather stay away from using alcohol as a sedative for your precious bundle.  Don’t fight back at unwanted advice; nod, smile and forget it. Literally forget it. Then do what you were going to anyway.  I trained as a midwife for 2 years and witnessed different midwives give different answers to the same FAQ’s, which proves there are no answers for motherhood, we are all blaggers. 

6.  Have a peaceful few hours to yourself or sleep? Motherhood’s biggest predicament.  I would say do a bit of both but choosing sleep may reduce your coffee intake to nine from fifty the next day. 

Generally speaking, you’re going to get unwanted advice, you will be tired and your life will change; your relationship will face challenges, your body may be different and you will find it harder to find time for you.  You may even question your skills, or your decision to enter parenthood and that is ok. An hour later, your baby will smile or laugh or walk for the first time and you’ll forget it all.  Every last frustration will melt away.  You’ll wonder how you ever lived without them and Aunt Mildred’s advice will become a distant memory.